Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lane Motor Museum

                Often when tightening a budget the first luxury to take a hit is entertainment.  Options for a fun fill day get slim real quick.  Forget the movies.  You have to sell a less than vital organ just to get a ticket for a poorly reviewed B-Movie.  A sit down dinner at a descent restaurant will leave you eat Ramen noodles the rest of the week.  So what can you do for a fixed budget but still enjoy yourself?  For car enthusiasts I’ve found the perfect solution in the most surprising place.  The Lane Motor Museum is located just a few miles east of downtown Nashville, TN and for a $7 fee visitors are treated to the largest European automotive collection in North America.  I recently visited the museum and I wanted to take a moment to tell you about my visit.
                I have to tell on myself a little here.  The museum will celebrate its tenth year in 2013 and I’ve lived just down the interstate the whole time.  Yet, I just learned about the museum.  So, shame on me for being misinformed.  I had no idea what I was missing.  From the outside the museum doesn’t look like much.  The museum is located in an old bread factory of all things.  The exterior of the building is a very simple white with modest signage.  Even looking for it, I nearly passed right no by.  When stepping into the front doors Lane Motor Museum is quick to get your heart racing.  Right there on the floor of the lobby is a map of the Le Mans racing circuit in France.  Instantly you know these guys mean business when it comes to cars.  You pay your entrance fee and are given a sticker to wear to show that you didn’t sneak in the back and you walk on through the awaiting showroom. 
                Entering the showroom puts you in a place of shock.  I had to stand in astonishment at what lay before me.  The room is a large expanse with high ceilings and natural light flowing through large overhead windows.  The room shows its age.  It hasn’t been totally restored.  There are scuff marks on the floor and the walls aren’t perfect.  It shows that this room used to be used for work and if needed it could be used again.  Don’t read what I’m not saying.  The museum is incredibly clean. It brings to mind how you wish every garage looked. 

                The expanse of cars is well over one hundred in count and almost all are visible from the moment you walk in.  It was everything in my power to overcome my A.D.D. tendencies and focus on what is in front of me.  My first impulse was to run screaming and filling my car mind with everything all at once.  A museum like this cannot be tamed that way.  You will exhaust yourself in fifteen minutes.  When entering this place you must have a method of attack.  Find the nearest vehicle that interests you and attack.  Walk that direction and keep walking that way until you hit a wall then start walking the other way until you have crisscrossed the room.  This way you will enjoy the whole thing and not get overwhelmed.  I personally spent well over two hours and if it weren’t for other plans I had made that afternoon I would have stayed all day.  A true car lover will never get bored.
                There aren’t enough keys on my keyboard to tell you all the cars, motorcycles, airplanes, and other vehicles the Lane Motor Museum has to offer but I will share a few of my favorites.  The museum focuses mainly on European vehicles.  The Japanese are also well represented.  Fans of American metal will be feeling a bit left out but that’s OK.  You can go to countless car shows and museums and see your Corvettes, Mustangs, and ’57 Chevy’s.  This museum specializes in showcasing automobiles even veteran car guys would be amazed to see.  Many of the cars in the collection are the first I have ever seen or even heard of.  Also there are usually two or three examples of something I never though existed.  A good example is a miniature car collection that will bring a smile to everyone’s inner child. I would be shocked if there was a bigger three-wheel car collection in the world than hear at the Lane Motor Museum.  Cars like the Morgan Three-Wheeler are things I have been reading about for years.  I never thought I was going to see that.  A pre-World War II BMW  racer in bright fire engine red is leaking oil right next to a magnificent blue BMW sedan from the 1950’s that shows how and why Germans know luxury better than anyone.  More than any car there I wanted to climbed into that one and see how she drove.  That car must have meant something back then.  I cannot imagine many Germans affording a luxury like that right after the ravages of war.  Not far away sits a car that many believe to be the most beautiful car ever produced, the Jaguar E-Type.  Even in understated brown it looks amazing. 
                I am going to try and stop rambling now.  I have posted a link to the Lane Motor Museum website on this post and they can be found through Google and on twitter.  They hold many special events so be sure to keep up with them.  I plan to make several more trips and will post about special cars they have on display when I do.  So use your entertainment money wisely and visit this little gem.  You will be rewarded. 
First steps into showroom

