Saturday, November 22, 2008

NY Times: The Los Angeles of Ry Cooder and Mister Jalopy

A few months ago, Ry Cooder and I went out to the dry lakes with the Old Crow Speed Shop, the Bobby Green Bellytanker and the New York Times. The article is out tomorrow and it is wonderful.

There is the Los Angeles that people imagine, of red carpet premieres, Botox lunches, velvet rope nightclubs, Venice bodybuilders and tony boutiques. It is not a fable. That is real. Or, at least, it physically exists.

Then there is the Los Angeles that I know. Aerospace surplus hardware stores, smoky and ashtray-less Koreatown English hunt club bars in crumbling hotel basements, perfect beer buzz lunches in filtered sunlight at the Farmer's Market , the wild dogs of Pacoima, sprawling thrift stores, trolling junkyards for old diaries and Polaroids, the drag races at Pomona, chrome plating shops, backyards stacked with 300 bicycles, gold miners eager to show their biggest nuggets, fishing for carp in the Los Angeles River, optimists taking over art museums, the nicad battery selection at Electronic City, the metal patination case at Industrial Metal Supply, Kit Kraft Hobby, the gem vault at the Natural History Museum, the Szechuan peppercorns of Alhambra, the churlish bartenders at Hop Louie, the sneaker shops of Little Tokyo, the imported coldcuts at Monte Carlo Deli, the Japanese garden on the roof of the New Otani Hotel, the bicycle swap at the Encino Velodrome, the DDR kids at the Santa Monica Pier, the mustard at Philipes, the dim sum carts of Monterey Park, the carnitas at Carrillos, the buffalo at Hart Park, the Kris Special at the Waystation, the netsuke room at LACMA, the Remington Rolling Block at the Backwoods Inn, the coffee shop at the LA Police Academy, the abandoned restaurant with leather walls at Union Station, the yardage of the Garment District, the abandoned fire station in the Toy District with the quartersawn oak lockers viewable through the crack in the door, the first two rows of lowrider history at the Pomona Auto Swap, Abe Lincoln's hat at the Huntington Library, the camellia forest of Descanso Garden, the bolt room of Roscoe Hardware that is hidden in a kitchen remodeling home center, the genius at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the chile pepper booth at the Grand Central Market, sneaking to the top balcony of the Bradbury Building, the threadbare and dented Variety Arts Center, the orange groves of the 126 and the secret utility salvage yard in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

Ry and I share this Los Angeles and it was fun to show it to Lawrence. He did us proud. Los Angeles tries to throw itself away every day but we are still gold prospectors, hot rodders and guitarists. Our fundamental awesomeness will not be impinged.

Ry Cooder's American West

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Some Expenses Spared

Ah, yes. The Camaro. One of the automobiles from the stable that has not elicited a single mention on Hooptyrides. Initially, I envisioned having this car for a mere month or two. Do a little work and flip it for a modest profit.

My intent was simple - I wanted the Camaro for the sole purpose of driving to Tommy's Hamburgers while listening to Van Halen. Then I discovered the 2 broken studs failing to secure the lowly, leaking 2 barrel carburetor - the cause of lackluster acceleration answered, as it sucked air, diluted the air to fuel ratio and bogged down. And that, my friends, is how little projects become big projects. The Camaro is done. Or, done-ish. Done as it is going to be. And it took a year.

I do believe I have finally learned my lesson: There are no quick projects. Right now I sit here before you, humbled by my lack of timely progress, and I commit to you, never again. Only heart and soul projects from here on out. I will leave the quick flips and modest profits to those who can actually extract those few dollars in reasonable time frames.

Since the time of this photo, I added an additional Van Halen album, Unchained. And, recognizing that not all passengers rock it at the same level as the more senior heshers in the Hooptyrides inner circle, I have also included Kiss Alive! for those preferring their metal more bar-band-make-up-wearing in nature.

Purchased at the seat cover hut in the parking lot of the Echo Park Alta Dena dairy, the leopard skin seat covers were a completely satisfying upgrade. At a mere $40, the proprietor installed the covers for no additional charge. With the texture of a stuffed animal won at the carnival, the seat covers tend to pull themselves out of shape with every egress and ingress. No matter, I love them. As engaged readers have already noticed, I also added a lace-up, faux leather steering wheel cover. It sounds ridiculous, but it makes a tremendous difference.

As you can see, the House 33 sticker really jazzes things up. When you start so low, modest improvements are palpable.

There are levels at which Hooptyrides addresses deferred maintenance issues. It is a complicated matrix of variables which includes cost, availability of parts, seriousness of aesthetic detriment, safety concerns, time required and, perhaps most importantly, sloth.

