For those that may care I thought I’d write a few words about who I am and why I dedicate disproportionate chunks of my life to mooning over underpowered old cars. Of course, there’s the biologically obvious answer to that, which is to say, I’m a stinking meatsack riding a greased pole to eventual demise. But that may be too much of an oversimplification. There’s more to being a car crazed “Candyass” than just waiting for that one way trip to perdition. I haven’t had my last scotch just yet. If you’ll indulge me a small conceit I’ll share with you some of the more formative events that bring us to the present day.
I was born in Fresno California at St Agnes Hospital on 8th March, 1979, the nuns told my mother that she wasn’t going to be much good at the job. But with a kid like me who could be ? Over the last 38 years I’ve managed to do a thorough job of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if some of it sticks. So far, not much has. Except for an un-extinguishable interest in anything with a damned internal or external combustion engine: my first mechanical obsession was the steam locomotive.
The memory of a row of brushed silver plastic buttons on the dashboard of our old Continental MKVI looms large in my mind. These called up the functions of the newfangled “trip computer”. In the early 80’s I may have been but a child, but computers had a certain gravitas. I don’t know if it’s because they were just then becoming commonplace or because I associated them with the massive one that controlled inventory at Clovis Auto Parts, my family’s business. The CPU was easily a cubic yard in size. Every night we took home the backup on something that looked like a garbage can lid.
School and I have had an adversarial relationship since day one. The reasons for this are manifold. But the main one was that educational institutions always seem to think THEY know what’s best and never bothered to ask me what I wanted to do. All I learned is, I can’t do math, I can read and I can shotgun a beer and smoke weed out of the empty can. After 12 years of mutual disgust the Clovis Unified School District handed me a diploma so as to be rid of me.
I also learned how to have fun with cars after years of only reading about them. One of my best high school friends ran an arrest me red series II Mazda RX-7 or occasionally his mom’s Miata. It was these two cars that taught me about sports cars and why they were great. I would alternate between driving mom’s K5 Blazer, grandma’s red LeBaron convertible or white ’88 Chevy truck. That white Chevy would start with a plume of smoke owing to shoddy valve guides. I also managed to talk the family into buying me my first classic. A 1964 Continental, god that car could’ve been great. But it was too much for an ignorant kid, it had miles of vacuum lines and a tired suspension, I never did drive it much, but I still love a good Continental !
Large portions of my youth were spent at the auto parts store. This was an old fashioned parts house carrying a complete range of parts for just about every sort of car. It was housed in a building that had been added on to over the years Winchester Mystery House fashion. At one point the shop’s facilities were so comprehensive as to include a machine shop and paint department. Fan belts and radiator hoses hung from the rafters and every inch of wall. There was a glorious 12 foot long by 4 foot high row of orange steel cabinets from Dorman with every nut, bolt, washer and screw imaginable. One of my especial favorite shelves was for Champ Service Line, they had every accessory one could hope for; curb feelers, propane torches, reflective triangles, instruments, even flashlights that strapped onto your forehead.
I pretty much always had the run of the place. This wasn’t always to my advantage. The paint cans had special lids with an agitator built in to mix the paint. An 8 year old me decided the best possible thing I could do was pry one of these lids off a gallon can. It gave way suddenly and ferociously splashing a solid quart of paint all over my face and in to my eyes. My vision was blurry for three days after.
A few years later our delivery fleet of 1980s vintage S-10 trucks were always a source of fun. There were two of them, plus a 3 cylinder Geo Metro to shuttle parts to our various commercial customers. One of the S-10s was as stripped as you could get a truck. Iron Duke four banger, doors, heater and a radio delete, that was it. The shift knob was worn to obsidian like smoothness under countless, careless hands and the manual steering had a certain springiness in its action. Still, for all its prosaic simplicity the ‘duke under the hood made fantastic induction noise with the lid to the air cleaner removed. Delivering auto parts is pretty boring work. I’d relish the intake roar as I held the truck in the indirect gears spinning the poor Iron Duke to quite unseemly revs. All good things must end, but they at least ended in spectacular fashion. On a delivery I was revving the ever loving snot outta the S-10 and the fan clutch ceased to be, it exploded in spectacular fashion liberating the fan to fly forward and bore a full inch into the radiator. I played dumb, but everybody knew fan clutches don’t usually commit suicide without provocation.
After half a century of business my grandparents sold Clovis Auto Parts to Carquest in 2002. Wisely, they retained ownership of the building. Carquest closed their operations in our building and it passed back to us. I desired to return the now vacant building to usefulness, after all, it had been in the family since 1947 and I’d grown up there. For all its faults it was home and one of the few truly constant things in my life. It seemed natural then that I should open a business there rather than demolish the place. Full of hope I embarked on a venture with a friend. We would open a shop for the repair and maintenance of classic cars and some vintage appliances such as Wedgewood gas stoves. This was not fated to end well. We started out with much hard work and good intentions, but my former business partner wanted to do things his way, and I wanted to do things the right way. After two years of hard graft and no reward I left him to his own devices.
Far more rewarding has been my longstanding secondary gig as a limo driver. I have a deep seated fetish for all cars from Blighty. Jags, MG’s, Triumphs and such, even more so if its high church british iron like an Armstrong-Siddeley Star Sapphire or Graber bodied Alvis. Following my nose to an unassuming Fresno backyard I met the owners of a local livery company who run a small but successful fleet of classic cars. Two Jaguar MKIX’s and the worlds longest Checker Cab. I was a natural fit to drive the old jags and I’ve been doing so now for over a decade.
Malaise Motors was just as natural for me, I started it on a mere whim. I truly appreciate the magnificent mediocre yet not mediocre cars of the 70’s 80’s and early 90’s. In my humble opinion a car guy or gal can get their kicks on anything. Bugattis are brilliant, but so are Buicks, Bricklins , Plymouth Horizons, Lincoln Town Cars…THE VERSAILLES for chrisakes, they all have something good about them, even if they’re bad. Cars of any time period are amazing, tactile, vital artifacts that speak clearly of the people who made them and the times in which they were made. A car can conjure the past in exactly the same way as Proust’s madeleine. Interacting with a vehicle to make it go and keep it going is enormously interesting. Whether you’re maintaining a car in pristine original condition or tuning and customizing it to your own tastes. Pick the vehicles you like and run with them, who knows where it’ll lead you. But mark my words the journey will be worth it. I’ve had some of the most traumatic and distressing moments of my life as well as the happiest and best of times because of cars. My life would be far more drab were it not for my petrol fueled adventures and the people they’ve brought into my life. I’ve held car shows, gone on random junk yard runs, started businesses, written articles, pushed my boundaries and learned to do things I never thought I could (like synching SU carbs). Nothing connects like cars.
Oh, and one more thing. I was granted the title of “Candyass” by a bigoted malcontent whom I blocked from Malaise Motors. I figure if the FABULOUS shoe fits, wear it…and stomp on the accelerator pedal with it !