Inside Jalopnik: Advance Auto Parts talks with Executive Director Matt Hardigree

“Car history is world history and the world is a strange place full of weird people.”

We recently read Jalopnik’s Book of Car Facts and History Even Gearheads Don’t Know, and wanted to know more about the story behind the story – about this book in particular and Jalopnik, in general. Fortunately, Jalopnik’s executive director, Matt Hardigree, was gracious enough to answer our questions shortly before the site’s 11th anniversary.

First, some context about the book’s title. “At Jalopnik,” Matt says, “we take a wide view of the definition of the term ‘gearhead,’ using it to mean anyone who likes cars because they’re interested in the history, what a car does, how it works. You can define it narrowly, of course, to make yourself feel good. We could say, ‘If you haven’t swapped an engine in every single kind of car, then you’re not part of our club.’ But we want to be inclusive, not inaccessible.” Even on the Jalopnik team, he says, people range from those who do full engine swaps to those who only do a bit of car maintenance.

In general, Matt isn’t a fan of car lingo. “Lingo keeps people away, shuts them out,” he says, “and only serves to make the person using the lingo feel smarter, cooler, and in the know.”

He does note that enthusiasts seldom refer to a car with its real name, instead giving it an affectionate nickname. “Each person might use shorthand that only he or she understands, and that can cause communication problems.”

The bottom line: a gearhead knows another gearhead when he or she realizes, “Hey! You have the same weird and wonderful problem that I do!”

Premise of the book

“People,” Matt says, “are more interesting than machines. In reality, machines are interesting BECAUSE of the people who invented them and the stories are crazy BECAUSE of people’s inventiveness.”

It was challenging to narrow down the topics to fit into this book, he admits, but they ultimately chose topics that gearheads should know about, but usually don’t, picking posts from six or seven years ago so they weren’t fresh in people’s minds. “Everyone knows the history of Mercedes Benz,” he says, “but who knows about the first amphicar? About an amphibious car that, when it was wrecked on the street, the owner charged a fee for people to view the wreckage? Now, that’s American ingenuity, and we want to educate people enough so that they could do bar chats on the topics.”

“At Jalopnik,” he adds, “we don’t necessarily choose stories because they would appeal to car enthusiasts. More accurately, we choose stories that will help TURN people into car enthusiasts.”

Book snippets

Here are snippets from stories on the brink between “genius and insanity” – targeted towards anyone who “cherishes the weird dark alleys of automobile history”:

  • Who is Ferdinand Verbiest and why did his name appear in the first chapter of Jalopnik’s book?
    • Flemish Jesuit missionary living in China who built the first self-propelled vehicle in 1672, a toy for the emperor. Unfortunately, he died after falling off of a horse.
  • Who was the first automaker to offer a television in a car – in what year at what cost?
    • Ford Motor Company: $169.95 in 1965; the television set hung from brackets off the front seats and could be powered by plugging it into the cigarette lighter or into a portable battery pack.
  • What does the 1963 Corvette have in common with a headless shark?
    • Design teams were brainstorming Corvette concept cars to follow up on the Stingray right when GM’s VP of Design Bill Mitchell came home from vacation. He’d supposedly caught a shark while traveling and brought home the head – and he wanted the car paint to duplicate the natural colors of the shark.

Jalopnik’s book is full of countless other stories like these. So, if you haven’t read it yet, we wholeheartedly recommend that you do.


Behind the scenes at Jalopnik

 “Jason is a ridiculous genius,” Matt says, “and can find the greatest moments in automotive history. When he decided to find the first drawing or cartoon of a car, as just one example, he worked on that project for months. Maybe for years. Once he’d find a cartoon that was the oldest he’d seen to date, he’d then start to try to find an older one. He wanted to discover what the oldest cartoons tell us about the people of that era.”

We also chatted about Doug DeMuro – and when he got stopped not once, but twice, in one single evening driving his 1990 Nissan Skyline GT-R (find Advance Auto Parts coverage on that here). “Doug is hilarious,” Matt says. “Here, he is – this average nice guy wearing cargo shorts, getting hassled. The way he interfaces with the outside world resonates with audiences and, when he writes for Jalopnik, traffic goes up.”
The reality is, Matt admits, there is enough material to write 1,000 stories every single day about cars: about crashes, about who is buying, who is selling, who is designing a new model. To make it into Jalopnik, though, it “needs to make us laugh, be a story that clearly targets us. Now that we’re big, we need to be thoughtful and not make jokes at someone else’s expense who never intended to become a public figure, which eliminates some of what we would have published in earlier days. In other words, we were willing to punch our way up, but we won’t punch down.”

Here are two examples of his thought processes about what makes a great story. “If you write about automated cars in a way that makes them seem as exciting as a toaster, that doesn’t work. But if you can write about them as Knight Rider coming to life, you’re writing about a car owner’s partner, his pal, rather than what’s comparable to a refrigerator on wheels.”

Here’s a second example. “When writing about the history of the Mustang, you’d include the story of the horse logo. You’d share how the last battle that used horses was in Hungary, tanks versus horses. The guy who ultimately designed the Mustang logo with a horse survived that battle and designed the logo as a tribute to everyone who fought. So, modern warfare brought about the end of horse participation, yet the animal ends up on a car. Those are the details that make you care.”


Crucial Cars: The Mini Cooper


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From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door has some fun peeking under the bonnet of the iconic MINI Cooper and looking at how it’s evolved over the decades.

As the MINI Cooper approaches its 60th anniversary in 2019, its creator – Sir Alex Issigonis – would be equally proud and astonished at the iconic model’s longevity and steadily increasing popularity, and perhaps even a little taken aback that some of today’s MINIs aren’t so mini after all.

