Gone Autos Podcast #2 transcript

Paul Niedermeyer, Writer and Creator of curbsideclassic.com
Todd Ruel
Release Date:
Podcast link:

(00:01) Paul Niedermeyer: The real essence of Curbside Classic is to honor cars that are still out there on the street.

[Music Open ]

(00:09) Ruel: This is the Gone Autos Podcast. In this episode, have you ever wondered, what’s the story behind that old car on the street? Who owns it? How has it survived in the asphalt jungle all these years? Curbside Classic is a web site that collects all these stories and Paul Niedermeyer, the collector, joins us next.

[Music Ends]

(00:30) Ruel: But first, if Paul is driving his 1950 Cadillac 61 Series Coupe through the time traveling stone arch in the original Star Trek episode, “City on the Edge of Forever”, this is the personal nightmare that he hears on the radio when he reaches the other side.

[1974 AMC Gremlin radio commercial]

(1:45) Ruel: Welcome to the Gone Autos Podcast. I’m Todd Ruel, the top wrench here at Gone Autos and today, I’m talking with Paul Niedermeyer. Paul runs the web site, Curbside Classic, which promises that every car has a story.

So Paul, what is the story of Curbside Classic? What’s a car fan going to find there and how did the web site start?

(2:04) Niedermeyer: Well, they’re going to find a very wide range of stories because we don’t limit them. I mean, the premise is that finding a car on the street can inspire a pretty wide range of responses from me or from anybody else who might be affected by seeing an old car in the streets.

So, I think that’s the idea. That every car has ‘a’ story, rather than ‘the’ story, and I think that’s the key distinction. That a story can be a memory, a good one, a bad one. It can be historical, it can be a context of a vehicle at the time. All kinds of things.

So, we don’t necessarily try to tell ‘the’ story. There are other sites that do that. A complete, comprehensive, historical, uh, full picture. We let our… Whatever inspires us, and that’s the same with our readers and commentators. So, it can range a-, and range very broadly.

(2:56) Ruel: Mm-k. And one thing that I think that’s very cool about your site, Paul, is that I think what you’re really trying to do is establish the human connection with cars.
I see so many car stories that are really just a list of facts, and it’s almost like a, a data sheet about the car, and I could care less. I want to know, how does that car make me feel and I think your site does that wonderfully.
What kinds of cars will I find on Curbside Classic? And just as importantly, what kind of cars will I never see there?
(3:26) Niedermeyer: Well, you’re going to find almost anything. I mean, clearly, the bulk of our cars are more likely to, say, from post World War II through… I mean, lately we’ve been trying to do some more recent cars ‘cause there’s interest. ‘Cause we have younger readers who, I mean, let’s face it. Most of us get most affected by cars in our younger years, childhood and young adult years. Those are the years when those memories are etched more steeply.

And so, we’re starting to push into cars into the Mid ‘90s, which is a little more challenging for me, personally. But we’ve gotten more contributors, some of them younger and who are rounding that out more. And I’m trying to make a point to push that farther.

What you won’t find. Well, we don’t do new cars. We don’t talk about the new car industry, and we don’t talk about new cars. Other than that, it’s, I mean, it’s totally wide open.

(4:12) Ruel: OK. Well, now, Gone Autos is devoted to orphan cars. Tell me about some of your favorite orphans and why you love them.

(4:19) Niedermeyer: Well, everybody loves orphans, and we just had an AMC week here, just a couple weeks ago. And we did a couple Studebaker articles yesterday. I mean, what’s great about the orphans, particular with those cars. When you go back and read about them and write them up and look at the pictures is that, first you can smell or feel the scent of the impending death on them, pretty much.

(4:39) Ruel: [laughs]

(4:40) Niedermeyer: I mean, it’s just so obvious but that’s also…

(4:41) Ruel: The stench of decay.

(4:43) Niedermeyer: Yeah, but that allows for tremendous amount of unique, clever and crafty creativity that was employed in those cars that the “Big Three” weren’t doing. I mean, like Studebaker in the last few years.

