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I left my hubcap in San Francisco . . .

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Steve's Pony Car

For those who think a gee-whiz car is one running on a massive array of nine-volt batteries, move on. There’s nothing for you here. Personally, I got over electric cars when Mom threw away my slot-car set. If they ever develop an electric passenger plane, I’ll look up to see that.

But for those of us who got our driver’s licenses in the mid-1960s, this is for you. It’s also for those who weren’t lucky enough to live in the days of the American muscle car and 19-cent-a-gallon gas! You missed it, Grasshopper!!!

Bad Charger

The 1968 movie Bullitt starred Steve McQueen as a rogue cop. At least, that’s what the marquee on the Naples theater said. But the real stars of the show were a dark-green ’68 Mustang GT 390 and a shiny-black Dodge Charger R/T 440. The chase is shown here in three parts. Please view them full-screen with the volume way up. I want you to hear every double-clutching sound and see it all.

I’ve seen websites that show the San Francisco locations of this chase, and some of them are miles apart from what the movie shows. But it’s a movie, okay?!?!? And did this thing MOVE! Parts of this movie were a drag; I didn’t like seeing the Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s Robert Vaughan as a bad guy, for one thing. But the chase made up for it. Enjoy, my little motor-heads!

We start with the prelude, and the chase begins in the second YouTube clip. Sorry about the ads before the scenes, so stop your whining.

Several years after this movie, not being a Ford fan, I bought a brand-new Charger with a 440. As I’ve mentioned here before, it was a dog; a real bow-wow. So it goes. I wasn’t in San Francisco anyway.

1974-dodge-charger-special-edition

BONUS!  In 2006, Ford created a wonderful Mustang commercial, riffing off Field of Dreams, starring Steve McQueen, who had died in 1980. McQueen’s wearing what he wore in the Bullet chase and it’s just a brilliant ad.

Jay Leno: Cool-and-a-half!

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I’m not a television watcher, so I’ve never seen Jay Leno on the Tonight Show or any other program. But I’ve read on the Web about his car collection and that makes him the coolest person in the world.

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Mr. Leno is a couple of years older than I am, and better preserved (damn his eyes), but I’m willing to bet we shared one obsession as we grew up: CARS!

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In my teens, I read every Motor Trend, Hot Rod, Road & Track, or other car-related magazine I could get my hands on. Sitting on the side of my bed in the bedroom I shared with my brother, I’d read and re-read all I could about what was coming out from Detroit or what the kustom karmakers were up to. I sent off for the J.C. Whitney catalogs and read and re-read ‘em.

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Folks like Big Daddy Don Garlits, George Barris, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and Dean Jeffries were my idols. GM designer Harley Earl was the fellow with the best job in the world.

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My blue-fabric school binder had a Garlits sticker, an STP sticker, a Hooker Headers sticker, Moon eyeballs, Cherry Bomb, and Thrush muffler stickers on it. Of course, I had no car, but once I did, I used STP in it (for whatever it was supposed to do) and one afternoon installed a Cherry Bomb muffler. The cop who pulled me over on the first ride I took with that muffler explained that it wasn’t against the law for me to buy it or own it, but the town of Wonderful Naples on the Gulf wouldn’t allow me to use it on my Corvair!!!

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Back in my youth, cars were amazing. And a bit of the coolness of your car rubbed off on its owner. It’s just the way things were. I remember riding the schoolbus in Port Arthur, Texas, past the Ford dealer and seeing Kraft paper covering all the windows so we couldn’t get a peek at the NEW FORD MUSTANG! God knows, we tried to sneak a peek! I remember walking out of a movie theater in Houma, Louisiana, after seeing A Hard Day’s Night with my gang and seeing my first Studebaker Avanti, gleaming metalflake gold, roll by like a chariot of the gods. Holy crap; what a car!

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My favorite Christmas of my kid days was 1966, when we lived in Marathon, Florida. My favorite gift wasn’t the Man from U.N.C.L.E. plastic briefcase with that snazzy multi-part pistol/rifle, or the green bottle of Hai Karate aftershave. It was the stack of car magazines Santa brought! And what cars there were that year. I read and studied those magazines till they fell to pieces.