The first Mini Mark I rolled off the assembly line in 1959 and went on to become the best-selling British car in history with more than five million Mini’s produced until 2000. That was the year that production under the English Rover Group ended after BMW sold the Rover Group – which it had acquired in 1994 – but retained the MINI brand.

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Fueling the 1960’s Mini craze was its innovative design – despite being small, it offered plenty of interior space for passengers and luggage. That early design included a transverse engine, front-wheel drive, compact dimensions, and a unibody that reduced weight and increased interior space. Mini’s first generation – called the Mark I but better known as the Austin 850 or Morris 850 outside the UK and as the Austin Seven or Morris Mini-Minor in the UK – encompasses the 1959 to 1966 model years.

The Cooper name became synonymous with Mini in the 60s when John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company, added muscle to the Mini by giving it a larger engine and other enhancements. Cooper was already making a name for his company by leading the revolution toward building and winning with rear-engine race cars. His success carried over to the Mini when his versions won the 1964, ’65 and ’67 Monte Carlo Rallies, with a four-year sweep being thwarted only by the Mini Cooper’s disqualification in the ’66 Rally after taking the top three spots.

Mini’s popularity was helped further by the car’s appearance in chase scenes in the 1969 hit film “The Italian Job.” Those Minis represented generation two – Mini Mark II – and featured a larger rear window and redesigned grill, as compared to the first Minis.

Generation three Mini began with the 1969-70 model and the most noticeable change from the previous generation being larger doors with concealed hinges and larger windows that wound up and down, instead of sliding left or ride. Mini Mark IV through Mark VII followed until BMW’s change in 2000.

Throughout the years, Mini continued to rack up the awards, including Autocar magazine’s Car of the Century in 1995, the Number One Classic Car of All Time by Classic & Sports Car magazine in 1996, European Car of the Century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in 1999, and 2003 North American Car of the Year, among others.

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Depending on which Mini you’re looking at today, it either looks much like its first ancestor, or only bears a faint resemblance to those early models. As Mini’s popularity grew, so too have the Mini models offered. Today, there are nine Mini models available.

  • Hardtop Two-Door – bears the closest resemblance to the original Mini
  • Hardtop Four-Door – a larger Mini with four doors and more space
  • Countryman – the “Big Mini” features four doors, seating for five, and all-wheel drive
  • Clubman – four doors, a split rear door, and the largest Mini available
  • Convertible – looks like the original, minus the hard top
  • Paceman – two-door hatch seats four and features all-wheel drive
  • Coupe – powerful, sporty two-seater
  • Roadster – similar to the Coupe, but more fun thanks to the soft top
  • John Cooper Works – race-ready Minis that look like they could be a lot of fun, and get you in a lot of trouble

With a $20,700 price tag, zero-to-60 stats that are 2.3 seconds faster than its predecessor thanks to a TwinPower turbo engine, tons of dashboard technology, and world-famous, go-kart like handling, today’s entry-level, two-door Mini’s all grown up, but still a serious toy for thrill-seeking drivers of all ages.

Editor’s note: If you want to keep your Mini looking and running great, count on Advance Auto Parts for all your vehicle needs. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

How a Vehicle Alignment Saves Your Tires and Your Money


Proper vehicle alignment saves money and improves handling.

A four-wheel alignment is an important maintenance item that needs to be performed regularly, saves drivers a significant amount of money over a vehicle’s lifetime, and affects vehicle handling and performance.

Too often, however, this maintenance item gets lumped into the category of “recommended vehicle services that just never seem to get done.” You know the ones I’m talking about – shock and strut replacement, washing and waxing, and the list goes on. These maintenance items are often neglected because of cost or drivers’ time constraints, but mainly because some drivers feel they just don’t need to be done. Their philosophy is that the car’s still going to get them from point a to point b regardless of whether it’s aligned.

Before explaining why ignoring the alignment issue is an expensive and potentially unsafe mindset, it helps to understand what alignment is, and isn’t.

Have you ever driven down a straight highway and felt the vehicle pulling to one side or another? Are your tires wearing unevenly with more wear on the outside or inside edge or across the tread face? These are signs that the vehicle is out of alignment.

While a vehicle’s wheels may be out of alignment, it isn’t the wheels themselves where the adjustments are being made during an alignment, simply because there’s nothing there to really adjust. Wheels are bolted on the vehicle, tightened down, and that’s pretty much that. What is being adjusted during a realignment is the vehicle’s suspension.

The three essential, technical elements of vehicle alignment are camber, caster and toe. Camber is the way the tire is angled in or out from the vehicle. If you look at the tires from the front of the vehicle, imagine that the tire’s top or bottom is angled in or out at an extreme angle. That’s camber. To understand toe, imagine you’re floating above the vehicle and looking down on the wheels. The degree to which the wheels turn in or out is toe. Caster or caster angle is more difficult to envision and explain. It refers to the angle of the steering axis and plays an important role in steering and handling.

Modern vehicles in particular have specific camber, toe, and caster specs that need to be maintained in order for the vehicle to handle properly, and so that tires don’t wear out prematurely because of uneven wear patterns. Unfortunately, vehicle alignment can be thrown out of whack easily by the simple act of hitting a big pothole or the curb. Even in the absence of any adverse events, alignment still changes over time. That’s why it’s important to have the vehicle realigned on a regular basis. Many experts recommend an alignment every 5,000 to 7,000 miles. An easy way to remember this is to have an alignment done every other oil change, along with a tire rotation. Some shops offer “lifetime alignments.” This doesn’t mean that the alignment is guaranteed to last forever, because it can’t, but rather that they will realign the vehicle at no cost in the future if it ever needs it. It will.

