Loneliness of the long distance rider



This sentiment was also picked up by JD Salinger in “Catcher in the Rye” (1951), featuring a protagonist consumed with defeating the regimentation and “phoniness” of contemporary society. Holden Caulfield’s rejection of traditional middle-class values signaled the first widely recognized public stand against conformism in post-war 50s culture.

The road as catharsis for motorcyclists holds some variations from what would be a typical voyage in the early 50s. Few if any contemporary bikers have much interest in bucking all that much societal conformity. The number one reason for long distance riding is to see as much as possible in the time allotted. The danger of course is the increasing distance the rider is willing to negotiate in order to get all desired visitation in.

The chance of a rider biting off more than he or she can chew is omnipresent. In Leo Tolstoy’s short story “How much land does a man need”, the protagonist was given as much land as he could circumvent on foot provided he return to the same spot he departed from in one day. Of course, the walker continued to find more land he wanted as he walked, ultimately running out of sustenance and dying of exhaustion out in the hinterlands nowhere near the point of origin.

That said, some species of riders comfortably evolve to long distance roadwork naturally. Author Joel Rappoport discovered early that he liked riding for the sake of riding and the distance didn’t matter. Riding 650 miles to visit a relative and 650 miles back the following day wasn’t an issue. He simply became part of the road; it engulfed him and he became one with it. Rider Rappoport explains the phenomena of the yearly “Iron Butt Rally” in his book “Hopeless Class”. “11 Days, 11,000 Miles”. Finishers are dubbed “The World’s Toughest Motorcycle Riders”, a claim few would doubt.


Long distance riders usually customize their machines to facilitate comfort during a long haul, including wind-diverting fairings, GPS, radar detection, satellite location gear, computerized suspension adjustment for road conditions and even CB radio rigged to blue tooth and helmet earphones. The preferred ride for the majority of long distance riders is the venerable BMW R1200GS, considered by most to the Rock of Gibraltar on wheels. Most other similar models are thinly failed copies.

Accordingly, my trip to the Balkans last week was a tour de force of long distance riding to accommodate as many sites as possible in the time allotted, which turned out to be about 1500 miles in ten riding days. I did manage to get it all in and recorded most of it on (digital) film that I have made into a high-resolution movie. The movie is definitely in high definition and if you click on the wide screen at the bottom right of your screen, you can fill your computer screen with high-resolution photos.

Here it is: http://youtu.be/XTTZkE9X3Qg


I get a Fiat Abarth


Fiat3Well, they made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. Apparently the paint scheme on my car (black with red stripe on side) is in hot demand, and so he made me a deal on an Abarth that made me burst into tears. I didn’t want to wake up with a horse’s head in my bed so I traded up and got a stellar deal. He knew I wanted an Abarth anyway but they weren’t available last year.

This little beast is a contradiction in form and function. It’s tiny, which is fine as there’ll never be anyone in it but me, occasionally my wife. So the back seats are down yielding a reasonably big space to carry things. Plenty of room for a full sized amp, two guitars and other junk for a gig. But, you fire this thing up and it’s instantly apparent what, in my youth I would have described as “glass pak mufflers”. I haven’t heard a rumble like this since I personally gutted the mufflers ’40 ford in 1960. On some level it’s beautiful, but sadly, it remains a harbinger of my mis-spent youth.

It’s fairly loud, and it gets louder when I pour the poison to it, but surprisingly well mannered at usual cruising speeds. A little more mellow than stock, but definitely not obtrusive to conversation and radio. The twin pipe exhaust song signals that this is not your grand-dads Fiat 850. This thing has a twin inter-cooled turbocharged engine with a potential of 18 psi boost (as measured by the meter on the left dash). When it hits 17.5 a little sign flashes: “your engine is going to explode now-goodbye”. The next closest is 12 psi on one of the Mini Cooper turbo models. That’s a serious hot rod engine for a conventional car sold to a mass public. But you know me; I’ve got my boot in it most of the time anyway.

So, this thing feels and handles like a Volkswagen at rational speeds, but when you stomp on it the car changes personality quickly from the lead singer of U2 to Stone Cold Steve Austin with an attitude. It’s a sensation not many casual drivers should ever feel, that the car has the ability to keep accelerating without any plateaus until the engine blows up. A distinct possibility as I don’t believe the engine has a functioning rev limiter like a Formula 1 car.At some point in the acceleration, you’re aiming, not driving it. That makes it a tricky proposition to keep this tiny car on the road at speed.

