“Tom Magliozzi: Im Pace Requisat”

Getting on toward serious winter now. The nights are at their longest. On nights when the sky is clear and the temperatures drop to their coldest, the constellation Orion is cruising smoothly through the night displaying the star nursery in its sword for anyone who wants to seek it out with a pair of binoculars. The winds are chilling and the fire is welcoming and warm. And, there are more stories.
I had several stories that I could relate for you, but there is one that needs telling. Frankly, I’d rather not be having to write this, because it involves a person that I thought the world of.
Tom Magliozzi died on November 3rd, 2014.
For those of you who don’t listen to National Public Radio, this may not have a great impact on you. For those who are long-time listeners, Tom and Ray Magliozzi were probably part of your extended family, and maybe we can join hands around the fire and relate stories about the Magliozzi brothers and their show on National Public Radio to those who are among the uninitiated.
I’ll start.
I first heard about the NPR radio show “Car Talk” back in the late eighties in an article I was reading in “Autoweek” Magazine. It was a short feature about two garage owners who were doing a radio show out of WBUR in Boston having to do with car repair. As I read the article, I became more and more curious about these two guys who were about as whacked out as I was, and a hell of a lot more intelligent to boot. The article mentioned that their show had been likened to “…a couple of kids playing around with the high school PA system…”
One example of their goofiness went something like this:
(caller) “Well, the hot light is glowing on the dash of my car.”
(Click and Clack) “Oh, really?”
(caller) “Yeah, and it flickers off and comes back on again.”
(Click and Clack) “Well have you checked to see what the antifreeze level is in your radiator?”
(caller) “No, not really.”
(Click and Clack) “Oh, so we’re doing this by inference, eh?”

I was hooked.

There was no serious internet back then, so I had to do serious research to find out more about them. What saved me from having to do much in the way of serious work was that the local NPR radio station in Lafayette, LA began running their show on Saturday mornings. Now I was really hooked. At this time, I was finally making a living as an auto mechanic, and everything that they mentioned on their show rang true. Joyce had her own way of dealing with the show. Whenever it would come on Saturday afternoon, she would leave the living room and go read while I was killing myself laughing like a jackal while listening to the show.

What made them so effective was that they were also graduates of MIT and could muster more intellectual power than both houses of Congress (Which, actually, isn’t very hard to do.) in the pursuit of answering questions posed by folks calling in with car problems. They would feature letters sent in by listeners, who turned out to be every bit as twisted as they were. I remember Tom reading a letter from a listener one time having to do with the debates that would spring up in academia: “…So here he poses the classic question: ‘If a man is in a forest and says something, and there’s no one around to hear him, is he still wrong?’”

That one had me laughing so hard that Joyce rushed into the room asking me if I was going to live.

And another:

(caller) “I have a 1978 Cadillac El Dorado….)
(Click and Clack) “SELL IT!!!”

It was Tom who told us about his method of handling those A-holes behind you in traffic who honk as soon as the light turns green.

“It’s usually on a hill. The light turns green and the jerk behind me gets on his horn. So, I put the clutch in on my MG like I’m going to start off, and I roll slowly back into his front bumper. We get out, we look at the situation and figure that no damage has been done. We discuss it and get back into our cars. By this time, several cycles of the traffic light have occurred. At the next green light, if he honks again, I put the clutch in and roll back into his front bumper….”

At this point Joyce would have to come into the room again to see if I was going to live.

Around two years ago, the brothers announced that they were going to retire from doing the live shows and that the Saturday mornings shows were going to be re-broadcasts of “The best from the archives.” I, along with a lot of other listeners were disappointed, but we understood. They’d been at it for over three decades, and most of us figured that there were other things they needed to do in their lives.

Well, we didn’t get it exactly right.

When the news finally came, the cause of death was listed as “complications from Alzheimer’s disease”. And we really understood. And we thought it was unfair for such a brilliant, warm person to be taken that way.

I can’t tell you where Tom Magliozzi is now. I can only hope he is someplace with Mama Magliozzi and driving the black ’62 Dodge Dart convertible that he and his brother, Ray were seen in during the “60 Minutes” feature that they appeared in years ago. If he is, I can only hope that he keeps it between the ditches and the shiny side up.

