Car Show Preparations

Can you believe that we are half way through March, and that in three short months we will be getting our cars out of the winter abode and dusting off the winter grime? At some point winter seems to never be ending, and spring is just around the corner at lot faster than we can think about it.

Car show committees have been working extremely hard to present even better shows for our participation this year. As members of the VAE, we are extremely lucky to have two wonderful car shows each year, along with all the other events to help us enjoy the old car hobby. We are also fortunate to have two fashion shows each year that express and give examples of times gone past.

Last year, there were 17 participants in the Shelburne show, and expectations are even higher this year. The setting on the Ticonderoga is extremely lovely and elegant, and makes any outfit just that much more special. If you haven’t given it much thought, now is the time to start considering just what you might wear for the era that interests you the most. We went from the early 1900’s to the early 70’s and had lots of fun modeling the fashions. The shows would even by nicer if more of the masculine side would participate. After all, the fashion world did include fashion for the man, and was driven by the auto industry to some extent.

If modeling doesn’t appeal to you, how about becoming a judge. I’m sure that there are many of you out there that have a good eye for color and style. Won’t you join us?

2003 President’s Award

Winner of the 2003 President’s Award for Best Member-Restored Vehicle

As is VAE custom each year the President of the years gets to award a special trophy for a member-restored car that he/she feels is a great restoration… and quite often a car of period that the President is somewhat partial to.

2003’s winner is hereby announced by 2003’s VAE President and in light of the above it may come as a surprise of sorts. Rumor has it that Gael believes that no car younger than he is, is really an “old car”. He has also disparaged some quite respectable marques, especially those with flat head six cylinder engines. This is probably more to tease some specific club members… doesn’t 2004 President Ray dote on those Mopar marvels?

Back to what may be a surprise. 2003’s winning car wasn’t off the assembly line when Gael graduated (yes, he did), from high school. But time has passed and 1957 was an interesting car year. The trophy goes to Gary Sassi of Barre, Vermont for the super restoration of his 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk. You’ve seen his Stude Speedster and admired its perfection… well the Hawk is even better.

Gary claims that he learned a lot on the speedster to the Hawk’s benefit. Gary’s enthusiasm is contagious and I’m sure that he would welcome you, as he did me, into his garage and workspace and let you see just what kind of concerted effort he invests in his cars.

He does a majority of the work himself and gets a hand with paint, plating and other things that are hard to do in a garage that is actually an extension of his living room. So thanks Gary, congratulations, and a tip of the VAE hat for a great job on a neat car. What’s next?

A British Car Tale

Reference to persons is purely coincidental. Edited and enhanced from Brit Car Week email

Once upon a time, there were three people very much alike. Harry, Jennifer and George. They lived in different parts of the State but shared a common link in that they liked to tinker with the car, spending time at home, have an occasional Bar-B-Q and channel surf the TV or the Web. But, they each knew that something was missing. They were all in the doldrums of life.

After a day’s work, they each drove home in their family type car and would think of what there would be to do when they got home. Each realized the options were somewhat limited, they thought. So, they would decide to have an early supper, take care of the kids, watch some TV and go to bed.

But this day, during this repetitive and rather boring routine, Harry spotted a slick little sports car heading toward him. As it drew nearer, Harry could see the driver was wearing not only a baseball cap turned backwards but also a massive smile on his face. Just about the same time, Jennifer saw a similar car. Neither had seen a car like that in years, actually Harry hadn’t seen one since his military days. “WOW”, they thought to themselves. “That guy looks like he is having the time of his life.” Harry waved as the little car passed and the car’s driver gave him a thumbs-up and a bigger smile. Jennifer did likewise. “Boy, I could sure have fun in a little car like that”, they thought.

Over the next week, both spotted the cars again, but this time they noticed many other little sports cars with women and men drivers. Their drivers looked just as happy as the original fellow they had seen. By now each was starting to get curious. The following week, as luck would have it, Harry spotted four cars at an outdoors restaurant and being a little curious, he decided to stop and talk to the owners. Jennifer saw a similar group the next day and experienced the same curiosity. They stopped in their individual towns and met the car’s drivers and their passengers. Harry and Jennifer wanted to know all kinds of things, like “where can you buy one, what the costs were, were parts available, how to find a good one” and so on.

They learned that there were several British specific car clubs and a club for all makes in the area. Both were invited to attend meetings where they spoke to club members and decided to join the club that was for all makes and two British specific make clubs, one local and the other an international club. They made new friends at the meetings, found books on the car hobby and learned more about British cars. The next project was to locate a car, which Harry found listed in a club newsletter and Jennifer found through one of the members. Harry became a proud “owner” (but, he looked at this as not an ownership but as a historical artifact’s caretaker) and serious participant, as did Jennifer.

Later they learned what got all those little British cars on the road the day they saw the first one. It was Drive Your British Car Week. So now there was no longer any doubt as to what they would find to do after a day’s work and on many weekends by themselves or with family.

Oh yes, George. Well George is still at home after returning from another humdrum day’s work, having had an early dinner he is sitting on the sofa watching TV and thinking about getting ready for bed. Be sure to mark your calendars and tell your friends that the 9th annual Drive Your British Car Week is the week of May 22nd through May 30th, 2004.

Visible Gas Pumps

I came across this old photo recently and it got me to reminiscing about visible gas dispensers. We have all seen them in museums or may have one on display in our own shop or garage. They were the most convenient way to dispense gasoline before the calculating electric pump came into use. Probably not many of our VAE members have been served from one of these tall rugged beauties. I have used these actual pump as I worked as a very young boy at this busy little gas station in my hometown of Hartshorne in southeastern Oklahoma.

