Volume II, Issue 5, Page 1

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Max Chevy covers all automotive things Chevy. A new issue of MaxChevy.com is published on the 15th of each month and is updated throughout the month.


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Matt Strong
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It began with a manual Royal typewriter and progressed to an IBM Selectric, where the characters weren’t on the end of a metal finger but rather on a plastic sphere the size of a golf ball that spasmed back and forth like an amped-out robot. Fifteen loooong years later, I wised up and glommed a word processor.
I’ve been around the block, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but more times than I can remember, going on forty years in this biz. That doesn’t even seem possible. Could I really be that old? Could it really be that long? Normal people usually cash out and take their retirement (whatever that may be) at 62 or 65. The way it looks, I’ll be doing this stuff until I take my last ride…right into the local shake and bake crematorium.

If it weren’t for the PC, I probably would have been a crispy critter long ago. Let me tell you little tale about my swift and absolute conversion from banging on manual keys to banging on electronic ones. It was 1984. I’d written 300 pages of a turbocharger sourcebook on a portable Olivetti. Then I rewrote them in edited form. No carbons, no copies. Stupido. Somehow the edit got trashed and wound up in one of those dumpsters the size of a studio apartment in Manhattan (New York, not Kansas).

My wife of the decade was a nurse who worked at a women’s clinic, so you can imagine the horrid content of the bio-hazard-grade stuff that got heaved in there. Since it was a free trash dump for us, she’d taken a bag of household garbage (along with the 300-page story copy) the previous day and made a deposit. My deadline for the material loomed heavy. When I arrived the next morning nearly out of my skull with worry, it was already humid and death heat was in the 90s. The bin was ripe (okay, downright revolting) and that was before I climbed over the edge and jumped into the middle of it. Red bags marked with that unmistakable tribal insignia leered at me. I picked. I kicked. I hoped that nobody saw me and called the cops. I found the missing copy, a little juicy but otherwise intact.

That was the last time I ever wrote anything on a typewriter. I bought a Leading Edge desktop word processor (that’s all any of them were able to do then) because someone I knew had one and liked it. Compared to my current high-zoot laptop, it cost more and was a bulky, obdurate lump that required a 5 ½-inch boot-up floppy disc (they really were floppy) just to get things moving. Using this thing was like asking a question of Bill Jenkins back in the day and hoping to God that you asked the right one. I’d turn in my chair, swipe the keyboard with my elbow and find myself trapped in some kind of heinous, unforgiving jungle that closed in around me and I could not see out. More often than not, I was unable to escape by the correct procedure (which I did not know, of course). I flat punked out and switched the thing off, regardless of the consequence. I yearned for stylus and clay.

I’ve since learned that the PC (while still a powerfully scary entity to me), aided and abetted by email and the Internet, is way better than anything yet devised to do this kind of stuff with minimal stress, economy of operation, and ease of production. It is a bonafide miracle to someone who grew up in the days of paper flats, copy galleys from the printer, ruby lith, a paste pot and an ivory burnishing stick. It was all necessary to get the story ready for “shooting” by the freelance semi-alcoholic production camera guy who inevitably had a long ash on the Pall Mall dangling from the corner of his mouth and endless stories about his dog “layin’ cable” out in the front yard. Sometimes, the guy would be there all night.

When the flats had all been shot, we’d slide ‘em in a big reinforced plywood shipping container, take ‘em to airport freight, and send ‘em off to the printer. A few days later, the “blue lines” would arrive, the magazine equivalent of an architect’s blue print. Yes, they were blue-print blue. The read-through would always display mistakes: a piece of type that had come unstuck leaving a white space in the column where it should have been, a half-tone that was printed upside down or misplaced altogether, a strand of somebody’s hair, or some other sort of booger that screamed out. We’d call the printer before the run and they’d fix it—most of the time. But it was like gasoline at $.35 a gallon. It doesn’t mean a thing to anyone who didn’t experience it. As the well-worn platitude goes, “You hadda be there.”

In retrospect, all of that nostalgia was a huge pain in the ass that required incalculable and wasted man-hours to accomplish. Nowadays, with the right programs and a computer strong enough to run them, you can recreate all of this at home and generate a clean, correct, vivid, viable piece with a ream of paper, your finger tips and nothing else.

Nowadays, we rely on digital calculations without even knowing it because they are so commonplace. Chips know everything and there is no escape from them. They figure in virtually everything we do. Why is it then that most “high-performance” engines are still being topped off by a carburetor and an engine-driven ignition system, a combo that hasn’t changed since the invention of the automobile? While production cars haven’t been hobbled by mechanical means such as these for thirty years, NASCAR, NHRA, and other associations steadfastly mandate them. It is basic human nature to resist change, I understand that, but when electronic convenience is so available everywhere else why hasn’t become the norm for our cars?

The LS engine in my hot rod is driven by an electronically fuel-injected and coil-near-plug ignition system that is monitored by an aftermarket computer, but even GM offers a carbureted intake manifold and conventional distributor retrofit for this motor. From the start of this project nine years ago, my intention was to re-power vintage sheetmetal with the most modern engine available, so in my estimation, a carburetor nulls all that. Most people still want to tune their street machine with a screwdriver rather than a laptop because they will tell you it’s cheaper and that the carb makes more power. While that remains as truth, the real reason is that they’re afraid of change. Once the computer settings are saved, they stay that way, impervious to vibration or road wear, until you need to change them.

Please remember Darwin’s Law of Natural Selection—the species that survive are those that are most adaptable. Electronic fuel injection is nothing if not adaptable.