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In Search of Peculiar Motoring Experiences

Peter Tanshanomi October 11, 2010 Meet Your Hoons 22 Comments

The Town Cow: yea, that\’s how I roll.

When The Mighty Flavog decreed Tim suggested that we contributors all write profiles about ourselves for The Feast of St. Bricklin the big anniversary celebration, he posed this question for us to answer: How you get your car fix? My initial answer was, “I don’t. I simply hoon vicariously through the LeMons/LeMans/RallyCar/Pick-N-Pull exploits of others.” But with more thought, I concluded that’s simply not true.

Now, I’m not a wrench; I’ve tried to be, but I never had the time, equipment and expertise to do it right. My father, despite coming from a family of watchmakers, was simply not a gearhead, so I didn’t have that family tradition of wrenching so many other Hoons had. But a neighbor down the street owned one of the very last Austin-Healey 3000 Mk IIIs to be imported into the U.S. On pleasant days in the spring and fall, he’d take me for rides with the top down. The growl from the big six, the small cockpit, the cool banjo-spoke wheel and the chrome toggle switches on the walnut dash, the scent of leather mixing with the outside smells of road tar and dried leaves—it was so unlike riding in Mom’s Visa Cruiser. Pursuing that “wow, this is different” reaction has been my vehicular motivation ever since.

The Cockpit Experience

Despite an 11-year-long stint without a motorcycle and behind the wheel of a throughly competent but mind-numbing ’94 Escort Wagon (which I have dubbed The Dark Ages), I’ve owned some pretty cool, quirky vehicles. Of the four-wheel variety, few could be described as “sporty” (a number of them were seriously deficient in the handling department), and none of them had monstrous acceleration. But as much as I’ve been able, I’ve chosen to drive vehicles that provided me with a string of truly memorable “wow, this is different” vehicular experiences. A car (or truck or bike) doesn’t have to go fast to be remarkable. From daily commuting in a forward control van to taking tours on a 50cc motorcycle, these are experiences that often happen at 5/10th, rather than at the limits of control, but still burn bright in my mind.

The rest of the fleet: Mrs. Tanshanomi\’s 300 Touring & the \’Weekender,\’ our F150 SuperCrew

Which brings me to my current ride, the “Town Cow.” When the tough-as-nails Escort finally gave up the ghost (er, head gasket), my dear mother-in-law gave me her pristine, always-garaged, super-low-mileage ’91 Lincoln Town Car. I thought I would hate it. There was no car less like me; I liked stiffly-suspended trucks, go-karts and dune buggies. At first, I was scared to take the Lincoln over 50 MPH, for fear that it would float right off the road into the ditch. But gradually, I learned to love driving that big land-barge. I became familiar with the limits of the floaty-rolly suspension (they’re higher than I imagined), but moreso simply adjusted my driving style to fit the car’s laid-back demeanor. Despite being an 80-year-old lady’s car, it’s excessive and radical in its own way. After nearly two years, I still look forward to getting in it and driving, and nearly everyone I know digs it. It’s peculiar, memorable, and remains very different from driving my old vanilla Escort.

Alternative Motoring

The pursuit of different motoring experiences led me to a motorcycle at 17. Up until I got married at 33, I was motorcycle obsessed, and worked in the industry for years. I had the chance to ride a lot of very different bikes. I gave them up so I could concentrate on sharing experiences with my new wife. We bought his-and-her personal watercraft, which allowed us to discover a whole ‘nuther set of “wow, this is different” moments together that were new to both of us. I still love the PWC experience, but my wife decided to join me on two wheels a while back; I couldn’t be happier to be back on a bike. Motorcycles remain my first and greatest interest, even though I darn near killed myself on one many years ago, and have serious concerns about the level of risk to which they expose their rider.

I’m a Mac guy; It’s just gotta work.

Like I said at first, I’ve learned not to consider myself a wrench. My Sport T fiberglass buggy was perhaps the biggest blast to drive of any vehicle I’ve owned, but its advanced state of decrepitude was just too much for me. Same thing with the BSA 500 single I bought in high school. I never could keep them running long enough to enjoy them. They became perpetual hanger queens that I eventually sold off to guys with more know-how. The Town Cow, despite its age and perpetually-troublesome power windows, is reliable enough to be a daily driver and fairly inexpensive to have maintained by the pros at the local Tire & Auto.

