Tuesday, May 25, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1970 Citroën DS21

After a few months, it's finally time to feature another French car. And I've had the good fortune to find one of the more important French cars, a Citroën DS.
San Francisco is a haven for French autos, bought by eccentric and supposedly cultured individuals who wanted something sexy, something different. They were often bought to make a statement. This fellow in the Lower Haight makes his statement with a 1970 Citroën DS21.
Often called "Goddess" for the pronunciation of its name ("déesse"), the DS is often said to be one of the most beautiful cars ever created. I beg to differ, but that's just me I guess. I never liked the DS, mainly because its proportions are strange. In my opinion, it has some very interesting details, but as a whole nothing really works.
That's not meant to diminish this car's impact on automotive history. For a car introduced in 1955, the DS was remarkably advanced. Its Bertoni-designed aerodynamic body was lightyears ahead of most cars on the country's roads, and even in 1970 its shape still set it apart from the large, boxy American cars. One of the most noteworthy features of the DS was a hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension for amazingly smooth ride quality. These things were rallied back in the day, and they handle well, but they are not fast. The DS is powered by a small four-cylinder which routes its limited power through a semi-automatic gearbox to the front wheels.
Nearly 1.5 million DSs were sold worldwide, but only 38,000 made it to the United States. It was unpopular because, while marketed as a luxury car, it lacked many of the luxury features American buyers expected - even in the 1950s. This 1970 model is the most popular model year, and one of several that I know to reside in San Francisco. However, it is the only one I've been able to locate and photograph.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1973 Land Rover Series III

And now for something a little different. One of the earliest pioneers in what we now know as the sport-utility market was Land Rover, a company which began by reverse-engineering a Willys Jeep after World War II. This proto-SUV is the third evolution of the breed, the Land Rover Series III. The Series III was produced from 1971 through 1985. It is by far the most common of the "Series" Land Rovers, with over 440,000 built and sold.
Judging by the license plate number, assuming it's original, this truck is a fairly early Series III, probably built around 1973. It's developed an amazing patina on its battered slate-blue body, and collected an array of cowgirl-themed bumper stickers. There is even a horseshoe attached to the front grille. I think the owner loves her horses. Given that these are pretty rough and uncivilized trucks, with only manual transmission available, one would think this is purely a man's truck. Apparently not. The weathered British license plates are a great touch, or at least they would be if they were a matching pair. It's a cool truck with all the off-road gear: spare tires, accessory trail lighting, stone guards and a hefty winch. The fact that this purpose-built trail rig lives in the middle of a neighborhood in San Francisco is just awesome. It probably makes everyone's rent cheaper by lowering the property values. If it were bigger it could be used to threaten Prii. But I guess that's a task best left to the bright yellow biodiesel-fueled Hummer H1 across town.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1956 Studebaker President

The name President evokes grandeur, importance, celebrity status. But what about Studebaker? That name sounds a little less fancy. Studebaker was one of America's oldest car companies and this is the second one to be featured on this blog. President was Studebaker's top model in the 1930s, then was dropped after 1942. Then in 1955, the President was reintroduced as the premium nameplate on their cars. 1956 saw a much-needed redesign which brought the President more into the style of the day, with an upright front end and modest tail fins out back, although the basic body was the same as the 1953 model. In keeping with popular themes of the era, this '56 President also features bright chrome side moldings, two-tone paint and whitewall tires. V8 power was standard. Only 18,209 were built in 1956. The President series was dropped after Studebaker and Packard merged in 1958. Sales plunged further in a poor economy, and 1958 saw the advent of the "Packardbaker", a horrid mess that looked like a catfish. The President was now a lame duck and Studebaker changed its focus to the Lark compact.
Judging by the 1963-issued California black plates and the vintage San Francisco dealer frames, this car has been in the area for a very long time. It's a cool old car from the stable of the collector I call "Fifties Guy", a great example that shines nicely, shows very little rust and looks very clean from 20 feet. The pictures pretty much speak for themselves.

(Thanks to a reader for correctly identifying this as a regular President, not a President Classic.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1954 Chevrolet 3100

Coming from the CaliStreets Lite files is this 1954 Chevy 3100 pickup. Basically, that's anything I've shot but didn't get very many pictures of. It was getting dark; I had no tripod. You know how it is. This truck represents the end of an era at Chevrolet. 1954 was the last year of full-fendered pickups and the last full year of the Advance Design series that was introduced in 1947. GM got a lot of mileage from the Advance Design body, and the Stovebolt 235 six. Come 1955, everything would change. The 1954-style body actually continued into '55, but was replaced halfway through by the all-new 1955 models, which were finally available with the new-for-'55 small block V8. That means this could theoretically be an early 1955 truck, but 1954 is more likely.
It's a nice clean example from what I could see of it. I always preferred the pre-'54 trucks with horizontal chrome grilles instead of the '54's painted crossbar, but this one looks good for what it is. The green and cream look is working. It seems out of place in the middle of San Francisco rather than on a farm in the midwest - or even a Sonoma County winery.
Fun fact: this truck was parked in practically the same spot where I shot the 1988 Lotus Esprit months ago.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dillon Beach Street Sighting - 1966 Ford Thunderbird

She looks a bit forlorn today, but this was one of the nicest American cars available in 1966. It's a Ford Thunderbird, a personal luxury coupe that featured one of Ford's biggest and most powerful engines. It was offered with a 390, but a 428 was also available, producing 345 horsepower. This one looks like it was originally equipped with a vinyl top, making it a Town Landau coupe, the best-selling trim level that year. It still has its original California black plates and original paint, or what's left of it. 1966 was hardly my favorite year of the T-Bird, but it was sad to see it sitting there with a flat tire and a tow tag. Hours after I photographed it, though, a young man came out and changed the tire. The next day it was gone. Young owners of classic cars are an unknown. Many have reprehensibly poor taste and ruin clean old cars with atrocious modifications. Some fancy themselves as latter-day hot rodders and some respect their cars as they are (or as they should be when factory stock and in good shape). I hope that this 'Bird receives the attention it deserves and doesn't end up sitting on huge ugly wheels or something.