I was asked by a guy the other day what I drive. I said, “I’ve got a 1986 Suzuki Samurai, a 1970 Datsun 510 and my commuter car is a 1992 Toyota Camry.”
His reply was, “Wow, thats a lot of old cars. They must break down a lot.”
I chuckled, “Well I just completely rebuilt the Samurai so it would stop breaking down. The Datsun’s a project car and doesn’t run at all and probably won’t for a few more years. The Camry, well it’s an early 90′s Toyota so it will likely run forever.”
“Huh… Why don’t you just buy a new car that, you know, just works?” He said, somewhat smugly.
“Because they’re too complicated.”
So this is where I would like to pick up. Quite a few people have given me quizzical looks when I tell them that I rebuilt the Samurai, a vehicle that is generally considered a throw away car. Or that I bought a non-running 40 year old econo box. My response is always the same, I like the simplicity of older cars.
It’s not that I dislike new cars. Hell, half my brain is devoted to keeping up with current models and trim levels. I gush over beautiful new cars like the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, or the Ford Focus RS Mk.II. But when it comes down to it, I’m much more likely to spend my time on eBay Motors looking at MGB GT‘s or Volvo P1800 ES‘s than at a manufactures website.
I blame my father.
You see, my whole life I’ve worked on cars. When I was but a tyke I was tasked with handing tools to my Dad while he worked on the family vehicles. Any time something went wrong, my Dad tackled it. Taking it to the shop was (is) never an option. This is what I grew up with. The problem is that over my life time cars have gotten significantly more complex.
Really if you think about it from the very beginnings of the automobile to the mid-80′s things didn’t change that much. Yes, yes I know that is a broad generalization, but on the whole your home mechanic could work on practically any vehicle with basic hand tools. Then came the computer. At first Electronic Control Modules (or ECM’s) were pretty simple. They controlled the emissions package or if you were cool, the Electronic Fuel Injection. But that was about it. Slowly though they started to take over every aspect of the car.
When ECM’s were basic, you could work around them. Headlight went out, swap it. Muffler rusted through, replace it. Rear view mirror broken, bolt on a new one. Now? Nope. You touch that headlight and the computer needs to be reset with the right codes. The muffler, yeah… Dealer only part because of the complexities involved with making sure the CO2/Oxygen/Man/Bear/Pig mix is correct. Don’t you dare touch that mirror, it has a blind spot sensor in it that has precise alignment. Nothing can be worked on with your normal Craftsman ratchet and socket set.
Being someone who has been indoctrinated with the concept of “Do It Yourself” the idea of having a car with the big plastic “sealed for it’s protection” engine cover really doesn’t appeal to me. I did that once. I had a 1998 Volkswagen Jetta VR6. Awesome car, drove great, I loved it. But working on it was a bitch. I had to replace a water pump once, in order to get to it you had to jack the engine up six inches because the pump was right next to the frame rail. What a pain. You know where the water pump is on the Samurai? Right in front, easy to get to. I can swap one in 15 minutes. Really, I can. I have. This is how everything was on the Jetta. Nothing was easy to work on and the parts were expensive. So when I sold it, I swore I would never own a car that new again.
So as new cars come out and boast about computer controlled this, or touch screen that, or sync blah, my brain just kinda shuts down. Yes, all this computer controlled stuff makes the cars more comfortable, more powerful, more “user friendly”. But at the same time it makes them more complex, more prone to breakage and more expensive. In addition, all this computerization also takes much of the driving experience away. When I drive a car, I want to drive the car. I don’t want to make an input and then let a computer handle it from there. I play video games for that. All this drive-by-wire stuff puts a buffer between you and the vehicle. When I step on the peddle I like the idea of having a true, physical connection to the vehicle. The peddle is connected to a cable thats connected to the throttle on the carburetor and when I push, everything moves in a way to make fuel enter the engine and then combust ect. ect. You see, I can understand that and explain it pretty easily.
New cars are becoming more like appliances designed to entertain us with their gizmos and less about the actual purpose of the car, a mode of transportation. I feel like cars today lack the passion for driving that vehicles from the past did. You get into a modern vehicle and what is one of the first things you will notice? That big ass computer screen in the dash. It’s distracting. When you get into a 1967 Porsche 911, its all about driving. Even my Samurai is all about driving. No bells and whistles. Even the stereo is in a somewhat awkward position.
If I want a computer, I’ll buy one for my home. If I want to know where I’m going, I’ll pull over and read a map (shocking yes, I know how to use one of those). If I want my ass to be warm… well we won’t get into that. Perhaps this is why I’m watching with some interest the Tata Nano‘s move towards the US market. That is a car with one purpose, transportation. There is no other reason for it to exist. Is it a car that I would buy? Not a chance. It isn’t a drivers car, but it intrigues me none the less. It is a vehicle with no frills, no satnav, no sync. If it enters the market in the sub $10,000 range, it could be a game changer. Sure I can point to dozens of more exciting used cars you could buy for that much, but our consumer driven society demands new. If it sells, it could force other manufactures to offer “down market” vehicles. Hell, it could even force manufactures to begin making cars that you actually get to drive again, not just washing machines on wheels.
Until that happens though, I’m going to stick with my old cars. They turn more heads, lack the complexities and more than anything, are fun.
Thanksgiving weekend and beef. Not the usual combination, normally it’s turkey or tossing the pig skin (some sort of sports reference I’m sure). But Thanksgiving weekend 2009 was tied with Beef Basin.
We departed Salt Lake at 7:30 on Friday morning with the goal of making our camp by 3:00 that afternoon. Our caravan linked up along I-15 as we headed towards Spanish Fork canyon. Kurt and I in his Tacoma were quickly joined by Greg and his son Oakley in his awesome HZJ-75, Sully and Erica in their Tacoma and Cody caught up after hitting some Black Friday sales in his Grand Cherokee.
We made some excellent time on our way down to Moab, reaching our lunch stop at Smitty’s Golden Steak before noon. After indulging in the deliciousness of that greasy spoon we hit the road again.
After another hour or so on pavement we hit dirt on the turn off for Beef Basin. We stopped for a few minutes to air down.
The road out to Beef Basin was a typical BLM graded road, quite smooth and lended itself nicely to some high speeds. We hit some shady areas that still had a fair amount of snow from the last storm.
As we descended down towards Beef Basin we were greeted with the spectacular vista so common in South Eastern Utah. No matter how many times I’ve been there I don’t think I will ever tire of these scenes.
We hit camp up Beef Basin Wash around our target time of 3:00pm. As usual everyone spent the next little while finding that perfect spot to pitch your tent or park your vehicle. Greg and Kurt had the luxury of rooftop tents, Sully and Eric were smart enough to hole up in the shelled bed of their truck while Cody and I camped like real men in our tents.
Our campsite was nicely situated about halfway up the wash and right below the ruin of a cliff dwelling which we intended to hike up to the next morning.
The weather for Friday night was quite agreeable as well, clear, fairly warm for late November in southern Utah and not much wind. Contrary to most trips we had camp set before dark and had time to make dinner with plenty of light.
After a relaxing Friday night around the campfire Saturday dawned clear with a slight breeze but definitely a bit more of a chill in the air. Much to Kurt’s chagrin, our start to the day was a bit later than we had anticipated with most of us rolling out of our sleeping bags sometime after 9:00am.
The first order of the day was to cook up some breakfast, which Kurt and Cody did with gusto in Greg’s enviable camp kitchen setup.
Once we had eaten heartily (well aside from me and my oatmeal) we began our hike up to the cliff dwelling. One can quickly see why the Anasazi chose this location. There was no way to approach the dwelling without being seen from it. And once you got to it, there was only a narrow path to get to the entrance.
The ruin was remarkable. Still had some of the wood that formed the second floor and the stairs, the mortar holding the stone was still there and the view was incredible.
We hiked back down from the cliff dwelling, finished breaking camp and headed out. Our next destination was an area called Ruin Canyon. As the name suggests, there were several ruins up the canyon.
The most spectacular being about a quarter mile from an overgrown portion of the trail. We attempted to hack our way through, but decided it was just as easy to walk.
The ruin was a couple hundred feet up from the canyon floor on a fairly narrow shelf. We hiked up and poked around it for a bit. Its amazing that even though the elements have washed away all the mortar that held the stones in place it still stands.
As we looked around this ruin we found one up above us.
It is in remarkably good condition. Cody managed to climb up to it and found that it was very small, probably just a grainery. But the condition was just incredible.
We hiked back to our vehicles for lunch and pondered the rest of the day. The plan was to head out into an area called Ruin Park. We knew that there was the potential of a storm that afternoon, so high on our list was also finding a good camp spot as well.
We exited Ruin Canyon and got back onto the Beef Basin loop road. Now, since the area is called Beef Basin, there are a number of corrals. These can make for some fun pictures.
After our impromptu photo shoot, we headed into Ruin Park and found what is probably one of the coolest ruins I have ever seen. It is called Tower Ruin, and it’s awesome. A two story ruin that has a near perfect right angle. Very neat. There is some speculation that there may have been a number of these towers to be used for signaling each other and perhaps the inhabitants of the previous ruins we visited.
Greg and Oakley decided that they would head out and try to make it back to Salt Lake that night, so we parted ways with them. The rest of us could see the storm coming in and split up to find a good, concealed camp spot. Ultimately we found one up Butler Wash and we hurriedly began setting up before the pending rain…
…Which didn’t come. No the storm split right over us and aside from a strong breeze, we didn’t get anything. So we sat around the campfire to stay warm and argued the merits of cast iron versus aluminum for camp cooking. The final verdict being that cast iron is the only way to go.
Sunday dawned windy, cold and with a slight dusting of snow. I woke up early and hiked out a ways from our camp to a beautiful overlook of Needles. Unfortunately I only brought my medium format camera and have no pictures to share. I will tell you that it was spectacular in the crisp morning air.
As everyone else woke we stoked up the fire and made some breakfast sandwiches and indulged in Sully’s delicious peach/pineapple cobbler from the night before. With breakfast complete and camp broke, we headed out. Our route took us down Bobby’s Hole and into the Needles District.
Cody decided to take a quick detour and run Impossible Hill.
We headed towards Needles on a narrow two track and were greeted by spectacular view over every hill.
Through what remains of SOB Hill.
We finally made it to Elephant Hill. It’s been years since I was last on Elephant Hill, but it is much easier to make those tight switchbacks in a Samurai than it is in a Tacoma! But up we went.
And then back down.
And that was it. We had made it to the parking lot of Elephant Hill and pavement. We jetted out to the Needles Outpost for some fuel (fortunately without incident this time!) and then made a quick stop at Newspaper Rock.
The day ended with Kurt, Cody and I stopping at The Moab Brewery for Beer Cheese Soup and a cold one before trekking north and home. Aside from the cold, and even that wasn’t that bad, it was a great trip.
All pictures courtesy of Stephen Nielson and Kurt Williams