The Unfair Advantage – 40 years later

The Unfair Advantage:  – 40 years later

Susan and I had a pleasant chat at the Northwest Historic sports car races with a man who owns a specialty motor books store in Portland. I have a lot of such books that have value. Once it appeared from our casual conversation that mine are worth well north of a $1,000 to a book store owner who will re-sell them at a profit, my thinking intensified quite a bit.

Neither of my adult children or Susan are anywhere near the diseased petrol-head maniac I am, and I do not want to grow old disgracefully and then leave one more odious chore – getting rid of old car books.  Selling them now would clear up book shelf space, which we always need, and the money would not hurt. Since we will be in Portland this fall to watch our son compete in the Portland marathon again, this seems like a perfect storm of opportunity. Load the big car with books, sell on Saturday, race watch on Sunday, and return home with some money.

So far I’ve sent the gentleman 33 pictures of my “collection.” A second part of my master plan is to read, for the last time, some of the favorites.  One of the best is The Unfair Advantage.

Most books about car and motorcycle racers are not very good as books, no matter how enjoyable they are to read. Books in the racer’s own words are usually worse. This one was different.  Authored by Mark Donahue, with a little editing help, it chronicles his racing career as he rose from small sports cars to success in Trans-Am, Indy cars, Formula cars – pretty much everything he turned to.  The book was published in 1975, and mine is a first edition.

When I read the book in 1975 it made a very powerful impact. I thought about my response to it for weeks. I read it again in the past two days and it made a powerful impact for the second time, but a totally different impact. Since the book has been sitting quietly on a shelf in my home for almost 40 years, it has not changed a whit. But obviously – I have.

In 1975 I was a rabid fan of all forms of racing, but especially of the Trans-Am road race series for “muscle cars” that was by then past its prime, and the Can-Am series of road races for “run-what-you-brung” monsters that was about to end. In both cases the demise of the series was due to many factors, but key  was the dominance of Mark Donahue in both, as the lead driver of Penske racing.

In those days my view of racing (and almost everything else) was extremely romantic.  The best looking car should win.  The Penske cars were always the best looking, so it was only natural that they won so much.  The reality, of course, was that they were the best looking cars because they had received the most development and had the most money spent on them. The Sunoco blue paint jobs were gorgeous, but the real beauty was in the handling and braking systems underneath, which Donahue had been tirelessly pursuing with the zeal of an engineer never satisfied.

The first time I read the book I felt sorry for Donahue. I admired him so much, and yet it seemed to me that he’d attained all this success and had never really enjoyed any of it. By the time dinner was done after one race he was already thinking about the next race and the next car and what could be done to improve performance.

This time through the book I realized that he was enjoying it mightily, but not in a way that I could comprehend in 1975. That was before I served two years as president of the district teachers’ union, before I had a lot of success in coaching, and before I learned a different way to appreciate success.

I was president (1976-1978) during a very tumultuous time. The first strike vote, the first contract, the second strike vote, the first actual strike, three different superintendents, one building that burned down, and, just as I left office, the 2nd strike.

Through all of that I had an inordinate amount of success. Teacher pay in the district went up 25% on two years. True, inflation was on a rampage, but the gains in teacher job conditions and contract rights went much further than the money.  I received a lot of credit in those years for things I actually had not done, but I also found that I had a real ability to find people in the teacher ranks who wanted to be involved and then to slot them in to the correct role for each person.

Just a couple of years earlier I’d been playing on a very good rec league basketball team. We won easily most of the time, but when things were tight Glen would call a time-out and explain how we were to get the ball to him. If we got him the ball he knew he could score.  I wondered at the time how he knew this, because he could indeed score.  I was fairly good, but when I took a shot there was a fair chance of it going in, but I never “knew” it.

During the teacher strikes I always knew what was going to happen two or more days before it did. I knew what the district was going to do, and I knew what the teachers would want and how they would react. I had received a lot of training by then, plus enormous assistance from others, but later I realized that basketball was Glenn’s game and being the president of a union about to be on strike, on strike, or in recovery mode after, was evidently my game.

A few years later I noticed the same thing in my coaching. I had tremendous success with some girls who were stellar athletes in basketball. I knew what would happen at almost every turn, and usually controlled the score of both teams by the careful deployment of subs.  And yet, almost the same athletes would turn out for volleyball the next season with nowhere near the same success. I “got” basketball coaching, while volleyball seemed an impenetrable mystery.

With those experiences, I could now see that Mark Donahue was enjoying his success, but did not need to talk about it much. Because he expected it.  I was initially surprised when my teams won championships by how calm I was.  No jumping around or screaming, just quiet acceptance of what I expected to happen. Same with the union success. When things work out as you expected them to, what else is needed?

The first time I read the book I was surprised he did not talk more about winning.  Reading it almost 40 years later, it was shocking to see how rare those wins were. Almost every week there was a wreck, or a parts failure, or some other calamity.  With all of the Penske dominance, most of the time they failed. How did I miss that in 1975?

I also failed to note, the first time around, that Mark Donahue’s true joy came from developing the car. That was his true passion, and his genius. That is what he really loved.  Once he had succeeded there, the car would win – because it was the best car.

He also crashed – a lot. Evidently in my zeal to see racing as the pristine slow motion poetry of noise and speed that I wanted, I simply skimmed over the crashes, and the injuries.  Now that I have endured unfortunate incidents myself, the anguish and pain came through the pages to me.

The final chapter of the book is now a horror story.  Donahue retired at the end of the 1973 season, and the last chapter deals with retirement. This resonated with me a lot.

For most of us, our adult public life consists of being labeled as a something. You are an engineer or a teacher or a vice president of finance or whatever.  You may have a rich inner and/or other life as an expert in a field of your own choice, of course. The famous American poet Wallace Stevens spent his life as an administrator for an insurance company.  Hopefully, the career tags applied to you by others are ones you take pride in.

Once you retire, you have to deal with being a “nothing.”  Your kids are grown, so you are no longer a “parent” in the same sense of the word.  You do not have a job, and “retiree” does not make anyone snap to attention. You have to deal with that.

Much worse if you’re a person like Donahue; famous all over the world, with thousands of people rooting for you and waiting for your next move.  At the end of the book he had decided to go back to racing, and to give Formula One a shot.  He admitted to being out of shape and to having lost his racing touch, but committed himself to the training and development needed for the task.

He was killed shortly thereafter in a Formula One practice incident when a tire failed.  That had not happened when I first read the book, but it was agony to read his words.  Kind of like reading or watching a performance of “Romeo and Juliet” if you know the play. You want to grab the two main characters and force them to sit down and talk for ten minutes over a cup of coffee. There are so many alternative solutions available to them with just a modicum of thought. Same for Donahue.

Same for me. Now I understand better the occasional spasms I have when I come across a job opening. My first thought is “I could do that.”  Then I ponder the various changes we would have to make for me to make it happen.  Usually, an hour or two later comes the rational concepts of either “Wait a minute.  I do not want to do that job,” or – “I would really not be very good at it now.”

Now I wonder what other books I read years ago would affect me differently. When I was about ten I read a book called Clear the Decks.  It tells you something that I can recall the title a half a century later.   It was novel of a young man on a US warship during the Revolutionary War.  I think I checked it out of the library at least four times. Finally my mother asked me why I was reading the same book again. I had no other answer than I liked it – which was good enough for her.

How would I react to it now?  Perhaps I shall see.

In just a few days I will be off on a motorcycle ride back to Minnetonka, Minnesota, where I grew up. I left in 1969, and have not been back at all except for a few days, and that was in 1977.  I think I know what it will be like and how I will react to my visit.

There is a very good chance I am wrong.


Copyright 2014                  David Preston

Posted in Cars, Education | 2 Comments

Motorcycle Trip Planning the Old Fashioned Way

Motorcycle Trip Planning the Old School Way

In less than two weeks I’ll be launching off on a two plus week ride to Minnesota and back that will cover more than 3500 miles.  This is not a stunning mileage statistic by anyone’s calculation, but it will be the longest trip I have done – in 40 years.

Preparations for this trip rely on the same methods I used back then. They’re not the methods many others use, and that is fine.  If you’re contemplating such a ride perhaps my ideas will add to yours, or strengthen your resolve to maintain your differences!

