Monday, December 21, 2009

The Club Turns 10.

A little more than ten years ago I was working as a auto technician, with a small family, one real income and a car. My 1966 Barracuda. There was no money to do anything to the car at the time, so with time on my hands and my newly acquired used piece of modern technology I logged onto the newest fad, the internet, and created a website.

In 1998, this was the cool thing to do. I logged on to AOL with my 14.4 baud modem and created my personal site of family pictures and my Barracuda. Slowly it morphed to a site of just early Barracuda related info, the 1964 to 1966 Barracuda Homepage. I quickly outgrew AOL, switched to a local internet provider and recreated the site as The Early Barracuda Homepage. I added features like a mailing list, a chat room and used a guest book as a simple "want ads" listing. Tech articles were written and archived for future reference for all.

Step into the Wayback Machine for view of The Early Barracuda Homepage in 1999.

As one of the first Mopar related websites and a early member of the Mopar Webring, as well as swapping links with many other sites, the traffic through my site increased. I featured a new "Readers Ride" each month and more and more links to new sites and parts suppliers.

I talked to the guy I asked to be my chat room moderator about an idea I had about taking things to the next level. Well, I paid him a chicken for his time (old joke) and in 2000 we decided to rename the site The Early Valiant and Barracuda Club.

Step into the Wayback Machine for view of The Early Valiant and Barracuda Club in 2000.

This was way before MySpace and Facebook or web 2.0 apps. Before forums, Flickr and blog sites like this one. In the early days of the internet, there was no social networking sites. We had our mailing list, weekly chat nights, a place for people to send pictures of their cars to be displayed for all to see. We helped each other fix their cars by offering advise, technical support and help finding parts.

Step into the Wayback Machine for view of The Early Valiant and Barracuda Club in 2002.

We created our own social network of Mopar automotive hobbyists. An online community that has made it 10 years. Many people offered to help with club operations over the years. Don Hill with our printed newsletter "The Early Connection", Erik Ievins with webmaster and programming duties, Stacey Wisniewski as treasurer and Jeff Kopp with the new mailing list. Many others helped with advise or stories and technical assistance for all our members.

Things are a little different than when we first started, but all-in-all the same sense of community remains and that has been our main goal all along.

This blog post may be a little self serving, but with all the people who have contributed in ways small and large, and all the effort put forth to provide a gathering place for our small section of the collector car hobby, I think it's ok to honk our horn once in a while.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The end of an era?

Its a few days before I will be leaving for the Carlisle, PA event known as The All-Chrysler Nationals and I'm reading an article in Wired about the new Bugatti Veyron convertible. A small car, 1001 HP, 235 mph top speed, 0 to 60 mph in 2.4 seconds and only costs 2.1 million dollars.

Nice car, I'll take two.

It was a line at the end of the article that caught my eye. "We're at the end of the petroleum era, the end of a golden age of supercars where speed can be sought regardless of consequence."

It's the first part of that line, We're at the end of the petroleum era, that got me thinking that it really is the beginning of the end of gasoline fueled cars as we move more toward the alternatives. I guess its the natural progression of improving something as science and technology make new breakthroughs year after year.

The automobile is the same. look at the different improvements since the autos inception. There were no paved roads early on unless you consider cobblestones. The tires and suspensions were designed for dirt roads that turned to mud and changed to accommodate hard paved or concrete roads. Advancements in safety with safety glass and seat belts where there were none. The use of plastics instead of wood products.

Engine and transmission design improved, syncro mesh manual transmissions and automatic versions were developed. Engines got bigger with more horsepower and were adapted for different uses.

Now, cars have gotten safer and get pretty good fuel mileage through the use of computer controls. There is more wire in a modern car than in five Model T's. But with all the improvements, does this mean the end of gasoline cars in the near future? I think Yes.

The current politically correct lifestyle is to "Be Green". So you have people adding solar panels to their homes and wind farms popping up in the mid west and people trading in their Hummer for a Prius.

I think its a good idea to save energy any way we can, and if the "Be Green" lifestyle helps further this its good for all of us. Many improvements over the years have dropped tail pipe emissions bringing us cleaner air. We can debate if electric cars will cause more pollution due to the batteries being made later, everything has waste. Global warming? Not going to get into that either. The goal? Better quality of life for as many of us as possible with the least amount of harmful waste.

Consider the technology we have currently available. Hybrid fuel/electric, all electric and fuel cell. In the next few years there will be more of these cars on the road than gasoline alone powered vehicles as the technologies improve each year. Reliability improves as does the public's acceptance of these automobiles.

It comes down to this. Gasoline cars will eventually become as extinct as dinosaurs, as will the fossil fuels that run them.

In a few days, I'll be looking over a sea of brightly painted warriors of the gasoline era, driving my own battered bruiser to the event, enjoying the smells and sounds of what a car is to me.

I know that this will not be the norm in the future as these cars will be seen as a detriment by some, vile and "un-green" by others and coveted by the rest of us. Will we become shunned for driving our gasoline powered monsters? Will I have protesters at my house because they know I harbor a known polluter?

