The New Jersey Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) held its 67th annual Antique Car Show on Sunday May 6, 2018, at the Mennen Arena in Morristown NJ. Yes, you read that correctly. This was the 67th annual show, meaning that the Region began this tradition shortly before I was born. The vast majority of cars at today’s show were manufactured AFTER the premiere event.
This was the third consecutive year for the show’s “new” location at the Mennen Arena. This was also the third year in the row for show-day weather to be wet and cool. The less I say about the climatic conditions, the more positive this blog post will remain. If there were silver linings, the rain did stop by about 10 a.m., and the dense cloud cover did make for better photographic light.
For us car guys and gals who can tolerate some dampness, the real disappointment was the reduced vehicle participation. While I didn’t count, I estimate that there were perhaps 50-60 cars on display. Previous years at the old location in Florham Park would net us in excess of 200 show vehicles.
But it is about the cars, and we still had gorgeous vehicles (and their owners) braving the elements. Below is a selection of today’s cars arranged in model year order. Your scribe entered his 1993 Mazda Miata, which at 25 years of age this year, is officially allowed to enter AACA events. Its owner is also humbled to state that the Miata took first in its class (#13b, imported two-seater cars), and it was also awarded a Membership Trophy for “Best Unrestored Car, 1976-1993”.
The PLAN was to spend free time during this past winter working on the Miata. What happened? Where did the winter go? Of course, I ask that based on the CALENDAR, not on the actual WEATHER. (As I sit here composing this missive at 7:24 p.m. EDT on April 15, it is 38 degrees F outside, and the rain and wind make it feel like 31F. Clearly, it does NOT feel like spring!)
The to-do list for the ’93 Miata, drawn up last November, included: rear brake service, transmission service, new lights, new tires, and an engine compartment detail. I haven’t gotten very far. The first item to be tackled, the brakes, wasn’t started until March, and still needs bleeding and parking brake adjustment before it’s crossed off the list.
Since e-brake adjustment requires removal of the center console, I combined that with servicing the shifter. Here was a case where online forums provided information not to be found in a service manual.
My Miata service book, published not by Mazda itself but by an independent publisher, is quite good. However, it says nothing of servicing the shifter “turret”. The turret is an oil-filled box at the rear of the transmission, in which the shift rod connects to the external shift linkage. It does not share its oil with the rest of the gearbox.
Once the shift knob was unscrewed and the center console lifted out of the way (the leather boot attached to the console is but a decorative item), it was obvious that repair work was overdue. (This is what happens when you drive the same car for 21 years, and the small deteriorations are not noticed.) The large rubber shift boot was shredded, and the flexible rubber cap, bonded to a metal plate which forms the top of the turret, was equally damaged. Removal of the cap allowed the shift rod itself to be extricated. The plastic bushings at the bottom of the rod were worn but not broken. Most of the turret’s gear oil was gone.
One of the major forum findings was just that: “You’ll find the turret to be empty or almost empty. Service it by refilling it with oil”. The mystery remains: where did the oil GO? Using a turkey baster which has been appropriated to the garage, the scant remaining oil was sucked out, and fresh 75W-90 gear oil was added until it almost reached the top of the turret.
It was time to rebuild the shift knob. The aftermarket replicates all the needed plastic and rubber parts; however, scanning the various online listings convinced me that spending a bit more and getting OEM components was the wiser move. A Mazda dealer in Vienna VA, Priority Mazda, runs an eBay store and had the best combination of price/availability/shipping cost/delivery time. I placed the order and had all my parts, in Mazda bags, at my house in 3 days.
The new pieces went together quite easily. With the turret full, everything at the center console was reinstalled. While I was there, I drained the gearbox oil, and again using a recommendation from the forum, refilled it with Valvoline “Manual Transmission Fluid”, GL4, NOT GL5. After visiting 3 auto parts stores looking for this stuff, I had to order the Valvoline online also. What did we do before the World Wide Web?
