Yearly Archives: 2020


Conversations With People We Value #14

As car enthusiasts we revel in the beauty, the performance and the perfection of the vehicles we love. We also recognize that for the vast majority of us the skills required to properly maintain the 4-wheeled objects of our affection exceed our level of expertise. The responsibility for preserving our classic automobiles at a high level rests on the shoulders of a shrinking body of skilled artisans. As these gifted craftsmen age out of the community we find ourselves painfully aware of their critical value in preserving the health of our classic car hobby. Once plentiful, this, now, dwindling breed features men who rank as savants in their respective fields. None more so than Steve Ellis.

Rebuild it and they will come –

The life of Carburetor Steve


Steve Ellis with custom tri-power for a Chevy small block

Sitting on Steve’s work bench, the three Weber carburetors belong to a 1964 Ferrari Lusso. Steve, in the process of explaining his complete rebuild of the, now, perfect threesome, gets interrupted by a guy who bursts through the door announcing his entry with a warning. “This box stinks! Careful when you open it.” Within the stinking box resides the carburetor for a 1948 Dodge sedan afflicted with vintage gas from before Hess sold toy trucks. As Steve says, “Welcome to my world.”

1948 Dodge 1-barrel and 1964 Ferrari Lusso Weber tri-power

Better known and revered as Carburetor Steve, Steve Ellis has displayed his total mastery of everything “carburetor” for 41 years with the last 37 years spent in his own business, Steve’s Carburetor Shop in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Totally at home and at ease amidst a thoughtfully organized chaos of carburetor innards and completed foreign and domestic setups, his shop features completed examples of vintage carburetion ranging from the mundane to the exotic.

Since Steve began, profound changes driven by emissions requirements, computers and performance demands have morphed the nature of carburetor rebuilding. Over the last 40 years Steve’s business has pivoted from an emphasis on supporting a vast population of primarily generic travel appliances to providing life support for the vehicles owned by automobile enthusiasts dedicated to enjoying the landmark cars that brought the 20th century’s golden age of the automobile to life.

Steve says, “When I started, my business was purely wholesale supplying gas stations. I had three guys and a driver working here. I used to do a lot of Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans but that’s all gone. Now it’s shrunk down to where it’s just me and a part-time guy.” However, for Steve the enormous community of vintage car enthusiasts in New Jersey and across the nation keeps him busy. Steve says, “Almost all of those vintage cars have carburetors which need service every couple of years. I am doing carburetors over now that I did ten or fifteen years ago.”

Shortly after the stinky 1948 Dodge carburetor made its appearance, a kind of “Back to the Future” Doc Brown personality enters and introduces his vintage project. “It’s off a ’57 Buick,” Says Doc Brown. Not unlike presenting a vintage time piece to the expert on Antiques Road Show, Steve displays a comprehensive knowledge of the 60-year-old Carter AFB as evidenced by the probing and nuanced questions he asks. Doc Brown simply says, “do it.”

When asked specifics about Doc Brown, Steve, with a shrug, acknowledges he has never seen him before. That says it all about reputation. Clearly word of mouth had brought that 1957 Carter AFB to Steve’s. “That’s pretty much how it works, people with vintage jobs just show up.” says Steve. He adds, “You know like in the movie Field of Dreams  ‘build it and they will come,’ well in my business it is rebuild it right and they will come.” And they do.

Steve in the process of confirming that my 1961 Corvette’s dual quads need help

When asked about competition, Steve recalls that when he first started just about every other town had a shop specializing in rebuilding carburetors, generators and starters. Today in the whole state of New Jersey less than a handful, maybe three or four at most, can do what Steve can do. And just what can Steve do?

Regardless of its pedigree every carburetor rebuilt by Steve enjoys the same comprehensive overhaul. It starts with a full teardown and cleaning. Steel parts go to an industrial plater. Castings are subjected to ultrasonic washing followed by glass beading and then a second ultrasonic wash. Steve says, “it not only makes a difference functionally but aesthetically as well. Aesthetics can be a big deal if the car is being shown.” With all old material and grime removed new gaskets and worn parts are replaced. With a jeweler’s eye for perfection, Steve reassembles the carburetor to the point where it is ready for final tuning after being returned to the engine.


A recent arrival to Steve’s work bench stands out among the many custom setups from landmark vintage cars entrusted to Steve’s skilled hands. Awaiting Steve’s attention are a trio of Edelbrock 500 carburetors from “Moonkist,” a legendary T-bucket hotrod from the 1970s. Inspired by the brilliantly wicked early 1970s Randy Bianchi designed T-bucket “Sunkist,” Moonkist, built in the late 1970s featured the joint vision and skill of Bianchi and the late Willy Donato.

Admittedly, Steve had suffered from being victimized by his own obsession for perfection. For a period he would build custom tri-power systems for clients. A gifted machinist, Steve, working with stainless steel, tailored fuel logs in a variety of shapes from hex to square to round. He fabricated custom fuel lines and linkages and brackets from stainless all with a jewelry finish.

However, work for a custom client named “Mr. Skate” put the stainless steel nail in the custom tri-power coffin.

Mr. Skate approached Steve expressing a desperate desire for a custom tri-power set-up. Steve explained that he created custom systems during slow times at the shop. Skate agreed. Steve says, “It was like he hadn’t left my shop yet and he was asking when it would be done.” Skate began calling repeatedly. He would make demands saying that he needed the tri-power right away. Steve says, “I would see him at cruise nights. He would harass me with comments like ‘I’m a customer too. I want my tri-power.” Steve had had enough. Steve, to satisfy Mr. Skate, would come back to the shop at night to finish all the finely detailed custom stainless work. He delivered the system. Steve recalls, “With the system completed, Mr. Skate now had a problem with the price.” And, thus, Skate earned his name. As Steve says, “Mr. Skate was excessively frugal.”

In looking back Steve says, “I’d make all these little pieces on the lathe and Bridgeport. They’re all stainless. I polished the heads of all the bolts and they’re all stainless. The process proved enormously time consuming. I wound up losing money. I had to stop.”

As a kind of “carburetor whisperer” Steve offers insights into the proper care and feeding of vintage carburetion. With systems like dual quads and especially tri-power Steve advises, “Every time you take the car out you have to put your foot into it. You have to open up the end carburetor(s). Steve tells the story of a guy who wanted tri-power for his Mopar though he believed that they would be a pain in the neck and a nightmare to set up. “Not true,” says Steve, “Just set them up right. It’s always one of two things. Either the linkage is out of whack or the end carburetors don’t get used and they gum up.”

To make his point Steve returns to his “favorite” customer the excessively frugal Mr. Skate with his tri-power. Steve says, “He came in and wanted me to show him how far down he could push the gas pedal before the end carbs kicked in. He didn’t want to waste gas.”

In walking around Steve’s shop a respectable pile of old carburetors fills a corner. When called to his attention Steve just laughs and opens a door to his back lot. Outside a shipping container roughly nine feet high and 55 ft. in length fills a side of his parking lot. Unlocking an access door reveals shelves lining the full length on both sides filled with old carburetors. But wait there’s more! Having exhausted all shelf capacity, a thigh-high snow drift of old carbs cover the floor for the length of the container. Steve utters a self-deprecating laugh as he explains the calls he gets from the children of deceased mechanics or downsizing hobbyists with boxes of old carburetors looking for a new home. “I never say no,” says Steve. Reflecting on his past misjudgment, Steve recalls his total confidence in knowing that when he bought the container he could never exceed its cavernous capacity.

When asked about the future of carburetor repair Steve says that even if someone has the desire to learn it, so much can no longer be picked up in everyday work experience. He laughs saying that he has float levels for generations of carburetors committed to memory.

Steve also makes a point of acknowledging the help he received along the way. He gives great credit to an older friend he recalls as being a big brother when he needed one. His friend, Charlie, generously shared his extensive technical knowledge and commitment to excellence in welding, painting and engine work. Turning serious for a moment, Steve slows to give emphasis to his words, “Everything I do and how well I do it has its foundation in everything Charlie taught me.”

