JANUARY 23, 2012: GEARHEAD IN TRAINING–WHERE THE NEXT GENERATION OF CAR GUYS IS BORN

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One of the biggest fears in car guy world is the succession plan.

 

In other words, where is the hobby headed in the 21st Century?

 

This is a threat that can’t be ignored in today’s world where driving a classic muscle car or a Ferrari is easy-plug in a 3D graphic video game, add surround sound and you too, can outrun the police in an imaginary stolen car.

 

No work under the hood, no dirty hands and no time in jail but this pseudo car world doesn’t put real rubber on the road and that’s a serious problem.

 

Except for one family with a Gear Head in training.

 

Many long-term MSCC readers are well aware of Dennis Halpin. He’s contributed many Dennis-isms to MSCC over the past few years and his credentials as a car guy are impressive. He’s a skinned knuckle, old school hot rod guy whose roots go back to the classic era of building and racing vintage iron.

 

To set this up, you have to see how deeply Dennis lives in the car guy world, so here are a few more Dennis-isms to define his credentials as an average, old school car guy.

 

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One of his fondest car memories is building a Model T rod with a massive 392 Hemi as he recalled, “Model T’. Tube frame, 392 hemi, fiberglass body but mine had a Coors keg gas tank on the back instead of a bed. Suicidal to drive, never made it to the point where it got license plates. Mine had a “Pete & Jake’s” adapted 2 speed Powerglide and a Ford 9″ but the rear tires went up in smoke with even modest throttle effort, in any gear. It never got much past the ‘mock-up’ stage.

 

I suppose if I’d put a lot more engineering in it, I could have made it drivable. I don’t remember for sure what happened to it. I think I traded it for a “Bug Eye” Sprite with a Triumph TR-4 engine and trans in it. Or more accurately sticking out of it, since the front of the valve cover and the air cleaners wouldn’t fit under that “Bug Eye Bonnet”. Remember, we’re talking 1970’s here and I had a bunch of strange contraptions back then. I have one picture of the T. It’s in an album, in a filing cabinet, in a room backed with krap. I’ve been threatening for years to go digging for it”.

 

Dennis had an opinion about next gen tuner guys “The big difference? The kids buy their speed parts, we made ours”…or new versus old cars “I own old iron because I can fix it. These new cars might as well be made on Mars”.

 

 

Here’s his look at driving his old Model T, “I’ll be driving my 84 year old Ford in the Labor Day Parade again this year. 2 years ago the float stuck and I left a trail of gas all the way down the parade route. One carelessly flipped cigarette could have made things real interesting. It’s so tacky to go up in flames with thousands of people watching”.

 

 

Dennis is a 2-legged Model T historian, “The 27 Model T (not A), had a steel body and steel wire wheels. There were 15 million+ Model T’s made between 1909 and 1927, with some of the mechanical parts interchangeable through the whole production run. Edsel Ford had to drag his father, Henry, kicking and screaming into the 20th century to design the model A in 1928, because the Model T was completely obsolete by then, (no front brakes, no gas pedal, no standard shift transmission, etc.) and Chevy was beginning to lead Ford in sales, a rivalry that continues to this day. The original style VW ‘Beetle’ eventually went the same way as the Model T, It finally just outlived it’s time and it’s the only other car in history that was produced in greater numbers than the Model T”.

 

Model building and car guys, “I’ve never grown up and neither has my son in law. We both have a display case full of model cars and motorcycles to this day”.

 

He’s definitely a TV show car guy critic “I don’t watch any of these so called ‘reality’ car and motorcycle shows anymore. After the first or second season, they have all usually run out of anything that resembles a believable script. Take the father and son motorcycle show I can’t even remember the name of. After 3 seasons they were down to “The Tuttles build theme bike to honor the South African Centipede” (while fighting and throwing things). Or “Jessie James builds tribute bike to the Woman’s Liberation Movement”.

 

The bulk of the ‘car’ shows are little more than commercials. Take “Overhaulin’ for instance. “We’ll take some poor shumk’s Honda Civic, and in a week we’ll outfit it with seats by ….., wheels by ….., tires by ….., a stereo by ….., paint by……. Etc. Of course, they toss in some slinky chick with a nice ‘rack’ who wouldn’t be caught dead within a mile of a ‘grease monkey’ that doesn’t have at least 7 figure bank account in real life. it all gets boring for me real quick. Anybody who doesn’t know that there’s almost nothing ‘real’ about these so called “reality” TV shows, should just stick to watching the day time ‘soaps’.

 

Jay Leno doesn’t escape his notice,Not to mention, it’s one thing to restore a car if you’re name is Jay Leno and it’s totally another thing to do it in a home garage”.

