The Personalized Plate

(NOTE: The following is a work of historical fiction.)

Bill Farrell was not a car guy, and he knew it. He was painfully aware of it because his father, Thomas P. (Tommy) Farrell II, had been a car guy, and never let Bill, his only child, forget it.

Tommy came of age in the early days of hotrodding: shoehorning worked-over flatheads into chopped Deuce coupes was all he and his Army buddies wanted to do once the war ended. Laying rubber and chasing girls (not necessarily in that order) helped them forget the horrors of World War Two. They were just happy they survived.

Tommy wasn’t really one for much chasing. His high school squeeze, Helen, was waiting for him at the end of the war. But Helen was done waiting; she told Tommy in no uncertain terms that if he wanted her, he needed to get down on one knee “and be a man about it”. And so he did, and so they did: by the summer of ’46, the knot was tied, and it wasn’t long after that Helen was “with child”.

Tommy secretly hoped for a boy. Helen claimed she didn’t care, but growing up as the only girl in a family of five children, she dreamed of a daughter. On the 7th of July 1947, a son was born to Thomas and Helen Farrell. Tommy knew all along that if he had a son, he’d be named “Thomas P. Farrell III”. (The P stood for Patrick, and his Irish grandparents told him the name came from St. Patrick, even if he didn’t himself believe it.)

Helen had a secret she never told her husband: before Helen’s mother passed away, while Tommy was at war, Helen promised her mother that if she ever had a son, he would be named William, after Helen’s father, who succumbed to cancer when Helen was just 12.

In a way that only wives can do, Helen gently but firmly informed her husband that she wanted their son named after her dad. Tommy actually fought it for a day, then gave in, knowing he would never win. As something of a consolation prize, their son was given his dad’s name as a middle name.

For reasons which remained unspoken, and which were eventually taken to their graves, Tommy and Helen stopped trying to have another offspring. Bill was an only child.

He was a typical boy, playing with the typical toys of the time. Yet any attempt by Bill’s dad to coerce the youngster into joining him in the garage fell on deaf ears. Bill (“William” in school, and never “Billy” at home) would rather watch that new-fangled TV, for which Tommy had no use. So Tommy continued to fiddle with his Deuce in the garage, while Bill played with Lincoln Logs and watched Saturday morning cartoons.

Fast-forward to 1963: Bill, at the age of 16, was eligible for his driver’s license, and succeeded in passing his driver’s test on the first try. His mom’s car, a ’62 Dodge Dart 440 station wagon with automatic, was what he preferred to drive. His dad’s daily driver, a ’59 Chevy Biscayne 2-door post with 3-on-the-tree, would have been first choice for most teenage boys, but Bill didn’t know how to shift with a clutch, and showed zero interest in learning.

Always meticulous, the boy did enjoy the wash-and-wax ritual, and treated his mother’s wagon to a fresh coat of Simonize at least twice a year. He may not have been the consummate car guy, but he wanted his ride to be clean while he was behind the wheel.

There was one way he was very much like his dad: Bill met a girl, Sally, in high school, and it wasn’t long before they were going steady. By the time each of them was 20, they knew they wanted to spend their lives together. In the autumn of 1967, Bill and Sally married.

The newlyweds stayed in town, and took advantage of both sets of parents living nearby, very handy when Andrew (1969) and Eileen (1971) were born. Their house, at 7 Hemlock Court, in their leafy New Jersey suburb, had a two-car garage, of which Bill’s dad was unendingly jealous. Although Tommy could always afford to provide a vehicle for both Helen and him, he never managed to own property with more than a one-car garage. He burned up a bit more when he saw his son and daughter-in-law use the garage for bicycles and lawn furniture rather than automobiles.

Bill’s automotive choices were always practical. He liked full-size Fords as family cars, and had a series of them throughout the decade of the ‘70s, usually in brown or green. But between two gas crises and diminishing vehicular quality, Bill began to sour on cars from the Blue Oval. One day a new dealership opened in town, selling these nice-looking Japanese front-wheel-drive sedans. By 1978, Bill bought one of the first Honda Accords in his neighborhood, and he never looked back.

Before the decade of the ‘80s arrived, both of Bill’s parents passed away from natural causes.

