Archive for the ‘ Bring It Back ’ Category

THE END OF CAR CULTURE? WE AIN’T BUYIN’ IT…

Friday, July 5th, 2013


photo: Getty Images

…well, not entirely, anyway. In a New York Times piece by Elisabeth Rosenthal, the culture of cars in America is going to disappear at some point in the next 50-100 years.

Now, we get into this conversation fairly often. ‘Specially when we see one of those new Tesla 4-doors whispering down the highway. But we digress. On top of the economic downturn, increasing gas prices, the trend of a move toward urban centers with public transportation from suburban soccer mom hell, telecommuting and the other reasons that Rosenthal cites for a decline in Americans love affair with their cars, we believe she’s missing the most important reason of all:

New cars kinda suck.

Don’t get us wrong: 37 cupholders, ice-cold A/C, traction control and satellite-assisted onboard entertainment centers that our parents could never imagine when they were buying smogged-up Grand Safari wagons at our age are all neat features. But new cars just ain’t interesting enough in their aesthetic design to get a 16 year-old to want one. If you’ve got an old car – and nowadays, we’re talking about cars up through the Seventies – you know that smile people give you at the gas pump and the thumbs-up on the street and the conversations with strangers that just happen when you park it somewhere. That’s because people who will tell you, with a straight face, that they’re just “not into cars” are the same people who get a sudden flashback of some great memory in a car just like your ’68 Montclair – except “it was green, not blue and it was a Chevy and it was a station wagon…” The point here is that Americans loved their cars when their cars were designed to be loved.

But there’s nothing to love about a brand-new Prius, other than the $30 it’ll cost you to fill the tank once every six years. A new Ford F-series truck – still the best-selling American car – is a bloated mass of an SUV with a bed bolted to the ass-end and has about as much personality as a…bloated SUV. Sure, a new Honda Accord is faster off the lot than a Corvette was in 1962, but the absolute all-over-body thrill of getting the keys to that new ‘Vette trumps anything Honda could provide over the last thirty years (OK – we’ll give in on their NSX).

The modern teen is more interested in owning an iPhone5 than a driver’s license – we’ll concede to that. But c’mon – we’re talking about teenagers, here: if there was a new car that could deliver experiences more interesting than an iPhone, they’d want one. Look at the old photo above: teens in cars at an A&W in the late Fifties. And those cars are all customized in some way because they liked to personalize the things they own. That hasn’t changed, but the $400 that kid in the flip-flops might’ve paid for a used shoebox that he could customize in some way and then transport him to the kinds of experiences he craved has now become that bedazzled $400 iPhone that transports a kid in nearly the exact same outfit to virtual experiences.

End of car culture? Well, we might be seeing the end of the culture of the daily driver off in the distance, but we contend that the cars we really love – the old ones with personality and great design and engines you can feel through the seats and roads you’re connected directly to through the steering wheel and that we covet and work on ourselves and collect and spend way too much money on and love to death – those cars will become even more valuable. They’ll become even more coveted. Gasoline will become an exotic fuel that we car guys will gladly pay $8/gallon for to run our beloved old cars on. Car culture will change, but we won’t see the end of it. It’ll just become more of a national treasure than it is right now. We can already see that happening by just looking at the reality show lineups that are so insanely popular, as well as the Low-Brow art scene, tattoo culture, popular music and yes, even new American muscle car design: old cars rule. And because of them, car culture is still alive and well in America.

WAVING THE FLAG: RAYMOND PETTIBON

Monday, July 1st, 2013

In the early Eighties, we were kids growing up in a backwoods in the foothills of one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet. About as far, culturally, from the roots of everything that defines our generation of car culture as a kid could possibly get. MTV? Cable only went to the most populated areas, so that meant the local trailer park got it before anyone else and we had to ride our bikes over to Dave’s trailer where we could watch it when it aired for about four hours a day. Skateboarding? Didn’t exist in our world, really…not outside of the random Thrasher we’d come across once in awhile. BMX? Yeah – the iconic Rockville BMX was only a few hours away by car, so when we’d see the 2-page ads in the bike magazines, we had friends who would drive down there to see a show. Cars? We had that shit covered, son. But it was the Eighties, so we were in muscle car/street freak leftover/monster truck heaven. With some old biker coolness peppered in for good taste. And Punk Rock? For some reason, we got our hands on a small, black-and-white pulpy ROIR catalog and a mix tape of Black Flag albums. MINDS. WERE. BLOWN.

We had no idea what we were listening to and didn’t know what the art on the Black Flag album covers meant to an entire generation, but we were fucking moved. The music was raw and powerful and the art on the cassette tape cards was disturbingly appropriate. Those iconic four black bars instantly meant UNDERGROUND to us and on the rare occasion that we’d actually see some other kid rocking a jean jacket with them painted on the back, we knew we had a strange friend.