From the outside

3 Three-Wheelers sitting together

How BMW learned to drive


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Car Guys" Holiday

Ever notice that there is not holiday for the automobile?  Seems to me like there is a holiday for almost everything, BUT cars. Every reason I can think of to go spend two bucks on a card plus postage seems to exist.  Some are very justified like Mothers' day and Veterans' day.  Some seem a little silly like Secretaries' day.  Well I want to create a Car Guy Holiday.  I think the best way to do this is to steal another holiday.  A holiday that is not claimed by any other group.  A holiday like the one we just had, Halloween.  What is Halloween anyway? I think originally it was a pagan holiday but now it is the hodge-podge of different traditions and customs that no one really uniformly shares.  Some eat too much candy, some of you dressed in ways that would get you arrested any other day of the year (you know who you are), and yet others even boycott this holiday like it really matters.
My idea starts with actually stealing another idea.  A local church turned me on to the idea of trunk or treating.  Since it has become too dangerous in our modern world to allow children to go from house to house and ask strangers for candy, this church hosts an event where its members decorate their cars and give out candy from their trunk.  Everyone pretty much knows one another, and it is safe for the kids to walk around without getting run over.  I want to take this one step further.  At the heart of this event are just a bunch of people and their cars sitting in an open parking lot, which sounds a lot like almost every car show I have ever been to.  Most of the time however these events are full of soccer moms and their SUVs.  Why not put a big car gathering full of classic and collectible cars together, maybe even decorate a few, and have a place for kids to come and get treats. Imagine if there was even a recreation Batmobile or an Ecto1 from Ghostbusters.  If you are like me you love any reason to get with other automotive buffs and talk about cars.  Then children have a way to also find out about cars that they would not normally see or hear about.  Most car shows center around the interests of older people and yes usually children are there but an event like trunk or treating is centered on the children.  This could help build up the next generation of car guys to plant the seeds of interest so when they are older they have this amazing memory and they associate this memory with cars.  This would be so easy to organize and start as a yearly tradition for car clubs around the nation.  If you are involved in your community at all please consider this for next Halloween and maybe it won't be some obscure holiday that you don't get off work.  Instead, it would be an event centered on cars and the future of car lovers. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Smartphone VS. Your First Car

I try not to rely to much on statistics, but here is one that caught my eye: fewer and fewer teenagers are getting drivers licenses.  In the late 1980's, about half of 16 year olds got a drivers license.  That number is now less than 30%.  There are several reasons for this decline.  One reason is that mortality rate among teen drivers is very high, and parents are waiting until their teens are mature enough to handle a car. I applaud the parents because driving is a privilege, not a right.  Another reason is the population shift of American society edging away from the rural suburban areas and back into more metropolitan cities. In these metro areas driving is less of  a necessity due to readily available public transit options. 

However, aside from the occasional weary parent and the lack of need for personal transportation, modern day teens by in large do not want to get their drivers license.  Why this decreased interest?  For the past half century, a drivers license has been a person's ticket to individualism and freedom.  I grew up in a very rural part of the world, living miles from the closest store or neighbors house.  There was no way I was going to attempt to ride my bike or walk to a friend's house to spend an afternoon.  I was trapped in my island, and my only boat off was a ride provided by my parents.  That all changed the day I got my license.  I was finally free to go where I wanted and when I wanted.  It was more than just a convenience; it changed my whole social structure.  I could finally connect with my world. 

Modern day teens do not have the same limitations that I did.  With the advent of social networking and most notably the smart cell phone, teens are able to have a social life without ever actually leaving their home to meet anyone.  I got my first cell phone when I was 17 almost 18, and it didn't even have a color screen. Forget about actually having reception out in the boon docks where I lived.  My phone wasn't a way for me to be socially active.  If I wanted to have a social event with friends I had to drive and meet them.  That is why I believe the smart phone has now replaced a car as the first step into adulthood.  Smart phones are expensive for one. My current cell phone costs new about the same amount that my first car did.  Some teens even pay the higher fees that smart phones demand instead of their parents floating the bill.  These traits teach young people responsibilities that I learned by taking care of my first car and paying for my own gas. 

I am not trying to say smart phones are bad; I simply want we as car enthusiasts to be more responsible for teaching the next generation about cars.  No generation before us has had to take on a task like this.  When one car guy generation started to die off another one quickly followed in this country.  I myself took a 16 year old driving this weekend to show tips and tricks on driving her manual transmission truck.  I was immensely proud of her knowledge on when to change gears by listening to her vehicle.  I tried to show her more about not just listening but feeling when the clutch was engaging and disengaging to better regulate her take offs from a stand still.  If we want automakers to continue to make driver focused cars in the future, then we must train the future generation to understand what a driver focused car feels like. So I encourage the whole automotive culture out there to attack this issue. Go out and teach someone how to drive, give them feed back, and most of all encouragement on their driver skills.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Take on the Death of the Manual Transmission