Bill never so much as changed his own oil (“that’s what dealer service departments are for”), but it still haunted him that he never lived up to his dad’s image as a “car guy”. One day, he noticed a car in the parking lot at work with 3 letters, followed by a number. That’s it! He told himself that he’d honor his father in his own way by getting a personalized plate, featuring his initials and his lucky number “7” (he was born on 7/7/47, and his house number was 7).

In New Jersey, car owners are allowed to transfer plates from one vehicle to the next, and that’s just what Bill did. His home state eventually redesigned their license plates, moving from the non-reflectorized “straw & black” to reflectorized plates in different shades. Still, Bill held onto his cherished tag, moving it from Accord to Accord. (He occasionally selected a different exterior color, but stayed with the same model.)

Both Andrew and Eileen grew up to be polite young adults, and like their parents and grandparents before them, each of them married young. Andrew and his bride Sandy moved to Indiana for her job. They also decided, for reasons kept to themselves, to remain childless. Eileen married Robb, and they moved two towns away from her folks. Bill and Sally became convinced they would never become grandparents, but Robb and Eileen were only postponing things until they got settled in their careers. They had two boys in quick succession, Tyler (2002) and Jordan (2005).

By the second decade of the 21st century, Bill Farrell wasn’t old by any stretch of the imagination, but he did feel himself slowing down. He drove less, mainly because he realized his eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. One day, approaching his car in the mall parking lot, he thought his eyes deceived him. A group of young boys was running away from his car, giggling. He thought he might have been imagining it. Then a few months later, some high school girls were using their phones (“how does a phone have a camera in it anyway?”) to take their pictures next to his car. “What could be interesting about an old Honda?” he asked himself.

Because his car was more than a few years old, and because Sally drove a newer Acura, they tended to use her car whenever they visited Eileen, Robb, and the boys. One day, since the Accord had just come back from the car wash and was blocking her car, they decided to hop into his car for the ride to visit their grandkids.

As soon as they arrived, Bill was heard to exclaim “gosh darned if these kids can’t get their noses unglued from their phones!” His daughter just shrugged her shoulders as he implored the boys to join him for a game of catch. Finally, Jordan, who had just turned 10, said, “sure Grandpa, let’s go outside”. Gramps replied, “OK, but no fastballs! And don’t hit my car with any wild pitches!”

Everyone else stayed in the air conditioning. Bill and his grandson got no further than 10 feet from the driveway when Jordan, catching his first-ever glimpse of his grandfather’s car, could not stop the hysterical laughing. Bill was equally stunned and annoyed. What in hell could be so funny? When the belly laughs finally subsided enough for Jordan to speak, he felt that he had to whisper the truth to his grandfather.

All that Bill could manage to muster in response was “texting?? Is that like email on the phone?” Beyond that, Jordan’s grandfather was speechless. And so it came to pass that William Thomas Farrell, who was so proud of the manner in which he honored his father’s memory, learned the irony of his personalized plate from his own young grandson.


This is a real photo, taken of a real car, with a real license plate (no Photoshop usage here). While driving in Flemington NJ during July of 2017, I saw this plate and fired off a shot with my phone before the car was out of my sight. The story almost wrote itself around this obviously-old NJ plate on the Accord.

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

Winter Storage, and the Start of the Miata’s Next To-Do List

As happens every winter, the collector cars (loosely defined as the cars that don’t get driven in snow) are put away for the winter. The ritual is one that has evolved over the years and is now consistent: fill the tanks with fresh fuel, add Sta-Bil, pump up the tires at least 10 p.s.i. over normal to avoid flat-spotting, put a trickle charger on the batteries, and cover the cars with a dedicated car cover. It’s easy, takes little time, and doesn’t cost very much.

Before going further, let’s take a moment to say a few words about the brands I use, and have continued to use. (I’m a firm believer in finding good products and sticking with them, even if they cost a trifle more. As the cliché goes, ‘you get what you pay for’.)

The Sta-Bil brand of fuel stabilizer, made by Gold Eagle, has been in use in my garage since I’ve owned powered lawn and garden equipment. Many moons ago, I heard stories about lawn mowers and snow throwers, two examples of gas-engine devices which see seasonal use, failing to run because the old gummed-up gas gummed up the works. As soon as I got my first lawn mower, Sta-Bil went into its tank.  The gumming has never happened to me, and I’ve stuck with the brand ever since.