Alignments, particularly on today’s vehicles, can’t be performed just anywhere, nor can someone tell if a vehicle is aligned properly simply by eyeballing it. What’s required is a specialized alignment machine or rack that measures wheel angles precisely using lasers, and access to the vehicle manufacturer’s alignment specs for the vehicle being aligned. Based on those results, technicians make adjustments to the suspension to properly align the wheels. Most tire shops or mechanics that sell a lot of tires will have the equipment needed to perform alignments. A good time to have a vehicle alignment is when new tires are being installed. Doing so helps protect the sizable investment that a set of tires represents today.

And finally, there’s the option of having a two- or four-wheel alignment performed. Talk with your technician or tire professional to about what’s the best option for your particular vehicle and situation.

Alignments aren’t free, but in the long run, they more than pay for themselves because they increase tire life and improve fuel efficiency.

Editor’s note: When you need tire-care products or anything vehicle-related, turn to Advance Auto Parts  first. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Japanese Classic Cars: Legally Harnessing Godzilla

In an episode of MotorWeek (May 8, 2015) titled “Over the Edge: Driving a R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R,” you can see what it’s like to drive Godzilla without “selling body parts” to get such a vehicle:

The video calls the Skyline the “Holy Grail,” the “temptation of getting that forbidden fruit” that brings “so much joy.” And, what’s even better – you don’t even have to risk jail time, as many importers did in the past to own this car. At Japanese Classics, LLC, this car retails for $22,000 with spare parts available. If you’re interested in a particular make and model, sign up at Japanese Classics here and they’ll let you know when it’s available (more about Japanese Classics later!).

However . . . as Doug DeMuro shares, being a groundbreaker in this regard isn’t without its hassles. DeMuro owns a 1990 Nissan Skyline GT-R. Because he lives in crowded Philly, he parks his Skyline in a storage facility 20 minutes away (while keeping his Hummer in a “surface lot in West Philadelphia where I silently hope it will be stolen by those guys who beat up the Fresh Prince”). Late one evening, he took the Skyline for a spin in an upscale neighborhood, getting stopped by police twice – but not for reasons you might think.

Yes, he was stopped because his license plate was crooked. Although Japanese plates are similar in size to American ones, the bolt holes are placed differently so DeMuro could only screw in one side, using a zip tie for the other. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s right: I’m driving a rare, powerful, freshly imported, high-performance turbocharged sports car late at night on virtually empty roads, and I get pulled over for – not speeding, not weaving, not reckless driving – a license plate violation.”

The second time, the police officer was questioning why DeMuro was sitting on the right side of the front seat, making it “seem like he thought I had decided earlier that day to spend the evening driving on the wrong side of the car. It was as if he thought that I walked up to the car, decided things weren’t exciting enough, and moved the steering wheel over like it was one of those child’s toy steering wheels where you press the horn and it makes animal noises.”

Wondering how to get your own classic Japanese beauty?

Here’s the law

For a car to be imported into the United States, it must meet all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards OR be at least 25 years old, with the clock ticking from the date of the vehicle’s manufacture. In other words, to import a car, it must be a classic. A classic can be “entered under Box 1 on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of importation.”

What if the manufacture date does not appear on the vehicle? According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, you can:

  • Collect documentation, such as an invoice, showing when the car was first sold or a registration document showing similar information
  • Obtain a statement from a trustworthy vehicle historical society that identifies the age of the car

Are you located in Canada? They have a shorter period before someone can privately import a car: 15 years.

Here’s the process

The most straightforward way is to buy a car that’s already been imported into the United States through a car dealership specializing in these vehicles, although you can also bid for one on eBay.

To get more in-depth info, we talked to Chris Bishop, owner of Japanese Classics, LCC, located in Richmond, Virginia – and he cleared up some common misconceptions. This includes definitions of what’s considered white market, gray market and black market when it comes to Japanese cars that didn’t meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) when newly manufactured (and most of them haven’t):

  • If a car doesn’t meet FMVSS, then it cannot ever be considered “white market,” even when it’s 25 years old and able to be legally imported into the United States.
  • In other words, if a car didn’t meet FMVSS but is 25 years old AND legally imported into the United States, then the state of Virginia still considers it gray market, even though it’s legal to own and drive in the U.S.
  • If a car that doesn’t meet FMVSS isn’t 25 years old or is but doesn’t go through appropriate channels to get to the U.S., then it’s black market – and that means that the importer can be arrested and imprisoned for smuggling and the car seized, crushed and/or exported.
  • If a black market vehicle is sold to someone who didn’t know that it was illegally imported, the car can still be seized, crushed and/or exported, with no reimbursement provided to the hapless owner.

People commonly use the term “gray market” to mean black market cars that somehow got a title from a state in the United States, but Chris says that these are still really black market. He shared two ways in which people make that happen, but would prefer not to be quoted on specifics because he doesn’t want to encourage illegal practices – and we agree.

Upcoming new service to legalize black market Japanese classic cars

In the past, if you’d found out that a car you’d bought was actually black market – even though it was now 25 years or older – the only way you could legitimize ownership was to export the car and then re-import it legally. “That takes plenty of time and money,” Chris says, “and provides a lot of headaches.”

In the near future, though, Japanese Classics will become the first car dealership to offer an easier method. If you have a car that is now 25 years old, but was not legally imported, soon you can ship that car to Japanese Classics. Customs will allow that dealership to export your car to a free trade zone and then legally reimport the vehicle without it ever leaving Japanese Classics’ possession. Then you will receive an official customs release and can get a 100% legal car title. The dealership also has about 15,000 square feet in their warehouse that contains car parts – and also has a car storage facility in Japan where they have significantly more parts to support repairs.

Prefer to do your own importing?

You can track down a 25-year-old car that is still in Japan, negotiate with the owner to buy it, and apply to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to import the vehicle – and then make arrangements for shipment. Here are the various forms used by the NHTSA. AutoWeek advises on something else you’ll need: “a boatload of patience – it could take a while to work through any red tape at the port, and after that you still need to deal with your state’s department of motor vehicles.”