 

The “bring back the fins” on cars controversy warranted a comment, “Bring back the fin”? Actually, it’s a very likely prospect. Remember what cars looked like before ‘the fin’? Cars like the Hudson and the (bath tub) Nash for instance? They looked very much like today’s ‘turtle cars’. There is little ‘new’ in automotive design, take the new Mustangs and Camaros for instance. The ‘Baby Boomers’ gobble em up and the ‘kids’ think they are the latest ‘high tech’ design around. Fins”, why not? Of course, these days they will call them something like “Lateral Spoilers” to “increase stability or improve gas mileage”, or something like that. The aftermarket will sell ‘bolt-on fins’ (remember those?) for the little ‘tuner cars’ like they do with these bolt-on trunk spoilers and ‘ground effects kits’, so the kids can look modern. The ‘I-Pad generation’ will see them as ‘the latest thing’ but we old codgers will know what’s really going on”.

 

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Video games didn’t escape his scrutinyThis kind of stuff is hard for an old guy like me to grasp. Even a guy like me who was in the Air Force and has flown a B-57 Canberra Bomber flight simulator before”.

 

My daughter has one of those big, old, projection TV’s that’s only hooked up to video games. My 5-year-old grand son plays them. The only thing he can’t do is reach the machine to put the game discs in it. He selects the game, (usually Monster Trucks), he selects the truck he wants to be and he goes racing. Usually ‘crashing’ would be more accurate, after all he’s only 5. I don’t even know how to turn the darn thing on, much less stand there with that steering wheel gadget and play it? I’d hate to think what would happen if he managed to get near the controls for one of those Sidewinder equipped military Drones we’re using in the Middle East”.

 

The magic of old ironCars are just disposable pieces of metal to most people but to some of us…… Well, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know“.

 

Some of his favorite iron,I’ve always liked the ‘bubble top’ Impala’s over the ’62 and later ones. I’d kill for one of the very rare ’61 Impala 409s. I’d kill twice to get my hands on a ’69 Mustang Boss 429 hemi. (I’d have to, I sure can’t afford to buy one these days). The last Mustang Boss 429 I saw selling on Barrett-Jackson went for half a million dollars. I had a pal back in the 70’s that had one”.

 

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Another vehicle from his past, “These and the early Toyotas were good little trucks. When I first moved to Florida in 97, I bought an early Toyota pickup. I beat it to death before I traded it in on my Ford Explorer. Never gave another thought to it. A couple years went by and I walked outside one day to find it sitting in my neighbor’s driveway. A friend of his had bought it and it was still going strong. Must have had at least a hundred thousand miles on it by then. There was no doubt it was mine, it still had the “Viet Nam. If you haven’t been there, keep your mouth shut” decal in the back window.

 

Driving his old iron in winter, “Guess it is winter, huh. I suppose I could make a project out of putting a heater and defroster in the Rambler and the Model T? Naah, I’ll just wear a jacket and carry a towel in the cars. This is Southwest Florida, that will do”.

 

Dennis pondered raising or lowering vehicles,There’s this little category I subscribe to called “Streetable”. These monsters you need a stepladder to get into are great in the jungle but for every day driving they are a pain in the you know where. Try parking one in a busy Wall Mart parking lot. Then, there’s the other side of the coin. If your rig is so low you can’t in the parking lot in the first place, that’s not “streetable” either”.

 

He’s like any other car guy when he runs into somebody who doesn’t want to sell “I know an ol boy here locally who has a Merc “Lead Sled” like the silver one pictured and a ’47 Lincoln Continental Convertible just sitting in his garage with junk piled all over them. I’ve asked him about selling them and was told to check with his estate when he dies. He’s a crabby ol guy in his 80s. The Merc ‘sled’ is a real lead ‘sled’ (not a ‘bondo’ sled). I think it was built by Gene Winfield. It’s got the chopped top, the Packard Clipper tail lights, everything! The Lincoln Continental convert. has modern running gear under a virtually stock body. Power steering, power disc brakes, 460 Lincoln V8, auto, air, the works. They will probably end up at some auction when he expires. He knows exactly what they’re worth, it’s just a shame to see them covered with tarps and household junk piled all over them”.

 

Adventures in driving his very fast Nash,”I’ll give you a ‘tales from the side of the driveway’ story that’s less than 12 hours old. My ‘Hot Rod’ Rambler has ‘shaved doors’ (no outside handles). The doors are relay operated off a little gadget on your key chain like you lock modern cars with. When I got the car a few months ago, both doors were broken. You didn’t dare roll up all the windows or the game was over. The way the cable/solenoid mechanism is laid out, a ‘slim jim’ is out too. I’ll try to keep this brief.I’ve ‘re-engineered’ the left door and replaced the dead solenoid, so the left door works. I left the car in the driveway last night with the windows rolled up. This morning I decided to drive it to McDonalds to get the Mrs. and me some breakfast. I got in, fired her up, got Lynyrd Skynyrd blasting on the 400-watt sound system and realized I needed a towel to wipe the frost off the windows. Well you guessed it. I got out to get a towel and closed the door behind me. Thanks to the chopped top, the left door window doesn’t roll up properly (yet) and there’s about an eighth inch air gap at the top. So at 7 AM this morning, my neighbors got to listen to a Chevy V8 with little tiny mufflers on it on fast idle and a 400 watt version of ‘The best of Lynyrd Skynyrd”, worthy of a rock concert, while I took a coat hanger and after about 10 minutes of fishing through the opening above the window glass, managed to get it hooked around the inside door handle and popped the door open.I will be fabricating a manual, cable over-ride from the door latch, into the front wheel well, to protect myself from myself in the future”.

