Monday, March 29, 2010

Daly City Street Sighting - 1951 Mercury Sport Sedan

Most of the cars featured here have been largely stock. Maybe a few have custom wheels or paint, but actual custom body work has been rare. This changes all that. It's a 1951 Mercury Sport Sedan which has been chopped and dropped into a "lead sled" lowrider. It basically looks nothing like a standard Mercury, with its roofline significantly altered, side trim changed and stock wheel covers replaced with units from a late-'50s Cadillac. The aesthetics of this suede sled aside, there's a lot of hand-formed sheetmetal here. My question is, if you're going to go to the trouble of building a lead sled, why not do a better job of it? It may well be a work in progress, but you don't just paint over rust holes. Why not fill the gap between the top and bottom halves of the window frame trim? When the top was chopped, they lined up the halves pretty well, but they don't look connected.
1951 wasn't a very adventurous year for Mercury's stylists. The cars were warmed-over designs based on the revolutionary new-for-1949 Mercurys. Sedans had rear suicide doors, possibly to make up for the small size of the door for ease of entry. By 1951, the design language was getting a bit stale. The newest component was the taillights, which would look similar to this until 1956. It's been said that the 1949 Mercury looked like a hot rod from the factory. That, of course, never stopped thousands of owners from cutting a few inches out of the top and painting flames all over. The mods done to this one are fairly generic as lead sleds go.
What really gets me though, are the scallop things on the sides of the hood. They don't appear to serve any purpose and aren't particularly attractive. I'm ambivalent on the whole car. It means something to someone, though, and as long as it makes that person happy, that's what the custom car hobby is all about, right?

Friday, March 26, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1978 Toyota Truck

A lot of people associate old Toyota pickup trucks with gardeners, trolling around with a couple of lawn mowers and yard tools in the bed. Usually such trucks are pretty beat up and rusty, since they see a lot of abuse and, well, old Toyotas run forever but their beds tend to rust out. Toyota trucks used to be so basic that, for a long time, they didn't even have a name. Originally sold as the Hilux in the United States, the truck was renamed - you guessed it - Truck in 1975. The name was changed to Pickup in 1979 and didn't regain an actual name until 1995, when Toyota renamed its compact pickup Tacoma.
Emphasizing its basic, work-truck nature, 1975-78 Trucks came with a 96 horsepower four-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual transmission. Four-wheel-drive was not yet available, nor could buyers get an extended cab. You could buy a longbed model though.
This example is a 1978 Toyota Truck. It may not look like much to the casual observer, but this is in pretty good shape for its age. Given their propensity to lose sheetmetal at a horrendous rate in salty climes, the bed looks remarkably solid. The body itself is a little rough from dents but otherwise clean and complete, with all trim intact. The chrome dog-dish hubcaps and rubber Toyota mudflaps are a nice touch. I could perhaps question the Japanese front license plate and the Japanese flag under each Toyota fender badge, but whatever, it's a Japanese truck. I just hope the owner doesn't get pulled over for not displaying a California front plate.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

Ahh yes, when it comes to old American cars, you can't get much more cliched than a 1955 Chevy Bel Air in red and white with American Racing Torq Thrust II wheels. Why is it so generic? Because it doesn't look bad. There are probably dozens, maybe hundreds, of 1955 Bel Airs done up exactly like this one. I really quite like the "Tri-Five" (1955-57) Chevy range from a styling standpoint. They're popular and desirable, and very valuable if kept stock or at least cleanly done mild customs. Convertibles are usually the rarest and most valuable body style, and if this one weren't quite so generic I might love it. In fact, I almost didn't photograph this car. Red and white two-tone Tri-Fives on Torq Thrusts are a dime a dozen at car shows. This one probably has a late-model crate 350 V8 in it, Colorado Custom banjo steering wheel, ididit steering column, Vintage Air air conditioning, and a standard chrome-tipped dual exhaust setup. The fuzzy dice are mildly amusing, but still nothing special. At least he didn't slap Chevy bowtie-shaped exhaust tips on it. I would have gone with a different color if it were mine, maybe an aqua or a light blue (another very common color).
In all fairness though, the 1955 Chevy is a very important car. It marks the first use of the all-new Chevy small-block V8, whose basic design is still used today. Prior to 1955, Chevrolet installed six-cylinder engines in all its cars, an old design that ultimately produced 125 horsepower by 1954. Ford edged Chevy out by 5 hp for 1954 with its new Y-block V8, replacing its own old Flathead V8. Come 1955, it was a toss-up. A Ford vs. Chevy horsepower war had begun, which would only intensify in the decade ahead.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1969 Saab 96 V4

Old imported cars are relatively common in the Bay Area, but most are German, Italian or Japanese. BMW 2002s and Alfa Romeo Veloce Spiders are everywhere. Vintage Swedes are also somewhat common, but most of the really old Swedish cars are Volvo Amazons and P1800s. San Francisco's yuppie population embraced Volvo and its fellow Swedish competitor Saab for their quirkiness and safety, and 1980s examples from both brands exist in large quantity.
But where 1960s Volvos survive and thrive in San Francisco, 1960s Saabs do not. Why is that? Were the early Saabs too unusual? Too slow? Too antiquated? The Saab 96 was a design which dated back to 1960, but the Volvo Amazon dated back to the mid-1950s. And the Volkswagen Beetle, the best-selling imported car in the US at the time, was first developed in 1938. Over half a million 96s were ultimately built over 20 years. Over 667,000 Amazons and some 21 million Beetles were built. So the Saab was rarer to start with, and was likely only a niche model in the US, making parts and service harder to come by.
The Saab 96 was designed and built by a company that started out making aircraft. The first Saabs resembled an airplane wing and were powered by a two-stroke, three-cylinder engine making 38 horsepower. Power gradually increased over the years. The big difference was made in 1967 with the introduction of a Ford-designed four-stroke, 1.5-liter V4 engine producing 55 hp (bumped up to 65 hp in 1977). In 1965 the 96 lost its "bullnose" front end design in favor of a longer, more conventional look with full-width grille. Around 1970, rectangular headlights were introduced. Production ended in 1980.
This car is most likely a 1969 Saab 96 V4. I can't say it's a very clean example, but it's the only one I've ever seen in San Francisco and beggars can't be choosers. It must be difficult to restore a car like this, as parts can't just be sourced from any junkyard. The last one of these I saw in a junkyard was a decade ago. At least this one runs. It seems to be an elusive one, too, because there are only two known pictures of it on Flickr as I type this. Here's hoping this rare Swede receives the attention it deserves before the salt air and dirty hippies of the lower Haight get to it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1974 Alfa Romeo 2000 GT Veloce

San Franciscans love funky little Italian cars, and Alfa Romeo is probably the best-represented Italian brand in The City. I see a lot of Spider Veloce roadsters and 164 sedans, with the occasional Milano or Giulia sedan popping up. But my favorite to find is the 105/115 Series coupe, commonly known as the Giulia GTV. These handsome little cars were first introduced in 1963 and produced until 1977, sold under a number of various names. This particular car is a 1974 2000 GT Veloce Iniezione, the final top-level incarnation of the model range. It featured a larger engine than the 1750 GTV it replaced, and US models received fuel injection. The 2000 GTV was produced between 1971 and '76, with 37,459 built.
This one rolls on 5-spoke Cromodora Daytona wheels and features dark blue paint with saddle-colored interior. It's a 20-footer, one of those cars that looks really good from 20 feet away. Up close the effects of 35 years of use make themselves more evident, in the form of parking lot dents and what could be minor rust starting on the chrome and possibly around the rear wheel arches. It could use some work to clean and freshen it up a bit, but as-is this little Alfa is probably a great driver. For a San Francisco car, it's in pretty good shape. And, like most owners of vintage Italian cars in The City, he knows a good Alfa specialist mechanic to keep it running!

Friday, March 12, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Lincoln Continental

Old Fords and Chevys are everywhere in this state, and recently this blog featured its first Cadillac, but until now there have been no examples of Ford's luxury division and Cadillac competitor, Lincoln. Okay, to be fair, I did feature a 1956 Continental Mark II here a few months ago. The Mark II wasn't officially a Lincoln, though. This, however, is a legit Lincoln. And boy, what a Lincoln it is. It's a 1963 Continental sedan.
The Lincoln Continental was introduced in 1961 and became an instant classic. With its well-proportioned design, simple and elegant lines, and notable features like rear suicide doors and a four-door convertible body style, the Continental is today a highly collectible car and many consider it Lincoln's high point.
This example is one of 31,233 Continentals sold in 1963 (one of 28,095 sedans). It has more rear-seat legroom and trunk space than the 1962 model, making it a perfect car for mafia types, knowhatimean? The basic design of the body changed little during the model's 1961-69 production run. For 1963 the grille gained a square eggcrate design replacing the rectangular design. I'm torn over whether I prefer the '63 and '64 model (the latter of which I've absolutely loved since Hot Wheels introduced a gorgeous white '64 Continental convertible into their lineup in 2000). All years of the first-generation Continental have their own good and bad qualities. This car is a beautiful example of the breed with its classic white paint and black interior, full wheel covers and wide whitewall tires. The California black plates are too new to be original, but they were probably issued in 1965. The body's in great shape. About the only thing that could make this one better is if it were the much, much rarer four-door convertible. This is the kind of car you get in, start up, roll down the windows and just cruise.