Most recent models available

AutoWeek has also been reporting, on an annual basis, the 25 coolest cars that are available from Europe, Japan and Australia to import. In their most recent report (December 2014), they listed 1990 cars that now fit the parameters: “The year 1990 has some funky, newly eligible cars here to surprise your neighbors, your spouse or even yourself with – especially if you’re into eBay bidding wars that stretch into the wee hours of the morning.”

You can read the article to see all 25, although not all are Japanese. Here is just one sample: the 1990 Toyota Sera that is “basically a Tercel topped with a glass bubble instead of a metal roof. That’s weird enough as-is, but it gets even more outrageous when you open up the doors – they tilt forward and up like those on a LaFerrari or BMW i8.”

This car made the cool list because of the doors and the magazine recommends that you pay between $3,000 and $5,000.

Petrolicious talks up the Nissan Skyline Hakosuka, calling it “Godzilla’s grandpa” and going on to say that, “In many ways, it’s like Japan’s Mustang: it’s got humble sedan roots but was built and designed to whoop everything, no matter how expensive or exotic. The particular model you want is the GT-R Coupe with the S20 motor (that made 160hp). It was stripped for racing and looks every bit the part. In a couple of months, we’d happily take the R32, too.”

Prefer the rare?

Jalopnik suggests the Nissan C110 Skyline GT-R, saying that “The revered father figure of a ferocious clan, the Kenmari GT-R lived an unfortunately short life – only 197 rolled out of the NISMO shops before the project was shelved because of the oil crisis. Today real ones are among the most valuable and cherished Japanese cars on the classic market.”

Editor’s note: For more insights into the vehicles of the world, check out our recent post on Cars of the World: Italy

Offbeat Car-Related Collections

Unique collections – and the people who own them

Some people collect coins. Others collect stamps. Still others collect spoons or rocks or napkins or doorknobs – or a multitude of other quirky objects. Advance Auto Parts, though, went in search of people who have collections that are related to cars that are both offbeat and interesting.

We decided to focus on three of the most intriguing, each quite different and unique:

  • The first is an international repurposing project that is turning 1,041 rusty old hubcaps into incredible museum-quality pieces of art.
  • The second reveals a lifelong love of a highly underrated car part: the spark plug.
  • The third one – well, if you’re super squeamish, proceed with caution.

Metal canvases: recycling hubcaps into fine art

“I have found that the fine artists I have worked with on this project do not even flinch when looking at this white round disc of metal canvas. And why should they. Artists from the beginning of time have used cave walls (Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain), walls of pyramids (Egyptians), animal skins (American Indians), etc… as their canvas.” (Ken Marquis, LandfillArt founder)

Ken Marquis, the genius behind the idea of hubcap art, says that he had a “Eureka! moment” five years ago while attending a car show in Pennsylvania. He had picked up a rusty old hubcap and suddenly imagined it serving as a canvas for a beautiful piece of art. That day, he was able to get 41 hubcaps from the 1930s through the 1970s for $2 each. Three weeks later, he obtained 1,000 more hubcaps; so, the “magic number” of artists and art projects needed was set at 1,041.

This meant that Ken needed to find 1,041 artists who were willing to take a cleaned and primed hubcap and transform their discs of metal into stunning pieces of art. “Fortunately,” Ken says, “I’ve been an art dealer for 40 years and am heavily involved in the art community with lots of artist friends. So, I decided to first knock on the doors of friends of mine and ask them to repurpose a metal disc into great art.”

When the first two or three pieces came back, looking spectacular, Ken realized that “this project could become something quite special” and so he knocked on more doors; created a 501(c)(3) organization; built a website; and then spent a substantial amount of time looking for artists “who might embrace this project.”

Fast forwarding to today, Ken now has more than 950 pieces of completed art; once he has all 1,041 pieces, he will have one or more from every state in the country and from 52 countries from around the world, creating what Ken calls “the largest artist initiative ever achieved.”

The majority of the artists have used oil or acrylic paint to create art, but others craft the metal into sculptures or weave, glue, screw or weld other materials onto the hubcap to create something brand new and eye-catching. “Each has a unique creative edge and style as each artist views a hubcap through a different set of eyes. Some incorporate only part of the hubcap or several pieces of the hubcap, while another incorporates multiple hubcaps. The largest piece of art weighs more than 6,000 pounds and is more than seven feet tall.”

The response from artists was quite positive. “Many of them hadn’t worked in the round before or hadn’t worked on metal or hadn’t used hubcaps as a canvas. But they enjoy being creative with something new and unfamiliar. They enjoy the challenge. They also like how environmentally friendly this project is. It’s really the perfect recycling/reclamation art project.”

And, where are all of these pieces of art?

“The good news,” Ken says, “is that for the time being, I have room to store them in a heated second floor with lots of wall space. This collection is not officially open to the public but I occasionally take people to see the art.” For those of us not lucky enough to receive a personal invite, a photo of each hubcap is posted on the site.

Ken will be writing a book about the project, and the book will contain a professional photo of each hubcap. There will also be a traveling show so that more people can see the art. His first museum stop will be in September 2014 at an “astute, well established museum, not located in New York but located east of the Mississippi.” Ken couldn’t tell us any more since the museum itself wants to break the news. The exhibit, containing 250 to 300 pieces of hubcap art, will hang in the museum for six months.

Not bad for a project that started with one crazy Eureka! moment . . .

Car swap meet sparks a lifelong interest

When Ed Laginess was eight or nine years old, he attended a car swap meet with his father and helped him hunt for needed parts. While there, young Ed spotted some spark plugs in a box; since they were only 25 cents apiece, he bought a few.

At another swap meet, he bought a few more – and then a few more. “Before I knew it,” Ed says, “I had 2,000 different spark plugs.”

