Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Bad Case Of SSS.

This week I was diagnosed with SSS. Don't worry, I'm not going to share any private medical information with you. But this syndrome can hit anyone. Well anyone with an old car. Who leaves it closed up in the sun for a long period of time. It strikes upon climbing in... you close your hands around the steering wheel... and you feel it: Sticky Steeringwheel Syndrome!
Only those that have suffered from this condition can understand. Your hands stick to the rim of the wheel, and you have to peel them off like pulling velcro open. You try to rub the plastic, or grab a different part, or just use the tips of your fingers to gingerly hold the wheel, but nothing works. Once SSS has struck, you are contaminated. It feels like a layer of peanut butter mixed with axle grease and some kitty litter thrown in for texture.

Thankfully a cure exists. A good scrub brush, a decent car-interior cleaning product and some elbow grease will get your steering wheel feeling clean and smooth again. Don't forget a good handwashing before getting back in your car or you will recontaminate your steering wheel!

I know that people don't like to talk about SSS... about the goey layer of skin cells and dirt and grime that gets activated by the sun when an old car is left to sit for months... but I thought that I would create my own Public Service Announcement and share my experience. You're not alone, and you don't have to be embarassed. Now you know that you can do something about it. I'm off right now to take care of my SSS. Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The GoCar Experience.

Done! I got to try the GoCar in Lisbon that I had noticed on my first day there. The little yellow three-wheeled buggy struck me as a fun way to tour the city, and I got the chance to take one for a spin. The two-seat cars are actually modified scooters. The rear half is a scooter engine and automotic transmission driving the rear wheel, and the front has been rigged up to steer like a proper car (with two wheels). The advertisements promise a GPS-guided tour with a fun and helpful storytelling of the highlights of the city.
It was quick and easy to sign up for an hour tour with your standard rental procedure: show your drivers licence, tick off the optional insurance (or not), sign the contract, and leave a deposit (100 euros). The GoCar really is a mix of car and scooter: the open-air feel and handlebars and all the controls (signals, lights, horn, and the gauges) are all straight out of a typical scooter, while the seats and seatbelts and pedals and steering system are much more car-like. The small locking trunk is a nice touch to store personal effects.
Three different GPS-guided tours were suggested, though we were free to take the GoCar anywhere we liked with city limits. Having seen an unfortunate couple struggle to make it up one of the cities many hills earlier that morning (I'm pretty sure the woman who had to get out and push her husband in the GoCar up the hill while onlookers pointed and laughed is STILL yelling at him...!), my travel partner and I decided to play it safe and stick to the mostly flat tour to the west of the city that included the Monument to the Discoveries and Belem Tower visit.
Little explanation was required; the GoCar people were friendly and helpful, and it only took them a few minutes to outfit us with helmets and explain the cars few controls. They started the GPS vocal GPS system (there is no screen; all directions are given by a voice through the radio system) and pointed us in the right direction. The GoCar, like any scooter, has an electronic start. The little 50cc engine doesn't really roar to life... it sort of coughs and shudders and takes a little pull on the throttle to wake up.
The GoCar has no reverse, so you have to push it back away from the curb and line it up on the street. Mirrors adjusted... helmet buckled... driver and passenger braced for take-off... pull on the throttle... and... and... maximum noise, minimum acceleration! I suppose I should have expected that with all the extra frame and body work of the car and two full-sized adults that the little cart wouldn't be a rocketship, but the take-off really is very weak. The ratio of noise to acceleration is rather disappointing.
Once you finally get rolling things are better, as the very low seating position and direct steering make for a proper go-kart type experience. You have an excellent view over the low windshield, and the GoCar offers a unique presentation of the city. But that noise! It is loud. Very loud. Obnoxiously loud. Sitting down low, just ahead of the motor, you get the full blast of the struggling two-cycle sound, and it really isn't enjoyable. Even with the radio turned to full volume, it is nearly impossible to hear the GPS directions. With our heads tilted down to the speakers we could more or less figure it out, and in the end were able to follow the guided path, but it certainly wasn't easy. The promised stories and jokes and details of the city are also hard to hear, as they come through the same speakers as the GPS guidance.
And luckily we took mostly flat roads, because even on the very slight hills we encountered we could feel the poor little laboured buggy fighting to keep its speed up. On flat stretches it would hit 40 km/h, which is fast enough for in the city, but even the smallest of grades drops the speed down considerably. It became a game to keep up a maximum of speed in corners and roll through stop signs to avoid losing too much speed. As a result, while the passenger was free to gawk and stare to his hearts content, the driver (yours truly) had to spend most of his time focused on keeping the car moving forward.
The car gets points for great handling, but loses them for poor ride comfort. The lack of suspension means that you get a bone-jarring ride (compensated slightly by the squishy foam seats), especially over cobblestones which are everywhere in Lisbon. Remember, when you were a kid, sliding down the stairs in your house on your butt... imagine that, and you've imagined the GoCar ride over rough roads!
So would I suggest the GoCar to someone visiting Lisbon (or any of the other cities where it exists, including San Francisco, Barcelona, and Seattle)? As much as it pains me, I'm not sure that I can. The go-kart experience spoke to my inner child, but it gets old fast. And once that's over, or if your inner child has long since stoped being amused by such things, you're left with a noisy, rough, bouncy tour. To make it worse, not only do you have a hard time hearing the directions, but you also can't hear the comments on the city.
There are a few pluses, like the great view and 'wind in your hair' experience, and the fact that you can deviate from the GPS tours and stop and get out where you like. But the minuses really do take away from the experience. At 29 euros for an hour the price originally seemed like a great deal to me, but in the end seemed a little high for the enjoyment we got out of it.
What could make this idea work? The cars need to be more powerful and quieter, and the best way to do that would be to make them electric. That would solve both major problems and make the GoCar experience much more enjoyable.
All that said, I checked the TripAdvisors review of the Lisbon GoCars, and the average result is 4.5 out of 5, with many glowing recommendations! Many people seemed to love it, so you might too!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Of 'Corsa' I Can!