December’s Tip of the Month:
At this time of the year, it’s important to remember that our only true wealth is our family, friends, and loved ones. Take care of them on the road and everywhere else. May your holidays be filled with happiness.

Advertisements
Posted in Political / Societal | Leave a comment

“Tri-Five Chevys”

Second column of the three in the run up to the New Year.
It’s November and the winds fan the campfire’s flames. The days are getting shorter and the nights colder and the stories circle among us assembled lend a comfort and warmth that electric socks or mittens can’t match.
I have one that most car nuts are familiar with.
There is a car that created quite a phenomenon for three years, and had a reputation that would grow all out of proportion from its original importance when it was new. The Chevrolet line from 1955 to 1957 captured the public’s attention and continued to do so many years after. This is something you just don’t see that often anymore, and as interest in cars lapses with time, you’ll see even less.
Several events occurred to set General Motors on course to produce a performance sedan for middle-class America. The first event was that Henry Ford died. For whatever honors history may shower upon him now, the fact was that by the time he died in 1947, he was an inflexible, reactionary old bird who was still more or less in charge of Ford Motor Company, and was holding the organization back. By 1949, Ford introduced a new car with modern good looks and was in the process of developing new six and V-8 engines with overhead-valve technology. Chrysler and General Motors knew that this was happening and were on separate tracks to counter the threat to their market share that Ford now presented.
In 1949, General Motors introduced their “Rocket 88” option for the Oldsmobile line of cars with spectacular results. Cadillac had also been able to offer a redesigned version of their overhead valve V-8. Chrysler was engaged in engine development that would eventually include input from and cooperation with auto racer and entrepreneur Briggs Cunningham. One of the results of this was the “Hemi” (named for the hemispherical shape of the combustion chamber in the cylinder heads) series of V-8s.
Chevrolet had acquired a major talent pool with GM’s purchasing of the Ardun performance group which was to have major input into the design and development of the V-8 engines that would power the “Tri Five” Chevys through their three-year reign and beyond. Chevy’s small block V-8 started life as a 265 cu.in. package. It was cheap, rugged, and capable of producing lots of power for its light weight. This was the performance that was central to the “Tri Fives’” success.
The ’55 Chevrolet hit the showrooms as an attractive passenger car aimed at middle-class buyers – some which were already aware (through the automotive press) of the potent powerhouse that lurked under the hood – loaded with options. Styling was extraordinary with a major styling coup being the Chevy Nomad – a two-door station wagon, of all things. With this car, Chevrolet grabbed a large share of the market. Rarely had the middle-class been offered such a mix of looks, luxury and performance, and here it was being handed to them on a silver platter. Naturally, they grabbed.
In 1956, there were subtle styling changes (wider grille, different tail fins, for example). The 265 V-8 was offered with more performance options, a 225 horsepower option topping the list.
This may have been my father’s introduction to Chevrolets, since he had a ’56 Chevy as a company car. We were living in Midland, Texas at the time, which, along with nearby Odessa, was surrounded by hundreds of miles of scrub brush, stunted oak trees, mesquite, and very long two-lane roads. Although the bulk of the business was contracting for swimming pool construction, there were some jobs in neighboring towns, and the Chevy would probably have functioned as a “time machine”, shortening the time over those long, boring stretches of road. Our choice in personal cars switched from Fords to Chevrolets soon after, as did many other hundreds of families around that time.
By 1957, the end for the “Tri-Five” Chevys’ body style was near. There was a big push by other car companies to offer more space-ship-like styling and more frightening horsepower packages in bigger and bigger engines. Chevrolet responded with a slight increase in overall length, pronounced tailfins, and a rework of the front grille that made it look as though it had two large lemons stuck in its teeth. Chevrolet also introduced the 283 cu in V-8, which was basically an upgrading of its 265 engine block. One option for the 283 was a version that produced 245 horsepower. Another option employed Rochester fuel injection and produced 283 horsepower (although there were some reports that the reliability of the fuel injection unit was seriously flawed). Surprisingly, Ford outsold Chevrolet that year.
By 1958, the magic had gone. The “Tri-Fives” renaissance had been followed the baroque and rococo periods of styling where styling would feature larger and bloaty-er looks, more power and really scary lack of handling. At least this was the way it was with new cars. As used cars, the “Tri-Fives” were more desirable, since now they were cheaper, they were light, and there was an air of expendability about them. More and more they started showing up at drag strips in Pro Stock classes, simply because they were easily acquired by hot-rodders, and small-block Chevy engines were inexpensive to get huge amounts of horsepower out of. Their dominance lasted for decades.
Even now, “Tri Five” Chevrolets command high prices in the collector’s market. The “Nomad” station wagons from all three years are outrageously expensive. Hard to figure.
As the winds whip around us and campfire leaps a little higher, and the night gets a bit darker, more stories spin out – next month. Until then, keep it between the ditches and the shiny side up.
November’s tip of the month:
This would be a good time to get your air conditioning checked. On most cars today, if the defroster for your windshield is selected, the car’s air conditioning compressor will engage to dry the air blowing over the inside of your windshield and clear it quicker. With winter coming up, you’ll need all the advantages you can get.