Not surprisingly, he ended up joining the Spark Plug Collectors of America, Inc., the not-for-profit international organization created in 1975 for the “promotion of spark plug collecting, the research and preservation of spark plug history, the exchange of information and spark plugs, and fostering fellowship among club members worldwide.”

“Through this club,” Ed says, “I now have friends from all over the world, and I trade, buy from and sell to them.” He estimates that there are 400 to 500 club members, adding that there are many more collectors who have not yet joined the club. “If you name a country,” he adds, “there is probably a collector there.” Most club members, though, live in the United States, Europe or Australia.

By now, you’re probably wondering what we were wondering: what is the fascination with spark plugs? “Back when cars were a newer idea,” Ed explains, “everyone tried to outdo one another when they created spark plugs. There were hundreds and hundreds of brands to choose from with more than 1,000 car manufacturers at the time.”

Some of the coolest spark plugs, Ed says, include those that:

  • have a 24k gold base so that the spark plug will last the lifetime of the vehicle
  • have a little glass window so that you can see the sparks
  • are made of colorful porcelain, sometimes jewel-toned, multi-colored and “pretty fancy”
  • have brass bases
  • have handles on them so that they could be cleaned and reused
  • contain pictures, such as one of a lady dressed in red white and blue in 1700s-style clothing
  • feature fancy logos

Then there are the ones with “weird funky looking electrodes, floating balls or spinning fans. You know. Nutty stuff.”

Values range, Ed says, from about 50 cents apiece to about $2,000 (really? wow).

Early cars, of course, did not even have spark plugs. Instead, the internal combustion engines from the 19th century relied upon complicated and erratic flame and igniter ignitions. According to Gas Engine Magazine, the first spark plug probably originated in France with a ruby mica insulator, a brass body and the markings of “A.E.C.” A mystery! Nobody seems to know what those letters represent but the birth of the spark plug clearly foretold the death of the igniter.

By the early 1900s, more than 5,000 different brands of spark plugs were finding their way into Henry Ford’s Model Ts, including “For-A-Ford, Janey Steimetz & Company Flashlight, For 4 One, just to name a few.”

Insulation materials ranged from mica to stone to various kinds of porcelains, the latter of which often failed because of the extreme engine temperatures and porcelain’s porous nature, which allowed them to easily become clogged – an even more frequent event then than today, as early gasoline contained more oils and more closely resembled modern kerosene.

The year 1915 was pivotal. That’s when the Frenchtown Porcelain Company created a type of material that worked well as spark plug insulation material; in 1933, the discovery of silimanite extended the life of the plugs. From about 1900 until the mid-1930s, at least 6,700 spark plug manufacturers put their hand in the game, with more than 2,000 US patents filed on spark plugs, including “lots of gimmicks and gadgets.”

Because so many brands once existed, Ed says that “it’s fun to try to find the huge, the weird looking and the very rare spark plugs. I’m fascinated by their design.” When asked what kind of people are attracted to this type of collecting, he answers, “People who like mechanical things, old cars, old tractors, old hit and miss engines. The gearheads.”

Ed has so many spark plugs that he maintains a small museum full of memorabilia behind the house. “I’m sucked in,” he admits. “It’s addictive.”

Last Collection is Tough to Swallow

Steve Silberberg collects barf bags. Yes, those little bags that, when you can’t get to the bathroom in time, you vomit into. He owns some that were manufactured for use on airplanes, others for use in cars. To be polite and politically correct, you can call them air sickness or car sickness bags, but those nicer names don’t make their purpose any more likely to be appropriate topics at a tea party.

And, while you might think that Steve is the only one with this idea, he shares that there are “about 100 people who collect these bags somewhat seriously,” with “somewhat seriously” defined as having 50 or more bags. “Sure there could be people who have a couple of these bags come their way,” he adds, “but once you get to 50 or more, you have a collection.” (Steve, by the way, has approximately 2,500!)

Like baseball cards and other more socially acceptable collections, Steve trades bags with other collectors around the world. “About one third of the collectors – remember that there about 100 of us – live in Germany, with some living in the United States and others in Great Britain.”

When asked why sickness bags seem to be a more appealing type of collectible to Germans (as compared to other nationalities), Steve has a good explanation. “My opinion,” he says, “is that because a six-week vacation is standard in Germany, they travel a lot. So, to show how great their travels are, some Germans collect these bags.”

Steve has met two other barf bag collectors in person while he lived in Dallas, getting together with them to examine one another’s collections in a restaurant. “We got some interesting looks from the people around us,” he recalls. “I guess a restaurant isn’t a good place to share these types of bags.”

Otherwise, these collectors communicate via the Internet. “I’d love to say we party,” Steve says, “but we’re not the partying type. I was an early adopter of the Internet and I created a website for my collection. So, other collectors would find me. Now, anyone who has a sizable collection creates a web page and we find each other.” They also have a “pretty informal” Yahoo group which, at the time this blog post was being written, had 90 members.

Steve includes photos of his bags on his website; on this page, the top two bags are from Avis Car Rental:

  • The top one is from approximately 1993 and contains their slogan, “We Try Harder”
  • The next one has apparently only been available at the Nassau or Freeport Bahamas airport. Advertising messages include:
    • Call for a sparkling new Plymouth
    • Free unlimited mileage (Steve points out that, although that sounds fantastic, all 700 Bahama Islands put together equal the approximate size of Connecticut)

We at Advance Auto Parts still had two more questions for Steve. First, how do people react when they discover what he collects? And, which barf bag is his favorite?

“I get two different types of reactions,” Steve explains, “and I find them to be a litmus test about whether or not we’ll get along. Some people will be fascinated, perhaps not quite believing me, but finding it pretty cool. Other people have a look on their faces that clearly says “why do you do that??’ and I know that I won’t get along with them quite as well.”

