Monday, December 24, 2012


I wish I could share a really big car memory with you for Christmas, but the fact is that, then as now, I was part of a car-less family, and usually spent the holiday close to home, without the ritual drive in a present-laden auto over roads slippery with new snow to friends and relatives and their fridges full of beer and rec room bars laden with bottles of Canadian Club. I'm part of that last generation of kids whose parents and older siblings didn't see the connection between reckless driving and boozing, and would have likely ignored the connection since how the hell were you expected to get through the '70s without dulling the nerves a bit, anyway?

My lingering car memories from childhood Christmases past come bubbling to the surface, not when I think of a Chevy Caprice station wagon piloted by a dad blowing smoke out the window from the Kool he's just bummed off mom but whenever I see one of these:

I don't remember the year, but I definitely got the Hot Wheels rally case, and it was definitely a favorite gift, which I filled with a collection of little cars that included at least one first-gen Mustang and a Can-Am race car. Squinting at the photo above, I'm also getting a familiar vibe from the purple cab-over with the surfboards in the back. Years after Endless Summer came out, surfing was still the leisure activity of the young and truly free, even (or especially) if you were working class and landlocked. A friend's teenage older brother, after a vicious argument with his dad, would run away from home, hitching his way to the beaches of California but only making it as far as Wyoming or Utah before being forced to head back, humiliated.

I'm also getting a Proustian rush from the little tin badges that came with the Hot Wheels, one of which I'm sporting proudly here, on the carpet at my cousin Terry's fab '50s bungalow in Weston:

I'm digging the poly blend shirt in a dusty shade of avocado with the matching tie. Somewhere this holiday an assless hipster will try to rock this look at a New Year's party. The resolution on my scan of this slide is a bit kludgy, but it's definitely a muscle car on the tin badge, and since the presents under Terry's tree haven't been opened yet (I'm pegging this as the evening of Christmas day, well after the big present opening at home) I've clearly chosen to wear this Hot Wheels badge all day long, probably the last time I'd let myself wear my car obsession so openly.

The Hot Wheels - Can-Am race car and all - are long gone, as is the rally case and the tin badge. I'd convince my family to buy me the odd copy of Hot Rod magazine to read on the long car rides to whatever rented cottage or campsite we called home for summer vacations, but by my teens the car jones would be driven deep underground, submerged mostly by the weight of the certain knowledge that I neither had a car to learn on nor the money to buy one. Or at least that was my excuse. Somewhere between that Hot Wheels badge and today there's a long stretch of shame and poor choices that closeted my inner gearhead and reduced my love of cars to furtive glances in parking lots and a little shiver when I'd hear the rev of a tuned-out V8.

I'm hoping this is my last car-less Christmas, and with that I'll wish everyone a Merry one, with an admonishment that, should you know someone hiding their car jones deep under a bushel of rationalizations, you'll make their holiday brighter by coaxing their inner gearhead back into the sun and light. One of these would be a good place to start:
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Sunday, December 23, 2012


A couple of posts back, I wrote about Henry Ford and my self-diagnosed status as a bit of a "Ford man," based on my abiding love of a handful of Ford cars, including the (justifiably famous) Mustang and GT40, but also the Custom that they introduced in 1949 and sold with small modifications for three years after that. I don't know why I developed this fondness for the Custom, except that - in the context of its time - it was a somewhat sleek, simple, attractive car that didn't have the proportions of a battle cruiser or an excess of chrome and post-deco protuberance. Not as striking as, say, the Nash Rambler from around the same time, but a good-looking, middle-of-the-road car for the emerging middle classes in the post-war era.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was looking through some old family photos and came across this:

That's the house I grew up in when it was brand new, and the pram on the front lawn contains my sister, Mary, then an infant and as new as the house. And in the driveway, my dad's relatively new Ford Custom coupe.

I had to consult my copy of The American Auto to come to this revelation, and since was shot from the back, I can't tell whether it's the 1949 version with the single chrome bullet in the middle of the grille or the 1951 model with the "dual-bullets." Here's a photo of the earlier version, taken at Deerfield Village's Motormuster earlier this year - a beautifully restored example with whitewalls in a shade of green that I'll always associate with the '50s as it ramped up into economic cruise control.

I don't need to tell you what I'd give to own this car today. It would, to be sure, be a beast to own - constantly in need of costly repairs with parts that I'd be scrounging all over the internet. I doubt if it has power steering, and even for its size I imagine its handling might be less than elegant. And let's not talk about the mileage, or having to garage it for four months of the year so it doesn't shatter into shards of rust and scrap after one too many winters of road salt and slush. In my dreams, though, I'm driving it along the St. Lawrence on the way to the Maritimes to visit family, the trunk loaded with luggage, the kids in the back, the radio playing Perez Prado.

What I don't understand, however, is my instinctive love of this less-than-outstanding car. There's no way I'd have remembered it - by the time I came along, it had been replaced by the Buick LeSabre my dad bought around the time I was born, and which sat in the garage for years after he died, four years later. I don't recall anyone in the family talking about the Ford much, never mind telling me its make and model, but there it is, nonetheless, sitting on the concrete driveway at 41 Gray Avenue over a decade before I was born, and already worming its way into my car consciousness. A true mystery, and one I'll likely never be able to explain.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Joy ride

This video has been making the rounds on all the car blogs - Joao Barbosa taking his wife for a ride around Daytona's road course in what I presume is a Corvette Daytona prototype car. Those things will go 300 km/h, but I doubt that Barbosa ever got it close to that, preoccupied as he was with his wife losing her almighty shit in the seat next to him.