Level 1 - Restoration
Pebble Beach grade restoration will require finding NOS parts that are date coded to the correct year. The bolt heads will align along a common axis. The installation will be at the level of a pro restoration shop - far exceeding original factory specifications.

Level 2 - Refurbishment, New Parts
With reasonable attention to detail, individual will replace offending components with newly manufactured reproduction parts that appear as new to all but the snootiest, number-matching snobs.

Level 3 - Refurbishment, Used Parts
Junkyards are scoured to find replacement components from the same general year, make and model. The condition would best be described as "better than what I had before."

Level 4 - Best We Can Do, No New Parts
For example, in this case, the bumper of the car would be removed, any broken hardware would be discarded and a best attempt would be made from the selections available at Home Depot.

Level 5 - Not the Best We Can Do, No New Parts, Source Material Restricted to Contents of Kitchen Junk Drawer
This is the sort of repair that you encounter on an aging automobile that is collapsing in on itself. As the cost of professional work starts to eclipse the value of the car, the repairs have a decidedly more creative flavor. As you unravel your new crappy car purchase, you will find drywall screws holding together the goddamnedest things.

Level 6 - Parking Lot
Repairs executed using only materials found in a parking lot at midnight.

Level 7 - Removal of Components
Think of this as surgery without the finesse. As issues crop up, simply remove the part and see how the drive ability is effected. I would say, on average, most automobiles are over-fastened by at least 20%. In other words, removal of one fifth of the bolts, nuts, screws, clips and fasteners will not categorically lead to complete failure.

Level 8 - Do Nothing
The most dangerous. When you are completely disengaged from the automobile, failures come with a suddenness that is not only dispiriting, but also quite dangerous.

Though the Camaro is considerably more solid than I found it, there are certainly still easter eggs to be found. For example, there is a terrific example of farmyard welding to patch the exhaust system. With ample MIG wire still remaining at the site of the repair, the hole is mostly closed with just enough of a leak to produce a satisfying growl. The effect is particularly effective while driving through a tunnel - heavy on the gas with the V-8 roar echoing off the walls until you are bearing down on a hapless Hyundai only to lift off the gas to produce an epic backfire amplified by the close quarters. People get out of the way, I assure you.

For the shortcuts and outstanding issues remaining on The Sister Golden Hair Surprise Camaro, I must say, when you are sailing down the road and listening to Van Halen under full V-8 power, you really do find yourself saying, with a shit eating grin, "This is a nice fucking car! It is a piece of shit, but it is a hot fucker!"

Now, it is not a nice car in comparison to a new Honda from the perspective of performance, economy, quietness, comfort, climate controls, visibility, stopping distance or handling, but it has a definite appeal. People give you the thumbs up at stop lights. Fans come and talk to you at gas stations. Wild Stories are told about similar cars. I suppose that is what it boils down to - it is a car that feels like adventure.

Bad decisions are more likely in a 1977 Camaro.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Epic 1943 Dodge Carry-All Project

If the scope of this 2 year Dodge Carry-All reconstruction does not give you an upset stomach, then you are clearly a stronger individual than I! My goodness, this is a lot of work. Just the fabrication of the interior birdcage support is two weekends worth of busted knuckles.

Having documented lots of project construction, I can attest that it is difficult to find the time and patience for documentation when you are up to your nose in metal filings and rancid brake fluid. So, hats off to MooseCreekMaple, as this is a fine archive you have assembled.

Power Wagons, Dogs and Adventures (Thanks, JB!)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Breaking Crescent Wrenches

It is fun to imagine the stress and stretching involved in this minor catastrophe. Minor, as I have additional adjustable wrenches in the tool crib. Catastrophe, as it is so clearly destroyed and beyond salvaging.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Downward Force of Hammers (When Not Hammering)

In preparation for unveiling the new Coco's Variety tool department, I lined the drawers of an old Craftsman toolbox with roll linoleum. Though I have previously used lino for such, it is the first time I have affixed it with adhesive. Despite leaving the unrolled linoleum in the sun for a couple of hours, the pieces are so small they still want to curl and become unstuck. Hammers and dollies proved a perfect solution.

No, these hammers will not be for sale at the Coco's Variety tool department as these are from the corporate collection of Hooptyrides, Inc. Historically, we sold fine tools from a cart outside the store but they tended to get dusty, which discouraged sales. Shoplifting attempts, however, remained undeterred.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mister Jalopy on NPR's Day to Day

Mister Jalopy, in front of Coco's Variety

Along with Dale Dougherty and Nemo Gould, I was interviewed for NPR's Day to Day on the Maker's Movement. Celeste and Shereen did a great job bringing together a compelling piece on why we should be doing more making and less buying.

