45 Years Later, The Christmas Gift That Got Me Into Cars

Growing up, my family was never into mechanical “stuff.” By the time I was twelve, however, my older sister knew I was interested in cars. For Christmas, 1975, she bought me a copy of “Fixing Cars—A People’s Primer” by the legendary San Francisco Institute of Automotive Ecology. The group was a Bay Area group of hippy-ish types who helped keep each other’s cars running. This comb-bound book was a plain-language, everyman’s repair guide that focused mostly on routine maintenance and simple repairs, not the impossible engine swaps and wild paint jobs of typical hot rod magazines. But it was chock-full of humor and had an irreverent, semi-counterculture vibe that was sure to hold a young man’s interest long enough to learn something about how to actually work on brakes and engines. Forty-five years later, I still have it. Much of the advice and information is outdated in the age of EFI, CANBus and ABS brakes, but it still gives the reader a clear “you can do this yourself” message I love. I still flip through it from time to time, and it always makes me smile. Thanks, Sis.

8 Comments

  1. Great title, lovely illustrations! I definitely get where you’re coming from. Nobody in my family was ever mechanically inclined, and I had to start from scratch as a teenager. It is still hard. What’s obvious to everyone else, and thus not described in anything like Hayes, or workshop manuals (‘remove the bazonga nut doing the standard boomchaka-operation’) or YouTube tutorials throws me off for hours. It feels good to fix stuff with my own, insufficient hands, but I’m often riled up and annoyed enough when I get to the target that it just neutralizes the mental challenge back into balance.

    Also…in the early days of the internet, I used to order a lot of stuff from the US. Now it constantly looks like this:
    https://i.ibb.co/TMVdtfr/Screenshot-20201230-112414-Opera.jpg

    1. Zowie! The USPS “First Class Package International” (cheapest, I think) rate to Norway is $61.75 for a 4 lb. (1.8 kilo) package. I’m guessing the other $18 is for the hassle of filling out customs forms?

      That book probably weighs about 2 lb., for which the rate is only $24.50, but shippers just put the maximum weight on the package when they’re not paying for it.

      https://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/Notice123.htm#_c341

      Off Topic: What would you call the hat the mechanic on the lower left is wearing? Beanie with a pom-pom? I gather the Norwegians (I think you were imported into Norway?) call it a topplue. My Canadian ancestors would call it a toque (rhymes with puke) and I grew up calling it a ski-hat.

      1. Isn’t that insane? As a student, I ordered books all the time, now, it is prohibitively expensive – also directly from Amazon.

        Topplue… supposedly just a knitted hat that ends in a sharp end. Would usually have a dot on top, like in the drawing.
        https://no.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topplue
        My native 😬 wife wouldn’t put any special word on that hat either. It’s more knitted patterns she would use to describe that, like “selbu rose”.

  2. Now I know what I want for Christmas next year. Luckily, there’s just enough time to repent from my atheism and the Unitarianism that came before it.

    I’m betting the San Francisco Institute of Automotive Ecology was in some way related to a D.I.Y. garage that used to be on Florida Street in SF. They were definitely refugees from the Baby Boom counterculture (too hard working to make it as hippies, had to do something productive), and had plenty of Zap Comix inspired posters and cutouts on their walls. I replaced two Ford engines in that place but can’t remember the name of it.

    Tom and Ray Magliozzi’s Good News Garage is a similar operation in Cambridge, MA; also run by industrious Boomer jokers who could tune in and turn on, but just couldn’t drop out.

    There’s something very Art Nouveau about that book cover. I like it better than “How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive”

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