Car geeks have complimented Mrs. Barbosa on making her shrieks match the sound of the gearbox whine - though there was some debate about whether this was the box or the supercharger - but what struck me is how she keeps swatting at her husband. I'm no expert, but I don't think it's a particularly great idea to be hitting a man speeding around a road course at 150 mph, or flailing your arm around so close to the gear shift on a car that costs about a half million dollars. Also, nobody forced her into the Nomex suit and helmet, so I'm guessing she was in the car of her own free will.

Honestly, some days I don't understand women.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I recently spent a couple of week going through some fat biographies of Ford, both the man and the company, and got a bit more familiar with the antisemitism that was among Henry Ford's most salient character flaws. I'm a bit of a Ford fan; if I had to list my favorite American cars, it would be Ford heavy - the '40 V8 coupe, the '49 Custom, the Thunderbird, the Mustang, the GT40 and the Escort and Sierra Cosworths would all be there. But the fact remains that the most important American car company in history was founded and overseen for its first four decades by a nasty, Jew-hating crank.

Henry had a lot of other flaws - his belligerent self-righteousness, poisonous management style and bitter treatment of his son, Edsel, probably clinch his nomination to the pantheon of world-class assholes - but his proudly professed antisemitism, promoted just as Europe was sewing the seeds of the greatest pogrom against the Jews in history, promotes him from mere rich crank to a kind of cultural accessory to slaughter. Attacks both in the courts and from public opinion forced him to mute his attack on the Jews and shut down the Dearborn Independent by the late '20s, but he was never really repentant.

Henry Ford receives the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from the German consul of Detroit (right) and the  consul-general of Cleveland (left) in 1938. That's right - just a year before World War 2 began. Three years later, you might have called this treason.
There was no shortage of antisemites all over America and Britain in the years before the war, but Ford's very public proclamation of his opinions with the publication of The International Jew he publicized the paranoid fantasy of the Protocols into nearly every garage, barbershop and parlour across the country. Ford was a figure as heroic and his friend (and fellow antisemite) Thomas Edison to a country in love with technology and industry in the years after the closing of the frontier, and his espousing of the grand unified theory of Jewish control of banks, government and culture made it that much more reasonable to people who might never have met more than a handful of Jews in their whole life.

Which is why this feature on his grandson and namesake's strenuously conciliatory efforts to ameliorate the damage Henry did on The Truth About Cars is probably the must-read car story of the week. Henry Ford II watched as his grandfather isolated and denigrated his father, Edsel, during the long years when Edsel was supposed to be running Ford, and as soon as he was able to wrest control of the company from the failing old man, he not only modernized it to better serve the U.S. war effort, he re-made it as a modern corporation able to grow and thrive in the booming postwar market.

He also did what would have been thought impossible two decades previous - he made Ford a friend of the Jewish state, but it would still be years before many Jews, remembering the Ford of the Dearborn Independent and The International Jew, would even consider buying a Ford. All I can say is that it's a good thing the old man was long gone before they made the Mustang.

(A footnote: Henry Ford's hometown, Dearborn, has gone from a sleepy country hamlet to a booming suburb of Detroit to a place where support for anti-Israel entities like Hamas thrives. Henry might be long gone, but his ghost still hovers over Dearborn.)

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012


This is the first year that I've let myself watch a whole season of F1 racing, and I was left with a deep sense of shame that I'd never given myself over to the luxury of watching grand prix racing before. (Something to do with not driving and thinking motorsport fandom was an absurd hobby for a non-driver and generally not wanting to be the guy slumped on the couch on a Sunday afternoon watching the game. I have no excuses for the first two, but as to the latter, I completely overlooked the fact that I'm married to a sportswriter's daughter, who has very quickly become almost as big an F1 fan as myself. Also, my children now know the names of the leading F1 drivers, teams and circuits almost as well as they know who Guy Martin and the hosts of Top Gear are.)

Of course, starting to follow F1 in 2012 has had one special feature: Kimi Raikkonen.

As someone who can trace most of his problems in life with the fact that I'd rather be away from people than around them, I have a lot of sympathy for Kimi, whose seems to regard everything in F1 that isn't a car - the bureaucracy, the traveling, the other drivers, his crew, the media - as an irritating distraction. As a result, he comports himself with what Jackie Stewart or Graham Hill might not have regarded as the apogee of sportsmanship, while becoming a hero for those of us who'd rather just be left alone to do our jobs, and whose perfect world is one where nobody asks stupid questions.

The most perfect example came when Kimi was interviewed after spinning out during qualifying in Japan:
Jennie Gow (Sky F1 pit reporter): Kimi, what happened?
Kimi: I spun.
Gow: And a bit of a disaster, then, for you and for a few others with the yellow flag.
Kimi: I don't care what happened to the others, uhhh...
Whatever else happened in F1 this year - and a lot happened - the takeaway t-shirt quote for everyone will probably Kimi's best line, delivered in the heat of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (which he won): "Yes, leave me alone I know what I'm doing." Oh, and here's the t-shirt.

No less than Jeremy Clarkson had Kimi spotted as a potential highlight of the season when he appeared on the last season of Top Gear, which probably guaranteed the tender place he holds in the hearts of motorsport fans all over the world.

We all know that Finland produces great racers, probably because it's full of all these looping, lethal country roads that breed rally drivers, and probably because it's full of suicidal alcoholics battling Seasonal Affective Disorder. Kimi does nothing to dispel this idea, which is why we love him. And he'd be here to thank us but he's off having a shit.