I know it has been done, but I will go ahead and share my opinion on the death of the manual transmission.  Let's start at the top. Go ask your friends, check Facebook, check Twitter, or just walk around a normal American parking lot.  No one owns a manual anymore.  I understand the luxuries of an automatic, so don't get me wrong. For some people who deal with a lot of traffic an automatic is just easier.  But it is more than just car buyers not selecting a manual over an automatic.  Most drivers are not even learning to drive a stick, which to me seems almost silly.  Just for emergency situations it is worth the time for every driver to at least understand how to drive a manual.  It may never happen, but it is easy to at least imagine a situation where a manual vehicle is the only choice to drive yourself or a loved one to a hospital or flea a zombie apocalypse, whichever scares you more.  There are also some obscure reasons to drive stick.  Statistics show that manual cars are stolen less due to the fact that car thieves can't drive stick.  Friends are also less likely to borrow your car.  Big plus if you drive a truck because everyone wants to borrow it to haul whatever they have that won't fit in their Prius.  "Can I borrow your truck man?" "Sure, can you drive stick?" Your friends feelings are spared, and you seem like a hero not a jerk because let's face it you weren't going to let them drive your baby anyway.  

This situation is not just the car buyers fault though; car makers are to blame, too. In Europe and other parts of the world, small inexpensive cars are more common with manuals.  However, I am directing this post to fellow American drivers. We have much fewer options to even buy a manual transmission.  This biggest insult and tale of the times comes from Motor Trend magazine.  The top three contenders for their latest Best Drivers Car competition had no manual.  In the past there was no such thing as a Drivers car without having a manual between the seats.

Why pick a manual over an automatic?  Well there are actually several reasons. In most cars a manual gets better miles per gallon fuel economy.  I don't think anyone will cry over a few extra bucks in their pocket.  The biggest reason I drive a manual though, is the control I have over my vehicle.  Automatic transmissions are designed to up shift as much as possible to save on fuel economy.  In some situations such as merging into traffic or passing that's a terrible thing.  I need my vehicle to hold that gear so I have those extra revs and horsepower the revs give me.  The worst feeling I get from automatic transmission is when I am cruising down the interstate and all of a sudden the transmission down shifts because of maybe a hill, or my foot slightly pressing on the gas, or a ghost; the engine will rev up and then the car will jerk as it will then again pick the top gear.  That doesn't happen in a manual.  The car stays in the gear I want it to be in until I tell it to change. I am driving the car and in complete control; not the machine.

As of the time of this post, the last savior of the manual is Porsche.  Last year Porsche announced their all new seven speed manual.  I will admit that transmission makes me grin with giddy joy.  When competitors like Ferrari have done away with manuals altogether, and Lamborghini buyers must special order a manual from the factory if they want to row through their own shifts. So what's the future for drivers looking for more fun and control in their ride?  The double clutch transmission appears to be our compromise.  Both Ferrari and Porsche are bragging on the improvements to fuel economy and lap times this new technology produces for their products.  Motor Trend picked Porsche's new 911 for their best drivers car with a PDK on board. This type of transmission is not limited to the high end cars either.  Volkswagen offers the double clutch in the very affordable GTI.

If you still have a manual please hold on tight as you move from third to fourth.  Enjoy that left leg pain you feel after an hour in bumper to bumper traffic.  You can tell your grandchildren about how things were so much harder back in your day when you actually had to drive your car. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Some Awesome Automotive Apps for IPhone

Like any modern car guy on the road I like to stay in touch with my hobby.  With the invention of a certain mobile device I have the power of staying connected anywhere I roam. I realize not everyone has an IPhone or even wants an IPhone but many of you still will have a smartphone of some type and many of the apps I will mention are offered on other operating systems. The first must have app I use not just daily but almost hourly is the Autoblog app.  There is nothing fancy about this app really. More or less it is just a link to Autoblog's website but it does take a lot of the advertising out off the screen and makes it much easier to view on a smaller scale.  Msn Autos, Car and Driver Buyers Guide, Kbb.com, and Edmunds are all apps that pretty much do they same thing.  Ever see a car in a parking lot and you just need to know more about it? Happens to me more than I like to admit.  So these apps give you the information your brain is craving.  I really can't say one is better than the rest. They all have their limits and their strengths. If you are a person that likes to shop for their perfect garage then the apps you need are Autotrader, Cars, and Ebay Motors.  All three will take you to cars listed for sale on their respective sites.  Maybe you actually are in the market for a vehicle or maybe you just want to see what a certain car can be picked up for in the used market. Either way these apps are easy to use and a lot of fun to search.  So now you have researched your car, you have found and bought you car, where do you drive your car? BMW has an app to help with that. Yes BMW. Their UltimateDrive app uses your phone's GPS signal to map out the best driving roads in your particular area based on input from other driving enthusiasts.  Then, one you have found your ultimate driving road, use Rev Lite to track your cars performance.  True, there are several apps out there that can track your cars performance but Rev Lite happens to be free so its the one I use.  Maybe if you like Rev Lite and you see the benefit of a paid app then go for it, it's probably worth it.  All these apps that I have talked about here are free so please enjoy hope you get as much hours of wasted time out of them as I do.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Must Have Car Guy Books

Welcome to the brand new Carmichael's Automotive Culture Blog.  The idea behind this blog is to share ideas and trends in the automotive world. My opinion is the automotive world is more than just a market where products are bought and sold and it's more than just a hobby.  I believe there is an actual sub culture than spans the entire globe consisting of men, women, and even children that have a passion in the subject of cars.