With gasoline being un-available in the future, how will our kids enjoy these cars? Will they all become trailer queens or will there still be a single producer of gasoline for the collector car hobby. I would hate to see what 86 octane would cost per gallon then.

Yes, I think it is the beginning of the end of the petroleum era, the day the last gasoline only powered car is produced is still a ways off, but that day is coming.

But, as long as there's a gas station and a highway, I'm going to drive my gasoline powered Road Warrior, and you will know it was me when I pass you. You will hear the rumble of wide open secondaries from my engine and the sweet smell of my exhaust!

And don't even try to take my car with your "clunker laws".
"You can have my keys when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers!"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Post Bankruptcy Chrysler

Chrysler has been moving through bankruptcy court at a quick pace and it begs the question, "What will the Post Bankruptcy Chrysler look like?"

Well, all the talking heads have been using buzz words like "Leaner & Meaner" to describe how the company will be, and as usual, they speak without saying anything because no details have been released.

As it stands, there are 11 Dodge models (cars, trucks, SUV's) , 7 Jeep Models, and 6 Chrysler models that were being produced prior to filing for bankruptcy. Post bankruptcy may see a few of those models dropped or consolidated as they move away from larger vehicles toward the smaller more fuel efficient models.

Chrysler needs some small fuel efficient cars to stay in the game and compete with Toyota, Honda and Nissan as well as the other imports getting 30 MPG or better on most of their product line. A quick look at Hyundai models reveals better fuel economy than most of the Chrysler line up. This is where more work needs to be done, making more fuel efficient cars. Chrysler and Dodge combined has only 3 models getting 30 mpg or better with no hybrids and Jeep has 2 models getting 28 mpg with the rest getting 22 mpg or worse . They do have the ENVI cars, 5 models with 3 being readied for production, but none ready for the market as of this post.

Click the link below to learn more about Chrysler's electric vehicles.

Chrysler has produced some really nice looking vehicles and performance has made a come back in recent years, but its a trade off for fuel mileage. People are looking to tighten their budget by saving money with better fuel economy. My 2004 Saturn Ion with 135k miles gets 30 mpg and that's what I drive daily because gas is expensive. The price is already going up! It's not even summer yet and with so many people out of work there is no reason for it other than the oil companies are greedy.

But, I digress. Its for that reason that more fuel efficient vehicles are needed to make Chrysler a viable company in the future. That's where Fiat comes in. Their 500 model is their retro version of a previous model and offers a 1.2L 4 cyl with 46 mpg or a 1.4L 4 cyl with 37 mpg. Not too shabby from a car powered only by an internal combustion engine. By comparison, the 3rd generation Toyota Prius Hybrid is boasting 48 mpg. Right now, hybrid models are pricey. The new 2010 Prius starts at $22k up to $27k. The Fiat 500 is expected to start at around $16k.

Click the link below for more info on the Fiat 500.

With that info and the initial cost of the vehicle, a first time car owner or someone looking to get out of their older 18 to 20 mpg mini van may lean toward the Fiat model or at least give it a thought. Now we may not see the Fiat 500 in Chrysler or Dodge dealerships until the 2011 model year as they need time to get the parts and other infrastructure in place, but we will see them and other Fiat Specific models to follow.

During that time, new models will be designed buy American engineers and designers for our market based on other Fiat models. The Fiat Linea is a mid sized sedan that could have a Chrysler model based on that platform. It even has features like Ford's Sync bluetooth voice activated software. All of this will only work if they create new Chrysler/Dodge models from the Fiat technology, not just sell re-badged Fiat cars like they did with Mitsubishi in the 80's. Remember the Dodge Colt?

I doubt we will see the Dodge trucks or the Challenger go away soon or any real changes in the Mopar Performance area as this is a smaller segment of the car market. If Fiat sees the value in creating a retro version of their 500, then they appreciate the value of the Dodge Challenger and going back in a company's history to recreate the past. I get the sense that Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne's interest is building up the company as he did with Fiat making that company viable again. Very unlike how Daimler treated and raided Chrysler to the shell it has become. At least Cerebus tried to build it back, but I don't think they counted on the economy tanking like it did.

For all those employed in this industry, I hope for their sake that this deal goes through so the company can stand tall again and keep from losing so many more jobs. To me, this deal feel like the right fit for the companies involved, un-like the earlier proposed GM-Chrysler merger. Had that deal been done, who knows how much worse it would have been.

I guess the upside of a Fiat-Chrysler merger is, since Fiat also owns Ferrari, that the Viper and the F430 will be cousins.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Antique Auto Plates

I don't know what the standard is where you live, but here in Connecticut, when we register our classic car we have the option of getting it tagged with an "antique" plate. We get a break on our taxes with this tag because it's assumed that the car won't be driven as often as our other cars.

I'm OK with that, but I have two issues with the plate in Connecticut. First, it hasn't changed in twenty years and second, it says "Early American" on the plate, not "Antique".

The normal plates are a medium blue that fades to light blue at the bottom. The "Antique" plate is white with black lettering with a picture of Henry Fords first automobile on the left side of the plate. See the picture below.

