Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Bogus Lotus

Just a quickie post on a fascinating car I've been watching on ebay all week- the Bogus Lotus!

This was initially listed as a Miller Special, but from the mumblings from the west coast Hmod community, and my own eyes, I'm gonna guess that Don Miller didn't build this baby.
 For one thing, Hmod guru Joe Puckett didn't cite the car as a Miller when he included it in his Big Men Little Cars book, which the seller helpfully photographed.   That's not definitive - Puckett made some goofs in the book -  but I think Puckett and pals would have known if this car had Miller lineage.
 But really, who cares? It's pretty amazing, whoever built it, and the restoration is stunning.  I'm curious why they chose to paint the tops of the fenders gold, but that's a small detail.  Really the car is very tastefully done, and the copious amounts of detail shots the seller added late truly show off the finish and the little things, like the sealed bottom and the hundreds of holes drilled for lightness. 
The car is currently at just over $13,000 with two and a half days to go.  Reserve is already met, so this one's gonna end up in somebody's stocking this year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Crosley-Powered HMod in Alabama - $800!

Just came across this Crosley-based Hmod for sale in Birmingham Alabama for $800.  It's rough, but complete, and at that price you pretty much can't lose.
I don't recognize the body, so it could be a one-off homebuilt, or a heavily modified version of one of the familiar fiberglass-body kits like Glasspar or Almquist.  It's claimed to be 61 years old which would mean that it was built in 1959- from the styling that date seems about right.
It's not pretty at the moment, but with some imagination and a lotta elbow grease this could be a real showstopper.  If it was closer I'd have already driven out to take a look.   Seller's number is 2O5 54O 7556.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Stored 46 years: Garage Find!

Given that I've been the region's most active Crosley enthusiast for a decade or so now, I was pretty surprised to see an unfamiliar 1948 Crosley wagon pop up for sale on the Sacramento Craigslist a couple of weeks ago.  It was less than three miles from my house in a neighborhood called East Sac.  When I read the ad my hair stood on end.
13 years ago, when I was first on a quest for a Crosley, my guide was Gordon Becher.  I've written about Gordon before- he was an amazing mechanic and a complete Crosley nut.  He still drove the Crosley sedan he'd owned since about 1954 and had a garage full of NOS Crosley gunk - he'd bought out the inventory of his local Crosley dealership when the guy closed the business.

After I'd been looking for a car for months with no luck, Gordon shared a secret- he had a tiny notebook in which he'd kept track of every Crosley he'd seen listed for sale going back a decade.  He shared some of those listings with me, and we even went up Highway 50 to Cameron Park to see a very rough Hotshot that Gordon had looked at years before.  It was mostly there, but a complete mess- I offered the guy $800 and in retrospect I'm probably lucky he said no.

One car that wasn't in Gordon's notebook was a Crosley station wagon that he'd looked at many years before in East Sacramento.  He told me that it had been parked in a garage off Folsom Blvd (a main drag in Sac) for decades and that it was very straight.  Gordon even drove to the area where he'd looked at the car and tried to remember for me which house had the Crosley.  It had been so long he couldn't remember, but he did tell me where it was within a few block radius.  I drove up and down Folsom and its side streets trying to find the house and garage that matched Gordon's description, but I never did find it.  That was 13 years ago, and I've probably driven down Folsom Blvd 500 times since then - and I've thought about that Crosley pretty much every time.

Suddenly, here it was.

I called the number in the ad and of course it was the same car.  The seller's father had bought it in 1964, driven around the block a few times and then put in the garage.  In 1964.  It hadn't seen daylight since.  His father had died earlier this year and now it had to go.  I arranged to go over the next day and take a look. After 13 years (Gordon has been gone for over 10) I would finally see the East Sac Crosley.
It was anti climatic.  You picture a car that's been garaged for 46 years, and you imagine a time capsule- at least I did.  Yes, the car had been put away in 1964... but the owner had started to 'restore' it, meaning that he'd partially taken the car apart.  The engine was completely disassembled in the back, rusty and probably worthless.  The transmission was out,  as was the back glass.  The seats were roached- the back seat had nothing left but the frame.   The paint was mostly spots of different colored primer.  They had no idea where the title was or if there even was one.  The owners were very nice, and were tickled to hear that I'd been looking for the car since the nineties. 