After barely an hour in Portugal I had already seen my first automotive wonder: a Corsa TR, the wonderful trunk-version sister of my beloved brown bucket of bolts! I recall reading that the TR was popular in Spain, and even produced there, so it would seem that the Portuguese have the same discriminating automotive taste as the Spanish and I! This model was a dark grey version, and it was close to spotless. Also, as it was the only other TR I had ever seen, I thought that it was extra lovely!
And don't think for a second that it stops there! No, there was a second sighting, this time a tired red one. I saw it drive by and was disappointed that I couldn't get a picture. Imagine my surprise when I walked around a corner and saw it parked, begging for a picture!
The following day I had hardly calmed down from my first two sightings... when I saw a third! "Jamais deux sans trois", as they say in French, which means "Never two without three", which is the equivalent of "Good things come in threes". And in this case, it was VERY good, as this grey model was really very clean, and in fantastic shape.
My travel partner almost gave me a heart attack when he pointed to a paper on the dash and told me that it was for sale... and then laughed and told me that it was just a parking pass! This tastless, cruel joke aside, I was really quite happy to see these three sisters to my little Corsa. Lisbon is a beautiful city, the people have been wonderful, the food delicious, and the weather unbeatable, but this little unexpected automotive find has been a fun plus! 

Three more days to go... with luck the TR count will continue!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

GoCar Go!

Just arrived in Lisbon, Portugal for the third and final week of vacation, and have already discovered a great way to visit the city! It's called GoCar, and even before trying it I love it! 
Hope to give this GPS-guided mini-car tour a try next week. Combining a beautiful sea-side view in an old European capital full of centuries of history with an open-air automotive experience is about as exciting as it gets for me!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Call Me, Maybe?

