Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Shortly after deciding that freelancing was the life for me (luckily, I love peanutbutter and jelly), fate threw me a spitball in the form of an opportunity to ply my craft locally. Kevin Shahalami had captained a fleet of high end fashion magazines before being drafted to transform the fledgling Goodguys Gazzette from a desktop newsletter into a slick large-format monthly. After savoring a couple years of that success, he moved the family to southern Oregon to live the simple life. But Kevin apparently missed the excitement of deadline pressure, dealing with millionaire sized egos, and the associated migraines and ulcers. Kevin also missed the hot rod life. He had a great car magazine concept in his head that craved freedom, but Kevin and wife Fawnda were now parents and home owners. They had also established a thriving graphic arts business that gobbled up all of their time and energy.

That’s when I came in. I believe it was 2005. When I met Kevin and he explained his magazine idea to me, I wanted in desperately. So did a few others, so we all teamed up for a series of brainstorming sessions and found a way to bring Kevin’s vision into focus. Today, I still believe the concept to be brilliant.

It would actually be two magazines in one: Half would be Northwest Hot Rods. Then, if you turned it upside-down and flipped it over, the other half was Northwest Bikes, capitalizing on the popularity of the custom Harley scene. Each title had dedicated editorial and advertising staffs – the latter being key to ad sales, covering the cost of printing. The jumbo sized glossy would be distributed by a regional parts wholesaler to its network of retail clients for free, in exchange for ad space.

Within three months of the first meeting, the distribution deal was locked in, ads were selling, and both editorial departments were piling up feature material. Kevin was the Publisher, and Graphic Artist Roberta Great (well known in the biz as "Bert") handled layout and design. I was appointed Editor of the Hot Rods side, with a staff of part time photographers and copy writers. We hit the road right at Christmas time, mapping out an initial coverage area from Mt. Shasta to Mt. Rainier. We spread the word as we went, selling ads and gathering feature stories all the way. Below are some samples of what we came up with for our first issue.

An out take from the cover shoot, with local crazies Mark Daley and Ronnie Mankins, both strutting their latest stuff in gloss black - a ballsy move that showcased our willingness to experiment, combined with daredevil photography. Black is hard to shoot, as my rookie snapshot illustrates. The final cover image was spectacular, hastening ad sales admirably.

A closer look at Ronnie’s sinister street/strip ’55 Chevy – an absolute sadist, armed with a 406 inch assassin’s bullet. It ran nines at the track.

You can’t put these two on the same stretch of asphalt without this happening. It’s a given. They may have been encouraged somewhat by bystanders…

Most of us on the staff were already regular customers at Spec Rite Torque Converters in Redding, so this was a natural.

While in Redding, we swung by Dave Tuttle’s top secret chassis shop on the outskirts of town. Dave was very patient as he educated us doorslammer types on the finer points of dragster design. The blue car is Kin Bates’ Nostalgia Top Fueler, just before shipping out.

This was too easy – right here in town. When we heard of the hot rod and motorcycle art exhibition at Ignition Gallery, we covered the Grand Opening, stuffing our pockets with as many free snacks as possible. Best day ever!

Art Morrison Enterprises (in Tacoma) hosted us like long-lost relatives, but offered no food whatsoever. This northern trip was made during an ice storm that tailed us like toilet paper until we returned home. Slow going.

In Portland, we snooped around at my old employers, Steve’s Auto Restorations. Our northern correspondent Tim Holt worked there then, getting us the hot skinny poop on all things fast and loud in the Rose City. And Tim took us to lunch! That name again: Tim Holt, hot rod God. Enjoy this retro peek at some famous cars, before they were famous.

Just outside of Portland is Marty Strode’s vintage tin skunkworks. Unfortunately, the Marty images have inexplicably vanished into a digital black hole. I offer the following shot of Marty in his element as penance.

Next stop: B&B Speed Shop in Albany, Oregon. The Brenneman family alerted the local gearhead populace of our visit and they welcomed us like royalty on a bone chilling December Monday evening. The ice storm followed us into town, but nobody left! HARDCORE. They ate all the food while waiting for us though. That’s patriarch Mike Brenneman, modeling the coveralls.

We committed to covering every behind-the-scenes detail of the buildup and a full season of competition for a series called, "What it Takes", following Ron Austin’s grassroots crew from initial design sketch to Championship trophy presentation. Another bold concept that I was particularly proud of. Austin followed the script and took the crown. Amazing.

Alas, Kevin was soon forced to choose between the magazine and his business, as there wasn’t time enough for both. The magazine drew the short straw. The staff scrambled to keep the momentum going, but without a publisher, it quickly dwindled to nothing. I learned some valuable skills that year that still serve me well. The magazine wasn’t meant to be, for reasons that are none of my business. Perhaps some motivated reader will take the idea and run with it. I can only hope so, for the sake of grassroots level hot rod photo journalism – when allowed to flourish, it takes hotrodding along for the ride. I’ve seen it happen before and it’s beautiful.

Friday, December 16, 2011


This fest is a test. While researching cars online for various writing projects, I often save images I come across that make me grin. I figured that if they have that effect on me, maybe they’ll do the trick for you, too. So, with nothing else to post this week, I’ve decided to share the wealth. I have no information on the photographers behind these photos, so if you know anything, please post it here. I want to give credit where it’s due, as these are all amazing shots, in my opinion. As per online protocol, these are all low res images, so I have no idea how they’ll reproduce here. Let’s find out!

Coming from a street racer background, these photos jumped out at me. In my skewered vision, the only thing as cool as a badass street car doing business is an all out race car testing limits on city streets.

Here’s a couple for the street car purists.

And some images have nothing to do with anything, which I love. Viva irreverence!

Next week: The most astonishing blog ever posted anywhere! If I think of something by then.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


  It definitely looks best at a distance. Out of focus photography and bad lighting are other clever trade secrets.
    "An empty tin can." "The presence of a lost sock." "The abandoned refrigerator of all cars." That’s what they said. And I savored every presumptuous chill shot. This was the point of the exercise: A daily driver that I could live with, while blending in with thousands of other faceless drones on city streets and freeways. Don’t confuse this with a ‘sleeper’ – those CIA-like masters of subterfuge that drop the hammer to gobsmack opponents with shock and awe. The Bi Polar Bear doesn’t have to shock anyone to earn its keep. I’m happy with a raised eyebrow. Just get me to work on time and push me back in the seat on demand. The key is how it weeds out the pretenders. You either get it or you don’t. It started as a ’64 Chevy pickup. That was my driver, until it ejected the rods coming home from work one day. I traded the truck carcass for a ’78 Pinto wagon being used to shuttle logs (on its top) at the saw mill where I worked. When I found this ’80 Malibu wagon rotting on the back row of a used car lot, I traded the Pinto for it and limped it home, broken timing chain and all. I built a quickie drivetrain for it, went through the chassis and haven’t turned it off since. That was in1997.  
    Then I wrote America’s Coolest Station Wagons and began feeling guilty for the 15 years of neglect I’d rewarded the car with for its loyal service. Since then, I’ve slowly been taking baby steps to instill some semblance of respectability in the Bi Polar Bear. I’m approaching this project like I did ‘em in high school: A peanutbutter & jelly budget, swap meet bolt-ons, driveway labor and hand tools. The goal is a modicum of street/strip cred (14s?) while keeping maintenance to a minimum. Meanwhile, I’m gleefully revisiting my adolescence by going crude with parts replacement and redecorating. Like my neighbors weren’t already nervous enough.
    It came to me with black 14" steelies and bald whitewalls. Now there’s 15 X 6" fronts with 185-70s and 15 X 8 rears with 275-60s. The epic roof rack was first item to go. I drilled the hydraulic mounts and tucked the bumpers in. There were also ½" thick tow tabs up front – until I torched ‘em off. Glued-on factory insignias filled a small trash can. This is dirt bag customizing with same result as the brand name shops: Less is more.
    Original tailgate was apparently used for batting practice. I traded a wagon book (and a day’s labor) for this one. Still haven’t found a decent rear bumper, but at least this one got tucked in. Also torched off 26 miles of stick-weld, holding trailer hitch on (was always nervous towing with this car anyway). Side marker lights are next to go. This is exotic (rusty) Canadian version, with "Unleaded Fuel Only" gas door decal lettered in French.

The 98 HP weakling 287 was gone 24 hours after I signed the title. My best friend gave me a nice 4-bolt main 350 block. I had it bored .030" over and align honed, added M/T hypereutectic pistons and a mild hydraulic cam. I had an old set of heads I’d hogged out for my hot rod, scored a factory aluminum intake and topped it with a mystery Q-jet found in a buddy’s shop when he moved into it. Bought cheapo headers and turbo mufflers off the shelf – Bonneville has not been kind to them. TH350 is stock (for now) and drives spindly 3.08 geared 7 ¼" 10-bolt rear. A 4.11 9" Ford assembly lurks in the wings. I’ll box the control arms and whack the coils (again) before installing it.

Soon after getting the wagon, I had to rebuild the rearend and upgraded to extra-hardened Yukon axles. This is how the Bear got its name. Before the axles, it was known as Bob (long story). My apologies to any bi-polar individuals (human or polar bears) named Bob who find this offensive.

The entire interior was done in luxurious plastic, which was faded and brittle when I got the car. Over time, it crumbled away and this fall I finally cleaned out the last crumbs. Future plans call for welding up some holes in floor, lightweight short-back seats, aluminum dash (with actual gauges) and deletion of dead weight E-brake, radio, A/C ducting and wiring. Column shift will probably stay. I’ll keep this one too slow for rollcage requirement – too much weight! Final finish will feature my trademark Swiss Cheesing.

It’s been a pack mule from day one. I’ve slept in here a lot, too. Original tailgate saw enough workbench duty that it fell off one night in drag pits – we threw it in here and rebuilt it. This weekend I hauled home the world’s crustiest 9" Ford rearend with the BPB. Try that with your new "crossover".

No action shots yet, but I did bring the camera while running errands the other day. I hope to have some track shots and results in the spring. Hopefully, I'll have the rebellious text and upsidedown photos figured out by then. My apologies. This program has a mind of its own...