Posted in Political / Societal | Leave a comment

“Three-wheeled Cars”

Once again it’s Autumn and headed toward Winter. The days are getting short, and once more it’s time to gather around the fire and tell stories. This month I’m going to talk about the persistence of some companies at thinking outside the box when designing and building cars.
The Elio is a good example of this. With much media fanfare there’s been an announcement of one company’s intention of producing a three-wheeled two-seat car capable of 84 miles to the gallon as well as highway speeds. The layout unique in that the driver and passenger are seated in tandem – one behind the other – and that there are two front wheels and one rear (driving) wheel. There’s at least one prototype being shown to the motoring press. Handling, acceleration, and comfort are reported to be excellent.
Another wrinkle in thinking outside the box is that the company is raising capital for production by asking for deposits for the cars in advance. This is not new, though. One example of this kind of financing of products was famous in general aviation when an entrepreneur named James Bede marketed several kits for homebuilt aircraft using a similar technique.
The three-wheel car concept, though, is not exactly revolutionary. There have been other examples of this. In the fifties, Cushman offered a line of three-wheeled vehicles designed for urban delivery and travel as well as farm errands-running. Outside of those two areas they were little more than curiosities. In Britain, Reliant was more successful with its series of “Robin” three-wheelers. The chief advantage of owning one of these in England was that you only needed a motorcyclist’s license to drive one of these in traffic. The chief disadvantage of owning one of these was illustrated in more than one episode of the BBC car show “Top Gear”, where they repeated had one rolling over on its side during hard cornering. You just didn’t drive very aggressively in Robins – not for long, anyway.
There were other examples of manufacturers who pursued this concept even before World War II. How long before World War II you might ask? Try before World War One. Try 1911, when Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan, founder of Morgan Motor Company, introduced a three-wheeled, two-seat car. The wisdom behind producing this car was simply that Morgan was able to take advantage of a loophole in British tax laws that allowed motorcycles to be taxed at a way cheaper rate than automobiles. This actually worked. There were a lot of these sold.
The other advantages of the design became apparent as more and more of the cars showed up on the road. They were light. With a single chain-driven wheel in the back, there was no need for a big, heavy differential that would be needed to make sure that two driving wheels could turn at different rate around a corner. That shaved a lot of weight. So did the fact that it was a two-seater. It was so light, in fact, that it could be (and was) powered by a JAP V-twin motorcycle engine. This made it very economical at a time in Britain when fuel wasn’t exactly cheap.
As time went on, it became apparent as subsequent redesigns of the Morgan three-wheeler widened the track of the front wheels and lowered the height of the car, that the car was really fast. They began to be raced. I know of one photo taken at Brooklands race track around 1936 of at least three Morgans trying to pass each other in a turn. One of them is actually up on the embankment that borders the turn and charging hard. The photo still gives me the willies when I look at it.
By the late thirties, the British auto industry had become more skilled in producing sophisticated cars and more of the British public were able to buy them. Morgan answered the competition by introducing a four-wheeled car. Wisely, Morgan had decided to remain a niche marketer, specializing in sports cars so it could produce cars using simpler techniques and smaller manufacturing facilities. Sadly, though, the handwriting was on the wall for the three-wheeled Morgan.
The F-series four-wheel Morgans hit the streets in 1932, being sold alongside the three-wheeled sports cars right up until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. After the war, the F-series was once again produced. The three-wheeler wasn’t. It’s a shame in a way, because the pictures that I’ve seen of the last models of the three-wheelers show them to be lean, sleek and almost lethal in their good looks.
And so, as the shadows lengthen and the days grow shorter, we huddle a little closer to the fire and talk about things and event of long past.
Or do we?
In 2011, Morgan Motors introduced a replica of their prewar three-wheeled sports car. They’re selling it now.
Until next month, keep it between the ditches and the shiny side up.
October’s Tip of the Month:
It’s gonna’ get dark early now. Make sure all the lights a working with an occasional walk around once or twice a week.

