Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Everything but Horsepower

My daily driver is a 1987 Mercedes Benz 300 TD station wagon so there is some surprise when people learn that I am not only a driving enthusiast but am also an accomplished street racer. Granted, sometimes my opponents don't know we are racing. They think they are in a hurry to get to work in their M5. Meanwhile, I am furiously exercising the automatic trans to keep the mighty Mercedes in the sweet 3000-4000 RPM turbo power band. On behalf of the underpowered, I feel I need to show them just what grit and determination can deliver.

When driving a Porsche, you press the gas to go fast. It doesn't matter if you blow a corner. Sheer horsepower will get you back to fast quicker than I can decipher the myriad of flickering warning lights on my Mercedes instrument cluster. The only hope for the underpowered is careful reservation of momentum. You can't brake and you certainly can't lift your foot off the gas. Performance driving of non-performance automobiles requires deep confidence and unwavering commitment. Forget accelerating out of the apex - you have to stay fierce throughout the turn. When you are thinking about pressing the brake, just don't. Instead, picture a giant sling. You are David's rock and the straightaway ahead is Goliath. Keep your momentum as you fling yourself through the turn. It will startle the competition and leave your passengers regretting that they doubted your racing skills.

Speed is relative. Set the cruise control to 45 and take a dash down Main Street in a one deputy town and then tell me that a diesel Mercedes offers no driving excitement. Or how about a hot lap around an underground parking garage? Excepting the menacing concrete columns, it offers a nearly perfect skid pad to pretend you are Brock Yates testing a pricey exotic. The sound is something like strangling parrots - a specific pitch that your co-driver will remember forever after.

Every car is good at something. The body roll and loosey-goosey suspension of the massive Hoopty Country Squire is so striking that all but the most brazen opponents will concede the line in every turn. My Mazda pickup truck was so stiff and predictable, you could dump if completely sideways and that little four cylinder would really roar as you powered out of a slide in 1st gear at 6000 RPM. A champion, that little truck.

My high school girlfriend's Chevy Chevette was so light and nimble, you really felt like you were at the Nurburgring when airborne. Talk about quieting the competition, when they see nothing but air under your car, they know you are in it for the purity of sport. And the off-road capabilities of the Chevette were legendary. Sure, it got stuck up to the floorboards in sand, but it was so light that with a bumper jack and a couple cardboard boxes, one person could free it from any challenge in minutes. If you had two people, you didn't even need to bother with the jack as one person would lift a corner as you gave the little Chevette all the gas you had. After one particularly thrilling drive, I stopped to learn that I had lost the gas cap during the trip to the corner store. Part youthful exuberance and part the liberty of driving a car that isn't yours, I was really able to impress with the lowly Chevette. Besides, there was a Motley Crue Alister Fiend bumper sticker, so at some level, I felt there was a natural expectation for theatrics. There is nothing ambiguous about the Crue.

Naturally, by way of a disclaimer, I would discourage anybody from trying such death defying antics in their own car. But don't be glum as rental cars provide ample opportunity to try all the stuff you have been wondering about - from neutral drops to emergency brake u-turns like Jimmy Rockford. There are a host of American automobile models that were clearly never destined for any non-rental car market, so disdain is natural. The Corsica does not deserve any respect and there is a natural expectation that it will be driven until it smokes from surprising places.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Subtle Joys of Extreme Overcommitment

Future history books will refer to this exquisite jewel as the Greene Bellytank

Granted, I knew that I hadn't been posting much to Hooptyrides, but I didn't realize just how infrequent it was until my father called out of concern for my well being.

Most of the following is true. Fixed the Clayton Water Brake Dynamometer (sorta), wrote a profile of my buddy Bobby 'Bellytank' Greene for Garage Magazine, attended the inaugural drylakes showing for the aforementioned race car, built a low rent Japanese garden for Make:Craft, attended dorkbot, founded the Frogtown Gin Rummy Club, built a rocket powered camera, raided a cold war era meteorology laboratory, did my part to ransack a venerable aerospace surplus warehouse, bought a horizontal bandsaw the size of a motorcycle, built out a new retail store, repaired multiple high pressure leaks on a reverse osmosis system, wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Chief of Police, (accidentally) bought a jet boat, attended the Topanga Nordstrom closing auction, tested the Bellytank on my dynamometer, wrote an article for Make:Craft on converting Chinatown pagoda Christmas lights to battery power, visited the profoundly impressive Jay Leno garage, resolved multiple issues on 1987 Mercedes 300TD including a hair raisingly high speed stuck throttle linkage, (accidentally) purchased Coop's 1927 Tall T hot rod, wrote a couple installments of my Make magazine column, read the sobering Omnivore's Dilemma, attended Coop's wildly successful art show, had my Hobart TIG welder repaired, bought three pallets of freight damaged bleach and laundry soap, replaced the shocks on the Chevy truck, built out my new Louis Depalma-style office, refurbished a tanker desk, installed yards and yards of real cork/linseed/burlap roll linoleum, repaired countless gumball machines, met with a production company about a potential television segment, welded together a bandsaw dolly from two Made in China engine stands, repaired an Apple power adapter with safety wire and epoxy putty, attended approximately 300 garage sales and got sick twice. Though not recommended, it turns out you can power sickness through with cold medicine, adrenaline of finding an exceptional value and steel grit. Rest. Pshaw.