Sta-Bil STORAGE is your basic fuel additive if fuel is going to sit

Yes, I had my doubts about their ethanol treatment after it seemingly made the Alfa run worse (a conclusion which I now doubt since discovering my carbs are running rich and fouling the plugs a bit), but your basic ‘storage’ version of Sta-Bil is the way to go for any fuel tank in which fuel may sit more than 6 weeks or so.

It’s a similar story with battery chargers. I still have my dad’s Sears charger, which looks like it was made in the 1960s. It works great to jump-start a dead battery, but it ain’t no trickle charger. Long-term battery storage requires both a slow charge (the “trickle”) and a volt-sensing cut-out that won’t overcharge the thing and boil it to death.

You know it’s an old charger when there’s a switch for “6V” and “12V”

The Deltran Battery Tender brand came onto the market several decades ago, and they found their niche for the car collectors whose vehicles are stored in the off-season. While many competing brands have since been introduced, I’ve stayed with what I know works. I think I’m up to 3 of these Battery Tenders in the garage.

Green is good! Battery Tender keeps battery charged without overcharging

Car covers are a relatively new accessory to my winter arsenal. Up until a few years ago, frankly, I didn’t believe in them. It was a combination of fear of paint damage from moisture trapped beneath the cover, and frustration with my inability to find a custom-fit cover for the BMW Isetta (my expectations were a bit high with that one).

Since working at CARiD, I’ve learned a lot about the usefulness of good quality car covers, and one thing I learned is that the Covercraft brand is my favorite. The fit is perfect, and the variety of material choices will satisfy any indoor or outdoor cover needs at any price point.

The indoor-rated Dustop from Covercraft fits the Alfa perfectly

The Alfa has a Covercraft Block-It Dustop (yes, they had the ’67 Alfa pattern in stock), and the Miata wears the Covercraft Evolution indoor-outdoor cover. In the garage, both covers do more than keep dust off the paint; they also protect the interiors from sunlight, and provide some protection from wayward nuts and bolts spinning out of control off my workbench. I would never again think of storing a car without a cover. Even in the nice weather, if it’s going to be more than a week or two before one of the cars gets driven again, the cover goes on.

The Covercraft Evolution cover on the Miata is rated for indoor and outdoor use

All this is a prelude to an announcement about my Mazda Miata: after giving some thought to selling it, I’ve now decided to keep the car. What’s more, next year, in 2018, this 1993 automobile will be 25 years old, making it eligible for AACA events. So I’m going to turn it into a show car.

The plan is to spend the winter tending to some mechanical maintenance, but also attending to some detail work in order to display the car at shows next year as a 25-year-old original unrestored car.

The mechanical list includes new rear brake calipers (one of the parking brake adjusters is stuck), new tires (tread is good, but they’re 10 years old), and a continuation of the LED bulb upgrade. The detail work involves a new convertible top (worn and dirty), an engine compartment detail, Paintless Dent Removal work on some small dings, and a complete polish and wax.

Here’s hoping for a mild winter, which will encourage me to get out to the garage! As long as the temperature is above freezing, I can spend a few hours out there. Watch this blog for updates on my progress with the Miata.

 

Is it spring yet?

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Automotive Fuses: A Somewhat Brief Tutorial (with Illustrations)

Have you replaced a fuse on one of your modern daily-driver automobiles recently? It’s likely you have not. Today’s motor vehicles have much more sophisticated electrical systems, and while your typical 2017 four-wheeled 2.5 ton behemoth still uses fuses, the days of fuses just “wearing out” are behind us.

If you have needed to replace a fuse, the first trick may have been to locate the fuse boxes. My wife’s 2017 Honda Odyssey has FIVE fuse boxes: two in the engine compartment, two under the dash, and one at the rear, containing a total of 107 fuses. It makes me pity the shop tech who needs to fault-trace an intermittent electrical problem.

My 1967 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior, by contrast, has one fuse box, located in the engine compartment. Access to it is easy, as it’s mounted high up, on the right-side inner fender. There are a total of 10 fuses: one for ignition, five for exterior lighting, and three which are helpfully marked “other electric devices” (of which there are few; my Alfa lacks the power sliding doors, climate control, and ‘Lane Departure Warning’ of my wife’s minivan).

