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Blog: MotorMouth by Kris Palmer

So Long (and thanks for all the fish**)

Thursday, April 30th, 2009


With the economy booming, car sales skyrocketing, and piles of cash heaped so high on the average desk that they obstruct this very blog, the time has come for it to follow many of the vehicles that have been mentioned here–Studebaker, Packard, Tucker, Plymouth, Hudson, Duesenberg, Auburn, Cord, Shelby, Vincent, Norton, BSA, Ariel, Corvair, Stutz, Triumph, MG, Austin Healey, Sunbeam….


It has been a pleasure to write for you, to meet you at car and motorcycle events, to trade ideas with you on these pages, and to further automotive tales and daydreams.


My Weekend Garage column will still appear in the Star Tribune and my books…

The Fast and The Furious: the Official Car Guide

Dream Garages

Survivor: The Unrestored Collector Car, and

Survivor Motorcycle: Tips and Tales in the Unrestored Realm (2009, pending)

…are available through and elsewhere for anyone who liked the prose and stories here. More books are likely to follow and someday, perhaps, I will have my very own blog on cars, motorcycles, films, funny fiction and other stuff that makes life worth living.


Keep turning wrenches, reading, writing and talking about the vehicles you love, and I’ll see you around the roads and the shows. Again, it’s been a pleasure shooting the breeze with all of you in cyberspace.


Peace. Kris Palmer


**Yes, that’s a Douglas Adams title.

Laotian Mystery Car

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009


This sedan attracted the attention of a friend visiting Laos. He’s a car buff but has no idea what it is. Given its apparent build quality, it’s probably a major manufacturer’s creation rebadged for a foreign market.


Looks BMW Bavaria-influenced, though I don’t know of Bimmer pulling off its well known badge for an “m.” The front end suggests a bit of Lancia, though some googling around turned up nothing especially close to it.


One approach might be to knock on the door and see if the homeowner speaks a common language and has some background. My friend’s son found this, however, which suggested the car’s owner might not be up to talking.


They left well enough along. Quickly.

Of All the Words….

Friday, April 24th, 2009


…That could be emblazoned across your gas tank, these two are very, very hard to beat.


This bike is going in my new book on unrestored motorcycles. (Pro shots–not these little pops from my pocket digital.)

Superclean Classics Still Out There

Friday, April 24th, 2009


A friend drove by this in someone’s yard with a for-sale sign on it. Hadn’t been washed in a while and paint condition was hard to judge. Looked nice, though–which was good and bad.


This friend has cars. He has bikes. He has gadgets and gizmos of all sorts and they’re all pretty darn cool. He knew he was going to have to stop and check out this ’62 Galaxie 500. He was kind of hoping the far side would be smashed up or there’d be rust holes in it. Or the interior would be in tatters. Or missing.


Not that he would wish an ill fate on any mechanical thing. But if it was rough, he wouldn’t have to buy it. If it was nice, well…they’re not making ‘em any more and somebody’s gotta look after our automotive history.


As you can see, it was nice. Very nice. Original. Unrestored. Interior dead flawless.

Came out of Texas. Nice and dry. Always garaged. Seldom used. Never abused. One of those cars grampa gets, stops using, parks. Nobody takes it. Nobody hauls it out of its quiet, protected haven for a long time.


When it emerges, it’s a time-warp car. All the peers it knew on the road are gone. Now it’s an artifact. Somebody’s gotta take care of it.


(Check out the child seat. “Your baby is held comfortably but securely in his Infantseat. He’s completely safe from rolling, falling, smothering or other accidents.” I don’t see many like this in use anymore. Maybe they overlooked something.)

Common Sense Fares Poorly in Crash Tests

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety decided to test what they learned in science class in high school and discovered–Gasp!–it’s still true. Big objects still win out in collisions with small ones. Yes, when the 300-pound linebacker on the football team hits the 145 pound kicker head on, the little guy still sails farther.

The test the institute made, as you likely already know, was to smash road tots like a Smart Car, Honda Fit, and
Toyota Yaris head-on into a Mercedes C-Class, Accord and Camry with each car doing 40 mph. They align the vehicles so that the drivers’ sides hit (about 40 percent of each front-end makes contact).

There is no basis in logic or denial to assume anything other than what did happen, would, in these collisions. The little cars got damaged much more severely. There was significant intrusion into the little cars’ passenger compartments. Featherweights can’t knock heavyweights out of the ring. A Bobcat can’t push a Caterpillar D10 aside.

“Safe” is a loaded word with no stand-alone meaning. It has meaning only in context. Knives are safe in a drawer and usually in a chef’s hand; less so wielded by a killer.

Tiny cars are not inherently unsafe because you might get hurt if a big car hits you head on. You’ll get hurt more on a motorcycle or scooter, still more on a bicycle, and if you’re walking by the road with only some khakis or a skirt between you and the sedan, we don’t need a study to announce “Skirts Unsafe in Frontal Collision.” Motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, skateboards, Skat-Skootas, and Chuck Taylors are not inherently unsafe. They’re just not well matched against a ton-and-a-half of steel going 40 miles an hour.

It took years and thousands of deaths for people to realize that many SUVs with short wheelbases and high centers of gravity were unsafe when they went off the edge of the road and rolled over, collapsing their roofs with their substantial weight. Were they inherently unsafe? They were unsafe in that circumstance—but did well in collisions in which they remained upright. Big, heavy vehicles can also be a downer if you end up in a lake, whereas a VW Beetle will float a while. Safety is relative.