Ray Pettibon – the brother of Black Flag’s founder, Greg Ginn – not only created that Black Flag logo, but made the art for those early albums and played bass with the band when it was still called Panic. The L.A. punk scene in the late ’70s was influenced by what had already been created in New York, but it was its own version, for sure. And Pettibon’s work not only identified Black Flag as a force to be reckoned with, but helped define the entire subculture of Punk flyers: the form of communication that the underground musical universe relied on to spread its influence.

These days, Pettibon’s work – like much of the early art and music of the Punk movement – is crazy collectible. And while his works go far beyond Black Flag, it’s all still signature Pettibon and all still slightly uncomfortable and compelling and powerful and a little crazy. And reminds us of being totally confused by minute-and-a-half bursts of anger and beauty that cut like razor blades through the Thriller album and Men Without Hats that we just had a real hard time getting away from.

So all these years later, we look back on Pettibon’s work and finally realize that it’s all part of what we love and it’s really pretty bitchin’ to see an old Black Flag t-shirt with the sleeves long gone at a car show. That’s us…the soon-to-be ‘old guy’ crowd of hotrodding…

DRIVER CARRIES NO CASH

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Look, there comes a time when every race car owner/driver needs extra cash to feed the monster. That’s where corporate sponsorship comes in. At its ugliest, wooliest worst, sponsorship ends up looking like a Walmart NASCAR deal. But at its best, its a promo card for the latest marketing investment in a Healey roadster by the Village Purple Onion. We’ll take the latter all day long…

EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Just a few reasons why you should be looking at the National Geographic Tumblr EVERY. DAY.

WATERMAN, HOTRODDER, BIKER, COWBOY: SURFBOARDS BY VELZY

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Last week, while we were tearing into the boys on “American Pickers,” we noticed that Mike pulled an old longboard out of a shed in southern Illinois. If a D-finned longboard wasn’t a strange enough pick, the fact that it was a fat-stringered Velzy just made us fucking jealous. And that’s all there is to that.

The boys didn’t know what they’d found, but we ain’t holding it against them; they’re not hotrodders or surfers, so how would they know? Dale “Hawk” Velzy – the guy who’s name was on that board – pretty much invented the multi-gajillion dollar industry responsible for PacSun stores in Midwestern malls on any given Wednesday. The guy single-handedly transformed surfing from a strange, rare sight of a few guys riding 100-pound boards hacked out of redwood planks on the head-highs of Southern California into a culture-slash-industry that has influenced music, car culture, fashion, literature, film and television.

Even though Dale was born up here in Oaktown, he grew up in the So-Cal burg of Hermosa Beach. And in pre-War Southern California, the beach was a small, tight-knit community that Dale learned how to surf and build his own boards in. While there has been much written about Hawk and his contributions to surfing and board-shaping and the concept of a surf shop (among many, many other things), it’s important to know that he was also a hotrodder…

Dale was in his early twenties by the time WWII was over and he returned home to So-Cal for good. Not only was it a bubbling pot of budding surf pioneers, it was also the early days of the hot rod and custom scene. While it ain’t necessarily known exactly how many roadsters and chopped customs he owned, there are more than a few old snapshots of Dale surrounded by them in his early shaping and surfing career. In the early Fifties, he drove a ’40 Mercury custom that he bought from a guy named Al Andril that was chopped and restyled by none other than Barris Kustom – a shop that had just recently opened after the brothers Barris got back together in L.A. and decided to go into the automotive restyling business together.

Dale would go on to work with surf filmmaker, Bruce Brown, in the Sixties, continue to define surfboard evolution, fuse car culture and outlaw motorcycle culture and surf culture and the California ranch flavor all together into one glorious example of the American Way Of Life. He had it all, lost it all and got it all back in grand style and we look up to the man for that.

We lost The Hawk in 2005, but everything he did and everything he contributed to the lifestyle of cars, surfing, choppers and the California Way is the cool shit we love so much. And he even made an impression on two dudes from Iowa who happened to have a reality show that brought us all along on their discovery of a Velzy somewhere in southern Illinois. That’s power, right there, kids.

TRYING HARD NOT TO DROP A DEUCE

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

If you’re even remotely into cars and you own a TV, there’s not a night of the week that you can’t find some absolutely ridiculous reality show to waste your time on. Bad taste, botched custom jobs, painful banter, fake obstacles to overcome…it’s all bad and the worst of it seems to be coming out of Texas (look, Texas; seriously, if you want to secede from the Union that badly, we give in. Just do it, already. But, do yourself a favor and go international for a new flag designer. There are some great ones in California and New York, for instance).

But one show that has always got us glued to the toob is “American Pickers.” Dammit if Mike and Frank don’t make us want to drop everything on a Monday night, grab the truck keys and a pair of gloves and just go pickin’ for a living.

Now, one thing that fascinates us about the show is Frank’s undying love of cars and his consistent inability to make a good deal on one. Yeah, we know: it’s still a show and a good edit can turn “Pass the butter” into “I fucking hate you,” but we’re totally buying into the idea that the boys know more about antique Ford dealership signage than antique Fords. And we love that about them.

But did you see that episode a week ago? It was titled “Deuce Digging” and when we saw the teaser spots for it and glimpsed a roadster body being hauled out of some shed, we were all over that shit. OK, so we all know the deal, right? Mike and Frank go galavanting around the country, looking for “rusty gold,” dig it out, buy it low, sell it high. Got it. Good business model and we dig them for it. But we find ourselves literally yelling at the screen when they pass over real gold to get to some goofy papier machet mask that looks like Frank/Oliver Hardy.

So, let’s go through it, shall we? We shall…

(more…)

QUARTER-MILE COVE

Monday, June 17th, 2013

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video: Kristina Kahm

OK, now humor us for a sec, here: roll your little arrow over this video’s ‘play’ button, close your eyes…and press it. Hear that? Sounds like a day at the drag races, don’t it just? Two uncorked motors, running against each other, in anger, over a quarter-mile? Yeah, we thought so, too. But this was last Saturday in “Quarter Mile Cove” at Lake Camp Far West just outside of Lincoln, CA.

Yeah, it was all boats, all day. But we’ll tell you this: we haven’t seen anything even remotely close to the original spirit of drag racing in the Fifties and Sixties as we saw at the cove. The lake took all-comers…early-’70s flatbottom day cruisers, mid-’60s v-drive flatbottoms, jet boats, blown hydros, pickle-forks, shovel-noses…and even us (those are our flatbottoms bobbing in the foreground). Even a late-’50s Cad-powered, wood flatbottom with magazine coverage history.Two would look at each other, give the “Race?” look, idle down to the far end of the cove, turn, line up and SCOOT. No sponsors (OK, we saw a Summit Racing tent, but we think the dude musta won it in a raffle or some shit), no cops (the county sheriff’s boat just sat and monitored the whole weekend, but never interrupted anything), no rules, no shit.

If you broke your boat, there were plenty of people willing to put their beers down, throw you a rope and tow you back to shore. Lots of beach-racing (no benches), lots of cans of C12, lots of metalflake, lots of polished cast aluminum and chrome, lots of great races, lots of suntan lotion. Hell, there was even an impromptu pinup photoshoot – but instead of girls with shitty tattoos in bad-taste vintage outfits that are easily two sizes too small leaned up against equally aesthetically-displeasing cars, these were topless chicks in epic bikinis and coconut-flavored tanning oil in the water! OK, OK…with equally-shitty tattoos, but they look so much better when they’re framed by tans and itty bikinis.

So, the next time you catch yourself wondering aloud why some of the most important names of our generation of car culture are quietly sneaking off to lakes and rivers on the weekend while you’re at the same EightBallFlamingSkullTatzNTrollz car show, just pull this bloggity post up and play the video again. And we’ll see you on the water…

LOSING OUR HISTORY

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

What’s awesome about car culture: nearly every week, it seems like there’s another barn find car with some great (and sometimes, mysterious) history that hits the social interwebs and we just can’t get enough of that. EVER.

What’s un-awesome about car culture: for every great car that’s rediscovered, there’s a shop or track or home or photo collection or other ephemera, essential to the history of this subculture, that’s lost forever.

While it’s certainly well-known to any gearhead with a sense of history living in L.A., we were turned on to Nomad Michael-From-LA’s snap of Ed Iskenderian’s old shop in Culver City a few days ago. He drives by the old shop on the regular and we soon found out that there are more than a few hotrodders who do the same thing. And it’s been standing empty for a long time.

Now, if you know anything about Culver City – an area of the greater Los Angeles basin – you know that it’s been turned into a pretty incredible hub of the art scene over the last decade or so, once the venerable Copro/Nason gallery hung a shingle in the sleepy burg back in ’99. Right now, there’s a higher concentration of good galleries in Culver than just about anywhere else in So-Cal. And what do we know about the cultural microscope as it turns toward a previously-unknown locale? Well, real estate becomes more valuable, of course!

When Ed Iskenderian – member of a fairly exclusive club of Armenians who moved to Southern California and helped create hotrodding as we now know it – started grinding cams for the high-performance crowd during the boom after WWII, he moved his shop a few times as demand for his bumpsticks (sorry, we don’t mean to sound like an issue of Street Rodder) grew. And during the “cam wars” of the early Sixties, when the magazines of the day hosted ‘droppin-bombs’ ads by all the camshaft suppliers fighting for top-grinder position, Isky was dubbed the “Camfather” and his place in history was cemented. And this, among other reasons, is why Ed’s Slauson Ave. shop is so important to car culture.