Posted in Political / Societal | Leave a comment

“Don’t Buy a New Car”

I was online recently on Yahoo, when I ran across an article on their “Motoramic” page. The article was by Steven Lang, a very capable writer who has managed to stay up with the very latest in the nefarious goings-on of the American auto industry. The article was entitled “The Seven Reasons That You Can’t Work On Your Own Car”. Naturally, I was curious about what at first blush to be an article that would seem to run counter to what this column has been about for years now – mainly becoming more involved in your personal set of wheels. As I read the article, I became alarmed.
There are things happening out there in the auto industry. Bad things. The fact that those who edit Yahoo’s “Motoramic” page posted Mr. Lang’s piece displays a singularly impressive amount of guts. Any mainstream car magazine that ran anything like Mr. Lang’s piece would be in jeopardy of having ads by the major car makers pulled in retaliation. Sad but true, practically all publications live or die according to how much ad space they can sell, and car magazines are no exception. It’s hard to imagine a mainstream car magazine breaking hard news about misbehavior of the car makers that are, well basically, paying their salaries.
According to the story written by Mr. Lang (Quoting here): “…Everything from predatory pricing to government regulation is keeping the aspiring DIY auto mechanic estranged from their engine bay….” He goes on to say that both private and government entities are (quoting again): “…partially aimed at keeping car repair in the hands of the few rather than the many….”
He hit hot points in the article. The first was motor oil. He mentioned about how the price of a quart of motor oil has risen in recent years to the point where it makes more sense to have your car’s oil changed at a quick-change place than to do it yourself. True, the price of crude oil has gone up, but recycled oil is cheaper to refine and works just as well. We can’t get our hands on it, though, at least at the savings some folks are getting. My point is that doing an oil change does get you into the engine compartment (he does mention this) and allows you a look around at other potential trouble. It might be worth taking the financial hit.
That’s where he brings up the next hot point. Even if you do attempt to plunge into your car’s engine bay, there are barriers erected. There are decorative shrouds covering the engine and other components everywhere. It’s extremely difficult and time consuming to remove all that stuff to get to critical wiring, vacuum and fluid lines as well as the other components one has to address, then reassemble it all again. If you’re paying a mechanic to work on your car, you are paying that mechanic to remove all that useless crap, repair your vehicle, and then reassemble all of it again.
To continue the subject of the shrouding, another hot point shows up: underbody shields, which are an impediment to whatever work need to be performed from under the car: oil changes, A/C compressors, power steering pumps, steering components and the like. There are excuses stated by the carmakers as to why they are put on the car – aerodynamics, protection against debris, heat conservation, etc. Basically, though, they aren’t very well thought out and are in place with dozens of fasteners which age quickly and fail. Mercedes has been employing these for decades now, and at the shops where I worked we would simply discard them when they were so cracked and broken that they were hanging down and creating a hazard. Our customers didn’t mind in the slightest.
Another hot point that really creeps me out: Where did the dipsticks go? Mr. Lang mentioned this, and it immediately got my attention. In this column I have long been a champion of getting folks outside and under the hood to check the fluids in their vehicles. Showing folks where the dipsticks are to check oil, transmission fluid and power steering fluid may have been a revelation to them, but it was comforting to me, for that at least the car makers were still clearly marking the devices. Not so anymore.
Evidently, there a few car makers out there who are pursuing a new strategy, which is to supply customers with cars equipped with “lifetime fluids”. According to Mr. Lang, “lifetime” actually describes the lifetime of the car’s warranty period. This would mean that the fluids in the car would not be changed for the entire time the car is under warranty. He cites the fact the strategy is even being applied to cars with continually variable (CVS) transmissions, which, as he puts it, “…are virtually impossible to rebuild once they break….” He also points out that drain plugs are now being designed to “grenade” themselves with regular use.
He goes on to talk about OBD II diagnostics and the wars that carmakers and independent shops have fought over the years to allow us access to the trouble codes we need to help us in the repair of our own vehicles. I was around for that one, and it still chaps me.
Enough to send you more information from the front lines as I get it.
Until next month, keep it between the ditches and the shiny side up.
September’s Tip of the Month:
When shopping for a new car, ask the salesman or check the website about locations of the dipsticks under the (They should be able to show you.), and ask about lifetime fluids. If you hear something you don’t like, don’t buy the car.