I’ve made this ride before.  I rode from Minneapolis to Seattle and back on a Yamaha YDS 3 250cc two stroke motorcycle in 1968. This first adventure involved riding and camping with my friend Jim Niehaus, who had a Honda 305 Superhawk.  Oddly, we took exactly the same route to Seattle, and stayed at the same campgrounds, as did Robert Pirsig in his famous book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but his trip took place in 1969, a year after ours.  Having moved west the day after college graduation, (and wrecking my little Yamaha 3 days after arrival) I rode to Minnesota and back in 1970, once again camping.  This time my ride was a Honda 450 Street Scrambler. In 1971 I rode on through Minnesota to Florida on the Honda. The plan was to ride both ways, but the Honda broke a timing chain and ate its engine in Florida. The remains were traded to a local dealer for a plane ticket home.  I was in tears.

My steed on this occasion will be a 2006 Triumph Speed Triple.  This might not fit most people’s definition of a touring bike, but I’m taking it for four reasons:

  1. I like it – a lot.
  2. I own it.
  3. It is very comfortable for me, although it shouldn’t be.
  4. It will be the epitome of luxury, comfort, power, brakes, and handling compared to my previous “touring” bikes.

I do not have a GPS machine on the bike, nor a “smart” phone.  Nothing wrong with either (actually, there is a lot wrong with either, but I’ve written about that before): bottom line is that I do not like them.

Changes from back then, in addition to three decades of improved motorcycle technology, are that I now have a cell phone, albeit a “dumb” version.  I have a Ventura rack system for the Triumph that is far better than the surplus army ammo bags and such whatdoyahave stuff as we used back then. I now carry an air compressor, tire repair kit, and first aid kit – all of which I hope to not need.  I am not planning to camp this time, preferring the convenience of motels, albeit modest ones. Perhaps most significantly, I have a charge card or two with limits much higher than my total income for the years 1968 to 1971 added together.

Gear has changed radically.  In 1970 the acronym ATTGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) was unknown. I wore a light blue ski parka, ski gloves, jeans, hiking books, and my beloved Bell 500 open face helmet with a bubble shield. In cold conditions I wrapped a bandana across my face just like Formula 1 drivers!  If it rained I pulled on a flimsy two piece rain suit that might shred to pieces at any moment. Crash padding anywhere was non-existent. Now I venture forth in Vanson leather pants, Rev’ It boots, a Rev’It textile jacket, one of three pairs of gloves depending on temperature and potential rain, and an excellent Arai helmet with both tinted and clear visors available.  I have crash padding at the knees, back, elbows, and shoulders, and multiple vents on the jacket and a liner offer the ability to adjust to both heat and cold.

As to the rider, I’m a lot more careful of what I eat these days, and in every parameter but one I’m in better physical shape.

But that one parameter is a big one. The passage of time cannot be willed away.  The separated shoulder I suffered in 1969 in my only serious motorcycle crash (to date) does not bother me at all, but two operations on my right knee from basketball mishaps indicate less strength there.   Last year, after about a dozen years of working out more regularly than I did when I was (ironically) coaching sports teams, I was stretching my knees one day and there was a moment when I could not remember which was the “bad one.”  Huzzah!  My hearing has faded over time, and the left ear is probably at less than 40% function.  I should do something about that, but the inertia of working around the gradual loss for twenty years or so is hard to overcome. The most serious issue is that two years ago I evidently managed to tear two tendons in my left elbow (without knowing that I’d done so – weird) and I have occasional swelling in my elbow or wrist or hand on my “clutch” side.  That could be a problem.

As was my practice in the past I began thinking about this ride months in advance.  I planned by first ride in 1968 for about 8 months, and started thinking about this one well before I retired at the end of October of 2013.  Nobody needs this much time, including me, but I like immersing myself in the study of the intent and all of the myriad options.  It is more like a hobby than actual effort, but makes the trip more enjoyable once begun.

First I spend a lot of time mulling over a large atlas of state maps. I’m contemplating routes, changing routes, considering alternatives, measuring time and mileage, and etc.  I then type up a route with expected destinations for each day, and then revise. Every few revisions I remember to alter the number of the saved “draft,” so the 3rd one that appears far below is probably more like the 6th or 7th.

As an AAA member, a phone call got me very well done road maps of each state on my intended route, plus some accompanying “maybe” states.  I’ll use these on the trip and leave the big atlas at home. At the same time, it’s important not to get hung up on a schedule, as this is supposed to be fun. If I find a hot rod show in a town – I will stop. Road construction can cause delays. I may want to just sit in a wayside park from time to time.

On my ride to Florida by way of Minneapolis in 1971, I selected my route by gazing as far to the east as possible and selecting roads that appeared to meander around storm systems. Most of these routes used two lane highways, which I prefer, and my “system” got me all the way to Georgia before having to deal with rain.  On this trip I’ve chosen an I-90 superslab straight shot route all the way to Hardin, Montana, and then I will get more “creative” after that.

One facet of my planning this time was a desire to stop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to visit a student I taught over 20 years ago.  It will be fun to have a cup of coffee with “Big Foot.”

Who to take with you on a trip, and how many of them?   On my 1971 trip I met up with a guy in Illinois I’d known in college but never ridden with.  Bad mistake.  My concept is to rise at dawn and be on the road by 6am or so.  I also prefer to knock off early for the day, because I love to set up camp slowly and hang around in the evening.   The other fellow was the opposite. He felt leaving before 9am was pointless, and that setting up a tent with a flashlight in utter darkness was as nature intended. After two of three days I wanted to kill him, and he probably did not think that highly of me.  Lesson learned – if I want to have company, it needs to be someone I know well. It was only blind luck that made my first trip so pleasant, as Jim had similar ideas to mine.

Traveling with one other person adds a sense of security and a helping hand when needed, does not slow the pace appreciably, and allows for sharing of motel rooms.  Assuming the other person is male.  I think I could share a room with any of my women friends who ride, but my wife is not comfortable with that, and her point of view is reasonable. This was not a problem 40 years ago because I did not know a single woman who rode. They were out there, but I did not know any. That was true, to be fair, of almost all sorts of women at that time.

In my dozen years of experience in leading dealer customer groups, I found that if  the group numbers more than two the pace will start to slow down, which may or may not be a problem, and if you have over 5 or 6 bikes you’ll average about 40 mph, no matter how fast you ride.  Still, 10 hours at an average of 40mph is still a 400 mile day.  Those numbers are for two lane twisty roads ridden with some pace, you can probably get close to a 50mph average if the group sticks to the Interstate. I was usually leading groups of 15 to 35, but only for one day rides most of the time.  One person can lead a group of 20, but it is a little tricky!

In any of the members of the group is a cigarette smoker, the pace will slow appreciably.  Every time anyone stops for any reason, the smokers will light up. A 2 minute stop to remove a layer of gear will now take 25 minutes or so.

For this one I chose to let fate decide. If people I knew wanted to go with me, that would be fine. If not, OK.  I ended up with a compromise, although things may still change. My friend Deb intends to ride with me the first day, and then ride back to Seattle by a more creative route the second.

So here there, is my intended route and my packing list.  Again, this is not what everyone does, but it is what I like.  Feel free to comment!

Seattle to Minneapolis and return -   3rd draft                               July, 2014

Seattle to Minneapolis

Sunday, July 20th         I-90     to past Missoula                                 480 miles

Monday, July 21st         I-90     to Hardin                                            470 miles

Tuesday, July 22nd       I-90  to 212 to Belle Fourche                    400 miles       

Wednesday, July 23rd      365 to 44 to I 90 to Sioux Falls                     430 miles

                        (Robert Big Foot Wilson)

Thursday, July 24th        I-90 / 169 Sioux Falls to Minneapolis           300 miles

Chanhassen Inn

Friday, July 25th to Sunday, July 27th                       Minneapolis

Minneapolis to Seattle 

Sunday, July 27th                    I94 from Mpls to Bismark                        450 miles

Monday, July 28th                  North to Williston; US2 to Glasgow       400 miles

Tuesday, July 29th                  US2 to Havre, 87 to Great Falls              450 miles

Wednesday, July 30th            West on 200 to Missoula, West on I90   450 miles

Thursday, July 31st                I90 to Home                                                          450 miles

Preston 14 day summer trip packing list 


Vanson pants                              Boots / socks

Gloves                                        Padded shorts A

Turtleneck                                   Klim shirt

Rev’It jacket                                Helmet / dark visor

IN Ventura Rack Bags

Socks – 8 long, 1 short               Shorts                               1

Jeans/belt                                   Undies                              8

Padded shorts B                         Tee-shirts                         10

Swimsuit                                     Toiletries kit

Smurf shoes                                Clear visor

Davis crew jacket                        Towel

First aid kit                                  Compressor and flat fix

Sweatshirt                                   Ear plugs

Cards                                            Chain lube

Spare gloves – 2 pair                 Spare tobacco

Phone charger                             Motorcycle cleaning rags, etc.