In topical news, I will be speaking. Public speaking, as they say in high school. Hooptyriders, join me at Machine Project/Dorkbot/Make Magazine this Saturday.

From Machine Project:

Make Magazine Issue #8 Launch Party

Please join us Saturday Dec 2nd at 5:30pm for a very special meeting of Dorkbot SoCal to launch the new issue of MAKE magazine.

Simon Penny (Director of UCI’s Arts Computation Engineering program) will speak on integrating interaction design, space design, structure design, mechanical design, electronic design and software engineering using his 3D machine-vision driven interactive digital-video project Fugitive 2 as a case study. Attention will then turn to the pragmatic design and fabrication issues involved in building a custom motion control rig for the video projector in the project. Simon is bringing in a prototype of the motion control rig as tangible example.

Mr Jalopy (Contributing Editor to MAKE and automotive mad scientist) will be giving an epic (yet fast paced) talk on “Deep Sea Suburbs: Custom Vans, Internal Combustion Engines, Backyard Anthropology and the California Dream”.

Make magazine issue #8 will be available for perusal and purchase

There is a high probability of free beer and pretzels

Also, topical. On December 8th, the cool kids will be at the House Industries Show at the Reserve Gallery (420 N Fairfax.) House artwork? Real live? That I would not miss!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mister Jalopy's Guide to Life & Death with Modest Automobiles

The first time I disassembled a carburetor was at the entrance to Yellowstone Park. With an audience of buffalo, you really have an incentive to get it back together correctly. Individuals have been embarrassing themselves in front of the noble buffalo as long as people have driven the American West. I hoped to set the record straight. An experience like that will burn 'needle and float' into your brain with more clarity than a textbook ever could. Having seen that particular needle and float only one time, I can picture those components more clearly than I can imagine my morning cereal spoon.

That is how you learn. With grease smudges on your forehead and semi-trucks whistling by, there is a hyper awareness that sears information to your brain as sure as instinct. But where do you start?

After being invited to Foo Camp, I decided I wanted to bring something cool to show off and I thought it would be a clever way to get out of hosting a session. Plus, I have a backlog of projects that reach from here to the top of Jack's Beanstalk. Sometimes I think that I should create a list of all the projects, but that invariably leads to an upset stomach and an immediate desire to take a nap.

A favorite idea was to sell books in a standard bulk gumball and sticker machine. Small books. Very small books. A specific volume that would have just enough information to get you started on a new path in life. I have a shelf at home that is dedicated to inspirational books that open a foreign world and change you in a fundamental way. I am not talking about going to Morocco. I am talking about "Getting Started Right with Turkeys." Or "Shop Work on the Farm", "5 Acres and Independence", "Aircraft Sheet Metal Construction", "Locksmithing", "Your Self-Service Store" and "Backyard Poultry Farming". These books give a peek into what might be. One day, you are Joe Average. A nobody. End of the week comes and you are tending baby chicks and picking locks. A transformation has taken place. You are a giant.

Granted, reading a book about building an Ideal Turkey Sunporch is no substitute for bringing home a gobbler. It is a just a starting point. And that's why I wrote Mister Jalopy's Pocket Guide to Life and Death with Modest Automobiles. It is just enough to get you started, to take you from "someday, maybe" to "aw, hell yeah. Let's just do it!" If you are new to old cars, you will pick up some hard earned tips that I wish I knew 12 years ago, but it will be nothing in comparison to the automobile knowledge you will absorb during the first week of old car ownership.
In addition to the Pocket Guide, the Hooptyrides Vending Center also sold brass gears,
toggle switches, tiny motors and even an Olympus lens from a microfiche machine.