I walked them through the good (the body is about as rust free as I've seen), and the bad (all of the above.) I also marveled at the mileage.  The odometer had over 60,000 miles on it- by far the most I've ever seen on a Crosley.  Neat, but, that didn't bode well for the rear end and tranny- the steering box seemed like it was already shot.   There was a brief moment when I thought of making an offer, and then I remembered my blank bank account and all of my projects at home.  Instead I offered to help them sell it thru the West Coast Club if they didn't get much response to their ad. They liked that idea because they'd prefer to have the car restored rather than turned into a hot-rod.

So that was it.  Thirteen years of mild obsession, over.  After all those years of waiting, I can't believe I had more fun talking to the sellers about their dad  than I did actually looking at the Crosley.  I guess that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hmod Reunion October 2 at Infineon Raceway

I always enjoy a trip to the vintage races, but this weekend I had a mission: after 6 years of seeing Lee Osborn's Crosley Special being loaded and unloaded off the trailer at the West Coast Crosley Meet, I was finally going to see it on the track.  Osborn's car, the 1955 Shannon Special has developed quite a reputation- it just may be the fastest Crosley powered object currently on the planet.  Lee himself has picked up a rep too- his aggressive driving combined with incredible engineering skills has meant that he's usually dicing with cars with twice or three times the engine displacement - Osborn's special has probably dusted more Porsches than any Crosley since Harry Eyerly was driving.
I'd been following the preparations for this 'Hmod Reunion' on the Hmod bulletin board I read- with the limited number of Hmods still participating in vintage racing it's hard to get more than a few out at any given event.  Their months of planning resulted in close to 10 Hmods on this entry list, so I knew I couldn't miss it.  My pal Alex and I drove down to Infineon Raceway (which I still think of as Sears Point) on Saturday morning.  We got there just in time to catch the practice run for the group most of the Hmods were in.  Some of the cars were initially set in different groups, but after the practice the organizers got everybody put together in the same race, set for 4 o'clock.
 After the practice we walked back to the pits.  I was happy to find several Hmods I'd never seen before.
The Bunce Buck is a toothy Crosley based Hmod built by two guys, one named Bunce, the other named Ed Buck.  From talking to the current owner, Henry Morrison, it sounds like there were several of these built- this one is from 1959 and he's not sure if it ever had a race history.
At some point the Crosley that lived under the hood hump was tossed in favor of a rear Renault motor that, coincidentally, is identical (right down to the upgrade cam cover) to the Renault motor that was retrofitted to my Hmod.  The car is probably the most authentic of any Hmod I've seen, featuring a scratched plexiglass windscreen and a '10 footer' paint job.  I like it.
Pitted next to the Bunce Buck was a sleek fiberglass Hmod that was the solo project of Ed Buck - known as Ed's Hulk.  This thing is beautiful, so i'm guessing the name may have originated because of the beefiness of construction- the ladder frame has large tubing and there are several gussets made of 1/4 inch steel plate! The restoration was very well done and the motor was built by Barry Seel, the best-known of the East Coast Crosley engine builders.
Another car I was looking forward to seeing was this 1956 BMW Avia.  The car appeared briefly on Ebay and caused quite a stir on Bring a Trailer and some of the other carnut sites.  This hand formed aluminum bodied racer was built in Czechoslovakia by a company best known for airplane manufacturing and saw quite a bit of action in the fifties.  The new owners were racing it for the first time since its restoration- the BMW motorcycle engine seemed to run well but they were chasing a few electrical gremlins.

