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.

Crucial Cars: AMC Javelin AMX

1974 AMC Javelin AMX

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

For this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on AMC’s entry in the Pony Car wars, the Javelin AMX

Largely overshadowed by the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird and Ford Mustang, (and to a lesser degree the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda), the AMC Javelin AMX was akin to RC cola battling Coke and Pepsi. That doesn’t mean it was a bad choice in the Pony car segment (so-called because the Mustang is credited with starting this sporty segment back in 1964). Far from it, the Javelin AMX was just a different flavor. And plenty of performance enthusiasts found it downright sweet.

Note that we are talking about the four-passenger Javelin AMX here that was produced from 1971-1974, not the two-passenger version that was based on a shortened Javelin body/platform, just called the AMC AMX and produced from 1968-1970. Certainly the earlier version was cool in its own right, being the only American car of that time other than the Corvette to seat just two, but its appeal was limited and AMC made the decision to continue it after 1970 with the Javelin body and its backseat fully intact.

1971 AMC Javelin AMX

1971 AMC Javelin AMX

Cue it up
As it was now the top performance version of AMC’s Javelin, the 1971 AMX shared its styling. This meant the Javelin’s Corvette-like front fender curves, long hood and semi-fastback roofline were key styling cues, as was the full-width taillight panel. Marking it as the top dog in the AMC kennel were a mesh grille, a rear spoiler and a few options, such as a cowl induction hood and a big “T” stripe for the hood, that were not available on the standard Javelin. Inside the AMX, bucket seats and a console were standard and the dash curved around the driver. Along with that cockpit feel, the dash and door panels featured a metallic “engine turned” appliqué which further enhanced the AMX’s decidedly sporty vibe.

1972 AMC Javelin AMX interior

1972 AMC Javelin AMX interior

Extra performance for the AMX
With an overall length of 191.8 inches, the Javelin was about two inches longer than a ’71 Mustang and about four inches longer than a ’71 Camaro. Under the hood, a 360 cubic-inch, two-barrel V8 with 245 horsepower was standard, and could be hooked up to either a three-speed automatic or three-speed manual gearbox. Most buyers stepped up to either the 360 4-barrel (285 hp) or 401 4-barrel (330 hp) V8, either of which could have the automatic or a four-speed manual. Any guesses as to which powertrain we’d go with? The optional “Go” package included either the 360-4 barrel or 401-4 barrel V8 along with dual exhausts, the “twin grip” rear differential, the cowl induction hood with the T stripe, 15-inch (rather than 14-inch) wheels, a firmer suspension and a Rally gauge package.

As you were
For 1972, there were just a few changes to note for AMC’s sporty coupe. A smaller, 304 cubic-inch V8 was the standard engine, with both 360s and the 401 optional. As with other American cars, engine output ratings changed from “Gross” to “Net”. The previous Gross ratings were measured with the engine itself running on a stand, as opposed to the more realistic Net ratings which measured its output with accessory pulleys, exhaust and transmission all installed.

Yes, the ’72 engines lost a little power due to drops in compression that allowed them to meet tougher emissions standards and run on lower octane gas, but they didn’t lose nearly as much as simply comparing gross to net numbers might falsely indicate. That said, the 304 made 150 hp, the 360 2 barrel V8 was now rated at 175 hp, the 360 4 barrel with dual exhaust made 220 hp, and the big dog 401 was rated at 255 hp.

1973 AMC Javelin AMX with Cardin option

1973 AMC Javelin AMX with Cardin option

As the mid-’70s approached, luxury started to replace performance as a big selling point. For 1973, AMC offered an optional Cardin (yes, Pierre Cardin, the clothes designer) interior package for the Javelin and it could even be had on the AMX. Fully embracing the outlandish ’70s, the Cardin package featured black upholstery sporting wide stripes of white, orange and fuchsia running rampant over the seats, door panels and even the headliner. Visually, the only notable external change was the taillights going from the previous full width strip design to four semi-squared off units. Fortunately, for those who actually wanted performance more than plush trimmings, you could still specify an AMX with the 360 or 401 Go package and a Hurst-shifted four-speed.

The following year, 1974, would be the Javelin’s — and hence the Javelin AMX’s – last. Other than the Cardin package disappearing from the options roster, nothing changed for ’74.

Join the club
If you’re a Javelin/Javelin AMX enthusiast, there are a few web sites you may want to check out American Motors Owners Association as well as the AMC Rambler Club.

Shop Advance Auto Parts for deals on the parts you need from brands you know and trust. 

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 Future is Now: Artificial Intelligence and Driverless Cars

Robotic cars photo“Self-steering will become a fringe taste – like baking from scratch and riding horses – but regarded as dangerous and socially irresponsible. It will be left to young men who are prone to high-risk behavior, a few type-A personalities with control issues, and some old people who just don’t like to change.” (D.C. Innes)

As of June 2015, there are 77 public-street permits in California for driverless cars, also called autonomous or self-driving cars. Not surprisingly, 48 of them are licensed to the Internet giant Google (up from just 23 in May 2015), with Tesla coming in second with 12 permits – and Mercedes-Benz having two. Google plans to test its 25 added permits on a new fleet of cars on private roads, transferring them to public roads later this summer.