The two most astonishing cars, to my eye, were the new Camaro—utter elegance—and the Olds Toronado. That car was just an absolute mind-blower. Looking like an updated coffin-nosed Cord, this was perhaps the most unabashedly masculine car GM ever made. That hood went on forever, those wheelwells were aggressively bold, the rakish rear roofline just screamed speed and arrogance. And it had hide-away headlights and front-wheel drive! Oh, my. I swiped some of my dad’s onionskin typing paper and traced those Toronado magazine photos over and over; trying to discover what made it look so amazingly cool.

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The next year, in spite of my pleading, my mom bought a ’67 Riviera GS. It was a beaut; battleship gray with redlined Kelly Springfield tires. The rolling speedometer went to 160. But I wanted us to have a Toronado! At least my dad didn’t get his way; he wanted us to buy an AMC Ambassador, of all things.

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I knew a guy in his late ‘20s who owned a then-new ’65 Buick Skylark convertible. It was metallic gold or bronze, depending on whether it was in the sun or the shade. He washed and waxed that car every week, and it just gleamed. This fellow was handsome; ripped from working every day on a commercial fishing boat, and if a girl wanted to hang around him, she had to help with his weekly car ritual. That’s just the way it was. And this was no cursory wash and wax; he used that Blue Coral car wax in the tin and he even waxed the inside of the gas-cap door.

No shortcuts allowed on HIS car.

Did I think that guy was cool? You KNOW he was cool. His ride was cool, and that made him just that much cooler.

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And when I saw a little segment on the Web that showed Jay Leno with his metalflaked-gold customized ’66 Toronado, I was stunned. The segment went on to show a large garage Mr. Leno has, filled with beautiful and well-cared-for cars, and I knew that, to my way of thinking, Mr. Jay Leno is the coolest guy in the world. He earned his money and spent it wisely and all the coolness of all those cars transfers coolness to him. That’s just the way it is.

A great instrument instructs the player . . .

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One of my more unusual guitars is a Hallmark Barris Kustom from Bob Shade. This guitar is shaped and painted to replicate custom-hotrod-builder George Barris’ personal crest. Barris, a buddy of Shade, is the fellow who designed what I consider to be the koolest kar ever made: The TV show Batmobile:

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Barris is called the King of the Kustomizers; he also designed and built the Munster Koach, the Beverly Hillbillies’ truck, the Kitt car, the Dukes of Hazzard General Lee, and the MonkeeMobile, among a host of others:

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Back to this guitar. Bob, whom I’ve known for 20 years, has given me some good deals and trades on guitars and in return I’ve given him my trifling skills as a photographer, writer, and/or sketch artist/designer. We have fun together because we love guitars and kool kars and we both have a wacky sense of humor. Since the Barris Kustom guitar Bob made as a six-stringed version of Barris’ crest is either a prototype or a mistake, it doesn’t have exactly the same control circuitry his production models have. It has a single knob for volume and a single Shade-recreation of the early 1950s Carvin AP6 pickup. No tone control.

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That being said, it is one of the best-sounding and playing guitars I have. It has a maple/rosewood neck of the Tele/Strat scale, though bound. It’s a solid body and fairly lightweight. It comes with Bob’s version of the old Mosrite tremolo. The Carvin-clone pickup gives it a spanky yet very articulate sound, especially since I use LaBella light-gauge flatwound strings on all of my electric guitars. It sure doesn’t look like a run-of-the-mill guitar, does it?

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Played through one of my old Fender tube amps at jams and such, this guitar is amazing. Like an acoustic guitar, the lack of tone controls or a second pickup forces the player to make any sound changes with his fingers: Where the pick or fingers strike the strings, how hard, how frequently. With that AP6-type pickup, all those dynamics come through and it just sounds great in any mix and on any song, whether it’s Blind Albert Reed, Buddy Holly, or John Denver.

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Kool guitar!!! Thanks, Bob and George!!!

Kaiser Permanente, Popeye, my Grandfather and Me

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Like a Dickens novel, life is full of surprising associations that best come into focus in hindsight. In today’s exciting blog entry, we explore the relationship between Kaiser Permanente; Popeye’s friend the Eugene the Jeep; my grandfather, James P. Page, Sr.; and me.