I've got an eye for abandonded cars. Or maybe it's a nose. Or some sort of sixth sense. Whatever it is, it is a blessing, as it helps me discover wonderful gems hidden from plain sight.
Most recently it was on vacation in the south of France. I was sent on croissant mission early one morning for breakfast, and enjoyed a crisp walk along a path through the forest and fields that lead to the nearest town. Luckily I missed the shortcut at the end that lead directly to town, and ended up taking a longer but fortuitous route. 
As I rounded the last corner leading into town, I saw a small, overgrown garage. I had been noticing all sorts of old abandoned houses, barns and sheds in the area, and this tired old wooden structure caught my attention. As I got closer I could see that there were missing boards on the wall, and through these cracks I could see the jackpot: old forgotten cars!!!
I could see three cars, all lined up in a row. There were two mustard-coloured cars and a white four-door. While I would never suggest anyone trespass, I felt that I had a civic duty to go in and make sure that these cars were okay. Once inside I was glad that I had ventured past the brambles and thorns, as I discovered three rather interesting and uncommon cars.  
The first was an Opel Olympia coupe, a car that I had never even heard of before. Apparently it was a luxury version of the more common Opel Kadett from the same time period, and was produced between 1967 and 1970. This lovely little two-door with vinyl roof was in rather sound shape, even if it was covered in an inch of dirt and grime.
The other yellowish car was a Morris 1300 GT, produced around the same time as the Olympia (1967 to 1973). This model was a four-door version, and appeared mostly complete. The windows had been rolled down, which was unfortunate, as the interior appeared to be complete and in good shape, though beginning to suffer from the elements and birds and other animals that appeared to call it home.
My favourite was the white four-door sandwiched in-between the two others. In the small garage it was impossible to get a proper picture of the cars, but the most interesting angle of the Ford Consul was the rear 3/4 view. The Consul 315 (or the 'Consul Classic' in its home market of the United Kingdom) was a midsize sedan built from 1961 to 1963. The most striking feature of this car was the reverse angle of the rear windshield, a feature Ford had previously used on their small Anglia, and the late '50s Lincoln Continental, and would be used by Citroen on their Ami 6 small car in the 1960s.
The body of the Consul was in very good shape, though it has been stripped of many exterior and interior bits, and was therefore the saddest looking of the bunch.
I have several other pictures of each vehicle, and will share them when I have a chance. As any car fan can tell you, a find like this is very exciting, especially when it holds treasures that you have never seen or even heard of before! I spent a few minutes looking around, and then left the place as I had found it...
Well with one exception: I did write my phone number and an "I'll buy it" message in the dirt on the hood of the Ford... you never know when the owner will wander back, and I would love an excuse to head back to the south again, especially if it was for such a rare and wonderful car!

Monday, August 12, 2013


Road trip completed. Some 1600 kms later, we're home. Saw some amazing countryside, some beautiful castles, some ancient ruins, and some breathtaking countryside. More importantly, I got to spend time with some old and new friends who made this one very memorable week of vacation.
I couldn't possibly spend a week away without snapping a few shots of cars and other automotive sights, so I will share those shortly. But I figure my little car deserves a shout-out. An integral part to any roadtrip, my Ka performed flawlessly. Air conditioning would have been welcomed during the 30+ degree days, as would have a tiny bit more passing power on the curvy, hilly roads in the Lot et Garonne region of southern France, but in the end she got us there and back and was a rather entertaining partner on this journey.
'Titine' is a common nickname for a car here, and it suits especially well a tiny little 3-door hatchback like the Ka. I am not in the habit of naming my cars, but a friend suggested 'Titine' and it fits perfectly. I am not sure where it comes from, but my guess is it's a deformation of the word 'petit', which means small.

So thanks Titine! You deserve a good scrub to get the bugs off your front end!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Little Pick(me)up.

After taking two trips to the dump the other day in my tiny hatchback, I got thinking about how useful a pickup would be for me. I am renovating my house and whether it's carting garbage to the dump, or picking up building materials at the hardware store, I am constantly reminded that a sub-compact 3-door hatchback is not the vehicle best suited to the job.

In general pickups trucks are not popular in Europe, and especially not in France. Where a North America would use a pickup truck with an open bed behind the cab, a French person will prefer to use a closed van ('utilitaire'). While both get the job done, sometimes a traditional pickup is very handy, especially if you want to toss large and cumbersome objects over the side into the bed. They are also easy to clean out, and dust and dirt doesn't get into the cabin the way it can in a van.

A few pickup options do exist in France, noteably from Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi, but they really are not all that popular. Dacia came out with a small pickup version of their low-cost Logan range a few years ago, but it seems that it has been discontinued.
This got me thinking about a vehicle I went to look at back in May. The Simca 1100 was a very popular vehicle all through the 1970s, selling over 2,000,000 copies. Simca, which started out as the French arm of the Italian group Fiat in the 1930s was eventually purchased by Chrysler in the early 1970s to be later sold to PSA (Peugeot and Citroen) at the end of the decade before disappearing completely at the start of the 1980s.
The 1100 was their most popular model, and existed in popular 5-door hatch and wagon models, and also in a sportier 3-door hatch version. The rarest of all was the pickup version, which only existed for a few years near the end of the 1100 run. The pickup was identical to the other 1100 models from the front doors forwards, with a rather crude rear wall tacked on and a simple, low bed attached to the rear part of the chassis. It was basic but worked well as an affordable and rugged pickup.