The Miata is still up on 4 jackstands; just as well, because it ain’t goin’ out in this weather just yet. Once it warms up, I’m excited to take that first test drive and try out the shift action. With fresh tranny oil, refilled turret, and new rubber booties, I have great expectations. But I better put a hustle in my bustle. The NJ Region AACA annual car show is Sunday May 6, EXACTLY 3 weeks from today, and my now-25-year-old Miata will be making its AACA debut there. It’s at the Mennen Arena in Morristown. If you’re in the area, I expect you’ll come by.
The Isetta Saga has many more chapters to go before reaching its inevitable conclusion. With the help of some colleagues, I’m working on a big surprise, and hope to have it available for your viewing pleasure soon.
Road & Track magazine, in its July 1989 edition, ran its first full road test of the new 1990 Mazda Miata. A sidebar article crowned it one of the “World’s Best Cars”. Here’s what they said about its manual transmission:
“…. performance is further enhanced by a close-ratio 5-speed that rates nothing less than a 10 for its smooth, positive operation. With the feel of a Formula car, this tranny is fun just to run through the gears.”
With spring just around the corner (the calendar says next Tuesday, even if I spent part of this morning clearing some residual snow from last week’s double-whammy storms), I realized that I had been remiss in updating my own “Calendar of Events”.
We car guys and gals patiently wait for those final traces of salt to be washed away so we can unhook the Battery Tenders, check fluid levels and tire pressures, and ease our old iron out into the early spring sunshine. It’s nice to be reminded that there will be plenty to do; here’s what’s on my calendar so far (and this is just the first two months of the season):
The primary purpose of the annual meeting is the Saturday banquet, during which prize winners from the previous year are recognized. There is a General Membership Meeting on Saturday afternoon. Other meetings for officers, Regional Presidents, and judges are also scheduled. Seminars on various topics of interest to the hobby are held all day Friday, and half the day on Saturday. In parallel, a Trade Show is on site, populated by businesses which support lovers of old cars. For someone like me who attended only on Friday, there is lots to see and do.
If there is an issue with the Seminar schedule, it’s that one cannot attend every seminar of interest! There are five time blocks during the day on Friday, but each time block is hosting SEVEN different seminars in seven different rooms. So you need to pick the most interesting one. Given that each time block is 90 minutes, there is the option of jumping from room to room, with the obvious downside of potentially missing something interesting.
I began Friday morning in the “Market Value Trends” seminar, hosted by the Auto Appraisal Group (AAG) Company. Larry Batton was the presenter, and he showed us various slides which crunched the sales figures from the most recent (Jan. ’18) Arizona auctions. By his own admission, Larry is a numbers guy, and of course, dollars are numbers.
One of his more interesting observations was summarizing “average sale price” for the auctions MINUS the $1M+ sales, and MINUS the charity sales (which tend to be beyond “fair value”). It gave a somewhat refreshing look at what cars really sell for, once these outliers are struck from the equation.
He also regaled the audience with a humorous story about a man who “bought back” his own car at an auction, and in doing so, set a world’s record price for that make and model. A few months later, the owner tried to sell the car privately, claiming that the car was worth what he bought it back for. Larry’s point? Do your homework, ask a million questions, ALWAYS ask to see the title, and seek professional help (a plug for his own company).
Next was a session called “Repair, Restoration, and Maintenance” by James Cross. Jim approached his topic in a folksy, low-key, somewhat random way. He’s an old-school, likely self-taught restorer who has focused much of his own collection on pre-war cars (he owns a 1909 Buick). He entertained AND educated us with his list of home-brewed remedies (for example, ketchup will clean the outside of brass radiators, and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda will clean their insides).
One topic covered by Jim which inspired quite a bit of Q&A from the audience was the repair and restoration of wooden wheels. Based on participants’ reactions, your humble blogger was pleasantly surprised to learn that so many hobbyists still have a need to know how to do this. And this observation brought out the one issue with this presentation (which does not cast the slightest aspersion on Mr. Cross): the room was full of old white men, not one of whom was under the age of 50. All this knowledge is great stuff; but how does it get transferred to succeeding generations? This is not an original thought, of course, and yet it remains a vexing issue for the entire old car hobby.