When asked about his future Steve says, “I am going to continue doing antique carburetor work. Maybe someday I’ll retire but not now.

Time spent with a remaining artisan like Carburetor Steve triggers recollections of an earlier era when appreciation and respect was rightfully accorded the honest labor, commitment to excellence and pride associated with the mastery of a craft. As well, it reminds us how good we feel when in the presence of such mastery.

Merry Christmas, Joyous Holidays and a happy and healthy New Year

Drivin’ News will return in the first week of 2021. The adventure continues…

By |2020-12-24T12:18:59+00:00December 24th, 2020|6 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #14

While it had the potential for disaster, I was confident we could pull it off. My crew had arrived at the Silvercup Studios in Astoria Queens hours before the black tie crowd of VIPs would begin to gather on the evening of December 16th 1992. Famous in later years as the site for shooting Sex and the City, Mad Men, the Sopranos and numerous major films, on this particular night the huge top floor studio resplendent in Christmas trappings would host a dinner honoring the President and CEO of Volvo Cars of North America. Tonight would be his gala retirement dinner. My responsibility would be to deliver a special gift as part of the entertainment. Hours before delivery it remained a work in progress. No worries.

A Volvo Christmas Classic – “It’s a Vunderful Life”


Cheery, bright, in the midst of her career and utterly fearless if she believed in the mission, her name was Nancy Fiesler. Fiesler was part of the Volvo North America Holding Company Communications Department at a time when the Volvo name in North America adorned trucks, marine engines, construction equipment, buses and sports equipment in addition to automobiles. Fiesler had been assigned many of the responsibilities involved in planning the retirement dinner of CEO Mr. Joseph L. Nicolato.

“Fearless” Nancy Fiesler

Nicolato a retired Marine had started working for Volvo in 1958 as a Volvo parts representative in the New York area. By 1981 Nicolato had reached the heights as President and CEO of Volvo Cars of North America. He had been my boss when I had worked for Volvo. A savvy, no nonsense guy with a keen understanding of the automobile business, Volvo customers and Volvo dealers, Nicolato could be tough but was always fair.  And Nicolato loved Volvo. It used to be said, “If you cut Joe, he’d  bleed Volvo blue.”

As part of the evening’s entertainment Fiesler wanted something unique, Christmas themed and memorable for ”Joe.” My phone rang. As a one-time Volvo employee and life-long “friend of Volvo” well grounded in Volvo lore, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to make Fiesler’s vision a reality. We brainstormed and despite many thunderclaps of creativity we kept returning to a ridiculously funny and inspired concept that made no sense for such an important occasion except that the thought of it simply made us laugh. God bless Nancy Fiesler. She had guts. She pulled the trigger.

We would produce a film portraying the origins of Volvo based on the iconic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” CEO Nicolato and Volvo senior management, family and friends from Sweden and North America would be entertained by a Volvo Christmas classic, It’s a Vunderful Life.” The challenge would consume me and in the process afford me one of the best single afternoons in my professional life.

Right out of the box this daunting task benefitted from a motherload of serendipity. “It’s a Wonderful Life” had been allowed to slip into the public domain. With a copy in hand, I set about to whittle, twist and script Frank Capra’s 130-minute American Classic into a cogent, entertaining and humorous 10-minute feature overdubbed in “Swenglish” dialect.

Two requirements stood as personal non-negotiable issues in my undertaking the creation of “It’s a Vunderful Life”. First, though intended to be funny, it had be faithful to critical facts pivotal in the birth of the iconic Swedish car company so that loyal Volvophiles in attendance would feel good and this great brand would not be disrespected. Second, I would not let my adaptation spoil or diminish in any way my ability to enjoy this truly wonderful movie.

Cutting, shaping and subtracting scenes while scripting dialogue to match the new storyline was not rocket science but it sure felt frustratingly close. However, slowly Capra’s masterpiece shrank to a manageable collection of scenes that when strung together formed a buck around which a story could be beaten into shape.

With concept and copy finalized, I sought to hire the voice-over talent to overdub the video. Through my years as a Volvo employee a few of my Volvo cohort and I had developed this zany faux Swedish banter which just became part of our natural conversation. Think, Muppets Swedish Chef. Now, I would hire professionals to really nail it. Surprisingly, I could not find anybody who could do it. Everyone was too professional and polished. Of all the problems I never saw this one coming. Then it dawned on me. As the saying goes, shop your own store.

Unbeknownst to my Volvo friends, we had been rehearsing for years in preparation to do this project. We would perform all of the voices. Two dear friends Peter Desbets a Marketing Manager at Volvo and Scott Cheesman who now worked at Mercedes-Benz and I gathered at the sound studio of my brilliant recording engineer Cliff Hahn. We would do a running dialogue and synchronize it to the visual movie track playing in front of us. That afternoon, to this day, remains one of the single most nose-run funny experiences in all my working life.

As the concept came to life, a creative itch I needed to scratch demanded a way to truly engage all to be in attendance.

Final scene followed by singing Volvo VIPs

With Fiesler and me, already well out on the limb, climbing a little further would not make the fall any worse. My intention would be to leave “It’s a Vunderful Life” without an ending until the night of the dinner. Then at cocktail hour I would herd all the VIPs into a studio set up off the ballroom where they would be filmed singing a Swedish drinking song. Once done the freshly shot footage would be run down to one of the Silvercup Studio editing suites. There my crew would edit the new ending as the concluding scene of the movie. Thus, when George Bailey with Zuzu in his arms looks back to the gathering of friends the scene would show the singing Volvo attendees. What could go wrong? Probably a hundred things.

As December 16th fast approached “It’s a Vunderful Life” had become a pleasing reality for Fiesler and Me. However, “potentially looming debacle” might better describe what some senior Volvo executives began to manifest in their corporate consciousness. For some reason at this late hour they experienced misgivings about an outlaw version of a classic American Christmas film re-cut to tell the story of their Swedish founding fathers in a humorous manner employing bad Swedish accents before an audience of VIP Swedish and North American Volvo executives. Really? What’s the problem?

In advance of the dinner, senior management decided to “test” the film. Volvo invited a small focus group of Swedish executives to preview “It’s a Vunderful Life.” Our good luck held. The Swedish Siskels and Eberts shared a great sense of humor and came out laughing. Home free, so far. We, however, had farther to go.

Commencing to sing Helan Gar

Night fell on a chilly New York City. As the VIPs filled the wonderfully festive ballroom, we waited till everyone had at least one drink. Then, on cue, two attractive women in black clingy evening gowns gently directed the guests off to a brightly illuminated area facing a film crew. Employing a technique similar to that used by police to initiate compliance from disoriented people during a raid, I gave specific and confident directions to the somewhat unsure attendees. The Swedish executives in attendance lifted my efforts on the wings of their firm determination to party hearty.

In jubilant stentorian voices the Swedish execs lead a spirited rendition of Swedish drinking song Helan Gar. It was great. Then, not giving their sing-a-long another thought, everyone retreated to dinner as the video made its way to final edit.

With dessert a delicious memory the audience turned its attention to the large screen. Show time at last. Fiesler and I took a deep collective anticipatory breath. They laughed! Everything after that stands as a blissful blur.

Much like the last stagehand exiting the theater to the sound of his own lonely echoing footfalls, I departed the empty great room for the elevator. As the elevator doors parted there stood retiring CEO Joe Nicolato and his lovely wife Marylou. They too had just put a big night behind them and for the Nicolatos a proud career as well. A brutal critic if displeased, Joe Nicolato flashed a large and unusually warm smile.

A wonderful life indeed.