Reasons for the push for driverless cars include that these vehicles are expected to:

• Reduce accidents

• Eventually eliminate most traffic congestion

• Decrease the need for highway expansion because these cars operate bumper-to-bumper at higher speeds, reducing fuel consumption and emissions

Currently, there are 306 people who are licensed to operate autonomous cars – and 202 of them are associated with Google. Sound like something you’d like to do? Here are guidelines for California drivers who’d like to be licensed for driverless cars.

Six accident reports have been filed with these driverless cars so far, five of which with Google’s vehicles. Google had already disclosed four of those accidents, stating that they happened because of human error, either the one in control of the driverless car or by another driver. The fifth accident happened in June and, since Google has committed to reporting these accidents, information will likely be forthcoming about that incident soon. Here are more specifics.

Drive via your smartphone — and much more

Take a look at this quote (and be prepared for some British spellings): “It SOUNDS like a scene from a James Bond film. BMW has revealed a car that can drive itself around a multistorey car park and then manoeuvre itself into a bay – all at the touch of a smartwatch. When the owner returns, weighed down with bags of shopping, the car will come and meet them.”

BMW calls this feature “remote valet parking” and they did the big reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Meanwhile, here is a demonstration of the current park assist feature available from BMW, which is still cool all by itself.

Another feature revealed by BMW at the Consumer Electronics Show involves a camera that’s embedded in the headline between the driver and passenger. And, if a phone call comes in, point a finger and move it towards the screen to answer the call. Move your finger to the right – and you’ve declined the call. If the screen is in music mode, you can adjust the volume by making a finger circle. Lost? Point two fingers at the screen to get directions home.

Robotic cars 3Sitting in the rear? You really can become a back-seat driver through your Samsung tablet. You can adjust the car’s temperature, the music or movie that’s playing or your seat’s position with just a few quick clicks.

Also revealed at the show was Driver Assist technology, in development by Hyundai. This technology tells drivers how to reach a destination, but “also displays upcoming street signs, warns the driver of other vehicles that are likely to cut them off, and helps them navigate difficult turns and exits with easy-to-follow arrows on the monitor. It also has a warning system that alerts the driver of pedestrians and animals in the car’s path and will automatically brake if they are too close.”

This car can also monitor drivers’ heart rates and pull itself over and call for emergency help if the driver suffers signs of a heart attack. For more on that subject, see our previous blog post titled Cars of the Future: Personalized Ambulances.

To put its money where its mouth is, Audi had its A7 Piloted Driving concept car drive to the Las Vegas Convention Center from Palo Alto, California, traveling for more than 550 miles without the human in the driver’s seat taking charge. The car safely changed lanes and passed other vehicles. The car can recognize SUVs, trucks and police cars, distinguishing them from more ordinary cars, and can spot pedestrians, even those partially blocked by parked cars.

All of this technology takes real computer power, so Audi invested in the Tegra X1 superchip that allows a car to “learn” how to drive via the computer’s training algorithm. Although the Tegra X1 is only the size of a thumbnail, it’s said to have the power of a room-sized supercomputer from only ten years ago.

 Mercedes-Benz displayed the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, where passengers can rotate bucket seats to face one another while the car automatically drives, a seating arrangement not available since the days of horse and buggy. Door panel touchscreens allow passengers to make video calls, surf the web and post on social media. LED lighting on the outside of the vehicle tells pedestrians whether the car is being driven by a person (white lights) or autonomously (blue lights). Plus, the car can project a virtual crosswalk to let pedestrians know how to safely cross the street when near the vehicle.

All of this new technology can seem exciting – or scary. To calm fears, journalists were taken on a ride with a Volkswagen Passat with Cruise4U technology, which allows for autopilot steering, accelerating and braking.

What does the future hold for driverless cars?

Ford Motor Company is predicting that vehicles will have “fully autonomous navigation and parking” after 2025. Ford already has its own automated research vehicle, released at the end of 2013 in an experiment with State Farm Insurance and the University of Michigan to develop ways for cars to “’communicate with each other and the world around them to make driving safer’ and reduce congestion.”

This vehicle contains sensors that scan up to 200 feet of roadway, “using light in the same way that a bat or dolphin uses sound waves.” Meanwhile, some Ford cars can already send a signal when another vehicle has entered a driver’s blind spot, and the steering wheel vibrates when the driver is veering out of his or her lane.

IHS Automotive agrees that self-driving cars will debut for the average person around 2025, and predicts that, in the first year, about 2/10 of 1% of sales will be self-drivers. That would be about 230,000 cars of the projected 115 million car sales anticipated for that year. Within twenty years of their debut, IHS expects that driverless cars will account for about nine percent of car sales.

So, how are you feeling about all of this? Excited? Anxious to own a self-driver? Or, do you like driving too much?

About a year and a half ago, Advance Auto Parts talked to experts about automated vehicles, including Phil Floraday, senior web editor of Automobile Magazine. Phil open admitted that he wasn’t thrilled about the trend, saying that, “I want people to have the driving experience. Face it, at Automobile, we still like manual transmissions. We believe in man-machine interaction because of the amount of joy you can get from really good transmission, from really good brakes. You blend into the car and become like one.”