The third and final morning seminar that I joined was given the somewhat misleading title of “Decorating Your Garage”. Dan Matthews, the presenter, is an extremely knowledgeable expert in automobilia and petroliana, having written three books on the topic. His main focus was giving advice to the audience about distinguishing “real” tin and porcelain signs from “reproduction” ones. His fast-paced delivery did not always mesh well with his goal, but it was enough to highlight some of the clues one should look for.
It helps if one has some basic knowledge (he was able to rattle off statistics such as “there were only 12 made of this particular sign, and the last one sold for $20,000”), and perhaps one of his books on the subject would help the serious shopper. At the end of the day, the warning is one we’ve heard many times before: “if the price seems too good for it to be real, it probably isn’t”.
My two post-lunch choices were much more AACA-specific. The “Publications Seminar” hosted by outgoing AACA Publications Chairperson Mary Bartemeyer was designed solely for those who work with their own Regions’ newsletters. (Starting this year, I will be taking a more active role in writing for the NJ Region’s newsletter.) AACA has a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for these newsletters, and there is special focus on copyright infringement. We were all admonished that you simply cannot take a photo off the Internet and reprint it in your newsletter.
We heard one sad story about a Region which violated a copyright and was contacted by an attorney. When the Regional representative said “hey, we’re sorry, we’re just a non-profit club”, the attorney’s retort was “too bad, this is the amount it is going to cost you to settle or we’re going to court”. Mary made the point that the Club’s insurance does NOT cover such matters!
The final seminar for me was simply called “HPOF” (in AACA-speak, that’s Historical Preservation of Original Features). The presenter was Fred Trusty, who is the Chairperson for HPOF. He started with an interesting look back at the origins of HPOF. This new class one born in the late 1980s in part from the realization that many of the vehicles entered into Class Judging were over-restored, and it was no longer possible to literally see how the factory made these cars. Preserving an original car as “original” was deemed to be in the greater interest of the hobby.
HPOF started off recognizing cars 45 years old and older; that cutoff was then moved to 35 years, and then again to where is it today, cars 25 years old and older. HPOF judges would rather see imperfect yet original, instead of perfect but non-original. There are some grey areas, such as re-painting, however, that also depends on the vehicle’s age.
Regarding paint, two examples were given: a 1920s car that was repainted once, in the 1940s, probably has so much patina that judges cannot tell with absolute certainly how old the paint is. The car would likely be judged to be “original”. On the other hand, a 1970s car with a complete repaint would not be considered eligible for HPOF.
I have a more than passing interest in this class, as my 1967 Alfa Romeo already has its HPOF award, and one of my challenges as its caretaker is to maintain it in as close to original condition as possible, while still driving it about 2,000 miles per year. I also intend to enter my 1993 Mazda Miata (it turns 25 this year) in the HPOF class at Hershey in 2018. I’m anxious to see if it qualifies for an award.
If you are an AACA member and have not attended an Annual Meeting, I highly recommend that you do so. If you are not a member of AACA and are interested in old cars, the history of old cars, and preserving history, I strongly recommend that you join. Ownership of an old car is NOT a prerequisite. For me, the best part about my membership is conversing with like-minded individuals.
You were maybe expecting Chapter Five of the Isetta Saga? It’s coming along nicely, and you’ll read all about it next week, promise.
The original Mazda Miata debuted in the summer of 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show. The first vehicles were 1990 models, making them 28 years old this year. At the time of its introduction, the traditional affordable 2-seat roadster had all but disappeared (Austin-Healey, MG, and Triumph were gone). The Miata’s closest competitor was the Alfa Romeo spider, riding on a body/chassis design that had been introduced in 1966.
For a vehicle which reached a production count of only 51, the “Tucker 48” automobile has fascinated auto enthusiasts, historians, collectors, and conspiracy theorists ever since the Tucker Corporation ceased operating in 1949.
Arriving shortly after the announced start time of 11 a.m., the lot surrounding the building was already so crowded that finding a parking spot took a few minutes. By the time I worked my way inside, I would estimate that I was one of at least 100 people in attendance.
Back to Ida Automotive: the shop building is set back from busy Texas Rd. by about 100 yards. With no identifying signage out front, those driving by on this busy street would have no idea it existed. Entering the front door, one passes through a small but neatly painted and carpeted front room and then into the shop area itself. There are multiple rooms, and each room is jammed with cars-in-process, tools, supplies, machine equipment, lifts, parts, and most notably, sheet metal, both in ‘stock’ and ‘formed’ shapes. The mob on hand made it so crowded that moving about took time and patience.
Having visited my share of automotive repair shops, there was an immediate sense that this operation is different. The primary work product here is sheet metal fabrication. The car collection within was eclectic, and included a ’50 Mercury convertible, an unidentifiable ‘40s-era pickup truck under cover, a Ferrari 365 GT “Queen Mother”, and a ’58 Cadillac custom (covered and on a lift, exposing its rack-and-pinion steering!).
A FERRARI IN A FABRICATION SHOP?
The question was answered once I spotted the “before” photo: something had crushed its roof, and the skilled metal workers at Ida Automotive had beautifully repaired it:
That brings us to the Tuckers. One was immediately drawn to a brilliant blue Tucker, appearing to be a perfectly restored car – until one noticed the twin-turbo engine out back, sitting in a chassis that looked about 4 inches lower than stock. This Tucker otherwise appeared ‘normal’, but the blank VIN plate caused me to conclude that this was a replicar, albeit an extremely well-done one.
Behind it was a wooden buck (upon which sheet metal is formed into shape), and again, first glances proved deceiving. While the overall form looked Tuckerish (if that’s not a word, it should be), certain shapes on the buck deviated from the blue car next to it.
Moving into the next room, the shiny object in front of me was some sort of car, but what? Again, the word “Tuckerish” came to mind. But there were enough hints lying around in the form of printed images to solve the riddle. Ida Automotive is in the process of recreating the original Tucker Torpedo, the design study shown to the public in two-dimensional form, but never built. It’s an odd-looking thing, especially without glass and doors installed, preventing you from seeing the whole shape. But the more one stared, the more one could see the familial resemblance. Oh, and that buck behind it is for this Torpedo.
THE TUCKER TORPEDO
The “Torpedo” was the name given to the illustration of the prototype. Many mistakenly called the production car the “Torpedo ’48”, but that was not its name. The efforts by Ida Automotive to create a vehicle which never existed is fanatical.
Its most unique feature (so far) is the seating arrangement. There are 3 seats, arranged on an electrically-powered carousel disc. There is one seat in the front for the driver, who sits behind the centrally-mounted wheel; in the rear are two passengers. However, the carousel rotates, which means any one of the 3 seats can be the driver’s seat. This might also assist with ingress and egress. One can only hope that the carousel’s rotational ability is disabled while the Torpedo is in motion.
The final room held the star of the show, Tucker #1044 (its serial number). Interestingly, this very car was recently featured in Hemmings’ Classic Car magazine. The gentleman who owns it bought it last year, and must have decided that, although a decent driver, it deserved a complete do-over, and he concluded that Ida Automotive was the best place for it.
It was very generous for the proprietors to open their doors on a Sunday to those of us interested in Tuckers. Our hosts went so far as to provide coffee, water, and breakfast treats. There were no formal presentations, so we were left to figure things out by snooping around the place. A poster on the wall was a big giveaway: a man named Joseph Ida was the dealer principal of a Tucker dealership in New York, so it’s not a far stretch to conclude that a descendant owns Ida Automotive. Another poster proclaims: “Ida Automotive Est. 1959”, so they’ve been at it for a while.
MACHINE AND SHEET METAL TOOLS
The business’ associated websites offer little in the way of clues as to what actually transpires within these walls. Based on the quality of work I observed, it’s fair to say that Ida Automotive excels at what they do. It’s also refreshing for this collector to see some things still done the old-fashioned way. We in the hobby can only hope that workers with these skill sets continue to be around so that our automotive treasures can continue to be maintained and enjoyed.
Please don’t be alarmed: Chapter Four of the Isetta Saga will return next week, promise.