Watch “It’s a Vunderful Life”

Click on the link to watch “Its a Vunderful Life”

By |2020-12-10T11:56:20+00:00December 10th, 2020|2 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #13

This past Saturday a large number of the local Drivin’ News ( community gathered at Paul’s Motors in Hawthorne, NJ for Carnucopia II. Many brought their favorite classic car, the one they love to drive and that others love to see. They also brought a generous spirit intent on supporting the Tri-Boro Food Pantry’s efforts to meet the growing Covid driven need of individuals for food assistance.

Carnucopia II, Classic Car Food Drive

Tri-Boro Food Pantry Director Janelle Larghi accepting donations with Burton Hall from Drivin’ News

Thanksgiving weekend’s Carnucopia II represented the second effort this year by the Drivin’ News community of automotive enthusiasts to support the efforts of the Tri-Boro Food Pantry.

Tri-Boro Food Pantry Photo credit: Julia Chang

Pantry Director Janelle Larghi explains that since Covid came to town demand on the Pantry’s resources has increased five-fold. Janelle makes it clear that the Pantry couldn’t do it without everybody’s help. She says, “We really appreciate what the Drivin’ News folks have done.”

Larghi’s connection to the food pantry runs deep. Her grandfather co-founded it in the early 1980s. Larghi says, “the Tri-Boro Food Pantry’s mission calls for providing food to anyone in need who comes here for help. Plain and simple”

Serving primarily Bergen County, Tri-Boro Food Pantry clients  represent a large cross section of people including working class families, senior citizens, immigrant families and handicapped residents from local facilities.

Housed in the auditorium behind the Pascack Reformed Church in Park Ridge, the Tri-Boro Food Pantry describes itself as a place where hungry people are fed. From soup to cereal, eggs to milk, diapers to dish soap, this food pantry is committed to helping people live. Hunger isn’t something that only happens in other places. It happens here.

Packages readied for pick-up                    Photo credit: Burton Hall

An impressive operation to witness, Janelle, her husband Dave, and her small dedicated team of volunteers function with a seamless blend of wartime military logistical efficiency and a caring personal warmth expressed with an upbeat energy. Janelle seems to know everyone’s name. Her welcome never lacks a smile or a kind word. While assembling and distributing hundreds of parcels of food there is always time to stop and enjoy the signing voices of two recipients who always serenade the staff when making their pick-up.

Forced to operate at a level far beyond what was once normal, each day is a challenge for the Pantry. However, Janelle pointedly emphasizes that anyone who needs food assistance should come to the Pantry for help. She says, “That’s why we’re here.”

Photo credit: Ben Raser

Photo credit: Ben Raser

With no rain and temperatures in the 5Os, an eclectic and striking array of classic automobiles gathered at Paul’s Motors on Saturday afternoon November 28th. Spanning the gamut from muscle cars and European sports cars to RestoMods and pre-war sedans, the gathering served as a celebration of the automobile as both art and dynamic experience.

Amazingly 2020 marks Paul’s Motors 100th year in the automobile business. Starting in 1920, Paul’s Motors has built a reputation as a highly respected resource for classic cars and quality pre-owned cars especially pre-owned Volvos.

Great friends to the classic car community, owners Diane Korzinski and Paul Korzinski Jr. opened up Paul’s Motors to host Carnucopia II as well as personally providing assistance in soliciting donations. They could not have been more supportive.

Photo credit: Jason Raser

Photo credit: Ben Raser

It is the second time this year that the Drivin’ News community has stepped to the plate to help support the Tri-Boro Food Pantry. Coming from all walks of life, the interests and values of the participants clearly extend well beyond the throw of their headlights. They are happy to support the efforts of Janelle and the Tri-Boro Food Pantry volunteers who work so hard to help people in need during this difficult time. Carnucopia II participants collectively donated $1000 and a car load of food parcels.

There are more than enough “feel bad” stories coming at us each day like rocks at our windshield. The importance of calling attention to things that remind us of what “good” feels like cannot be overstated.

The tireless dedication of the Tri-Boro Food Pantry, Janelle Larghi, her volunteers and the community that supports them clearly represents just such a “feel good” story.

By |2020-12-03T12:30:41+00:00December 3rd, 2020|2 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #12

I admit it. Every time I watch “Field of Dreams” and Ray Kinsella‘s father walks across the diamond as a young man, I tear up.

As relationships between fathers and sons evolve over time, they display a dynamic tension exhibiting powerful forces simultaneously binding them and pulling them apart.

If pressed, a son will admit that even if the father has passed away years ago, the son continues to learn more about the father  every day.

It is the very fortunate son who, in the present, experiences the lessons and appreciates their value during the arc of the father’s life.

The witness to such a story would be the 1937 Cord model 812 Phaeton acquired by father Joe Maletsky in 1961.

Vintage Cord binds father and son

Joe Maletsky in his Cord at Greenwich Concours d’Elegance with Bryan Maletsky at the wheel

It was 1941. The older brother of Joe Maletsky’s best friend pulled up in front of Joe’s high school driving a Cord Phaeton (an open touring car). In that moment, 14-year old high school sophomore Joe Maletsky knew he would own a similar car one day.

Fast forward to 1961, the man renting Joe’s mother’s garage could not pay the back rent. He offered the used car housed in the garage to square the debt. Lucky for Joe, in 1961, a 1937 Cord Phaeton qualified as a used car. Joe, at last, would have the Cord of his dreams.

Cord moves to Motorcraft facility

“How do you make God laugh?” goes the saying. “Tell God your plans,” goes the punch line. With the demands of supporting a family, restoration of the Cord would have to wait.

Never permitted to suffer under a dusty layer of indiscriminately discarded house debris, the 1937 Cord remained untouched but not unloved while it sat for years in the garage of Joe’s mother. Bryan recalls playing in and around the model 812 Cord Phaeton as a young child and says, “Nothing was ever placed on the car. I can remember that even the tires were always inflated properly. It never had a flat.” Joe’s phaeton would patiently wait. And patient it would need to be.

The year, 1966, witnessed the Cord’s patience rewarded as the restoration began with Joe embarking on the car’s complete disassembly. However, over the next decade progress on the Cord again lost out to the demands of raising a family and making a living.

Joe Maletsky’s three sons Paul, Ken and Bryan all inherited the Maletsky gene that carried a passion for performance automobiles accompanied by the skills to build them. However, the boy’s tastes initially did not include landmark classic cars of the 1930s. Bryan says, “My brothers and I were too much into the race cars, street cars and fast cars.” Bryan does acknowledge always having a respect for the car, but never really taking too much of an interest as a youth. With a self-deprecating smirk Bryan says, “We couldn’t do burnouts with a 1937 Cord.”

Racing legend Bryan Lister and Joe Maletsky at Jaguar Annual Meeting

In 1972 having been bitten badly by the vintage Jaguar bug Joe along with his sons opened Motorcraft, Ltd. Bryan, while continuing to attend high school, joined Joe in the family business. Together father and sons would build a nationally–respected Jaguar restoration shop.

Bryan, now a seasoned restoration specialist at Motorcraft whose work includes 100-point JCNA judged Jaguars, leaves no doubt as to the value of time shared with Joe.

A marine serving in WWII and schooled at the Teterboro School of Aeronautics, Joe approached every job with the same disciplined perspective required in rebuilding a plane to be airworthy. His machining and metallurgy skills were off the chart.

While the Cord moved from Mom’s garage to Motorcraft in the 1980s it did not move closer to completion. In the 1990s despite the continued heavy workload at Motorcraft Joe turned his attention to rewarding the Cord’s patience and moved ahead. Bryan says, “It needed a total restoration. Full mechanical, brakes, exhaust, engine, transmission.” Joe, like a seasoned athlete, stood at the top of his game and the top of his game would be required to bring the Cord to life.

Joe and Bryan

Joe’s expertise and “can do” attitude equipped him to view no problem as insurmountable. Faced with a challenge he would machine the part or machine the tool needed to make the part. Bryan says, “Nothing a car required was beyond reason to my father. He would say there’s nothing that can’t be done. One thing or another may take a little more time but it can be done.” Bryan leaves no doubt that he learned a great deal about machining and welding looking over his father’s shoulder. Regardless of the challenge, Joe would take it on and he would just stay at it until he got it right.

