Monthly Archives: December 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