My Failure of Picking, or Automotive Diversions Pointless

A New Year; a time to contemplate, look back, and celebrate my poor choices. In 2019: I bought a tow company’s problem motorcycle, failed at business endeavors, and moved slothfully forward with my project car. You even could say, with photographic evidence, my automotive experiences were a little nuts.

I’d been looking for another motorcycle for some time. If dogs age at seven times the rate of humans, I’d estimate unrestored motorcycles age three years to each of ours. A bike ten years old has hit a healthy mid-life maturity.

My twenty-four year old enduro is approaching seventy-five in human years; it creaks in places it shouldn’t, has a bad ticker (and I’m not sure what is ticking so loudly), releases strange unpleasant emissions and has trouble getting going in the morning (and I’m tired of kicking it repeatedly to get it going, since it doesn’t have a starter).

I found myself looking for a fuel-injected street-legal enduro. My price range… not enough for one that accidentally came off the trailer at highway speeds. Still, hope springs eternal, and in one of my searches of the Craigslist motorcycle ads for “fuel-injection”, with the criteria “less than two thousand dollars”, I came across an ad for a 2003 SV650, with 7,400 miles, for $1250.

For some of you, this may sound like no bargain. But for me, 7,400 miles sounded like a new bike. The extravagance of low mileage, I’d never treated myself to it before!

And that’s how I found myself in a tow company’s breaking yard, paying about $1,000 for a stack of stamped lien papers, which a tow company representative repeatedly assured me would elicit a title from the state of LiberalGroupThought (I mean, Oregon). I even asked the tow company man to look me straight in the eye and claim this scheme would work. He did. I bought it. And didn’t get beat up, surprisingly.

Now why would I take this risk? 7,400 miles!

And sure enough, after about three months, a title did arrive in the mail. A clean title. I was shocked. What the Department of Motor Vehicles was doing for three months worried me (likely protesting ICE deporting a murderer or something), but once that clean title was in my hand, all was good (until I’m murdered).

In all honesty, my motorcycle had experienced a rough 7,400 miles. It’d been put down (dent in tank, frame rash, primer paint), and lived exposed in the junkyard for some time.

But the motor oil looked like 7,400 miles, very clean, and it ran like 7,400. With some love (new tires, grips, handlebars, etc.) it’s now a great rider. Oh, and I bought a lock to deter theft; soon after buying the bike I realized the key was simply an art piece. The tow company busted the tumbler on the ignition, and fuel tank, to gain use of the bike. I’ve thought about using a screwdriver instead of a key, for humor, but I’m not sure I want to advertise that particular “feature”.

I enjoy riding the SV650. It is helpful that the ridge-line behind my house is covered with corners. In a fifteen minute ride I can lean through roughly thirty notable corners, including four nearing 270 degrees! It’s great, quick, stress relief, when it’s not raining… and it has been raining for months-on-end.

Link to a map of the loop behind my house – MAP

How does a SV650 ride?

It’s fun. It’s reliable. It’s sufficient. It’s nimble. It’s affordable. It’s got a cult following. It’s not amazing.

An SV650 reviewer (Regular Car Reviews) posted a video to Youtube explaining how exceptional the bike is… but he repeatedly states, “The SV650 is not a beginner bike”. He “doth protest too much, methinks”. Beginner bike. In my garage.

After a ride with my wife, I told her I was thinking of selling the SV because it sounds like a tractor and I want a screaming four-cylinder. I think she almost hit me, and said something about endlessly wanting even when I have something good. Fair enough. I really should accept it; I’ll join the SV cult. There’s probably lots of accessories; I’ll get SV650 socks for Christmas 2020. I’ll wear them proudly to the SV650 gathering. Follow others. Assimilate. Be normal. The future me? Doubtful.

I have a nutty idea for the SV. I’ll explain later.

Speaking of nutty, the Planters car (RV?) visited our county fair. I told you my summer was a little nutty. Thanks Planters, the free peanuts were delicious. I’m sorry one of my daughters thought you were creepy and very noticeably refused to go near you, despite your offers of free treats.

During this short Oregon summer I didn’t have many opportunities to ride the SV. I’d brought home an 8’ x 8’ double-sided monstrosity of a storefront sign. Unless I wanted neighbors thinking I’d launched the Rumors bar in my home, I had to do something with it.

But I’d caught a vision. I wasn’t going to restore a sign, I was going to recreate a gas station.

And that’s what led me to leaving money in an unknown person’s freezer, while their cat tried to attack me, so I could find the mannequin parts behind the Cadillac (because Craigslist).

A month later, I had a 1930s Mobil gas pump, mid-century sign, attendant (aforementioned mannequin) and various other Mobil paraphernalia. Just in time for Halloween! So I threw the gas station display together in the driveway, complete with a working coffee cart/bar for cold parents, placed a skull on the mannequin, took pictures for my future advertisements, and awaited the impressed kids and parents. I looked forward gleefully to sharing my efforts with the town.

One group, with four kids, came up our street. The parents didn’t take any coffee. Ironically, I felt like Dr. Frankenstein; earlier that night I’d joyfully brought the display to life, and now I was realizing that people didn’t really love it. If I assimilated I probably wouldn’t have these problems.

A thought on Halloween. I am a Christian, and I know some Christians go into hiding on Halloween. I’m not into the glorification of evil, but I also like history, and I know that historically there were outlandish depictions of death labelled “momento mori” (reminder of death) that weren’t “evil”. They served to remind people that they were going to die, and they should be thinking about what that meant. They were a Christian tool. Momento mori weren’t just reserved for Halloween, they were artwork, illuminated manuscript illustrations, book bindings, statues, etc.. Often they showed the king’s bones dancing with a poor person’s (The Dance of Death), reminding the viewer that the same judgement awaits us all. So no, I don’t think a skull’s head on my mannequin celebrated evil. Nor do I want to go into hiding every October 31st.