As a master welder few surpassed Joe. Bryan says, “He taught me how to heat metals up properly so you could start welding without causing damage. How to gently cool the metal at a very slow rate to prevent them from becoming distorted or brittle.”

To recreate a modification performed in the 1930s. Joe wanted to transform his Cord from a standard model to the iconic look of the exposed exhaust pipe design. He created all of the patterns and hand formed the grills where the exhaust pipes exited the body as well as the supercharged exhaust manifolds.

Bryan and Joe with Bryan’s vintage racing XK120

Cords front wheel drive design suffered from serious weaknesses in the CV joints.

To address that Joe re-machined and adapted the far superior half shafts from the front–wheel drive Oldsmobile Toronado to his Cord.

By the mid 1990’s Joe had the Cord’s bodywork completed. It went out for paint.

Three years later, by the late 1990’s the body had come back ready for assembly. During this period Joe and Bryan labored during “working hours” on the considerable amount of Jaguar mechanical and restoration work that came to Motorcraft. Available nights and weekends would find Joe focused on the Cord.

As the first decade of the new century progressed the Cord slowly, very slowly approached completion. During that time Joe began to make comments about how he wanted to be alive to see this glorious restoration that had spanned two centuries completed.

Father and son agreed to the need for a finish line. All agreed that Joe’s Cord would show at the 2008 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance.

Motorcraft Ltd. shut its doors to all business for a month. Then as if witnessing the explosive kick of a great runner nearing the finish line, father and son, as one, poured their hearts into making the Cord ready and perfect for Greenwich.

No longer master and intern but in the culminating act of a life of teacher and student Joe and Bryan, shoulder to shoulder, focused the power of two masters on resurrecting the car of young Joe Maletsky’s boyhood dreams.

June 2008 arrived and with it the prestigious Greenwich Concours d’Elegance.

Brilliantly black with the handcrafted brightwork gleaming in the sun, Joe Maletsky’s Cord Model 812 Phaeton took “Best Innovation” 1930’s Class.


Joe Maletsky’s granddaughter Allyson Maletsky Slaman wedding photo, 2018


Best wishes to all for a happy Thanksgiving with much for which to be thankful.

By |2020-11-25T12:30:53+00:00November 25th, 2020|2 Comments

Roads We Remember #6

Recently a scary event with my 1961 Corvette reminded me why some companies remain in business for decades while others do not.
So, a shout out to Hackensack Auto Spring & Wheel Alignment in Hackensack, NJ. Owned and operated since 1964 by three generations of the Zillitto family starting with founder grandfather Joe, then son Frank and now grandson Bryan, all have been called upon to service my Corvette going back to 1968.
Recently it was time for front end work. Victoria at Hackensack Spring answered my call for an appointment. I mentioned that I had always respected the work of Jimmy but that was decades ago. She responded, “Oh, Jimmy is still here.” Jimmy first worked on my Corvette in the 1970s. We booked it.
I arrive. Door rolls up. Grandson Bryan welcomes me as I pull in. I roll to a stop. Bryan looks at my car and yells, “Holy S*%t!” A puddle of gas is building under the front of my Corvette. We lift the hood to reveal gas pouring out from below the bowl of the front Carter WCFB like a high octane Mr. Coffee. Luckily puddling gas had not reached the hot exhaust manifold.
All owner Bryan said was, “Do you want to call AAA.” I told him I felt I couldn’t be in a better place than right where I was if it was okay with him. While his business focuses on suspension, Bryan made fire extinguishers available and without hesitation told his guys to take a look. Dave, a technician with extensive small block experience, pulled the front carburetor after draining the bowl. He found that a press fit rivet that sealed access to the bowl had popped out. Amazingly lucky for me, the rivet had remained on the top of the intake manifold where it had landed. Dave returned the sealing rivet to its rightful place. My Corvette would make it home where both carburetors would be removed and rebuilt.
Everyone had remained calm, professional and focused on the unexpected job at hand. Everyone accepted my problem as their problem. Disaster was averted for which I thank Hackensack Auto Spring.
…And speaking of Thanksgiving, it appears that for 2020 finding alternatives to large gatherings tops the menu.
A drive on New York Route 9D through the historic Hudson Valley offers a worthy consideration.

NY Route 9D – A sure cure for Covid boredom


Anthony’s Nose

Prefaced by either a great warm-up cruise north on the Palisades Interstate Parkway or a meandering journey through Harriman State Forest, NY Route 9D launches into deep woodlands at “Anthony’s Nose,” the peak at the eastern foot of the Bear Mountain Bridge. Exactly the identity of “Anthony” and why his nose has been so honored since the 1690s has been lost to history.

A well paved two-lane, Route 9D provides a willing accomplice to whatever manner of driving pleasure you desire. It explores the highlands above the Hudson River while elsewhere it dips down to hug the eastern shore of the River.

Leaving behind the thickly wooded lands of Camp Smith military base at its origin, 9D rides a wave of rolling countryside featuring a decidedly rural character where structures of both historic and contemporary lineage coexist and dot the landscape. Offering over 25 miles of history, hiking, hangouts and tons of Hudson Valley culture, 9D delivers a memorable alternative should Grandma and her turkey be subject to a lockdown.

Taking a brief diversion from 9D by way of a winding road descending to the Hudson River delivers you to Phillipstown. Bearing a sense of time-gone-by, Phillipstown retains its historic character, though now transformed, with century old buildings housing galleries and the old train station a performing arts center. Looking east across from Phillipstown, the sprawling campus of West Point dominates the bank of the western shore. Returning to 9D, the road crosses another link to the past though this one remains unchanged. It is the Appalachian Trail.

Upon entering the village of Garrison, a glance up and to the right captures a sight reminiscent of the German countryside where castles built on the high ground peer down upon the surrounding fields and villages. High above Garrison the iconic gilded age mansion, Castle Rock, sits like a monarch on a throne majestically perched above the Hudson Valley and Route 9D.

Built in 1881 as a summer home for Railroad Magnate William H. Osborne, the 10,500 sq. ft. mansion resides 620 feet above the Hudson River. It is said to have served as an inspiration for the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz.

Castle Rock overlooking Hudson Valley

Today, most of the surrounding acreage whether through donation or purchase now belongs to the State of New York. A public hiking trail of roughly a mile will bring you onto the grounds of Castle Rock which remains privately owned. For a look inside the castle you can contact a local realtor as it has recently been listed for sale. Warning, it qualifies as a fixer upper.

1961 and 2019 Corvettes at Cold Spring Plaza

Continuing along 9D and about midway through the drive brings you to the village of Cold Spring. A vintage gem on the Hudson River it features small specialty shops, quaint eateries, a marina and a handsome waterfront plaza overlooking the Hudson.

While hiking trailheads abound along 9D, none possess a more foreboding and accurate name than Breakneck Ridge. As noted in the trail guide, “Generally considered to be the most strenuous hike in the East Hudson Highlands. It involves steep climbs over rock ledges that can be very slippery. Do not attempt in wet weather.”

After passing through the Breakneck Ridge Tunnel comes the only sketchy part of the drive. In this stretch be alert, danger lurks even if you are not hiking, especially on weekends. Wandering people and poorly parked cars seemingly with no particular place to go make 9D look like the escape route on one of those impending apocalypse movies.

Bannerman Castle

Not satisfied to offer one castle, 9D offers two. Filling tiny six-acre Pollepel island located a few hundred yards off the eastern shore of the Hudson River resides Bannerman Castle.

Francis Bannerman began a military surplus business after the Civil War. By the end of the 19th century no one in the world bought more military surplus. Having purchased most of the arms captured in the Spanish American War he had a huge facility in downtown Manhattan. City fathers rankled at the thought of a massive warehouse chock full of gun powder in the city center. They strongly urged Bannerman to relocate. In 1900 he bought Pollepel Island and began construction of his castle. Just as it neared completion in 1918, Bannerman died. In 1920 the powder house with 200 tons of powder and shells blew up taking a good portion of the castle with it. The subsequent decades witnessed a steady deterioration until the 1990s when a fundraising effort stemmed the decline.