The New Jersey Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) hosted a casual car show at the Spring Hills Senior Community facility in Morristown, NJ, on Monday September 11, 2017. For a number of years, the NJ AACA has been welcomed at numerous assisted living operations throughout the state.
The elderly residents are given the chance to peruse the classic cars, and club members are provided the opportunity to show off their four-wheeled beauties. The car owners and residents have lots of time to reminisce, and everyone wins. We saw that effect in full swing on this beautiful late summer day, with sunny skies, low humidity, and temperatures in the 70’s.
Event chairperson Abe Platt was pleasantly surprised with a turnout of 11 cars, a copious number for a Monday. Vehicles ranged in age from a 1923 Ford Model T to a 2001 Chevrolet Corvette. The decade with the largest representation was the 1960s. Your author was thrilled to see how many Spring Hills residents could eloquently recall the cars they owned 40, 50, even 60 years ago.
The first gentleman I met approached me as I stood by my Alfa. He told me that in the 1960s, his daily driver was an Austin Healey 3000. He related that the exhaust note on the Healey was so distinctive that his then-three-year-old daughter knew when daddy’s car was about a half block away, and she would get excited knowing her father was almost home. I asked him what his wife drove, and he said “always Volvo wagons. We had them all, from a 122 wagon, to the 140 wagon, then a succession of 240 wagons.” When I admitted that I had spent much of my career with the brand, he said “at Smythe?” In what was the coincidence of the week (nay, the month), it turned out that he knew the owners of the dealership where I was employed in the 1980s. He still regularly communicates with one of the senior partners.
Another man eyeballed my Alfa and told me that he had purchased a new BMW 2002 tii in the seventies. The BMW replaced a Jaguar E-Type 2+2, which had replaced a Jag 3.8 sedan. With a wink, he said he loved his sports cars, but needed the back seats to carry the family. The last car he owned was a 1999 BMW 7-series, which he would pilot back and forth to Florida at “extra legal” speeds.
The facility generously provided lunch to the car owners, and bottles of wine were presented as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place “People’s Choice” awards. The event started at 12:30pm, and was over by 3:15pm. This was the first time I had been able to join the NJ Region in a Senior Living facility visit. I was touched by the opportunity to share stories with the facility residents. Frankly, it was the best way I could have spent my Monday afternoon.
The New Jersey Region of the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) held its annual picnic on Sunday August 13, 2017. As is tradition each August, the monthly meeting normally scheduled for the first Thursday of the month is pushed back, and is held in conjunction with the picnic.
Pete Cullen, chairperson for the picnic, is fond of saying: “This is the second-largest car show for the club, after the annual spring meet”. Indeed, according to Pete, there were at least 40 members’ collector cars in the lot. The large turnout was encouraged by the ideal summer weather, warm and sunny, with no noticeable humidity, and no threat of rain.
The Club generously covers the cost of the grilled food, consisting of your American BBQ mainstays: burgers, dogs, and chicken. Members are encouraged to bring side dishes and desserts, and the generosity of the attendees ensured that no one went home hungry.
With lunch consumed, many of us took to the parking lots to survey the wide variety of vehicles on display, ALL of which were driven to and from the event. Plenty of pre-war cars made the trip, and there was the expected quantity of ‘50s and ‘60s American cars.
Fans of foreign marques were not disappointed, especially if you like Italian cars. For this club member, the parking lot contained several vehicles not seen before at any NJ AACA event. A standout was the stunning 1954 Chrysler Imperial 2-door hardtop, resplendent in black. According to my copy of “Cars of the 50s” by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, just 1,249 of this model and body style were produced, at a retail price of $4,560. (By comparison, a same-year Dodge Royal 2-door hardtop started at $2,503.)
By 2:30 p.m., most of the crowd had dispersed, and Pete and his crew were done with the cleaning and packing. The NJ Region, which has been in existence since 1951, has many members who have known each other almost as long. It’s a friendly, fun, low-key crowd, and everyone always appreciates each other’s cars and company. It was my first time at the club picnic, and based on today, I’ll be coming back.