Sunday, July 17, 2011

The flathead Ford

Ford Motor Company introduced the “flathead” V-8 in 1932. It was used on Ford passenger cars from 1932 through 1953, 2 years longer than the Model “T” engine was used in production. After Ford stopped using the engine for its own purposes, it was utilized by other manufacturers until as late as 1990.

The original flathead engine of 1932 produced 65 horsepower, but by the time that Ford stopped using the engine in 1953, power had risen to 125 horsepower.

The flathead engine was enormously popular with early hot rodders, who discovered that they could increase power cheaper on a Ford V-8 than on any other engine. Even today, the flathead V-8 is still used in racing, and the Bonneville Salt Flats has a special class for flathead V-8’s. The current record holder managed to achieve 700 horsepower and 300 miles per hour using a flathead Ford, a feat that would likely astound Henry Ford.

The “little engine that could” is pictured below:

Until the Beach Boys released "Little Deuce Coupe” in 1962, very few of us really knew much about the Ford flathead. However, the lyrics posted below got us to starting thinking about it:

“Just a little deuce coupe with a flathead mill
But she’ll walk a Thunderbird like she’s standing still
She’s ported and sleeved and stroked and bored
She’ll do a hundred and forty at the top end floored
She’s my little deuce coupe
You don’t know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don’t know what I got)”

Truth be told, very few of the modern hot rods still use a flathead V-8 for motivation. The roadster pictured below is definitely a throwback to a bygone era.

Most modern hot rods use the latest Ford or (gasp) Chevy engines to get them down the road. The car pictured below is just one example,

but the MOST famous deuce coupe is the one that John Milner drove in “American Graffiti”

On the morning of July 11, 2011, a derecho storm hit the Chicago area.Wind gusts in a straight line were recorded as high as 80 miles an hour,and countless trees on the North Shore were toppled, which cut off electrical power to over 850,000 people.

One of the trees that was felled by the strong wind was a 23 inch diameter oak tree a block north of where I live.

When it fell, it landed directly on top of a Ford Taurus that was parked right across the street. The painful results of that encounter are pictured below:

My guess is the Ford pictured above would be considered to be a total loss, but that’s a judgment call that needs to be made by the owner’s insurance company.

Would this car qualify as a flathead Ford?

Since the pictures above make even ME wince a bit, I’d have to say yes.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Don’t blame the Republicans …

In the fall of 2007, Warren Buffett (the 2nd richest man in America) went to Washington to ask Congress not to cut his taxes. He reasoned that since the effective tax rate of his staff was nearly TWICE what his effective tax rate was, he should pay MORE in taxes, not less.

As of this morning, the State of Minnesota has been shut down for roughly two weeks, and there does not appear to be any solution in the foreseeable future. In many ways, the political situation in Minnesota (and in many other states) is similar to the problems at the Federal level.

To a very large degree, the Federal government is on the verge of defaulting on its debt because the Republican leaders refuse to impose more taxes on the people who are best able to afford them, preferring instead to penalize the poorest members of society by cutting their benefits.

That intractable position has already triggered recall elections in Wisconsin, and there are sure to be more to come in the future. Earlier this year, the school board of Providence, Rhode Island fired ALL of its teachers, and the city of Detroit may have to shut down HALF of its schools in the fall in order to balance its budget. Due to those actions, the NEXT Boston Tea Party could very well mean that the Tea Party activists are “going to get their feet wet.”

To be fair, though, we shouldn’t blame the Republicans, nor should we blame the Democrats. Instead, we should blame US.

Our current national debt is a VERY big number, $14.46 trillion.

As a percentage of GDP, however, it’s a lot better than a number of other industrialized nations. Although Japan had a booming economy in the 1980’s, the EXACT problems that our country is facing today have led to a nearly 20 year period of stagnant growth in that country. As a result, Japan’s public debt (in relation to GDP) is the highest in the world, at 225.8%.

The national public debt of the United States, in relation to its GDP, actually isn’t all that bad. At the end of 2010, our debt was 58.9% of our GDP. At the height of WWII, it was 120% of GDP.. However, the chart above doesn't tell the whole story, since it does not include other debt held by the government (the largest of which is the Social Security Trust Fund). If the "other debt" is included, the percentage changes (rather dramatically) to 98.6% of our GDP.

China has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Not coincidentally, China also has one of the highest savings rates in the world. At the end of 2010, the average Chinese household saved 38% of its income, considerably higher than the American savings rate of 4%, (which is actually an INCREASE).

China’s debt, in relation to GDP, is an astonishing low 17.5%.

Is there hope for the future?


Since President Obama took office, the national savings rate has increased dramatically, and is now the highest that it has been since the 1950’s.