Posted in Political / Societal | Leave a comment

“Of Barracudas and Memories”

It was one Saturday when Joyce and I were returning from some arcane adventure in Bellingham when I saw it headed toward us on Grandview. It was from between 1964 to ’66. It was Chrysler’s answer to Ford’s Mustang. It was perfect. It was a Plymouth Barracuda.
I know people get sick of me saying this, but I remember when they were new. Having just cracked 63 years of age, which makes me older than some of the exhibits in the Smithsonian, and Having been nuts about cars since I was a toddler, I’ve had lots of opportunities to remember a lot of vehicles when they were new. With the Barracuda, it was easy, since the family who lived across the street had a two-year-old 1966 model with the “slant six” engine and an automatic transmission. (I told you I was old.) I never got to drive it, but I rode in it many times and was impressed by how nimble the car was and how smooth that in-line six ran.
At sixteen and seventeen, I was too young to yet understand things like corporate jockeying for market share, and sales numbers in demographic niches. All I knew was that Ford had introduced the Mustang, which had us adolescents drooling. What we hadn’t paid attention to was that Chrysler had introduced the Barracuda sometime before. Officially, the Barracuda was released as a 1964 model and the Mustang was tagged as “1964-and-a-half”. The Mustang was much better known, possibly because of the work that had been poured into researching the use of as many Ford Falcon parts as possible to reduce the cost of the car, and the Mustang’s variety of body styles.
The original Barracuda had just one body style – the fastback. The fastback styling was achieved by using an enormous back glass that some wags in the automotive press referred to as “the hothouse” or “the greenhouse”. One wonders how long it took the Chrysler brass to realize that that styling feature was unpopular in the hotter and sunnier areas of the country. The other difference from the Mustang was that the Barracuda was tied very closely to the Plymouth Valiant – sharing Valiant running gear, body parts and even being marketed as a sporty version of the Valiant. So, while the Barracuda was essentially a “pony car”, and was in the showrooms before the Mustang, it was the Mustang that established the genre’.
Initially, the engine options matched that of the Mustang: A 170 c.i. six, a 225 c.i. six, and 273 c.i. V8 to the Mustang’s 170, 200, and 260 (later, 289). Other features didn’t match so much. The first year Barracudas equipped with the automatic transmissions had push-button controls on the dash, which they shared with the Valiant. That kind of feature didn’t go very far in promoting the Barracuda as a performance car. It was roomier inside than the Mustang was and more comfortable – once again pushing it further from the performance image that the Mustang embraced.
As sales numbers started to come in, Chrysler began to make changes to bring the Barracuda more in line with what the new pony car market desired. The shifting for the automatic transmission was moved from the push-button panel on the dash to a sporty-looking gear lever and console on the floor, the “Valiant” nameplate disappeared from the car, and higher output version of the 273 V8 was offered. It must’ve worked, because at the end of its first three-year run, the Barracuda was not dropped, but was re-styled, worked and had three versions (fastback, notchback, and convertible) offered. It was slightly bigger and heavier, but featured better handling. It still shared many pieces with the Plymouth Valiant. The list of engine options expanded as well, with the 170 c.i. six being dropped from the list, but with the 318, 340, and eventually the 383, 440, and 426 (race only) V8s being added. One can only guess how handling deteriorated with the big-block Chrysler engines being fitted.
In 1970, the Barracuda emerged not as a Chrysler “A”-bodied variant, but sharing the newly-minted “E” body with the Dodge Challenger. While highly successful as styling exercises, they gained a reputation for handling like pigs. With the engines available, they definitely were fast – in a straight line. Some showed up in the SCCA’s Trans-Am racing series, but needed extensive reworking of the chassis and suspension to get them to handle anywhere near as good as they looked. Sales must have been good because Plymouth kept them in the showrooms for four years. Sadly, gasoline shortages, air quality standards, and insurance companies caught up them. After 1974, Plymouth Barracudas were merely a happy memory. In 2001, Plymouth itself became a happy memory as well. Times had changed.
Until next month, keep it between the ditches and the shiny side up.
August’s tip of the month:
The weather’s good and we’re driving more, so it’s a good time to step up fluids checks in the engine bay and pressure checks of the tires. It’s also a good time to go through all the crap that’s been filling up the trunk and throwing the useless stuff away. Remember, weight kills gas mileage.