Pipe, tobacco, lighter, etc.       Water

Sunglasses                                 Maps / route sheets

Phone                                         Visor cleaner

Phone # list                              Dealer list

Camera                                      Hat

Bandana                                    Registration

Spare key                                   Wallet / $200


I’ll report back in August upon my return!


My touring bike!


Copyright 2014                            David Preston

Posted in Motorcycles, Travel | 5 Comments

The Best Car Purchase I Ever Made

The Best Car Buy Ever

Over the years I’ve purchased a lot of cars and motorcycles.  Most of them were used;  the result of combining rabid enthusiasm and meager available funds.  I’ve owned a dozen motorcycles or so, three Fiats, a Corvette, five Volvos, a Ford, a Dodge, a Porsche, AMC, Dodge, Mazda – you get the idea.

Most of the purchases have worked out well. I did a lot research and a careful consideration of what I want the vehicle to do before ever shopping.  The only time I abandoned my “system,” in addition to common sense and a respect for reality, we purchased a very used Porsche 911 Targa S.  That car sucked thousands of dollars out of us for eight years before I sold it for less than I spent to purchase it, and a pittance of what we had in it by that time.

Ironically, however, the best deal I’ve ever made was on a car purchased for someone else I’d never have purchased for my own use and had little interest in. I present to you…

The 2007 Ford Taurus.

In 2008 my in-laws wanted to purchase a car.  At that time in their early 80’s (Dorine just celebrated her 88th birthday) they were a little intimidated by the purchasing process, and asked for the help of their “expert” son-in-law.

I did my due diligence and determined that the best car for them would be a new Honda Fit with an automatic. However, I failed to consider the demographic. As members of the “best generation,” my in-laws did not like small cars and were leery of foreign brands.  I showed them the new Fit, and their lack of enthusiasm was palpable.  We looked at a few newer used cars of various brands and all of them were pretty much nasty pieces of near junk disguised as “such a deal.”

Finally, we went to a lot that sold used rental cars.  John had purchased a couple of these previously and had been pleased with the results, so even though the cars were as interesting to me as tepid dishwater hey – it’s going to be their car, not mine.

The lot on Aurora Avenue held a dozen or more used ex-rental Ford Taurus sedans. The proprietor explained that the entire production run of the 2007 Ford Taurus was dedicated to the rental fleet market – none were sold at dealers.  Due to that, the cars pretty much had the same combination of options, some of them odd at first glance. Power seats and mirrors but no power door locks? Perhaps the rental folks had found that customers were more likely to lock the keys inside when they had power door locks. Beats me.

In any case, they posed in the sun in an arc of a variety of colors. All had between 15,000 – 20,000 miles and had been fitted with new tires.  One of them stood out with brilliant maroon paint, a tan vinyl roof, and leather seats.  Not sure how that anomaly came to be.

As we strolled around I noticed that while all the cars were virtually identical, the prices on the window stickers varied quite a bit. I asked about that and was told it depended on when he’d put them up for sale. Then he said, “Tell you what – $10,000 for any of them you want.”

“OK, I’ll take the one with the maroon paint and leather seats.”

“Er – except that one.”  We shared a laugh.

$10,000 at that time for a car in this condition was a screaming deal. So screaming I was sure there was something wrong. A new Fit would have been at least 16k out the door. Most of the used cars we looked at were priced in the 12k range and had far higher mileages. Most of them were “economy” cars stripped of pretty much all options and were just nasty to sit in. When you started the engine sit got worse.

I racked my brain, starting at all these cars that appeared to be virtually brands new and trying to figure out what was missing. All had relatively low mileage. All had new tires. All maintenance had been done on time by the rental company. None had been in an accident.  Each had been washed and vacuumed after every rental. Most rental customers, certainly of a Taurus, drove the car as a travel appliance. I could not imagine anyone using a Taurus as a “renta racer” or otherwise abusing the car.

My in-laws loved the size of the cars. Easy to get in and out, comfy seats with power adjustments fore and aft and up and down. Simple to drive. Good visibility. Reasonable gas mileage. What was I missing?

It came down to color choice.  Dorine and I preferred a maroon one, but John chose the silver. In silver the car looked even more bland. In their family, the husband made the final call on many things, and so it was here.

During the entire paperwork process, handled adeptly by the owner and his wife, I was near panic.  I was sure I was missing out on some crucial detail that would cost my beloved in-laws (who have done more for me than I can ever repay), a lot of money and leave me feeling that I’d failed them.

Fast forward six years. John has passed away, and Dorine uses the car sparingly.  Pretty much restricts herself to daytime driving to places she knows well, which is wise at the age of 88.  Never uses the freeway.  A favored activity is a once a week trip with several female friends to go out for coffee. How’s this for a generation gap? The reason Dorine always drives is that at least two of her friends have never gotten a driver’s license!

Over the years I’ve periodically “borrowed” the car from her to give it a vacuuming and a wash and wax job in my driveway.  As a fan of design, every time I drive the car I’m struck by what an intelligent product it is for what it was designed to do and for the intended buyers.

I was cleaning it yesterday and noticed this again. Although it is easy to get it and out, it is also fairly low – easy to wash.  Even the bland silver paint helps. Although I’d not washed her car in months, it still looked pretty clean, as the silver paint just gets slightly darker over time. The Taurus drives with utter predictability, and all of the controls are obvious in their functions. Perhaps the lack of any pretension of performance or speed helps, as you simply sit back and meander to your destination. Everything is right where you’d expect it to be and easy to reach. Comfy seats with a fold-down arm rest.  The dashboard can be configured in a few ways, and one that is popular with Dorine is a message of how many miles you have remaining on that tank.

Almost the only damage over the years is that both side mirrors are now held in place by natty black duct tape, the result of backing into something on either side.   We’ve had that experience with our Honda CR-V, (not by me!  J) and the replacement cost $257, so the black duct tape is a good solution.

I’m not sure how much longer Dorine will be driving. Part of my task yesterday was to remove most of the paint scars on the side where she scraped against a painted pole in a gas station last week. That is not a good sign, although to be fair I did that one with a motorcycle once when I forgot about the saddlebags.

Whenever she stops driving, the next owner will probably enjoy about 50,000 miles of utterly boring and dead reliable and economical ownership.  And that is what some people want.

The 2007 Ford Taurus. One of the great auto designs of history. Who’d a thunk?

Copyright 2014                            David Presto

Posted in Cars, Marketing | 4 Comments

The Mecum Auction in Seattle

The Mecum Auction in Seattle

I’ve long been a fan of Mecum.  Starting 27 years ago laying out his plans on his kitchen table, Dana Mecum has built an amazing empire, featuring several different types of auctions scattered all over the country and occurring on a more than once a month basis. Most of them are shown on cable TV, and a favorite pastime is to tape them and peruse them at leisure, fast-forwarding past cars that I’m not interested in.

Over the past few years the differences than make Mecum auctions “work” have become apparent. At most auctions, the seller can choose to set a “reserve,” which is a price that the car will not be sold below. The seller can also opt for “no reserve,” which guarantees the car will sell and also brings a lower sales cost to the bidder, at the risk of getting less than desired as a result. What Mecum has added to this is simple, and yet complex.  “Grinders” work on the seller, who is usually present, urging him or her to ‘drop’ the reserve if the vehicle is nearing the reserve price. To do this, Dana, “the deal maker,” will at times offer to lower his take of the proceeds.  When an agreement is reached, the grinder gives a thumbs-up sign and the auctioneer announces that “the reserve is off,” and this often creates more bids. At most auctions, although the exact percentages vary, there’s a 10% “buyer’s premium” that goes to the auction house, and also an 8% cut of the proceeds to the seller.  Mecum has seized on his ability to take less than the 8% to make the deal happen, and the result is added drama and excitement to the show.  After all, Mecum’s taking 18% of the sale for the costs attendant in putting on the auction. If you sell $20 million dollars’ worth of cars at an auction, $3.6 million will go a long way toward paying for the facility, advertising, staff and so on. Other income derives from the sale of shirts and hats and other ephemera.

The most significant alteration to the norm, which other auction houses are now copying as fast as they can is “the bid goes on.” If a car does not reach its reserve, it is still for sale. A sticker on the window tells you where the bidding stopped, and you can go to Mecum staff and offer a bid.  This increases the percentage of the cars sold, sometimes dramatically. One technique that might work is to go to the auction on the last day, find a car you want that did not sell, and try to take advantage of the seller not wanting to take the car home and perhaps accepting less than originally desired or expected.

The Seattle auction last weekend was the first time Mecum has done an auction in this area.  I attended an auction by another smaller company years ago and came away rather unimpressed by both the cars and the auction company. This one was different.  A lot.

As is the case most of the time, this auction was a Friday – Sunday deal. The value of the cars tends to start at “reasonable,” ramp up gradually to “ohmygod” and then denouement back to reasonable at the end. For this reason, I chose to attend Saturday, when most of the big hitter cars would cross the block.  This was an “extra” Father’s Day treat for me, and I expected it to cost me a bit.  Entry for a casual punter is $20.  A bidder’s pass, allowing you to actually raise your hand and purchase a car, costs $100. That sounds like a lot, but not really. If you wanted to buy, you’d want to attend all three days. A bidder’s pass also carries with it a guest pass, so you and a “minder,” (a person I would take with me to tell me “NO!” when enthusiasm ran ahead of reason) can attend all three days for less than the cost of just watching.  I also expected to be hit with significant sums for parking, a program, food, etc. but hey – it’s Father’s Day – sort of the same logic that gets people to pay over the top for an adult transportation toy.

The first shock was when I found a free parking space 5 blocks away.  Now I had an “extra” $20 or so to blow on a program.   Second shock was a Mecum magazine that was free, and a “green sheet” of the cars on offer on the day, with space to take notes.  An auction of automobilia, such as neon signs, started at 9am, with the cars beginning at 10am.  I was there with plenty of time to stroll around and look at all the cars to be offered, and that was a very good move.

You can get up close and personal with all of the cars, including some “the bid goes on” cars from Friday. Each car has a sheet in the windshield giving details of the car’s features, and you can spend all the time you want studying and looking for flaws. Mecum started out specializing in “American muscle,” usually cars from the late 1960’s.  A recent trend, and my favorite genre, is “resto-mods.” Most of these are a classic body design, such as a 1969 Camaro or 1959 Corvette, with essentially a new Corvette engine, transmission, suspension, and brakes underneath. High end cars go considerably beyond that.

At a Mecum auction you can pretty much walk anywhere and stand anywhere you want, and it was odd to stroll across the red carpet area where the cars would roll and see most of the Mecum staff sitting and chatting.  Odd because they pretty much the same auctioneers and “ring men,” (some of whom are women) at every auction, so you feel like you know these people, even though you don’t. They are also casual and smiling, and you can chat with them with ease.

The benefits of Mecum’s success over the years are everywhere. Lots of signage, and a comprehensive and very loud sound system. Professionally produced signage on each car.  Colorful banners and lots of bright lights. Large digital screens that show each car and the amount being bid, in four different currencies. Squadrons of locals hired for the event are everywhere, all of them in simply black Mecum shirts. Most are young men, as the cars are pushed the last 50 yards to the block, across it, and 50 yards after it.  The engines are not run until they are far enough away to not cause problem with simple acts, like breathing.  The auctioneers are many, and most of them have been with Mecum for years. Each works for about 30 minutes at a time, and you can see why – it would be exhausting. As each car is declared either sold or the bid is closed, the next car is announced by an auctioneer in a normal voice, giving the year and some of the features, and then the selling announcer takes over in that high energy rapid fire patter that looks impossible if you’ve not been to a school to learn how to do it. There are people everywhere to answer any question you might have. It is all impeccably and expensively organized and produced to the point that it looks simple and easy, and of course it is neither.

The number of cars was simply staggering. The Seattle auction, as a first time venture, had 600 cars or so, but when almost all of them are interesting in one way or another, your car nut fantasy brain gets overwhelmed with lust. Some of their large auctions might go for 5 or 6 days and offer 3,000 cars!  Ex-race cars, high end customs, classics from the 1930s, resto-mods, customs, hot rods, all parked cheek by jowl in no particular order.

I chatted with one couple with a stunning 1936 Ford cabriolet that I would have bid on. It took 9 years to build, and reposed in candy burgundy paint with tan leather interior, and all the mod cons of a high end build. I asked them why they would sell such a machine, and they replied that they had owned it for a few years, were getting older, and the grandchildren needed money for college. I told them I loved it, and would be a bidder had I won a large lottery recently. The gentleman replied that if he had done so he would not be selling it!  It sold later in the day, and the gentleman looked to be in tears.  I could see why.

After gorging myself visually for almost an hour, making a note of which cars I would be bidding on if I had the means, the car auction started. Where to sit?  The seats directly in front are reserved for “Gold bidders.” These are $500 apiece tickets that get you into all Mecum auctions for the year, and are mostly high end collectors or dealers.  Around them are a couple of hundred other seats, already taken. Hmmmm.  Not wanting to stand on my feet for 5 hours or so, I wandered around looking for a better alternative.  Over on the side there were a couple of golf carts used by staff once in a while for various tasks. Perfect. I relaxed on the back seat of one where I could see the auction block, hear the announcer clearly, and watch the bids go up on large video screens. Even better, when each bidding session was over, the cars were pushed by the ever changing squadrons of people wearing Mecum shirts and plastic gloves – off to the side and around to right where I was sitting. At that point the cars would be started and driven back to be parked, awaiting pick-up by the new owner or perhaps a later sale. In this fashion I got to watch the auction action, see the car close up, and then hear it run.  If it was a former Corvette road race car or a hemi-engined former drag race car, the sound was a great part of the fun.

The Mecum staff around me were all very friendly and helpful.   In fact, I did not see a single person working the event all day who did not appear to be having a very good time.  I have some experience in trying to get all of a work staff to approach their tasks with enthusiasm and humor. It is extremely difficult, and I was mightily impressed.

For food I could walk out the door next to me and stroll across the street for an excellent Polish sausage and pop and chips meal for $8, which is reasonable. The red stamp on my wrist got me back in.

I’ve always wondered how Mecum “vets” potential bidders. Turns out to be disarmingly simple.  As a bidder, you fill out a form, which lets you know in no uncertain terms that it is a legally binding document. They take a $500 swipe on a credit card, which is cancelled later.  When you “win” the bid on a car, you simply write a check for it.   Hard to believe that works, but evidently it does. Handy to know if I wanted to purchase the Hemi Cuda convertible that sold for three and a half million!

The auction is far more extensive than what is shown on TV. The TV segments vary from auction to auction, but are usually 3 hours or so of the 7 hours or more of actual bidding each day. Here again Mecum has scored by putting together a crew of four TV announcers, plus support staff, who work very well together and appear at every auction.  Occasionally a 5th “color” announcer will be added to the four lead roles, if you will. John Kramen grew up in a Chevy dealership where his father worked, and has intimate knowledge of the arcania option packages and colors available on pretty much any American car built in the last 50 years.  He’s also a very good rock guitar player. Scott Hoak is the emcee who keeps everything running smoothly, and also announces of the Indy 500 race and other events. Stephen Cox is an experienced and successful racer, and also a Ford nut. Bill Stephens is the “smart ass” of the group and also an expert on drag racing, drag racing history, and Corvettes.  The banter among the four is casual, effortless, and not at all contrived. The four of them have attained that rare camaraderie that all such groups strive for and so rarely attain.

I came away mightily impressed with the simplicity and organization that Mecum has brought to the auction business.  I had a fantastic time, and if they return next year, which seems likely, I will probably go for at least two days. As it is, now I’m at home watching my recordings of the other two days of the auction.

Come on Lottery!   I’m ready to bid!

Copyright 2014                  David Preston

Posted in Cars, Marketing | 1 Comment

Preparing for a Long Motorycle Ride

Preparing for the Long Ride

In a month and a bit I’ll be launching off on a motorcycle ride back to my roots in Minnesota.  I’ve done this before, and in fact a few times, but the last time was 43 years ago. In 1968 rode from Minneapolis to Seattle and back – camping – on a Yamaha YDS 3 250cc 2 stroke. Oddly, I took the identical route Robert Pirsig traversed a year later, including some of the same campgrounds, which he then wrote about in the first half of his famous book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I repeated the trip in the other direction in 1970 on a Honda 450 Street Scrambler, and then passed through Minnesota en route to Florida on the same bike in 1971.

This time it will be different. A lot. For one, the motorcycle is a 2006 Triumph Speed Triple.  It has more capacity and horsepower than both of the other bikes added together – by a considerable amount. I will now have a cell phone, and a charge card with a lot of room on it. I carry with me a tire repair kit, a first aid kit, and an air compressor. Those are the good parts.

