It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came in too late for that and I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over. – Tony Soprano
In 1999, a show premiered on HBO that would usher in what is now considered the “Golden Age” of television. It was a drama about an organized crime boss in northern New Jersey, his criminal associates, and also, his deeply dysfunctional family. At times an exploration of organized crime at the turn of the 21st century, at times dark comedy, and at times a satire of the American dream, The Sopranos has a legacy that has gone beyond its six televised seasons.
I watched the show when it originally aired from 1999 to 2007, and during the pandemic have begun rewatching the show again. I’ve long been fascinated with the history of organized crime in this country, from the books I have read, to the movies and documentaries I’ve watched, to the stories my dad has told me about the racketeers and “mob guys” who shopped for their tailored suits at my grandfather’s clothing store in Camden, NJ. The Sopranos captured the essence of the mob – the crime, the violence, and also the sheer mundanity of everyday life – without overly-romanticizing it.
Knowing that I am a huge fan of the show, my wife planned an amazing birthday gift for me: a road trip to several of the show’s filming locations around New Jersey. The better part of my birthday was spent driving to sites in upscale neighborhoods, traffic-filled cities, and quiet, small towns. It was, quite simply, amazing.
After my special birthday adventure, I also am excited to share Part II of a cool feature on an off-road Acura, and finally, some vehicle updates closer to home.
The Sopranos Tour
For some added fun, you can watch the original title sequence on HBO’s website for The Sopranos by following this link. Try to see how many of the locations from this post you can spot in the video! You should be able to recognize six places – the answers are in the conclusion at the end!
Addendum – Previously Visited Filming Locations
Before closing this tour, I wanted to share two other filming locations that we have visited during previous trips. Some of you may remember the first one, but anyone who has read this blog over the past several years will instantly recognize the second shot!
An Off-Roader Tour and Some Automotive Updates
A few weeks ago, I interviewed Sam about his Acura MDX SUV which he drives on trails and roads far from the beaten path. I received a lot of great feedback about that interview, and so asked Sam to give us a tour of his significantly upgraded vehicle. In the next section, Sam describes how he raised (lifted) his vehicle to increase ground clearance (really helpful for when you’re off-road), added additional lighting, new wheels, and bigger tires for handling the rough stuff.
Q: Thanks for doing this again, Sam! It looks like you’ve done some pretty significant modifications to your vehicle. Can you walk us through it?
I knew that there was going to be a limited number of aftermarket upgrades available for the MDX. But I wanted to have a racked up, lifted MDX for my adventures. I started with the OEM roof rack, then Thule crossbars & cargo boxes, DDM Tuning 5″ 48w LED flood lights mounted to the crossbars, Wilco Offroad Hitchgate Classic Center mount spare tire carrier (later sold it to a friend and bought a hitchswing instead for weight savings), and added a hitchtray & bike rack as well.
I then later replaced my fog & daytime running lights (DRL) halogen lights for 3000k/6000k LED Switchbacks. I also rewired the DRL housing for high-beam headlight output and the high-beam housing for DRL output. I prefer this look much better, like the 2010 Acura TL’s DRL setup. Then eventually bought a 15″ 45w LED light bar from Walmart and wired that up in the rear. While installing it, my neighbor offered to sell his 50″ curved LED light bar, so I bought it, and wired that up in the front.
Over the years, I’ve had several trials and errors with different suspension lift products that weren’t meant for the MDX. Eventually I found some spacers from Tema4x4 on Ebay, originally meant for the Honda Pilot. Since both SUVs were built on the same platform, I knew that fitment wasn’t going to be a major issue. I went with Tema4x4’s 30mm/1.2″ front strut spacers (lifts 1.2″) and 50mm/2″ rear spring spacers (lifts 3″). The installation is pretty simple with the right tools and help. The next step was to decide on the right wheels, tires, and size.
I was lucky enough to find another MDX owner who wanted my 19″×8.5″ OEM wheels, and since he had the 18″×8″ OEM wheels I wanted, we decided to swap. I had already decided to go with the Falken Wildpeak AT3W tires. I’m currently on my 3rd set – I love their performance, price, and look so much, I’ve been recommending them to everyone. As for size, I started with 265/60/18-30.5″×10.4″, but I wanted bigger, so I went with the biggest size I thought I could fit without any heavy trimming: 275/65/18-32″×11″. This was the perfect size to fit the look and handing I wanted. However, the weight became an issue for the front struts. So I eventually compromised and found another great size that worked best for the balance, 255/70/18-32″×10″. I got to keep the height for added ground clearance without the weight and friction, and even my miles per gallon (MPG) has improved.
Speaking of which, I had a theory of having a front lower valance (spoiler) to help separate the air to the sides for better MPGs. Without it, the air would get trapped in the undercarriage, causing more drag. Finding the right valance was tough, but I kept thinking, “Go big, or go home”, for the size. After seeing tons of Ford F250/350 trucks driving around, I realized that was the valance I wanted. So I measured the width of the lower front part of the MDX’s undercarriage and looked at its design curves for mounting, then I found one meant for a 2011 Ford F250/350 and ordered it. Once it came, I did some test fitting and it was just perfect, so drilled a few holes and used some plastic screw taps to hold in place. After driving a few hundred miles, it appears to have gained me about 1-2 highway MPGs overall–or maybe I’m just driving less crazy!
An Accord Update
We arrived home at the end of the afternoon, and I was thrilled with my Sopranos Scavenger Hunt! It was an amazing birthday gift, and I still find myself smiling when I think about the places we saw and the experiences we had. It made for a truly memorable birthday.
And now, the answers to the video quiz above! You should be able to see: (1) the NJ Turnpike (2) the “Drive Safely” oil container (3) the Pulaski Skyway – look for the signs for US Route 1-9 (4) the Muffler Man (5) Pizza Land (6) the house at 14 Aspen Drive.
Thanks for coming along on this special birthday journey down the open road ahead!