Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vern Foster Jr

Yesterday was my Dad's birthday.  He would have been 78 this year.  

I got my love of cars from my Dad.  He was one of those guys who could fix anything- the toaster, the TV, the family car.  He liked working on things and went to mechanics school as soon as he got out of the Navy in the early fifties.  He spent the next three decades working for dealerships, but got out of the mechanics bay and into service writing in the late sixties when carpal tunnel began to really bother him.  It didn't even have a name at that point.

By the time I was in my teens my Dad hated working on cars.  He'd been doing it almost every day for the better part of thirty years, and was always the go-to guy in the neighborhood when someone's car broke down.  He'd never say no when one of the neighbor kids' crappy old cars needed something, so, many days when he'd rather have been camping or fishing were spent under some POS trying to jerry-rig a fix that wouldn't cost the kid much.

We never went to car shows or cruises, and we always had newer cars by the time I came along. He'd point out restored old cars we passed on the road, but thought hotrods and customs were junk.  I do have a vague memory of going to an auto race once when I was very young, and we did stop at Harrah's on a roadtrip.  That was it... my Dad was over the car thing by the time I was old enough to pay attention.

What I did get were the stories.  Stories of my Dad's barn find 1931 Model A, bought for $50 in about 1954 and sold a year later for $75 to finance a trip to California to look for work (he didn't find it and we didn't move to California until '69).  My Dad and Uncle drove from New Jersey to California and back in my Uncle's clunker.  I don't remember what kind of car it was for sure, but the story was that it used 50 quarts of oil on the trip.  

I also remember my Dad talking about his 1951 Mercury- the best car he ever owned, he said.  Claimed it got over 25 miles per gallon with the overdrive.  He gave it a nice two-tone paint job in the driveway and the doctor that my Mom worked for teased her that she had a nicer car than he did.

The story that intrigued me the most was the Bugatti.  Thoughout the fifties my Dad worked 6 days a week at the dealership and spent a good chunk of Sunday working on cars for extra cash.  Somehow or other he hooked up with a guy who had a Bugatti that needed restoration.  He hired my Dad to do the work, and the Bugatti was towed to our house.  My Dad started in, but after a few months the guy had gotten slow in paying, so my Dad had slowed down the work.  Finally he told the guy that he needed to get moving on other projects if this wasn't going to happen.  The guy made him an offer:  He had another Bugatti that he'd GIVE my Dad for the value of the restoration work.  My Dad was stoked, but one conversation with my mom put things in order.  I think her exact quote was, "I don't want that shittin' old car taking up my garage!"  Goodbye, Bugatti.

In the early sixties an unhappy customer brought a Fiat 600 to trade in to the dealership my Dad worked at.  It was a year old and the transmission had gone out.  The guy took $75 in trade-in and never looked back.  My Dad, probably under the spell of his friend Red who had been buying foreign cars, bought the Fiat for $75.  The 'bad transmission' turned out to be bad shift linkage.   My Dad rigged something out of a US car and drove the Fiat every day for years without a problem.  He loved that it would drive on top of the snow, and on sidewalks if there was ever a need be.   My Grandmother was less than impressed with these shenanigans, but there is 8mm movie footage of my Dad driving her down the sidewalks of Princeton.

Phyllis and Red were some of my parents' best friends in the late fifties and early sixties.  Red drove sports cars and foreign cars pretty much exclusively, although he had a Crosley wagon around the time he and my Dad met.  They drove it everywhere, often bringing Bub, my Dad's 350 pound friend along.  The Crosley didn't have a jack, so once, when they got a flat in the middle of nowhere Bub just picked the car up while they changed the tire.

Red was a sportscar man of the old tradition, meaning he liked to tipple a bit.  He spun his nearly new AC Bristol into a snowbank while sauced to the gills, and snapped the rear axle.  This being 1960 or so, it was going to take 3 months to get an axle from England.  No problem- Red bought a lathe and my Dad made a new axle which lasted at least until the new one showed up.  I only vaguely remember a story about Red rolling another car (maybe the MG in the photo?) and that the steering wheel- and his fingers- took the brunt of the rollover and that he was in the hospital for some time.  None of this seemed to bother my folks since they were happy to send my brother and sister out for rides in Red's XKE convertible later.