Downsides are a body that has endured four decades of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, with some loss of function along the way.  I’m now about 60% deaf in my left ear. I have a knee that has been surgically prepared twice. A broken collarbone was surgically mended to such an extent that the only lasting consequence is a really cool scar. Two tendons in my left elbow were completely severed two years ago – cause unknown. And.. I am 67 years old, not 22.

I have gained the caution (good) and fears (not so welcome) that come with advancing age, whereas back then any inklings of what could go wrong never occurred to me, which is perhaps why nothing of consequence went wrong on any of those trips.  I suppose the 450 blowing itself up in Florida and reducing its engine to a pile of scrap could be considered a problem. I swapped the remains for a return flight ticket, but even than worked out OK. I purchased a new motorcycle two days after I got home!

From all of this comes preparation in three parts: the usual, the bike, and me.

For the usual, I am ensconced in one of my favorite idle time pursuits. I spend hours poring over maps of each of the states, pondering potential routes.  I create lists of things to pack. I think about all the situations I might be in, and how I would deal with them.  I have a former student I would like to visit in South Dakota, and I can ponder stopping to see him on the way there, or back. By the time I leave I will have most of the potential routes committed to “mental muscle memory,” (a phrase I think I just invented) which will make nightly route decisions in a motel easier.  Motels rather than camping adds ease as well, and does my body the favor of a better sleep than an air mattress.

For entertainment, I am really “old school.”  I prefer not to use ear buds or any other technology that brings music or phone calls or anything else into my helmet.  I find it tragically ironic that so many of my motorcycle friends rail on about distracted drivers, and then intentionally add to their own distractions with an infusion music and phone calls and other noise in their own heads.

Instead of all that, I simply listen to a few of my favorite songs repeatedly in the weeks preceding such a trip. When I want I can “play” them in my head.  Having said that, I appear to have a higher threshold of boredom than some others, and rarely feel the need for any additional entertainment other than the sights and sounds and smells strafing my helmet at all times.

For the bike, the first step was to have it “freshened” after three years of almost no mileage accumulation while I was employed by Ride West BMW, a job that brought with it a “company” bike for 95% of my riding.  A trip back to Cycle Barn for the administrations of Scott Zoellers, the only Triumph tech who has ever worked on my bike, cost almost $1,000 and was well worth it.  In three weeks it will go back for new front and rear tires, and it will be as ready as it can be. The Ventura rack system with double back packs will go on the back and I should have all the carrying capacity I need, with the added bonus that the front bag, stuffed with softer items like clothes, will provide some back support.  In addition, in previous long rides years ago the bike seemed to get slightly better fuel mileage with the packs on.

For me, the preparations are both mental and physical.  I’ve taken long rides in the past few years, but none of this length on a bike with no weather protection. I rode over 2,000 miles to Salt Lake City and back in 2010 to spectate at a WSB race with some customers. That was on a new BMW K 1300S that was well suited to the task, but it was only 1,000 miles each way and had a nice hotel at the Salt Lake City end. I also did several three day weekend jaunts, usually camping, on a variety of BMWs. This trip will be about 1600 miles in each direction.

The physical preparations have meshed nicely with my retirement. I now have more time to go to the Y to work out more often. Even though my workouts are not that strenuous, in the past several months I’ve swapped about ten pounds of excess flab for 5 more pounds of muscle, enough that my clothes fit differently and I feel better all the time.  Even better, the last few years of such visits have improved the function of my right knee to such an extent that one day, while stretching; I couldn’t remember which the “bad” knee was.  Oh yes, the fading scars from the two surgeries would be an indicator. I used to make jokes about needing to not gain weight when wearing $1000 worth of custom fit Vanson leather pants, and now the joke has almost inverted itself, as they are approaching the limit of “relaxed fit” and threatening to simply be… too large.  I can deal with that.

Two years ago my left elbow began to fill with fluid.  Don’t know what I did. On a trip to Pullman in the car my elbow grew to such proportions as to alarm my physician’s assistant sister in law, and we took a quick jaunt to her clinic and drained out a hefty amount.  Back home, the elbow gradually began to “fill up” again, and I had my doctor drain it a second time. He recommended a conservative approach of wearing an elastic elbow brace for a time to see if we could calm down whatever was causing the problem.  Over the next 18 months the swelling came and went, but the swings were lesser in magnitude. Then, this spring, my left wrist began to puff up from time to time, and then my hand.  Back to the doc, and on to a surgeon and an MRI.  Analysis showed that I had severed both of the tendons in my left elbow – somehow at some time.   This could be corrected with surgery, but we decided to let it go for now. All operations entail some risk, and the swelling continues to lessen, so….

But, I wanted to test both my elbow and body a bit before leaving, so last Friday two friends accompanied me on a ride over the North Cascades to Winthrop, down to Wenatchee, and back through Leavenworth to home. This approximated a single day or my trip rather well, allowed me to test various infirmities, and see what pace I was comfy with for a full day.

There were variables, of course. We left after breakfast at 8am, whereas on a solo trip I rise early and usually scarf down whatever the motel’s version of a “free continental breakfast” consists of and am on the road well before 7am.  Secondly, most of my trip will be on much more open and flowing roads than SR20 to Winthrop. On the other hand, there will be delays due to road construction.  On the 3rd hand, Robert and Brian and I spent an hour and a half over a leisurely lunch, which I would not do solo.  On the 4th hand, on long solo rides I like to stop from time to time to rest and smoke my pipe and contemplate reality, which I did not do here.  On the 5th hand, we stopped for an hour in Wenatchee so Robert could have a wildly unbalanced front wheel attended to.

I arrived home after covering 425 miles or so in about 9.5 hours. All hands considered, that should mean me 8 hours or so on my own, so 400- 500 miles a day should be easy and will get me to Minnesota in 3.5 to 4 days. I have allowed 5 for the journey.  I love to get to a motel in the late afternoon and have time to clean the bike, stroll to a nearby diner for food, and perhaps sit by the pool in the evening. I think this is going to work.

Even better, my left elbow, forearm, and wrist did not seem to be bothered at all.

I feel a lot more confident now, in both mind and body, and I have a month left to enjoy thinking about the trip before it even starts.

Game on!

Copyright 2014                            David Preston



Posted in Equipment, Motorcycles | 2 Comments

Sam’s Homework

My nephew Sam is a junior at Los Gatos High. He was given an assignment by a teacher to ask a few older people in his life to explain three things they wish they’d been told when they were 17.  What a great assignment! Wish I’d thought of it when I was teaching.

What would you write for a teen to read today regarding what you would have liked to have been told when you were that age?

Here is my effort.

Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 17.

  1. Patience.  For a very long time I wanted what I wanted – right now.  Over the years I’ve come to realize that what I wanted did come to me, and the waiting for it made it better. Further, if I’d been given what I wanted when I wanted it, things would not have worked out as well. I wanted a motorcycle the first time I was given a ride on one when I was 15. Every day.  Every year. For five years. When I was finally able to purchase one it meant as much to me as it should have in the first place.  I’ve been enjoying motorcycles for 47 years now.  I wanted to fall in love and be married to a wonderful woman. I fell in love a few times, and was briefly engaged when I was 21. How wonderful (now) that the girl broke it off, realizing we were both too young. Four years of little success later, I gave up and decided I’d my life around being single. I met Susan the next week, and we’ve been married for 42 years.

2. What you want is OK. I grew up in a family of five where nobody really shared the interests I was passionate about. I was into sports – nobody else was. I was never encouraged in my athletic endeavors, and was often actually persuaded to stop.  I was into cars and motorcycles, while the rest of my family was casually interested.  I spent a lot of time either thinking or day dreaming, depending on your point of view. I read every car and motorcycle magazine I could get my hands on, “wasting” thousands of hours.

Early in my college years I chose to become a junior high English teacher, which was not what my engineer parents had wished for me. And yet, the daydreaming built the creativity and interest in writing that led to a wonderful 31 year career as a teacher and a few decades of getting things published here and there. Then I moved on to a job I invented, or daydreamed, in the motorsports business. All of the information I’d stored in my head for all those years became a career asset every day.  That has led to the creation of a book on motorcycles, two books of essays on cars and motorcycles, and three novels.  They all sell as e-book downloads from Amazon, and all of them rely on the education I gave myself while others were urging me in more traditional directions.

I knew what I wanted, and it would have been comforting to have someone tell me that it was OK and possible and would happen in time.

3.  Kindness.  Like many who lack the confidence they should have, I relied on sarcasm as a crutch to get me through. In my first career as a teacher I was very protective of my classroom and my curriculum, and any administrator or teacher who disagreed with me or wanted to intrude on what I was doing had to not only be proven wrong, but emotionally destroyed if possible for their hubris in disagreeing with me.  In my second career I had many responsibilities but little actual authority, and I had to get things done by simply being a nice person. I realized after some years that I was just as successful being kind to people as I was when I was a tyrant.

Be patient, be kind, and trust in the perfection of your own dreams.  That advice would have helped when I was 17.   Would I have listened?  There’s an interesting question!


David Preston          

Proud to be the uncle of Sam Lewis!                           052714

Posted in Education | 1 Comment

Revisiting the Site of My First Motorcycle Crash – 45 years later

Revisiting the Crash Scene  –  45 years later.

I found something the other day I’ve been looking for off and on – for 45 years. In 1969 I suffered my first and only big time crash on a street motorcycle, running off the road in a corner I’d attacked with hubris  at far too high a speed. I separated a shoulder in the process of learning humility, and destroyed my first motorcycle.

Just graduated from the University of Minnesota 24 hours earlier, I headed west for my new teaching job at Rose Hill Junior High, driving the 1963 Mercury my father had given me and towing a double-axle Hertz trailer that held my beloved Yamaha YDS 3 250 and all of my worldly possessions. I was accompanied by my father and my step-mother, who had flown back for my graduation.

It was not a fun trip. Turns out that a 1963 Mercury towing a loaded trailer cannot cruise at a very high speed, but that would have been OK except for – the stepmother.  He had married her on the rebound after my mother’s untimely demise from cancer, and soon realized his error. The fact that he was her 5th husband might have provided a clue, but she had told him he was the 3rd.   She was a woman as sweet as the new day before, changed into a monster upon marriage. All the way west she complained constantly in the nastiest verbiage possible. I had never met anyone like her before. She was mad if we stopped, because we’d never get anywhere at that rate, and mad if we did not stop, because she was tired. It was horrible and continuous.

I was to stay at their “home” in Bellevue for a few weeks while finding an apartment for myself. First thing I did was to totally strip down the Yamaha and get it to perfection. This was not difficult on this bike, even for a person of no discernible mechanical ability like me. You take off the cylinder head, which could be removed by undoing 4 bolts, and scrape the heads clean of two stroke detritus. You remove the baffles from the exhausts and burn off the collected oily crud with a torch.  Done.

Back together, the oil pump tank filled and wearing a fresh coat of wax, it was perfect, and called out for a test ride.

Since it would be a short ride, and because I was incredibly stupid, I took off wearing penny loafers with no socks, shorts, gloves, a shirt, and my beloved Bell 500 helmet – the finest piece of what little gear I owned.  I meandered around and found this incredible road.  Short, but full of twisting corners that I attacked with gusto.  After two years of riding I was used to scraping the pegs, and did so all frequently. Occasionally they would fold up a bit.  This was not hard to do on a Yamaha YDS 3 250.

The road was so terrific that when it came to a T junction I turned around to ride it in the other direction, but even faster.  I ran into a corner marked 25 mph at about 60mph. Whee!

The pegs began to drag but I was used to that. Then they folded, and I had done that a lot as well. Then the solid metal peg mount began to scrape the asphalt. Had not done that before.

The mount levered the rear tire off the ground and I began to go sideways. I’ve always been pleased that I did not panic, and kept trying to save the day. I decided to put my foot down and “dirt track” it around in a slide, which would never have worked.

At that moment I ran out of road and flew into the ditch. I somersaulted mid-air and wound up reclining in the ditch facing back toward where I had come from. The smoking remains of my bike next to me, the front forks badly bent.

The next day my father found the site and noted a sharp spike of a cut-off sapling jutting into the air about 3 inches away from the imprint of my body in the weeds.

As I sat there I remembered things I’d read about crashes and used my hands and proceeded slowly, feeling for broken bones. I started at my feet, moved up to my legs, felt my arms, and was starting to think I had gotten away with it when I found the huge lump in my shoulder.

A couple of little boys came running up and were so excited. The first one blurted out, inexplicably, “That was cool! Can you do it again?”  Since the front wheel of my bike was now touching the engine this was not likely.

The other said “My Mom’s a nurse – I’ll get her,” and scrambled up the hill behind me.

The nurse was more like an angel. She took me up the steep hill to their home and made me comfortable in her bed, which I found totally embarrassing.  I was so concerned the blood from some gravel rash on my shoulder would ruin the bedspread.  She did not seem to care, and called the best surgeon she knew.

The nurses in the Overlake Hospital Emergency Room had a dim view of motorcycles, and did not try to hide their contempt. The surgeon came in to look at me, and the first thing he did was to move my right arm in a big circle.  Ouch. Then he did it again.  Ouch again.

Then he said “It’s not dislocated, it’s separated.”

“That mean you have to operate?”



Now the nurses were really angry. Such language! One was assigned to clean the dirt and gravel out of my shoulder, which she did with a metal wire brush. Aggressively. I looked down and saw what appeared to be ground hamburger, with lines from the brushing crisscrossing the meat of my shoulder. I don’t remember that it hurt all that much.

My stay in the hospital was made more pleasant by the angel. She came to see me each day on her break, and brought me a milk shake. While visiting, she’d talk to me and pull the curtain around my bed, so she could enjoy, unseen, a cigarette!  Hospital procedures have changed a bit since then.

I had gone back to the area to find the crash site a few times and never succeeded. It has now been 45 years, so the roads have changed quite a bit. The other day I wanted to go for a ride, and decided to try once more. This time I chose to ride through a housing development ignored previously. After about a half a mile of speed bumps and gentle curves I found the remains of “my” road, which is now less than a mile long.

I rode it one way and then, again, turned around to ride back, much more carefully this time.

There it was. “My corner.” The nurse’s house was still on the hill above it, but I did not take the time to ride around and up to it and see if she still lived there. What are the odds?

The experience left me oddly elated. I had put to rest a small mystery sitting in the back of my head for several decades.

Three months after the crash two more significant events occurred.  The local school board lost an appeal to the Minnesota draft board, and I was now declared IA. This meant I was about to be drafted. I calculated that the Army would probably let me finish out my teaching contract, so that in the summer of 1970 I would assuredly be drafted. Then I would be sent to Viet Nam. Then I would probably die, as had a few friends from high school.

And so, with impeccable logic, I decided to purchase another motorcycle.

I called my Dad to give him a chance to talk me out of it. He spent 45 minutes using everything he could think of to throw at me. I was and always had been rash and impulsive (true), foolish and romantic (true), a daydreamer (true), and irresponsible (not really).  As a long term parent now I can only imagine his desperation.  His beloved wife had died, he’d entered into a disastrous marriage, his youngest son had almost been killed on a motorcycle, would probably now be killed in Viet Nam, and now wanted to buy another motorcycle.  At the end he said “But… I’ve never been in your situation. Maybe you should buy a motorcycle.”  How it most have hurt to say those words!

I bought a nearly new Honda 450 Street Scrambler.  Just after that, President Nixon held the first draft lottery and my birthday was the 334th one drawn.  The war was over for me.

That Honda became, literally, my best friend, and I put 19,000 miles on it in the next two years, including three cross-country trips that taught me more than I learned in college.

As for the crash, it was a very good thing.  It taught me some humility, at least when it comes of motorcycles, although it did not seem to spill over to other things. It taught me that I was not the motorcycle riding god my ego had created.  The crash affected nobody else and did no property damage, other than my bike.

Of course, I did not like the experience at all, and I know the memories of it helped in my not crashing in the 45 years since. I’ve ridden several hundred thousand miles now on over 500 motorcycles, most of those miles on winding back roads.

All in all, the crash was a good experience.  Having said that, I think I learned enough that I need not do it again.

Copyright 2014                                   David Preston

Posted in Motorcycles | Leave a comment

Why The Collector Car You Want Will Cost More

Why The Collector Car Market is Exploding

The market for “collector” cars, which includes “exotics,” retro-mods, and pretty much any car over twenty years old, has shown intensive growth in the past few years. Examples abound, and I was commenting to my wife this morning that it’s a pity we did not win a huge lottery years ago, as many of the cars on my “wish list”  (it’s a very long list) have recently shot up in value.  I could sell any of them today and deal with the tax bills to be paid.

Two examples:  The DeTomaso Pantera was always a favorite.  Italian design flair, a 5 speed, and a health Ford V-8 in the rear. Early teething problems have all been sorted on the remaining examples.  I used to chat periodically with an attractive young woman at a store where I was having some published pieces I had written framed for the dealership that was featured in them.  She was interested in cars and motorcycles, and mentioned that her senior project in high school had been a long and comprehensive list of tasks accomplished to improve the cooling system of her father’s Pantera.  If I’d been about 40 years younger I would have followed her around like a puppy until the inevitable restraining order!

Panteras hovered in the low 20s range for years, and then crept into the 30s. Today a good one will cost 75 grand or so.

The Sunbeam Tiger. This was a small British sports car, the first car my father splurged on in 1962.  I was allowed to drive it just once.  From the driveway 200 feet into the garage.  Engineers from England visiting for dinner were shocked when I went off for a date in our almost new Mercury sedan. They could not understand why my father did not want me to drive such a simple and unassuming sports car. My father felt  (and now I agree) that I would park it in a ditch within 10 miles.

I preferred riding in it with my mother, also an engineer. She felt that if the tach was “red lined” at 6,000 rpm, then anything below that was fair game, and she drove it with enthusiasm. My father only let his hair down once in my company. We entered a sports car rally in the Alpine. We crested the brow of a hill and ahead could see a V junction, and the straight led to a check point.  At the last second he figured out that it was an off-course control, and he threw the car sideways in a smoking and sliding stop, ending with the front wheels on one road and the rear on the other. We were one of only two teams that avoided the penalty. Later that day we were chasing a Corvette on a winding road. Father commented “See, this is just like a Corvette.”  Then a straight appeared, and the Corvette disappeared into the distance. Coincidentally, my father also improved the cooling system in this car, drilling new passages in the cylinder head on the metal lathe in our basement. Didn’t everyone have one?

Carroll Shelby of Cobra fame got his hands on an Alpine and dropped a Ford 260 V-8 into it, and later that was upgraded to the famous Ford 289.  Famed Brit Ken Miles did the development work, and Shelby once made the heretical comment that the Tiger was a better car than the Cobra.

A friend owned one back in the late 70’s, and his recollection was that the engine had more torque than the chassis could handle. Some days the left door would not open, and on other days the right.  On a few occasions a door would open mid-corner.

Tigers languished in the forgotten land of old sports cars for decades, while the Cobra, which originally was a hard sell, soared in retrospective popularity. Until fairly recently you could purchase a Tiger in the teens, and then the 20s, until good ones broke into the high 30s.  I just watched a really good one sell at auction for over $70,000!  That may seem steep, but an original Cobra will bring a few hundred thousand to a million.

There are dozens of other examples.  Why the surge?   Several factors may be involved.

  1. As the Ferraris boom, so shall all of ye prosper. The market for any Ferrari, and especially older ones, has skyrocketed out of sight. This happened once before, and then there was a crash of values in 1989 and it took a decade and a half for the boom to return.  I am not sure there will be a bust this time around. Older Ferraris are now going for truly ridiculous amounts, including over TWO MILLION for a car in storage for 40 years since an engine fire did a lot of damage. It will cost another half a million, at least, to get it right. Best of the best is the Ferrari 250 GTO, and one recently sold for 65 million.
  2. For most collectors, Ferraris are rapidly leaving the land of the possible, and so they look elsewhere. Because of this, other cars are now appreciating at a rate that is stunning. An early Porsche 911 would have been a fantastic investment just a few years ago, but now they are soaring past $100,000, and exponentially more for one with the provenance of winning race performances, etc.
  3. TV auctions.  Auctions of collector cars are blossoming all over the TV schedules. Their live attendance figures are also going up rapidly, and with good reason. Attending an auction, if you are a car nut, is a thrilling experience, even if you’re not a buyer. I stood outside at a high-end auction in Monterey in 1997, and it was a magical evening. You could watch for free as the cars were driven into line to enter the building, and listen on a PA as they were auctioned.  My friend and I had a delicious time speculating on what each one would bring, and I can still recall the evening in great detail two decades later.
  4. Modern cars.   Almost all modern cars are, to someone interested in driving, stupendously boring.  Most people do not care about cars, and the manufacturers, perennially chasing sales, are hell-bent on producing cars that ask for no involvement from the owner, either in maintenance or driving. When autonomous cars get here it will be sort of an anti-climax, as great masses of the driving public know virtually nothing about their vehicle and do not want to. It needs to start and run and go about its business and ask nothing of the owner.

So let’s say you are in your 4th or 5th decade of life. You want to purchase a car that you – just want.  A modern car of middle to high spec will probably cost at least $50 – $60,000 dollars. For that money you can purchase a good example of whatever you lusted after as a teen. Right now the value of 1980’s Corvettes is ramping up for that reason. There is a gap in the market for most 1970’s cars, as that was the initial stages of anti-pollution controls and safety equipment, and most of the cars were not inspiring – even when brand new.  If you wanted a nice 1976 Chevrolet for some inexplicable reason, you should be able to get there for well under $20,000.

If you’re interested in ecology, the most damage to the environment a car will ever make is in the initial manufacture.  All the exhaust pollution and poor gas mileage in the world will not equal the carbon footprint of manufacture. You could drive a 1977 Cadillac for years before approaching the crimes to the earth committed by building one Toyota Prius.

Or you want a big hit?  A 1969 Camaro is lusted after by many. A good to great 1969 Camaro 396 SS with a 4 speed, restored to stock, will probably run $60,000. That is a lot of money, but not when compared to most current luxo-SUVs your neighbors are buying.

For that you get a car that looks great, but is also nose heavy and handles like a modern truck.  However, you can consume a set of rear tires while not moving forward, it that is what you always wanted to do.

Cue the rise of the “resto-mod.”  This is a classic car shape, such as an early Corvette, Mustang, or Camaro, with essentially a new car built underneath it.  A well done resto mod will outperform, in speed and brakes and handling and creature comforts, the original model. By a long way.  Because they tend to be much lighter, they will also run circles around the current model whose mechanicals they have borrowed.

I have my lottery eye on three of them. A 1965 Mustang fastback, a 1962 Corvette, and a 1969 Camaro. All are top-end resto mods, and to park them in the warehouse I will rent will set me back about $400.000.  Or, the price of a mediocre Ferrari.

Come on lottery!

Copyright 2014                           David Preston

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I Joined A Car Club – Again

How and Why I Joined A Car Club – Again

I’ve had more interactions with car and motorcycle clubs than anyone I know. Most of that has been good, and all of it educational.

First of all, you’re either a “club type” or you’re not. I always have been.  The concept of meeting for dinner and chat or having adventures with like-minded folks appeals to me.  Before I entered the motorsports industry I belonged to a Corvette club and then a Porsche club during our tenure with each of the brands.  And then, for 15 years in the motorsports business, which entailed two years with a car dealer and then 10 with a large multi-brand motorcycle dealer and finally three with a BMW motorcycle dealer, it was a large part of my customer relations and various other task duties to attend all manner of club events and belong to many.  I was a member of a Miata club, a 4X4 off-road club, a HOG chapter, a sports car rally club, and a Triumph RAT pack group. As a representative of each of the three dealerships I also attended and participated in hundreds of events put on by clubs, including charity rides, drag races, camp-outs, and road and off-road rallies.

Out of those experiences came the development of riding clubs at both motorcycle dealerships, where I boiled down everything I’d learned to be able to plan and stage activities for customers under the banner of a “club.” What I did in reality was cherry-pick the procedures I liked, ignore all that I did not, and call the resulting hybrid a “club.”

Susan was driving our Fiat 500 Sport on a sunny day recently with the sunroof open and the windows down – and she looks just lovely doing that I might add.  At a stoplight a woman pulled up next to her in another 500 Sport, this one a cabriolet. She yelled out a friendly “Love your vanity plate!”   Ours says “Con Brio,” and Susan noticed later that the woman had one that said, if I recall correctly, “Wheee.”  They chatted at a couple of lights, and the woman mentioned Fiat Enthusiasts Northwest, a club for… (No guessing!) enthusiasts of Fiats in the Northwest. She mentioned that she and her husband had just joined FEN, and that it was a great group.

