Here it is, another Saturday afternoon. Sunny, mid to high 80s. And here I am, out on the deck, intermittently reading a book, working on gin and tonic #2 (#3 will be on the way quite soon) and playing with my smart phone.
“Give you a hundred bucks if you can name the artist and the tune — or the artist and the album.” My dinner companion, Hagerty Drivers Club Magazine impresario Joe DeMatio, almost got it, but not quite. We were at Weber’s Inn, the old-standard restaurant in Ann Arbor that prior to the recent unpleasantness was known for featuring live music of some sort six nights a week. Now they’re spinning records instead of lighting up the bandstand, which is better than nothing. Joe knew it was a Miles Davis tune, but he didn’t know that it was “I Could Write A Book” from Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet. A product of two sessions at Rudy Van Gelder’s home studio, Relaxin’ and its three companion albums have become an indispensable part of the American jazz landscape over the past sixty years.
In the years to come, Miles would devote considerable time to using the studio as an instrument in and of itself, as seen in Bitches Brew — but these eight sides were quick and dirty efforts meant to fulfill his obligations to his old label (Prestige) so he could start working with his new label (Columbia, where he would record Kind Of Blue). Many of the tunes are first takes; there is no evidence for any of them being the product of more than three attempts. In the song above, “If I Were A Bell,” you can put on your headphones and hear John Coltrane rushing up to the microphone for his solo, realizing a bit too late that he was too far away for the sound he and the producer wanted. If that happened while my son and I were recording a fifty-nine-second song snippet for Instagram, we’d start over — but Miles went ahead and committed that take to vinyl, presumably so he could get the other three dozen tunes on his list done without having to stick around for a third day.
Relaxin’ isn’t perfect. Given the conditions — four men crowded into a home studio, playing single-take music into a single microphone, without a single Auto-Tune workstation in sight — it would be impossible for that to be the case. Yet it’s right. It’s just done right. All of the musicians turned in competent performances. Rudy Van Gelder recorded it with his usual fidelity and attention to detail. So even if you don’t like all the tunes, you cannot say that any of them represents a catastrophe along the lines of Courtney Love’s individual guitar and vocal mixes. There is a minimum standard of talent, due care, and professionalism being met here. This is an idea that has been very much on my mind as of late, for reasons I’ll explain.
Just a quarter-billion dollars! The automotive world is abuzz with news of the Gordon Murray T.50, and rightfully so — this is a racer’s idea of a supercar/hypercar/whatevercar, and certain to thrill the microscopic Euler overlap of “can afford it” and “can drive it” in a way no other street-legal automobile can match. (The Radical RXC can no doubt match whatever numbers the T.50 will post, particularly when turbocharged, but it won’t have the GMA car’s luggage or passenger space.) Yet when I read the press release, all I could think of was,
“It’s only going to cost a quarter-billion dollars to design, engineer, and build all 106 of them!” Just to put this in perspective, it cost $1.2B just to develop the first-generation Chevy Volt, which wasn’t a clean-sheet vehicle aside from the powertrain, and $6B (that’s the number six) to create the Ford Contour and its Zetec four-cylinder engine. It cost more money to create the C5 Corvette than it’s taken to create the T.50, and GM already had the engine paid for out of another account.
Keep in mind there are significant costs involved with the building of each T.50 — maybe $100k for the engine/transmission combo, that much again or more for the rest of the car — so in reality this was probably a $200M project or less. There were no corners cut in the design of the T.50, except for the most important corner of all, to which we’ll return shortly. Regardless, we now have possession of a remarkably interesting data point, courtesy of Gordon Murray: what it costs to design a proper sports car.
Given the number of times I have referenced the 1979 Bonneville sedan my dad had when I was about three years old, it probably won’t come as a surprise that I am a big fan of the full-size 1977-79 Pontiacs. While they were not nearly as popular as their Caprice, Delta 88 and LeSabre brethren, when fitted with Brougham trim and ordered with an indulgent eye on the option list, these cars could do almost everything a Coupe de Ville or Sedan de Ville could, save snob appeal.
Pontiac’s full-size cars sort of floundered during the ’70s. They were perfectly serviceable as daily drivers, but had lost the ’60s style, flash and appeal for which they’d been renowned. Exactly what was a big Pontiac supposed to be now? A cut-rate Electra 225? A slightly more deluxe Caprice? A plus-sized Grand Prix? Even Pontiac didn’t seem sure, and suffered for it. But things started to pick up with the downsized full-size ’77 cars.
The USAC banner was flying over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jim Cornelison sang “Back Home Again In Indiana”. The winner chugged milk and took home a brick. But this wasn’t the Indy 500 — it was the USAC “Battle At The Brickyard”, and your humble author was in the pack that rushed past the sportcoat-clad starter in search of a win at America’s most venerable racetrack.
It should be noted that this was my first kart race. Like, first kart race ever. I had an outstanding ride — a brand-new Ignite K3, prepared by Margay and maintained on-site by a dedicated mechanic. I had two great teammates — Larry Webster and Hagerty’s only former WKA competitor, young photographer and autowriter Cameron Neveu. Most of all, I had the ironclad and completely ignorant belief that I could parachute in and race head-to-head with people who weren’t just famous as kart racers but well-known in other motorsports as well, like multiple SCCA Runoffs and pro series winner Keith Scharf.
