BLOWIN SMOKE – OUT OF THE GARAGE AND INTO A BOOK

This column first appeared in the JAN/FEB 2006 issue of Canadian Hot Rods (then called Canadian Hot Rods & Classics).

OK GEARHEADS, HERE¹S A BRIEF LANGUAGE SKILLS TEST. Don’t worry – you won’t be graded.

Here it goes: What’s a hairdryer and what is it used on? What are “juice binders?” What’s jump juice? Why were early big block Chevy’s called porcupine mills? Time’s up. How’d you do? Well, I was two for four. I knew turbochargers were often refereed to as hairdryers, but didn’t really think about how the term originated. I also knew the splayed arrangement of the valves in a big block Chevy had something to do with its “porcupine” moniker.

As for the other two terms, thanks to Jeff Breitenstein’s The Ultimate Hot Rod Dictionary: A-Bombs to Zoomies, I now know jump juice is nitrous oxide and the term juice binders was a popular term in the 1940s and 1950s used to describe hydraulic brakes. Now, I realize reading cuts into valuable garage time – or in my case, garage building time – but after watching the entire third season of Family Guy in one sitting, my grey matter needed a late night workout that didn’t involve laughing at fart jokes.

After flipping through Breitenstein’s book, I realized how often we use a word or phrase without really understanding its origins or history. (I apologize for the cerebral tone of that last sentence, but if I didn’t use that kind of language once in a while, I would feel even worse about selling my 1962 Bel Air Bubbletop so I could afford journalism school.) Anyway, my first year English Lit professor would be giddy to see me write that knowledge begets knowledge, because once I learned what juice binders described, I wanted to know a little more about the history of juice binders.

“Hey Terry, tell us a little about juice binders,,” I can hear you say. Well, OK.

Juice binders were invented in 1918 by orange juice salesman Malcolm Lougheed (OK, I made that up, he was an engineer) who later changed his last name to Lockheed. In 1921 the first passenger car with hydraulic brakes was the Model A Duesenberg. Ten years later, only Chrysler Corp products and Auburn, Reo and Graham cars had hydraulic brakes. Chevy introduced them in1935, while Ford didn’t introduce hydraulic brakes on his cars until 1939.

Anyway, back to the previous test words. First, hairdryer. The vanes of a turbocharger are spun by hot exhaust gasses, with the resulting air being squeezed or forced into the cylinders. (More air means more fuel can be added which means more power from each explosion in each cylinder.) Hairdryers blow hot air, so there is a somewhat tenuous connection between the two objects.

As for Chevy’s Mark IV big block “porcupine” mill, the splayed angle of the valves reminded some sharp gearhead of the arrangement of a porcupine’s quills. Not only does the book explain the origins of many slang terms now used in everyday gearhead language, but it also gives meaning to common acronyms associated with cars, from OHV to MOPAR – which, it turns out, is a simple contraction of motor parts.

A lot of this stuff you’ll already know, but I bet you’ll find the book informative more than once. Oh, and by the way, if you were confused by the book’s title subhead (isn’t an A-bomb a nuclear weapon?) be confused no more. Gearheads in the know – or maybe just a little older than you or me – understand an A-Bomb is an extensively modified Model A (1928- 1931 Fords) which old school hot rodders also nicknamed A-bones. Zoomies are those wickedly cool, sweptback headers you most envision when you think about front-engine diggers. And if you don’t know what a digger is, buy a copy of the book and check out page 63. If you have any hot rod terms you want to share with me, email mycarpublications@shaw.ca.

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It’s hard to believe this is our fifth issue – one more issue and we’ll have a year under our belt. While we’ve settled on a magazine format, we’re still doing a lot of tweaking and thrashing on the inside.

In this issue, you’ll notice we’ve expanded the In Progress – what’s in your garage – feature to a full page due to reader’s response and requests. We think you were right to ask for it and hope you – or someone you know – submits an item in the near future. The feature format should be pretty clear, so start submitting your copy and photos.

Remember – this is your magazine – and you don’t even have to pay the bills.

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