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3rd Gear: The Downtown Tests

Thursday, August 28th, 1997

14:30 hours:  With a soft-spoken goodbye to the forest, the four of us climb back in and drive north on Route 3 in the slightly tuckered out Rally car.  As we speed through south Plymouth, dear Omnician Jonas makes an "interesting" decision, and reaches up toward the roof of the Omni....  Hmmm.  This requires a bit of background.   Nearly all American cars manufactured during the early '80s shipped with a soft cloth covering the interior roof.  As many of you car owners may already know, the glue used inside these millions of automobiles to hold this cloth in place completely lost its stick sometime around 1992.  During the years that Todd owned the Omni, this ceiling hung down pretty low, distracting the car's driver and suffocating its passengers.   To remedy the problem, Todd had screwed four metal screws up through the cloth to hold it in place.  This solved the problem quite well, but at some point the screws were removed and the cloth torn off completely.  The removal of the cloth exposed a strange and unattractive puke-cardboard orange/brown layer.  Presumably this layer, (made from an unrecognizable substance), helped insulate the car, or simply provided a convenient surface to glue cloth onto.  We don't know.  We don't work for Dodge.  

Just Driving.

What we do know is that at 2:30 on August 28th, Jonas Pizer reaches up and makes the decision to break off a piece of the mysterious substance.  This decision really, really, really, sucks.  In an instant, the Omni's roomy interior fills with a cloud of gaseous cardboard.  Pieces of the ceiling crumble into our laps and into our eyes.  Brown dust floats everywhere.  We are literally breathing bits of this 1981 Dodge in and out of our bodies.  We all shout and swear at Jonas, who simply can't stop laughing.  When Omnician Ryan's eyes stop tearing and his coughing subsides, he leans over and begins to systematically pound on the giggling Jonas.  When the dust finally settles, we inspect the large hole in the ceiling.  In many ways, the mystery substance resembles crumbly dried plaster, but the layer seems to maintain its structural integrity through a criss-crossing of fibers.   To put it plainly, the interior roof of the '81 Dodge Omni (and most likely the twin Plymouth Horizon) is insulated with a layer of asbestos.  There seems to be little way around it.  This bothers us a bit, but since we don't expect to continue to own the car for much longer, the four of us decide to deal. We hold our breath and remind ourselves that it's time to conduct another test.

Test #5: Acceleration

14:35 hours:   We pull the Omni into the breakdown lane on Route 3 north, and get ready to run a 0-60 acceleration test.  Someone suggests that least two of us should get out of the car, just to be fair to the Omni.  This seems reasonable--a lighter Omni is a happier Omni is a faster Omni.  Before we begin, however, each Omnician makes an educated guess as to just how quickly the hatchback will accelerate up to 60mph:

Official Table of Omnician Test #5 Guesstimates

Joshua 13 seconds


16 seconds

Daniel 12 seconds
Ryan 9 seconds

We have a minor Chinese fire drill in the breakdown lane.   After some disagreement, Jonas ends up driving and Joshua sits shotgun with the Official Omnician's Analog Stopwatchä, while Ryan and Daniel are left to fend for themselves like common roadside highwaymen.  Jonas revs the engine for a few seconds, and at Joshua's command, drops the clutch.  In a maroon blur, the Omni slowly climbs up toward   60 as Jonas carefully yanks back and forth on the Omni's gearshift.   Dan and Ryan scurry along the highway in hot pursuit.  Eventually the car slows to a halt, and with some huffing and puffing the two runners rejoin Jonas,  Joshua and the Omni in a spirit of glorious reunion.  Dan and Ryan are disappointed to learn, however, that the Omni has accomplished its 0-60 run in 14.5 seconds.   Jonas comments that the car "continued up to 75mph effortlessly."  Dan takes over as driver and we proceed on toward exit 5.

What we learned:  When carrying two full grown passengers, the Omni is able to accelerate from 0mph to 60mph in 14.5 seconds.

What this means:  As recorded by Joshua and Jonas, the Omni accelerates from 0-60 in 14.5 seconds.  Upon some reflection, it dawns on Ryan and Daniel that this figure is exactly halfway between Jonas's and Joshua's guesstimates.  Ryan and Daniel begin to seriously doubt that their two fellow Omnicians have conducted test #5 in an appropriately unbiased and scientific fashion.  Jonas and Josh claim that it is merely a coincidence.  Sure, guys.   Pretty convenient, considering you were the only two in the car.   Unfortunately, we were unable to run a retest.  The 14.5 statistic stands, but even now in 1999, 50% of the Omnicians present that day consider the figure to be highly suspect.

14:38 hours:  While yielding at the bottom of the exit 5 off-ramp, Daniel reaches around the steering wheel and rips the clear plastic gauge guard off of the dashboard.  We are now free to manipulate the speedometer and the temperature gauge as we please.  Each of us makes an attempt to remove whatever part of the Omni's interior is nearest to our hands.