As far as favorites, he lists three (breaking the rule about listing only one favorite but, oh well):

  • Finn Aviation air sickness bag from Finland: “Most of these bags come with written instructions, but this one only has a cubism reindeer that is spewing chunks. It’s pretty cool, a real art piece and, with this bag, there are no language barriers.”
  • MINI Cooper car sickness bag: “This is an advertising piece. Cars don’t automatically come with one.”
  • Space shuttle bag: “This is the highlight of my collection.”

Before we go, we’d like to highlight three parts of Steve’s website that made us smile:

  • Those who donate a bag to the museum become a Patron of Puke
  • Two pieces of barf art are available to enjoy
  • Although we don’t normally highlight items for sale, this site has a “gift shoppe” with a sickness bag poster (it was the “pe” at the end of “shop” that, in conjunction of what is available to purchase, got us to laugh)

As a bonus: here’s the most well-known pop culture moment related to spewing.

What about you? What intriguing car-related items do you collect? What other unique collections have you seen? Share in the comments below.

The Lotus Exige S, plus car news from around the web

Photo credit: Lotus Cars

Photo credit: Lotus Cars

The Lotus Exige S Roadster is an exceedingly sweet looking performance car, going from 0-100 in just 8.5 seconds–comparable to a Porsche 911 GT3. So, it’s easy to imagine how amazing you’d look as you slip into the car and take off, leaving mere mortals in the dust…or, how you’d come to a halt and smoothly exit the car in front of adoring fans.

Then, there’s the reality, as in this video we recently unearthed.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the New York Auto Show, you have to take a look at this slideshow of 10 incredible cars. They range from an ordinary Ford Gran Torino transformed into a 3-D metal piece of art to the new Corvette, and from a 2015 Dodge Challenger with a 1971-throwback design to a Jaguar F Type sports car with 550 hp and 0-60 in just four seconds.

Here, C-Net editors pick their favorites from the show: reports that one of the hottest collectible cars for 2015 is likely to be the 50 Year Limited Edition Mustang. That’s because only 1,964 cars will be manufactured, in honor of the year (1964) that the car debuted. Because there are 3,200 Ford dealers, not every dealership will get even one of these beauties. The price has not yet been announced, although has revealed info about the option pricing.

Meanwhile, highlights the classic Ferrari 250 GTO. Only 36 of these cars were ever built and it may be the most expensive vehicle ever sold (allegedly at $52 million in 2013). This particular car was raced multiple times by Phil Hill and won races at Daytona and Nassau, in large part because of its 300 hp, 3.0-liter V-12 engine.

Now, the update

Back in 2013, we delivered predictions that self-driving cars would be a hot news topic–and now the story of the self-driving car is all over the Internet, thanks to a post by Google.

And, when we say all over the Internet, that’s just what we mean. For more info on the topic, here are just a percentage of the articles now available:

Editor’s note: What car news have you stumbled upon? Let us know in the comments below. And while you’re checking things out, head on over to Advance Auto Parts, where there’s always a great savings deal to be had.

Sink your teeth into this: a car-themed orthodontist office!

Car themes

Photo credit: DJM Orthodontics.

When orthodontist Dr. David J. Myers from Conway, Arkansas was looking for new office space, he was tempted to locate in a building that had served as a gas station since the 1940s and was being revamped. Although that didn’t work out, he and his staff did decide to go with the car motif in his new office, with:

  • the front desk built out of the front end and fenders of a wood-grained 1947 Mercury
  • the doctor’s desk crafted from a 1959 Cadillac
  • couches formed out of the back ends of vehicles
  • a vintage gas station theme with awnings and restored gas pumps
Photo credit: DJM Orthodontics.

Photo credit: DJM Orthodontics.

“Parents love the office,” Dr. Myers says, “and there is no other office like this in the area. At first, when we were planning the décor, my wife and worried at night that maybe the office was too much ‘boy.’” Fortunately, for those who want something different, there’s always the pink Cadillac couch!

Photo credit: DJM Orthodontics.

Photo credit: DJM Orthodontics.

Dr. Myers lists his hobbies as “rebuilding old cars, and an avid collector of ‘junk.’” When it was time to decorate his new office, he already owned a couple of cars that could be dismantled for parts, although he needed to buy more vehicles to complete the look.

Another patient favorite is the area that looks like an old movie theater with a light up sign. “On the day of someone’s first appointment,” he explains, “his or her name is on the sign as being part of the featured movie. This also happens on the day someone gets his or her braces off. When that happens, the patient takes photos and usually posts them to Instagram for friends.”

Photo credit: DJM Orthodontics.

Photo credit: DJM Orthodontics.

So, he’s done decorating, right? Wrong! “I now have a seven-foot sailfish,” the doctor explains, “and I’m looking for the right place to hang it. A local toy store went out of business so I bought a great big train to hang from the ceiling and I’m trying to figure out its location, too.” Oh, and he also has his toys from his childhood and his father’s model airplanes, both of which graced his first office, and he still needs to find a home for them in his new office. “I want,” he says, “to make the patients’ experiences more fun.”

Find even more photos of this incredible work in progress here.

Editor’s note: As you’re salivating over the cool vintage looks at Dr. Meyers’ pad, check out a full line of automotive accessories to keep your ride looking right at Advance Auto Parts.

Tips on how to jump start a car

Advance Auto PartsBefore missing that important meeting, being late to pick the kids up from school or enduring first date embarrassment when you need to call to ask to be picked up, take the time to learn the basics of how to jump start a car battery yourself.

Many people are surprised at how easy it is to learn how to get car batteries running again, and quickly become confident in what to do if a battery gives out at a bad time.

Jump start with the following steps:

1)   First, park a working vehicle next to your car. It’s best to line them up side by side or hood to hood, but be sure they don’t touch. Then, turn off your car’s ignition and also turn off any accessories in your car such as a CD player, phone charger, dome light and so forth. Check to make sure your external lights are off, too, which can drain car batteries further.

2)   Then, with your jumper cables, connect the red positive clamp to your dead battery’s positive post. This is clearly marked by a plus sign on your car’s battery. Then, connect the other red clamp to the positive post on the good battery in the other vehicle.

3)   Next, make sure the cables are out of the car’s hood components and not tangled in any way. They should run along the ground and not rest on the battery itself, the engine or any other internal component of either vehicle.

4)   Take the black clamp and connect it to the good battery’s negative post. Then, connect the other black clamp (also known as the negative clamp) to any metal surface onto the inside of the dead car. Carefully check the cables entirely to be sure they are not lying against or tangled up with any moving parts of either vehicle.

5)   Start up the engine of the working car and let it idle for a few minutes. Then, start your dead car and wait a few more minutes for it to receive a bit more power from the good battery. If it is still unable to start up, give the battery a few more minutes to revive.

6)   When the car is started, undo the BLACK NEGATIVE clamps first. This should be the reverse order of how you placed them on the car and it’s essential you remove the negative ones first to avoid injury or damage. Continue to be careful to keep dangling cables out of the car’s internal parts.

7)   Drive your revived car around for a bit to make sure the battery is working properly. Do this in a parking lot or another area where you are safe if your car battery dies again.

8)   Do not turn off your vehicle until it’s had adequate time to run and recharge a bit on its own.

It’s really that simple to revive your car battery, and almost anyone can learn how to do it.

Also watch a video on how to jump start a car battery, created by automotive experts at Advance Auto Parts.

Editor’s note: Visit Advance Auto Parts for more info on the quality car battery options available.

How to diagnose engine noise

Advance Auto PartsEven those with lots of experience in car repairs can be fooled by the meaning of engine sounds. To make matters more confusing, sometimes minor or innocent-sounding sounds may signal a severe problem–while a loud, menacing thud might be fixed with a $20 part.

But, here’s something that’s for certain: you shouldn’t ignore car engine noise. Doing so could lead to a catastrophic situation where your engine needs to be replaced. Plus, disregarding engine sounds could threaten your safety–and result in a breakdown at the worst possible moment.

While you always have the option of taking your vehicle to a mechanic for a diagnostics test, you can often get a good idea of what’s troubling your engine by listening to it.

Some general guidelines about engine noise:

See if the car engine noise you’re hearing matches any of the following sounds. Then look at some common reasons for that sound, and begin your investigation.

Whirring: Could mean a bad water pump, power steering pump or alternator, or low power steering fluid level.

Knocking: Could be an issue with the distributor cap, timing chain or spark plugs.

Pinging: Could indicate a problem with the crankshaft, timing gears or transmission mount.

Hissing: Could mean a problem with the cooling system, exhaust, catalytic converter or vacuum line.

Popping: Could be an issue with the ignition wires, air filter, distributor cap, ignition module or engine compression.

Grinding/screeching: Hearing these engine sounds when you turn the ignition could mean a starter issue. But, if these sounds occur when you apply the brakes, it likely indicates worn brake pads or rotors.

Here’s another way how to diagnose engine noise.

Check out DriverSide for some keen insights and helpful information. It’s a useful tool for both novice and veteran do-it-yourselfers. You can try to diagnose your vehicle’s problem by noise, smell, feel or look.

Again, don’t turn your back on car engine noise, and hope that it’ll just go away on its own. Chances are it won’t–and you’ll wind up with an even bigger problem.

Editor’s note: Don’t let car engine noise fall on deaf ears. Advance Auto Parts carries a wide variety of quality auto parts to help keep your ride running right.

Gettin’ down and dirty with artist Scott Wade

Advance Auto Parts

Photo Credit: Robin Wood.

Meet the Lord of the Dust–in fact the Da Vinci of Dust, the Michelangelo of Mud, the . . . well, meet the Dirty Car Artist.

Scott Wade has traveled to numerous places around the globe, from Istanbul to London, from Mexico to Toronto and more, and has been featured in or on multiple television shows, magazines and websites from around the world, including the History Channel’s program, Modern Marvels. Plus, people from other parts of the planet are thrilled to travel where he is “painting” to get an interview, as this outtake of a German television show demonstrates.

Although we’ll be happy to give more details later on, here is where the rubber meets the road. Scott is renowned for taking the ugly dust that layers itself on top of car windows in certain climates and conditions and turning this crud into remarkable pieces of art.

“It can take up to two weeks,” he says, “for enough dust to collect to create a good canvas, and then I get to transform something that’s usually perceived as ugly – a dirty car–into a thing of beauty.”

Atlanta Driver. Photo credit: Robin Wood.

Atlanta Driver. Photo credit: Robin Wood.

“People’s response to my art is almost universally positive,” Scott says, “partly because it is so unexpected. Most peoples’ reaction to dirt is to wash it off, to get everything clean, and I do something quite different. As time passed, Scott began diversifying, which includes painting storefront windows. Pretty amazing stuff, isn’t it? Although Scott’s art can be found online fairly easily, the information about him as an artist is limited. So, we decided to find out more…


Advance Auto Parts

Austin Storefront. Photo Credit: Nicole Zinn.

Birth of an artist

When Scott was young–young enough that he can’t pinpoint an exact age–he remembers using his finger to draw pictures on a dirty car window, something that plenty of other youngsters have done. “When I was a child,” Scott says, “we lived in Colorado, so I had more opportunities to doodle on frosty windows than in dust, but I did both.”

And, even though Scott didn’t consciously begin enjoying artwork until the third grade, he was always surrounded by joyful art. His father was a talented amateur cartoonist in the “Dick Tracy style.” And, every Christmas, Scott says, “my father would draw holiday images like Santa Claus, a wreath with candles, Rudolph and so forth. He’d copy his drawings at work and then make coloring books for all of the neighborhood kids.”