I mean, they had disc brakes, and they had certain safety equipment and, I mean, it gave them the flexibility to try to adapt out of desperation and also because it was easier to make little, small changes like that. Rather than having to make massive investments like a big GM would have to. Switch over certain components like disc brakes, which they resisted for all too long. That’d make them very interesting.

And going through the old pictures and brochures and whatever, I mean, it’s fascinating to see how different they operated from the big guys.

(5:20) Ruel: It’s true. Quite often, in the story of automobiles, desperation is the mother of invention…

(5:25) Niedermeyer: Yeah.

(5:26) Ruel: … And you do see that with Studebaker. You see it definitely with American Motors, over and over, and it provides for some interesting storytelling, that’s for sure.

Now, speaking of story-telling, you guys publish several stories a day. Uh, how do you publish all that content? Do you have help?

(5:42) Niedermeyer: Well, I do have help, increasingly so. I put out a plea, [laughs], for contributors and I’m getting a number of them. It’s great. Our readers are stepping forward.

I have other interests. I’m pretty involved with some building projects, and especially in the summertime. And in the past, when I used to write for TTAC, I’d sometimes go on hiatus.

But I’m determined to try to keep the site going and, people are stepping forward with some really, really interesting stories. So we had one yesterday. A guy from Canada sent a good story about the last Studebakers plant there and the closing of it and some nice Studebaker pictures of cars there.

The site is evolving. You saw how it started. I mean, I started because I was a writer at TTAC, The Truth About Cars. And I started writing there about four and a half years ago, and the Curbside Classics started about two and a half years ago.

I just one day while taking a walk, which we do a lot, my wife and I. I saw an old Cadillac and it inspired a story of remembering hitchhiking trip and that’s how, that’s how the whole thing started. But it was a regular, once, twice, three times a week article in The Truth About Cars.

And then, when I left TTAC and started the site, it’s become, obviously, a little more ambitious undertaking with broader, wider range of things that we do as well. But the key is that it’s evolving into more of a collaborative affair because I can’t carry the weight all myself. And that’s great.

(6:57) Ruel: Mm-hm.

(6:58) Niedermeyer: We also have a, a associated Flickr page, where people post their pictures. In fact, the next thing that we, we’re moving into the site is that I want to change the format of the site to have more forums. So that people can actually post their own pictures and their own little story in various little, smaller forums below the feature story…

(7:14) Ruel: Mm-hm.

(7:15) Niedermeyer: …Of the day.

(7:16) Ruel: That’s great, that’s great. Maybe it could be one picture, one story. That would be nice.

(7:21) Niedermeyer: Yeah. Everything is evolutionary. And at TTAC, I was being paid to write these and people come to [inaudible 7:25]. Now, it’s different. Now, readers are clearly wanting to become more engaged. Their stimulated and excited to find their own curbside classic. And everyone has their stories.
So, the site is clearly evolving…

(7:56) Ruel: Mm-hm.

(7:36) Niedermeyer: …Towards being a more collaborative and somewhat a more forum-ish orientation, although I think we’ll certainly have the key feature articles, too, that, that the main writers and myself contribute on a regular basis.

(7:47) Ruel: Do you feel that, uh, that’s what makes Curbside Classic different from other classic car appreciation brands like, say Hemmings or even Ate Up With Motor? Do you feel it’s the collaborative or more interactive nature? Or is it something else?

(8:00) Niedermeyer: I would say so. And I think, again, that started when… At TTAC, often, my Curbside Classic would get 60, 80, 100. I mean, some of them went up to 200 comments.

Clearly, the key thing is that it triggered people to say, “Oh yeah, I had a car like that and I had this experience and I had, had that memory.” So, that has really been the key thrust of what has made Curbside Classics take on a life of its own beyond what… It’s kind of an in between.