Posted in Political / Societal | Leave a comment

“Jack Brabham”

This actually ran as two columns in the Squol Quol in June and July, which kind of shows up the one of the major drawbacks of short form journalism: mainly, a lack of space to attempt to flesh out a story. Even with both columns combined, this piece only runs around 1400 words.

Jack Brabham deserves more.

–Bob Aiken

 

Jack Brabham died on May 19th. With his passing goes a bit of living history that dates back to a golden era of Formula One racing that occurred during 1950s and 1960s. It was a time when the chances of a three-time F1 championship winner living long enough to die peacefully in bed at age 88 were very thin indeed. It would be easy to say that he beat the odds and leave it at that, but Jack Brabham was a truly extraordinary man who ran counter to the stereotype of Formula One driver of that time in history.

First off, he was Australian. This, when the vast majority of F1 drivers were from Europe. Secondly, he defied the stereotype of being a race driver “first, last, and always”. His early interests were oriented toward the building and development of race cars. His background suited him to that pursuit, since he’d spent his youth repairing the vehicles in the fleet of his father’s business. He completed technical school, concentrating in the industrial trades. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in 1944 with the intention of becoming a pilot. At that time, the RAAF had plenty of pilots, but needed aircraft mechanics badly. Three guesses who won that round. Brabham remained with the RAAF until his discharge in 1946.

In 1948, Brabham, with a friend, began building a dirt oval “midget” (called “speedcars” in Australia) car with the idea that his friend would drive while he maintained, repaired, and developed the machine. That’s where it might have stayed had not his friends wife began to object to her husband taking risks as a driver on the dirt oval tracks. Brabham took over driving duties and realized that he had a real talent for that facet of the sport.

Obviously, he was very, very good. He won championships in Australian speedcar racing in 1949, 150, and 1951. It was in 1951 that he became interested in road racing and began buying modifying from the British race car constructor, Cooper. By 1953, he was putting all of his efforts into road racing where he wound up being as successful as he’d been on the dirt ovals. By 1955, he decided to try racing in Europe.

Because of his experience with purchasing, building up, and racing Cooper equipment, he was able to establish himself with the Cooper factory as a competent driver. After driving a few races in Britain, he returned with the car he developed there to Australia where he won the 1955 Australian Grand Prix.

By 1956, he’d moved his family back to Britain and was driving for Cooper, who’d begun campaigning mid-engine race cars – unique for that time. Brabham was one of a few drivers who were able to help Cooper establish the design as a viable concept. The combination of Brabham and the mid-engine Coopers must have worked, because he won the 1959 and 1960 Formula One World Championships. There had been a lot of hard work buried in those victories. Not only was he driving, but was heavily engaged in race car design, as well as other business ventures (a car dealership and race car fabrication and modification business).