Otherwise, the appointments are nice. Full leather throughout including the steering wheel and shift knob. 5-speed manual is standard. Not really any need for a six-speed. The seats are comfortable although a little high. Headroom is plenty for a six-footer, foot room is fine, pedals spaced well. I got the “regular” radio which is fine for playing MP3s as there is n such thing as “high fidelity” in digital music (yet). 4 wheel anti-lock disc brakes, 17″ wheels. Uses regular unleaded gas, unlike the Mini Cooper. There is an option for a “TomTom” GPS that slips in and out of a holder on the dash. Not a good idea as it’s expensive, interferes with vision and the Garmin gets better reviews.

So in summary, this is a very nicely appointed LITTLE car with cool styling that acts pretty much like it looks until the gas pedal is righteously stomped. It then turns into a little rocket sled in the same tiny body and has the capability of quickly getting away from the average driver accustomed to a LITTLE car.

I give it an advised 4 or 5 scorpion badges. Be careful with this thing unless you’re experienced with performance driving. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing and it’ll bite you if you give it a chance.

New Town bike for me: BMW R1200S


The compleat rider has two vehicles (three if any hard core off road riding is in the works).

A road vehicle should have some weight, high speed safety features and creature comforts for long hauls. My BMW R1200GS is about 550 pounds wet and has tubular crash bars, high intensity lighting, aftermarket wide (Corbin) seat for increased comfort, front foot pegs to intermittently shift weight on the road, high tech radial tires, anti-lock brakes, throttle stop (functions as a cruise control more or less). Computerized engine management system. GPS and “Spot” satellite locator that doesn’t rely on cell towers. Those following me can pinpoint me in real time on-line. Sends a signal when I am done for the day and can send an emergency locator if I crash. t gets 50 miles per gallon on the road at 80 mph.  But it’s too ponderous and bulky for in-town riding. The very qualities that make it a stable road bike are a detriment in town traffic.

So I have (now) a perfect town bike as well. A BMW R1200S.  (BTW, BMW is the most ably constructed motorcycle in the world. Safety is an omnipresent hallmark of the markee. If you want well thought out engineering and safety built in, think BMW.)

What happened was that in 2006, BMW decided they wanted to compete with the hot rod Japanese sport bikes. Incredible beasts weighing under 400 pounds and over 180 horsepower. Maybe ten riders in the world capable of riding one anywhere near it’s capability (but any idiot with a checkbook can buy one). So they took a standard GS and stripped weight off it. took off center stand, put aluminum frames and struts, plastic cowl instead of metal. Ran the muffler up under the seat and out the back of the rear fender.  They got the weight down to 418 pounds dry (460 with full gas tank).  Then they hopped up the venerable 1200cc boxer engine to 122 horsepower (the stock GS, same engine, is 100 horsepower). Problem was that most BMW riders are not super bike types and so there was little interest in this version and they stopped making it in 2007.  But it’s the perfect town bike. It’s light and quick and has enormous brakes (check them out on Photo 2).

The most important safety factor in a town bike is brakes. Virtually every potential city riding emergency involves stopping quickly or at least getting down to a much slower speed to limit trauma.   The ability to maneuver quickly enters into it too. In Pittsburgh, hitting a deer is a very real and deadly potential. The quicker you can stop or slow after you identify a problem situation, the better chance you have for decreasing injury. Small increments in slowing matter.  The brakes on the R1200S are simply enormous, power assisted and anti-lock with very expertly designed radial tires. Panic stops are incredible. So much so that avoiding the rear wheel coming off the ground requires some skill. Pulling the front brake lever also applies the rear brake in a 60% – 40% distribution so one panic pull fits all.

After some searching on Cycle Trader, I found one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and grabbed it.  Only 20,000 miles, mint condition.  I put on a Corbin aftermarket seat for some more support and dropped the foot pegs two inches for less leg cramp from leg folding. The bike also has aftermarket handlebar risers that bring the riding position up a bit for more ergonomics and a very high tech, race bred Ohlin shock absorber on the rear that is so incredibly efficient you can feel the difference in every riding situation. This came with my bike and is expensive if you want it installed aftermarket (US$1200.00) not including installation.

The stock muffler system is fine but the bike sounds like a sewing machine, so many 1200S riders (including me) upgrade to a dual, low restriction muffler system. Mine is the “Laser” tuned exhaust system with headers, running out under the rear fender.  This adds about 4 horsepower, drops about 20 pounds of weight and has a really cool exhaust note, not “too” loud.

Check it out on another guy’s R1200S: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P15XyUGmyc

So here it is (photo one and photo two).