Ten little fuses, all in a row. Note bi-lingual fuse box cover.

Italian cars get a bad rap for their supposed temperamental electrics. But there’s not been a lick of an issue with mine, save for a battery which died shortly after I got the car (because it was 10 years old at that point). Preventative maintenance goes a long way toward keeping the electrons flowing in the proper direction and in a complete circuit.

With any old car, I will gladly get on my soapbox and preach the ’12-Volt Gospel’: 99% of electrical gremlins are caused by poor connections. Terminals must be clean and tight; ground wires must be securely connected to clean ground; and fuses and their terminals must be clean, tight, and protected with dielectric grease. In no case should an electrical component be replaced without first ensuring that all connections, hold-downs, and crimped or soldered terminals are in the best shape they can be.

Soon after acquiring the Alfa, I removed all 10 of the European-style ceramic fuses, cleaned the spring-tensioned holders with a brass brush, and bent the holders inward to make them tighter. Next, I applied a light coating of dielectric grease. Upon reinstalling the fuses, I ran continuity tests with my multimeter to check that there was minimal (ideally, close to zero) resistance in the connections.

This dielectric grease is magical stuff. It seems counter-intuitive to grease electrical connections, but it prevents corrosion from forming. You still need to have a strong mechanical connection. It should be used on battery terminals and spark plug boots as well as fuses. Don’t waste your $1.99 buying the point-of-purchase 0.001 oz. packet at the retail store checkout counter. I bought a 5-ounce tube about four years ago, and even after multiple applications on multiple cars, I’ve only used about 25% of it.

Dynatex brand dielectric grease – I use it frequently on electrical work

While on the subject of fuses: I recently cleaned out an old shoe box full of automotive miscellany which had belonged to my dad. In it were several tins of glass-style fuses. While none of the cars I own today use this style, my ’68 Mustang did, and I recall how difficult it was to reach the fuse box on that car, as it was mounted above the gas pedal.

Buss brand glass fuses – note old & new style packaging

Some people refer to these as Buss fuses, however, that is a brand name. According to Wikipedia, these fuses were also known as “SFE” fuses because they were developed by the Society of Fuse Engineers.  They varied in ratings between 4 and 30 amps, and in corresponding lengths between 5/8” and 1&7/16”. This was done by design in order to help prevent a fuse of incorrect amperage from being inserted.

Automotive glass fuses

 

Red Line brand fuses – box states that company is from N.Y.

 

Opening these is like going on an archeological dig

If you have a newer car, here’s hoping that you never need to replace a fuse (much less find the fuse box). If you have an older car, here’s hoping that you invest in a tube of dielectric grease, and in a half-hour of preventative maintenance. Let me know how it works out.

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Special photographic note: the 4 photos of the glass fuses were taken with a FILM camera, specifically, my Nikon EM, using Kodak Gold ISO 200 film.


FUN FACT OF THE WEEK

On January 14, 1885, Thomas A. Edison of Menlo Park NJ, applied for a U.S. Patent for his invention of a “fuse-block”, to act as an electrical protection device.

 

 

 

 

NJ Alfa Club Fall Foliage Driving Tour, November 11, 2017

On Saturday, November 11, 2017, the New Jersey chapter of the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club (AROC) held its Fall Foliage Driving Tour, starting at Fullerton Alfa Romeo in Bridgewater, and ending at Duke Farms in Hillsborough.

The day dawned sunny but quite cold, with sunrise temps below freezing. The wind, which had been a factor the previous day, was all but nonexistent, which made the cold more tolerable. The thermometer moderated as the day progressed, and it turned out to be a beautiful day for a driving tour.

The dealer did a great job hosting us in the a.m., with plenty of coffee, bagels, and other breakfast treats available. Early arrivals were there before 9:30, and during the subsequent hour, 17 cars and close to 30 attendees streamed in. While there, we enjoyed alternating our gazes between the new Giulia sedans & Stelvio SUVs, and the classic Alfas parked outside.

After a brief driver’s meeting, we were off and running. Our first leg had us heading north/northwest, through Oldwick and Long Valley. After an hour on the road, we arrived at our planned rest stop in Chester NJ. The intent was to give participants a chance to wander the streets of this quaint town, filled with antique shops, bakeries, and the like. But true to the Italian spirit, almost everyone stayed in the parking lot, hovered around our Milanese metal, and swapped stories (mostly lies about horsepower).

The view out our rear window

By 12:30, the second leg of the drive began, and we were on the road again, now headed back south. We briefly doubled back on Lamington Road (Route 523), then turned south/southeast, through Whitehouse Station and Readington. We arrived at Duke Farms exactly at 1:30, which was a good thing, as our catered luncheon was scheduled to start at that time. By complete coincidence, the second leg was also an hour’s length. Both drives were blessed with relatively light traffic, colorful autumnal leaves, lots of sunshine, and no breakdowns.

The view out the front (we were in the lead car)

Duke Farms is the property formerly owned by tobacco heiress Doris Duke, and it has quite the history. As an aside to this driving tour blog post, if you’re ever in the area, it’s worth stopping by.

The café staff, led by Debbie, went overboard with our catered meal. We walked in to find a smorgasbord of sandwiches, wraps, salads, fruit, plus cookies and coffee. A section of the dining room was reserved for us, and we continued to catch up with old friends and/or make new ones, all while stuffing our faces.

We love to drive, we love to talk, we love to eat!

Our chapter president, Enrico, declared the event a success, and there was widespread agreement among the chapter members. Based on today’s turnout, we are all counting on AROC’s NJ Chapter to hold more such events in 2018.

We somehow managed to keep 17 cars (mostly) in a row

 

Arriving at the Chester rest stop, two new Giulias

 

A GTV-6 coupe

 

A ’67 GT 1300 Jr.

 

A Giulia 1300 Ti sedan

 

A ’66 Duetto

 

A police escort protected us from on-the-road citations

 

The 505-hp engine of the Giulia Quadrifoglio

 

Alfa 164

 

GTA-look

 

Another 164

 

Chatting in Chester (sorry)

 

Follow the leader

 

A rare shot of the driver driving (courtesy of my wife)

 

Duke Farms

 

Arriving at Duke Farms, we found plenty of parking

 

The cafe service was outstanding, with plenty of food and drink for all

 

Alfa men gather to argue the firing order of the Busso V6

(Special thanks to my wife Margaretanne for accompanying me, and taking all the on-the-road photos.)

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.


FUN FACT OF THE WEEK

The original name of the company we know today as “Alfa Romeo” was A.L.F.A., which is an acronym. In Italian, it stands for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, which translates as “Anonymous Lombardy (Region) Manufacturer (of) Automobiles”.

During World War I, an industrialist named Nicola Romeo took over control of A.L.F.A., which was then in liquidation. He immodestly changed the name of the company to Alfa Romeo, with “Alfa” no longer an acronym. A recession during the 1920’s forced Romeo out of the company, but the name change stayed.

None of this stops people from continuing to spell the car name as “Alpha” (as if the car were Greek!).

 

 

Installing LED lights in my Miata

In the 21 years since I purchased my 1993 Mazda Miata, and during the 70,000 miles of driving enjoyment I’ve had behind the wheel, there is one peculiarity that has come to my attention.

The car has shrunk.

Not really. However, the automotive landscape has gone through tremendous upheavals since 1996. When I bought the Miata, from a young woman in her 30s who had purchased it new, I asked her “what will you be replacing it with?” She replied “a Chevy Blazer”. At that point in time, the concept of voluntarily moving from a two-seat sports car to a Sport Utility Vehicle was a foreign one. But no longer. In 2017, the majority of daily-driven vehicles are classified as “light trucks”: minivans, SUVs, and pickup trucks.

The Miata is small even next to the Alfa

It is in that sense that my Miata has gotten smaller, as without exaggeration, every four-wheel contraption sharing pavement with me towers over my windshield. Pulling up next to a late-model Accord or Camry at a stop light is a lesson in relativity, as I observe that those mid-sized sedans’ beltlines are higher than my roof.

As the title of this blog post is “Installing LED lights in my Miata”, you may wonder what the foregoing has to do with LEDs. Plenty, in fact, and it’s summed up in the word conspicuity.

There are two aspects to vehicular lighting, as I was taught in Automotive Safety 101: being able to see, and being seen. Other than headlights, and perhaps reversing lights, a vehicle’s exterior illumination is designed to help other drivers see you. A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that there was a super simple way for me to make the Miata more conspicuous to other drivers, and that would be by installing some LED lights.

To the automotive purists, aftermarket LED lighting may have a bad rap. Your first thought may be of glare-producing headlights (more likely caused by HID lighting). Perhaps you’ve seen some tricked-out show cars with blue/green/violet LED lighting in front and rear lamp assemblies, even under the car, pulsing along with a 120-decibel sound system.

The upgrade I pursued is much more straightforward than that. The aftermarket has made LED light bulbs available, in standard sizes, as “plug-and-play” direct replacements for incandescent bulbs. With the Miata, I wanted to start small, and at the rear, by replacing the combo tail/brake light bulbs (#1157) and reverse bulbs (#1156).

I obtained several sets of bulbs from CARiD.com (and in full disclosure, this is the company where I’m employed). The LED bulbs are available in different colors. I got the 1157 bulbs in both white and red, and the 1156 bulbs in white.

When replacing incandescents with LEDs, it is extremely important that the LED bulb is the same length, or shorter than, the bulb it is replacing. LEDs are available from different companies, and most companies offer them in different lengths. An LED bulb which is too long may not fit at all, or may press against the plastic lens, causing that lens to melt, or worse.

New Lumen LED bulb (right) is slightly shorter than incandescent (left) it’s replacing

My bulbs are the Lumen brand, available in 3 different lengths. Generally speaking, the larger the bulb, the more light it emits. It therefore becomes tempting to decide on the largest bulb; again, make sure that it’s going to fit inside the assembly!

Today’s LEDs are direct replacements, emit lots more light and less heat

In my case, to be on the safe side, I selected the shortest bulbs. With pieces in hand, I opened the Miata’s trunk and was pleasantly surprised to see the covers behind the tail lamp assemblies were easily accessed.

(Sidenote: in 21 years of ownership, I have never removed one of these covers before this LED bulb swap. The ONLY exterior bulb I’ve replaced on this car since 1996 is one sealed-beam headlight bulb. Darn those Japanese, not giving the bulb makers a chance to sell their wares!)

Tail lamp assembly cover easily accessed from trunk

 

Push in two clips, and flip cover (no tools needed)

Once the cover was removed (no need to disconnect the harness plugs), I flipped it over, and both bulbs were right there. I did note that the tail/brake light glass (“envelope” in bulb-speak) was darkened, probably dimming its output; however, the bulbs still worked. Wanting to make changes one step at a time, I swapped out the 1157s first, using the Lumen white LED bulb (the tail lamp housing has a red lens).

To document the changes, I took photos, figuring that the camera doesn’t lie (but it might try to make the car look thinner). I put my Sony digital camera on a tripod, and set the controls to full manual. In this way, the camera’s light sensor would not automatically adjust the exposure, which could artificially make the light look either brighter or darker.

With new tail light bulbs in place, I subjectively thought that the light output was brighter. The big improvement, however, was in the amount of illumination: now, the entire lens assembly was lit, compared to prior, when the upper corners remained dark. So far, so good.

Next to be installed were the reverse lights. This was a great improvement, as the light is not only markedly brighter, the color is a pure white, compared to the hazy yellow of the incandescents.

Lastly, I went back and replaced the 1157 LED white bulbs with the same size in red. My expectations were low, as I had run this same experiment at work several years ago with an older Honda Civic, and the red tail lamp bulbs behind a red lens were not as bright as white bulbs.

The Miata yielded a much better result: the light was slightly brighter, and it was redder too. If conspicuity was my goal, the red 1157s and white 1156s allowed me to achieve it.

(For those who want to make the same upgrades, I would suggest trying both red AND white LED bulbs in the tail lamp assembly – provided that the tail lamp lens is red. Vehicles with WHITE lenses for tail/brake lamps MUST use a red bulb.)

Tail AND brakes lamps both on

What’s next for the Miata’s lighting? I had considered upgrading the front and rear turn signals, but LED bulbs introduce a small hiccup: their low resistance causes the flasher relay in many cars to “hyperflash”, or, flash too rapidly. There is a fix in the way of a resistor, but that costs extra, and must be permanently mounted to the car, a modification that I’m not willing to make.

The front and rear side marker lights would be a likely next step for LEDs. On the interior, the footwell courtesy lighting could really stand to get LEDs (the poor passenger compartment illumination is partly caused by lack of any overhead lights).

Was I surprised by the improvement in the Miata’s rear lighting? Not at all. The biggest surprise may only be that I waited this long to make the upgrades. Oh, and the Alfa will definitely be getting similar LED bulbs. Just don’t tell the AACA judges.

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.


FUN FACT OF THE WEEK

“Reverse” lights, also known as “back-up” lamps, are wired to illuminate whenever (and only when) the vehicle’s transmission is in reverse. They are designed to both help light the way for the driver, AND, serve as a signal to others of the driver’s intention to move in that direction.
In the U.S., reverse lights became required by law with the passage of the initial Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) in 1968. Before that, back-up lamps were optional equipment for many vehicles, if they were even available. As a boy, I can recall seeing lower-line American cars with steel “blanking plates” in place of reverse lights.

The NJ Alfa Romeo Club’s Fall Driving Tour, October 2017

The early queue outside the dealership (no, not the pickups)

On Saturday October 21, 2017, members of the New Jersey Chapter of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club (AROC), along with other enthusiastic Alfa owners, joined forces for a caravan through northern New Jersey and into the New York counties of Rockland and Orange.

The group began its day at our host dealership, Ramsey Alfa Romeo. Dealer management generously provided bagels, coffee, and juices for those arriving early. At 10:30 a.m., a drivers’ meeting was convened, with an explanation of the day’s plans. The route would head north and into New York. We would enter Harriman State Park and use one of the park’s rest areas as a half-way pit stop. From there, we would continue north/northwest, with Brother Bruno’s restaurant in Washingtonville our luncheon destination. After lunch, participants would have the choice of visiting a local winery, heading back to the dealership, or finding their way home.

Drivers’ meeting! Pay attention!

Before departing, the author spent some time lustily staring at the various Giulia sedans and Stelvio SUVs on the showroom floor. Special note was made of the Alfa Romeo heritage signage, which gave the sales area a cultured touch. The brand “vibe” was strong; there was no doubt you were in a showroom full of Italian machinery.

The rough count of participatory vehicles was 23. It was especially delightful to see the wide variety of models represented. The oldest car was a Giulietta spider. The numerous Giulia coupes and Duettos were hard to miss. The decades of the ‘70s and ‘80s were well-represented by Alfetta coupes and an Alfetta sedan. There was one example each of the Milano and the 164. Plentiful late-model Spiders took advantage of the top-down weather. There were perhaps four or five new Giulia sedans, and the dealer sent a Stelvio to be used as a photo/chase car.

Three generations of Alfa sedans: Giulia, Milano, & Alfetta (L to R)

We have been having an extended Indian summer in the metro NY/NJ area, and the day of this drive was no exception. The weather simply could not have been better. Leaving Ramsey Alfa Romeo at 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning, we battled weekend shoppers as we dove onto Route 17 south, made a U-turn, and headed north on 17. Through some Italian miracle, the group stayed together.

The exquisite view out my window

The rest stop along Seven Lakes Drive gave everyone a chance to catch up, chat, and take photos. Then we were off again, taking Route 6 west, getting back to Route 17 north, and exiting at Route 208 for the ride into Washingtonville.

Our rest stop within Harriman State Park

Brother Bruno’s was in a strip mall with ample parking; the club actually cordoned off a row of spots so the cars could park together, and remain distant from the non-Alfas in the lot. Lunch was Italian food (of course), and one person at our table commented that the day was being spent doing just what Italians like to do: drive, talk, and eat!

Inside Brother Bruno’s of Washingtonville NY

Alfa owners are not shy: we catch up with old friends while making new ones. I got a kick out of reuniting with Gennaro, whom I met at the NJ Region AACA Show in May, as well as Bob Sr. and Bob Jr. (with extended family in tow) whom I met at the AROC convention in Montreal in July.

Your author, having enjoyed the food, the cars, and most of all the company, bid arrivederchi and headed home. There’s nothing quite like piloting your own Alfa on a beautiful fall day with several dozen other Alfisti.

 

These cars arrived early; they were first in line

 

1973 GTV

 

1969 1750 Spider

 

1967 GT 1300 Jr (just like mine but in black)

 

Modified Duetto

 

New Giulia sedan

 

Another Duetto

 

One of several Alfetta GT coupes

 

Series 3 Spider

 

Series 4 Spider

 

Alfa 164, the last “mass produced” Alfa sold in the U.S. until the current Giulia

 

Another modified Duetto

 

Giulietta spider next to author’s GT 1300 Jr.

 

Author’s 67 coupe next to new Stelvio SUV

 

Everyone made it to the rest stop

 

Many Alfas are red; some aren’t

 

Beautiful but delicate Duetto nose

 

Family resemblance is strong on all Alfas

 

ONE non-Alfa Romeo vehicle was allowed to drive with the group. We were told that it was an Italian car, although definitive identification escaped us on this day. Sleuthing is continuing, and once we have positive I.D., we will update this site.

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.


FUN FACT OF THE WEEK

(Shout out to Sam A. for this idea! Thanks Sam!)
I recently had a business reason to peruse the 1968 Buick new car brochure (which can be seen online here). My research concerned the availability of disc brakes, which led me to this week’s fun fact:
If you purchased a new 1968 Buick Wildcat (hardtop, sedan, or convertible) and desired a manual transmission, you would simply stay with the standard 3-speed, which used a column-mounted shifter. (An automatic was optional, and no 4-speed was offered on the Wildcat.)
Further, if you did choose 3-speed, your braking system would consist of manual drum brakes front and rear. Power drums or power front discs, factory options on most Buicks, could not be had on the Wildcat with the 3-speed.
As a footnote to that fun fact, the Wildcat’s standard engine in 1968 was a 430 cubic-inch 4-barrel V8 which put out 360 horsepower and 475 lb. ft. of torque. Fun indeed!

Sunday Morning Breakfast Drive, October 22, 2017

You know it’s late in the collector car driving season when the 8 a.m. arrivals at your starting point are still in the shadows, waiting for the morning’s yellow rays to rise above the concrete and steel horizon.

Minutes before departing, the sun finally made its way over to us

And so our final Sunday morning breakfast drive for 2017 began, but we knew the day’s weather would be in our favor. Those of us in the Northeast are coming off what may be the best week of weather we’ve had all year: sunny, dry, daytime temps in the mid-to-high 70s, with the thermometer dropping into the 40s and 50s at night. And all this in late October to boot.

Even though we saw each other last month, there’s still lots to yap about

For our October 22 drive, we had 14 travelers occupying 11 cars. While the turnout was a bit less than our last motorcade, many of our regulars showed up, drawn in part by the attraction of a favorite destination: The Silver Spoon Café in Cold Spring NY.

The route to Cold Spring is an easy one, and includes Seven Lakes Drive in Harriman State Park. It’s a shame that we didn’t give ourselves a chance to stop and admire the view. At such an early hour, the water, smooth as glass, acted like a mirror for the fall foliage. The scene would have made a lovely backdrop for our myriad group of sporting machines.

We arrived at our destination in under an hour, and the attentive staff at the Silver Spoon had a table for 14 waiting for us (calling ahead and being patient when they say “we don’t take reservations” can still provide your desired result).

The Silver Spoon staff hustled to serve 14 or 15 hungry drivers, and the sometimes erratic service was not entirely the fault of our intrepid waiter. Plates remained unclaimed as diners endeavored to remember what they ordered! Even with the delay, the food was excellent, washed down with coffee by the gallon.

While waiting for the food, we …. looked at cell phone photos

As is customary, as the meal ended, the crowd lingered in front of the restaurant, with no one in any great rush to depart. The warm October sunshine will do that to you. It sounds far away to say “see you on our first drive in 2018”, but it will be here soon enough. We’re also hoping to organize an off-season trip to a museum as we did last winter. For this scribe, it’s now time to put the babies away for the year. I’m pretty sure I still have some Sta-Bil in the garage.

Don’t let the jackets fool you – by late morning, it was 70 degrees

 

1967 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Jr.

 

1972 Chevrolet Nova

 

Porsche 911 #1

 

Porsche 911 #2

 

Porsche 911 #3

 

BMW Z3 roadster

 

1967 Buick Skylark convertible (earlier posts identifying this as a ’66 are incorrect! Thanks Ralph)

 

1966 Dodge Coronet

 

Ford Mustang GT/CS

 

1953 Jaguar XK-120

 

C4 Chevy Corvette

 

See you next year

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.