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This Collection of True Stories Is a Remarkable Drive Down Automotive Memory Lane

by multimill
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Writer Rodney Kemerer is a self-confessed “car guy,” whose “Tales from the Garage” column has been a regular feature of Garage Style magazine for years. Compiled as a collection of essays with photos and illustrations, his new book of the same name tells 30 stories in an intimate and often humorous way.

Most car enthusiasts have libraries devoted to automotive marques, the people who created them, or the motorsport heroes who drove them. Sometimes, though, a more compelling read comes from observers who put the automobile in the context of daily life. A few authors whose stories continue to bring a smile, a nod of contented agreement, or simply a “why didn’t I think of that?” are L.J.K. Setright, Henry N. Manney III, and Peter Egan. Each writer’s style is unlike any other automotive journalist. Kemerer, it seems, is cut from that same cloth.

The antithesis of an oversized coffee-table tome devoted to priceless classics or unobtainable supercars, Tales from the Garage is a modest, 136-page softcover whose every chapter shares a personal vignette, often with subjects far less grandiose than Bugattis or Ferraris. For example, the author’s story about his first new car, a quotidian 1978 Honda Accord, reminds us that a car-person’s life experiences can be utterly captivating irrespective of the marque, its stature, or even its scale.

The 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III named “Victoria,” now at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

The 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III named “Victoria” is now at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Courtesy of Rodney Kemerer

The publication opens with “Reigning Queen,” a story about a 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III named “Victoria” by Hollywood film producer Jim Frankenheimer, who bought it as a gift for his wife Evans while the couple were in London during filming of The Train. Victoria had a storied life, traveling from Los Angeles to film sets in Europe and finally returning to Malibu, Calif. Back in the Golden State, she idled silently at the kitchen door of the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968, prepared to whisk away U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy from his presidential primary victory celebration. Those best-laid plans ended in tragedy. The Frankenheimers owned Victoria for 50 years, until she eventually made her way—as a gift from Evans—to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, where she holds court today.

The title page of a story in the 136-page book

A couple of the author’s sturdy cast-metal trucks that survived child’s play.

Courtesy of Don Weberg

In 2016, the U.S. Postal Service issued a series of stamps commemorating the classic American pickup truck, a species of vehicle whose appeal is nearly universal. One’s truck fascination usually starts in childhood, with the gift of a toy version more treasured and well-traveled by its owner than any life-sized vehicle ever will be. “Truck Stop” follows three sturdy cast-metal Hubley trucks that survived the author’s childhood years. When rediscovered many decades later, each reminded him of “a time when all that mattered was a sunny afternoon in a backyard with a pile of dirt and these trucks that drove the roads, built garages, and rehearsed a life yet to arrive.”

The title page of a story in the 136-page book

The author in a junkyard landscape, circa 1974.

Courtesy of Rodney Kemerer

“Rust in Peace” describes “the final resting place in an open field where automotive carrion bakes in the sun.” The author, in his high school and early college years, moved next door to a salvage yard. The proximity to so many donors made acquiring the needed parts for his own jalopies that much easier. A Mercedes-Benz “in battleship grey, more rust than car,” a Mercury, and a Dodge were all kept alive and eventually sold to the man who owned the junkyard. Kemerer’s photographs of the place, taken in 1974, tell a piquant tale in a rusty black-and-white duotone, a fitting treatment of his subject.

An illustration of Beverly Hills’ iconic Union 76 gas station, designed by architect Gin Wong of William Pereira and Associates.

An illustration of Beverly Hills’ iconic Union 76 gas station, designed by architect Gin Wong of William Pereira and Associates.

Courtesy of Evans Frankenheimer

“Full Serve” celebrates a Union 76 gas station in Beverly Hills that was built in 1965 and is still run by the family of its original operator, Jack Colker. It’s a late-mid-century icon, designed by Chinese-American architect Gin Wong of William Pereira and Associates, the same architectural firm that designed the original Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The museum is gone—demolished by the museum’s director to make room for a more grandiose vision—but the station remains as a reminder that even gas can be cool, unless, of course, you drive an EV.

It’s almost impossible that stories such as these could be written today. Tales from the Garage is about a time worth revisiting, whichever car you drive to get there.



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