Today I want to share a few books that are in my personal library that I feel every car lover should read and understand.  The first one I want to mention is The Encyclopedia of American Cars.  When was the last time someone told you to read the encyclopedia?  This book is by the nerds, I mean auto editors, over at Consumer Guide.  I'll be honest its a nerdy book but that's why it's great. It is a history lesson of American automotive manufacturers from the 1930's all the way to 2006.  This book goes into amazing detail with stories of why our favorite cars were built and why they were successful or why they weren't successful.  If you're thinking it only covers the boring Big 3 automakers, well you would be completely wrong.  Even the most learned car guy would be blown away by the detail in which this book covers lost and forgot brands and models.  Every major North American brand has it's own chapter which tells the story of the company.  At the end of each chapter is a well laid out table of different model years, their sales numbers, and even the engine options for each model.  Don't ever go to another car show again and be stumped at what you're looking at.  Fill yourself with the knowledge of the car and where it came from and what it was like when it was original.  This book it also full of amazing original photos straight from the manufactures as well as new color pictures of perfectly preserved gems that we dream about.  Yes so often we car guys are nerds and this book will fill that nerdy brain with knowledge that will bore all your friends even more than you already do.

Now for something completely different. One is The Driver by Alex Roy a legendary long distance illegal street racer.  The other is related and must be read first because it actually inspired the works of Mr. Roy.  It is called Cannonball! World's Greatest Outlaw Road Race written by famed automotive journalist Brock Yates.  Yates takes us back to the 1970's when the speed limit was 55 mph and speed and horsepower were more evil than drugs, rock and roll, or cigarettes.  Then as now many did not recognize our culture in the world.  Most saw cars as only a means of transportation that simply replaced the horse and buggy and cars would eventually be replaced by something else.  Yates saw government nannies stepping in and controlling how cars were made and how they drove.  Yates sets out to prove that these state regulations were not making cars safer but making drivers more dangerous.  He puts out a challenge for himself and all other car lovers to cross the United States as fast as possible without stopping.  What happens next sets off an icon that continues to this day.  The book covers a better part of a decade where the best drivers and the best cars on the road gather to push themselves to amazing limits.  This book is not only a memoir of his account but other participants are included as well.  Probably the most important is none other than racing legend Dan Gurney.  Reading about Gurney's skills behind the wheel of a Ferrari Daytona is inspiring.  Fair warning, you will speed after reading this book for at least three weeks.  The words will run across your brain even if its just a short drive to the grocery store or to work.

The Cannonball races of the '70's inspired several to keep the race alive even after Brock Yates publicly denounced such races.  I think a few bad movies and some worse copy cats ruined the excitement for him and made him reconsider the effects on public safety.  One individual to pick up the torch of the original Cannonballers was Alex Roy.  In his book he does more than just tell an impressive story of continental racing but examines where the joy of car culture originates in a person.  No one is born a car guy they are made that way. For Roy is comes from his father, a Porsche 911 aficionado.  Most of the beginning of the book talks about Roy's relationship with his father and the hurt he felt when his father past away.  In many ways Roy is trying to keep his father's memory alive and he does this behind the wheel of a very famous BMW M5.  The book as several important features that will attract many car guys to it but actually the most important chapter of the book has nothing to do with cars.  Roy is a native to Manhattan and much of the book takes place there.  On September 10, 2001 Roy makes a lap of the island in an Audi faster than anyone else every had before.  He started his lap at the World Trade Center.  The very next day Roy and so many others saw first hand what most of us only saw on television.  Why is Alex Roy's account of Sept. 11 so important?  When the Spanish first arrived in the New World many kept journals.  These journals are now priceless because no other record can be found of what happened during that world changing event.  In the same way Roy is not a famous politician or public servant. He was a normal New Yorker living through a world changing event.  Today those Spaniard journals are read in every high school in the country and in a hundred maybe two hundred years I think students will be reading Alex's account of Sept. 11.  That chapter aside the rest of the book is pulse pounding rush of adrenaline where Roy takes us inside of his M5 at speeds well above 100mph facing down danger and most of all police.

So here are a few books that you can surf through Amazon and find.  Trust me all will be shown proudly in your library as they are mine.