Every part of the car was a thing of beauty, and I could see why the owners were willing to part with their Shirdlu racer (currently for sale) to get this car.  They were stoked, and were super-nice to boot.
Two nice Panhard specials were also running in Hmod class.  I've seen these guys run before- great cars.  #114 is a particularly well-proportioned Hmod- there isn't that sense of the driver being too big for the car that plagues many designs.
Pitted with 114 was the Aardvark, a 1952 Panhard Special that is lighter and faster than almost any other special of the period- and you can tell... it's usually out in front of the pack even though it's one of the oldest Hmods still running.
Kip Fjeld was there with his 1956 Miller Special.  Originally built with a Triumph motorcycle engine, Miller installed a Crosley after three or four races and never looked back.  Kip has had this car a long time and campaigns it frequently.
Also on hand were Don Baldocchi and his incredible Nardi.  Don is the preeminent Crosley engine builder on the West Coast and his own car is evidence of his skill- he's always near the front and he never DNFs.
We chatted a bit with Lee as he checked the oil on the special.  Like nearly everything else on the car, the oil pan is a custom-built piece.  The car sits so low, Lee couldn't go with the Braje pan nearly every other racer uses, so he had to fabricate one out of a military sump.  Though the car is Crosley powered, there is little on the car that is stock Crosley.
There was plenty of other stuff to look at- the event was an annual charity benefit so there is always a good draw.
I believe that the San Francisco Sports Car Club might have been one of the sponsoring clubs- I saw a lot of their stickers.
One of the stranger cars I saw all day was this 1967 (i think) Marcos.  I'd only recently heard of these cars and thought they looked pretty funky.  Turns out that they are one of those cars that looks better in person than in pictures.  Saab Sonnets and MGBGTs are the same way.   Funky in pictures but really neat in person.
And this is the story of the track- scrambling to get something fixed before the next heat.  There were a lot of really nice cars on jackstands.
Not the Crosley-powered version, but amazing none the less.  These Siatas were called 'Baby Ferraris' and it's not hard to see why.
As it got close to the racetime for the group the Hmods were in we climbed the hill to my favorite vantage point..I think it's just called 'Turn 1.'  You get a great view of two twists in the track and there's usually plenty of action.  We watched a couple of other races up there and there was some excitement, especially for the driver a black Porsche:
Finally the Hmods took their places on the tarmac along with about 20 other cars- all of which sported substantially larger displacements.  Unsurprisingly, Osborn was the first Hmod up the hill, running about 8th out of the whole race group.
The rest of the Hmods diced a bit behind Lee.   Here's Don in the Nardi (101) followed up by the '54 Panhard (114):
The track is long, and you lose sight of the cars for long periods... at some point I realized that we hadn't seen Lee Osborn in a while.   Just then we saw the corner worker pull a yellow flag- car off the track!  The race was almost over at that point- we watched the cars parade around the track and then hustled to the pits.  When we got there all the other Hmods were pitted- but no Shannon Special.
Don filled us in: Lee had lost a wheel and spun off the track!  We stood around and waited, not looking forward to seeing the wreckage, and hoping that Lee wasn't injured.  I couldn't believe it when the tow truck pulled the Shannon Special in, minus the left rear wheel but looking none the worse for wear!  Not even a scratch in the paint!  Lee had broken an axle in the middle of turn 11, just as he was passing an Alfa Romeo Zagato.  He spun 360 degrees and went into the dirt, but missed both the Alfa and the wall.
 You would never want to hit another car, but The Zagato was a particularly rare bird. Luckily the driver was very skilled and avoided Lee's car.  Lee went over and apologized and thanked the driver for not plowing into him.  He was pretty shaken up.
Although I'd have rather seen a race with less excitement I was still glad to have finally seen Lee run the car, and I was stoked that, all in all, he got away lucky.  It was amazing to see the car outperform the much bigger iron, but as Lee pointed out, it's at the absolute edge of performance now, so there's just no margin for error.  He's not sure when he'll be able to run again since the axles were custom made- the last set took a year to get. We stuck around long enough to help Lee get the three wheeler on his trailer and then headed back to Sacramento, visions of sportscars in both of our heads.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