I mean, what Aaron does with Ate Up With Motor is wonderful. I love reading them. But those are beautifully researched, historically accurate, magazine type articles and I’ve… Yeah, done a few of those. Kind of, sometimes, on some occasions. But generally, it’s about more human context.

So, to answer the question, yeah. It tends to be more stimulating of conversation, of comments, of interaction. And now, increasingly, a participation of collaboration…

(8:49) Ruel: Mm-hm.

(8:50) Niedermeyer: …Of people finding their own and posting their own. And I think that’s the direction to go.

(8:53) Ruel: Excellent. OK. So, what’s the one story on Curbside Classic that you could point to and say, “You know what? That really sums up what my web site is all about,” and why?

(9:04) Niedermeyer: Uhh, yes. Well.

(9:08) Ruel: One story.

(9:10) Niedermeyer: Hm.

(9:13) Ruel: The iconic story.

(9:14) Niedermeyer: [laughs]

(9:16) Ruel: [laughs] I’m nailing you down here.

(9:17) Niedermeyer: Yeah. Yeah. OK. Well, I mean. Let me say two. They’re there on the top of the page of Curbside Classic. I have two cars that I chose out of all the ones that I did. I’ve done 300, 400 Curbside Classics.

And just two of them I chose to put at the top of the page.

(9:28) Ruel: Mm-hm.

(9:29) Niedermeyer: And one is a 1950 Hot Rod Cadillac Series 61 Coupe with a rare 3-Speed stick and a Triple Deuce carburetion setup from a ‘59 Eldorado and the guy’s owned it since 1972 and…

(9:41) Ruel: Mm-hm.

(9:42) Niedermeyer: It’s a beautiful vintage, kind of Hot Rod-ish but with lots of patina, and I got to ride in it, and I got to know they guy. But it sits in the street. And the story he tells of his association with the car and also the, into the second story, because it’s very much… When I first saw it, I immediately conjured up the image of the fact that it’s almost identical to the car that Briggs Cunningham took to Le Mans in 1951 and raced, uh, quite successfully there.

And so there’s a very strong historical aspect, as well as the personal story of Mike, the guy who owns it.
And then the other car up there, I purposely chose because I found it literally a block down the road from the Cadillac. We were walking that evening, where I first saw the Cadillac, and there was a 1981 Datsun 210 Woody Wagon.

(10:26) Ruel: [laughs]

(10:27) Niedermeyer: And you’d have to read the story, but after just having spent that experience with that Cadillac, and then coming across this Woody Wagon. And the little girl who lives in the house there, coming out. And she was chatting with me and I can’t go into the whole story, you have to read it.

But basically, it just really summed up, I call it the “Curbside Classic Manifesto” because that car had a story, too. And every bit, in a way, as compelling as the Cadillac.

So the point is, is that the two of them are like bookends because they’re still out there. I mean, the real essence of Curbside Classic is the fact that, my wife and I, we walk a lot and it’s like, “Oh, there’s really a lot more cars out there than I had really been paying attention to.”

So, the real issues that, what really motivated was to honor cars that are still out there on the street. That’s the key thing. What we definitely avoid is, is car shows and the trailer queens and the garage queens.

(11:15) Ruel: Mm-hm.

(11:16) Niedermeyer: Occasionally, we run into them, and occasionally that’s OK as a little extra spice once in a while. But the whole essence of it is honoring cars that are still on the street and trying to find a story, one way or another, that goes with them.

(11:28) Ruel: Great. All right. So, let’s talk about mistakes for a minute. Mistakes are how we learn. Name one mistake you made with Curbside Classic and how you corrected it.

(11:38) Niedermeyer: You mean, like content-wise or just…

(11:40) Ruel: I shouldn’t have published that story…

(11:41) Niedermeyer: Yeah.

(11:42) Ruel: …Or no, I shouldn’t have said that or something like that.

(11:45) Niedermeyer: Yeah. Yeah. That happens, actually, quite a lot. I mean, that’s good because[laughs] let’s face it, I have learned so much more from the feedback and the commenting than I ever would have expected to.

