The Thing About Car Blogs
Original Content and Recommended Reading

If you’ve listened much to The Thing About Cars, you’ve probably gathered that I’m a Lotus-enthusiast. How did I get to be one? The story goes back to my childhood. I’d loved cars ever since my earliest memories and it was a love I shared with my father, with whom I spent so much enjoyable time in the garage ever since I was able to hold a tool. But my enthusiasm for Lotus in particular began at age 9.

It was the summer of 1977 and my family was visiting some aunts and uncles in the Cleveland Ohio area. We had gone into the nearby shopping mall for reasons long-forgotten, and it was in that mall that I saw something that would leave a lasting impact on my life, even if I didn’t know this at the time. Outside the movie theater, there was a car parked right there inside the mall- and it wasn’t just any car, but a very low, sleek, sharply-angled wedge of a car, and it had a velvet rope around it. It must have been something special! It certainly looked unlike anything I’d ever seen, and it captivated me. Its appearance was pure, powerful mystique. I was so taken that I don’t even remember seeing any names on it. As I stood and stared, probably slack-jawed with wonder, this slightly older kid standing next to me said, with goofy enthusiasm, “This car can go underwater!” He also added that it was from a movie he’d just seen playing in the theater behind us, and he pointed to the lobby display, which showed helicopters and submarines and scuba-divers and a smartly-dressed guy holding a pistol, and a beautiful lady slinking up to him. None of it made any sense to me, including the image of what looked like the same car but with dive-planes instead of wheels. And I remember trying to get a look into the wheel-wells to see how the planes stowed and deployed. You probably know what the movie was: The Spy Who Loved Me. At that tender age I’d never heard of James Bond and didn’t know a thing about any of it, but it would only be a small handful of years later that I would be a complete nut about James Bond, and I watched the Bond films on the ABC Saturday Night Movie every time they came on. Somewhere along the line I learned that that spellbindingly alluring car was a Lotus Esprit. It was the first time I’d ever heard of Lotus. The car in the mall in Cleveland was silver or metallic grey as I recall, so it couldn’t have been in the movie- it most likely was borrowed from the local dealer for cross-promotion.

The Esprit in the mall looked a lot like this one and it changed my life.

In 1981 two things happened. One was that an Esprit was on the cover of the January issue of Road & Track, to which my father had a subscription. I usually devoured the magazine in one sitting as soon as it came in from the mailbox, and the cover-story was no ordinary Esprit…if you can call an Esprit ‘ordinary!’ It was the new Turbo Esprit, which carried numerous improvements over the Series 1 and 2 cars, and it looked like PURE SEX to my 13-year-old brain- and four decades on, I still think so! In addition to the mechanical improvements that had been made to the car, there were also some cosmetic upgrades including some aero-stuff on the outside and a fabulously plush leather interiour. The car on the cover of R&T was a stunning dark metallic blue with red leather, and a set of red and silver stripes to commemorate Essex Petroleum, which was the main sponsor of Lotus’ Formula One team at the time. I was SMITTEN by that car!


The other thing that happened in 1981 was that the new Turbo Esprit appeared in For Your Eyes Only, the latest installment of the James Bond movies. Q hadn’t issued 007 a car since the Esprit two movies earlier in The Spy Who Loved me, and as rough on equipment as 007 is, I can’t blame him. Unlike in TSWLM, this time the Esprit saw very little action: a white Turbo Esprit does a little slow driving, gets blown-up, then comes back in a gorgeous metallic reddish-copper colour, drives in the snow a little, and that’s it…total time onscreen, less than a minute. Disappointing for sure, but in an age in which a movie was the only place to see such a car moving at all, it was exciting! 1981 Cemented the Esprit into my brain as the sexiest car around.

It’s unfortunate that this was the most action that this stunner saw on film.

Over the next few years my car-geekery would lead me to love and have fantasies about many different cars, but the Esprit was always the first love and the ultimate fantasy. It never failed to capture me with its abundance of mystique and allure, a rare and exotic spirit that a small-town boy like me could never even dream of capturing. Or could I?

If you saw my recent review of The Complete Book of BMW Motorcycles, this book will be familiar: same format, same author. Ian Falloon knows his motorcycles is a well-respected author about them. In this book he presents a complete look at Moto Guzzi from the beginning a hundred years ago until the present day. No stone is left unturned as every Guzzi is covered from the most basic small bikes to the racers and even some futuristic concepts. This is a fabulous resource for any Moto Guzzi enthusiast and is available from Motorbooks.

The best part of this book is that we’ll be giving it to a lucky fan at Italian Car (and Motorcycle) Day, November 7 2020 at Ferrari/Maserati of Atlanta! Come out and see lots of belissimo cars and motorcycles, and who knows, you might be the lucky winner of this book! Ferrari/Maserati of Atlanta is located at 11875 Alpharetta Highway in Roswell GA. See you there!

