Skinner’s Motorcycles – Click the link to the left.
I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve driven by the sign that hangs over Opelika Road reading Skinner’s with “Triumph” in big letters. I’ve recently been in the market for a motorcycle, so I decided to stop by.
I talked to John Skinner, the current owner for a bit, and then he gave me free roam of the shop to shoot as many photos as I liked. There are a couple hundred in a file on my desktop. I plan to upload a few more, sans slideshow format.
This is one of the coolest shops I’ve ever been into. John told me people come to his shop because “they want a place with a little grease on the floor.”
I couldn’t agree more.
This is essentially a copy and past from my previous blog. Since not many people saw it and since I’m focusing on WordPress now, I figured I would post this here. Going back and reading this makes me realize I’m developing a bit of a theme and possible unhealthy obsession with my vehicles.
My 2002 Blazer was the less practical 2-door model, but honestly, I loved the look much better better than the 4-doors. Practicality be damned. Two-door Blazers featured a steep rake in the rear window, only two seats in the back, second row windows that were simple triangles with old fashioned pop outs. I didn’t have to chauffeur my friends around because no one wanted to climb in the back or split the bill when it came time to refuel.
Plus, it came with a full size spare that took about about 1/5 of rear cargo space – a very nice place to hide a tool set but a bit of a pain in the ass any other time.
In short, my Blazer looked and drove like every other Blazer on the street.
Dad and I decided it we couldn’t have that, so before he handed to keys to me, we made a few modifications.
First, we lowered the car using a combination of springs, shocks and blocks on the leafs. Since it wasn’t 4WD, we had no real concern about ground clearance. Yes, the ride was a little more stiff, but I wasn’t afraid of rolling over when I took a turn a little too fast, which was all too often. Somehow though, oversteer was a problem. I’m not sure if it was the fault of the suspension or me being 16, but several times in the rain I managed to spin the truck.
Actually, it had to be the Blazer. All teenagers know perfect car control.
Second, we swapped the stock alloys for a set of ’60s Chevy rallyes, powder coated black. They contrasted nicely with the crimson color of the truck. The center caps were chrome ’60s police caps, with the bow tie in the center. We wrapped those in BF Goodrich Radial T/As, with a slightly taller sidewall in the back to give the car a slight forward rake.
Unfortunately, the speedometer was never accurate after that. I estimated it was off at a 12-to-one ratio, meaning that if the speedo said 65 mph, you were actually only going about 60.
We always talked about doing something under the hood or with the exhaust, but as time went on and I racked up miles, the ideas sort of fell by the wayside.
The great thing about these changes was that everyone knew my Blazer. Even after my brother took the keys, I would still get messages from friends that said they saw me driving around town.
Most of those texts were from my male friends. The ladies never quite understood. Their loss. Who doesn’t want to be seen cruising around town with this guy?
Most of them, apparently.
That truck took me everywhere. Female occupancy in the passenger seat varied. I drove it from June 29, 2005 until the day I bought my GTI on May 6, 2010. That’s 4 years, 10 months and 7 days of ownership. There might have been a total of 10 days during that entire time where I didn’t put keys in the ignition.
I put more than 70,000 miles on the truck. I left a note for Dad the day I crossed the 100k threshold.
That 4.3L V6 ran strong until I handed the keys to my brother. That 4.3L also loved to drink gasoline. Fuel mileage was disappointing at best, shocking at worst. I don’t think I ever achieved more than 19 mpg.
It had the same 4L60-E 4-speed auto that was equipped in every other truck that GM sold at the time. I wish it had the manual transmission, but that’s more of a desire, not a complaint. Well, it is. The gearing was awful. 70 mph meant about 3500 rpm. You could actually watch the fuel gauge move. It probably wasn’t any different in the manual, but at least I could row my own.
I used the Blazer for everything. I took it on road trips, dates and to work. It hauled fiberglass insulation, guitars, amps and friends.
During one of those road trips, I almost got into a fight with some assholes who decided the paint on the Blazer could be improved by leaning on it while wearing studded belts.
Highway driving was tiresome. As previously mentioned, the transmission wasn’t geared for highways speeds. The engine roared at higher revs, but it wasn’t a nice noise. All you ever heard was the fan. The steering had a dead area in the center, so you constantly had to correct it or you would start drifting. There was plenty or torque, so passing was never an issue. I just wouldn’t recommend going more than 80 mph.
On the other hand, city driving was a breeze. All that torque meant moving through traffic took little effort. The seats were relatively comfortable, and the window was just the perfect height to rest your arm.
Because of the airflow around the car, you could have the windows down at 50 mph and get a nice breeze to pass through the car without being assaulted by wind.
For me the perfect windows-down weather is between 72 and 78 degrees, depending on the time of day, and having the windows down helped me eek out a bit more economy from the engine.
Dad did put a new stereo in the truck. A Sony something or other. It helped me get a number of noise complaints, since my tastes in music at the time consisted of various genres of loud.
“Just turn it down when you drive past there,” Dad said. Thanks for understanding.
He wasn’t so understanding when I first got pulled over. Then I explained the situation.
Chevrolet, along with many manufacturers who produce trucks, SUVs and vans, has a factory option for rear window tint. Now in the state of Alabama, tint cannot be darker than 35% on the front. My factory optioned rear windows came in at a cool 18%. Dark, yes. Illegal? No.
The Blazer clearly falls under the second category. The officer who handed me a ticket clearly disagreed. The judge, who threw out the ticket, told me I should have had the windows replaced when I purchased the car.
The only major problem I can recall is the time we had to have the camshaft replaced, which was quite major.
The car had been running rough for a while. Finally, it just wouldn’t start. It turns out the cam was made of a different type of metal than the distributor. The gears that meshed just wore out.
At least regular maintenance was relatively cheap. I love my Volkswagen, but I cringe when I think of something as simple as an oil change.
But really, the Blazer was nothing special. There were literally hundreds of thousands on the road. Why did I take the time to write this up?
There are people in the world who don’t understand, can’t understand, the love a person can have for a vehicle, whatever it may be.
It’s not like the love someone has for another person. That involves a give and take.
It’s more like the love I have for my dog. Whenever I see her, she is always happy to see me. Whenever I want to play, she’ll play. Whenever I want to relax, she can keep me company. No conditions, no fights, just ready to go whenever you are.
It’s the same with an automobile. You take care of a car when you love it. You fill it with fuel, wash it and take it for drives for no reason at all. And you enjoy it. You don’t mind those moments at the gas station because you know that it just means more time with the thing you love.
Automobiles, especially gas sucking ones like the Blazer, are more and more frequently being frowned upon. Electronic nannies are taking the human element out of driving. Regulations are being introduced to make things safer and more efficient.
But there will always be people like me who want something simple, something inefficient and visceral. I love my GTI, but there is something special about pushing the accelerator and knowing a little cable is opening the throttle body, sucking air into a normally aspirated engine. The sound of the hydraulic steering pump working when you’ve got the wheel at full lock. The clunk of the transmission when you put the car in drive.
The Blazer never excelled at any one thing, but it did a lot of things well. What more could I ask for? I loved that car, and for all the feelings I have for my GTI, you’ll never forget your first.
*Technically my first vehicle was a 2000 Chevrolet S-10. My mother destroyed the engine, so Dad gave me his Blazer. I’ll discuss the “the black truck” in another post.