By this time, Jack Brabham was becoming a household word among those in the auto racing world. This, and his string of successes on and off the racetrack gave him the confidence to start his own business constructing cars (Motor Racing Developments), and, by 1962, leave Cooper and strike out on his own. Initial success of the fledgling company was hampered by F1 limiting the displacement of engines to 1500c.c. It wasn’t until 1965, when F1 increased the size requirement of the engines to 3000 c.c. that the Brabham organization began to see real success. Brabham and engine builder Repco teamed to use an engine based on Oldsmobile’s aluminum block V8.

The combination of engine reliability and power, innovative chassis, and Brabham’s ability as a driver put him into the F1 World’s Championship for 1966. This was the first and probably will be the only time that has won an F1 World Championship in a car built by his own company.

In doing research this column, I found just how remarkable this gentleman was. Where most F1 drivers would want to continue their campaign to win as many F1 championships as they could, Brabham elected to let other drivers in his employ drive the cars from his factory with tried and true technology. He would try out the latest developments from his factory on his car to assess them. Once again, the preference for building the cars competed with his desire for driving. The cars with the proven technology usually were quite reliable and successful – the ones he drove would show problems if the “new stuff” went bad.

In 1967, his teammate, Denis Hulme took the F1 championship after a really tight battle with Brabham for points all season long. In 1969, mechanical problems plagued his efforts to win a fourth F1 title. In 1969, he sat out part of the F1 season to heal from injuries suffered in a testing accident. It was during that time that he began making plans to give up Formula One driving. Family responsibilities were beginning to weigh heavily on him. He even sold his share of the racing team to his partners.

In 1970, he changed his plans after failing to attract a seriously competitive driver to the team to take over his lead driver position. It was a hard-fought season, with Brabham finishing fifth in Championship points. At the end of the 1970 racing season, that was it, though. He finally quit racing to pursue auto racing interests outside of driving.

In one of the sources for this column – Wikipedia – I found a short quote from Jack Brabham that they had run across in a “Motor Sport” magazine article (“The World According to Jack”). In reading it, I gained a deeper insight into how difficult the decision to quit had been:
“I felt very sad. … I didn’t feel I was giving up racing because I couldn’t do the job. I felt I was just as competitive then as at any other time, and I really should have won the championship in 1970. … I’d have been a lot better off if I’d stayed, but sometimes family pressures don’t allow you to make the decisions you’d like to.”

After leaving driving competitively, he and his family moved back to Australia settling on a farm between Melbourne and Sydney. In addition to running the farm, he engaged himself in running other businesses in Australia and in England, the scope of which ranged from car dealerships to aviation. He did live to see the racing team that bore his name (although by that time he had no financial interest in) campaign cars throughout the ‘70s and’80s, taking two more F1 championships.
Along with his success in business, other honors came his way, and in 1978, he was knighted for his work in auto racing. He was now “Sir Jonathon Arthur Brabham, OBE”.

He emerged in vintage auto racing and other motorsport events, driving very expensive and historically significant racing cars in “gentlemen’s competition” with other luminaries in the sport — notably, the Goodwood Revival and the Goodwood Festival of Speed. He continued to compete in these events until 2004. Age began to take its toll by this time and his health was beginning to fail. The hearing was going due to the abuse that it had taken while he was engaged in racing and race car development. The eyesight was going due to macular degeneration. The kidneys were going due to…well everything. He’d lived a remarkable life and packed into it more than ten other people might have during the same span of time. He simply wore out.

He had three sons. All of whom have been involved in auto racing. The most prominent is Geoff Brabham whose success in sports car racing and a victory at the 24 Hours of LeMans, have marked him as a legendary driver in his own right. Additionally, two grandsons are moving into auto racing as well.

Not bad for a kid who started out as a mechanic for the Royal Australian Air Force so many years ago.

Until next month, keep it between the ditches and the shiny side up.

