Sunday, June 18, 2017

Oakland Street Sighting - 1987 Pontiac 6000 STE

The first car I ever rode in was a Pontiac 6000 STE. It was my parents' car, a blue 1985 model that they purchased used in 1987. I grew up in and around that car, and it was my first car when I started driving. So the 6000 STE made a huge impact on my life. I loved its low rumbling growl, space-age digital dashboard, nimble handling and excellent all-around visibility.

Unfortunately the GM A-body FWD platform isn't known for being a stellar car in general. Your average Chevy Celebrity or Olds Cutlass Ciera is a car for poor people and students. A lot of young people today don't even know what a Pontiac 6000 is, let alone Pontiac's Special Touring Edition sport sedan that once tried to compete with BMW. Others I've talked to or read, who are familiar with these cars, also know that they tend to be finicky as they age.

Much of what makes the STE "Special" is electronic. It features self leveling rear air suspension, full digital instrumentation complete with a highly detailed driver information center and a decent Delco stereo. Beefed up suspension, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and special 14-inch alloy wheels made in England made the car handle better than Grandma's 6000 LE. Fog lamps, two-tone paint and STE badging set it apart visually.

The 1985 STE received electronic fuel injection for its "high-output" 2.8 V6. Post-1986 models got a digital odometer and a dozen steering wheel buttons to control radio and other functions. The '86 also got a 4-speed automatic in place of the old 3-speed (an upgrade I wish my car had). Some STE styling touches were later employed on standard 6000s, such as the smoked taillights and composite headlamps seen on this car. All 1988 6000s received a new aerodynamic rear window that eliminated the car's formal roofline and rear quarter windows. As a result, by '88 the STE needed something else to make it special again. GM's styling department added ground effects, driving lights, new 3-spoke directional wheels and a rear spoiler. And its greatest trump card for '88 was all wheel drive and a new 3.1 liter V6. The resulting car was... well, it was heavier, sillier and I think it was actually slower. Not to mention the AWD system ate up significant trunk space. But hey, you could get it with gold badging and monochromatic paint!

So here is the problem with the STE. Everything on it that isn't corporate is unique, and most everything that is unique is obsolete. Cars like my '85 had significant changes from year to year, making things like a wiring harness not fully compatible with any other model year. Sheet metal is generally the same as all other 6000s, but the fascia, taillights, and badging are unique. If you find one in a junkyard, it's kind of a crapshoot guessing whether the electronics will fit your car without splicing. For example my '85 has fuel injection, so wiring from an '84 won't work. I have an analog odometer and a different tach and no steering wheel buttons so the '86 wiring harness might not all work with it. Notice this car, when photographed, had a 1-month moving permit sticker from the California DMV. Granted there were no plates on it, but that tag often is a sign the car failed a smog test. There are a lot of relays and sensors and things that can cause problems. Mine also had its ride control compressor fail and I could never source a direct replacement. Fortunately California's climate saves some of these cars from rusting out, but it seems like most of them were sold in the Midwest or Canada and are long gone.

I didn't get the chance to meet the owner of this car but his colleague at the auto body repair shop came out to see what I was doing. It wasn't a great part of Oakland and he said he had had a car stolen from that block previously. I assured him my motives were honorable since I had an STE at home. The car appeared around the area several more times after it was photographed, but not in recent months that I've observed. I wonder what became of it.

Photographed January 2016

Thursday, March 30, 2017

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Chrysler New Yorker

It's hard to believe it took me the better part of a decade to get this car onto the blog. I first sighted this 1963 Chrysler New Yorker in San Francisco while on a road trip around California with friends in 2007. At that time it was parked in the Inner Richmond neighborhood and sitting on American Racing directional sawblade wheels. I only got a couple of snapshots of it that day, and spent my entire college years exploring the city with that Chrysler on my list of vehicles to find and shoot in depth. It was only after a day trip in which I covered the entire road grid of the Sunset District that the car turned up again. The first time I located the New Yorker it was very late in the day and my shoot came out poorly, half of the car in the shadow of the houses across the street. I came back at a later date and did much better.

This isn't the first time we've looked at a 1963 Chrysler fullsizer here. I found a 300 coupe down in Santa Cruz in 2013. In the grand scheme of car collecting, a 300 coupe is probably more desirable than a New Yorker sedan, but this New Yorker is in much better condition. Or at least it was at the time. The Santa Cruz 300 was a restoration project wearing primer at the time I photographed it. This car has some rust bubbles and streaks present but generally looks solid, and the paint is shiny. It wears an unusual combination of mid-1970s Mercury Cougar hubcaps and one Magnum 500 mag wheel on blackwall and whitewall tires.

The '63 models were just such a strange year for Chrysler. Styling maestro Virgil Exner was on his way out as management exerted their own influence on design. Fresh off of the corporate styling disasters of 1962, these new cars toned it down slightly. Admittedly the '62 Chryslers were mainly just '61s without fins (Dodge and Plymouth received the real kooky designs). But the order of the day seemed to be trapezoids and the '63 New Yorker has lots of them. Anything that isn't trapezoidal is circular. The body is simply detailed for the era, with one friend describing the design as looking like a clay sculpt that was sent into production without any refining". Underneath the new body is much the same chassis that dated back to Exner's heyday. If you look closely you'll notice the same windshield shape from the 1957 models. Chrysler moved over 118,000 cars in 1963, marginally more than the previous year.

This car is a regular New Yorker sedan, which would have come from the factory with a 413 "Golden Lion" Wedge V8 producing 340 horsepower. That's no slouch by anyone's standards and probably greatly appreciated in a car this big. It's primarily a boulevard cruiser and will never win any races unless said race doesn't involve any corners. A '63 New Yorker is a curious choice for San Francisco, a town known for limited parking options. But this was in one of the outer residential neighborhoods with much less hustle and bustle. It's a curious car in general from stem to stern, and it has some intriguing details. When shooting cars, interesting lines make for interesting times.

Photographed September-October 2013

Saturday, February 18, 2017

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1984 Ford Mustang SVO

If you like grey Foxbody Mustangs, you're in luck this week. After an '87 GT coupe, here's the second one, a 1984 Mustang SVO.

The SVO was one of Ford's attempts to combat European and Japanese sporty cars in the mid-1980s. They made liberal use of the turbocharged 2.3 liter four-cylinder engine as an alternative to old school V8 power in the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, Mercury Capri Turbo RS and Merkur XR4Ti. A Mustang GT Turbo was also available for a time. But the most special Mustang in the showroom in 1984 was the SVO.

Ford's Special Vehicle Operations department produced a Euro-flavored Foxbody with unique front end, taillights, hood, rear quarter window sail panels and flat faced alloy wheels with five-lug hubs (most Fox Mustangs had four lugs stock). Buyers could choose a biplane rear wing spoiler reminiscent of the rally-bred Ford Sierra Cosworth. This one has no wing at all, suggesting that the original piece was removed, perhaps to suit the taste of an owner who didn't like the controversial biplane.

The SVO features an offset hood scoop that actually works, feeding the intercooled turbo four fresh air. The intercooler was a special feature for the SVO (at the time) and was not installed on the Thunderbird, Mustang, Capri or Merkur. It produced 175 horsepower in its inaugural year. A V8 Mustang GT made 165 and the non-intercooled 2.3 turbo GT made 145, roughly the same as a T-Bird Turbo Coupe. Driver-focused goodies include full gauges, pedals optimized for heel-toe shifting and a speedometer that indicated up to 140 mph (but only featured numbers up to 85).

Fewer than 10,000 SVO Mustangs were sold between 1984 and '86. The car was improved every year with more power, and received a facelift halfway through 1985 that gave the car composite flush fit headlamps in place of the deep-set sealed beams seen here. A lot of proven racing knowledge and technology went into these cars. Unfortunately the technology of forced induction and small displacement was overshadowed by the venerable 5.0 V8 once gas prices were cheap again. By the time the SVO ended its run, the GT was ready with a fresh new front end and 225 horsepower. The SVO faded into relative obscurity. Ford recently brought back a 2.3 turbo for the Mustang though, and not strictly as an economy choice. An EcoBoost Mustang makes 310 hp. I love the sound of a proper 5.0 but it's tough to argue with a turbo four-pot making those numbers.

Photographed August 2016

Thursday, February 16, 2017

San Jose Street Sighting - 1987 Ford Mustang GT

One of my best friends has a birthday today, so we're going to honor him with a feature of one of his favorite cars. He loves 1979-93 Foxbody Mustangs. Now these cars are still a dime a dozen in California, but there are some problems. Most of them have been ridden hard and/or modified within an inch of their life, and many look like the example seen here. That's not really why I photographed this car. I shot it because Medium Gray Metallic over Titanium with an electric blue accent stripe is my buddy's favorite color combination for these cars, and from what I've seen it's a rather rare paint scheme.

My friend asked me to shoot the car because it had been sitting for a while and was getting to be in sad shape. The donut spare on the rear wheel was new since the last time I'd seen the car and the tags were expired. I told my friend he should leave a note under the wiper in case the owner would be willing to sell it. Unfortunately this occasion was the last time I saw the car and its fate remains unknown. The photos document the car the best I could at the time.

As Mustang GTs go, this one was pretty nice when it was younger. It's an automatic car with a pop up sunroof. Obviously the enthusiast's (and my friend's) choice would be the five-speed manual, but I at least would be happy with the auto. It looked to me as though most of the car's problems stemmed from sitting outdoors for years on end. I ran the license number through the state smog records and it had never failed emissions (though it was last tested in 2011). Assuming the mechanicals were still good, and the rust only on the surface, it would be an easy restoration project. Virtually everything needed to bring a Foxbody back to life is readily available, even to make it better than new. It would be awesome to see this car looking like this again.

Photographed October 2016