When I got interested in old cars, my Dad was not happy.  To him, mechanics was a job for uneducated people- something you did because you couldn't afford to pay someone else to.  I also suspect that he had recognized my complete incompetence around a garage- helping my Dad work on cars wasn't fun because he so clearly didn't want to be doing it... so I was never around when my Dad was wrenching.  I vividly remember looking at the engine bay of my first car (1963 VW bus) and asking my Dad, 'So which thing is the carburetor?'  

As I kept buying old cars (much to my parents' often-voiced dismay) I learned.  Sometimes I had to call my Dad in to help at the last minute, and then I got the full dose of disappointment and anger.  Nothing like an hour-long lecture about messing with these 'pieces of shit' as I'm covered with grease and watching my Dad do work that seemed like magic to me.  

It took about ten years, but my Dad finally started to see some hope... not that I'd stop owning old cars, but that I might actually learn how to work on them without having to call him.  Against his direct instructions, I pulled the malfunctioning transmission out of my '64 Mercury Marauder.  It was a chore and a half, but I got it out, to the tranny shop, rebuilt and back into the car without ever calling him.  It was a breakthrough moment, and when I pulled up to my folks' house and mentioned that I'd pulled the tranny in and out, there was a genuine shift in our relationship and both of us recognized it.  Then, as soon as he got in the car he told me I'd put the universal joint in wrong.  He was right, of course. 

My Dad sort of liked the Crosleys.  By the time I got into them he'd pretty much given up on me ever making much sense when it came to cars.  That I was able to keep the '49 on the road was even a vague point of pride for my Dad, although I don't think he'd have admitted it.  He even offered to help when I decided to rewire the car, and he made the process ten times easier.  The brakes were another story.  We spent three days redoing the whole cable system only to have it work exactly as badly as it had before we started.  I'd never seen an auto problem that had stumped my Dad, but those cables were it.    We redid the job twice with no success and he told me to get the thing out of his garage.  The Crosley brake setup got the ultimate dis: "That's worse than Volkswagen." 

I spent most of my formative years riding around in the back of my folks’ 1972 VW bus.  We took camping trips every chance we got, and each summer saw a 7000 mile trip to the East Coast and back.  My Dad may not have been a ‘car guy’ by the time I came along but he always loved to drive.   The best memories I have of those long drives were the rare occasions when my Mom would take a nap and I got to be the co-pilot.

I think that I came by my love of cars from those nights in the passenger seat, keeping my Dad company while my Mom slept in the back.   My Dad was not someone who talked down to kids, so our conversations ranged everywhere, and any question was OK to ask.  His stories of growing up as an orphan, traveling around the world in the Navy and early life with my Mom were fascinating glimpses into a world that seemed so much more exciting than mine.  Life seemed just right, there in the front seat, high beams on the empty highway and the open road ahead.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ken Hoover's 1949 Hot Shot on Hub TV

Ken Hoover with his 1949 Crosley Hotshot. Ken's dad bought this car way back in 1974 and it sat in the backyard for most of the next quarter century. Ken did a killer resto with a couple of performance upgrades- he mentions the Braje speed goodies, and it also looks like that might be Chuck Koehler's twin Tillotson carb setup on the intake. Beautiful car- I don't know that I've ever seen a horn button that nice. I'll bet the radio works, too.

Thanks to Lou from the Crosley Car Owners Club who posted a link to this...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

East Coast Bargain HotShot

Just noticed this 1950 HotShot for sale on the Philadelphia Craigslist.  Seller claims 23K miles and says that the car runs well but 'drives like a 60 year old car.'  Ah, don't they all.  From the dash I'm guessing that the car was originally yellow, and it looks like the primer may be showing through the paint in places.
The car comes with the accessory doors, new tires, battery and gas tank and has a radio in the dash, although it may not to be working at the moment.  Seller includes a few extras including a heater and manual.
Overall the car looks clean and straight, and if there isn't a bunch of rust or bondo hiding underneath this looks like a no-brainer at $4000.  If it was a mountain range or two closer to the left coast I'd probably be writing a check myself.

Here's a link to more photos and a cool video of the car on the road.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A quick sale!

Just got word that John McKnight already found a buyer for the '51 wagon that he listed for sale in the Tin Block Times classifieds.    Not bad considering that the issue only went in the mail last Saturday.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Special Alert for Crosley Racing Engines!

Dick Duncan is heading up a group of Crosley racing enthusiasts who are looking to have a run of high strength crankcase-to-block bolts specially made for use in high HP Crosley engines.   A group of Hmod racers had a set of these run five or so years ago, but they have been unobtainable for some time.  They're not cheap, but would be well worth the price if you're planning on turning 7500+ RPMs, like the Liebherr Bonneville Special above (Thanks to John McKnight for the photo!)