And, well, I mean, in that Cadillac article, I, when I first wrote it, I neglected to point out the Oldsmobile’s V8 came out six months later ‘cause I, [laughs], uh, gave it short shrift.

(12:08) Ruel: [laughs]

(12:09) Niedermeyer: And people jumped on that and I quickly went out and found a beautiful ‘51 Olds, and we did a Curbside Classic on that. But I, I can’t pin it down right now, but I would just say that it’s more a continuous process of having made certain personal biases over the years.

Because a lot of my stories and my biases go back to when I was young.

(12:28) Ruel: Mm-hm.

(12:29) Niedermeyer: …And having to realize that my situation when I was young and my formed opinions about cars, that 20-30 years ago, were so much in regard to the particular place or location or context I was in at the time.

And I’ve had to really see how other folks have very different experiences and impressions. It’s simply that I’ve learned- to be a lot more tolerant, a lot more open and trying to find something good about every car. Because every car has something lovable.

(12:55) Ruel: Mm-hm. I agree. Well, let’s talk about orphans again for a minute.

(12:59) Niedermeyer: Yeah.

(13:00) Ruel: I love them and that’s why I do Gone Autos. But sometimes they’re orphans for a reason. Name one orphan that makes you laugh out loud because it was so obviously a bad idea.

(13:10) Niedermeyer: [laughs] Well, between the Gremlin and the Pacer. [laughs]

(13:16) Ruel: Which have been cast as the villains in the upcoming Cars 2 movie, by the way.

(13:21) Niedermeyer: [laughs]

(13:22) Ruel: So I think Pixar agrees with you. But, anyways, I don’t. But Pixar does. But please, no, this is your forum. Go ahead.

(13:27) Niedermeyer: Yeah, OK, all right. Maybe they’re too obvious but, all right. I mean, AMC, Dick Teague. I loved his creativity and his fresh approach to stuff. The thinking that went into some of them, but we could take it to the ’74 AMC Coupe, too.

(13:41) Ruel: Yes, the infamous Matador Coupe.

(13:43) Niedermeyer: Yeah. Yeah. The Matador Coupe. It was just so painful to see the last little vestiges of whatever development money they had left being, like… [laughs]

(13:51) Ruel: To ending up as that.

(13:54) Niedermeyer: Yeah.

(13:55) Ruel: As… the… Matador Coupe.

(13:57) Niedermeyer: Yeah, exactly. And yet, appreciating the creativity. And like I said, I actually love the guy. If the cars had been viable in other respects…

(14: 04) Ruel: Yeah.

(14:05) Niedermeyer: There was actually some clever and creative and original thinking that went into them. [laughs]

(14:10) Ruel: Yes. Yes. I agree. That and the Pacer were kind of the death knell for American Motors. But, I hear ya.

All right, so, you’ve already described the future. Tell us, very quickly Paul, how can people get their daily dose of Curbside Classic? Where and how can we find it?

(14:26) Niedermeyer: Well, it’s just curbsideclassic.com. And we’re on Facebook, too.

(14:31) Ruel: OK, so they can ‘like’ you or search for you and ‘like’ you on Facebook. And you’re available on the web.

(14:35) Niedermeyer: Yeah.

(14:37) Ruel: OK. All right. That is it. My guest has been Paul Niedermeyer, and he runs the web site, Curbside Classic. Paul, thanks for joining us today.

(14:46) Niedermeyer: My pleasure. Have a good day.

[Music Close]

(14:53) Ruel: Thanks for listening to the Gone Autos Podcast. You can find all of our orphan podcasts at goneautos.com. That’s G-O-N-E-A-U-T-O-S dot com. And don’t forget, you can subscribe to our Gone Autos podcast channel on iTunes in order to get all the latest and greatest stories from the world of orphan cars. If you do, please take a moment to leave a rating and some feedback. That’s the time when we shut the mic off and listen to you.

This podcast is copyright 2011 by Ruel The World Media, Inc. All rights reserved.