Naturally, I won it all. Okay, that’s a lie. I didn’t even finish in the top half. In the fourteen-lap main event I took a 23rd place out of 33 non-disqualified karts in the final, ahead of just four other karts that were still running at the end of the thing. Not exactly Days Of Thunder material here, boys.
Now here’s the thing. I didn’t get passed in corners. I defended my positions pretty well. After lap one of the final, I was somewhere between 10th and 15th place, having started in 29th. I even made a couple serious and successful moves on highly experienced competitors, some of whom took podium positions in the various heats and pre-finals. Why’d I get stomped so bad? Let me, ahem, push myself away from the buffet table and explain.
“While the overall appearance of the clock was the result of careful consideration by our in-house design team, one of the most exciting details we have to share about the HODINKEE Eight-Day Travel Clock has to do with its typeface.” Better buckle up, kids.
Another Mark? Well, yes. In my defense, I really liked this particular example, especially the metallic blue paint with matching top and interior. So many of these were in the typical early ’70s colors like that light metallic yellow-green, tobacco brown and gold, that one in a non-sepia tone caught my attention, when I was perusing the Finding Future Classic Cars group on fb a couple of weeks ago.
My son and I are driving across the country right now, hitting every skate park, pump track, and downhill MTB facility we can find along the way. There have been some really neat times — watching him hit big jumps at Frisco despite the 9,100-foot elevation and lack of familiarity with the terrain, a couple of warp-speed runs at Winter Park where the adults ahead of him were like terrified deer in the headlights of a Freightliner — and there have been some bad times, like the flat tire I got two miles away from the nearest lift and the crash he had today that initially looked like a broken wrist but is probably just a seriously bruised forearm muscle.
When I think how close I came to never being a father, I get this nauseated chill all the way through my body, the same way I did back in 1993 when I finished a 135-mph freeway blast on my 600 Ninja, came to a stop to get a drink, and realized there was a trail of oil from the head gasket to the middle of the rear tire. Some of it is admittedly the narcissistic high of seeing someone who is very nearly a perfect duplicate of my eleven-year-old self demonstrate mastery of so many different things, from fencing left-handed with an epee to driving a 206cc kart one-handed through a fast corner. The rest of it, however, is just the joy that comes from following (some of) God’s plan in this life and having a family, albeit an ad hoc one. I know that many of my readers are young men who are struggling with a modern society that wants them to be “dog dads” in miserable childless marriages, a society that venerates the empty joys of overpriced food and aimless travel over the true happiness of providing for a real family and continuing the traditions handed down to them by their parents or grandparents.
If I could return to my twenty-first birthday and start again, I’d focus on having the largest family I could support and on showing that family all the love and affection I could possibly express. I believe my brother feels the same way. Between the two of us, we’ve sampled most of the pleasure the prince of this world has to offer, from bespoke tailoring and sub-eight-minute laps of the ‘Ring to playing sold-out shows across Europe and indulging in the kind of antics that are normally prefaced by “Dear Penthouse Letters, I never thought it could happen to me but…” None of that stuff truly lasts.
I know the temptation for my young readers is to “sit poolside”, to disconnect from their responsibilities and just enjoy these final days of the American experiment. I’m asking you to repudiate that temptation. You won’t be a perfect father. God knows I’m not — today I found myself yelling at my son because he was slow to get up after falling six feet onto rocky ground face-first. The job does not require perfection. It requires effort, and involvement. You can do it. Even if your own father didn’t measure up. That doesn’t have to define who you are, or what you accomplish. I believe you can transcend all of that. You won’t make the same mistakes your father made. You can make entirely different ones. Trust me on this.
Here’s something I’ve never written before, but it’s true: Click the jump to find out how you can win a prize.
My pal up in Spokane, Jason Bagge, he of the ’76 Caprice Landaus, caramel colored ’76 Bonneville Brougham and 454-powered ’74 Monte Carlo, is letting one of his cars go-to make more room for more, of course.
I have trouble shaking the feeling that our distant posterity will look back at the America of 1945-1968 as the apex of human existence. It was an era of nearly full employment, remarkable public morality, and tremendous creativity across pretty much every industry or discipline one could imagine, from jazz to jet planes. Which is not to say that everything was hunky-dory, of course. Invisible Man was published in 1952; Last Exit To Brooklyn in 1964. Still, it was an era of exceptional safety and certitude for the vast majority of Americans. It was also a world where something like COVID-19 would have been swiftly handled, assuming that it somehow managed to make it across the Pacific Ocean in the first place. Most people behaved like grownups back then. It was expected of them. If Eisenhower had gone on television and asked people to wear a mask, then the masks would have been worn. If he’d asked people to stop burning down Rolex stores, the media would have reported this as a singular and outstanding idea rather than as incipient fascism on the hoof, and perhaps the store-burning would have stopped. Who knows? We had not yet acquired enough stupidity, as a nation, to create our current conditions.
It was the kind of era in which flying wings could happen, and did. As with so much else of our postwar tech Renaissance, the science behind the flying wing had been proven by Germans — in this case, a few Germans who managed to get a 55-foot-span jet-powered flying wing built more or less underground, with ersatz materials, during 1944.