Stress crack in the fiberglass body of a 27 year old Motorvation Spyder sidecar.

‘Bout a month back the stub axle of my rust belt year round ride sidecar broke, given the sidecar’s age I felt a full post mortem examination was in order. The Spyder is unique in having no external frame resulting in a lower center of gravity, better aerodynamics, and a cleaner look. To pull that trick off the Spyder has a sheet steel subframe laminated between the layers of it’s fiberglass body in high stress areas. The photo above shows “rust jacking”- Rust expands the metal, you can sometimes see this happening between the outer and inner frame rails of old rusty trucks as the normally tight fitting rails are pushed apart.

Steel so rusted it crumbles under screwdriver attack…

So I took off a few parts that pierce the body of the sidecar where those steel plates lie, as you can see above rust is all too plainly visible and yields easily to casual probing= not good!

Different hole, same rust…

So we have a rusted out “frame”, busted axle, and while were at it should replace the wheel that’s so old it don’t even have a DOT marking. Given that this hack has given 27 years and over 100,000 miles service and a new one is $5k, normally it’d take on a one way trip to the “grove” and I’d order up a new one. But sidecars and especially the Spyder are on the gearhead’s endangered species list, so I’m gonna try to rebuild it. Given that the remains of bankrupt Motorvation are still being fought over. parts may not be available for a while, if ever. So I may have to make my own… But a metricized Spyder sidecar reborn via CAD would be worth it!

Well, time for a reality check…

Attempting to replace all 4 calipers, the lines that feed them, the master cylinder, and install a hopefully better fitting right rear ABS sensor. After some minor battles the front and right rear calipers have been fitted. The old front brake lines won’t come off without twisting to destruction the next line going up towards the master cylinder. The rear brake lines fit something, but not this car. The ABS sensor fit after I reduced it’s diameter a bit to fit the hole in the aftermarket stub axle I fitted a couple months back. I’m gonna do the last caliper after a break and attack the master cyclinder tomorrow- No snow and high temps in the 40s here in Southwest Minnesota so I’m going outside this afternoon!

This is par for the course for 10+ year old cars- I’ve got the cab off my ’98 Ranger and the rolling chassis sitting in front of the shop awaiting my attention, and it’s a real horror story of chassis rust and won’t fit parts compared to the VWs. But the damn Ranger has only 92k miles on it, I bought it new, engine uses no oil and cab has no holes so I ain’t scraping’ it yet. With equivalent new Rangers starting at $30k, seems to be worth saving for the times I need a bit more hauling capacity than the Golf TDIs offer. Same thing sees to be happening all over the gearhead world- Historic truck websites that were started by people restoring quarter century and older trucks are turning into repair and even total rebuild virtual clinics for poor folks trying to hopefully make a living with decades old Macks and such. It’s not unusual to hear of rebuilds from new frame rails up and replacing half the cab panels then engine and transmission rebuilds. 

All that sounds heroic and a shot back at the greedy manufacturers and the EPA, but “rust never sleeps” and metal fatigue is real- Just had an axle shaft break on one of my 20+ year old sidecars the other day. Looking at the underside of my ’03 Golf during seconds of much needed distraction I can see all the telltales of rust and have to admit it’s only got a couple, maybe five years left. Then there’s the economics- Cost me $17k with tax 17 years ago, so it’s cost about $1000 a year to keep in my driveway. But the latest parts order was about $600 and it’s ate a couple hundred dollars worth of parts several times and a $500 set of tires in the past few years- So it’s costing as much as a newer car without the peace of mind. I’m seeing this all over- Like the guy who bought a 15 year old Mack for $15k, spent $20K on a rebuilt engine a couple years in, and now it’s sitting in his back yard because the frame is shot and it won’t pass a DOT inspection… Makes $100K for a new truck look like a good deal.

So if you’ve got an unrusted A4 that needs no major work, it makes sense to keep it until it does. But the average A4 here in the rust belt already has at least one wheel in the junkyard, and it’s pretty much the same story for any vehicle of that age. I realize some folks keep the old cars because they can’t get a loan on a new one, but it makes no sense to totally rebuild rusting A4s when newer TDIs have plenty of life in them and an excellent engine and emissions warranty. For me, having driven VW diesels for the last 4 decades I’ve saved enough $$$ that I can splurge on gas hogs every couple years, but old habits die hard. So I’m gonna put my A4 back together the best I can, park it in the driveway in case my Golf 7 TDI breaks down, and shop for a new car… Maybe a Golf 8 R?