Susan is not a club person.  In long ago 1072 she warned me about some of the negatives I would experience in the Corvette club. Two months married, we had purchased a “classic” 1958 Corvette that we were treating to a rolling restoration as funds allowed. A new paint job and wheels and tires, a new interior, and other mods, and it was pretty cool.  To my eyes. Almost everyone else had much newer models, and made sure I knew it. Same thing with the Porsche club.  We had a very tired 911S Targa, and club members pretty much audibly sniffed their distaste whenever they saw it. She went with me to some of the events, but did not really enjoy them very much.  I, on the other hand, enjoyed parking my 911S with fading red paint and rust spots on the hood as close as I could to a Porsche club concours, just so I could enjoy the agony of people who wandered by on their way to putting another coat of wax on their gas cap. I am not making that up.

I made plans to attend the FEN dinner last night, and Susan predicted more of the same. When I arrived I was prepared with a mental list of “tests” the club would have to pass before I leapt in to the fray.

Test #1:  FIRST IMPRESSIONS. When I arrived at the chosen Italian restaurant in Shoreline, the first person I saw was in an initial launch version of the Fiat 500. He got out of his car and introduced himself.   Test passed.  We went inside and sat down, and soon a couple joined us and also introduced themselves.  Bonus points!

Test #2:  REMEMBER ME? I’d been communicating by e-mail with a club member who was also the registrar, and when he came in he figured out who I was and introduced himself and welcomed me.  Test passed.

As I listened the chats going on all around me I realized I was dealing with a misconception.  I’d thought this was a new club formed to celebrate the return of Fiat to the US. In fact, it has been around for almost 20 years, and over half of the club members own Fiats which are now quite old.  Cool!  We owned a 1967 Fiat 124 Coupe in the early years of our marriage (post-Corvette) and then a 124 Spyder in the 1980s.  By the way, those who snicker, all three of our Fiats have been utterly and completely reliable. The Coupe and the Spyder were both marvelous cars, nigh on perfect for our use, although each of them could have handled another 60hp or so with ease.

Test #3:  OH NO – AN ACTUAL MEETING. The first item of business was to have the new members and guests introduce themselves and their cars.   All were welcomed. This is a make or break test that many clubs fail.  I learned about this when I had a president of “my” sport bike club who was exceptionally good at it – far better than I am. Sid was the most gracious person you could imagine and I tried to learn from his example, as I’m actually rather shy. Ironic when you think of the jobs I’ve held. These people were warm and welcoming. Test passed.

Test #4:   BUSINESS MUST BE DONE. The “business” part of the meeting took less than 5 minutes. Yes, there is a bank account and it has money it. Here are some activities coming up soon.  That’s it.  Test passed with flying colors.

Test #5:   PROGRAM.   The program for the evening consisted of a discussion of an upcoming Italian Car Show in June and the club’s participation at the Historics in July.  The fellow putting on the Italian car show has a lot of experience with Mustang shows, as he’s a “Mustang guy.”  He related his pleasure at dealing with the Fiat folks as compared to his experiences with another famous red Italian brand owned by Fiat. This led to various hilarious anecdotes of interactions with owners of that brand (one of them told by me) and that is where I learned that such incidents led to the formation of the club in the first place.   Super bonus points!    It seems that nobody puts on airs with a Fiat. Test passed.

Test #6:  ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?  Humor was present throughout the meeting. If you’re going to own and operate a Fiat, especially one that has not been represented in this country for 20 years, you’ll need the ability to laugh at the foibles of the brand, and at yourself. Most of the humor was self-deprecating.   Test passed.

Test #7:  MEETING LENGTH. The meeting took less than an hour, and people were invited to hang out in the parking lot and “kick tires,” which included the chance to look over a very rare Fiat Dino coupe in attendance.  As I remarked at the time, “This is the only car here that is worth more now than when it was parked here earlier this evening.”   A fantastic car at that stage of being “better than tatty” and headed for “spectacular.”  Test passed

Test #8:  ATTENTION TO DETAIL.  As we rose from the table to head outside the woman to my left thanked me for coming and urged me to bring Susan to the next one.

The registrar called out my name and waved the registration sheet he had ready for me. He was prepared.  Test passed.

Test #9:   DUES.  Many clubs have drastically reduced expenses these days. Newsletters are much better handled by e-mail, with the bonus that sending the news out is free.  However, a car club needs some money to reserve things in advance, such as entries to the Historics Car Club Corral, or to order t-shirts, or to purchase prizes for various events.  $25 a year is reasonable. Test passed.

Test #10.  WHO PAYS?  Dues for FEN are by household, which is just sheer genius. No nonsense with “alternate” memberships, or lesser dues for kids, or fretting over the definition of “household.” This keeps things simple and leaves participation open to all, to the depth of involvement each might wish.    Test passed.

I joined the club.


Copyright 2014                       David Preston

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The NFL Draft and the High School Prom

The NFL Draft and the High School Prom

In 1844 Karl Marx opined that religion is the opium of the masses, but  almost two centuries later religion has been surpassed by… NFL football. Both involve vast sums of money contributed by people of average or lower income to provide a lush lifestyle to those in power. Both are ostensibly non-profits.  Both can and do lead to violence if a person of a particular “faith” gets into an argument with someone of other passionate beliefs. Both are the stated reason for amazing levels of violence between people and cities.  And more.

Much ado in the news today about a high school in California where a “tradition” exists of the boys holding a mock “NFL Draft” of potential dates for the prom. Girls are assessed and rated, and a lottery is used to create the order in which the boys make their selections. They evidently can pay money to “move up” in the draft, although it was not clear in my reading who gets the money.

As a career teacher in my first life, this strikes me as appalling in a way, but also funny.  And utterly predictable.

For weeks, in fact stretching back into near infinity, all of the sports TV networks have been discussing the imminent NFL draft ad nauseum, with platoons of hired “experts” discussing the preparation and factors and so forth, on and on to… turn off the TV.  The draft is a process that involves a lot of preparation, but can be understood in 5 minutes or less, making of TV (again) the “vast wasteland” described decades ago. Here it is in two short paragraphs.

You have a finite number of players eligible for the NFL draft. You have thousands of hours of video of the players performing. You have endless verbiage of statistics and analyses of those statistics. You have videoed and personal interviews, as well as questionnaires filled out by the individual players.

You also have the perceived needs of the team you represent. You spend as much time as you deem sufficient, a span that evidently approaches the infinite, to determine a game plan.  Each team will make one pick in an order determined by their finishing positions the previous year, and altered considerably and up to the last minute, by trades and assorted deals.  This continues for as many rounds as there are players deemed worthy of being drafted.

The fascination comes from the unpredictability of it all, in several directions. You do not know how your selections will actually perform as professionals.  Neither does anyone else, including the players.  You do not know the selection strategies of the other teams, so as each player is selected, your options change.  And so it goes.  It is a daunting task, but then so are many such tasks completed by thousands of people at their daily jobs.  Consider the tasks ahead for the employee tasked with sourcing the manufacture and delivery of all of the parts, sub-systems, and electronics of a new Boeing airplane that currently exists only as a CAD display.

High school boys tend to be sports fans, as they are trained to be by the schools.  This is not entirely bad, but the boys also watch a lot of the sports talk shows.  They learn by watching.

And really, is this “draft” all that different from what happens in all high schools in all years on a less formalized basis?  Things have changed over the past few decades. When I was in school everyone I knew was “going with” someone.   Asking was always done by the boy, who always asked a girl, and there was little suspense.  These days a much lower percentage of students are dating only one person  (or perhaps any), the asking can be done by either a boy or a girl, and the askee can be either a boy or a girl.  And just like the NFL, the sums of money expended for an uncertain outcome are staggering.

When I taught at Juanita High School, a fellow teacher had a very clever system where he put two lists on an otherwise unused grease board.  One list was of boys who needed a date, and the other girls. This let students know, in private, who was “available.”   As people paired up their names were removed. This was fun for all and extremely effective.

Boys selecting from the pool of available girls is nothing new, and it works in the other direction as well. When my son was in high school, he had a date for Homecoming. The girl broke the date two weeks before the event because she got “a better offer.”   May she rot forever!  It worked out well, as I set him up with a smart and gorgeous girl who was one of my students.  Not all boys dumped in a similar situation have things turn out that well.

There are still double standards at work in our approach to these things. Some time ago a girl asked an NFL player to go to her prom. He went, and it created a warm and happy buzz.  A month later a boy asked a famous female model, and it was looked upon with horror.  My reaction was the opposite.

I suspect this California situation will generate a great deal more buzz than it deserves.  The reason for that is that the boys have borrowed, inappropriately, a holy rite of the church of the NFL. Infidels!


Copyright 2014                                   David Preston

Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment