Good Guys in Del Mar

What a great day today “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” in Del Mar, as the Good Guys Rod and Custom show filled up the fairgrounds. I’m told that upwards of 2,000 cars are on hand, plus vendors, restorers, a few cars for sale, lots of beautiful paint and loud engines.

I tell you, it was packed. Took me an hour to go a half-mile to exit I-5 and park the car. But it was worth it.

Lots of unique vehicles, including: a pickup thing that looked like it was put together by whatever trim parts were in the garage, a ’60 Studebaker Hawk with a Cadillac V-8 shoehorned into the engine compartment (a fraction of an inch from the block to the firewall); vintage racers, including something with a huge Packard marine V-12 that was about a block long; bucket T’s; Meyers Manxes (Manxs?); beautifully restored and unrestored woodies; and my personal favorite, a fawn beige ’63 Avanti R-1.

Hooked up with Mark Maynard at the San Diego Union-Tribune. If you go, Mark and the newspaper’s table is right when you come in the door.

I have photos and some video, but unfortunately, I can’t find the cable to hook up to the camera. Now, where did I put my keys…

Some Thoughts on the Car Biz

I’ve been re-reading a couple of my favorite car books for some insight on what’s going on with the car biz today. No, these aren’t your usual glossy, things-were-better-with-old-American-cars books. These are business histories about two companies who thrived for the first 50 years of the auto age, but ended life together.

Packard, the grand marque of the classic age, and Studebaker, the old-line wagon maker that built mid- and low-priced cars for most of its auto years, ended up merging in the mid-50s then disappearing within a few years.

The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company by James Ward and More Than They Promised: The Studebaker Story by Thomas Bonsall are two books I recommend. Both authors have a breezy style and give just enough of the companies’ early histories to give readers the background on the firms. They then go through the ups and mostly downs experienced, the personalities and the thousands of little things and tens of big things that can contribute to a car company’s demise.

Read the books for the details, but in a few words, both companies came out strong after the production demands of World War II, but stumbled after, despite going through the biggest production and biggest or near-biggest profits in their histories. Factories got old, production got out of whack with capacity and costs, there were labor issues, spotty quality, weak dealers… anything sound familiar?

How could GM go broke? Burn through so much cash so quickly? Looking at Packard and Studebaker — two much smaller companies in the same business — will give you a good idea. And even though all of this takes place from 1945-63, it is relevant to today.

Read the books. Look at it as a way to be an engaged stockholder; after all, you taxes are now keeping GM and Chrysler alive (at least as I write this).

Staycations and Smart Moms

Got a call last week from Ruth McKinnie Braun of the website. Ruth is putting together a feature on staycations for spring break and wondered about some good drives and spots to take kids.

Of course, I talked Ruth’s head off on places to go, and I won’t try to steal her thunder too much, but here are a couple of drives to consider.

1. Highway 94. Includes stops to see old cars at Simpson’s Garden Town Nursery in Jamul (a great vintage auto and travel trailer collection) and the Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum in Campo (train rides on the weekend).

2. Highway 101: Beaches, nature centers and places to eat.

Of course, there are 20 drives in Weekend Driver San Diego that will give you more than enough to explore over any vacation in Southern California, whether it’s home or a destination.

Great stuff in print

My San Diego Union-Tribune this morning had a great story on the flowers in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park by my old college buddy Rob Krier. If you’ve never seen the flowers bloom in the desert, make a point to take the trip, only an hour from downtown San Diego. And, our friends Doug and Marie have words and photos on their own blog about a trip this month to Borrego.

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Packabaker and Lots of Parts

The end of February is always a great time in San Diego, since it’s time for the annual Big 3 Parts Exchange, an old car/parts/stuff swap meet that fills the parking lot at Qualcomm Stadium.

If you’ve never been to one of these things, they’re amazing. Acres of water pumps, fenders, folks debating paint colors… I actually overheard “… we can go back to the shop and look on the paint chart and I’ll show you that this is a correct color for a 1959 DeSoto…”

One car and a guy that caught my attention were the 1958 Packard Sedan and Dave Gahlbeck. Body No. 78 (out of only about 1,500 made) passed into his hands a few years back and it’s what you’d call a survivor. Sold originally by AC Almind Studebaker in Redlands, the car had passed to the original owner’s son when Dave No. 3 bought it. Dave No. 3? The original owner was Dave, Dave Jr. was his son and Dave No. 3 (no relation except for the name) took possession.

There’s something about a Packard, but this was the wildest. A last-gasp attempt to put something in showrooms by a company in desperate condition (see The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company), the last of 58 years of Packard production came out of the Studebaker factory in South Bend, Ind. It was called a Packabaker because it was a facelift of the Studebaker President model. Sporting the weirdest of the tailfins, tacked-on dual-headlight pods and what auto historian Richard Langworth has called “vacuum cleaner frontal styling,” it probably looked weird even in a year where the Edsel was the newest thing on the road.

Dave No. 3 eagerly tells the curious about all the car’s features — power steering, power brakes, the unique fiberglass features in the snout, the back bumper that’s interchangeable with Studebakers of the same year. And for somebody who looks to be around 40, he’s a rarity. Not only is he into Studebakers, but into the arguably firm’s darkest years before it stopped making cars, the 57-58 models.

As I was whining about not having the space or other attributes to own a really old car (remember, my daily driver is a ’91 Miata), Dave No. 3 pointed me over to a nice ride that was for sale, a ’63 Lark Wagonaire. Yes, it’s the car with the sliding rear roof pictured in my viral YouTube commercial posting, live and in color. And this was a pretty cherry… I didn’t even see any rust around the notoriously leaky sliding roof.

The Stude folks are a lot of fun. When Weekend Driver San Diego came out a few years ago, I went and spoke at one of the regular meetings of the local chapter of the Studebaker Drivers Club. I was still freelancing at the time and tried to sell a couple of auto magazines on a true survivor… the ’59 Lark still with its original owner. No luck, but they’re great folk.

I also visited the Studebaker National Museum a few years ago… check out my diary.

Even if you’re not looking for a rebuilt water pump for your 53 Willys Aero, a car swap meet like this is an interesting place to visit. Put it on your calendar for next year.