Sunday, April 18, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 Town Sedan

One of my favorite years of the Ford Galaxie is 1963, a model year where everything just looked right somehow. I loved it enough to buy a 1:18 scale model of one (Sun Star makes a fantastic '63 Galaxie 500XL coupe).
The owner of this Galaxie 500 Town Sedan apparently didn't think its design was clean enough. He's removed the side trim and door handles, basically all the brightwork is gone. Those might be put back on once it's painted, who knows? All of the mounting holes are still there. It's also sitting nice and low on chrome reverse rims with fat whitewall tires. I don't like the little round mirror above the driver's door but otherwise this car has been kept clean. I appreciate that it wears its original plates for a more period look. It's pretty much a blank slate at this point, a work in progress, so I can't go about judging its appearance. If I see it again someday in a more finished form, I'll get some more pictures and post them here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Castro Valley Street Sighting - 1953 Dodge Coronet

"That thing got a Hemi?"

Those are some of the most famous words in the vocabulary of any Chrysler fan. The Hemi engine remains something of a mythical beast, a highly desirable option in any model in which it was offered. It can mean the difference between an affordable muscle car and a multi-hundred-thousand-dollar Barrett-Jackson auction special.
The Chrysler Hemi was first developed in 1950 as the FirePower engine. Designed with hemispherical combustion chambers, it was a very old but rarely-used solution (dating back to 1901 at least), one which allowed for improved engine breathing. The air/fuel mixture was able to reach the pistons better, improving performance. After a long period of selling six-cylinder cars, the FirePower was a real kick in the pants.
Dodge first received the Hemi in 1953, in the form of the Red Ram 241 cubic inch V8. It was put in cars like this '53 Dodge Coronet and was good for 140 horsepower. Dodge would eventually receive much larger-displacement Hemi engines in the next decade (426, anyone?) but the "Baby Hemi" Red Ram of 1953 was the original and still popular today among hot rod builders.
This Coronet is a very interesting car. Introduced in 1949, the Coronet was Dodge's top model. The styling is typical early-50s cheap-car blandness, but the 1953 models were all-new with a much more modern body that forever abandoned the old-style pontoon fenders. The most distinctive detail is the ram's head hood ornament with red details (Red Ram, get it?), and it looks awesome. That, along with the cool "Dodge V Eight" badge really set it off. This car is equipped with the Gyro-Torque semi-automatic transmission, basically a two-speed manual with a sort of overdrive unit attached to it, and coupled to a torque converter. Gyro-Torque was last used on 1953 models, replaced late in the model year by Hy-Drive and then succeeded by the PowerFlite fully automatic transmission in 1954. The amazing thing about this car is that it's unrestored with 22,000 original miles. It's had one repaint in its life and been kept in running condition. Around 1963 it got new license plates. That's about it. It's an incredible time capsule and a fantastic example of the breed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1973 Volkswagen Squareback

Most station wagons are conventional designs with a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout and four doors and a rear hatch. In Europe, that formula is sometimes different. Some companies, such as Volkswagen and Fiat, built a number of cars with rear-engine layouts. European cars were also generally smaller than American cars, so two-door wagons (and some sportier wagons with lower rooflines, often called shooting brakes) were fairly common. Some two-door wagons included the Opel Kadett and Volvo 1800ES. Domestic two-door wagons used to be common in the US, often as lower-priced alternatives to their larger four-door stablemates. Compact wagons such as the Studebaker Lark were common in two-door form. But after about 1965, domestic two-door wagons had all but disappeared, leaving the niche to European imports. And of those imports, none was quite as ubiquitous and popular as the Volkswagen Type 3 Squareback.
This car is a 1973 Squareback, the final year of production and one of the relatively few Squarebacks (known as the 1600 Variant in Europe) that were ordered with an automatic transmission. Many buyers were distrustful of a VW automatic after the so-called "Automatic Stickshift" available in Beetles proved to be unreliable. It is in good shape for the most part, with a straight body and rust only on the front bumper. The owner's neighbor told me it had been restored, and it looks really good. It wasn't finished yet, though. At the time these photos were shot, it needed a piece of rocker trim on the driver's side and a new Volkswagen badge for the back hatch.
These cars aren't worth very much, nor are they particularly rare. Over one million Squarebacks/Variants were made worldwide. Really clean ones aren't terribly difficult to find, although in San Francisco a really clean anything is in relatively short supply due to tight, street-only parking and godawful drivers. This is one of the nicer examples I've seen around, and the only one I've seen in recent memory with an automatic.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1956 Imperial Southampton

It used to be that Cadillac and Lincoln had a serious competitor in the top-line domestic luxury segment. That competitor was Chrysler's Imperial division. Promoted to brand status in 1955, Imperial had long been the top model in Chrysler's lineup. Now it was its own division to further set it apart from "lesser" Chryslers.
The 1956 Imperial was a refreshed version of the '55, sharing its main body with other large Chryslers but having some other details such as "gunsight" taillights mounted on top of the tail fins. It was designed by Virgil Exner and, like many of his designs, was handsome and well-resolved (with the taillights being a possible exception). Imperials included nearly every amenity buyers could want in the era. Only one major option was available: air conditioning. All Imperials had V8 engines and automatic transmissions.
This car is a 1956 Imperial Southampton coupe. It is one of 10,268 Imperials built for 1956, less than half the number of Cadillac Coupe de Villes built that same year (total Cadillac production was 154,577). It would be the second-rarest Imperial until 1975, when the Imperial name was dropped. Imperials were never made to be common. They were made to be the best car on the road, for wealthy customers with demanding standards and excellent taste. This example belongs to the San Francisco vintage car collector I commonly refer to as "Fifties Guy" because of his impressive stable of 1950s cars, all of which are in daily driver condition. This Imperial has slid a long way down since it rolled out of a showroom in 1956, but it is original and unrestored, giving it a level of character that few other cars possess. Part of me wants to see it restored in the factory color; part of me wants to see it conserved in this condition (visually). I'm not a proponent of making people drive a vehicle that is mechanically unsafe, so by all means it deserves the work needed to make everything function properly.

Friday, April 9, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1987 Chevrolet Turbo Sprint

This is probably the first car I photographed for this blog that left me wondering, "Is it worthy?" It's a 1987 Chevrolet Sprint, a captive import produced by Suzuki for Chevy from 1985 through '88. The Sprint was based on the Suzuki Cultus, arguably one of the most whored-out car platforms in history. The Cultus in its various forms has been sold in several countries on at least four different continents and under a variety of names and brands. After the Sprint was dropped in 1988, the newly redesigned Cultus arrived in the United States once again in 1989, badged as the Suzuki Swift and as the Geo Metro. It was also sold in Canada as the Chevy Sprint (Geo Metro after 1992) and Pontiac Firefly.
But this isn't just any Sprint. It's a TURBO Sprint, and that tiny little intercooled turbo makes all the difference. The Turbo Sprint was available in the US for only two years, 1987 and 1988. It came in red, white or blue and used a turbocharged 1.0 liter 3-cylinder engine making about 73 horsepower (up from 48 in the base model), hooked up to a 5-speed manual transmission. Thanks to a curb weight of roughly 1500 lbs and anecdotal evidence from current and previous owners, this little car can really scoot. Stock wheels were 12 or 13" pressed steel with exclusive white plastic hubcaps. This car has custom wheels resembling Watanabes (the last picture above is not the same car but has a stock hubcap on the back). The owner has also replaced several components of the body kit with parts from a white Turbo Sprint, and seems to be in the process of trying to convert it into a Suzuki Swift GTi. It's in generally rough condition, an aging city runabout punished by daily life in San Francisco. But it's an early and rare example of one of the first truly affordable turbocharged cars sold in the US, and for that reason I feel it is worthy of inclusion here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1936 Ford Pickup

Back in the 1970s, my dad owned a 1936 Ford pickup. He bought it for $20 and restored it himself.
This is not that truck. I've only seen his old truck twice in my life, and it looked nothing like this one (his was Corvette Elkhart Green, all stock except for a Mercury flathead V8 and chrome simulated wire wheels). But it should give you a clue as to why I have a soft spot for 1936 Ford trucks.
In 1932, Ford Motor Company introduced its first V8 engine, a revolution in engine design that allowed for the masses to command the wonder of one hundred horsepower. By 1936, the powertrain hadn't changed too much, but the body sure had. The truck wore handsomely sculpted sheetmetal that was, in my opinion, prettier than the 1936 Ford passenger car range.
This example looks great from a distance. Once you get up close, you see how much its originality has been diminished with its generic cruiser hubcaps, quadruple exhaust tips, diamond plate rear bumper and ridiculous Mercedes "V8 Kompressor" badging. From certain angles, though, this truck looks like it's in really good condition. Everything that's been done to it could likely be reversed if desired. I dig the black paint; it suits the truck's curves. For a 74-year-old work truck belonging to a shop in San Francisco that gets driven to work and parked on the street every day, I'd say it looks pretty good. I see it at local car shows every so often. Judging by the "Kompressor" badge I'm guessing it's supercharged, so a light little truck like this with that kind of power probably gets out of its own way. It just needs a few details tweaked in order to be perfect.