Very maneuverable, VERY quick and very cool. A logical blending of safety and performance. As good as it gets on two wheels.

More Lotus issues (Hot Rods Redux)



My buddy Dave  is ain independent exotic car mechanic (Porsche/Ferrari) in Pittsburgh that few know except by word of mouth. He’s a master mechanic. When I got my Lotus last Summer, I couldn’t wait to ride out there and show it to him. Like many car nuts he has several exotics in his stable. He liked mine so much he went out and got one for himself, but knowing Dave, it had to be faster than anyone else’s. So he got an Lotus “Elige” model (mine is the more domesticated “Elise”).  The Elige is a thinly veiled street legal race car, but it definitely isn’t for public consumption. It’s supercharged.  The more you push on the pedal, the more power it puts out with no upper limit. The red line on the tachometer means exactly that. The engine pours power till it blows up if you let it. You strap yourself into this thing like a fighter jet. Although the traditional shape, the inside “rear view mirror” isn’t a mirror. it’s a radar/laser detector that shows all the information on the blackened mirror surface. I drove it. I found a deserted area of road and poured the poison to it at about 30 mph in 3rd gear. I was completely taken aback. The normally soft rumble of exhaust note changed to a blood curdling scream in about one second as this thing took off like the proverbial bat out of Hell. It scared the beJesus out of me.  it normally does 0 to 60 mph in about four seconds and I was up to mandatory jail time in less than that. A little rich for my blood but an interesting experience. I like my domesticated model (sitting next to his) just fine.

I go car shopping 3/8/12


Electric cars are coming but they aren’t here quite yet. In two years the woods will be full of them, but right now it just isn’t ready. Want to see an interesting documentary about them?  Check out “revenge of the Electric Cars”:


Particularly interesting is the story of Tesla.

That said, the obligatory electrics (Leaf) don’t have enough range to be practical. The range-extending Volt is interesting but after the first 35 miles, it gets only 32 MPG and runs on premium gas, not anywhere near what a Prius will do at half the purchase price. It’s VERY expensive. I stood stunned and shuddering at the window price like a hound dog passing a peach pit.  And rigging your garage for it is also VERY expensive.  But mainly (hangs head) it’s………”plain” (like a mechanical version of Romney). It’s a standard boring four door sedan people haul bodies out to the woods to bury every day. It’s…….(sulks) boring, and I’m constitutionally incapable of driving a boring car.

So I had pretty much resigned myself to a Prius, also a boring car but not quite as sad as the Volt. Just another four-door sedan. Blah.

Cut to this week.

Back in the 80’s, a forgettable film starring Richard Dreyfuss called “Tin Men” pitched Richard in a 60’s Cadillac dealership working a deal on an Eldorado like an Arab trader, when a little Volkswagen cruised by prompting Dreyfuss to wonder out loud “What’s that”?.  Similarly, I keep seeing little Fiat 500s drive by and I keep saying, “What’s that?”.  So having little else to do this week, I drove over to the new Fiat dealer here to have a look. I was astounded. It’s perfect. Two-doors with a space in back is all I need for an in-town runabout for getting back to work and going to the store for something. Anything more is wasted space and weight.

Here’s what you get for a paltry US$20,000  (chump change for a full featured car).

·      Four year, bumper to bumper warranty (50,000 mile)

·      1.4 liter 101 HP inline 4 engine

·      Automatic 6 speed transmission

·      Four wheel disc brakes, anti-lock

·      7 Bag air-bag cabin safety system

·      7 speaker high end Bose radio/CD/subwoofer set up for XM/Sirius through USB port (on iPhone app)

·      Cruise control

·      Traction control

·      16” rim high performance all weather tires

·      Real Mag wheels

·      2” head room for 6’ 1” driver (me).

·      Halogen lights

·      Drivers right arm rest

·      Power everything

·      Air Conditioning

·      Remote key-less entry and remote anti-theft system

·      Tire pressure monitoring

·      Front floor mats (usually extra)

·      Bluetooth everything

·      Pre-wired for phone, no-touch calling (voice from iPhone contact list) and answering

·      Tilt steering wheel

A check of the Internet reviews say many drivers get from 38-40 MPG on the road on regular unleaded (driving sanely at 70 mph) and 30-32 MPG in town.


·      Guarantee buy-back at 105% of market price if I choose to trade it in at any time in the future.

·      No charge loaner car

·      No charge paint-less dent repair

·      No charge yearly State inspection

·      No charge roadside assistance

The Prius costs at least US$30,000 for a car with the same features, possibly more, and it’s gets about 40-42 MPG in town.  Do the math as to how long it would take you to make up the difference in purchase price.  The Volt isn’t even on the same screen.