The potential super spreader event otherwise known as Black Friday is thankfully past, most of us gave it a pass but a lot of retailers of the past just couldn’t let it go. Face mask optional Bomgaars offered 20% off Friday which is only as much as most folk’s health insurance deductible and no where near enough to make me hook up the trailer and haul home another months worth of wood pellet fuel. Fleet Farm offered a similar deal and sweetened it with a 10% coupon when I failed to respond, given they at least wear masks inside the “Kato store I might take them up on their stupid marketing… It’s only -10% if I let them do the work of picking it for me!

Black Plague Friday better spent wandering in the woods, Small Business Saturday and beyond provides some excellent opportunities to score some swag, parts, tools, or whatever…

Like -10% on Aerostitch suits and even more on their other great gear for riders!

Many of the small parts suppliers like diesel car parts horde ID parts are offering deals, same with Max BMW which being part owned by Penske may not be small but they’re offering -15% on BMW motorcycle parts. Speaking of hordes, need more printed repair manuals? Haynes + Chilton is offering $10 off so four more will be joining my library, I should have waited another day for the -50% offer that came after I’d ordered. Given how hard they’re promoting online manuals, I have a feeling they’ve got a warehouse full of print manuals they’re trying to empty. I’ve got enough out of print manuals for orphan cars that no way will I put my trust in online manuals alone.

It’s tool time… The big box stores and their websites are littered with good deals on hand tools, look for a good selection of wrenches as well as the usual sockets aplenty in the sets. But when you get old like me you need big lifting tools to take the load off your tired bones and back, like this:

That’s formally called an “engine hoist” and less formally a “cherry picker’, I’ve used mine picking up just about everything but engines. Just about every auto supply store and a lot of big box stores carry them and they’ll certainly be on sale for around $200 and up in the next few weeks. But what if you need to lift the whole vehicle?

Time to lift your car like the pros on a DIYers budget- I’ve had this lift a couple years now and it’s a pleasure to safely lift the whole car- Last summer I did the whole 40,000 mile service on the 2015 Golf TDI- transmission and engine fluid and filter changes, inspect brakes and exhaust, etc.- Without having to shuffle jacks and stands around. As you can see, it comes with rubber block adapters to properly lift most unit body cars at the rocker panel seams. They’ve also got a heavier model with adapters for heavier vehicles with frames like trucks and the larger Stupid Utility Vehicles (SUVs). Costco don’t offer a huge variety of gearhead gear, but when they do it’s good quality at an unbeatable price- Through Monday the 30th the pictured 5000 pound capacity model is $1149 and the bigger 7000 pound capacity model is $1499!

If you miss that deal Costco marks these down several times a year. Same with all the other Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers, same stuff will selling again for as good or better a price in a few weeks or months. Just gotta make your list of what you or your giftee needs and wait for the prices to drop!

Gearhead Grrrl’s Thanksgiving SOP has been a pre thanksgiving roasting of the numerous corporate turkeys who have done stupid stuff that ticked off if not totally enraged gear heads in the past year. Grievences having been aired, there follows a Black Friday shopper’s guide for gear heads. The turkey roast has been suspended for this year as many of the habitual offenders deserve credit for just surviving this year of plague. Said plague has pretty much put off in person shopping if not outright killed it, and any retailer that expected me to crowd into their premises today in search of a dubious deal is on the short list for the turkey roast when that ritual is restored.

Give REI Co-op credit for the “Opt-Out”, inspiring me by giving their workers Black Friday off to enjoy the outdoors, and in this pandemic there’s no place safer. What better excuse to bring back the day trip, a day off pastime I picked up when you could drive all day on $10 worth of diesel in your VW. On the TDI Club forum we joked about spending more on fast food than fuel, despite using tricks like 12 volt powered heaters to keep Arby’s 5 for $5 sandwiches warm all day.

Minnesota’s great state parks got on the Opt Out bandwagon too by offering free admission, but not much of anyone out here in rural western Minnesota was taking them up on the offer… Except the other TDI driver I met at the next state park. I had this one to myself…

But there had been some wild life goin’ on. I found every state park well maintained but damn near devoid of humans, a shame given todays clear skies with temps rising into the low 40s.

