Wednesday, November 30, 2011


America’s Coolest Station Wagons has been at the top of the New York Times Non Fiction Best Seller List for ten months now. That’s pretty cool. 3.9 million copies have sold worldwide, so far. I’m honored. The Pulitzer nomination was a humbling surprise. The publisher, CarTech Inc., is also happy with these developments. But behind the scenes, a terrible secret has haunted the project from its beginnings, while editors, layout and design personnel, and a litany of managerial department heads scrambled to keep a lid on it: The book was too good for its own good. This unprecedented situation nearly brought the entire corporation to its knees, as chaos erupted on every floor of the North Branch, Minnesota headquarters building. Ultimately, outside consultation was called in (via an anonymous federal government think tank) and order was only restored after radical steps were taken: Entire chapters were deleted and thousands of images destroyed, in an effort to make the package digestible to you, the consumers. Like all CarTech employees, I was required to sign a gag order barring any discussion of these events.

Today, I’m declaring my personal statute of limitations to be expired. I can no longer withhold the truth from the 3.9 million people who have been deceived. Below are samples of the 12,947 images I smuggled across the Minnesota state line in a rented Chevrolet Astro van on April 18th of 2010. Let the chips fall where they may. The people deserve to know how they were betrayed in the name of arrogant elitist capitalism.

Exposing this cover-up was no rash decision. Besides struggling with the ethical and legal implications, the very safety of my own family is at stake, considering Cartech is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is owned by Citicorp, which is owned by McDonalds, which is owned by Coca Cola, which is owned by the Catholic Church. All organizations that play for keeps. Nevertheless, I declare my imminent assassination to be worthwhile.

This shot of Chris Darland’s ’57 Chevy beater is what attracted the attention of the Pulitzer committee. It hasn’t been seen since - until now.

The image of Bobbi Petersen and her poodles was captured months after her Ford’s feature shoot. It was cropped with a hatchet to hide the missing front bumper (being replaced at the time), for fear of alienating prospective bumper loving book buyers. Gasser fans, this one’s for you.

Chris Whitney’s ’66 Fairlane, in Las Vegas for the 2009 SEMA show. The NHRA (owned by Coca Cola) didn’t want the C/Stocker shown on public streets (although it’s actually on a floor jack in a parking lot) and brought the heat. Luckily, I’d made this copy and stored it at an undisclosed location.

The JF Launier ’55 Chrysler, just before taking the stage for an episode of the Car Crazy TV show. This is one of several shots from the program taping, meant to be included in JF’s book feature. When show host Barry Meguiar discovered JF didn’t use Meguiar Car Care products, he stopped tape and had security escort Launier from the premises. Meguiar keyed the Chrysler while JF struggled with guards. My camera was confiscated, but I’d stashed the camera card in the lining of my suit jacket.

Scott Parkhurst is an editor at CarTech. His ’66 Chevelle is featured in the book. These action shots from the Optima Batteries Ultimate Street Car Invitational were quickly whisked away to a warehouse in Roswell, New Mexico, upon being seen by a nameless Cartech photo editor. Parkhurst remains on the missing persons list, but the car’s tailgate was recently found in a Baltimore wrecking yard. I happen to have a locksmith friend in Roswell. Optima Batteries is owned by Johnson Controls, which is owned by the federal government.

Inexplicably, this snap of Ed Bittle’s ’51 Nash was pulled from the feature. To this day, there’s been no explanation why the cleanest image from a difficult shoot wasn’t included – only this cryptic message from an anonymous Cartech employee: "This won’t fly and you’d never believe the reason why. Sorry, X"

I love this shot of Barefoot Bob Hardison, star of the opening story in the book. I believe his brother Mike shot this portrait of Bob at the wheel of his 1914 Ford Depot Hack, on safari for adventure, somewhere in America. Alas, I never found a high res version of this shot and it was cast aside. At least I understand why it wasn’t used.

We had a chapter of Wagons in Hibernation, but it was ejected for "portraying an image deemed unacceptable by company guidelines." So you never got to see Jamie Ford’s Pontiac hearse rotting into a field. Today, that wrong has been righted. Fisher Casket owns 3% of CarTech stock.

Okay, this one was totally my bad. Left my monopod laying in the foreground while catching Jeff Petersen’s ’47 Ford Woody in action. Doh! I stood in a ditch full of water moccasins to get this shot. A wasted risk.

The lead shot of Guy Recordon’s ’56 Pontiac feature was taken in the parking lot of this clinic. I thought the sign added interest. I didn’t realize the clinic was owned by Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which is owned by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, which owes storage fees to Burnside Towing, who posted the No Parking signs. I should’ve checked that out first.

Clyde Wouten drove his ’56 Pontiac right into the shoot I was doing on Guy’s car. I felt it was serendipitous and included this shot with my submission of Guy’s feature. That’s how I learned that my editor doesn’t believe in serendipity.

While shooting Guy’s interior, yet another car rolled into the shot! This one proved more worthy of the interruption…

I didn’t get a name on the Deuce 5-window owner – just this snapshot, which I saved for future use. The future is now.

This shot of Guy’s Pontiac passing a Buick dealership sparked enough corporate infighting to result in the entire Pontiac Motor Division being fired from General Motors. And I thought I was just taking a picture of a cool old car. My apologies to the 28,000 Pontiac workers who lost their jobs. Oosp! Shit happens.

My secret spy shot of Superior Glassworks’ ’54 Nomad prototype chassis, still in progress. Superior supplied their own chassis photo – an overhead shot of the finished version (which would’ve been beautiful, if they’d cropped out the background clutter.) This seemed reasonable, until I found out Superior’s security camera was shooting me shooting the chassis. I discovered this on a website I hit by accident. They added music to the video ("Everybody Dance Now") and animated my legs, so I appear to be dancing while suspended from wires like a spastic puppet being tazed. I spent a lifetime perfecting those moves, only to see them mocked in the most public forum there is.

I submitted a chapter of station wagon art that vanished from the final cut. Here’s a couple samples.

One in a series of portraits of influential punk rocker’s childhoods, Sean Mahan added the ’67 Ford wagon to his painting of Ian Mackaye because he felt it represented suburban angst. How could I have known that a high ranking Cartech executive lost her virginity to the village idiot on prom night in just such a car?

Dan Palatnik designs 3-D cars for Xbox Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He whipped up this ’55 Chevy just for the book! It turns out Dan, er, I mean, Mr. Artist – is in the witness protection program, and for good reason. Sorry about that, Dan. Dang it! Did it again…

In spite of these corporate blunders, 3.9 million wagon fans (and counting) have found America's Coolest Station Wagons to be purchase worthy. Sure, the Pulitzer and Best Seller List are nice bonuses, but I do this for you, the fans. Thank you all, for taking this ride with me. I’ll keep doing my best to expose the beautiful ugly truth, for you!