Fast forward to today. On June 22, 2015, published an article by D.C. Innes, who is an associate professor of politics at The King’s College, titled The car of the future and our future in cars. Innes believes that, “Despite our love for the wheel, we may be drawn inexorably into going driverless.” He blames insurance companies, saying that carriers will most likely charge high premiums to people who want to steer their own vehicles.

The good news? It’s likely that people who do own driverless cars will see a significant reduction in their insurance premiums. Less likelihood of accidents = lower premiums.Robotic cars 1

Time of transition

The transition to driverless cars will be – and has already been – gradual. In 2013, we’d talked to Steve Garfink of Seer Communication. Steve consults with companies, research groups and governmental agencies that are focusing on the transition from human driving to autonomous driving. He shared a rating system where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) lists five levels, some of which have already taken place:

• Level 0: no automation, with the driver needing to be in complete control of steering, braking and the like at all times

•Level 1: function-specific automation, where vehicles have at least one automated feature, such as adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, which help a driver brake more quickly

• Level 2: the combination of two or more autonomous technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering; in this level, a driver must be prepared to take manual control of his or her vehicle back at any time. Some of these technologies may only be workable in highway driving, in favorable weather conditions and the like.

• Level 3: in this level, drivers will not need to constantly monitor road conditions; rather, he or she will be given a reasonable amount of time to transition from the autonomous driving experience to the more traditional manual driving; in theory, a driver of a level 3 car would, according to Steve, presumably “be free to talk on the phone, text, read the paper, or do whatever else they want knowing they will have plenty of reaction time before they have to pay attention to the road.” When this type of driving becomes available, a long trip could become a productive time, without the “tension of navigating among the big rigs plying” the highway.

• Level 4: the vehicle can handle all “safety-critical driving functions,” and can simply provide destination/navigation information; this vehicle could be occupied or unoccupied.

Steve gave a couple more predictions:

• In California – and perhaps other places – there will be no new regulations until a vehicle reaches level 2.

• Drivers may treat level 2 vehicles, where a driver must be prepared to take back control at any time, as level 3, where more transition time from driverless to driver-controlled exists. It will be interesting, Steve says, to see the effects of that on road safety.

Editor’s note: What are your thoughts about driverless cars? Share them in the comments below! And know that, as cars evolve, Advance Auto Parts will keep providing you with what you need to maintain and upgrade your vehicles.

Celebrating Patriotic Cars


1972 Ford Mustang Sprint Edition

Three cheers for the red, white and blue! As the fourth of July rolls around, we gearheads gathered ’round the garage to reflect on what American car makers have done to wave the old flag. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of them rolled out a handful of celebratory editions during the 1970s. Why then? We’re guessing it was the fact that the Bicentennial, the 200th anniversary of our country’s Declaration of Independence, took place during that decade — the year 1976 to be exact.

Four years before the Bicentennial, the 1972 Olympic Games took place. The summer games in particular were filled with triumph and tragedy. American swimmer Mark Spitz took home an incredible seven gold medals, a record that stood for thirty six years. Sadly, those Olympics were sullied when a Palestinian terrorist group broke into the games and ultimately ended up killing 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Prior to this roller coaster ride of Olympic emotions, Ford rolled out its patriotically-themed pony cars.

In the spring of 1972, just before the start of those summer games, Ford introduced “Sprint” editions of its Pinto, Maverick and Mustang models. Built to honor the 1972 American Olympic team and designed to inspire both patriotism and sales, these cars featured eye-catching red, white and blue color schemes. The body was essentially finished in a white and blue two-tone, with red pin striping separating the two colors. The interior was done up in white and blue as well. Additionally, 50 Sprint edition Mustang convertibles were built for use in the 1972 Cherry Blossom parade, an event held in Washington D.C. every spring. Underneath, the cars were unchanged, meaning one could wheeze along in a Pinto with a 54-horsepower 1.6-liter four or swiftly “sprint” away from a stoplight challenger in a Mustang packing a 351 High Output V8, making a strong-for-the-era 275 horsepower.

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet

1974 Chevrolet Vega Spirt of America

1974 Chevrolet Vega Spirt of America

Two years later, it would be Chevrolet feeling the patriotic vibe. For 1974, Chevrolet launched a clever TV commercial with a song capturing four things (see subtitle above) that Americans ostensibly loved. With a jingle that would prove to be one of the most popular in advertising, that ad would go on to serve the company for quite some time.

That year, to further the patriotic sentiment, Chevy offered the “Spirit of America” package on its Vega, Nova and Impala models. As expected, a red, white and blue theme prevailed. White exterior paint was standard on all except the Impala, which offered a choice between white and a dark blue hue. Red, white and blue stripes added more exterior pizzazz while inside, all three had white vinyl upholstery with red or blue carpeting.

1974 Impala Spirit of America car

1974 Chevy Impala Spirit of America

America’s last convertible (for five years, anyway)
The Bicentennial year (1976) was full of celebrations for America’s 200th birthday. Setting off fireworks of its own was Cadillac, the only American carmaker offering a convertible that year. Due to dwindling sales of convertibles and the increased governmental safety standards (such as roll-over protection) said to be looming on the horizon, every American car maker except Cadillac, with its Eldorado model, had by then abandoned the convertible segment.

