Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How the E-Brake Changed My Life

There are certain defining moments when you are a teenager: getting your driver's license, going to prom, making a varsity sports team. For me it was the first time yanking up on the e-brake in a front-wheel drive car and have the ass-end come around—drift king-style. As a 16 year old in Minnesota, I'll never forget this moment.

It was just after school on a snowy winter afternoon. I had driven my 1992 Mitsubishi Expo LRV down to my friend Paul's house to meet several friends. Paul lived at the base of a sweeping downhill corner on a street in Woodbury, Minnesota; a suburb of St. Paul. There was a good 2–4 inches of unplowed snow on the roads and it was still snowing. I pulled up to the curb to park my tall wagon, when a friend came running over to the car and said, "Don't park on the street. Park in the driveway." I asked why, but he said, "Just do it."

I pulled into the driveway and got out. As I shut the door to the car, I heard the sound of an engine at higher RPM. I look up the hill to my right to witness my friend Jake in his "custom painted" diesel-powered late 1970s Volkswagen Rabbit at full-on boogie sliding sideways down the sweeping corner holding a perfect line. The car, aka the "Phat Rabbit," was belching black soot and making a noise that I remember to be something akin to a diesel-powered food processor. He slid to a stop, pulled a U-turn, and stopped in front of the driveway. We were all wearing shit-eating grins. I'm sure the neighbors were enthralled with our antics. However, what I had witnessed was awesome. I also now knew why they didn't want me parking on the street.

The car that changed it all: The "Phat Rabbit" circa spring 1996 in Minnesota.
But how'd he slide that sucker like that? Knowing the Rabbit was front-wheel drive, I had no idea how he got the ass-end to kick out so far, so easily, and with such control. I had to know how to do this. I ran over to the car and said, "Holy shit, Jake. How the hell do you do that?" He simply replied, "You pull up the e-brake."

That's it? That's all? Simply grab the e-brake? So simple, yet with such awesome results.

Much to the neighbors' dismay, Jake took the Rabbit back to the top of the hill for another slide. I watched with pure joy.

After a couple more times down the hill, Jake pulled up to the curb, got out, and said, "I'm done; the e-brake cable broke." It wasn't too surprising. After spending decades in road-salt-strewn Minnesota, it's incredible the brake cable lasted this long (let alone other parts of the car).

Needless to say, seeing that Rabbit sliding sideways that day changed my life forever. Hooning a front-drive car was now orders of magnitude more fun. I had the benefit of front-wheel drive for snowy traction when I needed it, and now, the ability to be a rally car driver when I wanted to.

Suffice to say, the Expo LRV, with its short wheelbase, was great for sliding around. I managed to never hit anything (or anyone, thank God), and empty unplowed parking lots became an endless source of vehicular entertainment. No longer was my winter hooning limited to doing donuts in reverse. The all-mighty e-brake slide was here and I've never been the same since.

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