If you are interested in a set, the details (from Dick) are as follows: 

1) They will make any quantity we want, price depends on the quantity. 

2) The last order placed was in 2004 for 300 bolts, (30 sets @10 / engine), the price was $17 / bolt.

3)  The best estimate of current price is approximately $20 / bolt or $200 / set at the above quantity.

4)  The question is, how much individual interest is there in purchasing these sets. It appears that there are none from the two previous orders available for sale.   

5)  To firm the quoted price, we need an indication of who is interested in obtaining one or more sets. This needs to be a serious commitment so if you are interested at a price of up to say $250 / set let me know. As before, Don is not making any profit on this and sales tax will not be involved if we have them shipped outside CA.

6)  If you want to be involved in the proposed order, please contact me, Dick Duncan, by Email or phone and give me your name, number of sets you want (at up to $250 / set) and your phone number and Email address no later than Monday, June 22.            

7) We will use that list and count to get the firm quotation on price and delivery. Each person on the list will be advised of the quoted price and, assuming it is $250 or less per set, be asked to submit his firm order and a 50% non refundable  down payment. If we have anyone who decides they do not want to take delivery of their order, the excess product  will be put onEbay with a reserve price of 50% of the actual price. For the record, neither Don nor I are interested in paying for or stocking excess inventory or making money on this transaction. I am trying to fill my own and others needs and Don is being helpful as always. 

I hope this is not too complicated or confusing, it seems to me to be a reasonable way to work through the situation and solve a problem. Look forward to hearing from interested parties. Thanks for your patience and thanks to Don for his willingness to help out. I have it on good authority that there is no truth to the rumor that he is pulling the Panhard mill to install a hot Crosley. Please feel free to share this information with anyone who might have an interest, obviously, the larger the order the lower the price. 

Dick Duncan 
Email: MGVADick  at aol dot com 
Phone (925) 864-8309

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Frank Bell

I just sent the new issue of the Tin Block Times (the West Coast Crosley Club newsletter) off to the printer this week.  It's our silver anniversary issue with coverage going all the way back to 1985 when the regional group was started by David Brodsky, Paul Cowden, Tom DeJohn, Mike Bainter and Frank Scanlan.

The first meet was held in September 1985, and there have been a scant handful of people that have made almost every meet since.  Frank Bell made 23 of the 24 so far.  He missed one, in 2001 when he couldn't get a flight back from Europe after 9/11.

Frank died last week.

Frank Bell grades a path, Monterey meet, 1986
I met Frank in 1997, at the very first West Coast Crosley meet I ever attended.  I'm not sure how I knew that he and his '50 Crosley wagon had been featured in a Road Test segment of an early seventies Road & Track*, but I did.   R&T compared Frank's wagon to a then-new Pinto wagon in an old-vs-new look at compacts.  The Crosley got a mixed review, but in a loving way, and the line that still stands out in my memory was that it was like 'driving an upright piano.'  

It came as no surprise, then, when Frank turned out to be one of only two people that had actually driven his Crosley to the meet (Bob Carson being the other, natch).  Frank's very original white CD is straight and clean, but just road-rashed enough to show that it is no trailer queen.  In other words, my favorite kind of car.  When I got home from the meet I realized that I'd taken more pics of his car than any other (all on slide film, which I still need to get scanned some day).
Frank and Shirley always scored high 
in the funkana- even in a borrowed car!
In 2000 I finally had my Crosley in reliable enough shape to attempt the 350 mile drive from Sacto to the meet in Morro Bay.  Sure, the brakes barely worked when I left, but I was planning on moving a lot more than I planned on stopping!  When I pulled up to the meet two days later, grimy, stinky and sunburned, a very enthusiastic Frank Bell was the first person to shake my hand.  

I always looked forward to seeing Frank and his wife Shirley at the meets- and they were always there, with one of several Crosleys they own.   They might arrive with the wagon, a homemade Crosley tractor, a tidy Crofton Bug, or a project Super Sport that Frank brought for sale last year.
When I started working on the Tin Block Times I instituted exactly one rule: try to use a picture of one of Frank's cars in every issue.  I guess I did this because Frank functioned as a sort of touchstone for me as editor- as I put each issue together I always imagined Frank reading the finished product.  No issue was finished until I thought it was good enough for Frank Bell- and then I knew it was good enough for anyone.

*now reprinted in the Crosley and Crosley Specials book.