Then, third grade hit. “Mom bought me a book about Frosty the Snowman,” he explains. “I really liked the way the trees looked, so I got some paper and a pencil, and then I started to draw. I got a lot of encouragement from my mother and friends, while my father helped me with shading and perspective.”

As a young adult, Scott pursued a degree in art from Texas State University. After graduation (in 1982), he began playing music for a living, drumming in a wide variety of genres: country western, rock and roll, reggae, the blues – wherever he was needed. He also took on temporary jobs and illustrated menus, signs, album covers, posters and flyers on a freelance basis.

Advance Auto Parts

Kate and William, Photo Credit: Robin Wood.

“But,” he says, “I resisted having a computer for a long time. I knew that, if I got one, it would take over everything. Then, one day, Mom showed up at my house with my sister’s old Mac. My wife then got Photoshop 3 on 8 floppy disks, and that was that.”

He then began transitioning into more traditional graphic designer jobs. Currently, he is the senior GUI designer for AirStrip in San Antonio, Texas.

Whoa, back up . . .

What about the dirty car art? How does that fit in?

Well, by that point in his life, Scott lived by a long dirt road in Texas, where the limestone and clay in the dust clung to car windows, making the glass nearly opaque. “Cars were always dirty,” he says. “Washing them was futile, as they’d be dirty again the next day. And, thanks to the influence of my father, I would draw funny faces in the dirt with my finger. I’d try to shade parts of the drawings with the pads of my fingers and use my nails to create finer lines.”

Then, about 10 years ago, Scott was gnawing on a Popsicle stick and, when he removed it from his mouth, he looked at the feathery texture and wondered what would happen if he brushed the chewed-up end of the stick against a dirty car window. What he saw intrigued him, and so he headed inside to get his brushes–and that changed his life dramatically. This was, in fact, step one of his becoming the Dirty Car Artist.

Although, at first glance, what Scott does seems like a quirky form of art, he says it isn’t, not really. “This medium is almost like any other,” he explains. “The shadow inside the car is dark, while the limestone and clay mixture is light. So, there is natural contrast between light and dark and I work off of that contrast.”

Scott began attracting attention from other drivers as he drove in a vehicle featuring his art, causing his curiosity about dirty car art to grow. As a consequence, he began experimenting to see how far he could push this medium.

Media attention

Scott would photograph the windshield art that he’d created and then email those photos to friends, who would sometimes pass them onto other people. Through this form of communication, he attracted the attention of Austin American-Statesman writer John Kelso, who’d gotten a forwarded message from someone on Scott’s email list. Kelso, a longstanding humorist for the publication, wanted to profile Scott and his art in one of his columns. “My mom lives in Austin,” Scott tells Advance Auto Parts, “so I figured, great! Mom will like to read the article.”

In conjunction with the publication of the article, several photos of Scott’s art appeared on the Austin American-Statesman website. The next morning, he received a call from the publication’s photo editor who told him that his photos were “going viral.” Now, this was several years ago, remember. “I didn’t even know what ‘going viral’ meant,” Scott admits, with a laugh. “It ends up that 200,000 bloggers had linked to my photos in just one hour!”

San Antonio River Bridge. Photo Credit: Robin Wood.

Shortly after that, the National Enquirer contacted Scott and included a full-page spread of his art in their tabloid; Ripley’s Believe it or Not topped that media attention with a two-page spread and the momentum just kept building.

He began appearing on television shows and participating in magazine and newspaper photo shoots, and they always wanted – naturally enough – to see him in action with a brush. Being a gracious guy, he always complied. When one particular television crew showed up, though, cameras in hand, it was raining.

A problem solver at heart, he quickly came up with Plan B. The system that he developed to solve this situation and other ones like it involves cleaning the dirt off of a piece of glass (ironic, isn’t it?) and then coating the glass with almond oil; safflower oil, peanut oil and the like just didn’t work as well as the almond. He then creates a canvas with a material used as dirt on television shows and in movies. To apply the material, he simply uses a blow dryer designed to dry hair, and then the dust-like particles stick to the oil.

How long does the dirt art last?

A piece of artwork created on a windshield only lasts until the vehicle is out in the rain. And, many times after Scott takes a photograph of a completed piece of art, he simply washes the decorated dust off, calling that one of his favorite parts of the process. Keep on reading to find out why.

Spiritual Connection

Advance Auto Parts

Bulldog. Photo Credit: Scott Wade

In more than one of Scott’s interviews found online, he briefly mentions how the temporary nature of his art emphasizes the spiritual notion of enjoying today, as nothing lasts forever.

Wanting to know more, we asked Scott to elaborate on that idea. Did he hold that philosophy before he began his car art, or was it developed because of his car art? Scott pauses before responding with, “A little bit of both.”

He continues with, “I’ve always been interested in spirituality, in philosophy, in examining religions and belief systems. What I’ve done with dirty cars has given me a much better understanding of the nature of the world, and how things that arise out of form are only temporary. Even the world’s greatest monuments, as we speak, are crumbling and becoming dust again.”

This knowledge has affected Scott in multiple ways. “First,” he says, “I’m humbled. And, I don’t take my art quite so seriously.”

Other artists, he says, are puzzled by this attitude, wondering how he doesn’t identify with his art more significantly and how he can comfortably watch the rain wash his art away – or even hose it off the glass himself! “I understand that point of view,” Scott says, “and I can sympathize with it. But, there is so much more to be gained by simply allowing the art to be gone. Through my ephemeral art form, I have learned that very great lesson. I can now focus on opening my eyes to the beauty of the moment, allow that moment to pass – and then be completely open to the very next moment.”


Editor’s note: while we admire and appreciate Scott’s work, we also offer a wide selection of car cleaning products to help you keep your ride looking right. Buy online, pick up in store.