Wednesday, December 30, 2009

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1965 Chevrolet Impala

With General Motors in a state of constant turmoil and the parade of brands getting the axe, one nameplate sticks in everyone's mind when they think of GM: Chevrolet. It's easy to forget amid all the chaos of a really screwed-up economy that there were once brighter times.
Times were good for GM in 1965. Fullsize Chevys like this '65 Impala 283 accounted for 15% of ALL car sales in the United States that year. Chevy's fullsize lineup included the base-model Biscayne, midrange Bel Air and Impala, and top-of-the-line Caprice in its first appearance. Unlike previous model years, all '65 fullsize Chevys had six taillights (models lower than Impala received only four lights).
The design of the '65 model was basically all-new on the outside. The slab-sided early-60s models gave way to a Coke-bottle shape, at least in the rear quarters. The new car was sleeker and cleaner than the '64 it replaced. For some reason, though, the 1964 Impala would go on to be the favorite among the lowrider crowd. I always liked the look of both cars, though I questioned the placement of the taillights on the trunklid for a long time.
This one is equipped with the 283 cubic inch V8 engine, the base V8. You could get up to a 427 in these cars, and even that probably wasn't terribly quick. These weren't muscle cars. They were intended primarily for everyday use, cruising and carrying families. It's a great big car rolling on what appear to be very small wheels, but they're probably 14 or 15 inchers. I rather like the look of those five-spoke rims and skinny whitewalls on it. The car sports a stock aqua or blue vinyl interior, which looks good except for a small-diameter chain steering wheel straight out of a lowrider. I appreciate that the body has been kept stock and in good condition, with all badging and details in place, right down to the 283 badges. Most lowrider touches have wisely been avoided.
Okay buddy, lose the chain wheel and you've got a darned nice driver. Paint the faded red and black trim accents and you've got a real winner. Keep it clean!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sebastopol Street Sighting - 1974 AMC Hornet

Oh snap son, an AMC! Well, that may not seem too special to some (particularly those of you reading this in Wisconsin), but American Motors products are getting pretty scarce in my neck of the woods. In fact, this wasn't spotted in my neck of the woods at all. I nabbed this 1974 AMC Hornet sedan in Sebastopol, California.
It may not look like much, and for all intents and purposes, it isn't much. It's a generic beige color, spiced up only by a chocolate brown vinyl roof which, like the body, has seen much better days. I'd chance a guess that the engine is a straight six and the driver's side hubcaps came off of a later model.
1974 was one of the best-selling years of the Hornet, with 29,754 finding buyers. It sports the giant federally mandated 5-mph spring bumpers and all the fun trappings of the so-called Malaise Era of the mid-'70s. This one is hardly a pristine example, but the focus of this blog is to celebrate old, rare and unusual cars for the fact they exist at all. Good condition is a plus, but not necessarily a requirement. This car could have easily been scrapped in 1988 when AMC folded and the owner panicked over the impending scarcity of parts. But it has soldiered on, providing years of faithful service, shrugging off shunts and bumps while fighting off rust from the nearby coastal air. It seems to have acquired a third brake light over the years; perhaps the owner wanted the temporary insurance rebate.
Looking at this car, it is perhaps easier to see why AMC went out of business. The body shape at first appears conventional but the back passenger doors are strangely out of proportion, probably because the body was originally designed as a coupe. There's a large blind spot in the wide C-pillars, but that was pretty common back in the day. The car sports flush-mounted square door handles and aerodynamic mirrors, yet the whole package is thoroughly dated. AMC continued to milk this body design with mostly cosmetic changes until the mid-1980s, when the Hornet became the Concord (and the Hornet Sportabout wagon became the Eagle).

This example needs a lot of work. I hope it gets some help before it ends up in the jaws of the Crusher.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1960 Chevrolet Corvette

Old Corvettes are pretty few and far between when it comes to finding street-parked examples. So I cheated. This gorgeous 1960 Corvette roadster was parked outside of a repair shop in San Francisco, and God she's beautiful. I should check that shop out more often, since they also had a 1966 Dodge Charger 426 Hemi parked across the street (as seen in the pictures) and a black 1936 Ford pickup truck. I have seen the Ford at car shows and I believe one of the employees owns it. The Charger and Corvette are most likely customers' cars. All will eventually be featured here. Interestingly, the shop is across the street from a motel which frequently has some manner of old car in the parking lot as well. I've seen a '49 Buick Roadmaster, '57 Thunderbird, '59 Chevy Apache and a '67 GTO in their lot, to name but a few.
The Corvette was the brainchild of Harley Earl at Chevrolet. It was aimed as a small, lightweight, fiberglass-bodied sports car to combat the little European roadsters that had become popular following World War II. It was introduced for the 1953 model year and only a small number were sold in its first years. Early Corvettes were available only with a 235 cubic inch Blue Flame inline-six and a two-speed Powerglide automatic, not a very sporting combination. Only one color combination was offered: Polo White with black top and red interior. Chevys of the day were typically six-cylinders so I guess someone at GM figured it was good enough. Customers didn't agree, and sales were dismal. In 1955, Chevy brought in Zora Arkus-Duntov to turn the Corvette into a real competitor. The Vette also gained a small-block V8, and yet sales were still disappointing.

For about one year.

The Corvette was finally a real performance car. Lightweight and powerful, it could hold its own against domestic and foreign competitors (although it was handily outsold by Ford's more luxury-oriented competitor, the Thunderbird). By 1960, when this car was built, the C1 (first) generation was nearing its end. It had received quad headlights for 1958, and some minor exterior changes on a sleek body that made the early C1s look tiny and old-fashioned. The C1 would receive one final exterior refresh for 1962, when it was given a more boatlike rear end with four round taillights, a preview of the all-new 1963 C2 Corvette,
This fine example wears a handsome Tuxedo Black paint job with Sateen Silver side coves and a snappy red leather interior. It probably sports a 283 cubic inch V8 and manual transmission with floor shift. All the details are in place and the paintwork is flawless. The only things I question are the license plates. I understand that it lends the car a vintage look, but why 1956 plates on a 1960 car? Still, it's a beautiful example of a fine classic American sports car.