No, this ain’t Minnesota’s famous North Shore… This is our West Shore!

Couple hours of sunlight left, time to head home. Goodbye to Big Stone Lake, source of the Minnesota River AKS glacial river Warren (something had to dig out that huge valley!)

More prairie but still plenty of water downriver at Lac qui Parle state park.

Amazing how safely you can have so much fun out here, only time I got within the standard 6 feet of anyone was when I stopped for soda and a slice of pizza at Casey’s in Ortonville and a couple maskless CovIdiots wandered in. The outhouses at the state parks were pretty decent and will be open all winter, next time I’ll just bring more food with and avoid the self appointed super spreaders. Damn good way to pass a fall day, and warm enough to ride tomorrow!

Yea, I know it’s the middle of an epidemic and we’re gettin desperate… But this is one hot rod chair that came my way for a screaming’ hot price! Couple months back I was attempting to mass produce giant Biden signs in my shop, which required lots of paint and the cheaper the better. Local Reuse Center had good deals on recycled paint and being as they were COVID-19 safe with masks required I took a stroll through the vastness, always on the lookout for bargains. And what should I discover but:

“Nursing home fugitive”

Now what caught my attention was the wheels:

Spinergy wheels with Spox composite spokes built outa straight pull hubs, decent tires and coated handrails too… Just the wheels retail for over $1000! The price tag? $30 for the whole chair. Confirmed that the price was correct and within a minute it was safely inside the hatch of my Golf. Was such a deal that I posted the chair on social media just in case it was stolen.

The immediate plan was to put the wheels on this:

Old Yeller, an early Quickie GP lightweight sports chair that I acquired in another smoking’ deal in the late 1980s. I pushed this chair through an under 4 hour Twin Cities marathon, played dozens of basketball games from that seat, and plenty of picket lines and protests too. It’s the best of early lightweight wheelchair technology, a veritable lego kit built of bits from hardware stores and bike shops ’cause that’s where the inventors of the lightweight wheelchair got them.

We’re now about 4 decades and a couple (d)evolutions into the history of the lightweight wheelchair and my new acquisition turned out to be a current model from the same builder, Quickie. And while the thick seat cushion, deeply contoured backrest, and positioning headrest made it look like a “Geri Chair”, underneath beat the chassis of a hot rod- I had not just the best high performance wheels, but an aluminum framed hot rod with plenty of tuning potential under that massive “seating system”.

First step was to remove said seating system, being pretty expensive it’ll be stored away along with the full documentation that came with the ‘chair. Next off came the seat belt and wheelchair tie downs, which look like something off a half ton pickup and probably overbuilt to some obscure spec.

Next up was adjusting the chairs geometry, this thing has more alignment adjustments than many cars, even front wheel toe! Undoing the “Geri Chair” hyper conservative spec that must have been dictated by an OT with no liability insurance, I slid the rear wheels forward so I can wheelie at will, adjusted the casters for zero caster, and raised the foot rests and wheelie bars so they didn’t scrape on every tall pebble in the concrete. The results:

Took it for a test drive around the house, a couple loops on the concrete garage apron, and down and back a hundred feet of dirt driveway to the mailbox and it handles pretty well and pushes easy, even on the dirt… Definitely a keeper!

All it needs now is some upholstery, Quickie wants $60 for the backrest and a basic foam seat cushion is damn near a hundred, I can probably upcycle something loitering around the shop for less. I’d like more camber in the rear wheels, but unlike the old Quickie where all you needed to adjust that was some 1/4″ ID washers, this new one requires $70 worth of Quickie parts. Like everything else today, the new Quickie chair is lighter than it’s ancestor but has more proprietary parts that aren’t as well made. And for robustness, the frames speak for themselves:

Yup, “Old Yeller”‘s got twice the frame and I haven’t needed to bother Quickie for parts this millennium. Obsolete? Sorry Quickie, your plan failed!

This was an easy one- Which candidate would you rather ride with? I’ve found no evidence of Trump ever driving, despite his owning several luxury cars which he’s been profitably auctioning off during his erratic presidency. There are numerous images of Trump’s childish blowing of the air horn on a Mack, fortunately he probably doesn’t know how to start and release the brakes on a big truck. Even if Trump knows how to drive, like his term in office I doubt it’d be a smooth or safe ride.