Your first thought upon reading the title of this is probably that I’m going to talk about those sexy, swoopy, fantastic, expensive cars that most of us will never be able to have but nevertheless inhabit our daydreams and those ‘what if’ we games we play about winning the lottery. That’s great, but what’s on my mind right now is the cars that appear in our night dreams, the weird and often inexplicable visions our brains concoct while we sleep.

I’m writing this on the morning of November 1, the day after Halloween. I don’t know if the Halloween season or the full moon that combined with it this year had anything to do with it, but I had some weird dreams the last two nights and while that’s not so unusual in itself, the fact that I remembered them so well was, as was the fact that the same car appeared in both of them. Weirder still, it wasn’t even some oddball car that my brain created (as my dreams tend to be rather surreal more often than not), but rather a real-life car, presented in correct detail despite somewhat surreal situations. A car I used to own, in fact. A 1983 Honda Accord.

Photo from teh interwebz. Not my car but it looks just like mine looked.

I’d bought the Honda used but in really nice shape considering that it had 91 thousand miles on it. I was in the army at the time, and six months earlier I’d bought a 1977 Monte Carlo right after getting back to the USA from an overseas assignment. The Monte was a big, long, obnoxious disco-mobile that was was available for very little money, and I grabbed it. Now I was looking ahead to my discharge in less than a year, and hoping to go to college after that. I knew that the big fuel-thirsty beast wouldn’t do well for a student on a budget, so I traded it in at a fly-by-night used car lot near the army base for the Honda.

Also not my car, but you get the general idea.

It was a 2-door hatchback, a style of car I still love and wish still existed in today’s market. It had a 5-speed manual gearbox and was that shade of light metallic blue that most Hondas in the ’80s seemed to be, with blue velour upholstery inside. Not ‘fully loaded’ but still very snazzy as Hondas went in those days. It was in really great condition and ran like a new car, obviously very well-kept by whoever owned it before. If there was one thing about it that seemed a little spooky, it was a hole in the driver-side door. More of a slit really, a narrow penetration of the metal about an inch long, obviously made from the outside, with one end pointed and the other end flat. It looked like a knife-stab wound, and it was very low, no more than knee-high. Great, the car got stabbed by a midget. Not wanting moisture to get in and ruin anything, I sealed it with some silicone caulk covered by a piece of clear packing tape, a repair which held until the end of the car’s life.

That Honda would prove to be one of the best cars I ever owned, although the competition is getting pretty stiff with how just damn good cars have been getting in recent years. I kept it for eight years and about 155 thousand miles. It got me through college, several jobs before, during, and after college, and a move to another state and a couple more jobs there. It was a remakably good ‘truck’ too and hauled all manner of stuff such as a ’47 Ford flathead V8 block, a load of firewood piled up to the ceiling, my big ungainly bass-amp rig to lots of band gigs, and even a few friends who piled-in under the hatch one time. And then there was the 13-foot kayak I owned for a while: fold down the rear seat, fully recline the passenger seat, wrap a towel around the nose of the boat, then shove it into the open hatch until the nose rested between the dashboard and the windscreen, then tie the stern to the tow-loop under the rear bumper, with about four feet of the hull hanging out the open hatch. Or the gigantic radio-control airplane that I built: a one-third-scale replica of a Super Decathlon. This airplane’s fuselage was about 7 or 8 feet long, had a 22-inch propeller up front (spun by a 65cc engine, bigger than some scooters have), a 30-inch wide empennage (the ‘tail fins’) at the other end, and an 11-foot wingspan. Luckily the wings were detachable, and with the car’s rear seat folded down and the hatch open, the fuselage went in nose-first with the wings laid alongside it and several feet of the tail and empennage stuck out the open hatch. Must have been quite sight in traffic, especially since the airplane was bright yellow.

Imagine this in bright yellow hanging out the open hatch. There is probably somebody in that town who still talks about seeing a car driving around with an airplane sticking out of it.

That Honda stood up to all my abuse, got a few dents along the way, effortlessly made countless road-trips, and could crawl out of anywhere as long as the drive-wheels were touching the ground. It even survived having a colony of fire ants move into the back seat once! And it did all this very reliably, having few major troubles at all, and very efficiently too. On top of that, it was also fun to drive. But nothing lasts forever. As it approached a quater-million miles, the wear and tear was starting to add up. The steering got a little misaligned one day when I hit some debris on the street, and not long after that the head-gasket started failing. With great sadness I knew that it was time to let the car go, knowing that the only place it could go was to the scrapyard, the crusher, the Great Beyond of recycled steel. I donated it to one of those charities that take old cars in any condition. It was probably a good thing that they picked it up while I wasn’t home. I’m sure I would have bawled my eyes out if I’d seen it being loaded and hauled away.

I loved that car. It was a true friend and faithful companion through thick and thin. Many cars I’ve known continue to live on in memories, but I’ve never dreamed about them- until these last two nights when the Honda showed up. The first night it had a larger role, and even met an identical Honda at a gas station. The second night it was more of a cameo, just a brief appearance that included the giant airplane sticking out the open hatch. I don’t buy the idea that dreams have meanings we can decipher, but that doesn’t mean that our brains have no creative process in making them. As I see it, dreams are ‘brain-jazz,’ improvisations on whatever themes happen to float through. I can’t even begin to wonder why, more than twenty years after the Honda’s departure, my brain chose these two nights to be haunted by it. But at least it was a good kind of haunting. I fondly miss most of the cars I’ve owned in the past, but I especially miss the Honda and I’m sure I’ll keep missing it until I draw my final breath and my consciousness dissolves into the void.

Mine was blue but otherwise the same as this. It felt like home.

And still I wonder why I don’t have dreams about cars more often. Maybe I spend enough time thinking about them when I’m awake that there’s just no need. Maybe my dreams are usually too surreal for something as useful as a car to fit into them. Maybe my brain-jazz provides a break from them that helps me think about them better when I’m awake. I don’t know. What I do know is that after these two nights, part of me is eagerly curious to see what comes in future dreams. But since that curiosity comes from the same brain that produces the dreams, does that curiosity affect the result, much like observation affects things in the quantum-world? Now that I’ve waxed rhapsodic about being visited in my dreams by my beloved Honda, will the visitations cease? Will I instead dream of tearing through the Alps in my Lotus? Of going 100 MPH on Route 66 in a ’58 Corvette? Of being short enough to fit into a Countach? Of romantic encounters in the back of a beat-up station wagon? Of waiting forever in the lobby of the tire-shop? Probably none of the above. Daydreams are another matter entirely.

Sweet dreams, gentle reader.

Friends, we’ve had a minor technological setback and we’re breaking in a new computer this week.  Moving from a 2009 laptop to a 2019 laptop comes with a new set of procedural challenges.  Mickey hopes to have it all ironed out in a couple of days, and will update you as soon as possible. We hope to have the next episode of The Thing About Cars out as soon as possible.

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Our friends at Motorbooks know that I’m an enthusiast of two-wheeled machines as well as four-wheeled, so when they sent me a copy of Vespa Style and Passion, I knew I was in for a treat. 2020 Is the 75th anniversary of the Vespa brand, so this book is well-timed and will thrill many readers. I was thrilled as soon as it came out of the box- Vespa is known as an icon of style, and this beautiful volume is very stylishly designed with a light and inviting layout and cheerful colours. But just like its subject, there is substance beneath the style. Let’s take a peek inside.

Authors Valerio Boni and Stefan Cordara have impeccable credentials as moto-journalists, with a combined 71 years of experience in the field, having written many books and magazine articles about many marques. Their skills and experience show well in this book.

Despite being over 200 pages, the book only has three chapters (which, in fairness, are divided into a few more sub-chapters). The first chapter opens with some background on the evolution of the Piaggio family businesses, starting in furnishings for ships and progressing through railcars and into aviation, becoming the leading aviation manufacturer in Italy. After WWII the company needed new business and saw an opportunity in fulfilling war-ravaged Italy’s immediate need for affordable transportation. The design that became the Vespa scooter was revolutionary, following an intuitive approach that was centered around the human user. This groundbreaking design also incorporated some technical brilliance, such as aircraft-derived suspension, a forced-air system for engine cooling, and interchangeable wheels. The original Vespa concept was so good that it is still used today and has been copied for decades.

The sketches that started it all.

The second chapter is the largest, one subchapter of which contains roughly half of the book’s page-count in a section detailing all the models from 1946 to 2020. You’ll find everything here from the 98 that started it all, the GS that was made famous by the Mods of the 1960s, and many, many more variations on the original theme, right up through the current Elettrica, and electric-powered model that can be connected to a smartphone. And the original theme still shines through and still works brilliantly. There is also a section about Vespa’s advertising and communications.

Every model is detailed.

The third chapter is perhaps the most interesting, as it deals with Vespa’s impact in the world- from movies and fashion to serious travel and customisation and art and even racing. Yes, there IS such a thing as scooter-racing! For me, the big take-away from this chapter is that something that started as a utilitarian tool to meet a specific need in a defeated country was so elementally good that it can’t die, and that despite what seems at first like a design that does so little, the Vespa has become so many different things to so many different people. These qualities are what make Vespa a true icon, and this book beautifully presents that iconicness.

Ciao bella!

No book about Vespa would be complete without documenting Vespa’s cultural significance.