The last official day of summer turned out to be a near-perfect day for a breakfast drive. Pre-dawn, the air remained cool enough for a light jacket; once ol’ Sol broke above the horizon, or in our case, over the Mahwah Sheraton, the air temp quickly climbed and didn’t stop climbing until reaching the 80s.
Eleven gentlemen in nine different vehicles made the trek on the 22nd. Six of the nine rides wore German badges (I was surprised the group didn’t demand knockwurst and potato pancakes for breakfast). However, it’s a genial bunch, and we heard nary a complaint about our chosen destination, the Hampton Diner in Newton NJ.
We set out from the Sheraton at about 8:35am, with Larry leading the way in his Nova. It was a glorious drive through northern Jersey, dipping into then out of New York State. A planned pit stop was undertaken at a BP gas station in Vernon NJ. To everyone’s surprise, Bill’s Porsche did NOT need fuel, but more than a few of us took advantage of the restroom facility. One patch of rough road brought our speed down to below 30mph for a bit, but all the cars escaped unscathed.
We reached the Diner just before 10:30am, were immediately served coffee, and got our breakfast plates not long after. Thanks goes out to our young waiter who seemed to have a pot of hot java available for refills at a moment’s notice.
As is our habit, the conversations continued out into the parking lot, and it was past noon by the time the final vehicles began the return trip home. While tomorrow may be the first day of autumn, that should still give us ample time to fit in one (or two) more breakfast runs this year.
It’s been 10 years or more since the Sunday Morning Breakfast Drives started; my partner-in-crime Larry and I have been spearheading the events for at least the last 6 or 7 years; and the format is almost always the same: rendezvous at the Sheraton Hotel in Mahwah NJ; drive a pre-planned route, with all our vehicles following each other; and arrive at a breakfast joint for food and coffee.
However, we’re always looking for ways to mix things up for our little group, so we decided to try something different this time out. We opted for our own “cars & coffee” type of gathering, in lieu of an actual drive along scenic country roads. So while our participants had to drive to get to today’s destination, The Fireplace Restaurant on Route 17 in Paramus NJ, there was no caravan per se. For consistency though, I still used the word “drive” in the subject line.
A dozen or so cars arrived promptly at 8am in The Fireplace’s parking lot, and as is our wont, we chatty men loitered and gabbed for about 20 minutes before Larry yelled “hey, let’s get some breakfast before it gets too crowded in there!” I confess, one aspect of The Fireplace that I enjoy is that it’s each person on his own for ordering and paying. The usual gig at a diner is for the bill to come to me, and after I’ve calculated the tip and grand total, I’m collecting money from 20 heads. The Fireplace affords me the chance to forego that responsibility.
After a hearty breakfast, we headed outside to admire the hardware. It’s been a hot summer in NJ, and today was not any different. The temperature differential between 8am and 10am was noticeable, but that did not dissuade us from checking out each other’s rides. Several of our regulars arrived in vehicles we’ve not seen before: Julio in his very original Dodge pickup, and Sal in his “I just bought it yesterday” Alfa spider.
We heard no complaints about lack of a tour, and everyone seemed to enjoy the meal, the cars, and the camaraderie. By 11am or so, the group started to break up and head back, which points out another wonderful aspect of our Sunday runs: most of us are home by early afternoon, leaving the rest of the day free for whatever occupies one’s time on a hot sunny August Sunday. Larry and I promised each other that we’ll get another event on the calendar ASAP.
Our second Sunday morning breakfast run of the year was held on June 9, 2019, starting as always at the Crossroads Sheraton Hotel in Mahwah NJ. The assembled group consisted of 12 people in 10 cars. Our eclectic collection included Chevys, Porsches, Miatas, a BMW, an Alfa, a VW, and a Buick. This time, we headed south, with the Readington Diner in Whitehouse Station NJ as our destination. We pushed off at 8:35 am, but not every vehicle was destined to make it to the diner…..
The Buick, a ’67 Skylark convertible driven by our friend Ralph, had engine trouble on the way. This was unbeknownst to me in the lead car, but I learned later that billows of smoke were wafting from the engine compartment. Ralph quickly got to the shoulder of the highway, and just as quickly, 3 of our other drivers stopped with offers of assistance. A peek into the engine compartment revealed a connecting rod (connects the crankshaft to the piston) extending itself through an aperture in the side of the engine block where previously there had not been an aperture. This is colloquially known as a “blown engine”, and cannot be fixed with Gorilla Glue. Sadly, Ralph missed breakfast.
While Ralph waited for the flat bed tow truck, one driver who stopped needed to return home, and the other two, having long lost our caravan, found their own way to the diner. In the meantime, a dawdler who had missed our departure came rushing down the same highway, saw the blown Buick, stopped for a brief chat, then continued to the eatery. Yet another driver, residing well south of our destination, came up on his own and met us there. So we still ended up with 12 at the breakfast table!
The wait staff at the Readington Diner was outstanding as always; those of us who require morning caffeine were never without hot java. With bellies full of food and beverage, we meandered back into the parking lot, admired each others’ cars, then headed home to enjoy the remainder of what was certainly one of the most weather-perfect Sundays we’ve seen in the Northeast this year.