There are 61 different styles in the blue gradient "everyday" plate you can have, but us classic car owners have just the one. Even the motorcycle enthusiasts have a cool plate. I know, this is being picky, but I would like to have the blue gradient for the "Antique" plate too. See the regular plate below.

Click here to see the different ways you can get your plate customized in Connecticut.

The "antique" plate is issued to any car that is 20 years old or older with the emphasis on "any". You can have an old Volvo, Saab, BMW, Datsun, etc, with our "Early American" vanity plate
Also, what is the cutoff date for "Early American"? 1955? 1935? 1979? Yes, here your Pinto is considered an "Early American" as is your Renault LeCar.
If the state does not want to change the color of the plate, at least they could change the text from "Early American" to "Antique". I'm sure the people with the classic imports would be happier and so would the classic domestic owners. Plus, that's 6 less letters they have to pay to have printed and the plates would be cheaper to make at least in theory.
This is not a huge issue, just one of those minor things that could be easily fixed by our DMV. Let me know your thoughts on this or share info about classic car plates in your state. Post your stories in the comments for this post.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

First Cruise Night of the Season

The Good Times Motoring Club of Colchester, CT sponsors the summer cruise nights every year on the town green. There is food and a DJ and a real family atmosphere here. You park, walk around, talk to people and its a real good time. Its still a little cold when the sun sets, but that's OK. Everyone starts to leave then anyway as most of us have to work the next day.

There are many makes, models and year that show up. From Rat Rods, to muscle cars, flame throwing low riders to pick up trucks, Some old race cars to primered "Works in Progress". They have it all here. Below are the Mopars and one AMC that showed up and even a cool chopper with a VW engine.

Going in Style!

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to give Bob that big hot rod send off to the great drag strip in the sky."

Yes folks, the owner of this Dodge A100 pickup will drive you to your final resting place in your very own custom pinstriped coffin in the back of his hot rod. I'd rather go in a Ute myself, but hey! Thats just me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Catalogues and Car Parts

My latest project got me to thinking how spoiled we have gotten in recent years. We can open a catalogue from a variety of vendors and purchase almost anything we may need for our cars. Admittedly it's a bit harder for those who enjoy the early A body cars from Plymouth and Dodge than our E and B body brethren but you get the picture. There is so much available now then there was 10 years ago.

It's gotten easy to buy a kit, bolt it on and call it done. Don't get me wrong, I am happy to see all that is available and am not knocking anyone who goes this route, but for me the fun is in the rebuilding. The act of taking some thing that would be considered a used, spent component and making it fully functional again.

Even for something as simple as an aftermarket air cleaner. I searched through swap meets, ebay, Summit racing and many other vendors looking for the right one for me and my car. Nothing looked right. They all reminded me of the same parts I have seen on every car at any car show I have ever been to.

I got to thinking about some of the Rat Rods I've seen at my local cruise night and how the early 50's hot rodders fixed their cars. They scrounged through junk yards looking for different parts to make their cars look different or perform better. They did this out of necessity. In the beginning, they had very few speed shops to go to let alone any catalogues to buy from. They made what they needed.

As my project has progressed, I to have had to make many of the parts I needed to move things forward. I didn't buy trunk panel extensions or inner fender lips, I made them from scrap panels. I didn't install a front disk brake conversion kit, I rebuilt a used factory 4 piston caliper setup and installed it myself. When I upgraded to electronic ignition, I didn't buy the readily available kit, I used the spare parts I already had and found the used parts I needed to make it work.

And when it came to a new air cleaner, I did not buy one from a mass merchandiser, I made one from a swap meet part. Many pieces I have used were swap meet or junk yard finds that I had to clean up and re work before I could use them.

Granted, I am thankful for all the items I can get for my car from a catalogue company, without them the car would still be on jack stands, but by taking this frugal approach I have saved a lot of money building my car.

My point is that by taking your time with some used parts and ingenuity you can make your car a little more unique than the guy next to you at the car show and save some cash too. So don't be afraid to skip the catalogue and try something different, you may like it better in the long run.

Monday, February 9, 2009

From "Da Prez's" Garage

A few random observations to share.

Has this happened to you? You've been working in the garage all day any your significant other comes down to see how things are going. You get close to get a little kiss and you get this. " Eww, you smell like car." How do you respond to that? I mean, what can you say to that?

" Well, Hell Yeah I do!" "It's my new cologne, ode de car guy." "Huh, I don't smell anything except the burritos I had for lunch."

Space heaters are not overated. I got a good sized kerosene heater to warm the garage so I can get some work done on the car this winter and I have made some good progress. "Heat, it's not just for Summer."

Air Compressor. Don't forget to turn it off when your done or it will leak pressure slowly to the point where the low pressure switch trips and the compressor turns on to refill the tank. This is only a problem if your garage is directly below your bedroom at it kicks on at 3 AM.

When using a can of brake cleaner to clean a transmission valve body, wear a face shield. That stuff burns.

To wrap things up, don't lie upside down to take pictures under your dash with a head cold. The pressure is too much and your pictures look bad.