Friday, December 2, 2016

Livermore Street Sighting - 1955 Oldsmobile 88 Holiday

One of the defining characteristics of 1950s car styling is ostentation. Two- and three-tone paint jobs, tail fins, whitewall tires and lots of chrome trim everywhere are what most people associate with the era. But occasionally one comes across a car that does an awful lot with very little. I have come to really like the simpler designs of cheaper models that make do with less ornamentation. Some mildly customized cars like this 1955 Oldsmobile 88 can also pull it off.

The '55 Oldsmobiles were thoroughly facelifted from the previous year and wore fairly handsome styling, especially on the new Holiday hardtop coupe and sedan. The product was more formal and expensive-looking than the popular Chevy and oddball Pontiac, about on par with its Buick counterpart but without the Buick's pronounced fins and radiused wheel arches. The Olds looks like a cruiser car right from the factory. Judicious and restrained customization yielded the car you see here, finished in beautiful black cherry with white vinyl interior. The badges front and rear have been removed and smoothed, and a pair of chrome spotlights added. Fat whitewall tires on red steel rims with tri-bar spinner hubcaps tuck neatly under the fenders. Subtle rectangular tailpipes exit just under the rear bumper. A nodding-head dog accessory sits in the rear window to complete the look.

I couldn't tell you what motivates this car. It could be the stock 324 cubic inch Olds Rocket V8 or some crate engine. I don't even know if it's a regular 88 or a Super 88 since the badges are gone. What I can tell you though, is that I like it a lot. There are a few bits and pieces I might change if it were mine, but since it's not mine I'm happy to enjoy it from a safe distance and hope it brings its owner enjoyment for years to come.

Photographed May 2015

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Van Man Review - 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan C/V

Some say that autocross teaches you how to drive in second gear. I learned it from a Chrysler minivan.

Welcome to Van Man Reviews, a recurring feature where I talk about vehicles I've driven for work. I used to drive this 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan C/V two days a week on a delivery route.

The Caravan was liked or hated by our drivers depending on their priorities. It was one of the oldest vehicles in the fleet and had high mileage even when I started using it. Some of my colleagues liked it for its 3.3 liter V6, which had a whole lot more torque than the half dozen Ford Transit Connects that made up most of the fleet. Others liked that it had a CD player and good stereo speakers. I hated this van early on, but eventually it endeared itself to me.

Perhaps what made me hate the Caravan was it seemed to hate me. I was always banging my knees and elbows on the dashboard or door panel armrest. The seat was uncomfortable and the interior was always disgusting with a sticky steering wheel that always felt clammy and moist in the mornings. I think it was when the van started to have problems that I began to feel sorry for it. It picked up a rock chip in the windshield that gradually became a crack about two feet across. It overheated on me once and I had to nurse it back to the store with the thermostat pegged full hot and the dash feeling like it would melt. I discovered there was no coolant at all in the overflow reservoir.


The biggest challenge was when the shift linkage malfunctioned and the van would still drive, but would randomly leave the driver with Park, Reverse, Neutral and second. The beauty of this was that the vehicle was still usable up to about 40 or 45 mph, so I could still do deliveries in it, and I learned all of its quirks and tendencies. It would give me one or two periods of about 5-10 minutes per day where the transmission would function as normal, and I would carefully utilize the manual mode to make sure it shifted when it was supposed to. One day I made the mistake of getting onto the freeway during this brief period, and it clunked very loudly back down into second gear at highway speed. On rare occasions the linkage would prevent the transmission from being shifted out of park, forcing me to turn it off and restart the engine. The van kept these rituals up for almost a month before it left another driver stranded at a gas station and had to finally be repaired. It served the company well for several more months before it finally refused to start (even for me), and was sold with 152,000 miles. As of this writing it's currently being used by a local Italian restaurant as a catering van.


The Caravan C/V was a strange vehicle for delivering dry cleaning and kind of a strange vehicle in general. The curved slope of the rear end required the overhead racks to be installed far forward in the vehicle, forcing me to lean far over the bumper to load clothes into it or else load from the side doors. The low roofline meant that garment bags would touch the load floor and the drawstrings on the bags tended to get stuck in the sliding door track. The interior materials were consistent for a 2000s Chrysler product, which is to say they were about consistent with a Maisto diecast. The gear shifter reminded me of the style used on 1960s Dodge A-series vans. The spare tire was stored underneath the front seats and I was fortunate enough not to have to change a tire, but I was called to assist once when a coworker was unable to find it and told me the van didn't have one. It appears that it was to be accessed using the lug wrench to turn a bolt in the middle of the cabin floor between the seats, and lower the spare.

The 2008 Grand Caravan was always more suited to transporting people than cargo, and I'm sure that as a kid hauler it does just fine. The C/V cargo variant had a lot of loose wiring and things that seemed like they should have been secured behind plastic filler panels or fastened with zip ties. It's possible that some pieces were just missing by the time I got there. Its road manners were acceptable, it was reasonably quick for a van and had a smooth ride that soaked up potholes and speed bumps. Fuel economy was not great but I expected that, doing door-to-door delivery for several hours a day. When we got a Nissan NV200 to replace it I drove the Nissan once and told my manager I wanted the Caravan back. It's weird how you get attached to a vehicle, even one that's kind of a piece of junk. It still makes me a little bit happy when I see it parked outside the Italian bistro because it didn't go to Pick 'n Pull.

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If you're looking for a dry cleaner in the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly in the East Bay, please feel free to give us a call (925-838-2000).

Monday, October 31, 2016

Danville Street Sighting - 1982 Jeep J-10 Honcho Sportside Pickup


Who here remembers the movie Twister? The Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton storm-chaser flick with the roaring tornado and flying cows had its 20th anniversary this year. I've mentioned it before in a different post but that film was what got me interested in vintage Jeep trucks. The fact that as a little kid I was fascinated with tornadoes and natural disasters was just gravy. A yellow 1982 Jeep J-10 Honcho Townside pickup was used by the two protagonists in the beginning of the movie, then met its untimely demise when the twister picked it up. For the rest of the movie a 1995 Dodge Ram 2500 pulled hero truck duty. But I always liked that Jeep.

So, what makes a Honcho a Honcho? Looking at this truck, that's a great question. The Jeep Honcho was the sportiest appearance package offered on the J-10 truck. It came with special side striping and decals, blacked out grille, a roll bar, wood bed rail trim and vinyl-trimmed bucket seats with a center armrest.
This truck has seen a repaint at some point in its life. Assuming it's a real Honcho, it's lost all of its striping and model badging. It has a roll bar and what appears to be the correct interior. Were it not for the owner's for sale sign directly indicating it to be a Honcho, one could easily mistake it for a J-10 Custom with a roll bar added. It runs a 360 V8 with automatic transmission. The big rear bumper and steel pipe additions to the bed rails give the truck a tougher appearance. Eight-spoke white steel wheels and large side mirrors are factory pieces.

I was really excited to come across this Jeep, even if it isn't a real Honcho.

Also, extra points for sharp eyed readers if you noticed the 1968 AMC AMX I photographed on the same day.

Photographed March 2016

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Danville Street Sighting - 1931 Ford Model A Pickup

Autumn is in full swing and it's almost Halloween, so how about a vehicle that reflects the colors of the season? This 1931 Ford Model A pickup in cheerful yellow, orange and black is downright cute.

From time to time I like going over to downtown Danville on weekends because the town allows people to park for-sale vehicles on the street in front of the high school. It's usually the typical assortment of modern used cars but occasionally something classic pops up. This is one of the oldest vehicles I've come across on that block. It's not the first Model A I've featured and it won't be the last.

Ford built the Model A from 1928 to 1931 as a replacement for the popular Model T. By the end of its near-20-year production run the "T" was getting to be a relic with its unusual throttle and pedal setup and thoroughly antiquated design. The A reflected the more modern design ideas of Henry Ford's son Edsel, and adopted the now commonly accepted interface of clutch, brake and accelerator pedals and a gear shift lever, along with a new four-cylinder engine making roughly twice the horsepower of the old Model T. It was a vehicle that most anyone (at least anyone familiar with driving other contemporary cars) could climb into and operate without learning all-new techniques.

A pickup truck was one of many body styles available on the Model A (I believe this one is the Model 82-B Deluxe Pickup). Buyers could also specify a roadster pickup for top-down utility or upgrade to an AA commercial truck if they needed to haul real stuff. That's not to say a little truck like this can't haul things. I'm pretty sure I saw this one puttering past Home Depot once with some kind of appliance box in the bed. Back in the day you didn't have a Super Duty F-350 ponying up to the home improvement store for two or three yards of dirt. A Model A pickup had a payload capacity of about 500 lbs and 16.5 cubic feet with the standard bed. And honestly, with 40 horsepower on tap, and buggy spring suspension, would you really want to put much more strain on it?

Today a truck like this is more of a toy to enjoy on nice days, that can hold a few more things in the back than your average Model A. As I remarked on my previous Model A pickup feature, it's a charm-filled alternative to a base model compact truck from the modern era. If you want something with a stick shift, no air conditioning and not a lot of power, and you don't mind babying it and doing maintenance, maybe one of these might be for you.

Photographed September 2015
Please don't ask me if it's still for sale; I do not know the owner and would assume it most likely is no longer available.