14:40 hours:  We pull the Omni into Mayflower Food and Spirits to buy some oil and snacks.  Mayflower is a fabulous one-stop-shopping locale where you can buy fried chicken, hard alcohol, donuts and spring water while you return empties and wait for men to realign your front wheels.  We pay $7.50 for three quarts of Sunoco Ultra SAE Straight 30.  We end up using only 2 quarts, leaving the Omni about a pint low.    Click here for a couple of oil-stop snapshots.

14:50 hours:  With an engine full of oil and our bellies full of Cheez-its and pretzels, we pull out of Mayflower and head toward downtown Plymouth for test number six.   Daniel, riding shotgun, discovers that the glove box contains no registration.   Joshua and Ryan don't recall seeing it once during the entire summer, so it is official--we are driving a fugitive vehicle.  We conscientiously cruise past a police car and head through downtown Plymouth on beautiful Court Street.

14:55 hours:  Joshua nearly rear-ends a 1993 ragtop Mercury Cougar.  We stop at CVS, and Ryan runs in to purchase a wooden yardstick, a roll of film, and a single pack of Nerds for $5.15.  The lines in CVS are excessively long.  Daniel, Joshua and Jonas sit in the car and grow impatient until Ryan finally reemerges with the purchases.   We need at least one of these items to conduct test #6.

Test #6: Shock Absorbency

15:10 hours: We swing down North Street to the Plymouth waterfront, and park about 150 feet from the Plymouth Rock, in a small parking "loop".  Although it is nearly September, we see tourists everywhere, and a few of them watch with curiosity as we proceed to test the Omni's rear shocks.  Though we neglect to wear the safety helmet, we do make sure to crank on the emergency brake.  Using our newly purchased yardstick, Daniel observes that in its natural state, the rear end of the Omni rests at a comfortable 7 inches above the asphalt.  While Dan steadies the yardstick and Joshua holds the camera, Ryan and Jonas jump up and down on the rear bumper of the car.  They do their best to get the frame of the Omni as close to the ground as possible.

Shock Test

According to Dan, the rear end of the Omni reaches its lowest point at 1 inch above the ground.  It takes quite a bit of effort for the lightweight Ryan and Jonas to accomplish this feat.  The Omni absorbs the applied pressure quite well--the shocks are neither excessively hard nor unbearably saggy.  The springy-bounce back feels about right.  Ryan and Jonas characterize the Omni's suspension as "squishy and pliable."

In the background of this photograph  notice the Mayflower II, Plymouth's modernized, brightly-painted replica of the ship that carried the Pilgrims to the New World in 1620.  The Mayflower II, like Plimouth Plantation, comes equipped with Pilgrims who eat hard biscuits, talk about the sea, and pretend they don't know anything about modern times.

What we learned:  Under the weight of two bouncing twenty year old males, the Omni's rear shocks give a full 6 inches.  And very few tourists seem to notice punk kids jumping up and down on cars.

What this means:  The 1981 Dodge Omni was not manufactured for use as common, everyday transportation around suburban towns that rely on tourism and the farming advice of Indians to survive.   Rather, like the AMC Eagle, the Omni was undeniably designed to perform best as a mountain vehicle.  At one point there was some talk of driving the Omni through some mountainous area, but we couldn't come up with any place good.  Fatty's driveway would have to do.

We are all set to leave the waterfront when someone suggests that we might as well run one more test while we are here.   We remain in the same spot by the Mayflower II to conduct...  test #6 prime. 

Test #6': The, Uh... "Lifting" Test.

15:15 hours:   Ryan holds the camera in position as Dan. Joshua, and Jonas turn their backs toward the Omni and bend down, gripping the rear bumper as tightly as possible.   As their muscles strain and their throats emit cries of agony, the three Omnicians successfully lift the 1981 Dodge Omni off of the ground.


At least, they lift the rear end off the ground.  Unfortunately, we do not have enough Omnicians on hand to make use of the new yardstick to measure just how high Josh, Dan and Jonas are able to lift the car.  However, as he snaps the picture, Ryan remarks that the car's tires look like they're "pretty damn high."

What we learned:  Joshua, Jonas, and Daniel can successfully lift the rear end of the 1981 Dodge Omni hatchback pretty damn high off the ground.

What this means:  We could no longer continue fooling ourselves into believing that we were exploring the abilities and limitations of the Omni in some sort of scientific manner.  We were now Messing Around and Showing Off.  Something was changing.  Yes, something was changing inside us.

With 3/4 of us feeling strong and tough, we drive up along School street and stop at the Burial hill cemetery for a 10 minute stroll.  Burial hill overlooks Plymouth's downtown and waterfront area, and features the gravesites of some of our town's  most famous forefathers.  Click here to see a award-winning picture taken from the Omni's left rear window.   We crave hard biscuits.  After our break we drive up Route 44 to the West Plymouth Square shopping plaza--the perfect place to conduct our next test.