Beacon, NY

With Bannerman’s Castle ruins in the rearview mirror, the bustling town of Beacon approaches. An energized metropolitan flavored upstate village, Beacon’s rebirth has blossomed with restaurants and attractions that have sought to integrate their hipness with the character of the community. It offers a great place to explore.

For those with a continued sense of adventure, 9D concludes in the small town of Wappinger’s Falls where it connects with the route leading to the spectacular Walkway over the Hudson State Park. But that would be a story for another day, though hopefully that day will not be Christmas and Covid will not slam the door on Santa.

By |2020-11-19T13:08:01+00:00November 19th, 2020|12 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #13

Last week my F100 pickup required a flatbed. Upon calling AAA I discovered that while a flatbed would be sent for my truck, I could not accompany my vehicle, AAA’s Covid policy. It would be up to me to get personal transportation.

AAA only tells you this when you call for assistance. Questions relating to proper delivery of the vehicle and disposition of the vehicle key remained unanswered. Be warned.

Luckily in my case, a friend nearby came to my rescue. We accompanied the flatbed to the repair shop.

In a classic lemons to lemonade story, while visiting the repair shop the following day, owner and good friend Bob Tasman shared a great story as retold below.


Confessions of a demolition derby survivor

High Anxiety

Bob Tasman epitomizes the hard core automobile driving enthusiast who grew up in the mid-twentieth century’s golden age of the automobile.

As a Drivin’ News reader, Bob while looking at my truck tossed out an offhand comment about a recent Drivin’ News story that described a teenager’s passion for driving in demolition derbies (“Crash course for an underage driver”).

Though a big time dirt track racer for many years, Bob said, “Reading that story gave me an instant flashback to my first involvement in demolition derbies.”

Since the 1970s Bob had been competing in dirt track racing, often at the Orange County, NY Fairgrounds. Like dirt track racing, demolition derby enjoyed a great following at the Fairgrounds with a highlight being the demolition derby held at the annual fair.


1982 saw Bob and a number of dirt track racing buddies decide demolition  derby looked like fun. To a man “Let’s all do it” rang out as the dirt track racers’ battle cry.

When asked if he had any trepidations about entering his first demolition derby and a very serious one at that, Bob says, “I was a race car driver. I pretty much figured I wouldn’t be seeing anything I hadn’t seen before. I mean I’ve crashed. I’ve been on fire.” Bob understood the prevailing mindset for anyone entering this land yacht battering ram version of a steel cage wrestling match saying, ”I think probably the best asset anybody can have in a situation like this would be the killer instinct.”

Clearly Bob knew it would not be for the faint of heart. It promised two-ton behemoths colliding at high speeds generating tremendous crashes. Saying, “It was exciting to me,” displays Bob’s eager attitude towards participating in the motor mayhem.

With the July demolition derby date fast approaching, job one demanded finding the right car. Basic vehicle specs for demolition derby survival consisted of massive four-door Detroit Iron with a big torquey V8.

Four-doors rated above two-doors because of their greater length. Additional length offered a larger cushion for withstanding damage before something terminal could happen.

1964 Chrysler Imperial before High Anxiety makeover

Right out of the gate, for the less than princely sum of $75, Bob scored the perfect car, a four-door 1964 Chrysler Imperial.

Bob’s Imperial measured an impressive 19 feet in length with long overhangs measuring a robust impact withstanding 6 1/2 feet wide. It weighed in at roughly 2.5 tons with a 0-60 time of 7.7 seconds courtesy of a 413 cu. in. Chrysler V8 delivering 470 lb.-ft. of torque at around 2500 rpm. But wait there’s more. Imperials of that year had welds not bolts anchor the front fenders to a beefy chassis for a quieter ride of little interest for demolition derbies. However, welded front fenders also translated into greater strength for surviving brutal impacts.

Interestingly, mid-60s Chrysler Imperials enjoyed such a reputation for being notoriously tough that they frequently suffered banishment from the derby circuit.

It is interesting to note that this sturdy unyielding construction effectively reduced the damage to the car resulting from a collision. Unlike modern cars it transferred the energy of the impact to the occupants inside. Modern cars enjoy impact absorbing crumple zones that dissipate and redirect the energy of a collision away from the occupants. Thus, modern car designs are bad for demolition derbies but good for modern drivers.

Not satisfied with having acquired an Imperial that would gain a feared reputation as the Cleopatra’s barge of demolition derby destruction, Bob set out to upgrade its defenses.

A first step not so much to add lightness in the spirit of Colin Chapman but to increase driver safety required removing all glass and ripping out all interior components except the front seat.

Welding trunk of High Anxiety

Bob as a racer, an innovator and a fabricator had only just begun.

Cutting off the exhaust system eliminated the threat of it wrapping around the axel or drive shaft.

Removal of the radiator, an easy target for knocking a car out of competition followed. By running the upper and lower radiator hoses through a small pressure tank, Bob could simply remove the radiator and eliminate a major liability.

Since it is best to keep a car from squatting down when hitting someone, the shock absorbers were removed. A piece of angle iron was cut to match the distance between the upper and lower shock mounts when fully extended. Welding it in place ensured that the Imperial aligned with other vehicles to do maximum damage.

Anticipating brutal collisions that would surely break the motor mounts. This called for the engine to be chained to the chassis so it would remain in place and not jamb the throttle.

Batteries would be repositioned in a milk crate on the passenger side front seat. Tire pressure pumped up to 60 psi significantly reduced flexibility and susceptibility to puncture.

Two inspired finishing touches dealt with a second major vulnerability, the gas tank. Bob cut a hole in the floor of the trunk and another through the top of the gas tank, He filled the tank with wet sand.

For a replacement tank impervious to destruction, a bulk head added behind the back seat area concealed a much smaller but adequate gas tank from a Volkswagen. To make the whole rear-end assembly one piece simply required welding the trunk shut and the bumper to the chassis.

Killer instinct in action

Finally the finishing touch of chaining the front and rear doors together made everything ready for paint. A brush would do. Christened High Anxiety, the ’64 Imperial had its game face on when it lined up for the heat.

Unlike readying the cars, driver preparation called for little more than a helmet and a lap belt. Other than that, jeans and a t-shirt met with full approval.

Bob admits to a little apprehension as the two dozen competitors divided into two rows and positioned facing the opposing line back end to back end separated by about 200 feet. Bob says, “I saw all these cars and I knew they were all there for one reason.” However, once the flag dropped, for Bob, the fun just started.

Even in reverse, speeds of the rearward charging Detroit Iron battering rams easily reached 40 mph. Bob says, Your head had to be on a constant swivel. If you see it coming you can prepare yourself.

So how did Bob make out. He says, “It came down to me and one other car.” Bob was confident. High Anxiety continued to run strong though a fuel line had started leaking. Bob positioned himself secure in his ability to close out the last competitor. He does point out that there was the issue of the fire.

Bob says, “Granted the front of High Anxiety was on fire, flames leaped out from around the hood and fanned out through the front wheel wells. But my adrenaline was pumping. I thought, hey, the car’s running. I’m still going and I’m after this guy.” Bob recalls thinking that he was a race car driver and had been through all sorts of situations and didn’t feel unsafe. Derby officials did not agree. Bob got the signal to shut it down. Figuratively he was toast.

In the minds of the officials, that was literally what they wanted to avoid.

Bob Tasman with the last remaining piece of High Anxiety, the hood ornament



By |2020-11-12T11:38:06+00:00November 12th, 2020|4 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #12

Featuring expensive suits, slicked back hair, martinis and land yacht lifestyles; HBO’s “Mad Men” portrayed the man’s world of  Madison Avenue with a decidedly mid-20th century Gentleman’s Quarterly persona.