So I bought the one that caught my eye on sight. Call me impulsive.

If you want a Fiat hot-rod, the Abarth will be available this summer. 160 HP turbo, but for a general-purpose car, that makes no sense.  That’s why I have a Lotus Elise sitting in my back garage.

Woodstock uber alles!

Of Biker Boyz and Polar Bears


Today is the annual Polar Bear Club bike ride sponsored by one of the local Harley dealerships.  Most are Harley guys and I bet about a quarter of them are wearing Colors. Serious Colors (multicolored biker gang leathers). Leather on their leather. The whole drill. WW II German helmets, skulls & xbones, All sorts of evil incantations in print.  Couple of members of the Western Pa Airheads Club (vintage 70’s BMW air-cooled boxer head bikes) attended to show support. Bikers of all species are welcome even “furriner bikes”, but I don’t think you’d want to show up on a Vespa. A bunch of them checked out my ’76 BMW R90/6, shook their heads sadly, but they all gave me big smiles and a Laurel & Hardy handshake.

By the time it all got rolling, I would hazard a guess there were about 200 or so bikes lined up.  Weather was rainy but not too cold, about 40 degrees F. We’ve had a mild winter here so far. They have been known to do it in the snow in years past.  I’ve never ridden with a really big group before so I tucked i behind my experienced buddy Tom Furey and watched my Ps and Qs.

Few if any of these machines had anything resembling mufflers (some had tomato cans) so after a brief riders meeting outlining the drill, everyone fired these things up and other than sounding like Rommel’s advance at El Alamein, everyone proceeded in an orderly fashion. And when I say “proceeded”, I mean advance without any obstruction. Red lights ignored, pedestrians get the collective stink-eye. Mob rule with me right in the middle of it (Hi Mom!!).

Somewhere Gil Ross is smiling.

Electric cars- an opinion


In the past, I have gone on record to opine that (plug-in) electric cars are the wave of the future. The current breed of “hybrids” (Prius) are interims to the ultimate paradigm which is plug-ins that will go somewhere in the range of 40 miles on battery, then will go up to 300 miles on the battery with a gasoline engine re-charging the battery as an ongoing process.

It’s getting closer.  One of my colleagues now has one. A Chevy Volt that he plugs into an electrical outlet in his garage nightly, 220 volts- it charges in four hours. UPMC is now committed to providing charging for electric cars and the first four reserved spaces with 220 volt plug-ins are on the way.  My friend has had his car now for a month and he’s never used the gasoline portion of the drive train. Battery has a 10-year warranty and more efficient (cheaper) iterations are coming down the road very quickly. He’s absolutely ecstatic with the car.

It ain’t cheap at around US$40,000 to drive it off the lot plus whatever it takes to get your garage wired.  There’s no way the savings in gas will ever recoup from a regular gas eater getting 30 mpg in town and costing under US$20,000, but that is no longer the point 1n 2012.

I think the point now is no longer saving money with gas mileage. The point is now supporting the emerging industry that has a very important double benefit; decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and stoking an industry that American carmakers could use to become leaders.

My friend says that the additional fees for electricity have not been noticeable.  I don’t have any problem supporting the coal industry I West Virginia (producing electricity), but I am increasingly having a problem paying exorbitant rates per barrel on the whims of filthy rich Saudis who hold us up whenever they feel like it. I think the time has come to put our collective money where our gas pumps used to be.

For me, it will happen next year. My daughter by a previous marriage has a son who will be entering college in the Fall of 2102 and my current ride is a cream puff 2008 Toyota Yaris with all the trimmings, circumferential air bags, anti-lock brakes, auto transmission, satellite radio, new tires, serviced to the minute. Will have about 40,000 miles by summer of 2012. Gets 40 mpg on the road and 30 in town the way I drive it. The natural progression is to give this car to the kid.

So I will be purchasing a new car in the summer of 2012.  I am actively planning a plug-in electric.  The trip from my house to Presbyterian Hospital is about ten miles so I can get there and back easily on one charge. If I can charge here at the hospital, I will probably never have to use the gas engine for my routine trips into work. In the nice weather I always take a bike in unless it’s raining and I take the Lotus in on weekends so the electric car will be low mileage.

So I started sniffing around at what’s out there now and what will be out there in the summer of 2012. I looked at what Tesla is doing and found out that it isn’t for me. Their sports model is clearly modeled after the Lotus Elise, and I already have one. Their other proposed car is an expensive luxury sedan that I have no interest in.  I want a small, preferably two-door hatchback.

I have a very strong interest and loyalty to the British Lotus brand and they are coming out with a nearly perfect (for me) plug-in car, the Lotus Ethos, but there are two problems. First, the car is not slated for sale until 2013, which probably means 2014 and I don’t want to wait. The other is the car is made overseas and I think I now feel the need to support American industry by purchasing an American brand, or at least a brand that is made in the USA by an American labor force.

By the time summer of 2012 rolls around, the choices for electric vehicles will explode, and many foreign brands will be manufactured here in the USA. I plan on getting in on that. More as it happens.

I get a new ride


Long and short of it……I sold my 31-year-old Porsche.  Served me well for a long time, compiled a lot of memories that will never be forgotten. But it, like it’s owner, was getting creaky and it’s value was pretty much static. Any money put into it would not appreciate its value, and I was getting a little concerned about safety issues in a car this old. So it went for a good price on EBay, and interestingly, is being shipped to its new owner in Norway. I am so very happy its new owner will drive it in such a beautiful place.

So on to the bucket list.

Lotus Elise.  I’ve lusted after the Lotus marquee for years. The engineering is born and bred Formula One. A marquee with a history. I scoured the Internet and lucked into the exact one I wanted in Hagerstown, Maryland. It’s a 2006 (all the 2005 upgrades) at a reasonable price. One owner, all service records at authorized Lotus dealer, low mileage (11,300 miles), totally immaculate, can’t be told from new. Beautiful color (metallic blue) and many options I wanted, including air bags, anti-lock brakes, premium stereo system (200 watt Alpine with blaupunkt speakers front and back). Bunches of other stuff as well.  Flew down to pick it up and drove it back to Pittsburgh today. Photos enclosed.

Some observations for anyone interested in the marquee.

The workmanship of this car is immaculate, at least as good as any of the German cars nowadays, I think better than BMW. I can find no flaws or sloppy workmanship. Entire interior is leather and the seams are perfect. The front and sides are protected from stone chips by an invisible clear plastic coat over the paint. The engine is basically a Toyota Celica mill that’s hopped up a bit and fitted horizontally amidships.  Puts out just a tick under 200 horsepower and the car only weighs 2000 pounds, a thousand pounds lighter than a Porsche Boxter or a Miata.  All the scoops on the car are fully functional, and there are two air scoops out the rear that provide some down force, just like Formula One. The design was air tunnel proven.

That said, there are design issues that affect comfort for non-dwarfs, especially entry and exit. There is a large 10-inch high, 6-inch wide horizontal post on the lateral side of the seats, essentially creating a tub the driver and passenger sit in. The car is very small. It’s been described as a very fast go-cart. Getting in and out with the top off is fairly simple and intuitive. When the top’s on, it becomes an ergonomic challenge.

I’m not as flexible as I used to be when I was a younger dog. I’m 6’ 1”, 220 pounds and getting arthritic as a natural consequence of age. Getting in and out of this thing with the top on is a creative Kama Sutra exercise.  After some experimentation, I’ve found the most effective entry is to toss my right leg in as far as it’ll go under the steering wheel, then slide my butt into the seat. Unfortunately, that leaves my left leg at about a 90-degree angle.  So I have to slide my butt over to the passenger seat (sorry, dear), pick up the leg by the pants, and then lift it over the ten-inch riser. Getting out requires again moving my butt over to the passenger seat and repeating the entry maneuver in reverse. People stop to watch. Needless to say, I’m going to be spending a lot of time in this car with the top off.

But once inside, it all settles down. I have barely enough legroom and 2 inches of headroom. The seats are firm but passable.  The six-speed shifter is nicely positioned for comfort and the gear ratios are very effective. Never lugs in any gear.

Like I said previously, this car has been described as an overpowered go-kart. It’s very, very precise in steering, so much so that it tends to be pretty twitchy at speed on the highway. It has huge power-assisted ventilated disk brakes on every wheel and slamming on the brakes (with ABS) is said to be downright scary. The car is very, very fast. Scary fast.  It will effortlessly allow a driver to exceed his or her capabilities with no warning. It is not a car for an irresponsible or careless driver. It has the potential to hurt you before you know you’re in danger.

In normal domesticated driving conditions, it drives like a Toyota. Quiet and smooth. When power is poured to it in a more or less safe road environment, the best way to describe the engine song is a “howl” and it doesn’t quit and probably won’t quit till the red line is exceeded and the engine blows up. There is no lag phase.

So the fascination with it is the style, the function and the potential for standing apart from other cars on the road. A guy in a red turbo Porsche gave me the stink-eye on I-76 this afternoon, considered the evidence and backed off with a smile and a wave. This car literally stops traffic wherever it goes.  It’s the most beautiful and desirable automobile I have ever seen. In the words of one of the reviewers:

“This may be the best car in the world — if all you need it to do is stay ahead of whatever’s chasing it. If Bonnie and Clyde had a 2006 Lotus Elise they might still be on the run”.

Followup one month of ownership:


Lotus Elise


Now with some experience with this car under my belt, I can make some clearly hyperbolic statements about it (unlike me, of course).

The Lotus Elise is simply the most incredible vehicle I have ever driven, and that’s compared to all comers, including Porsche. I can’t get over it.

The design and workmanship is just amazing. Every aspect of the design is functional. Flat bottom and ground effects tunnels on the rear, just like a Formula One car. The faster it goes, the more stable it becomes. Paint and trim is immaculate. The front surfaces and backs of rear-view mirrors are coated in clear plastic to stop road pebble dings.

The car is light, a thousand pounds lighter than a Porsche Boxter and to achieve this, there is no rear tire. Snapped to the side of the trunk is a pressurized bottle of latex (or something like it) that, in the event of a flat tire, can be attached to the tire stem to seal the leak and re-inflate the tire.

There is a built-in theft avoidance system beginning with an ignition defeat unless the right button is pushed before attempting to start, and a siren alarm if desired. Gets me a big insurance break.  Anti-lock brakes and driver/passenger air bags. The ergonomics of the driver position are well thought out. The shift knob is in perfect position for comfort and function. The close ratio box is a joy in town or on the road.

That doesn’t mean the car is easy to enter or exit for me (6’ 1” and 220 pounds).  It’s made for a much smaller person. There are flanges on each sides of the seat that dug into the sides of my widening middle age butt so I had my pal Sonny Palermo (body and fender guy) shave these off and re-pad it using original leather upholstery.

Took me a while to figure out how to get in and out of it with the top on.  Most drivers can just put a leg in and then bend to the waist to dip under the roof. That doesn’t work for me. So after some experimentation, I discovered that entering head first all the way into the passenger side as far as I can get (to the door), then pivoting and pulling my legs after me works like a charm. Reverse the procedure to exit.  One in, I have two inches of headroom and plenty of legroom. Quite comfortable and plenty of support in the right places from the expertly designed leather seat.

Check out the ride:


Crippen the Car Guy


I am and have always have been a car guy.  We’re different than ordinary hominids. Cars mean something different to us. It has nothing to do with transportation. It’s all about style in transportation.  But the car scene is changing.

When I was a kid in the 50s and early 60s, every single year brought forth a radical new design in cars. We waited breathlessly for September roll around to see the differences between the Chevys, Fords and Chrysler products. When anyone purchased one, they arrived at church three hours early so the primo parking spots could be had. Ooh-ing and Ahh-ing.

I lived and breathed cars. I read about all the “Sports cars” of the world. I memorized the Road & Track article detailing the brand new Jaguar XKE, nothing like it anywhere. I was as far away from me as Nepal.  Naturally I was on my father to get something uber-cool and he finally did just that. A 1959 Chrysler Windsor “hardtop” (no bar between the front and back side windows). Prior to that he hadn’t done too badly with a canary yellow ’56 Mercury hardtop with a big V-8 in it. But the Chrysler had a big time 325 horsepower V-8 and a four-barrel carb.  It was violet over creme and it was hot. Push button auto transmission. Tires would squeal.

“It’s got a Lincoln motor and it’s really souped up,
that Model-A body makes it look like a pup.
It’s got eight cylinders and uses ’em all,
got overdrive that just won’t stall.

With a four-barrel carb and a dual exhaust,
with 4-11 gears you can really get lost.
Got safety tubes but I ain’t scared,
the brakes are good, tires fair”.

Hot Rod Lincoln (1955)

I was just turning 16 and naturally I never got near the driver’s seat of this car. My ride was a 1940 Turtleback Ford with the 85 hp flathead V-8 he got from the next door neighbor Doug May’s Auto Sales. Doug was a cigar smoking super car salesman that supplied my dad with junkers for me. When one died (pretty frequently), another took its place, none ever more than $50.00.