To borrow from the gun lobby, cars don’t kill people, drivers kill people. Any car of any size, as well as motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, unicycles, roller skates can be operated safely. If we all try our best to do so, we won’t kill ourselves and we won’t kill others, no matter what form of transportation we choose.

Vintage Sports Car Racing Info Meeting in Mpls.

Monday, April 6th, 2009

If you have any interest in vintage racing, either as a participant or spectator, a great way to learn about just how it’s done, by whom, with what vehicles, what costs and at what speeds, is to swing by Quality Coaches at 38th and Nicollet (20 W. 38th St. to be exact) in Minneapolis on Saturday, April 18, between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The event is the 15th annual Vintage Sports Car Racing Spring Swap Meet & General Membership Meeting. If you need something for that project in the garage, or have some old parts to move along, come visit to see what you can BUY, SELL, TRADE… or just come to meet the members who have been running their vintage cars over the last 33 years.

Brainerd is on schedule for a variety of races this summer, including the East Meets West MINI Challenge in June. Also, the SCCA has sanctioned Brainerd International Raceway again for Club Racing.  If you like older sports cars going fast, check it out on APRIL 18, 2009.

Earth Week Reuse/Recycle Activities in Burnsville, 4/21 – 4/25

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Everybody knows that automobiles have an enormous impact on the environment. Recognizing that impact and looking for some ways to reduce it is one way auto dealers can challenge themselves and try to set themselves apart.

Walser is opening a new Subaru dealership in Burnsville and invites the public to stop by and share in a variety of activities related to environmental impact and learn about some of the things they and the Subaru company are doing to try to reduce waste and pollution and be good “citizens.”

The activities include:

Monday 4/20: Free car seat safety clinic, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Parents have the opportunity to learn how to correctly install and fit child restraint safety seats. The car seat inspections will be performed by certified technicians from the Safe Kids Minnesota Coalition.

Tuesday, April 21 – Thursday, April 23
Dealership tours led by environmental designers and engineers, who will explain some of the choices the dealership made in focusing on a reduce-reuse format. These include a car wash from refurbished parts, use of phosphate-free soap, a white roof to reduce solar heat gains, and other design decisions.  Guests learn how to implement these initiatives in their homes and businesses.

Wednesday, April 22, Saturday April 25
Drop off used batteries, motor oil, and anti-freeze for recycling.

Also please bring new or gently-used furniture and household items for donation to families in need. Bridging Inc., the organization sponsoring this effort, estimates that this program kept 11 million pounds of household items out of landfills in 2008–and of course all of those items helped out the people who received them.

Also Saturday, free dog wash by Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota with $10 donation. The warm water wash includes local celebrities and earth friendly pet shampoo.

So, if you have old batteries, dirty oil, a spare sofa or refrigerator, or a dog ready for a bath, stop on down…. Beats buying earth shoes.

Don’t “Cure” and Ride

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

It’s a given that you shouldn’t drink before riding a motorcycle. Obviously you wouldn’t get drunk, but even a little alcohol is dangerous because it brings out the Superman cape.

Before a beer, it’s all proper riding position, sight lines, safe technique… after one, gaps seem bigger, traffic lights slower, braking distances longer. An E.R. doctor could confirm that a meaningful number of riders they sew up have some alcohol in their system. They thought they were riding better than ever. The reverse was true.

Coming home in the Dodge today–haven’t picked up the “new” bike yet–another safety idea popped in mind: Don’t ride immediately after hearing Love Cats, by the Cure. Like the song or no, with its driving rhythm galumphing around in your skull, it’s going to crash into the nerve center carefully metering your throttle input–and there go the revs.

Other songs can be added to this cautionary list. I also won’t be listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “You Got That Right” and “I Know a Little,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” most Courtney Love, Dick Dale’s “Misirlou,” and just about everything by the Violent Femmes.

If out on the bike and exposed to one of these songs, proper protocol will be to take a walk, get some air and try to listen to something instrumental by Sting, or maybe our own Billy McLaughlin. Be calm, ride calm, live longer.

“Liked it as a kid…”

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Our youthful experiences play such an important role in our choices as classic car and motorcycle buyers, or dreamers, they must be credited for helping to sustain the hobby itself.

For 15 years my motorcycle was a 1975 Honda CB750 bought because my brother’s friend Jim came over to our house when we were kids astride a used CB550 he’d bought for $200 and got running. He and his stepfather were seriously good with a wrench. With its spoke wheels, chrome fenders, twin gauges, high circular mirrors, rubber gaitered front springs, attractive engine, and excellent overall proportions, it looked to me like the smartest way a pair of Franklins has ever been spent.

Yesterday, I traded it in toward a CB1100F, another bike from a bit later in youth. I saw one of these in a motorcycle dealership in Newark, Delaware, in 1983. Looked like the sexiest, most powerful motorcycle in the world.

BSAs and Nortons and Triumphs have all laid claim to my imagination but somehow, that bike, the one I had seen and sat on and daydreamed over for so long pushed them all out of mind. Infectious devotion like that is gold to a manufacturer and half the time, it arises from mere happenstance and not the millions in advertising they all lavish on print and airwaves.

From the Don’t-Try-This-at-Home Files

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

A novel way to change the front tire on your motorcycle, here.

MotorMouth Kris Palmer, freelance auto writer and editor, blogs about vintage cars, the collectible auto scene and just about anything else that goes vroom.

Your favorite: classic car blog, antique car blog, muscle car blog, vintage car blog. Antique and classic cars for sale by owner.

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