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IF YOU ALREADY GOT THIS ONE (it's the pre-"Burt got a chest cold & ain't going to Amelia" one with the yacht excursion and the motorcycle stuff and a little Alfred, Lord Tennyson riff on spring sent just a couple days ago)

DON'T BOTHER READING IT UNLESS YOU'RE REAL SENILE AND HAVE FORGOTTEN IT ALREADY. But some folks didn't get it so I'm sending it again. Hey, I've got nothing better to do, right?
Also, I AM indeed using the unexpected 5 free days to beat on the keyboard a bit working on the new book. Honest.

Well, it's that time of year again. Spring is in the air (see long, rambling reminiscences of my pre-hippie college days in sienna-colored section  below) which means the Amelia Island Concours and the 12 Hours of Sebring loom on the horizon (at least for those of us here in the chilly Midwest) like the first day you can wear shorts, a tee shirt and sneakers with no socks and take a blessed bike ride outside. But in the meantime...

Amelia is an unbelievable happening--more friendly, relaxed, un-stuffy and motorsports-oriented than almost all the other "lawn shows"--and this one especially so as it's the event's silver 25th anniversary, motorsports/business icon and new Indianapolis Motor Speedway/Indycar series owner/savior Roger Penske is the Honoree, the awesome and incredible Silver Arrows Mercedes-Benz grand prix racecars from the late 1930's

that (along with the contemporary, Ferdinand Porsche-designed Auto Union and with more than a little financial incentive from Herr Hitler) essentially bludgeoned and blitzkrieged the Italian, French and English racing teams into submission. Think of it as a kind of "Coming Attractions" reel for World War Two. Also on display will be the dream cars of longtime GM head of styling and great believer in elegant excess, Harley Earl (see image below):

plus more automotive & motorsports treats, sweets, dead-end streets, history and eye candy than you will ever see anywhere else. Amelia Island founder and chairman Bill Warner's ability to attract amazing cars and people is unmatched. He's also a longtime friend. We've raced with and against each other in the far-distant past, he's let me drive some of his wonderful old Group 44 racecars, he gets a passing mention as an aspiring-racer Jacksonville, FL, newspaper boy with a very fast coaster wagon in Toly's Ghost and he even willingly served as one of the Mystery Celebrity Guest Voices on The Last Open Road audiobook project. He's also let me do something kind of unique at his concours event.
It all starts with Buddy Palumbo, of course, the 19-year-old gas-station mechanic narrator/hero of my book series. Buddy's an all-'round good guy--a working-class hero, I like to think--and moreover a hands-on, greasy-fingernail, sweat-bead-on-the-forehead type who does all the necessary fixing, improving, running around and even menial tasks himself. And when he hits the brick wall of a problem he can't immediately solve, his only recourse is to either figure it out, look it up somewhere in a book or manual or find someone with the knowledge, patience and willingness to show him the way. I've always figured there was something pure, straightforward and even noble in that. Doing the work yourself, you know, instead of having someone else do it and just writing a big check...
So, some 14 years ago, I came up with this idea for a "Buddy Palumbo Award" at Amelia Island, which would honor a concours entrant who did the majority of the repair, restoration and preparation work with their own hands. And moreover USED the blessed car from time to time on the roadways and/or race tracks as the car's original designers and builders intended.
Bill loved the idea, and the Buddy Palumbo Award has been a part of the concours ever since. The plaque says it all:

But wait. There's more. See, I had this additional out-of-left-field notion that the award should be different each year and done by a different automotive artist or sculptor each time. My friend Ted Wenz, who is better known for building wonderfully powerful (always) and reliable (usually) racing engines at his Savannah Race Engineering company (CLICK HERE TO SEE THE WEBSITE) did the very first one back in 2007; a wonderful realization of a perplexed mechanic, wrench in hand, looking down at a broken gear, and moreover made out of assorted redundant, no-damn-good-anymore engine parts. See pic below:

Ted did another one for us nine years later:

That one was awarded to the famous (and also famously unstable at almost any speed) Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion replica built by and subsequently driven down from Nashville to Amelia Island by a very brave (and/or foolhardy?) Jeff Lane and his crew from the Lane Motor Museum (CLICK HERE FOR INFO) which you should certainly go visit if you're ever in the vicinity. Or even if you're just passing through the Nashville area.
It's worth a look.

As is the Dymaxion (shown here at home in the museum with the award in front of it):

Now while Buckminster Fuller was quite the visionary, inventor, innovator, thinker and futurist, his car-design and practical automotive engineering skills were, shall we say, not governed or guided by convention. His three-wheeler Dymaxion had a Ford Flathead V8 mounted essentially amidships (between and just aft of the two big driving wheels) with a single, third wheel in the rear that turned left and right like a shopping-cart caster and handled the steering. Think about that.

To say that the Dymaxion was agile is an understatement. Why, you could turn it full circle in the length of its wheelbase! The hard part was making it go in a straight line...
Suffice to say that the first Dymaxion was involved in a fatal accident less than four months after it was completed, and Bucky himself is reported to have put a subsequent Dymaxion on its head (or "Tits Up," as they say in the military) with his own family on board. Fortunately without injury.
In any case, I figured Jeff Lane and his crew deserved the award just for being brave enough to drive the thing down instead of taking the easy way (it's not P.C. to say "the pussy way" anymore, is it?) and trailering the damn thing.

Other past Buddy Palumbo Awards have included:

This one that I actually designed and put together (although a model-maker friend made the miniature Derrington woodrim steering wheel and I bought the big wrench online)

This etched plaque by my late, great friend and graphics genius Art Eastman. He was my editor for many years at Vintage Motorsport magazine, did all my book dust jackets and most of the full-color sponsorship & advertising sections inside and came up with the unbelievably clever "prancing chili peppers" Montezuma's Ferrari logo that got Mr. Ferrari's lawyers all upset and angry (I can't imagine why?):

We had co-sponsorship of the award for a couple years from the McPherson College Restoration Arts program (CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS) and this one was conceived, welded up and painted by one of their students (shown with the trophy):

A couple years ago, my artist/racer friend Bob Colaizzi did a wonderful painting of the winning car (one of three authentic Bizzarrini GT Strada ragtops on the planet, and restored beautifully by the owner and his wife) parked in front of the highly fictitious Finzio's Sinclair gas station in Passaic, NJ, where The Last Open Road saga begins:

Bob's one hell of an artist (and he just LOVES doing commission work for clients) and you can see more of his work (CLICK HERE) on his website.

Our longtime friend and occasional ad-hoc/at-track volunteer helper Bob Kovacs did this wonderful, illuminated stained-glass shadowbox creation for last year's show. It really sums up what the Buddy Palumbo award is all about and definitely stood out on the awards table:

This year's award is by friend and auto/airplane/train/what-have-you artist Richard Smyth, which will feature the winning car front-and-center on the service shop floor of the also thoroughly fictitious Westbridge Motorcar Company, Ltd. Jaguar/MG dealership in Manhattan (motto: "Thoroughbred Motorcars for Discriminating Drivers"). For the purposes of the display version that will be on display on the awards table, a cheeky little Nash Metropolitan (more or less and MGA in tubby sheep's clothing, but that's another story) has been put in as a place-holder for the winning car:

I will of course be in attendance at Amelia with my books, the new audiobook (Have you got your copy yet? CLICK HERE if not!) and my usual, near-endless line of BS. Look for me in the author signing area in the hallway outside the Talbot Ballroom in the Ritz Carlton on both Friday and Saturday, and I'll of course be presenting the Buddy Palumbo Award on the show field come Sunday afternoon.

In the spring, a young man's fancy
lightly turns to thoughts of love...
So wrote Alfred, Lord Tennyson (you know, the Charge of the Light Brigade guy?), who apparently looked like this when he was young and impressionable and all steamy-hot for the ladies:

But age, mileage and experience catch up with all of us in time, and he looked more like this (below) by the time he ascended from the rank-and-file of wordy, flowery Victorian poets to be named Poet Laureate of all of England and Ireland.

The point here is that it's almost spring--you can feel it--and that has a way of summoning up sweet-scented memories out of the mist, reminding one of what it was like to be young, lively, agile of brain, keen of wit and living in a world filled with endless adventures and limitless possibilities. And what brought this all up was a couple old, old photographs that a long-lost but well-remembered friend sent me out of the blue when she stumbled on them whilst doing a bittersweet "life review" after her husband/partner of 45 years (whom I never met) passed away.
Here are two of them:

That's me and my great friend Mike Wong--nickname "Twang"--whom I haven't seen or spoken to for, oh, say, a little over a half-century. But I'm sure if we did ever see each other again, we could pick up one of our wonderful conversations about politics, philosophy, anthropology, anarchy, great roads and even better road trips, relationships with certain special & significant persons of the opposite sex, the best all-'round motorcycle oil, chain lube, tire and/or handlebar configuration if you were mainly a swoopy-road pavement rider but also liked to sample a little dirt--at sometimes stupid speeds--every now and then.
Mike built that bike himself (a Matchless G12, as I recall) out of an assortment of crates and boxes in his folks' home garage in Hawaii. It was a resurrected Australian police bike, and Mike lavished an incredible amount of love, anger, tears and effort on it. Among other things, he had to replace the kick-starter pawl at least once every winter. That's what happens when you have an old, congenitally brittle and occasionally recalcitrant British big twin and attempt to use it as your only transportation through the frigid months common to central Michigan. Especially when you insist on using nothing less than straight 40-weight Castrol in the crankcase (that was almost a sacrament with Mike), which assumes the approximate consistency of cold silly putty at anything approaching zero degrees Celsius. And this is exacerbated if you, like Mike, are several inches over six feet tall and weigh something on the far side of 230 lbs., and then bring all that mass, height and momentum down
HARD on the kickstarter when it's like 15 degrees out and the oil in the crankcase is as described above.
Something had to give. And in Mike's Matchless's case, it was invariably the kick-starter pawl.
I, BTW, had a Honda 305 Super Hawk at the time, and like Hondas always seem to do, it just ran and ran and ran. But it was a little light on macho & panache compared to the big British twins. And let's not even talk about the Harley-Davidsons (which, even as today, were a species of their own).
I remember there was a British bike shop (Triumph and Norton, mostly) called "Shep's" on the other side of town, and Shep and his sharp, lively little wife ran it for years and did a pretty good mom-and-pop-style business. Mrs. Shep knew all there was to know about the bikes they carried and the parts that went into them (or usually broke), and it often took customers aback when they thought they knew what they wanted:
"You want richer carb needles for that Amal carburetor on your Norton? Not sure that's such a good idea. You'd better ask Shep. And no matter what, you'll have to tell me if it's a side float-bowl Amal or a concentric..."
They'd usually stand there for a moment with a blank look in their eyes and their jaws moving ever-so-slightly up and down but no sound coming out...think of a goldfish on a living-room floor.

Now Shep absolutely HATED Japanese motorcycles.
"Used t'be you had to be at least the tiniest little bit of a decent mechanic to own a damn motorcycle. Otherwise it'd break on you and you'd get stranded someplace. Or lots of someplaces, come to that. And you deserved it. But not with these damn Jap bikes. No, sir! They've made it so just ANYBODY can own a damn motorcycle!"
Eventually Shep took on Yamaha and it made him a LOT of money. More than he'd ever seen with the old British bikes. He even bought himself a cabin way up in the woods, away from everybody, where he could sit on his front porch and look out into God's green woods and grouse about Japanese motorcycles from sunup to suppertime...
And that's where he kept his old Ariel square 4 with straight pipes. It wasn't all that fast and didn't handle that great in the cafe-racer sense. But there were some lovely, swoopy, dotted-white-line-to-forever country roads up there in north-central Michigan, sweeping and snaking over hills and through forests, past quiet farms and meadows full of wild flowers and along the shorelines of small, sylvan lakes where the fishing and duck hunting were good, and damn that Square 4 made a comforting, consoling sort of noise...

This is one of the other pictures she sent me, and did it ever trigger off memories:

Now before you get the wrong idea, you need to understand that this is most definitely not my yacht. Or my family's yacht. In fact, at the time this particular picture was taken, I probably had less than three dollars in my pocket. And most of that was likely change. See, these pictures were kindly forwarded to me by a fine lady named Lydia, whom I likewise haven't seen in more than 40 years, and who was the longtime girlfriend/ultimately first wife of probably my best friend through our late high school and early college years, Dick Hummel. And the girl behind me on the bowsprit was the other party in my very first thrilling, exciting & adventurous (but ultimately trying, tortuous and tumultuous) co-habitational live-in-girlfriend experience: Jill.
My friend Lydia came from Grosse Pointe, MI, which was a very up-scale, up-market, upper-crust and, in the old days at least, very restricted (no Jews or darkies, please) suburb of Detroit. And it seems Lydia's family were close with another family named, if I recall properly, the Tomalson's (sorry about the probable misspelling, but you're both surely dead by now so you won't care). The husband of the couple had either earned or inherited (or both) a goodly amount of quiet money by the time he decided to retire. By then the kids were grown and gone and, rather than spending the rest of their ambulatory lives in a beautiful, way-too-big house and playing a lot of golf and bridge and going to a lot of country-club and charity functions and probably drinking too much way too often because that's what toney retired people tend to do in places like Grosse Pointe, MI, they decided to do something far more interesting, adventurous and romantic:
They sold their house and bought this majestic and marvelous old wooden sailing ship--I think it was a schooner, but maybe that's a glass of beer?--and spent many months and way too much money having it refurbished, re-fitted and re-fettled and made ready so they could one day sail it down through Lake Erie, then up and out through the Saint Lawrence Seaway until they reached the Atlantic, then take a hard right and head south along the coastline towards the sunshine and palm trees and spend the next however-many good years they had left island-hopping in the tropics. What a marvelous notion!
Don't know how that ultimately worked out for them, but the risk and romance of it were both captivating and compelling to a young man of my tender sensibilities. Or lack thereof. But the point is that somehow Lydia got invited along on the Tomalson's (sp?) very first "shakedown cruise" on Lake St. Clair, and somehow she was able to bring boyfriend Dick and mutual best friends Jill and me (we were something of a single entity at the time) along for the ride. Like I said, between us Jill and I had no more than a couple dollars in cash at any given time (poverty is sort of fun if you know you can always call home and do a little whimpering and pleading if things get really it's not the real thing, y'know?) but no question we enjoyed the romance of feeling poor, and that made this particular adventure quite other-worldly, exotic and exciting.
It was a beautiful day and I still remember the snap of the sails and the smell of the water and the freshly refinished wood and most especially diving off and hanging on the anchor chain as the bow of the boat went up and down on the swells, alternately pulling me waist-high out of the water and then plunging me into the cold, blue-green water like a Salem witch on a dunking chair...
A special day, no question about it.
And all but forgotten until this pictured showed up unexpectedly in my inbox.
I remember one more thing about that day. Vividly, in fact. It was coming on early evening and we'd gotten the boat docked and made fast and the four of us were walking through the boat yard on the way to where we'd parked Richard's mom's car. And that's when Jill and I noticed this stray momma tabby cat with three nursing kittens on a little patch of grass beside some trash drums sitting behind a weary, silent line of dry-docked boats. We looked at the three kittens--they were adorable, of course--two tabbies like the mom and an orange-and-white male who probably looked like the daddy, and of course we said:
"Geez, we oughta take one home and take care of it."
"Yeah, but if we take one, it'll get lonely."
"Well, then maybe we oughta take two?"
"But if we take two, the one we leave behind will get lonely..."
And that, dear friends, is how we wound up going back to our student-grade, two room-plus-bathroom apartment in a big but shabby old wood-frame house on Burcham Drive.
Of course Jill and I couldn't bring ourselves to have those cute little kittens "fixed" (it wasn't the NATURAL thing to do, right?) and I've surely lost count of how many litters and generations of cats we were responsible for bringing to that town.
You live and you learn.
But you learn slowly.
And most especially when you think you know everything before you even start.



We had a bit of a tie on this one. First under the checker were Steve/Regina Allen (whom I'm hoping are no relations to the regularly accurate, prompt and insufferable Bob Allen from England, who regularly gets in "firstest with the mostest" and wins all the valuable but nonexistent prizes that we never remember to offer. And just a few heartbeats behind came a message from one Michael McGonigal by way of the husband of Carol & my bike-class pal Lynda Jeppsen. He provided a link to the whole story (CLICK HERE), but sure enough Bob Allen came in a day later with what amounted to a Senior Thesis about the damn thing.
It's called the XF 58 "Ice Princess," and it's essentially an ersatz, latter-day version of a Bullet-Nose Studebaker "Dream Car" dreamed up and then brought to life (in 1987, BTW) by a guy named Richard Fletcher. It currently lives in the newly open-to-the-public eclectic, fascinating & eccentric Klairmont Kollection museum in Chicago (CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS) along with lots of other hot, cool, or (like this) even ice-freaking-cold examples of automotive effort & artistry.
The essay "why" question got lots of pithy and occasionally pungent answers, but even so, I'm thinking there may be a rock star, drug dealer or pro athlete out there somewhere who would love to drive the Ice Princess to work...



Catch the latest poop & pictures, the Jay Leno interview, Last Open Road swag & highly inappropriate attire from Finzio's Store and the lurid & occasionally embarrassing "ride with Burt" in-car racing videos on the hopefully now fully operational website at: