Friday, July 20, 2018

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1964 Amphicar 770

And now for something completely different.

Full disclosure up front. I absolutely cheated with this one. It's one of several cars I've "found" over the years when I attended the Arcane Auto Society's annual meeting in San Francisco. Nice people and a whole lot of weird machinery. This Amphicar was parked in the alley behind the building for a short time at the end of the meet. Public street, weird old car, good enough for me. Where else are you going to see an Amphicar, anyway?

The Amphicar was always an odd duck. It first came onto the scene at the New York auto show in 1961 and promised the ability to drive on land or water. Unfortunately anyone who's watched Top Gear knows that amphibious cars that work are not easy to build and they tend to look ungainly. The fact is, boats with doors in the sides tend to become sunken boats. Everything had to seal shut when the car was in the water. The body was sculpted with a prow for cutting through the water and featured a pair of adorable little propellers, navigation lights and a rear decklid mount for a flag as required by the Coast Guard. Jaunty little tail fins were just for show. Speaking of Top Gear, the Amphicar's power came from the same 1.2 liter four cylinder found in James May's Triumph Herald sailboat. It gave the car its "770" model designation, as it was supposed to do 7 knots on water and 70 mph on the road. Exhaust exited through the rear taillight panel instead of underneath the bumper as on a normal car, so that the tailpipe would not fill up with water. A second gear lever controlled the props.

Shocking though it may be, the Amphicar never sold particularly well. The factory in West Germany produced plenty of cars, but the demand just wasn't there. They managed to sell 3,878 cars with a parts inventory for far more. Amphicars were marketed until 1968 but by that time, you were buying a "new" car that could have been sitting for three years.

Today the Amphicar still has a vibrant following. I imagine mechanical parts for the Triumph engines are still available. A couple of these cars still appear from time to time at Cars & Coffee meets in my area. Owner's clubs put on special "swim-in" events where people get together and drive their cars into a lake. As I write this, the Celina Lake Festival in Ohio is coming up soon and the Amphicar club will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the last models with a Guinness World Record attempt for the most Amphicars in one place. It should be interesting.

Photographed April 2014

Friday, July 6, 2018

San Jose Street Sighting - 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Gran Coupe

Every year for the 4th of July I like to do a group of features called Independents' Week, focusing on independent American automakers. But since my archives are out of those right now, we're looking at defunct mainstream American brands in the colors of the American flag. We've already had a pair of Mercurys representing red and white. Third in the set this week, representing the color blue, is a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Gran Coupe.

I have always adored the early Mopar E-bodies, namely the 1970-71 Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger twins. The older I get, the more I love the cleaner detailing of the first-year cars. Yes, I know the Barracuda started as an offshoot of the Valiant in 1964. I have a fondness for certain years of those cars too, but the all-new 1970 Barracuda is beautiful in its simplicity.

The '70 Barracuda was offered in a few trim levels ranging from base, luxurious Gran Coupe and the muscle-car "'Cuda". Base and Gran Coupe were offered with a cute little economy slant six engine, a larger 225 slant six out of the Valiant, or a 318 small-block V8 or 383 V8 in regular or high-performance variants. The top 383 came with a four-barrel carb and dual exhaust. If you were really out to terrorize the streets you could get the 'Cuda with a 440 Super Commando V8 in four- or six-barrel form, or even the vaunted 426 Hemi. A plethora of bright, humorously named High Impact colors were offered in addition to the classic (and classy) metallics and traditional solid hues.

Considering the lack of visible tailpipes on this example, I'd wager it's a lower-performance car and could even have a six-cylinder. It looks handsome in EB5 Blue Fire Metallic with a white vinyl top and matching side strobe stripes. Mopar Rallye wheels and BF Goodrich Radial T/A white letter tires complete the pony car look. The strobe stripes are available as reproductions for a little over $100 a set; however, if what I read is correct, these particular stripes (option code V4W) were a fairly rare factory option in 1970. The body damage to the left front fender is unfortunate but who knows how old it might be. This car looks very original to me. Considering how much these cars go for these days, it might be worth repairing that fender.

Photographed January 2017

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Danville Street Sighting - 1972 Mercury Cougar XR-7 Convertible

This week we're celebrating Independence Day a little differently from how we usually do it at California Streets. Instead of featuring cars from defunct independent American manufacturers, I'm featuring defunct mainstream American brands in red, white and blue. Representing the color white today is this 1972 Mercury Cougar XR-7 convertible.

Nearly every car person recognizes a first-generation Cougar. The trademark "electric shaver" grille divided down the middle, and hideaway headlights are classic design features. The body resembles a smoothed-out, slightly more European flavored version of the Ford Mustang upon which it is based. Cougars were designed from the beginning to be a step up from the Mustang in luxury, if not always in performance.

Yes, well... this is the second generation Cougar, based on the new-for-1971 "Boxstang". It's a different animal from the 1967-70 Cougar. The midsection differs very little from the Mustang but the front and rear ends are more formal. It's the product of a decade where new smog rules and prohibitive insurance costs forced the muscle and pony cars of the 1960s to adapt or die. The new market climate was focusing on personal luxury with a little sport left over. So cars were bigger and stuffed with a lot of features to make them look and feel nice, give comfort to passengers and try not to melt the ice caps quite as much in the process. By 1972 that meant no more big block V8s. It still meant you got a 351 V8 standard, though (with all of 168 horsepower on tap), and could buy a 4-barrel Cobra Jet version of the 351 that might be able to push you back into those standard high-back bucket seats like the old days.

Most Cougars were hardtops and a good number of those were base models. The fancier XR-7 trim accounted for about half of all Cougar sales in 1972. How rare is the convertible? The Cougar Club of America lists 1972 convertible production as 3,169 total, with 1,929 of those being XR-7s.
This one looks resplendent in white over white with a black interior. In an era of vinyl everything, it was possible to get an XR-7 with real leather seats. This one appears to have had a wheel swap from the original 14-inch jobs. I don't think that these ever came from the factory with Magnum 500 rims (at least not in '72) but they're a popular addition and they look fantastic. The white-letter radial tires complete the muscle car stance. Out back, a matte black spoiler resembles something off of a Mustang Mach 1 and is decidedly more aggressive than anything shown in the '72 Mercury brochure. As the license plate suggests, this Cougar is indeed a "Bad Cat".

Photographed May 2018

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Oakland Street Sighting - 1968 Mercury Montego MX

The United States of America celebrates another birthday today, and in honor of Independence Day I usually publish posts celebrating offerings from independent American automakers. I call it Independents' Week. Unfortunately I don't get out as much as I used to, and my archives are fresh out of American independents. So, instead, I have a star-spangled collection of ... well, defunct American brands in the colors of Old Glory. First up is a red Mercury Montego sedan.

Two of my friends used to live in Oakland and we loved going to the flea market sometimes on Sunday mornings. Every so often I'd feel brave enough to shoot cars on the streets in the area afterward. This survivor '68 Montego showed up one day and found itself in my viewfinder. The Montego was an upgraded version of Mercury's Comet, which by 1968 had grown from a compact Falcon into a rebadge of the intermediate Ford Torino. The Montego MX was an upper-middle trim level. Standard engines for the Montego MX included a 200 straight six or 302 small block V8. A 390 Marauder high-performance V8 with two- or four-barrel carburetor was an extra cost option.

The Montego was a rather nice family car in its day. A variety of vinyl upholstery options, thick carpeting, sound insulation and simulated walnut interior trim bits adorn the interior. A Coke-bottle beltline and sculpted wheel arches with a strong crease along the body give it a bit of style, while the front end shape with jutting grille and loop bumpers, lends it a familial Lincoln-Mercury look to set it apart from the more flat-faced Torino. Curiously the rocker trim appears to have a simulated woodgrain texture to it.

This example has been well-used but has endured despite it all.The small smoothie hubcap on the front wheel is an unusual contrast to the other three American Racing Classic 200S style mag wheels with white letter tires. I like that the license plates date back to the 1970s. The Montego MX is getting to be a rare beast and not many people save old family sedans from oblivion. It's good to see this one being used still.

To all my readers, have a safe and happy 4th of July! Please check back soon for the rest of this week's series!

Photographed March 2016

Thursday, May 17, 2018

San Jose Street Sighting - 1930 Chevrolet 3 Window Coupe

If you go to your average car show, you'd think that every car made circa 1930 was a Ford. But that's not true. Ford built a ridiculous number of Model As during this time, but Chevrolet was just as big a player in the market. It's true that Ford built a good half million more cars in 1930 than Chevy, a reversal from two years before when Chevy outsold Ford by half a million. The two rivals seesawed back and forth like this for years, even the now vaunted '32 Ford outsold by 50 percent by Chevrolet. Where the heck did all the Chevys from this era go?

Well, here's one.

I've found a number of feature cars on this block in the past. It's a place where for-sale vehicles are often parked and once in a blue moon they leave something cool there. Other spottings here include a 1937 Ford Touring Sedan and a 1972 Chevy El Camino.

This 1930 Chevy is a standard 3-window coupe with a trunk. A Sport Coupe with a rumble seat was also available at extra cost. This one has been built into a hot rod, I'm guessing probably at some point in the 1980s and then neglected. It wears a Pro Street style of stance with huge fat rear tires and little skinny front ones. It rides on Jegs SSR wheels with side exit exhaust pipes and non-stock skimpy black bumpers. Inside there's a full complement of gauges and what looks like a drag automatic shifter. I can only guess what's under the hood, but it's probably safe to say that this one was built to do quarter mile launches once upon a time. I'd say the paint job is probably thirty or more years old.

As of this writing it's been a year and a half since I last saw this car. I'm curious what happened to it. Perhaps someone bought it to rehabilitate or restore. This seems to be a common style and stance for these cars, at least among older builds that often go with Weld Pro Stars or a similar wheel like the Jegs SSR, in place of the original artillery style solid steel wheels or optional wires. It would be nice to see this one given proper attention to address the rust and generally worn appearance. Given how uncommon these cars have become, it's good to see one existing at all.

Photographed November 2016