The fact that the shop Michael passes every week is still Isky-intact amazes us. The fact that it’s been standing empty for so long worries us. The specter of jacked-up real estate values around 6338 Slauson in Culver City makes us fret. The little shop behind the Public Storage and across the street from just another Del Taco and Dollar Tree needs to be saved by a hotrodder. It needs to be loved and revered and treated as a national treasure by the custom car universe. We need to be able to stop by the old Isky shop on our hot rod fantasy vacations when we visit the West Coast.

We’ve preserved much of our history, but we’ve lost much, as well. We need to save this place.

STOMPIN’ THE SAVOY

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

If you’ve been following us long enough, you might remember a story we did for our GARAGE magazine years ago on Jim Savoy and his little Henry J street-n-strip racer. The only thing we loved more than the faded psychedelic paint was the “UNITY! RIGHT ON” speed shop decal in the rear window that was in about as good a condition as that old metalflake. It was the absolute bitchinest decal we’d ever seen on an old warrior and, long story short, we put Jim (the original builder) back in touch with the car and its new owner (Toby Maciel) all on 3rd Street in San Francisco’s Bayview District for one helluva reunion. Jim hadn’t seen the car in 35 years and folks just came out of the woodwork when photographer Jay Watson set up the sticks for a portrait session in the yet-to-be built lightrail trackbed smack-dab in the middle of the avenue. Good times.

Anyhoo, one of the things that always perplexed us was the graphics that were hidden beneath the picnic table-red panels on the doors. Jim couldn’t remember and none of the old-timers in the area knew, either. Only thing we heard was that it was something offensive enough to the dragstrip management that they made the Savoy team cover it up before they raced.

So, what the hell was on those doors? Welp, Nomad Scott Leber spied this shot of the car at Bako that’s been stamped as 2006. Which is interesting, since we shot the car in ’05 and we’re pretty sure those panels were still intact. But whatever – it looks like it says “________ _________ SOUL” and that lines up with the foggy bits we got from some of the people who remember the car tearing up the streets of Sucker Free in the early Seventies.

Anyone have any idea what this car was called? What was on those doors that offended track officials (the most un-offendable lot we could imagine)? Guesses?

THE SNAKE AND THE ‘GOOSE

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

 photo snakenmongoose_zpsc1bc16e3.jpg

We were over on the Hemmings blog this morning where Kurt Ernst reminded us that the film we’ve been hearing so much about as of late, “Snake And Mongoose,” is getting closer and closer to a release date.

Now, of course a little prejudice comes along with our two cents on this thing, but the real-life story of Tom McEwen and Don Prudhomme pitting their Funny Car teams against each other in the Seventies contributed so much to the popular culture of the day that its effects are still being felt all these years later…

Don (The Snake) and Tom (The Mongoose) were pretty fucking tough drag racers, each in his own right. Don had been making a name for himself as far back as the early Sixties when he was partnered up on the iconic Greer-Black-Prudhomme FED (with the bitchinest scoop to ever top a motor, as far as we’re concerned) and was the first guy to clear 250mph in the quarter-mile. Tom had been drag racing since the mid-Fifties and none other than Ed Donovan (of the self-named racing engines shop) nicknamed him “The Mongoose” in order to entice a few races against Prudhomme in 1964. After all, what’s the natural enemy of a snake, right? Drag racers. Always with the quick wit and the gallows humor.

It was McEwen’s idea to really make a go of the match race idea between the two teams and focus some marketing energy on appealing to the kids of the early Seventies. After all, it was the age of Evel Knievel toys and KISS comic books and Star Wars action figures – all of which hit the mother lode by turning on the purchasing power of a generation that wasn’t even old enough to vote yet. The Snake and The Mongoose made it rain for years with just the right combination of drama, tire smoke, wild paint and larger-than-life personalities, both on and off the track.

Tom’s persona and career eventually influenced another drag racer who decided to start his own bicycle company out of his garage in Southern California: Skip Hess’ budding young Mongoose brand basically created the BMX industry as we know it today. And Don is one of the winningest drag racers in the sport and has paved the 1320 for countless teams to make their way through the ranks of the wooliest form of motorsport to ever exist.

One of the characters in the yet-to-be-screened film, no doubt, is McEwen’s original late ‘Vette-bodied flopper. It sustained some damage during filming and Cole Foster – son of Funny Car hero, Pat “Bananas” Foster – got the job of lovingly getting the car back into show shape. And we were lucky enough to get our hands on it before it went back to the production company. Good times…


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