Far afield of HBO’s take on advertising’s Mad Men resided an accomplished, respected and loosely affiliated band of Madison Avenue road warriors. Self-assured, self-deprecating and self-named they were the “Sons of Danger.”

Sons of Danger – Mad Men on wheels

Sons Of Danger enroute to Laconia, NH Motorcycle Week 1984

“Sons of Danger” as a group could only have been born in the halcyon days of the later 20th century when automobile accounts pumped excitement and money into advertising agencies and magazines. Populated with automobile and motorcycle racing champions, automotive industry leaders, creative minds from advertising and publishing and gifted free spirits, the “Sons of Danger” roster boasted a selective coast to coast who’s who of fun loving motorheads. Those who belonged included cultural icons such as Malcolm Forbes; Paul Newman; Olympian Bart Conner; writers Brock Yates, P. J. O’Rourke and David E. Davis; champion drivers Dan Gurney, Kenny Bernstein, Don Garlits, Tom Sneva, Sam Hanks and Steve “Yogi” Behr; and Corvette designer Larry Shinoda. The list goes on. Membership could not be requested. It could only be offered.

Milt Gravatt on a Malcolm Forbes ride

A mid-1970s brainchild that sprang from the fertile minds of Volvo Advertising Manager Milt Gravatt, Petersen Publishing Account Executive Charlie Alexander and Chuck Riley of Young & Rubicam, “Sons of Danger” was envisioned as a loose affiliation of men of similar character sharing a common interest in all motorized vehicles that moved fast. It also afforded a relatively anonymous and spirited way to bleed off the stress accompanying the demands of leadership, creativity on demand and/or celebrity.

Other than unscheduled, informal and randomly attended gatherings at Brews, an East Side NYC pub, now long gone, members solely assembled when personally drawn by the magnetic pull of a motoring event of interest. Events spanned a wide spectrum from the down and dirty to the simply splendid.


Malcolm Forbes ride participants at Forbes Building

As a billionaire, “good guy” and “Sons of Danger” member, Malcolm Forbes would stage an annual motorcycle ride. “Sons of Danger” members and others would be invited to Forbes’ New Jersey estate. There, over 40 or more immaculate and gassed-up motorcycles, mostly Harleys, sat in a stable ready for anyone without a ride to use. Along the way to NYC and the Forbes Building the group of maybe 70 riders would stop for lunch and to refuel with Forbes picking up the whole tab. Accompanying the riders, Forbes’ man in charge of motorcycles would pay the Holland Tunnel toll in advance for everyone. Aside from basic driving safety only one rule held sway at a Forbes event. If you used it as an opportunity to pitch a business deal you were never invited back.

Motorcycle events always exerted a powerful draw with Laconia Motorcycle Week being a favorite. With the “Sons of Danger” ranks brimming with accomplished riders, the spectacle and competition of the Laconia races proved irresistible. Laconia rides also afforded a possible window into the underlying wisdom of creating the “Sons of Danger” as a personal bonding vehicle for members of companies, agencies and publications with significant and interrelated budgets.

One member recalls a specific event when the flood of bikes enroute to Laconia stopped for a lunchtime refueling. A white panel truck that had been trailing the riders pulled up and set up tables just like the lunchtime craft services trucks that feed the crew on a movie set. “Want a soda, a beer, a tasty sandwich,” the caterer inquired? Great, thought the hungry and thankful rider. Curious, he asked one of those arranging the ride, “Who’s paying for this?” A response, both succinct and blunt shot back, “That’s a question you never ask. Never ask where did this come from or who’s paying for this. Got it?” Just eat up and shut up.”

Early on, one of the ride leaders had researched a newly built condominium near downtown Laconia overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. It would become ground zero for the “Sons of Danger” on all subsequent Laconia trips. Returning from town for supper, riders found a steak fry and corn roast sponsored by Petersen Publishing. Word got out and Petersen’s fed a group ranging from Hell’s Angels to the cops patrolling the town. A tradition was born.

Lime Rock Park also drew “Sons of Danger” members in significant numbers. Contributing to its drawing power was having the manager of Lime Rock a member of the group. So, in addition to offering a great motorsports venue, Lime Rock had a beautiful chateau right at the top of the hill by Big Bend. Funded by Petersen Publishing it catered to the group. On any race day one might find Paul Newman, a great driver, and wife Joanne Woodward resting peacefully and undisturbed on the grassy hill. Inside would be any number and array of “Sons of Danger” members either watching or taking a break from racing.

Motoball in action

When it came to down and dirty, nothing surpassed the Motoball competition hosted by the Muddy Boot Gang of Orange County, NY in the 1980s. Conceived and run by Peter Hewitt a respected automotive industry technical expert, it called for playing soccer with dirt bikes. “Sons of Danger” and Muddy Boot Gang member Galen Royer, the National Technical Training Manager for Volvo, had no trouble finding riders to put a “Sons of Danger” stamp on the event. While some outsiders may view Motoball as a cry for help, participants to a man considered it enormous fun.

As the new millennium approached, the “Sons of Danger” as an active body began to leak vigor and steadily dissipated into gone-ness. Charlie Alexander passed away around 1999. Milt had retired from Volvo years back. People no longer attended events. Guys who had been boaters went back to their boats. Lingering members awoke to the strains of an Allman Brothers song, “Nobody left to run with anymore.”

Mitch Duncan with Sons of Danger members Galen Royer and Gary Mahannah on road to Laconia Motorcycle Week

Though gone, for some, “Sons of Danger” clearly was not forgotten. Around 2017 Mitch Duncan a retired Volvo lifer and a serious car guy and competitive motorcycle rider was dying of cancer. He knew his time fast approached. In speaking with his wife Diane he confessed that in his life he had but one regret. Though he had often ridden with the “Sons of Danger,” he had never been inducted as a member. While the ranks of living members had dwindled, Diane reached out to “Sons of Danger” member and still active rider Galen Royer. Was it possible, she asked, for Galen to do anything to address her husband’s sole regret? Galen could not believe such a deserving candidate had been overlooked.

Galen reached out to remaining “Sons of Danger” members Bruce Olds and Ron Morgan. Together they committed to assembling a membership package worthy of the moment. They succeeded. Galen inducted Mitch on his deathbed. Mitch was gone in a week. Diane had Mitch laid out in his Harley clothes and leather vest with his “Sons of Danger” member shirt close by.


In researching this article I met with Galen Royer and his son-in-law Joe Lopane at Galen’s home. Joe Lopane stands as the last active “Sons of Danger” member to be inducted. Joe had brought his two sons over to see my restored 1961 Corvette and to talk with Galen, their grandfather, about cars and dirt biking. Doors shut. Doors open. Old “Sons” fade. New “Sons” are born.


By |2020-11-05T12:32:53+00:00November 5th, 2020|9 Comments

Conversations with People We Value #11

A few years back I had been asked to judge at a local Concours d’Elegance. I envisioned strolling across lovely grounds viewing a field of beautiful cars. What fun! My judging assignment included an aircooled class comprised primarily of Volkswagens. More fun!

Judging criteria for this concours would employ “French Rules.” Compared to the judging at marquee club events (Porsche Club, Corvette Club) where the wrong oil breather cap can hurt your score, French Rules lean more on aesthetics.

With French Rules, visual impact more than technical authenticity holds sway. Additional attributes that merit judgments of worthiness include a car’s condition, authenticity, originality, quality of restoration, rarity, and historical importance. Basically French Rules creates a personal opinion beauty contest with the benefit of a few qualifiers to assist judges in thin slicing degrees of excellence to substantiate the choice of a winning car. I had no idea that I was about to face the challenge of thin slicing with a scalpel.

My partnering judge and I approached our subject cars and immediately recognized the challenge. With late 1950s being the newest model year, a splendid array of highly desirable VW Beetles awaited our scrutiny. It could only be compared to judging a beauty contest with the five finalists being striking identical quintuplets.