2010 West Coast Crosley Club Meet

The 2010 West Coast Crosley Club Meet has come and gone.  The meet was last weekend (September 11-12) in Buellton, just north of Santa Barbara.  We had about a dozen cars show up this year.  That's a bit low for turnout, but the members more than made up for it with quality- the Crosleys on hand included some of the nicest cars in the country. 
Heading that list was the latest issue from club treasurer Ronnie Bauman's garage: an immaculate 1947 coupe.  Bauman has taken the Crosley resto-biz up at least a couple notches with a series of incredible builds. He always starts with solid cars (cars that most would consider 'finished'!) and then makes everything better than new.  He'll spend more on paint and body than most people would have into the entire restoration, and the engines are always fully dressed with period speed equipment.   
The end results are stunning.  He's decided that this one had to go up for sale - this is the kind of car I could see going for ridiculous $ at Barrett Jackson.
Another car that was new to the meet was Charles Latty's two-tone CC.  Latty lives in tiny Pacific Grove, California- also home to founding club member Mike Bainter.. meaning that Pacific Grove probably has more Crosleys per capita than any city in the state! 
Not new to the meet, but still a fresh sight, Fred and Robin Dunner finished a beautiful resto of the Hot Shot they picked up at last year's meet.  The car was nice, if a little tired, when they bought it- now it looks brand new.  The long straight sides on the roadsters can be very wavy... but not on this one.  They kept the clean, custom filled-seam look that the car has had for most of its life.

I contributed another rarely-seen, if not so minty, car to the gathering.  I ended up buying a 'parts' Super Sport at the Sacramento meet a few years ago when Ed Scanlan made me an offer I couldn't refuse.  I already had a '51 SS in boxes and I thought that having one to reference wouldn't be a bad idea since it'd been nearly a decade since I took the other one apart.  truth is that I haven't done anything but move this thing around since I bought it, so I knew it needed to go.  I also realized that I had spares of a lot of the parts that were missing when I bought it, so I added an engine, transmission, radiator, etc to make it an almost complete car.  Apparently I priced it just right because it sold before I even got it off the trailer!
There were plenty of other great cars- Mike and Nancy Bainter brought their 4000 original mile '51 coupe - it looks, runs and drives pretty much like new!  I remember when this car went up for sale about 6 years ago - I thought momentarily about buying it, but immediately realized that it had to go to someone with a better garage than me.  Mike keeps this baby in a fully-climate controlled environment! 
Mike and Robin Stoner brought their funkana-dominating Farm O Road, but had some low-power issues this time out.  The collected Crosley brain trust tinkered with the timing, but no immediate solution appeared.  Even engine guru Lee Osborn (in the passenger seat) was at a loss.  Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like the F-o-R smoked even more than usual, so it may be time for new motor. I asked Mike about it and he doesn't remember where he got the motor that's been in it all these years- just that he dropped it in, fired it up, and off they went!
The West Coast Club has an active racing contingent, including Osborn.  As usual, he brought his 1955 Shannon Special, the same car with which he's been eating Porsches and, lately, even a Jaguar C Type!  I've been trying to catch one of Lee's races for 5 years and I've still never seen him on the track!  I've already got my calendar checked for the Hmod reunion race on October 2, so i'll finally get to see this car in action!
Kip Fjeld and Don Baldocchi will also be running at the Hmod reunion, Kip with the Miller special pictured here, Don with the '53 Nardi he's been tearing up tracks with for a couple of decades.  Kip inherited this car from Hmod great Joe Puckett who got Kip into racing when he was still a teenager!  Kip also scored the buy of the day, picking up an NOS steel stroker crank for probably less than a standard steel crank would go for!
 I didn't get any good pics of the swap meet area- but there was more stuff for sale this year than at any meet I've been to.  You can see incoming club pres Rick Alexander picking up some Crosley magazines from retiring president David Brodsky.  David also sold off a big batch of hop up stuff including the Braje pan, cam cover and exhaust manifold you can see on the table.  Rick brought a Uhaul trailer full of stuff including an intact tin block motor assembly along with a mountain of other stuff.  I picked up an extra speedo, some magazines and a neat license place topper from a Minnesota Crosley dealership!
And beyond the actual swap meet vendors, we had several folks show up with motors! Don Rausch showed up with a truckbed full of V Drive and generator motors (pictured above with Ronnie Bauman), and a young microcar collector from LA yanked ANOTHER V Drive motor out of his trunk a few minutes later!  I'd never seen a V drive motor until Saturday and suddenly I'm looking at three of them!
Longtime club member Gary Loomer brought a matched Crofton and Cushman. he's trying to break up the set- the Datsun-powered Crofton is currently for sale.  if you think a Datsun powered Crofton is unusual, that's nothing... Gary used to have the world's only racing Skorpion!
When the time came for the Funkana, Pat Askren let me be the co pilot in his very-correct CC sedan.  We were fighting a wounded clutch but still managed to take second place!
over half the cars at the meet ran in the Funkana, and the post-competition photo underscores what a nice batch of cars were there.  
Since the meet is so close to Santa Barbara, my sister and her family drove the 45 minutes up for a visit.  I don't get to visit them all that often, so it was a real treat!  best of all was the chance to meet my new grand nephew Cash!  Here he is risking tetanus in my Super Sport.
After the meet I loaded the SS back up (the new owner wanted to pick it up from my house later) and I got a good round of heckling over my trailer.  Yes, its a tiny, rickety POS, but I still managed to haul Frank Bell's wagon all over creation on it last year, and the SS parts car was very secure this year.  Hey, what do you want from a $50 trailer?  
They're just jealous. 
It just so happens that the light is about perfect when we get together for the club Banquet.  I'm usually the last one seated because I'm out shooting pics of all the cars at 'magic hour.'  Above is the 4000 mile coupe.
This is Ardell Johnson's incredible CD wagon.  That interior is original from the factory.. he just touched up the seats with vinyl paint about 20 years ago.  We had a great conversation at dinner about legendary Crosley racer Harry Eyerly who was from Ardell's home town, Salem, Oregon.