Years ago, when we first moved to Maryland, we lived in a suburb of Washington, DC, known as Calverton. Patty and I would drive by the nearby Kaiser Permanente Silver Spring Medical Center and wonder what it was.  At that time, the sign just read “Kaiser Permanente” with no indication of what the purpose was of the site.

Henry J Kaiser

Henry John Kaiser (1882-1967) was an American industrialist who became known as the father of modern American shipbuilding. He established the Kaiser Shipyard which built Liberty ships during World War II, after which he formed Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel. Kaiser organized the Kaiser Permanente health-care system for his workers and their families. He led Kaiser-Frazer followed by Kaiser Motors, automobile companies known for the safety of their designs. (Info swiped from Wikipedia)

The name indicated a relationship with the brilliant industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, of dam-, ship- and auto-building fame, but the Permanente part of the name seemed odd to me. Little did I realize that they would later become our health-care provider or that I would one day be working for the firm. The Permanente part of that name, by the way, comes from the name of a creek that ran by the lodge of Henry and Bess Kaiser in Santa Clara County, California; in 1945, Mrs. Kaiser thought the name would be fitting for the new health system they had started for their shipyard employees. Here’s a recent view of that beautiful creek:

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Probably named Permanente Creek by the early Spanish settlers of California because it didn’t dry up during the year.

So how do Popeye’s friend and my grandfather and I come into this? Kaiser, with his business associate, Joseph Frazer, began making wonderful cars just after World War II. The autos of Kaiser-Frazer, as their company was called, were very innovative and attractive, and they also made cars called Allstates, which were sold by Sears Roebuck in the 1952 and 1953 model years. Yes; you could buy a car (and houses, for that matter; my 1926-built house is an example!) from a Sears catalog in those days.

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Great-looking car; a good many of these were made into hot rods after mom and dad passed them on to the kids!

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This amazing Kaiser car, like the Corvette which came out the same year, was made with a huge engine and a fiberglass body.

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Ahead of its time and still looks stylish 60 years later.

1951 Kaiser Ad

Typical of the innovations that Kaiser-Frazer autos were known for, this Traveler model would be useful for toting things around in the days before SUVs and minivans.

My grandfather, who was never one to ignore a business opportunity when he saw it, opened what was likely the smallest of Kaiser-Frazer dealerships, on U.S. Route One in Callahan, Florida. Here’s a photo of the then-brand-new dealership; my grandfather is second from the right. The little fellow next to him is my Uncle Ronald, who went on to a 35+ year career as a special agent with the FBI and now lives in New Mexico!

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Here’s a recent photo of the Page Building in Callahan, which we still own and rent out to various businesses. To my knowledge, this property has never generated a thin dime in revenue, but there are those in the family who have an emotional attachment to this old building and we guess it pays for its upkeep.

Page Building, Callahan

Until today, I had identified the wrong tacky building as the Page Building. John H, a Callahan historian, kindly pointed out my error. Thanks, John!

Now, let’s get to Popeye, shall we? In the pre-WWII United States, the newspaper comic strip, Thimble Theatre, by Elzie Segar, was a big deal. The best-known member of the strip’s zany ensemble, Popeye the Sailor Man, was a stroke of genius, but Segar had many such strokes and his creations caught the country’s imagination in a big way. Another inspired Segar creation was Eugene the Jeep. The Jeep was a made-up word Segar used to describe his little creature, who had the ability to pop through time and space and do wonderful things for his friends.

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The original Jeep!

The Jeep character became a big fad, especially among children, and there were books, stuffed toys and cartoons about this loveable character, as shown by this great movie poster from 1938:

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Moving forward a few years, into the Second World War, the Willis Corporation developed a General Purpose, or GP, vehicle for the U.S. Army. This rugged and unpretentious four-wheel-drive car was manufactured by the hundreds of thousands during the war, and the GIs of the day dubbed it the Jeep, because, as one soldier said, the thing was “small, able to move between dimensions and could solve seemingly impossible problems.” That, plus the GP designation sounded like the word “Jeep.”

Jeeps On A Flatcar, 1944

Sixteen of the over half-million GP vehicles or Jeeps head to war on a railway flatcar in 1944. Legend has it that you could buy a war-surplus Jeep in the late 1940s for $50.

After the war, Willis was not making too many Jeeps and Kaiser’s autos needed engines; Kaiser bought Willis and used their engines in the Kaiser-Frazer autos. Production of the Kaiser-Frazer line stopped for various reasons in 1955, but Kaiser kept making Jeeps of different types and styles until 1970. They sold that part of their empire to American Motors in that year, and American was later purchased by the Chrysler Corporation, who continue making Jeeps today. My grandfather’s Kaiser dealership closed after his death in the mid 1950s.

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The Kaiser line of Willis Jeeps; I’d love to have one of those Utility Wagons.

Kaiser Permanente, of course, has thrived as the nation’s largest, most esteemed and (by my family, at least) best-loved managed-care provider, and I work as manager of marketing and creative operations at their Mid-Atlantic Regional Headquarters. Wonderful place and I’m proud to help in its mission in my small way!

Thus the connection between Kaiser Permanente, Popeye, my grandfather and me!

Kaiser Jeep

One of the last of the Kaiser-built Jeeps romps over rocks.

Batmobiles and Me . . .

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TV Batmobile

Today’s sale of the original TV-show Batmobile reminded me of my slight brush with the history of the various versions of the car.

A kid in the 1950s and ’60s could be a fan of both Superman and Batman, and I was, but Batman had a couple of extra things going for him: he had a cave and he had a cool car. The primary Batmobile of the 1940s was a good-looking unit, and no other comic-book character had anything remotely as cool as this:

1940s Batmobile

In 1950, the editors of the Batman comics decided it was time to update the Batmobile, and this one was born:

1950 Batmobile b

This 1950 Batmobile had a crime lab built into the back seat and still had the spooky and amazing front bat-face thingie and the neat swooping rear fin. Not a thing wrong with this baby:

1950 Batmobile a

But by the mid-1960s, even I had to admit that 1950s Batmobile, still used in the comic books, was dated-looking.

We had just moved down to Marathon, Florida, and I had time on my hands. So, I decided to create a more modern Batmobile. I chose the front end of a Pontiac of the era and the back end of a Chrysler; combining those was easy; then I added a couple of canopy bubbles like fighter planes had. And, to top it all off, I added a couple of hood and side scoops like Corvettes had. I made sure it had a bat face on the front and two bat-fins on the back!

I drew a really clean version of the design and sent it to Mr. Julius Schwartz, an editor at DC Comics who seemed to encourage kids to become involved in the books.

I promptly forgot about the whole thing until a few months later, when a postcard came from Mr. Schwartz; he always wrote on postcards. He was going to use my Batmobile in the comic books! And– WOW– I would get a free one-year subscription to all the comics he edited. He edited a bunch of good ones, too: Batman, Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, Justice League of America!

Here’s what my version of the Batmobile looked like when it appeared in the comic books:

JBP Batmobile b

JBP Batmobile c

JBP Batmobile a

I was so proud! Then the TV show came out, and the Batmobile on the show made mine look like crap.

Here are a couple of photos of the TV-show Batmobile taken before it even had its glossy paint job; it’s still wearing its flat-black primer:

Original Primered TV Show Batmobile

Rear, Primered Batmobile

I was devastated at first, but then figured, “Okay; they have pro guys designing TV-show cars and I’m just a kid! No wonder their’s looks so much better!!!”

One problem was that I could no longer tell my pals I had designed the Batmobile, because the first thing they’d say would be, “THE TV-SHOW ONE?!?!?!” And I’d have to reply, “No; the lame one they use in the comic books and comic strip.”

Eventually– and we’re talking over a year; maybe more– I grew sick of seeing my Batmobile in the books and strips and wrote to Mr. Schwartz again: “Why do you keep using my Batmobile design when the TV-show one is ten times better looking?!?!?!” And a few weeks later, a DC Comics postcard came with his response: “Yours is easier to draw.”

Oh, well. They’ve come out with a 1:43-scale Corgi die-cast version of my Batmobile, which is one of the rarest and costliest Batmobile die-cast models because it is lame-looking compared to the TV-show one and not much sought after. A very generous Batmobile historian and enthusiast in England was nice enough to send me one a couple of years ago; I darn sure wasn’t going to spend over $250 for it on eBay!!! Too bad they used a baby-blue paint for the color:

JBP Batmobile Corgi Die-Cast

Yes; I’m proud of my lame creation, but, to me, there is only one Batmobile, and it isn’t the one I dreamed up sitting on the side of my bed in Marathon, Florida, and it isn’t the ones in the comic books and strips and it sure isn’t any of the recent Batman movie Batmobiles; it’s this:

Batmobile On Set

The Best-Looking Car I Never Had

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Jaguar XKEOne of the unintended consequences of the gasoline shortages of the early 1970s was that cars with big engines could be had cheap. For those who weren’t around in those days, gas in most localities could only be purchased on the odd/even system based on your auto tag numbers, and that’s if it was available at all.

Dash looked like an airplane cockpit!

In Naples, a few of us found a way to avoid the lines and didn’t suffer too badly. But across the U.S., folks might spend an entire day in line to get five dollars worth of gas, only to be refused at the end of their tedious wait.

In 1974, I had moved to Tampa and had just met my future wife, Patty. A block or so north of where I worked was a used-car lot that sold high-end cars. Having saved up a few thousand dollars and ready to buy a car, I stopped there and fell in love with a 1967 burgundy Jaguar XKE convertible with the enormous gas-guzzling V-12 engine. Hey; this gas crisis can’t last forever, can it?!?!?!

V12 Jaguar E Type

What a plant!!!

What a plant!!!

I took Patty by the lot to show it to her, and she immediately balked, saying she wouldn’t be seen in such an ugly car. I was astonished; the Jag was gorgeous but so was Patty and I made the obvious choice.

Still needing a car, I bought one of the worst ones I ever owned; a brand-new Dodge Charger Special Edition. What a lousy car that was; a real POS. It also had a huge engine (a hemi, for you motor-heads), but it ate fan belts three at a time, constantly overheated and to top it all off, wasn’t very quick. I drove that bomb for two years, buying fan belts every month (you had to replace all three if one failed) and thinking of that Jag engine that had metal chains instead of rubber belts.

Here’s exactly what my Charger looked like:

Yuch!

Yuch!

A couple of weeks after buying the Charger, Patty, her younger brother Billy and I were going somewhere and an XKE Jag went by us. Patty remarked, “What a beautiful car!”

WHAT?!?!?!? I slammed on the brakes so hard the Charger did a 180 on Busch Boulevard, and asked, “What did you say?!?!” She meekly replied, “I said ‘What a pretty car.’ ”

I was frosted. “Just two weeks ago you stopped me from buying one of those because you said it was so ugly!!!”

Patty burst into tears and said, “You are such a terrible driver; if you drove a car like that Jaguar you’d kill yourself in a week.”

As we sat in that horrible Dodge Charger facing the wrong way on Busch Boulevard,  traffic beeping and honking as it passed us, I had to admit that Patty was correct.

I still wish I had bought that Jag, though!

Jaguar XKE Comin' At Ya

Cars With Fins!

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Perhaps the prettiest car I ever had was this 1958 DeSoto Firesweep Sportsman, given to me by my dad when I first started driving. Here’s a drawing from an ad:

He had bought me a ’58 Chevy first, but that car was a loser, so he bought himself an Oldsmobile and gave his DeSoto to me. Here are my mom, my brother Jeff, our then-new Chihuahua, Tiger, and me standing by the DeSoto in Apalachicola, Florida in 1966, just as I started driving; don’t know what I’m pointing at here:

There were a lot of cool features to the DeSoto, but the push-button automatic transmission may have been the coolest. Here’s a Web photo of the dashboard; the transmission controls are on the left side of the dashboard. See ’em?

Another dash photo. Look at the groovy knobs! Of course, this was before the government made car-makers have safety uppermost in mind when designing a dashboard. I’m not certain this car even had seat belts; I suspect it didn’t, unless my dad put them in later. He had an aftermarket AC put in and it worked so well it would fling ice at you from the rear deck.

Here’s a great Web photo of some lucky person’s pink DeSoto convertible. How I would love to have that car!!!

Many cars today look like little bars of soap rolling down the road. I loved it when cars looked like jet airplanes or the TV-show Batmobile!

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