Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Pasadena Reliability Run 2009 ( Part 2 )

I'm sure the previous post has made all who've read it want to run out and get themselves an authentic flathead powered hot rod roadster right? Well, it should have anyway. I can certainly understand how it would. My first experience of really living with a flathead roadster for a day was pretty damn life changing I must say. 

I've spent so many years admiring these cars, somewhat from a distance, that it seems strange to me that it has taken so long to have some real world hands on experience with one. In my defense, I simply don't own one ( well not one that is assembled ) and they aren't exactly running around in the part of the country where I live. So I guess you could say that this day that I got to spend running this old car, and the event that I got to be a part of, really was a bit of a double down in the fantasy column. 

As far as my impressions go from having driven one of these for an entire day, and over a pretty trying route, is that they are everything I ever imagined they were and more. It did not let me down in any way, and my expectations were pretty high. The only possible negative surprise might be the fact that at 5'10" I'm just a tad bit too tall for the cockpit of a model A roadster. But, Tom is probably about 4 or so inches short than me and he built the car to suit him after all. I'm confident that some adjustment could be made with the seat when my roadster project gets to that point. It's certainly nothing close to a deal breaker that's for sure. 

The main thing that was delivered in huge way was the totally visceral motoring experience that can only be provided with a car like this. I've had it in my mind for years that this is how it would be and it did not disappoint. The only thing that could deliver such a pure connection to a machine would have to be an older open wheel race car. You feel and smell and hear everything going on beneath and around you that is making this thing go. When you accelerate you can feel the linkage pulling through the firewall and turning open those twin Stromberg 97s. And the great thing is, if you wanted to lean far enough over the windshield and you weren't running a hood, you could actually see them working while you're driving. This can be said for a lot of what goes on with the car. Just lean out to the side and you can see the front tire humming along, the steering arm pushing and pulling at the backside of the front hub, the suspension action, and when you press on the brakes you can hear the shoes scraping away at the inside of the brake drums. 

The purity of it is something you just have experience. You feel a direct connection to every part of the car. When you step outside of it, it looks like a motorama cut-away display. Nearly everything is in plain view. If you bend down and sight the car from the side you can basically see the entire drivetrane running front to back. It really is the automobile in its purist and most basic form. Finally, having driven and having ridden in many a late 1920s early-mid 1930s American automobile, I now have a complete understanding of the life-changing and emotional connection so many young guys made with these cars. Compared to an everyday car in its time, these must have felt like rocket ships. They are so light on their feet, responsive, handle well when set up properly, that I just can't imagine the feeling they provided to someone used to a stock early 1930s sedan. The feeling of freedom that this kind of unimaginable, for the time, maneuverability must have provided is something that I don't think any of us could ever have a true perspective on. It is no mystery to me why so many of the original guys are still into these old roadsters, will still make appearances at events like this, and in some cases were never able to let go of their cars. And I'm expressing this and feeling this solely based on my experience of driving one of these for a single day. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be involved with this as part of a community of like-minded fellow roadster owners and builders. Again, it all ads up. 

The last thing I want to touch on here that really impressed me while attending the Reliability Run relates directly to what I've just written about, and that is the state of the current traditional hot rod scene. I couldn't possibly be more pleased with where we've ended up in 2009 with this movement. The arc of this has been a funny one and I was never quite sure where it was going and honestly worried about it from time to time. Of course I shouldn't have and it probably speaks to some kind of short-coming with me that I would be concerned about a scene and how it is being perceived or what the face of it is. Ideally it should never be about that and should only be about you and your car. But, being so tied into this movement, I did tend to worry about what it was becoming from time to time. It seemed as though a few years after this started to get traction, a lot of people were beginning to populate the scene who thought of it almost as a fashion statement or lifestyle belief. Nothing wrong with that of course, but that smells strongly of "fad" and that is never a good thing. Especially for something that I feel is such a beautiful and important part of our country's 20th century history. 

I suppose I worried that it was getting cheapened and had no way of defending itself. I knew their were a good number of folks who were involved that respected the traditions of it, like understanding its history, being knowledgeable about the mechanical make up of the cars ( if for nothing else to be able to build a smart and reliable car ), and that it was not supposed to be a kookie-car build-off. So I knew none of this would be terminal, but I still didn't know where it would go. Now I know where it is and, again, it's in really good hands. 

There were a good number of younger guys ( 20s and 30s ) that had come out to be a part of the PRC Reliability Run. I would estimate that almost a third of the participants would fall into this category. What I saw with these guys was what the traditional hot rod scene has finally been distilled down to. After all of the over the top rat-rod guys have come and gone, and the trucker cap wearing-PBR drinking-Buddy Holly glasses-wearing dudes ran out of steam, we are left with a bunch of folks who are building spot-on period correct lakes-style roadsters and doing it with a great attitude. Every guy I met in this group had a safe, well built, historically accurate roadster, had done enough of the work himself that he could talk about any part of his car intelligently, had a strong grasp on the history of the sport and its culture, was quick to honor the guys that built this for us, and were excited to meet the ones who we're lucky enough to still have around and who were in attendance that day. What more could you ask for? I didn't encounter a single one of these guys who was wearing "I'm a hot rodder" on his sleeve. Just the opposite. 

A very cool example of this was seen first thing in the morning as people were arriving and getting their roadsters in line. A couple of original Pasadena Roadster Club members were nice enough to bring along some scrap books from roadster runs etc. from back in the day for people to see. They placed them on a table next to the morning's free coffee and donuts and left them opened to the first page for anyone who was interested. Not only were the younger members of the club on these things immediately, but they tracked down the owners of these photo albums and had a great question-answer session with them looking over their shoulders while us younger guys leaved through them. You could easily sense the joy it was bringing these "old timers" to have these younger guys be so interested and curious about what they did when they were our age and younger. It was perfect harmony, both groups overjoyed to have the other in attendance showing an equal amount of enthusiasm. 

So do I think the future of real hot rodding is safe and sound? Absolutely I do. And if what I've written here doesn't convince you, consider the fact that 94! traditional hot rod roadsters showed up with their pilots and navigators at 7am to get in line for a 130 mile round trip to help continue the tradition of possibly the greatest test of man and roadster that any early southern California roadster club performed back in the day. The Pasadena Roadster Club Reliability Run. 

( Tune in next time for more on the story of how things went for me and Tommy and his old roadster ) 

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