But I still dream of being a workshop wizard. Despite having to teach myself, I’ve learned to do passable bike work, and I hope to someday have my own bike-centric home workshop and cobble old bikes together into my own two-wheeled creations (and maybe a whacked-out, four-wheeled LeMons entry?). But not now. Until I have the spare time and money to do it right, I will enjoy reliable daily drivers and showroom-new motorcycles that require a minimum of shop-time and allow the maximum of time out on the road together with my Honey-Bunny. But I’ll still, as much as possible, look for vehicles that give me that “wow, this is different” driving experience.

Head Games

When it comes to vehicles, there is more to enthuse about than just the visceral experience of driving; there are cars and bikes that I dearly love that I will never own, and in many cases have never even seen in the flesh. I may not be a legitimate gearhead, but I love bevel gears, and butterfly valves, and all the unique ways engineers try to address mechanical shortcomings. My attraction to such inventive devices rarely rests on the success or failure of them. Tracing the mental thought processes of the engineer is fulfilling in itself.

I got my degree in Art Education and love industrial design. Beyond the raw mechanics of engineering, there is a lot of pure, nonfunctional art in any automobile’s makeup. I love the sculptural quality of cars, and the way the art and engineering get all jumbled together (especially with motorcycles, which tend to wear their insides on the outside). So a big part of my “fix” is sharing stuff like Encyclopedia Hoonatica with all you Hoons, and just generally being fascinated by vehicles together.

And while world-beating performance is impressive, the weird, the quirky, the unique, the unusual and forgotten — that is what I am drawn to.

  • Heh, good read. I do like your custom Miss-er-hooniverse tags… Nice to know a bit more about you!

  • Han_Solex

    Amen, brother. You truly preach the gospel of "otherness." I've tried to find a succinct way of describing to non-car folks this concept. One of my favorite driving experiences came not with my Miata or any traditionally "good" enthusiast cars, but with a little Isuzu NPR box truck. It was indescribably fun. In fact, I like driving work trucks and vans a lot. I volunteer at a local blood center, as a courier for test vials, and they are thinking about replacing their AWD Astro-vans (which are awesome in their own right) with shortie Sprinters. This excites me almost as much as someone throwing me the keys to an E46 M3.

    But try explaining that to a "normal."

    • Thats why I don't care much about having the newest, latest, greatest automobile. There are lots of remarkably advanced cars that frankly all provide very similar driving experiences. In fact, state-of-the-art cars are by definition pretty much the same; they all use whatever technology and components are currently the state of the art. So, one gets to 60 half a second quicker, or can generate an extra .1 g's on the skidpad. They still look, sound and behave the same, and the cost of driving one will drain your resources, prohibiting you from enjoying other more esoteric vehicles along the way…

      • So that leaves the weird and interesting!

    • "Otherness". That resonates here too.

      • I prefer to think of myself as fairly mainstream.

        • Sure, you have a little car for tooling around town like most of us.

    • austinminiman

      Sometimes the most fun you can have is in the worst vehicle. Quite simply, of all the vehicles I've driven(including 3.0 Z3's, Audi A8's, A3's, GTO's, 911's, Boxters, STI's, etc) is an '84 Datsun Pickup. It was just… so much work to drive. It had a horrific vacuum leak which caused it to stall if you braked too hard, and they needed to be bled anyway so you had to pump them. The clutch was completely shot. The syncros were gone. It had, at most, 60 HP left. The tires had less than 10PSI in them. It had power steering, but the pump wasn't hooked up, so no help there either.

      Getting it up to speed required feathering the throttle, to much gas and it would flood and stall, not enough and it would bog and stall. Double clutching was needed for every gear change. Slowing down required heel-toeing, blipping the throttle to get the next gear while giving it enough fuel to not stall it by applying the brakes. I took it down a long winding back-road, and I would jab it down a gear, give it a slight flick, and floor it. Slowing, and we're talking less than 20MPH here, the rear would step out leaning over onto the sidewalls. It was surreal, like driving incredibly fast, but slowly. I felt like superman driving it. When I got to my destination, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I made it! I conquered it! I was a driving god.

    • ptschett

      As Dave Ramsey puts it, "Normal is broke – be weird". (Though I don't think he had hoontastic vehicles in mind.)

  • MattC

    I also am not a proficient wrench. However, I have learned from others how to change brakes, do proper tune-ups, change oil, and learn to diagnose problems. My father was an engineer and drove a Fox bodied Mustang but would never lift a finger fixing it. By default, his car and my mother's craptastic Escort were my guinea pigs in beginning maintenance. Over the years, I have learned to do the majority of preventative maintenance on my vehicles. i take pride in the fact of have many off them routinely go over 200k miles without major issues.

    I learned to drive a manual shift in a Datsun 510.
    While looking to buy a Fiero, I bought a used Saab instead and loved it.
    I firmly believe in owning a small pickup as a third vehicle. I have had a Mazda B2200, 1992 Chevy S-10, 1997 Ranger (2.3l/5speed) and currently have a 2001 GMC Sonoma. All have been good trucks, but I would love an unrusted Bseries again.
    I find going to pick-a-part both cost effective and theraputic.
    I peruse Redusernab and other related sites daily to get my fix.

  • MrHowser

    I've spent months wondering what it meant. Thanks for that

    Also, I've spent two minutes wondering if you type all your Redusernab articles while wearing that awesome set of leathers.

    • I last wore those leathers on Oct 31, 2001…as a Halloween costume.

  • Ah, you preach the faith well. I've long been forced to accept I may never have the space, money, or time to do everything I would like, but it's OK when you accept the quirks of the real world and find joy in the everyday. Not to mention the random superlatives that come your way every now and then. Like a 1988 Cutlass Calais converted to hand-control (gas and brake levers)… what a hoot that thing was. Not to mention skid-steers, combines, and box trucks. Some of the most fun was trying to wedge a 32-foot Ryder truck into a space it wasn't meant to occupy.

    Well said Tanshanomi-san. If one appreciates vehicles in all forms and provenance, there's no shame in doing so.

  • austinminiman

    Wow… great write-up. You really capture the spirit that certain… other blogs… are losing. It's like my '90 Range Rover that has been my DD for a while now; it is horrific in any quantifiable way. It's slow, handles horribly, gets TERRIBLE gas mileage(averaging 10.8!), is not in particularly great condition(though is great mechanically aside from a sticky lifter), but yet… as a sum of its parts… it has spirit. I adore it. Every morning I get a smile on my face realizing I get to drive it again. In the cold. Without heat.

  • Eggwich

    You are awesome Sir Tanshanomi. Encyclopaedia Dramatica changed the Redusernab! And I like your bike reviews a lot on your website.

    • I intend to get back to them but, again, that's a "someday" thing.

  • Buddy, you get it. You and I speak the same language. I never had an MB5, but my CB350 had almost a five digit redline. I'd rather have something weird than something fast (which is good, because that's all I've ever had). Your Town Cow is a ride that I'd proudly drive, having had two Cadillacs over the course of my driving career. Yeah, I admire your motorcycle knowledge and your taste in everything else automotive, and look forward to seeing more of your work.

    • My CB350F was one of my most favorite riding experiences.
      <img src="; width="360">

  • Mr_Biggles

    Good philosophy, good read. One of the things I really like about this place and the writers as the complete transportational diversity it embodies. No one here gets hung up on biggest fastest etc. It's all about experience. Keep it up!

    And there is nothing like the hand-me-down. We've driven 2 of them over the last 10 years. It makes the car buying decision so much easier!

  • omg_grip

    I also prefer more "peculiar" auto choices. i have yet to dabble in 2 wheels but i am sure that is coming soon enough. I also am not incredibly talented mechanically.

    so far my 4 wheel progression has gone 87 Mercury Sable, 92 town and country minivan, 94 G20 conversion van, 93 miata, 99 grand marquis, 09 hyundai accent, the last 2 of which i still own. and i loved every one of those vehicles and miss them all in a way…no matter how crappy some of them were at times.

    Unfortunately in a few short weeks Ill have to let the grand marquis go to get a truck of some sort so I can haul trash to the landfill….i'm thinking another weekend project car will be next……screw the 240sx craze, how about an Infiniti M30

    • DeadinSideInc

      Do the M30 with a manual swap OR a J30 with a manual swap. J30 is a much prettier car.

      • omg_grip

        Manual swap is first on the list then some S13 suspension bits. Going to have to be the M30 as I want another convertible.

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