road

We drive all the time and for everything in our modern American society; for work, errands, to get to fun places, but what about driving for the fun of driving itself? Well it’s hard to do that on the familiar boring roads you take to work every week, which is why you need to take a road trip! Whether you’re working in heating and cooling in Birmingham, AL or coding in California, take the time to make driving fun again by taking a spin on one of these fantastic stretches of asphalt.

1. Tail of the Dragon (Devil’s Gap, The Dragon) – North Carolina / Tennessee

Drive through ancient Appalachian country mountains on this 120 mile loop through the Great Smoky Mountains and Cherokee national forest. The best time of year to go is in the fall when the leaves are changing and the scenery is stunning with crimson red and bright yellows leaves. But not only is the scenery amazing, the drive itself is incredible. The trail is known for it’s curves, and it’s most famous section boasts a whopping 318 curves in a mere 11 mile stretch. Your adrenaline will pump as you push your sportscar to the limit and accelerate into those curves!

2. Big Sur California Highway 1

If you happen to find yourself on the other side of the country, then head out to the Big Sur region of California. Northern California’s highway 1 offers spectacular coastal views as you race through endless road. The variety of curves, turns, and views will be sure to leave a smile on your face for days to come.

3. Blue ridge parkway

This scenic highway boasts close to 500 miles of breathtaking views through north carolina and virginia along the blue ridge mountains. The stretch of highway is the best way to see where the blue ridge mountains get their name from. From scenic vistas from the highway you can see the seemingly endless rippling mountains on the horizon. As the many mountain ridges stretch out in between the sky they seem to take on a blue hue.

These are travel worthy destinations that offer a great experience, but you can find a great drive closer to home too. To do so you just need to remember two things. One, is to try and get off the highway, change your map settings to exclude highways to find some off the beaten path rural roads. The other is to make sure you are driving with no where to go. Even a curvy stretch of asphalt can lose its appeal when you’re late trying to get to an appointment. Make sure you take the time to drive just to explore with no real expectations and you are sure to have a good time.

corsica

Lemons, junkers, clunkers, jalopy, POS, call it whatever you want, but everyone has at least taken a ride in a, shall we say, less than well maintained car. But for being so terrible, drivers seem to have a certain affinity or nostalgia for their junky cars. There is a certain pride to it, a satisfaction in driving something that shouldn’t be driving, making something work that seems broken.

I remember the worst car I have had. It was a 1989 Chevy Corsica.  It broke down on me more than I’d care to admit, but it was fun to drive. There’s also an underdog quality to it, like the little engine that could.

When I got somewhere I was thankful. It’s also fun to simply not care at all about the life of the car because you know it’s not going to last. The usual worry with maintenance and car care is put aside.  While it is true that carefree feeling is replaced with “oh my god please let me make it home, please let me make it home, don’t stall at this red light!”, it still feels good to let go about something.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t put any effort or  love into it. I tried to fix the problems. Mainly it would stall when stopped. The car had one previous owner, an elderly lady who only drove to Church and the grocery store. It had about 60,000 miles on it and was 18 years old at the time. It had manual windows and locks, a tiny radio, no airbags, a faux velvet interior and it was perfect for me.  We assume it had issues because it was just never driven enough and sat, wasting away for too long a stretch of time. We thought it was the alternator, but after investigating it, that proved to not be the case.

Then one fateful trip, it stalled and wouldn’t start for hours. Once started, the RPM’s were all over the place, revving up and down and stalling when getting too low. I had to press down on the gas at red lights and stop signs to keep the engine idling and prevent stalling. The car only cost 1000, so it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to spend too much money on it. So once it died, it was dead. But it was sure fun while it lasted.

stick shift

The title doesn’t exactly say it all. You don’t need to exclusively drive a stick shift, or ditch your automatic car. But everyone, for at least some part of their driving career, should drive a manual transmission car. But why you say? Why would I revert to older technology? Well there are several reasons!

