CAR SEARCH: At the behest of many of my loyal readers I recently set forth on another trip to distant lands in search of cool cars. This time I was off to the island of Hawaii. Since I also needed to check out the local golf courses every day my car hunting time was somewhat limited. You would think that the weather in Hawaii would result in a lot of classic cars driving around but I just didn’t see very many. On the way back from the golf course to my cheap hotel though I did spot a nice Ford Model A that a master carpenter had converted to a wagon type vehicle with a lot of terrific woodwork at a local gas station and I was able to stop and talk to the new owner. Inside and out it was really nice but it did have the over used Chevy 350 crate engine. I’m not necessarily a Ford fan but I think engine swaps should stay true to the marque. Just my opinion. Like many people I don’t heed my own advice though since I do have a Studebaker pickup with an old Chevy small block engine. Anyway, this Model A had been on the island quite awhile, the builder/owner had passed away and his friend had bought it from the estate and was shipping it back to the mainland. I watched him start it up and drive away and it looked and sounded like I should own it.
A visitor: I was recently sitting around my office here in downtown Woodinville, when Mallory at the front desk paged me saying I had a visitor downstairs (my office is upstairs in the penthouse suite).
When I drive one of my vintage vehicles and park out next to the street, people often come in and want to talk about cars, but since I had just driven my "realtor car" that day I figured a client was asking for me. Well it wasn’t a client, but was the owner of the 39 Ford pickup that I had met over at Goodyear and written about in my September column. He was driving his just purchased 1941 Lincoln convertible with the top down of course.
It was the epitome of the pre-war luxury car and was just stunning. They didn’t make very many of these cars and there can’t be too many in this condition still around.
Under the hood was the classic V-12 flathead power plant. The heads and intake manifold appeared to be stainless steel and the entire engine compartment looked just like it did 73 years ago.
Among other things that impressed me were the really cool grille, exterior push buttons for the doors, brass accents in the interior, built-in "Continental Kit" for the spare and the overall design and condition of the car. I think Ken was very proud of his new purchase and had every right to be. Alas, even if I sold enough houses to buy a car of that quality I have no place to adequately store it so I’ll just have to make do with what I’ve got for now.
Update: I did get my 1964 Studebaker Gran Tourisimo Hawk back from Mike’s Repair and it runs great; in fact it looks and runs just like it did in 64.
They only made about 1400 of this model in late 63 and stopped production of all American Studebakers in December of that year. That was sad since they had been making wagons and then cars since the 1850s.
They did continue making some other models for a couple of years in Canada but that was it for the South Bend, Indiana plant.
The Big Three finally squeezed them out, along with all the other smaller car manufacturers. I’m working on getting in my 500 break-in miles so watch for me tooling around Woodinville – you can’t miss my "Hawk."
JOE’S FIREBIRD: I’ve been going to The Woodinville Bagel Bakery every weekday morning that I’m in town for almost 20 years. I have the same thing every morning so as soon as they see me pulling up in whatever car I’m driving that day they start making my tall decaf americano and then I order my bagel choice for the day heated with nothing on it.
This was originally a muffin shop and then was Bigfoot Bagels for many years. My daughter even went to high school with the original Bigfoot. Many people know that this is my morning office and will catch me there before I wander over to my real office at Windermere. I even sold a home to someone I met there.
So what’s this got to do with classic cars? I’ve gotten to know Joe, the store manager for several years, he likes my cars and I talk to him about his car. Unlike me, he has had his car since 1995 and plans to be its last owner. He’s just going to keep fixing it till either he or the car dies.
Joe has a 1991 Pontiac Firebird and you’ve got to see it to believe it. It would not really be a classic by most people’s standards but is interesting so I’m going to write about it anyway. It has a V-6 engine that was replaced because the oil change company didn’t tighten the oil drain plug, the oil all drained out right away and the original engine blew up. The rear end and automatic transmission also wore out and were replaced. This car is the t-top model of which one side was replaced when it blew off at 70 miles an hour! Joe has been run into three times by others and never collected a dime (or done the repair). When I first saw this car it was flat black and since then Joe has rattle can painted it with flat black Plasticote. He even did the wheels AND tires with flat black. This car has the retractable headlights and like many cars of this era they don’t retract anymore.
Recently, the VAT device (vehicle anti-theft) went out and prevented Joe from starting the car so he ending up riding his bicycle to work for a few weeks. Two local shops were unable to fix the car so he had Mac’s Towing haul it out to Mike’s Repair (whom I seem to keep busy myself) and Mike easily made the repair as well as found a vacuum leak that had apparently been affecting the car’s performance for quite awhile. Joe has also replaced almost everything else on this car by now. I believe that part of the reason he has had to do so much work on this Firebird is that sometimes those doing the work were not very competent. When you stop by The Woodinville Bagel shop check out Joe’s Firebird and say hi to Joe (or me).
For those who read last month’s column (it is available on line) there’s an update on my 64 Studebaker GT Hawk. I did burn up the engine and Mike is doing a complete engine re-build for me. It’ll be done by Jan. 11 so watch for my low slung, dark green Studie darting around Woodinville.
RISKY ENDEAVOURS: Sometimes in life we take chances – calculated risks.
I try to weigh my odds and decide what’s the worst that can happen and can I live with that outcome. I live my life this way and it carries over to my classic car purchases.
I’ve driven cars back from San Juan Island, Bellingham (in the snow), Pullman (ran out of gas), Port Townsend and Portland (broke a fan belt and spent the night in Chehalis) so I figure why not Ogden, Utah! The worst that could happen is it breaks down and gets towed back and I have a repair bill so I figured I could live with that and decided to buy a real nice 1964 Studebaker Gran Tourisimo Hawk. It’s a sleek looking 2-door hardtop with a Studebaker 289 c.i.d. V-8, 2 barrel, automatic. Studebaker only made 1400 of these 1964s and actually ceased production in December of 1963. In the pictures the seller sent it looked great but I, of course, had the option of not buying it after my personal inspection in Utah which means I would have had to get back to the airport and see if I could catch a plane back home. Not a great option but I figured I could live with that if it wasn’t as nice as the pictures.
On Friday morning I took two days off from selling homes and I caught the 7 a.m. flight to Salt Lake City (had to get up at 4 a.m. – Ugh).
It’s only 1 hour, 25 minutes air time but of course 14 hours – plus a hotel – by car to get back to Woodinville. With the help of a friendly local I managed to catch the light rail into town and a commuter rail out to Ogden where the seller picked me up. Upon reaching their home I quickly checked out the car and it looked great. It’s totally stock except for an older re-paint, and the interior is especially nice – looks brand new but it’s 50 years old.
I took a short demonstration drive, paid up, did some paperwork and was off by 12:45. It was cold and there was snow in the foothills right next to town but the sky was clearing and I figured I’d make it 330 miles to Boise.
The weather cooperated, the car ran great and I made Boise by just after dark and checked into the first place I could find.
As I woke up in Boise I saw that they had just gotten their first snowfall of the year, but the freeway was clear so off I went to cover the 500 miles home by dark. I did come upon some light snow flurries and lots of wind but made good time to Baker, Pendleton then Yakima and the Hawk was running great. My Karma must have caught up with me because as I headed up the hill out of Yakima I heard a ticking sound and noticed my oil pressure was right around zero. I quickly pulled over and saw no oil on a very hot dipstick. I walked back to the gas station I had just passed (next building north of any kind was about 30 miles), bought some oil, walked back and filled up the crankcase. The car started but still had that ticking sound and low oil pressure so I backed up on the freeway to the gas station and called my buddies at AAA. I am one of their better customers.
A driver came all the way from Ellensburg to haul me and my new Studie 132 miles back to Woodinville, the Studie to Mike’s Repair and me to my home. I did make the entire trip in two days, just not quite how I planned it.
I didn’t wreck the car, or catch it on fire, or break down many hundreds of miles from home so it certainly could have been worse. I may even end up with a newly re-built engine (for a few thousand dollars) but I’m going to own another really cool car. Keep an eye out for the dark green, low slung studie in my #1 parking spot next to the street at Windermere Real Estate.
And Racing Breaks Out!! I recently made my annual trip to the Monroe Swap meet to check out acres of cars, parts and accessories. This time I did not bring a car to sell and managed to not buy a car. I did find a really nice 1962 license plate for my new 62 T-Bird and ate several scones (jam, no butter). My friend Jeff joined me later and we kept noticing loud, smokey burnouts over on the track. Usually cars are racing around the track and not just spinning their wheels, so after we had seen enough car parts we headed to the grandstand to see what was going on. It turns out they they were doing "Bracket Racing." I am a car guy but was never a huge racing fan so I had heard of bracket racing but certainly didn’t know how it worked. We sat in the stands for the entire event and had fun watching and trying to figure out what was happening. After I got home I read up on bracket racing and discovered that it places a premium on consistency of performance of the car and driver rather than raw speed, so winning is less dependent on large infusions of money and more dependent on driving skill such as reaction time, shifting ability and ability to control the car.
Bracket racing is sometimes called "run-what-ya-brung" since you can race just about anything with wheels. We saw blown 57 Chevys, new Hondas, a guy’s grandmothers 1960’s pickup, a super quick dune buggy thing that weighed almost nothing and had 10’ drag bars on the back and just about any other kind of car you could think of. Any of these cars might be running against another just based upon the elapsed time they expected to run in the 1/8th mile. Some of the really fast cars arrived by trailer but many were just driven to the track. If you choose to be in the 7 second class then you have to beat the other guy down the track but if you are under 7 seconds it is called "breaking out" and you lose unless of course the other guy is even faster than you in which case he loses even though he crossed the finish line first. The quickest class was 5.5 seconds which was close to 100 miles an hour. These drivers were really skillful and in one of the 7 second races the time were 7.02 and 7.04. I didn’t quite understand but reaction times sometimes also figured into who won or lost. It was a very casual but well organized racing event and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys cars.