To seemingly celebrate not only America’s bicentennial but also the philosophy of capitalism, Cadillac decreed that the final 200 Eldorado convertibles made would be “Bicentennial Edition” models. Wearing white paint with tasteful blue and red pinstripes, these loaded and pricey Eldos also sported white leather upholstery with red piping to go with the red dash and carpeting.

1976 Cadillac Eldorado Bicentennial Edition car piture

1976 Cadillac Eldorado Bicentennial Edition

As we now know, these ended up not being America’s last convertible. Just six years later, 1982 saw the comeback of the American convertible in the form of the Buick Riviera and Chrysler LeBaron/Dodge 400 twins, meaning the U.S. had gone just five years without a convertible new car offering. Subsequent years saw more drop tops debut, including, in 1984, Cadillac’s resurrected Eldorado convertible.

Editor’s note: Keep your ride running true-blue with parts, tools and accessories from Advance Auto Parts.

Grateful Dead of motorsports: lawn mower racing

Lawn Mowing Race1 photo

Imagine this help wanted ad: Do you enjoy motorsports (wishing they weren’t so dang expensive!) and love to tinker? Do you get into competition – and yet are the kind of person who will readily reach out a hand to help? Do you appreciate green grass, apple pie and spending time with friends and family? And, oh yes, do you have a good sense of humor and enjoy having fun? If so, we need YOU to race a lawn mower.

We at Advance Auto Parts have been hearing more and more about the grassroots sport of lawn mower racing across the country and we know that many of our readers love to DIY. So we talked to a couple of lawn mower racing diehards and are bringing you the results of our conversations.

Modifying a lawn mower into a racing machine

According to Bruce Kaufman (AKA Mr. Mow-It-All), the president of the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association (USLMRA), 90% of racing lawn mowers are crafted in someone’s garage, with that “someone” typically having “mechanical ingenuity.”

If you’re interested in giving this a try and want to race in a USLMRA event, Bruce shares that you’ll find a circus atmosphere with a unique and special subculture focused on camaraderie – thus, the connection with the Grateful Dead.

In preparation, you simply start with a self-propelled rotary or reel-style riding lawn mower that was designed and sold commercially, specifically to mow lawns. However you modify the mower, it must remain suitable for lawn mowing, outside of the exceptions listed in the association’s handbook. Having said that, one requirement for race entry is that cutting blades are completely removed from the mower.

Here are other requirements:

  • Non-stock mowers must be equipped with an automatic throttle closing device.
  • All mowers must be equipped with an engine safety cut-off switch.
  • Mower brakes must be in good condition, operating on at least 2 wheels.
  • Fuel must be pump gas. The only additive allowed is STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer.

Each mower is inspected prior to racing and can be re-inspected at any time. Safety first!

The USLMRA website provides plenty of tips, including this formula:

Small front pulley + large rear pulley = slow!
Large front pulley + small rear pulley = fast!

A tethered kill switch will shut down the engine if you get bucked off, and it needs securely attached to the driver and the mower. The blade deck should remain in place, solidly bolted to hold your weight without swaying. You can install a hand or foot throttle, and most racers replace the front axle with a stronger one. Review the tech section of the site plus the rulebook thoroughly if you decide to give this a go!

Bruce says that there are 11 racing classes and, although none of them permit blades, the resulting racing machines range from “mild to wild.” Typically, modifications are made to carburetors and engines, plus to the chassis. Good brakes are crucial, Bruce says, as is reliable steering. That’s because, as horsepower is added, it also needs controlled on this racing machine that has no suspension. Bruce then mysteriously adds that there are “secret speed tricks that inspectors will never know . . .” Hmmm.

Built for speed

If you’ve never attended a lawn mower race, you might scoff at what you imagine they’d consider “speed.” If so, then you might be shocked to know that even ESPN reported when lawn mowing star Bobby Cleveland broke the speed record by going more than 96 miles per hour! That’s right. Bobby reached an astonishing speed of 96.529 mph on September 25, 2010, beating out the previous record of Don Wales of Britain (who had broken Cleveland’s previous record of 80.792 mph with a speed of 87.833 mph!) and bringing the speed record back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Not surprisingly, then, Bobby is a proud member of the USLMRA National Lawn Mower Racing Hall of Fame, founded for “Turf Titans who have turned a weekend chore into a competitive sport.” He has clinched more than 75 first place victories and nine STA-BIL Series National Championships. He built the world’s first “Monster Mower” and also holds the world record for monster mower jumping. He has “always loved to ride motorcycles, race lawn mowers, build hot rods and tinker in the garage. His passion for motors and what makes them work runs as deep as his appetite for Southern BBQ, sweet tea and being on the road.”

Broad appeal of the sport

Although it’s the champions who make the headlines, Bruce says that the sport appeals to a wide swath of people, youngsters as well as grandpas, and every age demographic in between. He says that it’s common to see relatives participate in racing together, adding that the “family that mows together, grows together.” Because this activity is more affordable than the typical motorsport, that makes it even more family friendly. More specifically, costs of participating typically run in the $100s to the $1,000s, according to Bruce, not the tens of thousands.

Racers must belong to the USLMRA as well as to a sanctioned affiliated club. Racers can be as young as eight, although all under the age of 18 need parental permission. “Participants run the gamut of socioeconomic classes and geographical boundaries,” Bruce says, with Aaron Crowl (president of the American Racing Mower Association) adding that he and his family have raced against “people getting started in life to people who have retired after a long and successful career, from people who perform manual labor to business executives, doctors and people with Ph.Ds., and from teachers to school principals.” (When Aaron refers to his family, he means his wife and their twin daughters.)

Both Bruce and Aaron compare the racing environment to that of a family reunion complete with camping, camaraderie and food (and, as Aaron points out, “sometimes a weird but lovable person who reminds you of your Uncle Al”). Both men point out that this atmosphere can exist because no one races for a purse, merely for fun, a trophy and some bragging rights. Rivals may challenge you to the nth degree – and yet, when your engine falters, they’ll give you a wrench, a spare part, or even an entire engine.

“If someone came to a race who was TOO competitive,” Bruce muses, “I’d probably say, ‘Dude, you need to do something else.’ Motivation to win is good but, if you’re too serious about winning, you’d tend not to fit in.” To honor people who perform selfless acts in helping others, the racing organization gives out the Spirit and Spark Award.

Another requirement for participation, although an unofficial one, seems to be a love of bad puns. When you attend, you’ll meet people and vehicles with nicknames like Geronimow, Sodzilla and Prograsstinator, with the president of USMLRA being affectionately known as the grasshole.

Despite the sense of silliness that graces the sport, races are nevertheless judged fairly and professionally, with a computer-based scoring system that monitors race times to 1/1,000 of a second, with results posted quickly online, along with season-to-date rankings.

Past to present – to predictions

When asked about the evolution of the sport, Bruce gives a shout-out to STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer, which he says has nurtured this sport along from its inception (okay, so he actually said they’ve “watered the grass of this sport from the start”). He also shares how he’s seen the technology of racing lawn mowers evolve thanks to the creativity of participants and how the potential of speed has increased with the technological improvements.

Meanwhile, Aaron notes how, early on, racers needed to be especially creative because nobody was making parts specifically for racing mowers. As the sport has grown, though, niche high performance parts have become available, opening the sport to people who couldn’t effectively adapt parts intended for another purpose for their racing machine.Lawn Mowing Race 2 photo

As for the future, Aaron sees super modified mowers becoming increasingly common, those that are lower and wider than previous models, but still recognizable as mowers. “I have mixed emotions about that change, actually,” he admits, “being old school. But you have to be realistic about the future.”

Bruce doesn’t see mowers becoming much faster, believing that current models are at the peak of what can safely be allowed – and both men envision and hope for further expansion of local clubs and community events centering on the quirky yet exciting motorsport of lawn mower racing.

Even if you don’t plan to race, you’ll probably still mow this spring and summer. Find the lawn and garden parts you need online at Advance Auto Parts.

Car Museums Aren’t What They Used to Be

Volo Museum 1

An overview of the incredible Volo Auto Museum showroom.

Here at Advance HQ, we get so caught up in debating the latest developments in car culture and DIY that we often find ourselves in need of a serious time out. While those tend to be seldom, we still relish the idea of just being able to talk casually about cars without deadlines to make or milestones to hit.

One way to pass some free time and get your fill of cars, is to hit up a car museum. To that end, we recently explored the legendary Volo Museum – don’t let the word “museum” lead you to believe that all you’ll see is musty, dusty, crumbling history. There’s absolutely none of that here.

Volo Auto Museum Exhibits

Located in Illinois, the Volo Auto Museum specializes in many different types of car collections including:

  • Hollywood cars
  • Bizarre cars
  • Military vehicles
  • Cars of the stars
  • Vintage cars
  • Cars of wonderland

The Grams family purchased the property where the car museum now stands in 1960. The building had a dirt floor and contained old junk cars, including decrepit Ford Model As. “My dad and brother,” Brian Grams tells Advance Auto Parts, “would tinker with those cars at night as a side hobby. As they fixed them up, people wanted to buy them, so they sold a couple. With that money, they bought nicer cars and repeated the cycle, until they got involved with collector cars, both buying and selling.”

By the late 1990s, a large part of the property had evolved into a car museum. Annually, Volo gets about 300,000 visitors, but most arrive in the summer, making wintertime an even better opportunity for a laid-back visit.

Here are more specifics about the exhibits.

Hollywood Collection

Police vehicle, Barricade, from Transformers movie.

Police vehicle, Barricade, from Transformers movie.

The Hollywood collection started with the George Barris Batmobile from the 1966 television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward (Thwap! Pow! Bam!). From that point, the Batman collection – and the entire Hollywood collection – continued to grow. Other Batman-related items now at Volo include the 1966 Batcycle; the Batmobile from the 1989 movie, Batman; the 18-wheeler used by the Joker in Dark Knight; and Dark Knight movie props. You can even watch “Evolution of the Batmobile” in Volo’s theater.

Not a fan of Batman? Then you’ll just need to content yourself with others of the more than 80 vehicles from television and film; exhibits change frequently, so more than one visit could be on the docket. Other cars include:

  • Season 1 General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard
  • DeLorean from Back to the Future
  • One of the Ghostbusters’ Ectomobiles
  • Beverly Hillbillies’ truck
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hearse in Terminator 3
  • and much, much more

Not all cars arrive in pristine condition. The Greased Lightning car, used in the 1978 film Grease, is a perfect example. In the movie, John Travolta and his friends restore this vehicle in an attempt to attract females. While that worked fairly well, at least for Travolta, the condition of the car deteriorated during the post-movie years. Then, a collector bought it and hired someone to begin the restoration process. That owner died, though, mid-restoration, and the car was put outside where its condition continued to deteriorate. So, the Volo Auto Museum stepped in. They bought the car, finished its restoration, and added it to its displays.

You may also remember the Ferrari Daytona used in the television program, Miami Vice. It had been left to the mercies of the rain and sun until the leather interior looked like a “shrunken head.” Enter the restoration genius of those at Volo and this car is also now on display.

With the reputation that Volo now has, they often get asked if they’d like the opportunity to buy a Hollywood car. For example, after Fast and Furious 4 was filmed, the Grams were asked if they wanted to buy every car used in the movie. They made the decision to do so; sold off some; restored others; and have a great addition to their museum: the black Dodge Charger driven by both Van Diesel and Paul Walker in the film.

Bizarre Cars

Volo Museum 3

When this baby hits 88 . . . Back to the Future DeLorean

“The most popular bizarre cars,” Brian says, “are the Roller Skate car and the Piano car.” While enjoying those vehicles, you can also take a close look at an Elvis tribute car and spot some of the 40+ elements in the car’s design that honor the King. Or, perhaps a PG-13 rated Marilyn Monroe tribute car, shown in more than 30 countries, is more to your taste.

Elton John? Michael Jackson and Soul Train? Charlie Chaplin? James Dean? Check out these bizarre cars.

Military Vehicles

The website posts the following caution in the military-vehicle section: Warning Combat Zone: Action-Packed Battle Scenes and Heart-Pounding Sound Effects May Not Be Suitable for Wimps

“This is a very interactive area,” Brian says, “with an atmosphere of a live battlefield.”

Displays range from a 1967 Bell Helicopter #355, shot down by hostile fire in Vietnam to an M114 armored personnel carrier built by Cadillac and powered by a Chevy V-8 motor. The latter item has been completely restored; is fully functional; and one of only 12 legally registered in the United States. The museum also features a 1939 jet engine that was still considered an experimental item. After World War II, though, it became clear that jet engines were the way of the future.

Cars of the Stars

If you were Oprah Winfey and had just turned 46, how would you treat yourself and how much would you spend? The answer is a luxury convertible now housed at Volo, with a spend of $365,000. That car, Brian says, is one of the most popular car of a star housed in their museum. “The other is definitely the Britney Spears car,” he says, “the black Mercedes convertible that TMZ called the most dangerous car in the streets of L.A. They said this because of the various things that happened while Britney was driving the vehicle.”

You can also see the Rolls Royce that transported England’s Princess Diana during her last trip to the United States; the Rolls Royce convertible that Zsa Zsa Gabor was driving before the infamous cop-slapping incident; and much more.

Vintage Cars

From 50s cars to older antiques, and from Corvettes to muscle cars and pony cars, Volo has a wide selection of vintage cars. “The baby boomer crowd often likes the Duisenberg collection,” Brian says, “while the younger crowd often gravitates towards the main showroom with Camaros, Mustangs and 57 Chevys.”

Cars of Wonderland

Volo Auto Museum is a good choice when you are traveling with your children, grandchildren, nieces and/nephews, as there is an entire section dedicated to children – and even the adults love many of the displays. In fact, Brian Grams calls the Cat in the Hat Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger one of his favorite museum vehicles, calling it an “absolute work of art”; there is also the Flintmobile, a vehicle that you can climb in to have your picture taken; Bugs Bunny’s Karrot Car; a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vehicle; and much more.

“The kids,” Brian says, “really like Lightning McQueen and the Mater.” Not sure what the Mater is? The site helpfully shares that “It’s like Tuh-Mater but without the Tuh”!

There are also coin-operated kiddie rides, Disney display props from the 101 Dalmatians, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast and more, plus Warner Brothers’ studio display props. “Kids and adults alike stop by the Looney Tunes display,” Brian says “because we all remember the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.”

If you need to rest your feet for a while, you can stop by Pete’s Garage, which is a small theater where relevant 15-minute short films are shown. The museum also often hosts “out of the box events, quirky ones.” Coming up next is a contest in conjunction with the upcoming Transformers movie. The winner gets to enjoy the movie at a drive-in in one of the two Transformers cars available at the museum.

But, before you go, there is something we, uh, need to tell you. The place is haunted.

Gulp . . . Haunted?

Volo Museum 4

Elvis tribute car and James Dean tribute car.

The original structure on the Volo property was built in 1848 as a farmhouse – only four years after the county’s first permanent settler (Captain Daniel Wright) arrived. By 1850, several townships clustered together in this area, with Forksville (the original name of Volo) forming at the crossroads of Chicago Road, McHenry Road and Little Fort Road.

Just 13 short years later, the first shots of the Civil War were fired upon Fort Sumter and, on April 15, 1861, hundreds of patriotic men in Lake County (where Forksville was located) gathered at the courthouse of Waukegan to fight for the Union.

Over the next four years, nearly 2,000 men from this county signed up to fight, including H. Wallace Gale. Wallace was the son of Gardner (who built the now-Volo farmhouse) and Louisa Gale, and was born in 1842. He grew up on the farm where Volo now exists and he died in combat at Fort Donnellson on February 13, 1863 at the heartbreakingly young age of 20. His body was sent back home and he was buried beneath a white monument in a nearby cemetery, “about 50 feet from our property line,” clarifies Brian.

Brian grew up in the original farmhouse located on the Volo property, just like Wallace did. But, by the time that Brian lived there, it already had a solid reputation for being haunted. “Weird things did happen,” Brian shares, “such as the television turning on by itself. So, I thought it was perfectly normal that my house was haunted. If someone seemed shocked, I’d think – what? Isn’t YOUR house haunted???”

Those odd events made it difficult for Brian to convince friends to spend the night at the farmhouse. In fact, he couldn’t. “They’d make it to midnight,” he said, “and then call their parents and say, ‘Come pick me up!’”

Ghostly happenings extended far beyond just televisions turning on, though. “Museum visitors sometimes describe seeing a figure wearing a uniform, or a trench coat or some other type of long jacket or coat,” Brian says. “Other people say that, in the barn [which is now an antique mall], they get a strong whiff of cigar smoke for no apparent reason – and then it suddenly vanishes.

Someone – no one in the Grams family – decided to write to the Discovery Channel about these supernatural events, and the company filmed a Ghost Lab episode there in 2009. After that episode aired, even more stories about otherworldly events on the Volo property poured in.

“The best thing that happened, though,” Brian says, with a laugh, “was when a vehicle transporter wanted to park his rig in our parking lot overnight. We say ‘sure.’ Now, this guy is from Texas. He doesn’t know us or anything about our property. In the evening, he sees someone walking around the parking lot and so he hollers a greeting. The figure keeps walking, then starts running – and then completely disappears through a wall in the barn.”

So, what did the Texan do? “He started his semi up with a roar,” Brian says, “and then he was quickly long gone.”

What’s next?

General Lee vehicle from Dukes of Hazzard, season 1

General Lee vehicle from Dukes of Hazzard, season 1

Editor’s note: Check out our behind-the-scenes look at the Lane Motor Museum, where unique cars from A to Z are displayed.


Top Vehicles with Retro Styling – Part 1

Are we in love with the car, or our memories?

What is it about cars and nostalgia? Why do so many of our most vivid or cherished memories include a vehicle playing a starring or supporting role?

For me, those important vehicles and memories include a 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon, 1978 Mercury Zephyr, and my all-time favorite – a four door, five-speed, sunroof-equipped 1985 BMW 318i.

The work I did on all those vehicles is part of the memories each holds. The Zephyr in particular was my guinea pig. I remember replacing the starter, dashboard, back seat, radio, radiator, and a number of other parts through the years, all of which helped me build my mechanical knowledge and confidence.

A number of modern vehicles can trigger a drive down memory lane simply because they look like their iconic predecessors. Here are five on my list of contemporary vehicles with retro styling – in no particular order. What have I left off the list? What’s your favorite, and more importantly, why? I’ll explore five more in an upcoming installment.

2015 Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang

The 2015 Mustang comes with the model’s first ever EcoBoost® engine – a 2.3-liter power plant delivering 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. For the really performance-minded driver, the GT model features a 5.0 liter V-8 churning out 435 HP and 400 pound-feet of torque. This iconic sports car’s first model in 1964 pales in comparison when it comes to power as its 170 cubic-inch engine only cranked out 156 pound-feet of torque. And, it’s angular retro looks are nothing to sneeze at.

2005 Ford ThunderbirdFord Thunderbird

Ford’s more than four million Thunderbirds went through many different looks through the years. The 1955 debut saw classic lines and a hard-top or convertible version while the sixth generation from 1972 to 1976 model years were boxy and big, making this version the largest Thunderbird Ford had ever produced. The eleventh generation, from 2002 to 2005, would be its last and saw a return to a more classic look, similar to the earliest model years.

2006 Dodge ChargerDodge Charger

Seven generations of Chargers brought us from those first intimidating, wide-nose models of the ‘60s and ‘70s, through the embarrassingly compact fifth generation in the 80s, full circle to the sixth and seventh generations, available from ’06 through today. That evolution saw a return to looks that are more in line with those first Chargers, from the taillights to the hood and side panels.

2010 Chevy CamaroChevy Camaro

Debuting with the 1967 model as a competitor to Ford’s Mustang, four generations of Camaros prowled the streets until production ended in 2002, only to see the model revived for the 2010 model year with generation five. With today’s MSRP of $75,000, 505 HP, and a seven-liter V8, the 2015 Camaro Z-28 bears some resemblance to those first Camaros in looks only.

2015 VW BeetleVW Bug

The Beetle or “People’s Car” translated from the German “Volkswagen,” was officially called the “Type 1” when production began in 1938. Today, Volkswagen refers to its latest Bug model as, “a sleek twist on an iconic shape.” Out of all the retro-styled vehicles, the Beetle might bear the closest resemblance to its first ancestor.

A few of the cars on the list went through some “changes” or “growing pains” that left them looking nothing like their much-loved predecessors for several years before they came back around to today’s popular styles. The Ford Mustang is a case in point.

Those 80’s and 90’s-era Mustangs, for me at least, don’t conjure up memories of the tough-looking Mustangs I remember from the 60’s and 70’s. They were Mustangs in name only, unlike today’s Mustangs that look mean, powerful and menacing, just like their brothers from those first two decades of Mustang production.

Retro styling’s popularity could also be attributed to the timeless nature of certain style elements. Much the way some antiques, whether furniture or paintings, retain their value and popularity because of their classic style elements, perhaps the same can be said for certain classic vehicle lines and characteristics?

Or, maybe nostalgia and elements that never go out of style don’t have anything to do with retro styling’s popularity today. For some drivers, it could be that the vehicle’s good looks and solid reputation, built over several decades, leads them to equate today’s models with their popular classic ancestors. The Chevy Camaro has always conjured up the image of a street-savvy, aggressive performer, never straying too far from its original looks, even with the latest model.

Whatever the reason for our love affairs with cars, history and retro styling, two things are for sure – what’s old will someday be new again, and no one’s clamoring for a 2016 reintroduction of Mercury’s Zephyr, including me.

Editor’s note: Whether you’re restoring an original classic or working on vehicle based on a classic, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

Top 7 car spoilers … for epic downforce

Toy Car SpoilersOne of the most polarizing automotive design choices any automotive designer can make is the inclusion of a rear wing.

Rear wings, or spoilers, are often added to race cars to spoil the flow of air across the vehicle and thus eliminate unwanted turbulence that could cause the vehicle to lose traction, become airborne or otherwise behave erratically on the track.

So if spoiler tech is designed for race cars, why have so many street machines become factory-equipped with huge rear wings?

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and, in this case, the old adage is true. Many factory-issued car spoilers are designed to make street-legal versions of race cars look more like race cars. And this usually sends brand enthusiasts to dealer showrooms by the thousands.

Here are a few of our favorite spoilers from years past … and if you read all the way to the end you’ll see that not all of our favorite car spoilers are affixed to the rear decklid like you might expect.

Dodge Charger Daytona

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

You thought we were going to say Superbird, didn’t you? Well, truth is, the Daytona pre-dated the infamous Superbird by one year. The outrageously huge rear wing was added to keep the car glued to the high-banked NASCAR tracks it raced on, and for good reason. The Daytona was the first in NASCAR history to break the 200 mph barrier.

In 1970 its famous successor (the Superbird), caused officials to change the rule book. NASCAR told Plymouth they had to either run a smaller engine or add weight as the speed of car far exceeded the tire technology of the day.

Pictured above is one of the Daytonas used in the film Fast and Furious 6.

Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

Introduced to the United States market in 2004, the WRX STI from Subaru was a street legal WRC car minus the roll cage. Its 300 hp turbocharged 4 cylinder engine pushed the 3,000 lb. bruiser to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. Its giant ironing-board-sized wing was matched only by its stiffest competition, the Mitsubishi EVO.

Like the EVO, the STI lost its wing in subsequent model years. However the wing is back for 2015.

Porsche 930 911 Turbo

Porsche 930 911 Turbo

Porsche engineers needed a way to vent more air into the engine bay of the rear-mounted flat-six. Their solution? One of the most iconic spoilers of all time–the whale tail.

Being German means being precise, at least in the automotive world. The precision spoiler also created downforce that helped keep the notoriously tail-happy 911 pointed in the right direction. This combined with flared arches and wider wheels gave the 930 a distinctive stance, one whose roots can be seen in present day 911s.

Toyota Supra Turbo

Photo credit: BenRichardsFife.

Photo credit: BenRichardsFife.

Pretty much every car in the 90s had a wing, and we loved them all. From the Toyota Supra to the Mitsubishi 3000GT, several cars were available with big suitcase handles attached to their rears.

Whether or not the wing on the Supra is functional or not is up for debate. But like many cars in the 90s, the presence of a spoiler meant one thing–force-fed power under the hood. The addition of a huge wing set often set turbocharged models apart from their normally aspirated siblings. Heck, even the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T had a ridiculously oversized wing in the 90s.

Ferrari F40

Ferarri F40

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

One of the most collectible classics of the modern era is the Ferrari F40–a stunning example of lightness, power and beauty. Most F40s go for well over $1 million these days, so let’s just say that you or I probably won’t ever own one. But, still, they are magnificent. We’re also impressed by how seamlessly the huge, carbon fiber rear wing molds into the rear decklid. The F40 is truly a work of art.


Lamborghini Countach (double winner!)

Lamborghini Countach

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

We’ve saved the best for last. Our favorite car spoiler of all time is actually a pair of spoilers! Yes, not one, but two spoilers were affixed to the nose of the Countach by Lamborghini of North America during the 1980s. The reason? To get around U.S. laws that required all cars imported to North America to have 5 mph crash bumpers installed.

The most famous nose wing of all time has to be the one present on the Cannonball Run Countach, now owned by Jeff Ippoliti of Celebration, Florida.


Editor’s note: What’s your favorite car spoiler of all time? Let us know in the comments below! And make sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of spoilers and car accessories. 

Lead graphic courtesy of ToysRUs.