A “momento mori” in my style

Anyways, back to the motorcycle/petroliana/car discussion… my “sell a vintage gas station” idea didn’t work. Finally, months later, someone bought only the gas pump. They remarked, as they were taking the pump, “Man it’s going to be hard to find someone with enough space for that sign.”

Yeah, whatever.

It doesn’t seem that I have a future as an American picker. That t.v. show had me thinking my Mobil creation would sell in a day. My little petroliana business endeavor failed.

The gas pump did send me on an interesting errand though. I was told the pump was from a gas station in our town’s historic downtown. I went to the library and spent several hours looking for a picture of the gas station in newspapers from the 1930s to the 1950s.

I didn’t find a picture of my gas pump but several exciting late 1930s events caught my eye. Plymouth brought a mobile “miniature factory” demonstration to Newberg. And, in 1937, Shell brought their City of the Future Christmas Show to our town, accompanied by a fantastic futuristic vehicle I’d not seen before.

The vehicle in the 1937 Shell Christmas Show announcement sent me down rabbit holes I’ve still not fully explored. It seems likely the streamlined storage, behind the cab, was heavily influenced by the 1933-34 Century of Progress exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair.

And the Chicago Century of Progress was heavily influenced by the designs and ideas of Norman Bel Geddes, who penned a groundbreaking book, “Horizons”, on the future of design, in 1932. Geddes is even accredited with inventing the word “streamlined”, although I find this doubtful. 

Geddes served as a lighting consultant for the Chicago fair, having been banned from working on the buildings for being “too individualistic” (along with Frank Lloyd Wright).

Shell hired Bel Geddes, and used his vision of a City of the Future for an ad campaign in 1937. This is where the Shell show and truck, in our Newberg newspaper, came from.

GM loved this work, and after Shell finished with Bel Geddes, GM brought him on-board and expanded City of the Future into their 1939 Parade of Progress exhibition and the New York World’s Fair. This was one of the most successful World’s Fair exhibits of all time.

I think it’s safe to say that Norman Bel Geddes also influenced that 1937 GMC Cab Over Engine (COE) truck used for the base of the Shell Christmas Show truck.

An unrestored COE truck popped up on our local Craigslist last year, with the author of the advertisement writing many memorable lines like “if you don’t know what this is, don’t even talk to me”. At the time I thought it was an oddly aggressive advertisement for an old commercial truck, but now I see the possibilities. If I had one I’d try to recreate this Shell truck.

The Chicago Century of Progress shouldn’t be mentioned without noting the world’s largest Studebaker, a wonderful example of programmatic architecture. In 1933 Studebaker was in financial trouble, so they went all in for advertising, including designing their World’s Fair building to look like a giant Studebaker!

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And before we move away from the Century of Progress, let me leave you with a few additional postcards of automotive interest from that awesome event.

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The sheer size of the Chicago World’s Fair was remarkable! Do you ever feel like we’ve lost some “can do” attitude?

Click on the Picture to Make it Larger
From the Library of Congress – 6a28300r

And here’s a video introducing Norman Bel Geddes work:

But back to my library adventure. The Plymouth and Shell events weren’t the only notable things the local newspapers held. The period car advertisements were delightful, and hot rodding efforts were deemed newsworthy!

One news article recorded the rodding efforts of our town’s future benefactor, Ken Austin. The dremel Austin would invent, for working on cars, turned into the dental industry’s go-to tool. Austin’s company still employs many, and his endowments built our community center and pool (among other things). He only passed recently (2019) and I’m sorry I never had the chance to meet him.

My own hot rod endeavors are far, far, far less spectacular. This summer I completed the steering mechanism for my fake Lotus 7. That may sound simple, but it was a lot of work. Several very late nights went into the math calculations for avoiding bump steer, followed up with several trips to the machine shop for cutting my steering rack to the right size. Then I had to fabricate mounts, route the steering column, buy my parts, mount it, weld it, etc..

One of Six Pages of Math

Building a car from scratch is taking a lot longer than I thought it would. Nothing bolts in. I miss bolting things in… I really do.

Next, I’m on to the brakes. Boxes of brake parts have been rolling into the house. Let’s see if I can design a successful brake system. And, of course, the typical annoying issues are coming up. For some odd reason one of the brake caliper mounting holes, on my Mustang II uprights, is not the same size as the bolt hole in the Mustang II caliper; it’s these types of things that waste so much of my time.

And, unfortunately, I’d still like to clean the SV650 up a little more. It needs fork seals, a muffler, and a paint job.

I’ve been considering the paint job. A historic custom car, Marquis, appeared in a storefront downtown; it was one of the first to be built asymmetrical (its body peak isn’t in the center). It’s an important car that appeared in four car magazines in 1962-63 (Hot Rod, Car Craft, Road & Custom, Popular Customs). I’ve stood and stared at a number of times. It is awesome. I’ve also been following a lot of custom car guys on Instagram (I recommend CustomCarChronicle and Kustomrama). Probably because of this custom car influence, I’ve decided to use some of the metal flake and transparent paint from the Mobil sign to imitate a garish custom car paint job.

You know, with rattle cans. In my garage. I’m sure it’ll be great.

Hold my beer… or low-calorie beer imitation… I’m going to garishly paint my SV650 to try and make it more exciting. I’ve never seen anyone do that (said with much sarcasm).

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