My Wheels – Chapter 24
1983 Renault Alliance

There was a time when I was truly smitten with this car. Others were too. It was Motor Trend‘s “Car of the Year” and it was included in Car and Driver‘s “10 Best”. Many were the automotive writers who praised the first offering from AMC under Renault ownership. That experts praised the little car certainly influenced my opinion but I recall that I sincerely hought it was physically attractive. Yeah, that’s the kind of smitten I’m talking about.

Much of the praise that the gurus heaped on the car had to do with its economical operation and good value pricing. Recent changes in my job, living arrangements, and family size brought on the need for an efficient people hauler so maybe I just fooled myself into liking the looks to make the super practicality palatable. Whatever the full thought process was, I was quite proud of myself when I bought a shiny new dark gray four-door four-speed.

For many the shine wore off quite quickly. Mechanical problems were fairly common and rust often appeared quicker than it should. In 2009 Car and Driver actually apologized for putting the car in their “10 Best” list twenty-six years earlier. I don’t know that Motor Trend or any of the other publications that had climbed on the Alliance band wagon delivered their own apologies but neither do I know of any that actively defended their 1983 behavior.

My own problems were minor. The coil sometimes arced in wet weather until I upped the insulation by applying an ugly wad of electrical tape and a starter connection vibrated loose — twice!.

I guess I really didn’t have the car long enough to get hit with rust or any more serious mechanical issues. In their apology, Car and Driver point out that one of the first acts of Chrysler after taking over AMC in 1987 was “the mercy-killing of the Alliance”. My personal Alliance had been the target of its own mercy killing two years earlier. For the first time ever I was at the wheel of a car when it was totaled and it wasn’t even slightly my fault.

I was the last in a line of cars stopped at a light in heavy rain when I was rear-ended by a teenager driving with his mother on a learners permit. The Alliance was advertised as having reclining seats although what they really did was lean back as a unit like a rocking chair. When the other car hit, my seat completely “reclined” so that I was momentarily nearly flat on my back. Then my car was pushed into the one in front of me and I sprang upright and cracked a rib against the floor shift. I’m not sure of specifics but I understood the the boy and his mother had minor injuries of about the same severity and that there were no injuries at all in the car in front of me. I was obviously quite lucky that my injuries weren’t worse and I maybe I could even be considered lucky for being spared the pain of watching my Car of the Year rust away.

Trip Peek #50
Trip #28
Wigwams and Dixie

This picture is from my 2007 Wiqwams and Dixie trip. The trip was the result of a discussion in the then quite active American Road Magazine e-group and included folks from Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Using Cave City’s Wigwam Village #2 as home base, we traveled sections of both the Dixie Highway and the Jackson Highway in Kentucky. The picture shows the shiny nose of Pat Bremer’s Corvair coupe peeking from behind a not so shiny sign.


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

Trip Peek #47
Trip #15
Hot Rods and Lincoln

pv7This picture is from my 2003 Springfield Route 66 Festival trip. The name “Hot Rods & Lincoln” was used for the trip in a few places. It was just my fifteenth trip to be documented on the web and many conventions (like consistent names) had yet to appear. The festival was my first contact with what I now think of as the “Route 66 community” despite the fact that I had already driven Route 66 end-to-end twice. Of course, the community had already existed for many years but it took the internet for it to spread beyond the route’s physical reach. It was a three day trip with the first day spent reaching and crossing the Chain of Rocks Bridge then moving on to the festival. The second day was spent at the festival meeting a lot of people and looking at a lot of cars. I saw the pictured Rat-Mobile several times as it cruised the streets. I drove home on the third day and caught a few more interesting sights along the way.


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

My Wheels – Chapter 22
1970 Chevelle

chevelle70redUnfortunately I’ve found no photos of my 1970 Chevelle. Fortunately the internet is absolutely filled with photos of 1970 Chevelles. Unfortunately not many of those look very much like mine. The era of the Chevelle and the era of the muscle car are pretty much one and the same. As I’ll demonstrate shortly, non-muscular Chevelles existed but it’s tire smokers like the big block Super Sport at right (Tom Mullally’s Red One) that get pampered, photographed, and posted.

When I ordered the van, I anticipated reserving it for camping and other long distance trips and having the Audi around for normal daily use. All that changed with my tree encounter so I was a ready recipient when my now former mother-in-law decided on a new car. The Chevelle that replaced the Chevy II I had seen through its final days became mine for about $300.

chevelle70bluechevelle70greenMy Chevelle looked more like a composite of the two at left (also snatched from the internet) than the one at top. It was a blue 2-door hardtop but without the vinyl top. I think it had full wheel covers like the green car but I admit I’m less than certain. Like the Chevy II before it, the Chevelle had spent its life outside in an apartment complex parking lot and was seriously dinged and dinghy. It was not a rusty wreck, however, and was mechanically sound. With its 307 V8 and automatic transmission, it was neither as economical or as fun to drive as the Audi but it wasn’t bad. I suspect new shocks would have helped considerably.

I owned the car less than a year and really have no stories about it. As the number two vehicle in a one driver stable, the Chevelle became something of a loaner in my circle of friends. A semi-frequent borrower needed something long term and pushed me to sell the car. I was far from anxious to part with it but he needed the car and I didn’t. I sold the Chevelle for exactly what I had paid and told myself that the sale was better than a permanent loan.

ACDs Seen

acds01Three of America’s most revered marques of the early twentieth century were manufactured in Auburn, Indiana, and the town celebrates that fact every year. The 2016 Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival is the sixtieth. It has been going on for over a week but is almost over with the wrap-up taking place today. I have thought of attending the festival for a long time but a recent Dennis Horvath blog post reminded me of just how big the event is and got me to seriously thinking about finally making it there this year. Tentative plans for other Labor Day Weekend activities kept attendance from being a certainty but both schedule and skies were clear when the weekend actually got here so Friday morning I headed toward northern Indiana.

acds02acds03acds04I reached Auburn during staging for the Factory Test Route Tour. The pair of Cords pictured at the top of this post formed the front row and another Cord sat in the rear. I walked to just beyond the police motorcycle escort then watched the group set off to follow the twenty-eight mile course that the Auburn Automobile Company once used to test new cars.

acds07acds06acds05Of course the tour’s start point was the company’s headquarters which is now the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. Window shoppers can easily identify at least some of the cars.

acds08acds09This was my second visit to the museum where the building, the cars, and the presentation combine to make this one of the finest automobile museums I’ve ever seen. Over a hundred cars fill the museum and, while they are mostly Auburns, Cords, and Duesenbergs, other interesting and significant cars are also displayed. Office areas with various exhibits are also part of the museum.

acds12acds11acds10Being right next to a world class museum no doubt helps with traffic but it does expose you to some tough comparisons. My first impression of the National Automotive and Truck Museum was not helped by the fact that cars for the auctions that are an important aspect of the festival filled a significant portion of the museum. This meant that many museum vehicles were relocate and displays compressed. On the other hand, the museum’s truck collection does include some truly interesting vehicles.

acds13acds14A downtown Classic Car Cruise-In ended my first day ever at the ACD festival. There were plenty of beautiful and interesting classics parked along the streets but, after seeing all those pre-war ACDs, hot-rods, muscle cars, and ’50s & ’60s classics didn’t hold quite the attraction they might otherwise. The vehicle I found most interesting was a Corvair camper. It is not a converted van but a factory built shell mounted on a pick-up bed.

acds17acds16acds15Saturday started with a pancake breakfast at the National Military History Center. There are actually two museums here and today ten bucks got you breakfast plus admission to both.

acds18acds19acds20The day’s main attraction for me was the Parade of Classics. The 1912 Auburn Town car in the first picture was featured in this year’s festival poster. I had expected downtown to be jam packed for the parade but, except for the courthouse lawn, the area wasn’t crowded at all. There’s an awful lot going on in town this week and the parade isn’t the only place these cars can be seen but that still surprised me.

acds23acds22acds21One of the places to see the cars is around the courthouse square where they all park immediately following the parade. The cars are roped off but you can still get mighty close and all those shiny ACDs are mighty pretty.

My Wheels – Chapter 21
1979 Chevrolet G10

chevvanThere are surely better pictures of this van around but this was all I could find as I wrote this post. It was my first new vehicle and one of only two that were custom ordered. A friend who worked at a dealer in Cincinnati handled the order. It had a 305 CI V8, 3-speed automatic, air-conditioning, cruise control, and no interior. By no interior I mean it had a basic driver’s seat and nothing else. I stopped on the way home from picking up the van and bought a pair of “captain’s chairs”. I sold the single stock seat back to the dealer for a few dollars.

chevvan1I clipped that opening shot from the photo at left. I’m helping my sons with a Christmas present so it must be late December which makes the van, delivered in September, just a few months old. The “conversion” may have started but I’m sure it had not progressed very far. Fletcher did eventually solo and so did Cris.

Calling what I did to the van a conversion stretches the definition of the word a bit. I covered the floor with plywood and the walls and ceiling with cheap paneling. That paneling went over scraps of insulation retrieved from a furnace manufacturer’s dumpster. Four inches of foam on a raised platform in the back served as a bed. I never did get around to carpeting the interior but that was probably for the best. Another thing I never got around to was seat-belts. The factory seat had a belt attached that went away with the seat. Mounting belts to the replacements was not recommended. What was supposed to be used were extra long belts bolted to the floor. That never happened.

This was a recreational vehicle. It made several camping trips to the Smokies and other nearby spots. It made one trip to Missouri and another to San Diego. In 1982 it attended the Knoxville World’s Fair.

At the time of the World’s Fair trip, all three kids were living with me full time. We were going on to visit friends in Alabama after our one day at the fair so the boys’ bicycles were hung on a rack on the front and the girl’s tricycle was stowed inside. The daughter and youngest son spent the night before in the van to avoid the need to wake up for the early morning departure. We had a great time at the fair although some of us got exhausted quicker than the others. Megan and I spent the last part of the day on a bench while the brothers ran around getting stamps on their fair passports. We were all exhausted by the time we reached a campground south of Knoxville. We were also pretty dirty from the hot day and looking forward to showers. That’s when we discovered we had no towels. Well, most of us had no towels. Only Fletcher had remembered this most important item (Douglas Adams would have been proud of him.) and after he had showered and dried the rest of us did the best we could with the no longer dry Star Trek beach towel.

In 1983 or ‘4 the van entered a new phase in its life. I attended my first of thirteen consecutive Indianapolis 500s in 1981. It was with a group who had several years experience camping at the track and charging into the infield on race morning. Parts of that charge resembled a demolition derby so most of the vehicles used were confirmed beaters. From its time as camper and all purpose transporter, the Chevy van had more than its ahare of dings and scratches but was not yet a beater when it was pressed into service as an Indy car. After a few years, I fully embraced the van’s participation in the annual event and built a deck on its top. Standing atop vehicles to watch the race was standard procedure and the deck made that easier and safer. The deck was made of something like 2x8s on edge and screwed to the gutters with plywood across the top.

I think it might have been the same year that the deck went on that the ignition went sour. A friend removed the ignition switch from the dash and ran new wire to it. It dangled from the dash and worked just fine. Track officials seemed to come up with a new rule or two every year and after several years with the sturdy deck in place, they decided it had to be removed. At that point there was only one person riding with me and, with screwdrivers and a hammer, the two of us ripped the deck off as quickly as we could.

The dangling ignition switch eventually gave out and I replaced it with two wall switches. One turned on the ignition and the other operated the starter. It was a pretty good anti-theft device although the possibility of any one stealing the van at this point was awfully slim. A blown freeze plug interrupted our last drive together. I nursed it home where it sat until a trade opportunity came along.

My Wheels – Chapter 20
1972 Audi 100 LS

audi100My friends had a red one that really impressed me. They were antique dealers and the car had been part of an exchange involving furniture. “If another deal like that ever comes along”, I told them, “I’ll take it.” It did and I did.

That red Audi 100 LS was a two-door automatic. I think it was a year or two newer than the white four-door four-speed that I bought after it was swapped for an armoire. It was the build quality as much as anything that impressed me about the Audis. I commented more than once that it felt like the car was built by people who thought they might have to ride in it someday. The photo is from the internet. That’s not my car but it’s close. The only obvious differences are the fog lights and wide European style license plate area.

The car came with two invisible flaws. The first was a failing second gear synchronizer which, although it couldn’t be seen with eyes, was instantly apparent with a drive. Surprisingly, perhaps, it was almost instantly relegated to a mere inconvenience. Matching engine and gear speed was actually quite easy. With a brief pause in neutral and a restrained throttle blip, a shift to second was usually completed without even double-clutching. It quickly became second nature to me. The other flaw appeared infrequently but was much more than an inconvenience and was, at least indirectly, involved in the Audi’s demise.

The issue was carburetor icing. Under the right conditions, something in the carburetor would freeze and prevent the car from running. There were only a few time that this behavior left me stranded but, since those right conditions consisted mostly of wet and cold, the strandings made an impression. I can’t claim that my sources were all that reliable but, after some consulting and reading, I came to believe that the cause of my troubles was a warped plate in the carburetor. This was known to occur now and then and trigger the symptoms I was seeing. Whatever it was I was reading indicated that replacing the factory unit with a Weber was the thing to do.

The Weber carb and some other bits had to be ordered which in those days meant snail mail in both directions. I half recall starting the installation then delaying it to get one more connector or something but the swap was eventually made and the car ran fine but not for long.

audiwreckIt’s not at all clear to me what happened but, as is obvious from the photo, it wasn’t good. That really is my car. The official story is that I was drunk and lost control. I also lost my license for several months. I don’t dispute the official story but neither can I confirm it.

What I remember is this. I finished the carburetor swap and set out for a test drive. I stopped at a bar, had one drink, and left for home. I came to in a hospital emergency room. The police dropped me off at home.

Friends I had chatted with at the bar confirmed that I had left after one drink. The location of the wreck was between the bar and my home but not on the most direct route. My blood alcohol level was above the limit though not by much. It’s possible that I stopped at another bar, had another drink — or more — and was headed home from that second stop. It’s also possible that I didn’t take the shortest path home because I was trying out the new carb and that the one drink, scotch & ice, was responsible for my BAC. Even though mentioning it may seem like excuse hunting, it’s possible that something in the newly connected throttle linkage failed and contributed to the accident.

I’ll never know for sure what happened but I will forever be thankful that no one else was involved and that the only damage was to me, my car, and a little landscaping.

My Wheels – Chapter 19
1970 Chevrolet Nova

nova70Again I must confess to a purloined photo gracing yet another My Wheels post. My car did not have the highly visible dual exhausts or fancy wheels of the pictured vehicle nor did it have the unseen 350 V8 and 4-speed floor shift. Mine was a 307 V8 with a 3-speed automatic. However, my car was, just like the one at right, a Cortez Silver 2-door with — and this is important — black vinyl top. It is the only vinyl topped car I’ve ever owned and one of very few I can even imagine owning without some level of embarrassment. While I doubt everyone agrees that the vinyl covering looks pretty good on this car it’s apparent that I’m not alone in thinking so. There are many full restorations of third generation Nova coupes that include a restored vinyl top. And that includes some high-end 396 Super Sports.

There was nothing extraordinary in my acquisition of the car. I bought it from a Chevy dealer’s used car lot for a reasonable but not remarkable price. I don’t recall any of the numbers though I do recall some evidence surfacing while I owned the car that the miles showing on the odometer were considerably less than those actually traveled. Selling used cars has always been something of a craft and its practitioners somewhat crafty.

Viewed in isolation, there was nothing extraordinary about the Nova’s departure, either. However, when seen as part of the My Wheels story, it stands out as the first car I ever sold in drive-able condition to a stranger. Only three cars had previously left my possession while drive-able. The 1952 Ford was sold to a friend, my half of the 1959 Chevy went to my sister who already owned the other half, and the 1969 Opel stayed with my wife who already… well, you know.

The car came and went in roughly the same condition but deviated from that condition a couple of times along the way. One was when I slid off of a wet road on the way home from work and parked it solidly against a tree. That required a bit of popping and painting in a body shop.

Then there was the Joni Mitchell incident. A friend and I were headed to her concert in Oxford, Ohio. While stopped in a line of traffic leading to a parking lot we noticed a cloud of smoke from — we thought — the car ahead of us. When that car moved on and I attempted to follow, there was more smoke but no motion. In time we realized that the lack of motion, the racing engine, and the billowing cloud were all connected. We later learned that a hole had opened between the radiator and a transmission cooler mounted below it. The two different liquids attempted to change places and a goodly amount of each quickly escaped. The transmission stopped transmitting.

We somehow got a wrecker to tow the car to a nearby garage. There was nothing to be gained by hanging out at the garage and the friendly tow truck driver agreed to deliver us to the entrance of the concert hall. While we enjoyed the show, we managed to line up a ride home. After a few days and several telephone calls, I hitchhiked back to Oxford to get the car. While dramatic, things were not as bad as I feared. A little water may have entered the transmission but most of the errant flow went the other way. The transmission was undamaged and a flush and fill brought it back to life. A junkyard radiator replaced the one that caused the problem. The blow to my budget was painful but it could have been so much worse. If only that big tow truck had been yellow.

My Wheels – Chapter 18
1971 Vega

vega1No. That’s not my Vega and that’s not me. It’s John DeLorean in the August 1970 issue of Motor Trend where he was singing the praises of Chevrolet’s new small car. The editors were singing right along with him and even adding some verses of their own. A month later, Car and Driver and Road & Track joined the choir. In February, Motor Trend named the Vega 2300 their 1971 “Car of the Year”. All this for a car that today has a reputation just slightly better than Yugo.

vaga2I could’t find any pictures of the dark green 1971 Kammback that I bought in the summer of 1974 so I took to the internet. I didn’t have much better luck there. This black & white photo of what is identified as a 1972 model is the best I could do. The shortage of photos surprised me but so too did the abundance of early praise. I can’t explain the absence of decent Kammback photos so maybe my surprise at that is justified. My surprise at the praise isn’t. In fact, what those magazines said about the car — great handling, sporty looks, comfortable ride — is exactly what I thought of it forty years ago. I was surprised only because I had forgotten.

Of course, I had ample reason to forget how much I and the world initially liked that car. The Vega was not kind to General Motors or to me. Several problems, including fragile axles, faulty carburetors, and premature rust, plagued the Vega but the biggie was the aluminum engine block. Oh, how well I know. Within six months of my buying the car, overheating became an issue. The problem was diagnosed as a cracked head and I replaced it. That helped for awhile but the overheating soon returned. I drove the car to New York where a friend was working and he rode back with me. Well, almost back. With a few miles yet to go, the cooling system erupted and brought things to a halt.

By then, the Vega engine story was starting to be pieced together. I don’t have a clear understanding of the situation but know that the aluminum block and iron cylinder head had their differences which led to leakage from the block’s water jacket. In my case, replacing the head gasket had probably cured things temporarily but the real problem was the block. The commonly accepted solution was to put steel sleeves in the aluminum cylinders. I bought a properly sleeved short block from Jasper and, using block & tackle and a friend’s shed, dropped it into the car.

I now had the ultimate Vega but it would not last. This time it was me and not the car that malfunctioned. As noted in the Opel and red Corvair reports, this was the time of my first divorce. As the recently divorced often do, I showed a pronounced lack of restraint at a Christmas party and headed to a friend’s house less sober than I should have. I lost control on a curve and tried unsuccessfully to climb a light pole. Police were soon on the scene. They did not question my sobriety a bit so alcohol may not have been a major factor even though I’ve little doubt that it contributed along with the late/early hour.  The Vega with its new steel-sleeved block and only slightly less new head was totaled.

Much Miscellany 2
Sloopy at 50

sloopy01Released in the summer of 1965, the McCoys’ version of Hang on Sloopy reached #1 on October 2. A week later, the Ohio State Marching Band performed the song for the first time and, twenty years after that, the Ohio General Assembly adopted it as the state’s official rock song. This last summer, as the song’s 50th birthday approached, the Rolling Stones did a snippet of it during their concert in OSU’s Ohio Stadium. On Saturday, Rick Derringer (nee Zehringer), the McCoy’s guitarist and lead singer performed the hit with his current trio and the full Ohio State Marching Band. Following that, the trio rushed to the singer’s home town for a dinner and concert. I was there for the concert.

sloopy02The concert was part of the second annual Union City Arts Festival. It filled the nicely restored train depot and a new park, along with the area between them. A number of food vendors augmented the many arts and crafts booths. The nearby downtown area joined in and the local museum, which has a permanent display of a few McCoys related items, hosted a memorabilia collection assembled by Rick’s cousin, Mike Zehringer.

sloopy05sloopy04sloopy03After their dinner, which quite a few fans had paid to attend, the band moved to the stage area and poised for a few pictures with the fantastic 1950 Chevrolet parked there. The car is the creation of original McCoys organist Ronnie Brandon and Rick and Ronnie were soon catching up and also posing for a few shots with the car.

sloopy06sloopy07The band opened with a Christianized version of Still Alive and Well then delivered a hard driving two hour show with songs from throughout Derringer’s career. Frankenstein, Free Ride, Real American, and Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo were all played.

sloopy08The song that started it all, Hang on Sloopy, was a special moment with all three surviving McCoys on stage. Keyboardist Ronnie Brandon and the band had parted ways in 1967. Drummer Randy Zehringer (Rick’s brother) developed encephalitis and had quit playing by the early 1970s. Bassist Randy Jo Hobbs died of drug related causes in 1993. I apologize for the blurred picture of Ronnie, Rick, and Randy but it’s the best I have. I got no picture of Randy singing (he did not attempt to play drums) and only a fuzzy one of Ronnie at the organ.

rzc_45Here is a much clearer though somewhat older photo of the three McCoys. It is from sometime around 1964. The bass player in the photo is Dennis Kelly who was replaced by Randy Hobbs when college called.