 

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Christmas with Dennis,Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way.

Oh what fun it is to ride, in Grandpa’s Model A – Aye.

It’s not a T. It’s plain to see. I’m so sorry to say,

but it’s still fun, to ride around, in Grandpa’s Model A.

Driving in the snow, is quite a trick, you see.

It wouldn’t be a problem, in a Model T.

He traded it for an A, I’m so sorry to say,

but at least he didn’t trade it, for a Chevrolet!”

 

The Ford in Ford debate…Dennis took it further, “Oh, I appreciate the fact that it’s got a Blue Oval motor in it for a change, don’t get me wrong. I just Like Flatheads.

 

I’ll tell ya what, Saturday we’re going to have our monthly car show in this sleepy little southwest Florida drinking village with a fishing problem. I’ll try to remember to bring my camera and show you what a bunch of old guys with way too much disposable income can put together”.

 

Living as a car guy in Florida, ” I was raised in Calif. I still can’t get over what we can drive on the street out here that wouldn’t be ‘street legal’ in California. My Rambler for instance. It’s ‘too low’, it’s ‘too loud’, the Lucas Flamethrower headlights would get me a ticket in Calif. A pal of mine has a 67 Barracuda with a 480+ inch blown hemi in it. Not a 671 blower, an 871 blower! and he drives it to the car show. It’s not the only ‘blower car’ that will likely be there. All the ‘usual’ virtually perfect, 57 Chevys, 68 Camaros, Vettes, and some one of a kind cars too. I only live 2 blocks away from the show, so it I forget my camera (which I usually do), I can just come home and get it”.

 

 

Cars in Cuba, “if Cuba ever manages to run out of Castros, they could balance their economy by just sending all our old cars back here. I’d be more than willing to exchange them for all the little ‘potato bug’ cars roaming the streets of America”.

 

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Old versus new TV shows, “I was ‘a schooler’ in the 50s I was watching TV when Joe Friday was saying “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts”. That was back before ‘CGI’ (computer generated images) and cop cars were exploding and flying in the air. It was just more ‘real’.”

 

Lesser known engines,The Ford 221/260 ‘Windsor’, (Ontario Canada) motors would really spin. Kind of like the original ‘Cuda’ 273 motors. Nobody talks about them either. The later motors like the Ford 351 ‘W’ motor and the Chrysler 318 had more HP but they just didn’t ‘rev’ like the little ones”.

 

Inspiration Point car songs, “I was raised by a WW2 Army Military Policeman, I didn’t get a lot of time for ‘teenage romance’. This is the song I remember best.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXgzQQ5XsHc&feature=related

 

Driving his Model T in today’s traffic “In the Model T, I am the turn signals but it’s almost pointless to use hand signals any more, nobody knows what they mean? I’m almost afraid to signal a left turn by sticking my arm out, I’ve run in to instances where the guy behind me thought I was waving him around me, and pulled out to pass while I was making a left turn. When I signal a right turn, people thinking I’m waving at them and wave back. Friendly” is the last thing I’d be if somebody hits either of my cars. At least I’ve got one one little tiny Model T brake light for people to ignore. I’d have to put a right tail light on it in order to install turn signals and then, it wouldn’t look like a Model T anymore”.

 

That sums up Dennis Halpin’s credentials as an old school, true to the core car guy, but there’s a happy ending found in the next generation within his family.

 

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Dennis is extremely happy about the succession plan is his immediate family, “I’m a very lucky man when it comes to my cars. My son in law is a ‘Gear Head’ and my 5-year-old grandson is a ‘Gear head’ in training. They may sell my cars sometime down the road but it won’t be to ‘get rid of them’ and it certainly won’t be cheap because they will have blood and sweat in them too. It will be to buy something bigger and badder”.

 

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Here’s the real future of the hobby in the Halpin family, “No ‘video games’ for this little boy if his father and I are out in the garage working on cars, he’s right in the middle of it. “What can I do daddy, what can I do?” is all we hear. We have to put a wrench in his hand just to get anything done. His name is Chase Halle, he just turned 5 years old this month. His dad’s name is Willie, and we live in Englewood. Florida. Dennis”.

 

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The future of the hobby looks bright in one small Florida town.

 

Jerry Sutherland

 

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