We plan to do this again soon. We also hope that Ralph can get his car fixed, because we like Ralph, and want him to be able to enjoy breakfast with us next time.
The members of the New Jersey Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) again provided a number of antique and classic cars to participate in the Hillsborough NJ Memorial Day parade, held this year on Saturday May 25, 2019. This was my third consecutive year in the parade, as it’s local to me. (You can read about the 2017 and 2018 events at the underlined links.)
The splendid late May weather helped produce an excellent turnout for the club, with over 20 vehicles participating. The event chairperson, Bob Hudak, encouraged non-AACA members to also drive with us, as long as the vehicles were 25 years old or older. Several pre-war cars, including a 1929 LaSalle, a 1935 Packard, a 1939 Ford, and a 1940 Buick showed up. Orphan marques Hudson and DeSoto were there, as was good ol’ American muscle, amply represented by a 1966 Corvette 427 (still with its original owner). A new club member brought his pristine 1959 Ford 2-door sedan. And like last year, I was again the only driver with a non-domestic vehicle.
The parade started moving precisely at 10:30 a.m., and seemed to snake along more slowly than in previous years. Hillsborough is a diverse town, and I have always enjoyed taking in this true slice of modern America: people of all ages, races, and genders wearing and waving the red white & blue, cheering us on as we slowly inched past. I’ve also noticed, as you can see in the photos, that once a camera is pointed at them, most people love to smile and wave!
This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend a day with my good friend “Pete”, the fellow who sold me my Alfa Romeo after his 45-year stint with it. Pete has always had an eclectic collection of older and newer special-interest cars, and one of the oldest in his ever-changing fleet is his 1936 Oldsmobile L-36 convertible, with an inline eight-cylinder engine. During this most recent visit, I finally got the chance to drive it.
First, a history lesson: in the 1930s, General Motors’ car marques consisted of more than just the five that may come to mind. Besides Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac, there were Marquette, Oakland, and LaSalle. Marquette, Buick’s junior division, was dead and gone after 1930, and Oakland survived only one year longer than that. LaSalle, Cadillac’s sister division, produced its last car in 1940. Even in the 1930s, GM priced its cars in a very careful step-by-step fashion.
Omitting the low and high outliers Chevrolet and Cadillac, if you were shopping for a mid-priced GM convertible in 1936, you had no fewer than these 8 different models from which to choose:
Master Silver Streak cabriolet
inline-6, 80 hp
inline-6, 90 hp
DeLuxe Silver Streak cabriolet
inline-6, 80 hp
DeLuxe 8 Silver Streak cabriolet
inline-8, 87 hp
Series 40 Special convertible
inline-8, 93 hp
inline-8, 100 hp
Series 60 Century convertible
inline-8, 120 hp
Series 50 convertible
inline-8, 105 hp
The chart is arranged in price order, low to high. First note, not surprisingly, that the six-cylinder models all fall to the bottom of the range. The least-expensive 8-cylinder is the most expensive of the three Pontiacs. Don’t downplay the inclusion of “wheelbase” in this data: a vehicle’s wheelbase, and hence overall length, contributed mightily to its visual statement as a luxury item. The 4 straight-eight GM convertibles pricier than the Pontiac 8 have wheelbases 2-to-6 inches longer than Pontiac’s 116”, and engine output figures which are 5-to-33 horsepower above Pontiac’s meager 87.
The savvy buyer who might have compared the two Buicks, the Olds, and the LaSalle eights may have realized that for just $30 more than the “junior Buick”, s/he could get an Olds with a 3-inch longer wheelbase, and 7 more ponies to pull that extra length. The next choice in this price hierarchy, the “senior” Buick (admittedly with a big power jump) cost over 20% more. In this light, the Olds L-36 appears to be a smart choice.
Actual sales figures bear this out. According to my copy of the “Encyclopedia of American Cars”, Buick sold only 766 Series 60 Century convertibles, while Oldsmobile sold 931 L-36 convertibles. What does this prove? Only that the original purchaser of Pete’s ’36 did their homework, and would likely be shocked to know that the car was still around 83 years later.
Regarding my time behind the wheel, the driving experience was sublime. That straight-8 has torque to spare, so shifting the 3-speed gearbox (with lever on the floor) could be conducted at a leisurely pace. First gear is almost a granny gear. At one stop sign, facing downhill, I started in 2nd, with no complaints from engine or clutch. I found that I could comfortably put it into top gear by the time I reached 20 mph, and acceleration was always smooth and velvety, if a bit unhurried compared to modern metal.
But when you’re cruising in a ’36 Olds convertible, what’s the rush? The heavy steering requires that you take your time in turns anyway. Actually, after a few lefts and rights, I got the hang of it. Just think about the turn 100 feet or so before reaching it, begin to dial in some lock, and point that long nose in the general direction you’d like to head. It’s easy, really.
All the pedals, extending through the floor just like the Alfa, had good feel. The brakes brought the car to stop without drama, at least from 30 mph (my max speed for the day). The clutch exhibited no signs of chatter or slipping, and shifting was smooth on the all-synchromesh box. (Pete caught me double-clutching my first shift and said “you don’t need to do that!”) Visibility out the front was very good, but out the rear was inhibited by the small opera window in the erect cloth top.
The odometer on this car reads 60,000 miles, which is nothing for a car this age, but perhaps a significant number for a car of this configuration. And back to that production total of 931: how many have survived? First, these are convertibles, which reduces their lifespan (theft, water damage, rust). Second, by the time this car was 20 years old, the modern V-8 engined car, with its attendant power steering, brakes, windows, etc., would have made this ’36 look like the dinosaur it was. And last, as sad as it is to acknowledge this, those in the collector car hobby have been eyeing Fords, Chevrolets, and “true luxury” nameplates like Packard and Auburn. Oldsmobiles were not on most hobbyists’ radar. Taken together, all of these factors make this one rare bird. I’d guesstimate that there might be a few dozen 1936 L-36 convertibles out there, and many fewer that look and drive as good as this one.
This particular jewel of the motor car deserves to be kept in the loving condition it’s in, with occasional maintenance use to keep it fresh. I’ve already volunteered to be available for future test drives in order to accomplish just that.
This particular vehicle is for sale by its owner. Please contact me directly if you are interested, or might know of someone who is.
The New Jersey Chapter of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club (AROC), under the able leadership of Chapter President Enrico Ciabattoni, held its first event of 2019 by organizing a luncheon on Saturday April 13. Our hosts were the fine folks at Driving Impressions, a Dover N.J.-based business which sells racing accessories in the front, and has ample garage space out back.
We had a small but enthusiastic turnout of about a dozen, consisting of a mix of AROC-NJ members with some local friends. The lunch (Italian food, whaddya expect?) was grand, but we were really there to get together to talk about our #1 passion, cars. There was lots to talk about, starting with the cars on either side of the lunch table. The service bays were occupied by Italian cars OTHER than Alfas, and there were interesting non-Italian toys too.
One corner of the garage is rented to a tech who specializes in Porsches. A 928 with its drivetrain removed was high up in the air, and next to it, on the ground, was a 356 coupe which appeared to be in original condition. It actually gave off the vibe of one of those barn-find 356s I’ve seen at auctions that hammer for 300 large.
Three Italian cars competed for my attention: a current-generation Fiat 500, with turbo and other goodies under the hood, claimed to be the fastest 500 on earth (based on a magazine article I was shown, so it must be true); a Fiat 600, with its cheeky water-cooled four-banger out back, appeared to be in the throes of major reconstruction; and a Lancia Delta Integrale, all ‘80s squared-off inside and out, lounged in the corner, looking like it was daring the turbo 500 to a duel.
A quick peek outside revealed the 3 classic Alfas which dared make today’s drive. It stayed warm and dry, so it was an ideal day to cruise in our classics. Alas, no modern Giulias or Stelvios made the trip.
With the AROC National in Pittsburgh fast approaching in July, there was some discussion among the Alfisti about who was attending, who was driving there, and who might want to caravan. Your author has volunteered to lead the caravan; now I just need someone to agree to join it.
The first breakfast drive of 2019 was held on Sunday April 14, 2019, and while the weatherman and weatherwomen of the greater NY Metro area may have earlier tried to dissuade us, their forecast eventually pushed the predicted rain back into the latter part of the day. We made the go/no go decision on Friday, and the Sunday skies were bluer and air temperature warmer than expected.
We Alfisti almost got away with turning this into an Italian breakfast run, as the first 3 cars to show were all from the fabled Milanese marque. But diversity ruled the day, with one Japanese car (Miata), one domestic vehicle (Nova), and 6 German machines (3 Porsches, 2 BMWs, and a VW GTi) in attendance.
After a long winter’s hibernation, it was great to see so many familiar and friendly faces. We pushed off from the Sheraton Crossroads parking lot at 8:30am sharp. Eleven cars, 15 hungry car-centric folk, and a scenic one-hour drive along Greenwood Lake had us at the Empire Diner in Monroe NY by 9:30 am.
The friendly staff at the Empire had tables ready for us, and we were ably attended to by two of the diner’s finest waitresses. As usual, we lingered long after plates were cleared and 6th refills of coffee were served. Car guys never seem to run out of things to talk about. We found our way back to the parking lot, said our goodbyes one last time, and as always, promised each other to do this again as soon as practical.
Our Sunday morning breakfast runs have taken on a life of their own. As your humble scribe glanced around the breakfast table, he saw former colleagues he has known for 30 years, and also saw fellow diners who have just recently become “regulars” because they were recommended to us. The group makeup is certainly not limited to “old friends”. We had cars from the ‘60s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and the 21st century in the lot. It’s not about whose car is the fastest, or shiniest, or priciest. We’re all passionate about our four-wheeled modes of transportation. It’s not about anything but a chance to spend an all-too-brief few hours with each other, driving together and dining together, doing what friends do, which is sharing our lives with each other.