Test #7: Side Impact Test

15:35 hours: We drive deep into the far right corner of the Stop& Shop parking lot.  Make no mistake about it.  People and cars need to eat.  Even a mountain vehicle--one with shocks able to withstand the incessant hustle and bustle of mountain life--needs to stock up on groceries every now and again.  When a hungry car makes the decision to descend from the highlands, it yearns to carry its driver to the doorstep of a grocery chain that can offer a variety of high-quality foodstuffs at prices that wont break the bank.  And suffering cats, that driver should feel confident in the structural integrity of his maroon mountain vehicle--the fenders and lower door panels in particular.  A small gust of wind can turn an innocent grocery parking lot into a disaster in a manner of seconds. How long do you intend to sit there, clipping manufacturers coupons in the dark, minding your own?   This doesn't have to be the way it is.  This doesn't have to be the way it ends.   That's where we come in.


15:36 hours: Daniel retrieves a sturdy looking shopping cart from across the lot.  We promptly load Jonas into the main section of the wire frame cart, taking care to slide the sub cart / baby seat into the collapsed position.  Daniel assists Jonas in tightening the straps of his NASA polymer and graphite Omnician's helmet.  Ryan does jumping jacks, then trunk twists--all to prepare for what he knows he must do.  Joshua holds the camera tightly in hand, focusing on the area around the Omni's left rear side door, loosening his trigger finger with a subtle flick, flick flick.  Jonas, who reports feeling "apprehensive", checks the grip of his chinstrap one final time.  This was something he volunteered to do, and he was going to do it right.  We didn't invest all that... whole bunch of money into NASA just to injure ourselves through improper use of equipment... that they probably stole from the Soviets anyway.  Not this time.  Daniel stands back; Joshua falls onto his left knee like a human tripod; and Ryan swings the cart around.  He pushes Jonas to a position approximately 100 feet away from the Omni, then turns back slowly.  For a moment, Ryan and Jonas simply gaze at the maroon side of their beloved hatchback.  There it sits, calling, flanked by two loving friends.  When Josh signals that he is ready, Ryan begins pushing Jonas toward the Omni.  Click here to see the Side Impact sequence.  You'll be glad you did.

ready to rumble (close up)

15:40 hours:  In a furious blur of micrometers, slide rules and Palm Pilots, the remaining 3.5 Omnicians discuss the Side Impact Tests with enthusiasm (and great respect for the scientific method, eh? Eh?)!?$!!;^]>.  During this educational exchange, Ryan mentions that he "feared for Jonas's life just before impact".  Jonas remarked that "it was fine until I hit the car and experienced severe whiplash".  We dump our human causality out onto hard gray asphalt and let Daniel run a couple of unmanned tests.  He spends some time smashing the cart into various parts of the vehicle's maroon skin at a variety of angles, but the Omni continues to hold up impressively well.  
What we learned:
 1.   Sorry, dude.
2.   Auto-science is not a hobby, it's a lifestyle.
3.    Sequenced according to Standard Omni-Tech Structural Integrity Rating, strongest to weakest:
     a. wire frame shopping cart
     b. 1981 Dodge Omni
     c. Soviet safety helmet
     d. Jonas
4.    There are three kinds of people in this world: people who volunteer to sit in shopping carts, people who push shopping carts into cars, and people who laugh at people who volunteer to sit in shopping carts after they have experienced severe whiplash.
5.   In these topsy-turvy times, in a world plagued by a waning sense of morality and ever-waxing transnational corporate greed, we can count on at least one thing.  Visit your local Stop 'N Shop grocery mart today.  Stop 'N Shop: It's time to Stop 'N Shop.

What this means:  In the two years that passed between the actual Project Omni tests and the construction of this website, Ryan had lost touch with the small-town warmth and purity of comedic spirit that had characterized those two lazy summer days.  No, it was only about the Benjamins now, and this supermarket sponsorship could be just the beginning.  Before you forget, take a moment to order your very own 1981 Dodge Omni Snoozy-time Sweatpants.  

15:50 hours:  Sure that our perception of this general parking lot area will be scarred for some time, we decide to call it quits for the day, and hop back into the noble little hatchback.  Some of us have to work this evening, and some of us are cut up pretty bad, and some of us are getting tired of getting pieces of the Omni's crumbling ceiling stuck in our eyes and lungs.  Someone drives.  We drop somebody off, and maybe someone else after that.  Eventually, we each return to our respective homes and do the sorts of things that normal people do in their homes.  Watching TV and bathing and stuff like that.  Maybe someone ordered Chinese food from the Happy Garden or something.  Don't expect a full account of every minute of our lives here. Jeez.

With the closing of any productive day comes reflection, a winding down--desire for sleep juxtaposed against the exciting rush of thoughts and new ideas.  Yes, there would be dreams... er... hmmm.  I'm sorry.  Click here, or click the shifter knob to kick this multimedia transmission into high gear with The Suburban Mess.   It's an image thing.



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