 

Posted in Political / Societal | Leave a comment

“Don’t Buy a New Car”

I was online recently on Yahoo, when I ran across an article on their “Motoramic” page. The article was by Steven Lang, a very capable writer who has managed to stay up with the very latest in the nefarious goings-on of the American auto industry. The article was entitled “The Seven Reasons That You Can’t Work On Your Own Car”. Naturally, I was curious about what at first blush to be an article that would seem to run counter to what this column has been about for years now – mainly becoming more involved in your personal set of wheels. As I read the article, I became alarmed.

There are things happening out there in the auto industry. Bad things. The fact that those who edit Yahoo’s “Motoramic” page posted Mr. Lang’s piece displays a singularly impressive amount of guts. Any mainstream car magazine that ran anything like Mr. Lang’s piece would be in jeopardy of having ads by the major car makers pulled in retaliation. Sad but true, practically all publications live or die according to how much ad space they can sell, and car magazines are no exception. It’s hard to imagine a mainstream car magazine breaking hard news about misbehavior of the car makers that are, well basically, paying their salaries.

According to the story written by Mr. Lang (Quoting here): “…Everything from predatory pricing to government regulation is keeping the aspiring DIY auto mechanic estranged from their engine bay….” He goes on to say that both private and government entities are (quoting again): “…partially aimed at keeping car repair in the hands of the few rather than the many….”

He hit hot points in the article. The first was motor oil. He mentioned about how the price of a quart of motor oil has risen in recent years to the point where it makes more sense to have your car’s oil changed at a quick-change place than to do it yourself. True, the price of crude oil has gone up, but recycled oil is cheaper to refine and works just as well. We can’t get our hands on it, though, at least at the savings some folks are getting. My point is that doing an oil change does get you into the engine compartment (he does mention this) and allows you a look around at other potential trouble. It might be worth taking the financial hit.

That’s where he brings up the next hot point. Even if you do attempt to plunge into your car’s engine bay, there are barriers erected. There are decorative shrouds covering the engine and other components everywhere. It’s extremely difficult and time consuming to remove all that stuff to get to critical wiring, vacuum and fluid lines as well as the other components one has to address, then reassemble it all again. If you’re paying a mechanic to work on your car, you are paying that mechanic to remove all that useless crap, repair your vehicle, and then reassemble all of it again.

To continue the subject of the shrouding, another hot point shows up: underbody shields, which are an impediment to whatever work need to be performed from under the car: oil changes, A/C compressors, power steering pumps, steering components and the like. There are excuses stated by the carmakers as to why they are put on the car – aerodynamics, protection against debris, heat conservation, etc. Basically, though, they aren’t very well thought out and are in place with dozens of fasteners which age quickly and fail. Mercedes has been employing these for decades now, and at the shops where I worked we would simply discard them when they were so cracked and broken that they were hanging down and creating a hazard. Our customers didn’t mind in the slightest.

Another hot point that really creeps me out: Where did the dipsticks go? Mr. Lang mentioned this, and it immediately got my attention. In this column I have long been a champion of getting folks outside and under the hood to check the fluids in their vehicles. Showing folks where the dipsticks are to check oil, transmission fluid and power steering fluid may have been a revelation to them, but it was comforting to me, for that at least the car makers were still clearly marking the devices. Not so anymore.

Evidently, there a few car makers out there who are pursuing a new strategy, which is to supply customers with cars equipped with “lifetime fluids”. According to Mr. Lang, “lifetime” actually describes the lifetime of the car’s warranty period. This would mean that the fluids in the car would not be changed for the entire time the car is under warranty. He cites the fact the strategy is even being applied to cars with continually variable (CVS) transmissions, which, as he puts it, “…are virtually impossible to rebuild once they break….” He also points out that drain plugs are now being designed to “grenade” themselves with regular use.

He goes on to talk about OBD II diagnostics and the wars that carmakers and independent shops have fought over the years to allow us access to the trouble codes we need to help us in the repair of our own vehicles. I was around for that one, and it still chaps me….

…Enough to send you more information from the front lines as I get it.

Until next month, keep it between the ditches and the shiny side up.

September’s Tip of the Month:

When shopping for a new car, ask the salesman or check the website about locations of the dipsticks under the (They should be able to show you.), and ask about lifetime fluids. If you hear something you don’t like, don’t buy the car.

Posted in Political / Societal | Leave a comment