Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas 2018

Wishing all of my readers and their families a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Stay safe out there and we'll see you in 2019!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1986 AM General M998 HMMWV Troop Carrier

Today is the twelfth day of the fabled countdown to Christmas.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my archive gave to thee:

A swell trooper Humvee,
Yellow Maserati,
Ten footer Mini,
911 stancing,
Jade Mach 1 Mustang,
'77 Lincoln,
Suede Studebaker,
Fine Nomad bling,
Ford Thunderbird,
Beige French shed,
Tuned Chevy LUV,
and a Park Lane down on the street.

The AM General HMMWV, or Humvee, is arguably one of the most instantly recognizable vehicles in modern motoring history. They have factored in quite a few campaigns and conflicts around the world over the last thirty years. They have a following among former military personnel and some civilians and decommissioned HMMWVs have found their way into private hands through government surplus auctions. I know of a couple of them in my area, and even one of my delivery route customers owns a HMMWV that is kept in excellent condition.








Okay, this one is definitely beyond my expertise. Even with my usual "Google-fu", I just don't know a lot about military hardware. Two years ago I contacted the owner of the other Humvee on this blog, asking if he could help ID this rig. He informed me that based on what we see in the photos, it is likely a very early production HMMWV from 1985-1987, in troop carrier configuration. It has an AM General stamped tailgate, eight-lug wheels with bias ply tires and a flat hood nose. It features an intake snorkel up front and an exhaust stack on the left side, both for fording deep water. Angled-corner front brush guard looks like a 1980s-vintage factory piece, albeit painted yellow. Body stencils indicate service with the United States Marine Corps. On the right side of the hood there is another stencil which the HMMWV enthusiast told me was likely from the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO), which decides whether vehicles can be surplused, reused or destroyed. Based on what I can find, some Marine logistics bases put the DRMO information on a window sticker, while others such as as MCLB Barstow out in the Mojave Desert paint it right on the hood as seen here.


The hood stencil is apparently decoded as:


2320-01-107-7155: ID code for soft top, open body cargo or troop carrier truck, 1-1/4 ton, 4x4

C/C-F = Condition Code: Unserviceable but Reparable

LCN-P000 = Location: General Storage, unassigned

M-998 HMMWV. = Model M998 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle

5/97 = Processed in May 1997


Note that the military camouflage has been painted over in flat white or olive. I don't know if this was done officially when the vehicle was sold, or by the private owner. I do find it interesting that the light-colored camo bits and all of the stencils were masked off.







I've heard that it's not easy to get an ex-military HMMWV registered for civilian use, mainly because they are not highway-legal in original configuration. You need turn signals and backup lights, for one thing. You can see that such equipment has been installed on this example and it was successfully registered with California plates. HMMWVs have serial numbers but no 17-digit VIN like a typical road car. Fortunately it's a pre-1997 diesel and not subject to California emissions testing, but even with a government certification to obtain title, as far as I know they cannot be driven on state highways. So unless I'm misunderstanding something, this truck would have to remain on surface streets or be trailered over long distances.

I have to admit, the thought of driving such a militaristic looking truck around the hippie haven of San Francisco appeals to me somewhat...

Photographed October 2016

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Oakland Street Sighting - 1987 Maserati Biturbo i Spyder

Today marks the eleventh day of the fabled countdown to Christmas.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my archive gave to thee:
A yellow Maserati,
Ten footer Mini,
911 stancing,
Jade Mach 1 Mustang,
'77 Lincoln,
Suede Studebaker,
Fine Nomad bling,
Ford Thunderbird,
Beige French shed,
Tuned Chevy LUV,
and a Park Lane down on the street.


It's the mid-1980s. Ronald Reagan is in his second term as president. The economy is good and it's time to reward yourself with a new convertible. Do you do what your old man recommends and buy American? You could pick up a turbo four-cylinder Dodge 600 or a Chrysler LeBaron, perhaps a Foxbody Mustang? You wouldn't settle for a Cavalier Z24 or Sunbird GT, would you? And dear old Dad didn't survive a tour in the Pacific Theater just so you could buy a Toyota Celica GT-S. How about your European options, then? BMW E30 325i? No, half the board of directors has those. Mercedes 560SL or Jaguar XJS? No, too much gas. Porsche 911 Cabriolet? Too expensive. Corvette? How gauche. No, you need to go Italian. Enter the Maserati Biturbo Spyder.




Maserati in the 1980s was a bit of a mutt car company. It had almost gone broke under Citroën ownership in the '70s, building grand tourers and mid-engine sports cars. It was rescued from liquidation by the Italian government and the de Tomaso company. New Maserati models were based on de Tomaso cars and focused on GT coupes and a new Quattroporte large luxury sedan. Even Chrysler, fresh off their own bankruptcy revival, invested in Maserati (a deal which later netted them the Chrysler TC). The 1980s brought a focus on a smaller and lower priced car with a high performance engine. The 1981 Biturbo, named for its twin turbocharger setup on its V6 engine,  sounded like a promising formula for Maserati. It was compact, nicely appointed and competitive with a BMW 3 Series on paper. The twin turbo was the first to be equipped on a production car. Compared to most contemporary cars on the road, power output around 185 horses wasn't too shabby, even with a carburetor.



A few big changes happened during the course of Biturbo production. In 1984 a Spyder convertible version was introduced, built by coachbuilder Zagato on a shorter wheelbase with fold-down rear seats for incidental use. This gave the Biturbo a curious distinction of being offered with three different wheelbases depending on the body style (coupe, sedan or Spyder). Another notable change was the addition of fuel injection and five-lug wheels for the 1987 model. This Biturbo i Spyder is all of those things. These cars were legit quick. With the five-speed manual, even a carbureted Biturbo could hit 60 in just over 6 seconds and top out at 134 mph. That's both quicker and faster than my supercharged '99 Buick Regal GS.

So what went wrong? Early models were plagued with mechanical and build quality problems with materials inside and out. Belt and seal failures were common and the cars required careful and thorough maintenance. Many of these problems were ironed out after a couple of years, but the damage had been done. The car's reputation was already tarnished and it was pulled from the market after 1990, when Maserati gave up trying to move remaining unsold dealer stock. Italy and the rest of Europe got some special editions with higher technology and performance that we didn't get here. The Biturbo lasted until 1994 in Europe in some form or another, with over 38,000 made in all. America only got about 5,000 of them. I've only seen a few in the past decade; a brown coupe with light body damage, a black coupe at a local Cars & Coffee, and this yellow Spyder.

This example is curious. When I found it on the street I naturally assumed that the yellow color was a repaint, but it could well be factory stock. I have seen photos of yellow Biturbo Spyders, and Biturbo Spyders with body color headlamp bezels. But I could find none with all of those things plus five-lug wheels. It could be a conversion, or an early '88 model. I'm not sure. The Momo M1 wheels aren't stock. They seem like a bit much for the car visually, but I'm sure it handles better than the original 14-inch phone dials (or 15s, on 5-lug cars). In any case, a Biturbo Spyder is a very rare car. If it's a regular Spyder i with the 2.0 liter engine, it's one of 297 made. If it's a Spyder i 2500 with the 2.5 liter engine, it's one of 122.






The funny thing in all of this is that while the Biturbo in general is regarded today as a terrible car, later models like this one are actually not that bad. They were built to a higher standard with more premium materials and more reliable parts. The irony to me is that back then, Maserati tried to build a mass-market luxury car and failed, relatively speaking. But now they do the same thing with the Biturbo's spiritual successor, the Ghibli sedan. The Ghibli also has a twin-turbo V6, occupies roughly the same market segment and sells for just slightly more than this Biturbo did (when adjusted for inflation). I see a fair number of Ghiblis around my area. Maserati has finally gone mainstream, but we still have oddball creations like the Biturbo Spyder to remind us of how far they've come.

Photographed May 2015

Friday, December 21, 2018

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1965 Austin Mini Cooper Mk 1

Today marks the tenth day of the fabled countdown to Christmas.

On the tenth day of Christmas my archive gave to thee:
A ten footer Mini,
911 stancing,
Jade Mach 1 Mustang,
'77 Lincoln,
Suede Studebaker,
Fine Nomad bling,
Ford Thunderbird,
Beige French shed,
Tuned Chevy LUV,
and a Park Lane down on the street.

We’ve looked at quite a few classic Minis on California Streets over the years. I remember the first Mini post nearly a decade ago, which lumped together three cars into one post. I used to snap pictures of cars all over the place but usually only one or two at a time and rarely more than five. That was before I started this blog. My informal guideline for myself is that fewer than five photos of a subject is not enough for a post here. Fortunately, thanks to reader feedback, I now try to capture as full a walk-around as I can. It can be a little difficult on a busy street, especially a one-way job where people park on the left side so I can’t get my customary left profile shot. Luckily this Mini was parked along the Panhandle park just east of Golden Gate Park, so I could still photograph the left side on public property. You'd think it would be easier to photograph a car only ten feet long!




One of the curious things about old Minis is that since they were made for over 40 years, and are popular for modification, it can be challenging to accurately date one. They’re relatively rare cars in the US so parts get mixed and matched, upgraded or modded over the years.




I have no real idea what year this car is, but it looks like a mid-to-late Mk1 series car. I'll hazard a guess around 1965 until someone more knowledgeable corrects me. It has small taillights, exterior door hinges and sliding windows. It does not have the "safety boss" added to the door handles for 1966. Badging identifies it as an Austin Cooper and it's left hand drive with clear front turn signals and amber rear turn signals, which I believe make it an original US-market car. Early US Mk1s had all-red taillights. Ten-inch Mamba wheels finished in black with a bright lip are a vintage touch that I think you can still buy new. The center cap is perhaps the most interesting part of the car for me, since it looks properly vintage and is labeled with "Halifax, England", where the wheels were made. Later Mamba wheel center caps just say "Mamba, Of Halifax" and I can't find other photos of this exact older version online.


I like the subtlety of this car. It needs a fair amount of work but I do like the solid metallic blue color and the wheel choice, without resorting to the good looking but cliched option of white roof and hood stripes as seen on... oh, every other Cooper and non-Cooper ever made whether they came that way or not. A lot of original Coopers never had stripes, fender flares and all that other fun stuff associated with them. And no Minilites! Everybody loves Minilite style wheels on old Minis, but it's refreshing to see something different.

Anyone who can further narrow down the age or provenance of this Mini is welcome to comment!

Photographed March 2015

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Danville Street Sighting - 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera

Today marks the ninth day of the fabled countdown to Christmas.

On the ninth day of Christmas my archive gave to thee:
911 stancing,
Jade Mach 1 Mustang,
'77 Lincoln,
Suede Studebaker,
Fine Nomad bling,
Ford Thunderbird,
Beige French shed,
Tuned Chevy LUV,
and a Park Lane down on the street.



Okay, okay. I know what "stancing" is in terms of modern car customization. Stancing refers to making a car sit as low as possible, often either fitting the wheels flush with the arches or tucked under the arches with negative camber. Often this is accomplished through the use of air-ride adjustable suspension, stretched tires and other tricks. This car is not stanced by that definition. I don't care. "Nine-Eleven stancing" more or less rhymes with "Nine ladies dancing", and it is a custom car. Not one of those crazy RAUH-Welt Begriff (RWB) widebody 911s with extreme aero parts but more of a late '80s 911 Carrera that's been dressed up to resemble the classic and very collectible 1973 Carrera RS 2.7.



One of the fascinating things about air-cooled 911s is that with enough money and work, you can backdate them, or replace body and interior parts to make the car resemble an older model. As far as I know, some of that stuff just bolts on. Some things need to be massaged, like the fenders which were widened over the years. A lot of things need to be changed on more modern 911s to bring them in line visually with a 1960s or '70s car, and the delicate bumpers are just the beginning if you plan to go all the way. People swap out the mirrors, door handles, window trim, headlights, taillights, front hood, nearly every body panel but the doors.

This owner appears to have opted for a simpler approach, applying an RS-style ducktail spoiler and a front air dam reminiscent of a 911 RSR. It's painted like the '73 Carrera RS complete with RS lettering on the spoiler and painted bumper stripes. Instead of a trademark RS color like bright green or orange with black trim, the owner chose a subtle white over gray combination with color-matched Fuchs wheels with a bright lip. I think it works pretty well.








I'm not the most astute Porsche aficionado so I admit I was fooled in the moment. It takes rather a lot to get me to pull out my camera and shoot a 911. Living in the Bay Area like I do, the place is loaded with them. And being California, even older ones are pretty common. This one was special enough to me that it made the cut. And given that actual Carrera RS 2.7s are extremely scarce and go for well over half a million dollars, a person can't be faulted for wanting to replicate the look at a much, much lower price point.

Photographed June 2018