Each of the five VW Beetles enjoyed exquisite restorations featuring superb aesthetics clearly executed with an artist’s eye. All five Beetles showcased the craftsmanship of the same man. His name? Chris Vallone.

VW bug restoration is no joke. Ask Jerry Seinfeld


Being an accomplished independent film maker with a background in cartooning and fine art seems an unlikely route to becoming recognized world over for producing mechanically superior and aesthetically refined Volkswagen Beetle restorations.

“I was living my dream,” says Chris Vallone, founder of Classic VW Bugs, Inc. in Congers New York. For ten years after earning his degree, Chris wrote, directed, shot, produced and edited his own independent films. “Action films, horror films, that sort of thing,” says Chris. He achieved a degree of success with one of his films being picked up for distribution internationally. However, recognition does not necessarily equate to financial success.

Chris and father with award winning 1952 split window

In the background during the decade dedicated to advancing his career in film making, Chris enjoyed a hobby defined by maintaining his 1968 Volkswagen. “Honestly, I loved the image of the artist throwing his gear in his VW bug and pursuing his passion,” says Chris.

In life as in a good film, inflection points occur that force a dramatic change in the action. Chris’s life plot took a major turn when the monetary demands of distributing a film exceeded his financial reach. Translation, Chris found himself broke and in debt. “The whole starving artist thing,” says Chris.

“I realized that my Hollywood aspirations should be pushed to a back burner,” Says Chris. Actually Chris pushed the Hollywood idea right off the stove. “As I approached my late 20s, I realized that I needed to get serious about making a decent living to survive,” says Chris. Step one called for eliminating my debts.

Chris’s hobby came to the rescue. He would sell the 1968 VW he had restored. He used his filmmaking skills to showcase the Bug on eBay. This happened way before video became a staple on auctions. It was way before BaT existed.

His VW quickly sold to a buyer from Cincinnati, Ohio. Chris says, “This floored me because I grew up in a world where everything happened locally. What an eye opener for me.” This was around 2003.

AFTER – 1956 Ragtop

BEFORE -1956 Ragtop

Chris’s father, Chris Vallone senior, saw an opportunity saying “We got something here.” And indeed they did. Chris senior had decades as an experienced mechanic. Chris junior possessed an artist’s eye for visual interior and exterior executions. Their blended talents would combine to impart a unique and striking signature look to their future creations.

Working out of their home’s one-car garage, they would first rebuild a VW Bug to use and then sell it. However, within a year Chris decided to buy a Beetle with the sole intent of restoring and flipping it. Son and father went all in. With the VW Bug completed, Chris created a full blown sales video with music, titles and effects and posted it on eBay.

Incredulously Chris says, “We had people come to our house, knock on the door and ask us to end the auction saying “I want to buy it now.” Time for another inflection point.

In a move of profound significance, Chris redirected his marketing media skills to a new platform, YouTube. He now employed his talents to fully orchestrate traditional and social media platforms. That’s when it happened. People began calling. Interested customers no longer wanted to bid on a VW Bug Chris put up for auction. They wanted Chris to build one just for them. Chris says, “I never ever thought of doing that.”

Classic VW Bugs facility

Chris pivoted his business to embrace the custom Build-a-Bug philosophy. Classic VW Bugs, Inc. was born. Chris had discovered a niche within a niche populated with people in their fifties to seventies possessing the money to have their VW Bug professionally restored with a visual character attuned to their tastes.

Clearly, having outgrown the garage, son and father took a deep breath, swallowed their trepidations and leased a significantly larger commercial space. Game on.

Despite launching Classic VW Bugs at the dawn of the Financial Crisis, Chris has never looked back. Counter intuitively, as the stock market collapsed, his business grew. Chris explains this saying, “People buying our cars were primarily investors or collectors who wanted to add to their collection. They viewed our restored VW Bugs as an appreciating asset.”

While the sweet spot of the buyer demographic presently rests in the fifty to seventy age range, Chris has witnessed a surge of interest by those in their thirties and forties.

Chris sees this trend inspired by a motivation quite different from say the muscle car or resto-mod markets. He says, “To a significant degree it is nostalgia driven.” Chris senior says, “People’s youthful personal experiences wove the Beetle into the fabric of their soul. It remains there today.”

When asked about the pivotal moment when Chris realized that Classic VW Bugs, Inc. had arrived as a presence in the international Beetle restoration community, he did not hesitate. “When Jerry Seinfeld walked through the door,” says Chris.

About seven or eight years ago, Chris answered a call from a guy introducing himself as Jerry Seinfeld. He wanted to discuss a prospective Beetle restoration. Chris’s initial response was, “Yeh right, who is this?” However, as a big Seinfeld fan, Chris recognized the caller’s intonation. Seinfeld brought a 1956 Beetle requiring significant work to Chris’s shop and hung out for a while to discuss the project.

After taking delivery of the completed Beetle, Chris did not hear from Seinfeld again until this past summer when a clearly satisfied Seinfeld brought another Beetle to Chris’s shop. Chris took the opportunity to ask Seinfeld how he found Classic VW Bugs. Chris says, “Sure enough it was YouTube.”

Chris has posted over 600 videos on YouTube. Every one laser focused on Beetle restoration. He gets over a million hits a month. At times Chris senior will ask his son why he works so hard posting on YouTube. Chris says, “Google searching is the key. I truly believe that if I didn’t do the videos, we wouldn’t have the work.” Twenty percent of Classic VW Bugs business is international, the rest comes primarily from the south and west.” Very little is local.



As the interview approached its conclusion, I called attention to a weathered black VW Bug convertible off on the side that appeared more well used than abused. Chris responded with a look of un-reconciled indecision. Clearly this Bug had a story.

Chris explained, ”It is a 1954 one-owner, all original, numbers matching rare gem. No accidents. Everything lines up perfectly.” Roughly 900 new 1954 Beetles were sold in the U.S. market. Only a few were convertibles.

About five years ago Chris got a call from the son of the original owner. He told Chris that he wanted to sell it, but only wanted it to go to a good home. Chris bought it and has wrestled with its fate ever since. Chris says, “I want to restore it and bring it back to its glory.” But then Chris recognizes that it enjoys a glorious patina and is fundamentally sound enough that, with a little structural work, it can be cleaned up and driven as an original. Chris says that he has always wanted a survivor.

What do you think he should do? Should this be the one? Help Chris make up his mind.

Chris will read your comments.


By |2020-10-29T11:03:09+00:00October 29th, 2020|11 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #11

Motor Trend has “Car of the Year.” Car and Driver has its annual new car “Top Ten” and so on. However, from our standpoint as classic automobile enthusiasts, the staff at Drivin’ News views such awards as akin to bragging about which fresh wine tastes best. At Drivin’ News we honor great car and owner teams with an award that can only be earned over time. Membership in the Drivin’ News Half Century Club recognizes fifty uninterrupted years of owning and operating the same vehicle.

Drivin’ News is proud to induct as a member of the Drivin’ News Half Century Club, New Jersey resident and 1965 Karmann Ghia owner, Mr. Vince Vespe.

Guatemala and back in a Karmann Ghia


To say that Vincent Vespe has wanderlust qualifies as serious understatement. This is a guy who drove a VW beetle from Paris to the Arctic Circle because; well, because he had never been to Lapland.

Vespe, now retired from a career in education that saw him recognized as New Jersey History Teacher of the Year in 1982, holds a firm belief that to excel as a Social Studies teacher requires experiencing the cultures about which one teaches.

Frequently the vehicle for Vespe’s explorations was the 1965 VW Karmann Ghia cabriolet he bought new in 1965 and in 2020 still has, drives and shows.

To Guatemala and back, from New Jersey, in a 1965 Karmann Ghia convertible? For Vespe, no big deal. Actually Vespe made the Guatemala trip twice with his ’65 Karmann Ghia. The first was in 1966 and the second in 1971. For the first trip, in June of 1966, Vespe began driving down the road three days after walking down the aisle.