Having written the Maker's Bill of Rights back in 2005, I feel that we have effectively made our case to makers that we deserve to truly own the things we purchase. Having won that battle, I have devoted myself to talking to corporations to explain how lowering the draw bridges and engaging consumers is not just respectful of consumers, but also sound fiscal advice.

Thanks NPR!

Mister Jalopy and the Maker's Movement on NPR

Maker's Bill of Rights at Make

My original Hooptyrides post that became the Maker's Bill of Rights

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dodge Caliber SRT-4 is Yowza Spot-On

There is great nobility in the small car and a lot to love about a modest automobile that is a capable performer, knows its place in the world and does small car things small car well. As the air cooled Volkswagens proved a generation ago, the honest compact can stand on its own merits and doesn't have to be pretend to be something it's not.

While I was largely disappointed by the compact cars at the last Los Angeles Auto Show, I was quite taken by the Dodge Caliber. Comparatively, it really seemed to be a car of integrity, both in construction and design. For example, the uninspiring Toyota Yaris has power windows while the bottom-of-the-barrel Caliber has manual crank up windows. All things being equal, one look at the Yaris' more feature-rich window sticker and it would seem to best the Caliber, but the Caliber feels like a better car. It seems that the Dodge budget for power windows went into building quality instead. Of course, I don't have their respective balance sheets in front of me, but the Caliber earned my respect with its quality feel and materials.

A four-door hatchback, the Dodge Caliber is a champion of utility. The cubic foot cargo specs lie, as any hatchback owner can attest to the extraordinary volumes that present themselves when necessary. Without the limits of a sedan, the hatchback lets you think in terms of a world without barriers. Recline the passenger seat and you are able to carry 8 foot 2" x 4"s, one end wrapped in an old t-shirt and resting on the dash while the other end sticks out the hatch with an attached Twix wrapper serving as a red warning flag. Add a 6' Noble Fir Christmas tree, two flats of pansies, two bags of Quikcrete, a case of Tecate, a large pizza, two cans of Ajax and a new water-saving toilet to really appreciate the black hole qualities of the hatchback. Believe me, your passenger won't mind sitting in the back seat one bit. What with the pine smell and the limo service, they will feel like a Kennedy on the way to Hyannisport.

So, if there is nobility in a small car of restraint, what if that piety is thrown out the window and a monster is born? The Renault Turbo R5 breathed fire into the lowly LeCar and transformed it into a true classic of the 1980's - a decade in which few classics emerged. And consider the VW GTI, which practically invented the hot hatchback. What are these bastardizations of economic restraint when they crash head on with turbo chargers and giant disc brakes? Hopefully, examples of exquisite balance in the form of extreme performance driving onto freeway entrance ramps, downtown lane splitting, and abandoned business park skid pad practice.

As I already respected the Caliber, I was thrilled to learn that Dodge SRT is shopping the parts bins and building a little beast of a hatchback... A turbo charged aluminum 4 with cast iron cylinder sleeves and tiny oil squirters to keep the pistons from melting. Big brakes and half shafts off a full size Dodge. Functional cold air scoops at the front bumper and ducts to cool the brakes. All the typical racecar treatments that you would add if you were going racing, like improved intake air flow, higher compression, bigger injectors, higher volume fuel pump and an external oil cooler.

The hood scoops gave me pause since they seemed to be non-functional geegaws, but they are open and used to exchange air to keep the under hood temperatures lower. The interior is a little tarted up for my taste, but I love the aftermarket boost gauge and dash gizmos that report 0-60, 1/4 mile time, braking distance and g-force.

This would really speed up garage saling!

Caliber SRT-4 (Around 300HP, 260 ft. lb of torque, 23 mpg)
Reportedly around $22,000


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mister Jalopy in Japanese Tool Magazine

Not surprisingly, there is a Japanese mook (magazine/book) dedicated to obsessive tool collecting. Factory Gear Magazine dives into the toolboxes of World Rally Championship teams, Honda mechanics, F1 racing teams, German tool factories, stateside tool retailers and, much to my delight, Hooptyrides, Inc.

Though I am not a collector with comprehensive historical knowledge, I do love to compare tools of different eras and manufacturers to see how individuals have engineered solutions to common problems - how to turn a bolt, how to cut a wire.

For 6 hours, the guys from Factory Gear cleaned, photographed, documented and considered hand tools that I forgot I even own. As the Factory Gear editor is also the owner of Deen Tools, it was not surprising that he and his crew were deeply knowledgeable about the engineering and manufacture of hand tools. They pointed out tiny details in construction that made one better than another - details I had never noticed on tools that I use daily.