Here's longtime club member Gary Cochrane's sweet convert.  That custom wood job has been on the car since at least 1956!Just as I was finishing up my shots I noticed other people taking pictures too... and then I realized that one of them had hopped into David Brosky's 'vert to pose for her boyfriend!  This really underscores how differently people perceive Crosleys... can you imagine a stranger hopping into any other restored vintage car and not thinking they were going to get a punch in the snoot?!
The banquet was fun as always, even though we ended on a bit of melancholy note... David Brodsky founded the West Coast club over 25 years ago, and has been elected and reelected President ever since.  He announced that he wanted to step down a couple of years ago and he made it official on Saturday.  He and his wife Aileen have done an amazing job of keeping the club going - and fun - for more than a quarter of a century.  I'm sure Rick Alexander and Ronnie Bauman will do a great job, but it will be strange to think of David not being at the head of the table.  The Crosley Club is one of the only organizations I've ever belonged to, and is by far the one I'm most attached to. Much of that is thanks to David and Aileen, and I can't thank them enough for everything.

At dinner Shirley Bell reminded me that she had brought some of her late husband Frank's Crosley t shirts for me- we're about the same size and she thought I might like them.  That was really sweet, and I'm honored to fly the flag - I honestly can't remember seeing Frank wearing a t shirt that didn't have a Crosley logo on it!  After the dinner I had a beer with Rick Alexander and former TBT designer Mike Blackburn who offered me the spare bed in his hotel room.  I had spent Friday night cuddling with the Crosley motor in the back of the pickup, so a bed and a shower sounded pretty darn good.  And the next day he absolutely refused to let me chip in for the room.

As always: Crosley people; they're the best.