This station was across the street from my home and a natural hangout for me, so the owner, a very old and lame man, put me to work whenever I showed up after school and weekends. That was in the 1940s. When I left for Vermont all three pumps were of the old visible gravity flow type. This photo was taken on a return visit in 1951 and one electric pump had been installed in my absence.

The clear glass container on top held 10 gallons and the drill was to replace gas sold by pumping the large handle after each sale as the attendant in the photo is doing. To prevent theft all the pumps were drained back into the underground tanks each night and the pumping handles were padlocked. Of course, we had to pump a total of 30 gallons back up on opening the next morning, which was a good workout.

Numbers to measure the gallons were visible through the glass starting with zero at the top and number 1 through 10 in gallon increments down to the bottom. The most common sale was 5 gallons and a gravity feed hose with nozzle similar to today’s nozzles controlled the flow. You had to keep your eye on the gas level and stop the flow exactly on the marker for the desired number of gallons sold.

During the time I worked there, the price of gas never changed. It was 16 cents for white gas, 17 cents for regular (we called it bronze), and 18 cents for Ethyl. To calculate a sale there was a piece of paper taped to each pump listing the gallons multiplied by price for the attendant and customer to refer to. Speaking of prices, everything was much less in Oklahoma than I found in Vermont. We sold bulk motor oil in those refillable glass bottles with the metal pour spout.

That oil went for 35 cents per quart of 3 for a dollar and many of those old cars would take 3 quarts when they came in. We sold kerosene for 10 cents a gallon and soda pop out of the icebox for a nickel. Other items of interest were that no cash register was used and the attendants carried and made change out of their pockets, as was the norm with the other stations in town.

We were paid daily. The full time attendants were paid one dollar a day and the part timers got 35 cents with free sodas but everyone got a 25 cent bonus for each flat tire repaired. There was very little bookkeeping.

The climate was warm so the lube and oil change rack was an outdoor wooden drive-on ramp on the other side of the building. The war was on and tires were unavailable. To keep the cars on the road amidst frequent blowouts, vulcanizing, reinforcement boots and inner liners were used.

Though only a kid, I became proficient in repairing large blowout holes in tires and inner tubes. Every evening there was a rash of flat tires to fix when customers returned home from work at the bomb and ammunition factory in nearby McAlester. To change a tire many attendants never bothered to remove the wheel from the car. We just jacked it up and with tire irons pried a tire off the wheel and levered the repaired tire or replacement back on. Great time saver.
The majority of our customers were driving Model A Fords, Chevys, Dodges and Plymouths of the 30s and 40s. I never saw a Model T drive in as they went out of favor quickly in the wide open spaces of the West. Antifreeze? We never heard of it. If a rare cold night was expected, cautions people drained their radiators overnight. I never heard of a cracked block due to freezing.

Happily, when I took over my own station in Wells River in 1956 for a 41 1/2 year run, things were a lot more modern. Many of the basics I learned in that old place came in handy and perhaps that’s why I can relate so well to the antique car hobby.

The man in the 1951 photo is Johnny Zelnick who had become owner of the station with his brother known only as “Smiley”. They were both employees when I worked there. The car is my Uncle Earnest’s 1948 Chevy.

Cruisin’ Around Shanghai

Living in Shanghai is simply a hoot! This city can best be described as a combination of Adventureland, Saturday Night Live, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It’s the fastest growing city in the world, and playing “catch up” in all the products, services, and lifestyle creature comforts that we as Americans have taken for granted for many years. With all the neat things about Shanghai, what it lacks for a car collector is collector cars, and all the spinoffs that go with our hobby.

Yet, there is still some interesting “car stuff” going on here and we’ll explore some of it in this periodic column. The only way to explain China’s current automobile industry is the word “explosive”. Chinese auto production was up 81% in 2003 from the previous year, and is expected to grow by “only” 52% this year. As Chinese incomes increase, rather dramatically in some cases, the demand for cars has mushroomed. Shanghai is now a city of contrasts, with bicycles as the major mode of transportation now sharing the road with motor scooters, motorcycles, and numerous Chinese and foreign built vehicles. There are many auto assembly plants in China, building both domestic branded as well as foreign brand cars and other vehicles.

In the Shanghai region, both Volkswagen and GM operate facilities. A quick glance at the car scene here, and one immediately notices that probably half the vehicles on the road are VW Santanas, a model I don’t recall seeing in the US. It’s a “tight” 5-passenger vehicle, and compact by American standards. Why so many on the road? Well, first of all when VW was considering a China plant the city of Shanghai went all out to land the plant. “All out” in this case meant the City fathers promising top VW officials that if they chose Shanghai, every taxi in the city would be required to be a Santana! There are 42,500 taxicabs in Shanghai; there are 42,500 Santana taxi’s in Shanghai… well almost. [More on that later.] Added to that is the fact that the Santana is a reasonably well-built vehicle, right sized for a big city like Shanghai, competitively priced and they have become a popular choice for many car buyers as well.

Two models are seen… a 4 door sedan, by far the most popular choice, and a nifty 4 door wagon. Now, why almost all the cabs being Santanas instead of all of them? Well, for years it was a Santana cab, or no cab. But last fall, the Shanghai City Fathers responded to a growing number of Westerners visiting the city, people who, like this writer are rather cramped in the rear cabin of a Santana. As a test, the city is permitting a limited number of small model Mercedes and a few Buick [made by Shanghai GM] taxis to hit the road. To date, I’ve seen two of the cute Mercedes, and one of the Buick cabs. In one of the city’s many efforts to ease the air pollution problem in Shanghai, every single cab in this city is fueled by lp gas… as well as many busses. That’s it for this installment… until next time, keep Crusin’ Shanghai!