To say that I wonder what the article says would be to greatly understate my intense curiosity.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Mister Jalopy on Discovery Channel Canada - April 8, 2008

For Canadian readers, I will be on Discovery Channel Canada's Daily Planet tomorrow to discuss the Urban Guerrilla Drive-In Movie House - the home brew movie projector that I built. Hopefully, some enterprising ne'er-do-well will figure out how to put it on the internets, as the site/channel is not viewable from the rest of world.

Want to see the Urban Guerrilla in person? Come to Maker Faire, the most inspiring weekend of the year.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Shrunken Snap-On Screwdriver

Will I buy any Snap-On screwdriver? No matter how rusty the shank? No matter how corroded the tip? No matter how diminished the handle?

At the right price, it would seem so.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Nash Ambassador - Impressively Ugly

After posting about the Faurecia concept car on Dinosaurs and Robots, I can not help but to think about the Nash Ambassador that spent some time at Hooptyrides, Inc. Mercifully, it has returned to whence it came.

In the early 1950's, the independent American automakers were having an extremely difficult time competing with the Big Three. Following the rationing of materials during the World War II, the big auto companies locked up the supply chain of steel and rubber so that the minor players were not able to meet customer demand. When raw materials were once again available, the independent automakers responded with outrageous design to distinguish themselves from the mainline automakers.

Nash engaged the legendary Italian design firm, Pininfarina, to design a luxury automobile. To save development costs, Nash fitted the Ambassador with a powerful, modern Packard V8 engine. In theory, it seems like a good idea. Without fax machines or email, Nash executives tried to explain to Italian sports car designers what an American luxury car should be. As evidenced by the photos above, the collaboration was not a success. Through mergers and dilution, Nash eventually became American Motors, but 1957 was the last new model year for the Nash marquee.

Like Paris Hilton or McMansions, the Nash Ambassador is an easy target. During a visit to Hooptyrides, Gale Banks declared it the ugliest car he had ever seen. He is not wrong, but the longer the Ambassador sat in my back yard, the more I began to appreciate it.

Boldness - It has a lot of look.

Comprehensive - Every single element of the car was designed. From the hood ornament to the gas cap, nothing was left to chance or considered to minor to escape the Italians. If nothing else, Nash certainly got their money's worth.

Complexity - Check out those front fenders and the grill. The sheet metal has more folds and curves than the Sydney Opera House. Complex, yes. Elegant, graceful? No.

Condition and Originality - Not a function of design, the car was completely original right down to the pink leather and silver brocade interior

Lineage to Nash Metropolitan - Probably a decision that doomed the Ambassador to being forever awkward, the choice was made to tie the ambassador to the Nash Metropolitan. Though it is not immediately apparent, there is a Metro nestled between those pontoon fenders. The Ambassador is actually a docking station for the trapped Metro!

Checking the Pininfarina 1950's timeline, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider and Ferrari 250 are mentioned but somehow the Nash Ambassador has slipped through the cracks.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dust Enabled!

Realizing a laundromat is an extreme environment, I was still mighty impressed by the accumulation of dust and lint in my security DVR. No wonder the hard drive failed!

Monday, March 24, 2008

1964 Ford Galaxie 500 Rocket Car

From Mecum Auctions:
...the most outrageous of these creative maverick enterprises was the Turbonique Company of Orlando, Florida. Aimed at the burgeoning drag racing market, their line of products consisted of three basic devices: AP superchargers, microturbo thrust engines and rocket drag axles...

The most outlandish of these devices was the Rocket Drag Axle, which connected mechanically to a car’s differential and, when ignited, surpassed the engine’s motive force by upwards of a thousand horsepower and launched the vehicle forward at a truly mind-numbing rate of acceleration. The infamous Black Widow Volkswagen Beetle, a basically stock Bug fitted with a Turbonique Rocket Drag Axle, instantly became a drag racing legend by leaving Tommy Ivo’s four-engine Showboat dragster in its dust with a 9.36 elapsed time at 168 mph on Sept.19, 1966, at Tampa Dragway.

Built by tobacco heir Zachary Reynolds of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco fame, the “Tobacco King” 1964 Ford Galaxie was as wild an example of a Rocket Drag Axle-equipped car as one could ask for, and certainly reflected Reynolds’ daredevil personality. Playboy, pilot, Ham Radio enthusiast and all-around enfant terrible, Reynolds specifically wanted a car that would terrorize everyone with its appearance alone...