I lusted after that Chrysler with a vengeance. And ultimately found my chance with it. One night he decided to go somewhere with my mother and they went in someone else’s car as a double date. I knew where the keys were hid, so as soon as they left, I took off in the car, picked up a couple of other great pretenders and strutted around town for couple of hours.  Ultimately to end up on then what was the new Interstate 94, which was unfinished and all entry blocked off. We got around an entry point and had the whole brand new highway to ourselves.  We wanted to “see what the car would do”, and we did just that, no seat belts on a highway that could have fallen away at any point. I was disappointed. the thing only maxed out at 115 miles per hour. We’re lucky to be live through it. I never told my dad this story.

Down the line, my dad got more interested in smaller and more economical. He sold the Chrysler and purchased one of the first Volkswagens in town, 1961. 40 horsepower. But it had dual exhausts so I was pretty happy. I was however lobbying for sports cars and finally after much wheedling, I got him to purchase a used 1961 red MGA, with wire wheels.  It was, as Crippens are famous for, an impulse buy and it turned out to have a bum engine, so in 1962 he traded it for a new MG Midget, classy grey with red leather. I was in heaven. I folded myself into it and drove it everywhere and I wasn’t too interested in highway safety issues, ignored every local, State or Federal speed limits and generally drive it like I stole it. I ended up racing Class F production at Sports Car Club of America events, rode there, popped in a roll bar, taped up the headlights and run what I brung. My racing career included a few impromptu street events as well. Again, I’m lucky to be alive.

“Well, the last thing I remember, Doc, I started to swerve
And then I saw the Jag slide into the curve
I know I’ll never forget that horrible sight
I guess I found out for myself that everyone was right
Won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve”

Dead Man’s Curve (1964)

I was hooked on “sports cars” for life.

Cut to my adulthood and the only thing changed is my ability to afford more exotic rides. I’ve gone through them all, Porsche, Ferrari, Audi TT and I loved them all. I kept my 1980 Porsche for mainly sentimental value but now I am closer to retirement than I have ever been, my kids are gone, my house is paid for and I’ve been lucky and frugal, my debts are virtually nonexistent.  The Porsche’s time came and went. Now it’s time to move on.  And again, remember that a car for a car guy has nothing to do with transportation. I have a car for that. It’s about a totally self indulgent toy, and there aren’t many of those on four wheels around anymore.

Back in the day, Porsche was a real kick in the butt sports car, quick, responsive and drive-able. You could change your own oil and spark plugs. You felt the car and the road. Now Porsche is a Cadillac on a short wheel base. A luxury sedan that kind of looks like the original. Insulated from the slightest discomfort, and it’s expensive way out of proportion to the real value, like a Rolex watch.  Ferrari is a thinly veiled race car that’s so expensive to buy and maintain that the only people that can afford them are those least likely to appreciate the driveability. Many of the rest of them are just expensive toys, shadows of their original selves.

It’s tempting to get into collecting and maintaining “vintage” sports cars, but I got burned on that in the 90s. My dad purchased a 1963 Porsche 356 B coupe, got tired of putting money into it and gave it to me. I thought there really wasn’t much more it needed as my did did a lot. Engine re-build, lots of body and interior work. I found out rudely that there really is no limit to how much money that can be spent on the bottomless vintage vehicle pit. It was one thing after another and it wen on and on. Finally one day the brakes just went out and I had to use the parking brake to get home. I sold it and the guy that bought it continued to pour money into it until he finally old it. Whoever has it today is still putting money into it, I’m sure.

In perfect world I would be driving a restored 1962 Corvette, the original love of my life. You can get a restored one for about $40,000 now and then start putting money into it.

“And all the Jag could see were my six tail lights
He passed me at Doheny then I started to swerve
But I pulled her out and there we were
At Dead Man’s Curve”

Jan & Dean, 1964)

So now I’m socially and financially secure, debt free, a solid amount of money in the bank and all my other responsibilities are secured. I’m looking for a totally self-indulgent toy car that brings back the “car guy” joys of my youth. A drivers car that requires no defense of utility, but won’t be an open ended money pit, will be relatively safe and will retain some functionality and value. A car to drive, and not be driven by.

It will probably be a Lotus.

The Lotus brand was originated in England by Colin Chapman from Formula One technology in the late 50. Lotus figured prominently in Formua one and were driven by world class drivers Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt and Mario Andretti (in 1978). My next door neighbor in college had a 19690 Lotus Elite and I got a ride in ti once. Had a 105 HP double overhead cam thinly veiled race engine pulling about 160 pounds and when he got on it, I turned white as a sheet. I never forgot that ride.

“Wound it up to a hundred an’ ten,
twisted the speedometer cable off the end
My foot was glued like lead to the floor,
said that’s all there is an’ there ain’t no more.”

Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen (1955)

Now the Lotus Elise, originating in 1996 and evolving to it’s current iteration, is a “real” sports car that’s relatively affordable as they go.  It looks like what it is……a no nonsense sports car in the vintage mode, but with safety features and reliability. Everything on it has a purpose. Hard to get in and out, straight-leg sitting position, cramped cockpit quarters, Spartan creature comforts………but when you get on the gas, you assume an evil grin and your passenger turns white as a sheet.

“I can see myself tearing up the road
Faster than any other boy has ever gone
And my skin is raw but my soul is ripe
And no one’s gonna stop me now
I gotta make my escape………
Like a bat out of Hell
I’ll be gone when the morning comes”

Meat Loaf (1977)

And so it goes.

On speeding


On speeding

Here are some helpful hints from a 50+ year veteran of speeding that might be of help to any of you that aspire to do so.

* If you’re going to speed, take it seriously. Pay attention. Look for spots that are obviously ideal for speed traps. Watch oncoming traffic for obvious police cars.

* Never speed in the left lane. Cops are looking at that lane because that’s where speeders usually inhabit. Stay in the right lane if possible and look hard for someone going faster than you in the left lane, then keep in their radar shadow (right behind them off their right bumper). they will get busted first by instant-on radar from the oncoming lane. Cops say radar is now so sophisticated that they can tell if someone in radar shadow is also speeding. that may be true but it’s a better defense in court than being busted out there all alone.

* Don’t drive a red car.

* Don’t speed more than 15 mph over the speed limit (or alternatively don’t get caught speeding 15 mph over the limit). Anything over that is not speeding anymore, it’s reckless driving and you will spend a lot of time talking to expensive lawyers.

* Get the highest tech radar detector you can find, a battery powered one that can be quickly pulled off and stashed if needed. The Escort Solo cordless is said to be the best:


* If you get nailed by a laser speed detector, just pull over and await your fate. There is no defense pre-or post-bust. Mercifully they are fairly rare. laser radar detectors are a joke. When the red light hits you, you’re instantly busted. Radar jammers don’t work.


If you get pulled over:

* The affect of cops depends heavily on whether they’re Local of State Police. Local cops are variable in their intelligence and demeanor. Most are not very well trained, all things considered. State Cops are VERY well trained and invariably very professional. Treat the officer with the respect he deserves. He is doing his job, and probably doing it well. “Yes sir, you got me fair and square and I have no excuse”. The time to try and weasel out of it is later in front of a judge, not on the spot. The cop has the discretion to warn, rather than cite you. The better you treat him or her, the better chance of a warning.

* Do not insult the cop, especially State Cop, by trying to weasel out of the citation on the spot by claiming you weren’t speeding. They don’t pull you over unless they have you cold. Arguing with a cop, especially a State Cop, will instantly delete any possibility of a warning rather than a formal citation. Don’t EVER insult the cop by telling him you’re on your way to a hospital emergency.

* If you get a citation, get a lawyer experienced in traffic cases and go to court. Will cost you a few bucks but worth it if you can get off or even if you can get plea bargained down to a lesser offence. If the arresting officer unexpectedly doesn’t show up, they case will go away instantly. If they do show up, the officer will present his evidence to the judge and you will present yours. Your evidence is that you are immaculately groomed in a crisp business suit and you are the pillar of medical standards. “Your honor, I couldn’t possibly have been doing 85 in a 50. I am a pillar of medical practice. Do I look like the kind of guy that egregiously disregards the law?”. Many times that will get you off the first time, never the second.

* Do NOT drink and drive. Ever. If you, as a physician, get busted for DUI, your life as you know it is over for a long time, and maybe your career.

The special case of the State of Ohio. Catching speeders in Ohio is an art form. They rake in a LOT of money in fines and catching us is a serious endeavor. The only time I have ever gotten a speeding ticket is in Ohio (years ago in the 55 mph speed limit days). I got stopped a while back on my Triumph on the Interstate. It was my own fault. I was looking for the right route instead of paying attention to potential speed traps. He had me cold on radar. I pulled over, pulled off my helmet, kept my hands where he could see them at all times, pulled out my license and registration. He checked me out on the computer and I came out clean. He asked me where I was going and what I was doing. I said I was confused looking for the right route, and not paying attention to my speed and on a superbike it’s pretty easy to speed inadvertently because it seems like you’re going slower than you really are. He say I was appropriately dressed in road leather and had a helmet. We talked about helmet issues for a while. I got off with a warning and directions to my destination. He was VERY professional in every respect of your encounter. Had I not been wearing a helmet and only a filmy t-shirt and flip-flops, I probably would have been busted.