Tuesday, May 13, 2014



Call him Don, 86, or Maxwell, but don't call him nearsighted. This guy knows what time it is - time for big news in a small envelope.

The ticking under your driver's seat has been growing louder over the years. Annoying? Nah, we can learn to ignore just about any distraction while driving. Focus. But we can only dismiss a time bomb with a fuse of unknown length for so long, before it's boom time. This blog made its name by daring to expose even the most taboo stink bomb, and never has the need been greater than at this crucial moment in automotive history. There's a war going on, and it's imperative that it at least be acknowledged. Yes, we speak of nothing less than the current state of all-out Civil War in America, the pivot being the divisive Smart Car. And now, the debate (once so chilled as to be considered lingual frostbite) has boiled over in the most unlikely battleground: San Francisco. If you need any further convincing of how volatile this issue is, read on. The fate of Humankind may be at stake.

Don Asmussen is boldly trumpeting in the mainstream press what Hot Rod and Car Craft are scared to print at all. What are the SourceInterlink magazines so afraid of? And why are they hiding it from us? (Image courtesy of Dan Asmussen Bad Reporter)

While we have great admiration for those willing to confront the laws of physics with big torque/massive mass combinations, we remain staunchly obedient followers of the only proven recipe for acceleration: Power-to-weight ratio. It has served us well.

In 2011, I was renting a room at Mr. James' Boarding House, when he pulled a Smart Car into the driveway during a test drive one afternoon. He asked my professional opinion, unaware that I see all automobiles through one Ed Roth eye and one Two Lane Blacktop eye. Despite my incoherent raves, he bought the car and still has it. Not everyone sees Smart Cars the same. Motormouth Ray: "They're stupider than driving a Blastolene Special around. I believe these cars are being used as attention grabbers by adults who weren't loved enough as children. Me, I drive a hybrid - yeah, my car burns gas and rubber. Nuff said." Thank you, Ray.

Originated as an offshoot of the Swatch wristwatch craze, the Smarts were first distributed through VW, and now, through the twisted Daimler/Mercedes/Chrysler tangle. What you need to know: They carry a curb weight of 1,600 pounds and are establishing a presence at wrecking yards, bringing that most basic hot rod tenet into the modern era, and perhaps, beyond...

Future Smart Car-inspired concepts, such as these design exercises from BMW and VW are intriguing, to say the least... Are these the next '32 Fords?

Meanwhile, Joe Toolbox has been experimenting with the status quo, and garnering positive results from the 70 horsepower 3-cylinder. With a properly fortified bottom end, they love nitrous oxide.

Yes, the front tires are levitating well above the surface. Can your '55 Chevy or '65 GTO do that?

Most ubiquitous in recent months has been this bigblock Chevy-powered straight axle example, running lazy low-12s, with a very mild tune on the 454. The anonymous owner is slowly sneaking toward the 10s, where he plans to stay for a while. What is not a hot rod about this car?

Smart Cars are merely the latest in a long line of Nerdmobiles to race their way from Zero to Hero, ultimately establishing themselves as icons of meteoric acceleration...

The author's car (in the name of full disclosure). Yeah, I'm biased. (Photos courtesy of SGE Archives)

Smarten up America! Your wrecking yards are ripe with blown and injected aluminum LS and Coyote engines, 6-speed trannies, and miniscule flyweight bodies from every continent on Earth. Your dream of affordable single-digit ET slips is at hand. Live it!


Just as with a doctor's advice, it never hurts to get a second opinion. So here's a guy that you know and trust, who also practices what he preaches. Ladies and gentlemen, America's Sweetheart, Mr. Steve Magnante!

No less an authority than Hot Rod magazine has been preaching power-to-weight sermons since 1948. Their "Caddyhack" feature was most famous, but when staffer Steve Magnante submitted his "Bad Seed" Chevette feature, shit got real in a hurry. Steve takes five here, while prepping the econobox for penetration. An actual powerplant was on it's way from a neighborhood wrecking yard. Note that Steve carefully scans his own cover story for helpful tips that he likely forgot. 

Steve's original plan was to stab a junkyard 460 Ford into a Pinto. Luckily for Hot Rod's legal department, cooler heads prevailed, and GM products displaced the already nose-heavy Ford stuff.

Yes, that's a still-curing Krylon rebuilt 500 inch Caddy and a Pontiac TH-400 aimed at the unsuspecting Chevette. Steve notes the Krylon fumes had no effect on his nervous system, thanks to proper ventilation. Safety first!

Proof that the finished piece appeared in print. Plus, I just wanted to run this photo.

After tens of hours of labor, the finished product was fired, test driven around the block...
... and set loose on Steve's home track ("The County" AKA Los Angeles County Raceway), where it carded a 12.33 at 107. Steve claimed that would be an eleven second run at sea level, and set out to prove it. 

Days later, overachiever Steve entered The Battle of the Vettes (also at The County), and recorded a victorious 11.99. Justified!

Despite direct orders to the contrary, Steve knew real cred is garnered on the street, and joined in the fun on L.A.'s Capitol Avenue. Note VHT on race surface - tacky enough to break a Cadillac ring land under serious load. This night on the town cost Steve a piston, and ultimately,"moved me closer to the Exit door" at Hot Rod. But unlike many former editors who are now my freelance competition, Steve left on his own terms. And it was a good run: "All told, I was on staff from Tuesday, August 19th, 1997 until Tuesday, January 20th, 2004, and was on board for construction of 77 issues of Hot Rod."

With no paycheck to cover repairs, the Vette sat in Steve's yard for the next few years...

... until being pulled from Purgatory for a triumphant appearance at Hot Rod's 60th Anniversary gala in Pomona last year. Hero! And that's why Steve Magnante's portrait graces the entryway to the SGE offices. Lest we forget why we're here...


Barbara Feldon (at 70) with a facsimile of Maxwell Smart's Sunbeam Tiger in 2003. Nostalgic? No, Barbara is just attracted to lightweight cars with V-8s crammed under the hood. She can't help it. (More disclosure: I suffered a tragic boyhood crush on Barbara Feldon, AKA 99. I'm still in therapy, but am doing somewhat better now, thank you.)

Maxwell Smart not only invented the Sunbeam Tiger, but also helped develop the Shoe Phone and the Cone of Silence, both still in service today with the FBI, CIA, and NHRA.

The rarely seen but highly coveted (by America's arch enemies) Porta-Cone. Pure genius.

Steve Magnante's byline now appears in Elapsed Times magazine (and sometimes Hot Rod). Don Adams expired due to lymphoma complications in 2005. Barbara Feldon is finally slowing down (somewhat), after a long career on the stage. She celebrated her 81st birthday on March 12th of 2014. 



Speaking of birthdays, meet Dusty Springer (named for her uncanny leaping abilities). Dusty joined the SGE Squirrels a year ago this week, and is also celebrating her bellybutton birthday, this Thursday. She's a great fit so far, and we hope she'll stick around for a long time to come. This is the only photo from yesterday's party that came out good enough to publish. One guess who the photographer was. Hint: It was me.

A Mr. 26 T on the HAMB owns this wooden box, previously used by his great Grandfather to service cars in the 1920's and '30s. Check the ancient wrenches in the open drawer. How many of you have boxes with this kind of lineage?



PS: While late-'30s Topolinos get all the dragstrip love, Fiat's 500 series sedans make pretty good hot rods, too.

VW racers have been transplanting aircooled flat-fours into these cars for years (which is definitely cool), but this Lamborghini transplant grabbed us by the jimmyjohn and won't let go. Just another reminder of my late father's mantra: Your imagination is your only limitation.