Fortunately we have another choice, classic Corvette driver and passenger train rider Joe Biden, here “vetting”: . Joe is the definition of the steady and balanced driver America needs- Appreciative of gearhead icons like the classic Corvette and welcoming the future and even faster 200+ MPH electric Corvette. He’s the kind of leader that can take a spirited drive through the country, then hop on an Amtrak train to D.C.- And that’s exactly what he did when he served in the Senate. Joe’s the calm experienced leader we need to drive us safely out of the crisis Trump has lost us in and into a better future.

And Joe’s probably gonna sell a lot of Vettes, too!

Life is backwards… Heck, not just backwards, ass backwards! They treat you nice at first, a good thing, ’cause you’re pretty much helpless. But through your teens they turn you loose, which is sometimes a bit early and a bad thing. But the main thing is you’re expected to become independent, which means you’re allowed to drive, provided you keep the speed down to the limit +5, no burnouts, and all the wheels down all the time. And you’re expected to pay for the vehicle, the fuel, and insurance and everything else too. Thus most of this adult “freedom” tend to be driving back and forth to work. “Freedom” becomes a battle for survival, fixing the car in the snow and dark so you can go back to work tomorrow to make a pittance to buy more gas and parts.

Around 50, the power shifts… You’re vested for a pension and if you’re lucky you can keep your health insurance for around $100 a month. You slowly realize that you could tell the boss off, turn in your resignation, and laugh your ass off as you head out the door… And you’d have the last laugh. Then all that stuff you worked your butt off for they offer to give you- Social Security at 62, Medicare at 65, and they damn near force that social security on you at 70! Now I’m not complaining, but why couldn’t we have healthcare when we’re sick and a guaranteed income when we’re unemployed before we’re old… I mean, young people need help sometimes too.

So I’m doing my best to adapt to the new reality of turning 70 and with social security and pension making more money that I’ve ever earned, and that’s before I even count investment income. I toyed with ordering a new “Vette, still a bargain as GM is holding the base price to a bit over $60K… But couldn’t find a roof rack for a “Vette that would carry my 16 foot canoe. So back to Plan B, which is VW Group’s Plan A for us aging VW drivers, buy an Audi. Despite VW’s whining that we diesel drivers are too rich for VWs and have been depriving them of their just(?) Audi and Porsche profit margins for decades, three Audi dealers totally and utterly failed to put me in the driver’s seat of an Audi. Hell, their inventory is so screwed they can’t even find their Audis!

So I guess I’m not about to achieve at least the mobile appearance of a “rich bitch”. Maybe I can dump some surplus income on a Transit Connect van for winter trips south with a motorcycle, but you can buy a loaded one for $30k.. So guess I’ll have to keep adopting more old motorcycles and lavish them with tires, batteries, expensive oil, and unobtainium parts…



Early in this pandemic induced recession I did some bargain shopping for a new car even though I’ve only got 39,000 miles on the 2015… I tend to “lay in the weeds” and pounce when the prices are down. But instead of the deep discounts I expected, I found “zero percent” finance offers that defied conventional economic wisdom, especially in Ford’s case- They were borrowing billions at 9% so they could offer 0% financing! There’s a reason for that financial insanity, it’s called “mark to market”, and if Ford had dropped prices instead they’d be admitting insolvency, at least on paper. Fact is, those 0% loans for 6 and even 7 years cost Ford 25% to 30% of the vehicles retail price, and even automakers with better bond ratings were taking a 10% or more hit to offer that 0% financing, and to the car buyer it was a 10+% discount…

So for sheets and giggles I applied for those 0% loans from Ford and VW, and was turned down by both. The hilarity of it all is that my finances look a lot better than Fords, and only 3 years ago I paid off a VW loan… But maybe they were pissed because I paid it off before the first payment was due. A few days later Ford sent me the traditional “come in to our finance/intimidation room so we can shake you down for high interest financing, an extended warranty, and a $500 wax job to boot” letter. But the prize goes to VW who sent me the legalese form letter “explaining” there reasons for denying credit… Experian has awarded me a credit rating of 0. I’m gonna frame that letter!