This red one I went to try really interested me, but it was far too rusty to purchase. The frame had been welded and rewelded, and there were holes not only in the body and the floor, but also in the frame rails, which is a big problem, especially for someone like myself without the tools or know-how to do a full restoration.
I took it for a test drive anyways, and the owner was glad to tell me all about his funny little Simca pickup. In the end he understood why I couldn't buy it, and was just happy to meet someone who appreciated his special little vehicle.

At some point I would like to try and find another Simca 1100 pickup, but one in better condition. I'm not sure where I'm going to put all of these vehicles I plan to buy, but a tiny pickup would make a nice addition to the collection.

EDIT: Came across some extra pictures I had taken, so I added them to the original blog post. Some aren't pretty... check out that rust!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Road Trip!

It is offically summer vacation, and road trip time! Just ran to the store for the necessary supplies... obviously a full tank of gas, oil check and windershield-washer fluid top-up are important, but equally important are the OTHER supplies:
Every family surely has their list of 'must-haves' for their road trips, and my sisters can certainly attest to the need to be stocked on Kelloggs Variety Pack cereal, Ritz crackers, and juice boxes. I was unable to find Breton's crackers, which is another important part of every Simmons Family Road Trip Survival Pack, but they don't seem to exist in France, so I'm going to risk it...

'Bon Voyage' to anyone else heading out on vacation! Some will fly, some will boat, some will bike, but for me, loading the whole family into the car was always part of summer vacation. Many fond memories were created stuffed under a pile of suitcases and sleeping bags and toys and pillows.

To finish off, a quick peek at another important Simmons Family pre-vacation ritual... a viewing of 'National Lampoons Vacation':

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lamp Envy.

Last week I showed off a picture of a little lamp I purchased. As much as I like it, I have seen something that I like better! This lamp was in the entrance of a bar in Paris:
It is an interesting mix of industrial and automotive. I'm not sure if it was made by a designer or if it is some sort of handmade, one-off piece. It had a rough, hammered finish, unpainted, and would be a very nice addition to my home. This one obviously wasn't for sale, but I am really going to have to do a search and find something like this. Not that my little lamp doesn't have its place, but there's always room for more enlightenment, right? 
And the best part? The yellow bulbs! Up until the 1980's car headlights in France were yellow. You can still see the odd old car on the road with them, giving off a yellow glow. I quite like the idea of that warm light in my living room... though I suppose the risk is falling asleep and waking up thinking that a 3-headlight car is going to run me down...!


Friday, August 2, 2013

I'm Not Alone.

And here I was thinking that I was the only weirdo on the planet who could like a car as square and dorky as my 1983 Corsa TR...
I was just now working in the yard and a guy drove by, stopped, and backed up. He got out of his car and introduced himself and said that he drives by every day and admires my little car parked in the yard! Antoine is a big fan of oddball 80's cars (he was driving a Merkur XR4Ti, which is WAY up the list of oddball cars!) and said that he loves mine, an ultra-rare 2-door plus trunk version of the common Corsa hatchback.
He has a garage nearby and said that he is looking for a new project. He didn't have much time, but I fired it up and showed him under the hood and inside. He seemed rather impressed with the condition of the car, and thought that it was closer to 1988 than 1983.
As much as I like my little baby, I really haven`t been able to make much time lately to tinker, and wonder if it isn't time to sell to someone who does have the time and energy to get her back into proper condition. The TR isn't worth much to anyone except someone like myself or Antoine who see it as a standout amongst other cheap, boring 80's econoboxes. Plus, it would free me up to find a new project a little later on. I've had a Peugeot, a Citroen and an Opel... I think I'd like to add a Renault 5 ('Le Car') to my list at some point.
"Corsa for sale?"
So I am really thinking about it. He told me where his garage is so I might drive by and surprise him and let him take a drive. With any luck he's as kid-like as me and will realise the potential there is to have a simple yet interesting car for very little cost.
Now all we have to do is find a third weirdo like us and start an "√Ćsland of Misfit Car Fans" club!