Having grown up down the street from the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation, I have an appreciation for extreme views expressed in 7 point type. Get the right message and it survives without the luxuries of margins or whitespace. I figured I could write a very concise guide to fold up into a standard sticker envelope and peddle it for a dollar. I am partial to machines that operate without electricity. Also, I like machines that are coin operated. And I am very fond of bookmobiles and the whole idea of dispensing information where it is needed. Maybe a Dr. Bonner's soap label of automotive information was the future of publishing...

Well, it turns out the Foo Campers are much more interested in talking about innovation than buying innovation. The suite of vending machines grossed about ten dollars. Perhaps they would have been more interested in a version of Starting Right with Turkeys.

Never one to let disastrous sales results dampen enthusiasm, Mark Fraunfelder suggested that we make the Pocket Guide available as the first title in the Boingboing Digital Emporium of DRM-free products. So, I reformatted it to fit a standard letter size sheet of paper and the pdf is available now for the same value price of one dollar. Same content in a slightly different format.

The joys of owning a jalopy could never be experienced without sitting in the driver's seat. A palpable dramatic tension is added to everything from cross-country road trips to neighborhood picnics when you are never sure if your car is going to start. Mishaps will leave you crying tears of hysterical laughter as you recount tales of tragedy narrowly avoided. It is a very visceral existence. If you spend two hours polishing the chrome bumper on your bucket, treat yourself to an In-N-Out burger at the Lankershim Blvd branch. Or a malted at your local dive. Or a cold beer on the side of a desert highway. You will be surprised how inspiring these moments can be. It makes you believe in everything.

Boingboing post here
Boing Boing Digital Emporium here
Mister Jalopy's Pocket Guide to Living and Dying with Modest Automobiles here

Monday, September 18, 2006

Coloring Contest Entries

Now that I am spending any available free time considering designs for a completely unattainable 5 piece setting of porcelain tableware, I have had to outsource my custom van theme research and development.

Clearly the sweetest plum of owning a small business is the coloring contest - that's the money melon! Mr. Coop kindly scanned about 20 pages from a circa 1972 Ed Roth coloring book and the kids took it from there.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Passionate Individuals with Exceptional Taste and Boundless Dedication

Without question, the greatest benefit of running my entertaining internet presence has been the people that I have met. For the borderline obsessive, it comes as a great comfort to find other people that are on a similar path of great folly.

As previously mentioned, I had the coolest neighbors at Maker's Faire. Due to O'Reilly benevolence and technical snafus that restricted sheet metal class attendance, I ended up with about two dozen pairs of leather gloves at the end of the weekend. A dozen pairs of gloves seems about right, while two dozen seems slightly over the top, so I split 'em with Toast and Jillian. Seems they had need for about a zillion pairs of gloves for a project they were working on and sent me this great cover in appreciation! Thanks, guys!

Bonus: Check out this bad ass bar they designed and built with their routing robot!

Nearly 40 years of Flagship Mercedes-Benz

Think you love Mercedes Benz? Yeah, I thought I did, too. That was until Hooptyrider Matt sent a link to his fleet of S-Class Mercedes. The impressive breadth and completeness of the collection almost allows me to overlook the clear corner lights on the W126. Matt! I will send you a set of amber lights if we could please take care of that issue!

If there is one constant to Mercedes design over the last 35 years, it appears to be the desire for the headlights to endlessly sweep backwards. Another iteration or two and they should be pointing straight up toward the sky like a spotlight at a furniture store grand opening.

So, Matt is nuts, right? Yeah. Totally batshit crazy. In addition to the enviable Mercedes collection, check out his Department of Entropy spoof trucks.

Why so cool? Attention to detail.

Holy mackeral. This is a perfect example of taking a joke so far that it stops being funny, starts being insane, flirts with brilliance and then comes right back around to knee slapping hysterical. Don't believe me? Check this and that. If you are still not convinced, click here.

Following the Can-Am Erasers post, I was delighted to learn that I was not the only individual who held world class autosports events on our school desktops. Hooptyrider Andy gets extra credit points for historical accuracy and the fact that all supplies were stolen from the workplace supply cabinet. Bravo!
Anyway, if I recall correctly, we have a mixed grid. The front row is
the Pink Stamps Lotus 30/40 lined up against a Lola T70. In the second
row is a Porsche 917 and a Lotus Elise. No reason why. Third row has a
Lotus Exige that started as an Elise but just didn't work out. Last car
on the grid is a Lotus 23. Guess it's Lotus night.
Mark Miller has a scope of interests that makes me look like a piker. Though the above e-racer is still in the development phase, check out his 'drive-able' 1936 Tatra simulator. Considering the rear engine V-8, it seems like the absolute cheapest, safest way to come face to face with the terror of the car's rear end walking out in front of you on every turn.

Sir Vincent Von Boris knows the joys of a pure craft project for the sole purpose of personal entertainment. As a kid, I would look forward to rainy days with great anticipation. Construction paper, pine cones, sea shells, pipe cleaners, white paste, felt, googly eyes, macaroni, poster paint, colored pencils, pompoms, balsa wood, X-Acto knives, tissue paper, finger paint, orange yarn, burlap, blunt nose scissors, cigar boxes, easter eggs, styrofoam, poster board, stencils, rubber stamps, Elmer's glue, Bic Magic Markers and Scotch tape.

Sir Von Boris, we are mighty impressed. The use of materials is top notch - the paper clip rollbar is absolutely inspired. Never a stickler for Can-Am accuracy when it comes to having a nice time, these cars are delightful for their Death Race menacing good looks.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Gale 'Gearhead' Banks Accidently Welcomes Mister Jalopy to Invitational

Von Dutch striping on a recently exhumed original hotrod that has not seen the light of day since 1960. I suppose people have all sorts of opinions about Von Dutch's artistic merits, but the reason the fella's work makes sense to me is the striping has so much damn personality. The comically small grill is quite endearing. Looks like it was stolen off a Stewart-Warner Southwind or perhaps a wall heater out of a bathroom at The Plaza Hotel.

Please take a moment to consider the work involved to create that bumper. Then, to really feel like a lazy sod, reflect on the skill and man-hours required to build this entire Italian custom aluminum bodied Hudson. Multiply that times six, as that is how many Hudson commissioned before bankruptcy.

Hubba hubba. If you have not seen The World's Fastest Indian, please do yourself a favor and see it immediately. It was exhilarating to see this motorcycle in person.

Somehow, I suspect this motorcycle never looked this good while under the ownership of Burt Munro.

Think you have made concessions to speed before? Burt was able to sit 3/8" lower because of these rocker arm divots. I am not even particularly interested in motorcycles, but I spent half an hour looking at this amazing machine and kept finding trick shit like this. I don't know that I have seen a greater accomplisment by a single person.

This photograph can not capture the sound of this beast. 300 people's arm hairs were raised when this Bonneville screamer was driven in.

Great humorists and car designers generally do not intersect. All too often, customs and hot rods take themselves pretty seriously. Overly sinister, overly historic, overly self-aware. I was a kid in the 70's reading CarToons and these t-buckets just make sense to me. The Model T windshield, the fussy brass radiator, the Moto-meter style cap, the chrome tube axle, the button tufted leather interior and those ridiculous brass age headlight buckets. But take a closer look... That blue/gold California plate? It's a painted radiator cooler! And that unbelievable, twisted dual turbo monster engine! With no front brakes! Are those wire wheels on the front? Or CHROMED AMERICAN RACING 12 SPOKE SPINDLE MOUNTS? Sweet Jesus!

The T-Bucket was my favorite car at the Gearhead Invitational.

What can you say? The 12 cylinder Ferrari that won Lemans and Monza. Perfectly beautiful with subtle, artful features like those front brake cooling ducts that tell the secret about the monster under this elegant exterior. Absolutely breathtaking to see. But, it isn't a dual turbo T-bucket!

I'm always a sucker for a self-referential, recursive car mural.

The Bean Bandit sick-o flat four old timey dragsters.

Too weird to be French? Is that possible? Is anything weirder than French? Czech Tatra! Czech is weirder! Definitely weirder. Wonderfully so. Check out those cool artillery style wheels! And the pair of horns, as a single horn would look, well, too weird I guess. And the three panel Dymaxion style windshield. Unfortunately, I didn't get a pic of the engine compartment as it does not disappoint on the weird meter. Air cooled V-8 with more chrome geegaws than a JC Whitney catalog. The longer I looked at it, the more I was sucked in by this charmer, with discoveries like the little pump oilcan holder in the engine compartment. Or the threaded bosses on the firewall to hold spare spark plugs. It sure seems like a cool idea to bolt to the firewall a chunk of aluminum with eight threaded holes to hold a set of hotter plugs. I might do just that.

The Gearhead Invitational

When you go to a car show, the fellas are often guarded and kinda assholey. They act as if their precious speed secrets will seep out their ears if they are too friendly. Not the case at the Gearhead Invitational. Everybody, EVERYBODY, was extremely gracious and generous with their knowledge and time. It was a delight to talk to so many crazed individuals.

At the first and most obvious level, it was a supreme honor to be at such an event. It was an absolutely immaculate party where Emily Post would have seemed like a savage. Of course I knew of Gale Banks, as I watch the Banks Power diesel innovations pretty closely. I have been driving diesels for 20 years and am an unapologetic black smoke advocate. Given a chance, I will bore you to tears about diesel technology. If it were not for the copious, cheap and accessible early American oil fields, I am certain we would all be driving diesels on a variable hybrid of petro and plant oils as economics and environment demanded. For a couple years, I have been on the lookout for a first gen Camaro or a nice front engine rail to build into a soybean oil powered turbo diesel racecar. I have a set of Halibrand knock-off Indy wheels for a Trans-Am-style Camaro, festooned with 70's funny car prismatic gold-leaf livery, for my 'Deep Fried Greaseballs' racing team.

Then there was the exclusivity. This wasn't the Burbank Bob Hope Park with families out for a cheap afternoon to tell you about how they used to have a neighbor with a wagon like yours. Even I get a little assholey after hearing that for the 20th time. Unless somebody jumped the fence, you knew everybody present was at least as crazy about cars as you are.

Now, I am reasonably presentable, friendly, use please/thank you, and know where the trash can for empty beer bottles is, but this was an afternoon with everybody who ever appeared in Hot Rod or Rodder's Journal. I had dinner with the fellas who built the world's fastest flathead Ford, while I'm satisfied if I can get the Country Squire idling half decent with my $5 garage sale Holley carb.

The Hooptyrides Ford Country Squire
Photo Credit: Coop and Ruth

Finally, there was the dimension of not deserving to be there that made it really sweet. Talk about getting away with something! The Hoopty Squire right out there on the lawn with the best of the best.

In true Hooptyrides style, I distinguished myself by having the cheapest automobile at the event. The Ford Country Squire was purchased at a garage sale for $700, and I had negotiated against a potential buyer who was offering $500, a bag of weed and a free apartment carpet cleaning. It is rare that I am the fellow with MORE money in an automobile purchase negotiation.

Mostly, it was profoundly inspiring - despite being humbling when you realize that, comparatively, you really don't know anything. It really made me want to get to work on my crackpot schemes.

Thank you, Gale and Vicki Banks. Thank you very much indeed.

(Want to see more photos? Coop and Iowahawk did a better job of documentation.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Can-Am Racing Erasers

The Pink Pearl - Sounds like a dirty Italian 'art' film

I couldn't tell you which states were in the first 13 colonies. The Mississippi is a long river, but I have no idea how long. George Washington was the first President and Jefferson was the third, but I don't know who the second was. I can say pencil in French, but have no idea how to say pen. These embarrassing gaps in knowledge are the direct result of daydreaming while racing Pink Pearl eraser Can-Am racecars at my grade school desk.

With the logo side down, the shape of a Pink Pearl was a nearly perfect Can-Am car. Draw wheel wells and mags on the sides, faux headlights at the front leading edge, exhaust pipes out the rear, a two-seater cockpit with rollbar and, most importantly, 8 fuel injector velocity stacks directly behind the driver to suggest an 800 horsepower Chevy big block.

Of course, you would get in big trouble for desk racing Hot Wheels, but the teachers were largely helpless when it came to an eraser car. When accused, you would thrust the eraser in the air and snottily declare, "It's just an eraser!"

Can-Am cars are burned into my brain as the ultimate racecar. Brutally fast and light cars, the Can-Am racing series was the last bastion of unlimited racing before the buttondown 1970's. From the wikipedia entry, "...essentially a formula libre for sports cars; the regulations were minimal and permitted unlimited engine sizes (and allowed turbocharging and supercharging), virtually unrestricted aerodynamics, and were as close as any major international racing series ever got to anything goes..."

Porsche showed up with 1300 horsepower and absolutely inspired livery

With a rule book that would fit on the inside of a matchbook cover, it was an unambiguous challenge to build the lightest car possible, stuff in the world's most powerful engine and rivet together enough aerodynamic downforce to keep the car from taking flight. A simple plan, but the beauty of the Can-Am series was the terrifically inventive ideas (if it worked) or crackpot schemes (if it didn't) to hopefully best the smartest designers and drivers in the world.

Jim Hall blew the paint department budget on snowmobile engines

So, sitting in front of a full race, uncorked injected big block is probably pretty loud. Then add a 2-cycle 'ringdingdingringdingdingdingding' snowmobile engine running two giant fans to suck the car to the track. The Chaparral 2J 'Sucker' had a Lexan skirt that wrapped the perimeter to create a race car suction cup that had a full 1/2 G advantage over the other fellas. Imagine running down the first straight and trying to decide when to lift your foot off the accelerator. With McLarens, Porsches, Lolas and Ferraris behind you, how far are you going to push into the turn?

Fearless astronauts. That's who was racing these cars. And mad scientists were building them.

Not Tommy Ivo, Not Nailheads; A Rotax motorcycle engine for each wheel

Visionary genius is just a few mistakes away from crackpot idiot. The MACS-IT team put together a seemingly preposterous race car with a motorcycle engine at each corner. If it had worked, they would have been heralded as prescient instead of limping home with their tail between their legs to forever explain the 45 mph average lap speed delta between the MACS and the Chapparal.

That's innovation. Throw everything at the problem, pick a couple of promising ideas from the mix and tweak them with all the passion in the world. Like the dry lakes boys. Or when Smokey Yunick showed up at a NASCAR race with a nitrous oxide set-up after reading about nitrous use on WWII aircraft.

Shadow Prototype - Like Han Solo in Carbonite

So, why the sudden Can-Am obsession? As these things often start, there is a car for sale.

Sometimes, you see something that makes such intuitive aesthetic sense that you get a bit of a tummy ache and can only utter a single, 'oh my...'

Rather than focusing on engine count or vacuum downforce, Don Nichols decided on a viciously low profile to beat the best.

A few quotes from the Bonham's Auction listing:

"At the nose of the car the overall height is determined by the driver's feet. Harris has beat poor George Follmer, who drives it, completely splay-footed; the pedals work on nearly vertical axes, and there is room for only two of them. The clutch is operated by a cockpit level at the driver's left-hand...
Pete Lyons, the absolute dean of CanAm covering race reporters, continued: The car is hard to believe even when seen, so tiny is it, literally knee-high. It all depends on the minute Firestone tires, which have 11ins and 16ins footprints but are mounted on wheels 10ins and 12ins in diameter."
I love everything about the Shadow Lowline Prototype. Looks like it is carved from a solid block of some sinister black space polymer. Black is faster than white, lower is faster than higher and with that bazooka air intake this appears to be the fastest automobile on earth.

Having started only two races and finishing none, perhaps this is the Can-Am car for me. The Shadow Prototype is so oddball that self-respecting collectors will consider it a curious footnote but might not be willing to devote the garage space to it. As I have no self-respect, perhaps I should sell some of my best stuff, some of my worst stuff, and all the mediocre stuff to head up to Monterey with $50k in a paper bag.

When the auctioneer says, 'Do I hear an opening bid of $75,000 for the 1968-69 AVS Shadow-Chevrolet 'Lowline' Can-Am Racing Sports Initial Prototype?' I will leap to my feet and thrust my grimy paper bag in the air - just as I had with the Pink Pearl racecar eraser - and yell, "FIFTY THOUSAND US DOLLARS!!!!"

Then, I will sit back down as somebody bids $55k and watch the whole thing spiral out of control. That is the disappointing thing about auctions for those of us of more modest means - our first bid is our best bid, our highest bid and our last bid.

Think you can do better? I wouldn't doubt it. Send pics of your entry for the Eraser Nationals

This eraser is not a relic from when I was a kid nor was it found at a garage sale. I drew it a couple days ago. My idea of fun is fundamentally the same as when I was 10 years old. I still like to go as fast as I can. Still like ice cream bars and arcade games. I enjoy walking along railroad tracks and idle fishing when there is no hope of catching anything. I build stuff for the joy of building. Go karts and minibikes, pinball machines and firecrackers, tree houses and ghost towns, pocket knives and monkey wrenches.

Four engines or snowmobile engined fans? Who would have thought either would work? Sounds like something I would have drawn on an eraser 25 years ago, though I would have combined the theories for a full five engines.

Nice Can-Am History Here
And Pete Lyon's site, the authority.

Can-Am Books
Can-Am Racing
Can-Am Cars
Can-Am by Lyons

Monday, July 24, 2006

Handy Magazine Covers

Make Magazine Senior Editor Phil Torrone asked if I had any magazines from the golden age of handy. I did, so I scanned them.

Though I have never seen a welding vacuum chamber with pink Playtex Living Gloves, welding of exotic materials like titanium is still done with a TIG setup very similar to this. Looks like a coffee table from Skin Two.
Want to see my entire collection of handy magazines? Here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Remove Beer Can From Paper Bag Before Consumption

The Hooptyrides, Inc. Patio Area
Everybody's asking, instead of posting to your entertaining internets presence, are you running around like a bare chested savage at Hooptyrides, Inc.? Are you drinking from a dog dish? Howling at the moon? Barking at passersby? Are you knee deep in god-awful? Up to your suspenders in filth? Hijacking trash trucks? Like a damned animal in a damned cage?

Considering the condition of Hooptyrides, Inc. on the day that I received the keys I can not begrudge anyone asking such insulting questions. Environmental site testing was completed by taking soil samples from a depth of 15 feet, but if we really wanted to find something fantastic and terrifying, we should have taken samples from the restroom. It was outerspace terrible. Horror movie face eating bacteria awful. After a week, you really started to get a sense that it is filthy but having spent 6 months scraping the floor with a putty knife, only now can I fully understand how bad things can get.

It was a sobering exercise and I am treating it as a cautionary tale. Don't lose sight of civilization. Stay connected with humans. Don't get used to odd smells; eliminate them. Before going garage saling, empty the car of last week's finds. Keep the shoes shined.

As people have done for generations, I dressed up the medicine cabinet in the Hooptyrides, Inc. Executive Washroom with a charming waterslide decal of two kittens.

Ape Products is moving from Burbank, so I have been watching their trash cans pretty closely. I was stunned then delighted to find these ultra custom director chairs. Though not perm for the patio, they sure are a welcome addition to the Hooptyrides shop. What if I need to interview John Force? Or Evil Knievel? Or Ted Nugent? What if Ted Nugent wants to interview me?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ball Chain Clown Head

I wouldn't say that I collect ball chain, but I wouldn't say that I don't. It is more like money. I like to have money in the bank and the second best thing is to have things that money buys in ready reserve. In a sort of elastic view of currency, having a $10 pile of ball chain stock is practically the same as having ten dollar bills.

The entire jar of ball chain was purchased an inch or ten at a time from garage sales. If I see a little 5" piece, I will offer a nickel for it. You can't ask, "How much for the ball chain?" as people have seemingly lost an understanding of amounts of money under a quarter. Before they can say twenty-five cents, dig out that nickel and get ready for some serious negotiating. They will look at the extraordinarily modest length of ball chain and realize that a nickel looks pretty damn good. Sure, I save money by never paying retail for ball chain but, more than that, I save time, energy and trips to Home Depot. Saving trips to Home Depot is a pretty good policy for healthy living. For each Home Depot trip I avoid I suspect I add a day to my life, not to mention dollars to the bank, gas to my tank and time to my day. And if that isn't enough, Home Depot doesn't even sell ball chain on the spool anymore. Not surprisingly, Amazon does at 30 cents a foot.

Of course, the economics of buying ball chain at garage sales make no sense but, besides priceless treasures, I buy lots of staples at garage sales-from binder clips to pegboard hooks to Pendaflex folders to circuit breakers to Astrobright paper to sandpaper to half-full cans of WD-40. In other words, all the stuff that makes you wonder how you pissed away so much money and don't have anything to show for it.

Save on the stuff that doesn't matter and spend your money on heirlooms. When was the last time you bought something that you knew you would have for your entire life and pass down to future generations?

How do you drill a hole in a cupcake topper without disturbing the clown's plucky hat? Pilot hole. Use a tiny drill bit first, then expand the hole with larger drill bits in several steps.

Remember the game closet in The Royal Tenenbaums? With the Monopoly house on the light pull chain? If the Beastie Boys are our band, Wes Anderson is the moviemaker for our hopelessly sentimental generation. I am continually amazed by his astonishing understanding of what it is like to be a geeky kid. He makes movies that reflect how we thought life was going to be. The big projects, the car projects, the Make projects, are great. But boy is it satisfying to knock out something like this in fifteen minutes.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Though people would argue otherwise, I am not a collector. No deep specific knowledge, no complete collections, no gaps I am trying to fill. I am not a completist or a condition snob. Sure, I collect all sorts of stuff but more like a magpie than an aesthete. Rather than condition or rarity, I am more likely swayed by low cost and quiet charm.

Those Circus Peanuts make me want to jump through a flaming hoop!

People don't believe that I buy cans of hardened paint. But I have. I don't collect cans of hardened paint, but I buy things that look like I wish the whole world looked. I didn't realize I had such a collection until corralled them to a single shelf. It's inspiring to see it all in one place.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hooptyrides Rocks It with the Highest of Bias

Hooptyrides is going back to mixed tapes! C30 C60 C90! We will be selecting Dolby B, we will be selecting Dolby C! Metal and chrome tapes! Heads will be cleaned and DEMAGNETIZED. Careful planning to be assured for complete 45 minute sides. Expert control of the pause button will be required for gapless edits between songs.

Only 1% of the used Mercedes available are actually worth purchasing at any price. The vast majority of used Mercedes are valueless as the immediate deferred maintenence required costs are more than the blue book value. Mercedes have always been complicated cars and were designed by fastidious individuals to be owned by fastidious individuals. The expectation of Mercedes engineers is that the cars will be religiously maintained by qualified professionals.

Perhaps this happens in Hockenheim, but in the United States the cars are just not carefully considered. They are treated as an appliance rather than an asset. There are a few questions you can ask to quickly weed out the 99% of worthless cars:

- Is it a one family car?

"Sure, I bought it from my old boss!" - That doesn't count. Handed down from a grandfather, ok. Old boss, nope.

- Does the automatic antenna still work?

"No, those always break." - Did you maintain it according to Mercedes specification including using the special Mercedes-brand antenna mast lubricant?

- Does the air conditioning blow ice cold?

"Just needs freon!" - Nope. Mercedes air conditioning is notoriously complex, fragile and expensive to repair.

- Are the toolkit and medical kit complete and accounted for?

"The what?" - All these questions add up to a story.

- Is the maintenance book correctly stamped for all services?

"Yes! Up until the warranty ran out, then the guy at the corner shop maintained it." - The guy at the corner shop might be better than the dealer service department. Or might not.

- Is the Becker stereo still in the car?

"No! We replaced it with a NEW PANASONIC CD!" - It is a rare individual who will maintain the Becker cassette deck and that is who you want to buy a Mercedes from.

So, how did my 1987 300TD stack up? One family, handed down from Dad. Auto antenna worked. AC blew cold, but the vacuum pods were not working for some of the vents which means cold air was coming out the defroster windshield vents. Toolkit and medical kit were present. Stamped by dealer through warranty period and I talked to the independent Mercedes mechanic who had maintained since the warranty. Hint: his shop was immaculate. Becker was gone. I still bought it as I had been looking for 2 years.

Chances are you have never heard of Becker stereos unless you have owned a German car. It's not that it is the greatest stereo ever made, but Mercedes should have Beckers. It's just the way it is. The design, operation, aesthetics and quality of manufacture mesh very well with Mercedes. So, up there on my bench, is an 80's Becker Mexico that will go back in my 300TD. It is hooked up to a GW Laboratory DC Power Supply and appears to be pulling about .5 amps. I bought that power supply at a garage sale from a nascent tattoo artist. She wanted to sell the tattoo gun, the power supply, some rusty needles and crappy looking flash for $100. I gave her $5 for the power supply and left her with the other stuff. Funny how stuff moves around. Engineered and built for labs then makes its way to a tattoo artist and now is powering my car stereo. Nutty.
I am disappointed to learn that Casey Kasem is no longer hosting the America's Top 40 radio show as I thought I was going to have a throw down home taping weekend here at Hooptyrides, Inc. Perhaps I will still tape the entire show on my new Uher Royal tape recorder and then edit the best songs and any entertaining anecdotes down to a "Best of America's Top 40 for June 11, 2006" cassette tape. To listen to in my Mercedes Benz.

So how did all this happen? Well, I accidently went to an auction and accidently bought 5 pallets worth of refurbished Becker and Blaupunkt stereos, Isophon replacement Mercedes speakers, vintage Uher tape recorder parts, an entire Blaupunkt service department, 100's of Hirschmann antennas, 100 lbs. of MAF MAK Hirschmann connectors, 20 cases of the legendary Zum 5000 diesel fuel additive and a pair of brand new Sencore SG165 AM/FM Stereo Analyzers.

I can not tell you how relieved I am that TDK SA90 High Bias tapes are still available at Amazon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

House Industries

Not often that Hooptyrides posts about new blogs, but there is only one House Industries. You can spend hours and hours looking for cheap fonts, cheaper fonts and free fonts and you will find precisely what you deserve. Little League baseball jerseys deserve better. House owns cool. Not the cool of the 'lad magazines' but the cool that comes from diving for pennies in a 70's swimming pool, of hot rods, skateboards, thrift store records, punk rock, boomboxes, schlock science fiction and custom vans. If House had a garage band, it would be named Tequila Harvest Gold.

Wanna see real live magic? Click here and select Ed Benguiat Fonts, Ed Interlock. Type a long word. Now, change a few letters and reset. Repeat 20 times. Read about ligatures and then complain about how hard you work. House does the heavy lifting so the rest of us look cool.