Vespe’s new bride, Gail, knew Vespe loved to travel. On that sunny day in June the new Mrs. Vespe stood on the brink of learning just how much. On June 22nd 1966 the Vespes began a lifetime together of exploration and adventure punctuated with the rich rewards and disquieting challenges associated with Vespe’s wanderlust.

Looking back Vespe laughs at how he and Gail blissfully ignored conditions that others would find intolerable. Normally they drove with the top down as the Karmann Ghia had no air conditioning. Vespe can recall one especially torrid day traversing the desert in Mexico when the windshield wiper control knob melted. Vespe admits at that point thinking “It’s pretty hot.”

On Padre Island, Texas, the wind blew one of the Karmann Ghia’s doors off its hinges. While camping in Kansas, a flash storm washed their camp site away. Louisiana holds especially vivid memories as they set up camp on a fire ant nest.

Vespe shakes his head with admiration when he recalls that while his Karmann Ghia’s 1965 new car limited warranty only covered 3,000 miles, his first Guatemala trip logged roughly 11,000 miles over 2 months during which the VW performed flawlessly.

Fifty five years later Vespe remains in love with Gail, enthralled with travel and passionate about his 1965 Karmann Ghia.

1977 witnessed Vespe’s VW removed from daily service though it still enjoys being driven frequently. Today it has over 250,000 miles.

Vince takes a trophy, again

By the 1980s tin worm, a serious affliction of all Karmann Ghias, had achieved devastating success in consuming Vespe’s VW. With perforations busting through the headlight buckets Vespe resorted to the NASCAR quick fix. He skillfully molded duct tape around the headlight brows and found a rattle can color that closely matched the original Cherry Red finish. While not exactly a Hill and Vaughn restoration, it did present well enough to transport his daughter to her prom.

With the arrival of the new millennium, Vespe found himself at a crossroads. His Karmann Ghia possessed a special charm but if he did not act and act soon there would be little left of his beloved travelling companion but memories and some red duct tape.

2001 saw Vespe’s VW enter a New Jersey restoration shop for a two-year journey back to like-new condition.

Everything savable was retained and faithfully refurbished to the way it left the Pompton Plains, NJ dealership on June 10th 1965. Except for a Haartz cloth top, Vespe resisted upgrades and enhancements. His re-born cabriolet retained the original 1285 cc 4-cylinder air cooled boxer engine delivering 39 horsepower and 67 lb.ft. of torque. With drum brakes all around, a 4-speed manual gearbox and torsion bar suspension, Vespe’s Karmann Ghia places the driver in a 55-year old driving experience time machine.

Today Vespe, for the most part, limits his Karmann Ghia road adventures to regional car shows primarily in the northeast. With his Karmann Ghia a true crowd pleaser and trophy magnet, Vespe, ever the educator, takes very seriously the importance of instilling an appreciation for the history and human connections associated with his historic VW and with every classic vehicle.

Dealing with younger generations, Vespe believes that the value found in classic vehicles goes far beyond the machines themselves. They convey powerful life lessons as well.

For Vincent Vespe there is no doubt. In reflecting on his life and the 55 years with his Karmann Ghia, Vespe flashes a smile and says, “It’s been a great ride.”

By |2020-10-22T11:32:24+00:00October 22nd, 2020|Comments Off on Cars We Love & Who We Are #11

Conversations With People We Value #10

In 2017 I had written a piece for that celebrated the half century of experiences associated with owning the same 1961 Corvette. It had generated a large number of thoughtful responses. However, none packed the impact of one that would come three years later.

A classic Corvette and a soldier’s old letters connect to a kid brother’s memories



In late July of this year I got an email from friend and Hemmings editor Mark McCourt. He alerted me to a comment that had just been posted to my three-year old story about the 1961 Corvette I had owned since 1967. Normal practice does not have an editor alert a writer about a posted comment.

Reading the comment took my breath away. It’s author was the “kid brother” of a dear friend who had passed away some years ago. The post stated:

“Mr. Hall, my name is John O’Brien. My late brother Maury O’Brien, one of your good friends, used to tell us that you meticulously cared for this car. I’m a car guy and it makes me feel good knowing that a car like that is still being driven and not just a trailer queen! I’d love to see it in person sometime. Feel free to contact me anytime. My cell # is (— ——). Your kind words and funny stories @ Maury’s funeral were very helpful during a difficult time! God bless you and your family!

Maury O’Brien and I had attended high school together. He possessed a wry sense of humor, great athleticism and a gifted eye as a photographer. Our mutual interest in all things photographic would seal our long friendship.

My Corvette made all our road trips a better adventure. With the top down and Wonderbar tube radio doing its best, we made countless trips to the Jersey Shore. On a slow day, we would target anyplace offering a good excuse to run some film through our Nikons.

Maury passed away in 2007 leaving behind a legion of friends and relatives who mourned his passing and celebrated his life. They still do.

John was Maury’s youngest brother, eleven years his junior. When John answered my phone call his voice carried a strong memory of his brother. We talked. We laughed. By the end of the call it was agreed that I would drive my Corvette to his house, certainly doable in an afternoon. He said that we would be joined by Maury’s two other brothers Vince and Gene and John’s 30-year old son, John, who had enjoyed a special relationship with his now departed uncle. They would come from even greater distances. His other brothers had been my friends though not as close as Maury. We had lost touch over the decades.

With John O’Brien

Even for those who have shared their lives together as caring siblings, when one passes, those remaining acquire a ready hunger for details. Somehow new memories in some small way rekindle the freshness of that life as if it still continues to be lived.

Beyond just my car I realized that I needed to bring more. I knew where to look, dusty as it might be. I save old letters.

Personal letters are the messengers of history, possessing great value for loved ones and future generations. I treasure letters. Those I possess include letters authored by a distant relative who wrote on his experiences in “Kansas Bloody Kansas” in the 1850s and the lessons learned during his life prior to and during the Civil War. I have, also, kept Maury’s letters from Vietnam written in the late 1960s.

Each letter provided four or five pages of casual but well composed reports in his voice from the engine room of the southeast Asia war machine. Their content expressed details all at once funny, intensely personal and profound in their worldly perspective.

On a beautiful bright and crisp autumn day, the O’Brien brothers and I gathered at a local restaurant. I immediately recognized old friends viewed through a filter of passing years. We toasted Maury and each in attendance did their best to compress decades of lives well lived into bite size chunks for easy group consumption.

Oldest brother Vince’s effort to recollect sports cars he had owned afforded a perfect segue into introducing Maury’s letters from Vietnam in 1969. In one letter Maury had mentioned Vince’s recent purchase of a 1968 Corvette.

Maury’s letters possessed a signature rhythm and pace. Casual references to friends and events in our hometown and requests for the latest local news would be supplemented with accounts of personal events in his life occurring beneath the tumult of a huge war. He expressed delight at the availability of Nikon camera equipment for roughly half what it would cost back home.

His observations of the world around him in 1969 are worth quoting. He wrote, “I find it hard to believe these people (South Vietnamese) are in a great period of national strife. Life goes on the same for them except the males are donning a uniform and the women work at the army base. They do not appear to know the why and the how of this war. I feel only pity for them. The only hope for a finish to this stupid thing will be an increase in pressure in North Vietnam to bring this thing to an end. At that point and that point only will the peace talks become fruitful.”

Every letter would concludes with an honest expression of need for written contact from home.

The day after meeting with Maury’s brothers I received a note from John. He wrote, “Hey Burton, thanks again for bringing the car up and sharing the letters. If you find any more letters, please let me know. My wife and I got kind of emotional reading the letters again last night. Maury was a Very Special Man! The connection between you, Maury, and that car is forever!

Clearly, both classic cars and personal letters provide vehicles capable of transporting us to good places.

By |2020-10-08T10:28:51+00:00October 5th, 2020|8 Comments