One way or another, the members of Congress will come to an agreement in the next few days so that America doesn’t default its debt, and that will be good news to the national credit agencies, like Standard and Poors

Love them or hate them, the members of the Grand Old Party will be with us for a long time in the future, but don’t blame them for our current mess.

Take a hard look at yourself in the mirror.

You’ll be surprised at what you see.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Honest John

Shortly before I graduated from college, Max (the head of the student consular’s office) held a series of meetings with the graduating seniors. In brief, he told us that although the altruistic goals that most of us had were fine, the real purpose of our education was to MAKE MONEY.

He considered himself to be a successful man because he “drove a Chrysler, drank scotch and smoked cigars”. Max was right, of course. It’s hard to fight the poverty of others is you don’t have much yourself. On average, a college graduate makes roughly 75% more than a person who has only a high school education, and people with masters degrees make roughly TWICE as much. Once I retire, my income from Social Security will help to provide a comfortable living because my earnings during most of my working career were usually pretty close to the Social Security “cap”. (In 2010, the income cap was $106,800.) For a few years, I paid no Social Security tax the last month or two because I had already paid in the maximum for the year.

In early 2002, life insurance sales at MetLife were going well enough that I decided to buy Sharon a brand new P.T. Cruiser, which you can see in the picture below:

The other car in the garage was my red 1996 Saturn, which is pictured below:

In addition to the P.T. Cruiser, our driveway also held the 1990 Buick that we were replacing:

It also held the TWO cars that Kelly had brought home from college, both of which we sold while she was in China:

and it also held Brian’s rapidly dying “hot rod Ford”:

If the number of cars at your house would be considered a sign of wealth, we sure had it in spades in early 2002.

On most Saturdays, my recreation was to spend a few hours washing and cleaning our cars, which I could do even in the wintertime because I had hot running water piped into the garage from the water softener in the basement. Often, I would add to the experience by having a beer and a cigar while I worked.

I took the picture below of myself not long after we bought the Chrysler:

I still drink scotch, and I’ll still smoke 3 or 4 cigars a year. However, we no longer drive a Chrysler. In spite of that, fact, though, I’d still consider myself to be successful. Since I’ve been out of college more than 40 years, it’s extremely unlikely that Max is even alive. If he were, though, he’d probably nod his head in approval at how the class of 1969 turned out, even if we took a much different path than he did.

In closing, my question to you is this:

Would you buy a used car from the man pictured above?

Since I’ve sold well over 500 cars during my career at The Autobarn, the truth is that a LOT of people have done just that! Many times, they’ve also sent their friends in, and a number of people have bought a second, or even a third car from me, so don’t let appearances deceive you.

I am not a crook.

Oops. That line has already been taken.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The story of a cancer survivor

I learned that I had cancer on June 23, 2011.

Although I had experienced some troubling symptoms for a number of months, I wasn’t too concerned about them because I really hadn’t felt any pain. After a little prodding from my wife, I finally called the doctor’s office at the local hospital, and set an appointment - and I’m glad that I did.

Within minutes of going into the office, my doctor told me that I definitely had cancer, and he took a biopsy on the spot. A week later, he called me to tell me that I had basal cell carcinoma, which is the least dangerous form of the three types of skin cancer.

On July 14, the nasty spot on my back will be cut out, and a short time later, the “pre-cancerous” spots on other parts of my body will also be taken care of.

There are a dizzying number of cancers that we can become victim to. Not all of them are fatal, but ALL of them should be a cause for concern. A fair number of them can be attributed to environmental conditions, and some are caused by “lifestyle choices:”. Nearly 50 years after the Surgeon General issued a warning about the dangers of cigarette smoking, there were 157,000 deaths in the United States last year from lung cancer.

John Crosby, a friend from my college days, died at the age of 42 from pancreatic cancer, roughly six weeks it was first diagnosed.

A little more than two years ago, a friend from high school died from stomach cancer.

Sharon has been free of cancer for more than 15 years, but her ordeal was a frightening experience for all of us in the early 1990’s. Fortunately for her, she discovered The Wellness House in Hinsdale, Illinois, early in the whole process., and it made a world of difference. None of the women at The Wellness House were happy that they had cancer, but all of them were thankful for their experience there because it helped them focus on the things in life that were REALLY important.

Overnight, having the biggest house, or the newest car, or the best job, suddenly became totally irrelevant. As always, family and friends are the REAL treasures that we have in life. The guy that dies with the most toys usually ISN’T the winner.

None of us know when we’re going to take our last breath. However, if we take reasonable precautions about our health, and see our doctor on at least an occasional basis, we’ll be able to keep the “grim reaper” at bay for a long, long time.

Live each day as if it were your last one.

At some point in time, it WILL be.