This sinister Ford Galaxie is not a metaphorical rocket, as in "fast as a rocket!" It is not a marketing trademark like Oldsmobile's Rocket 88. This car actually is rocket-powered. In addition to the prodigious amount of power created by the supercharged 427 engine topped with four side draft carburetors, there is a genuine rocket engine affixed to the differential that generates an extra 1000 horsepower.

There are some stories that can't be told in words but can only be truly understood through an object of the era. The stories of cruising Bellflower Boulevard, the Bonneville speed trials, the advent of Whittier Boulevard lowriders, the WWII aerospace effort and moonshine running in '40 Fords are brought from the history books to brilliant Technicolor reality when you are able to experience an artifact in real life. There is the sculptural quality of seeing the object in space that makes it real and palpable but, even more importantly, there is the human element of coming to grips with the craftsmanship and engineering of details. That is where you see the mark of the individual.

This car epitomizes what I wanted to be when I grew up... A savage engineer on the razor's edge. A craftsman dedicated to awesomeness. An artist building folly. It is easy to dismiss this illegal monster as a rich kid's plaything, but that does not begin to tell the story.

The rocket-powered Galaxie is a beautifully executed assembly of the best technology of the time. Mad scientist-style Turbonique for the Rocket Drag Axle, commercially available speed equipment from Carter and Lathem, war surplus from Uncle Sam and ham radio equipment from hobbyist suppliers. This is not a Corvette purchased off the lot but, rather, a finely curated assemblage of great creativity.

Far more than an exercise in the history of 1960's speed equipment and cinder block workshop engineering, this is a story about the end of the outlaws. As when Hunter Thompson went to Vegas and Tom Wolfe rode with the Pranksters, these were the final days of those who lived in the wonderland just outside the laws. The world was changing so fast that the disparate elements of the freak power contingent were hitting the straights and ninnies from all sides. Those poor district attorneys in Vegas just didn't know what was happening to the world. As the world became a more litigious and uninteresting place, these brazen animals gave way to the sober Ralph Nader regimented era of corporate responsibility.

As we jumped our Schwinn Stingrays over trash cans, these extravagant and vulgar machines were an inspiration to be our best. It is no wonder Jackass, monster trucks, Jesse James and hardware hacking are so popular, as these are the remnants of doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Extraordinary personal expression as high art and savage good times.

Long live the outlaw.

Link (via Hooptyrides pal Iowahawk)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mercedes Wheel Cylinders Rebuilt

Never really being happy with how the brakes turned out on the Mercedes 190b, I decided to overhaul the entire brake system the right way. At $35 per wheel cylinder, I don't know that you could find a better deal in rebuilding than ABS Power Brake in Orange, California.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Dinosaurs and Robots Dispatch: New Digital Mag from Mark Frauenfelder & Mister Jalopy

It is true that my entertaining internet presence, Hooptyrides, has been neglected as of late. As Ed T. - official stalker of Hooptyrides - has pointed out, the time elapsed since my last post has officially set a new record for inattention by shattering the Spring 2007 period of neglect.

Though I would like to claim sloth as the excuse, I have been fantastically busy launching a media conglomerate with Mark Frauenfelder called Dinosaurs and Robots. In addition to a blog and radio station, Dinosaurs and Robots is also publishing a (digital) magazine called Dispatch.

Make Magazine has been terrifically supportive of trying all sorts of novel approaches to conveying technical information and have backed it up by hiring great artists to illustrate whatever I am trying to explain. The relationship is better than great and I am spoiled by their attention to excellence. But, as a DIY-snob, I have always wanted to try to do the entire thing myself. The first issue of Dispatch is a handy magazine of projects, techniques and tools, loosely arranged around the idea of transport.

Besides planning and executing every step of the projects myself, I was also the sole designer, photographer, writer and editor of the inaugural Dispatch. It was a good deal of effort - maybe 60 hours, as it required a lot of starting from scratch. But, it was great fun and the next one will be less onerous as I have now set some standards for how I want to convey information.

Powered by Yahoo/Adobe PDF Ads
There are folks who do not believe creative effort should be rewarded monetarily. I am not one of those people. Dispatch is released as a PDF with dynamic ads from Adobe/Yahoo. You can choose to turn off the ads or open the PDF with Apple Preview, which does not support ads. However, if you enjoy the Dispatch and would like to see future issues, I would appreciate it if you'd open with the Adobe Reader and leave the ads enabled.

Since I have had a sneak peek, I am eagerly looking forward to Volume 2 by Mark Frauenfelder. It is very cool.

UPDATE: Due to issues at Mediafire, I have uploaded to, which I should have done in the first place. Link

Thanks to Eric, Mike and Matt of Yahoo!