Now if an old white lady who owns a house and a bunch of vehicles free and clear and is probably worth more dead than alive can’t get credit, how the hell will a young minority restaurant owner who needs a delivery van or a landscaper who needs a pickup? They’ll go into the aforementioned tiny finance/intimidation room and get bullied into financing at double digit rates along with the customary overpriced extended warranty and in this case thousand dollar wax job. If the buyer is undocumented they’ll probably pay list price too, under threat of getting turned in to ICE. Hard to believe, but here’s the abstract of a recent study:

“We provide evidence of discrimination in auto lending. Combining credit bureau records with borrower characteristics, we find that Black and Hispanic applicants’ loan approval rates are 1.5 percentage points lower, even controlling for creditworthiness. In aggregate, discrimination crowds out 80,000 minority loans each year. Results are stronger where racial biases are more prevalent and banking competition is lower. Minority borrowers pay 70 basis point higher interest rates, but default less ceteris paribus, consistent with racial bias rather than statistical discrimination. A major anti-discrimination enforcement policy initiated in 2013, but halted in 2018, reduced discrimination in interest rates by nearly 60%.”

And the cite: Butler, Alexander W. and Mayer, Erik J. and Weston, James Peter, Discrimination in the Auto Loan Market (April 10, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Proof positive that minority consumers get just as badly robbed buying a car as they do buying a home. And while big corporations can buy a new van or pickup for around $20,000 without every having to set foot on a showroom floor, never mind being held captive in a finance/intimidation office, minority customers receive smaller discounts and pay higher interest for years, if they can get financed at all. An honest accounting would probably reveal that the gouging of minority buyers in the low margin business of selling cars is probably what’s keeping dealers profitable. And while minority auto workers are such a big chunk of the work force that they could shut down most every american auto factory were they to strike, only about 5% of Ford and GM dealerships are minority owned and the percentages are even worse for the other auto manufacturers.

So on this Juneteeth it’s high time the auto biz gave the minority citizens it couldn’t survive without a fair deal and reparations for past gouging!



So back around February it became obvious that the Chinese weren’t letting on that they’d lost control of the deadly COVID-19 virus, our ‘Merican government was blissfully ignoring said killer virus, and we sure as heck weren’t ready as the nation’s health care “system” begged for the nation’s DIYers stash of N95 masks. So like good gearheads, we surrendered our N95s and adapted, which given that those of us in the northern latitudes were snowed in anyway, wasn’t much of a sacrifice.

Thus every hair brained “project” and “build” we’ve been fooling ourselves into believing we were going to “get a round to” was dragged to places of honor in our shops and on our benches. Parts were ordered en masse- Harper’s Guzzi reports their biggest parts volume ever, VW Diesel parts supplier ID Parts reported thousand dollar plus parts orders for whole brake and suspension systems on A4 vintage VWs that are over 15 years old, and Max BMW hasn’t had to do any sales lately.


So how come the Mini ain’t all restored yet and I think I’ve got no more running vehicles than I started winter with? And shouldn’t that Guzzi and flatbed ‘hack be married and sharing the garage with the two other hack outfits?

Well, for a start, I kinda got interrupted- Back in march when we were in panic mode, being a techie I was drafted into a bunch of missions impossible like reverse engineering N95 masks, making face shields with found (around the shop) materials, and hacking realtime traffic counts out of embedded in the road sensors to assess the success of stay at home efforts. I learned a lot- like how fabric makers gagged sewing shops who wanted to make masks (I suspect Gore-Tex is the ultimate mask material), contemplated acquisition of volumes of plexiglas from a closed and bankrupt company by degrees of nefariousness, and convincing state leaders that the county next to me didn’t have citizens flaunting quarantine as measured by cell tower pings, because all those pings were because the county was on a ridge and it’s cell towers served several counties. Ain’t science fun!

DSC_6747But did accomplish a few things- That’s the old TDI on the lift, it being after Memorial Day I figured it was safe to take off the winter tires. Replacing a few brake and suspension parts while it’s up there, whenever the back ordered parts come in. The Golf 7 TDI will be next on the lift for 40,000 mile service and a bash plate. The LS airhead and Guzzi got oil changes and thousand dollar new mufflers for the ST are outa stock, which gave me the perfect excuse to borrow the R100GS’s. Been nibbling away at the Mini restoration- try to loosen fastener which don’t budge,  drench it in penetrating oil, try a couple days later with same results, repeat, give up and apply the power tools! Same with the Ranger rebuild, which has been giving me an education on just how cheap Ford really is…

And did I mention that I tried to buy a new van three times and Ford failed each time? I’ll save that for a future missive…


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