  1. Because it’s fun! Driving a stick shift allows you to feel the power of your engine and become more aware of your driving. The movement in shifting gears; moving levers with your hands and kicking the clutch, make for a more engaging driving experience.
  2. Before it’s too late. Technology is great, we all love our smartphones, and it’s advancing faster every year. Self-driving cars are a focal point of discussion as both car companies and tech companies make plans to introduce automated cars to the public. It’s not hard to imagine a not too distant future where people simply don’t drive themselves very often, if at all. So experience the fun in driving stick while you still can!
  3. It’s more economical. Driving a manual transmission is actually the more economical choice for two reasons: one, driving a manual transmission and shifting gears yourself is more fuel efficient and improves your MPG, and two, because manual transmission cars are cheaper to buy than their fully automatic counterparts. However, this is mostly true for cars before 2014 at this point, as automatic transmission technology has improved. But, this usually holds true, especially when looking for used cars.
  4. Theft-deterrent. Thieves are usually not the brightest people around, that is why they have resorted to stealing cars. They are also lazy, going for the easiest heist they can pull off. Learning to drive a manual does take some work, and if you have a stick shift, there’s at least a chance a thief who breaks into your car won’t know how to drive away with it!
  5. Emergencies. The last, and probably the most important reason to drive a stick shift is so that you know how to drive one in case of an emergency. Most cars these days are automatic, but not all. If you’re in the car with someone driving a manual transmission and they have a heart attack or become unable to drive, then knowing how to safely drive a manual car can become a matter of life and death. Hopefully you never find yourself in this situation, but it never hurts to be prepared.

So if you don’t already know how to drive a stick shift, find a friend or make your next vehicle a manual transmission, you’ll be glad you did while you can!

I grew up in the ‘70’s car culture.  We loved fast cars.  American iron was the only thing there was because foreign cars were small, slow and not cool.  Big V8’s, four speeds and a throaty rumble from the exhaust got my attention.

During my formative years, my dad regaled me with stories of his youth, street racing fast cars.  There was never a story of losing one.  Every time we ran across a cool car, he would tell a story of when he had one like it, or almost bought one.  With the sedentary lifestyle of home and family and his racing days behind him, his eyes would light up when he told of pulling ahead of a contender.  More than once, at a light, he would floor the land yacht and pull ahead of the car next to him if the guy glanced over.  I could tell that racing was still in his blood.

That was when the Tri-Five Chevy’s became popular.  There was a real revival of interest in the ‘55 through ‘57 Chevy’s and everybody had to have one, including my uncle.  Uncle Bill was famous for going to a junkyard and buying some old wreck for $20 and building it into a daily driver.  But when he towed home two “57 Bel Air’s, he created a lot of excitement.

Bill’s plan was to build the better one and use the second car for parts.  Of course he spent some more time in the junkyard and parts store, but the majority of what he needed, he already had.  He didn’t have a shop and a crew like these guys on TV.  He worked in his backyard and his help was my aunt and a neighbor.

When we arrived for a family picnic, there it was, finished, in all it’s glory.  He had painted it silver and it was sharp. He restored it to stock condition with the factory three speed on the floor and a 283 under the hood.  Although it looked finished, he still had plans for a four speed and a four barrel carb, heads and a cam for the little small block. What was left of the parts car was still in the yard, and my uncle joked that he built a ‘57 Chevy around two doors.

Later, he became dissatisfied with the silver paint job and painted it a dark gray.  The chrome and white insets really popped with that darker color.  One evening, I went with him to pick up some Cragar SS wheels on raised white letter radials.

I loved riding in that car.  Later, my mom told me that my father brought me home from the hospital as a newborn in his ‘57 Belair.

That explains my obsession with tail fins!

Melissa

THE SYCLONE

Not long ago, my search for parts took me to EBay, where I found a transmission I was needing for a build. The seller was near my town and I jumped in the pickup and headed for his address. He lived in a country setting, not far off the beaten path down a long driveway. When I arrived, I found him hard at work in the modest shop behind his house.

To my delight, I found that he builds Buick Grand Nationals.  I loved those cars and so does he, because he makes a decent living servicing that niche.  Buick fans bring their cars from all over to get them back into pristine condition or modified.  We talked about the effectiveness of the turbocharged V6, the options, and the fact that they were so rare now.  Then he dropped this bomb: “If you like Turbo V6’s, maybe you know something about that.”  Cocking is thumb towards a dark corner of his shop, I saw the outline of what I thought was a Chevy S-10 pickup.  It was black against the unlit area of the garage, but I recognized the square, boxy look of a small 90’s mini-truck.  Then it dawned on me: It was the truck I’d only read about, but never seen.  syclone

Back in 1991, Car and Driver magazine did an article about this truck.  They compared it to the new Corvette and the Ferrari 348ts which was sold in America.  The editors were impressed.  They opined that it came-out way ahead of both.  The truck was the GMC Syclone.  And now, my host and I were walking toward one.

I was in awe. was an oddity in the years of low-performance, anti-smog machines produced in that era.  A couple of GM designers lamented the passing of the Grand National and wanted to produce something similar. Chevrolet passed, but GMC saw the potential and adopted the project.  They based it on the Sonoma pickup with the 4.3 liter V6.  They gave it all wheel drive, a four speed automatic, a racing suspension, aluminum alloy wheels, sport body panels, and the most important part: a turbocharger.  It came with cool racing seats by Recaro and only came in black.

Performance was the stuff of legends.  It was the first muscle car to break the 0-60 time of five seconds, and it was a truck.  Faster than the Corvette and it was a V6.  It ran mid 13’s in the quarter mile and it came twenty years after the end of the muscle car era.  With space to haul your parts, your luggage, or a keg of beer, it would blow-away almost anyone in a street race.

The hood was up and the turbo out of it.  “Is it for sale?” I asked hopefully.  “No sir.” Came the reply.  “The owner brought it in for me to rebuild the turbo and do some tweaking.  I’m sure he wouldn’t part with it.”  I looked around it, admiring the interior, the condition of the body, the bed, and the overall appearance.  I had to have this truck.  There were only 2995 produced in ’91 for sale in America and 113 in ’92 for export, mostly to Saudi Arabia.  That was it, so the Syclone was a rare find indeed.

After loading my transmission into my pickup and paying the man, I offered him my card.  “Will you pass this onto the owner and tell him to call me if he ever wants to sell?”  He replied that he would, but that I shouldn’t get my hopes up.  After all, he probably has a whole collection of cards from car guys and a rare collectable like that wouldn’t come cheap.

I’m still waiting by my phone.

Snova 66ixty six.  As a car builder, 66 is one of my favorite numbers.  I was on my back from a car deal gone wrong in the middle of New Mexico, outside of a small town off, you guessed it, Route 66.  The guy had grossly over represented a car for sale on the internet.  Then, he wanted a fortune for that rust-bucket.  I got turned around and lost my bearings down a side street.  Great, I thought.  I’m lost in the middle of nowhere with no signal for my GPS, after going on a wild-goose chase.  Needless to say, I was not in a great mood.

Then I saw it.  Back behind a sided house was a one-car garage with no door in front.  In an instant, I caught a glimpse of some familiar taillights.   It was as second gen. Chevy Nova.  I just had to knock on the door.  It was a silver-haired gent who answered.   He was wearing an old Rock N’ Roll T-shirt and jeans, He appeared youthful in some way, in spite of the reading glasses perched on his head.  I liked him immediately because he reminded me of, well, me!

“What can I do for ya Mister?”  I related that I was a little lost, but forgot all about that when I saw his old Chevy.  “Oh, that?  She’s a good old ride.  I haven’t driven her in years.  Engine overheated and locked-up.  I thought I could nova 66make it home, but it was too late.  I always meant to get her running again but with work and family, I never had the time.”

“Mind if I take a look?” I ask.  No car-guy can resist showing off a car he’s proud of.  So we hike back through knee-high grass to the garage while I have visions of a 327/350 horse and a four speed.  That was one of the fastest and most underrated cars of the muscle car era.  A real numbers matching model fetches big money from collectors if it’s done right.    We get closer and I find that it’s not a Super Sport like I had hoped, but it’s still a 66 Nova.

“She’s a 283 car with a power-glide” says my host.  Not fast, but reliable, if you don’t drive with a leaky radiator hose,” he said with a wry grin.  To my delight, it had bucket seats and a console with the shifter on the floor.  “it was ordered that way, kind of like an SS.  I’m the second owner and I really enjoyed driving her as a work car and weekend cruiser.  Too bad I don’t have the time to restore the old girl.  She’s just kind of wasting away here in this opened garage.”

“Well, do you think it’s time to let her go to someone who does have the time?”  My question seemed to take him by surprise.  Apparently he didn’t see the car trailer hooked to the back of my Silverado.  “Well, I couldn’t give her away.” He shook his head.  I knew that by the way he referred to the car as “She.”  So the negotiation began, and at the end of the day, I got her at a fair price and my newfound friend treated me to some barbeque and a beer down the road.  And I got directions out of town, which was what I was looking for in the first place.

To be continued…