Saturday, September 25, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk

Seeing an off-brand classic car on the street always brightens up my day, especially when it's something special like this. It's a 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk, top of the Hawk line and pretty much the closest thing to a sports car to come out of South Bend, Indiana that year. This Golden Hawk packs a supercharged 289 cubic inch V8 producing 275 horsepower, no slouch by '50s standards, and darned quick in such a lightweight body.
Only 4356 Golden Hawks were built in '57, including 41 "400" luxury models with nicer interior and added features. This is not likely a 400, though it does appear to have a full leather interior. A 400 would have grille inserts painted to match the rear fin trim, something this car doesn't have. One thing that this car does have is Twin-Traction limited-slip differential, as represented by the TT badge on the trunk lid. That way you can hook up both rear wheels and get to 60 in 8 seconds instead of doing a "one-tire fire" and getting dusted by Ramblers.
This particular Golden Hawk is owned by a Studebaker collector in San Francisco, who I'm told has a bunch of vintage Studes, including the 1963 Lark I featured months ago. This one is often parked over at Fisherman's Wharf and is well-documented in photos on the internet. Iconic car designs in a public place tend to catch people's attention like that. The first time I saw it, though, was somewhere in the Mission, not the place I'd expect to find a rare Studebaker.
As an example of the breed it's pretty good. Condition is above average with shiny gold paint and white fin accents. Really, what other color than gold do you paint a Golden Hawk? Body is in good order with no visible rust or crash damage; all badging is there and in great shape. Even the stock flared exhaust tips are still there. The interior is in fantastic shape, and I'm always a sucker for a turned aluminum dash. I do take off points, however, for the replacement of the original wheels with American Racing Salt Flat Special (or Wheel Vintiques Lakester) wheels. They just don't suit the car very well in my opinion. I'm hopeful the factory rolling stock is still lying around his garage somewhere.
Just like Fifties Guy, the collector who's unknowingly contributed over a dozen vehicles for features here, I hope to get to know more of Stude Guy's cars. I've seen his green '56 Hawk, black '63 Wagonaire, and have seen pictures of a blue Lark coupe that I believe is his. I've also spotted a white Avanti driving around the vicinity of the Wharf. Perhaps someday you'll see more great Studebakers gracing this humble blog.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oakland Street Sighting - 1968 Plymouth Fury III Sport Suburban

This week I decided to do another themed series of features. Like the Big Three Vans series I did a few months ago, this will also deal with some of Detroit's finest - and not-so-fine - family haulers. That's right, this week we'll be looking at Big Three Station Wagons.

Last in the series is Chrysler, represented by this 1968 Plymouth Fury III Sport Suburban. I've never been lucky at finding feature-worthy cars in the Montclair district of Oakland, but this big old Fury fit the bill. I've seen it a number of times parked in the same spot, but it certainly moves under its own power and drives.

Many people hear the words "Plymouth Fury" and think of a demon-possessed red coupe with tail fins that kills people, thanks to one Mr. King and Mr. Carpenter. (For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, she goes by the name "Christine".) Fury was actually a model name that was used for top-line Plymouth coupes starting in 1956, and was expanded to include a sedan in 1959 and a wagon, called Suburban, in 1960. Chevrolet never had a monopoly on the word "Suburban"; before the term "station wagon" became general parlance for this type of car, it was common to call such a vehicle "Suburban". Nash and Studebaker also used the name for a while.
Fury started to lose its special meaning once it was diluted to include mainstream models, and even a slant-six engine could be fitted in it after 1960. For 1965, the Fury line was broken up farther, into trim levels (Fury I, II and III). This car is a Fury III, the best-equipped mainline model. The wagon was available in base, Custom and Sport Suburban trims as well. I've seen the '68 Sport Suburban described as rare, and by today's standards it is. According to HowStuffWorks, only 9,203 6-passenger Sport Suburban wagons were built that year, and 13,224 9-passenger wagons. I couldn't tell which variant this is due to the bubbled window tint.
It has a very utilitarian look to its styling, with plain, clean lines as part of Chrysler's "Fuselage" design language. Much of the stainless steel trim appears to have simply been screwed into the body. The angry stacked headlights give this plus-sized hauler some attitude. Maybe it's not happy about the leading edges of its fenders being dented and the rust that's starting to form in the bottom of the quarter panels. And unlike a certain other Fury, this one won't fix itself.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1972 Chevrolet Vega 2300 GT Kammback

This week I decided to do another themed series of features. Like the Big Three Vans series I did a few months ago, this will also deal with some of Detroit's finest - and not-so-fine - family haulers. That's right, this week we'll be looking at Big Three Station Wagons.

Second in the series is General Motors, represented by a much more compact interpretation of the wagon. This is a 1972 Chevrolet Vega 2300 GT Kammback. The Vega was supposed to be a revolutionary small car for Chevy, intended to take on the slow and/or crappy domestic compacts and their equally slow but slightly less crappy imported competitors. The Vega should have been a resounding success with its aluminum-block 4-cylinder engine, but instead it failed as miserably as the unprotected aluminum cylinder walls, blown head gaskets and rusting fenders that plagued it.

To be fair, though, the Vega WAS a success for GM. They sold a heck of a lot of them in the first few years of production - enough that Chevy released a special "Millionth Vega" edition in 1973. They built 394,592 in 1972 alone, an impressive figure by anyone's standards. Of course, many of them started falling apart soon after and earned the Vega a very poor reputation for build quality. Much of this was from corporate bean counters forcing cost-cutting measures that came back to bite them in the butt with warranty claims. Kind of like the Pinto with its exploding gas tank. The Vega's ills were cured later in its production run (also like the Pinto) but its reputation was forever tainted.
I've always had a soft spot for the Vega, particularly the Kammback body style, because my mom had one back in the day. It was a regular non-GT '72 Kammback in Mediterranean Blue with a 4-speed manual, and it was her first car.
This Vega is not just any Vega. It's a Vega GT, which translates to special wheels, a handling package, black grille, GT badging, full instrumentation in a special woodgrain dash, and a modest performance upgrade through a two-barrel carburetor and better camshaft. This one even features the optional hood stripe. The paint, if it is original, appears to be Spring Green Poly. I do hope that the owner tends to that rust forming in the front fenders and eating away at the rear hatch. These Vegas are getting very rare.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1966 Ford Country Sedan

This week I decided to do another themed series of features. Like the Big Three Vans series I did a few months ago, this will also deal with some of Detroit's finest - and not-so-fine - family haulers. That's right, this week we'll be looking at Big Three Station Wagons.

For starters, let's look at Ford's offering. This 1966 Country Sedan was one of their larger cars during the era, based on the full-size Galaxie. I've featured a Country Sedan before, but it was a 1963 model and in much worse condition. Interestingly, while reading up on this car I learned that the Country Sedan and its faux-wood-paneled twin, the Country Squire, were sold as their own respective models until 1969, when they were ultimately lumped together in the Galaxie line.

This example is probably Wimbledon White and apparently features a snappy red interior. Motivation for this barge comes from a much-needed 390 V8 which is no doubt coupled to an automatic transmission. A fun fact about the 1966 model is that it was the first wagon to feature Ford's "Magic Door Gate", a rear hatch that was designed to hinge down like a truck's tailgate, or swing out to the side using an entirely different set of hinges. Pretty cool stuff.
This is one of those cars that makes me a little sad, because its paint is in pretty good shape still despite its unfortunate body damage. Living in the Haight like it does, and wearing recent plates, I wonder if the poor thing was bought by some young hipster trying to be ironic by buying a dowdy old family wagon to transport his indie band gear or something. Maybe I'm stereotyping. Either way, there's a lot of folks in San Francisco who suck at driving, regardless of age or creed.

Friday, September 17, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1950 Chevrolet 3100 pickup

I've always been a big fan of the 1947-53 Chevrolet Advance Design series pickups, and this is one of my favorite examples. It's a 1950 Chevy 3100 pickup in a lovely canary yellow with stained wooden bed extenders emblazoned with the logo of a San Francisco home renovation company. From about 20 feet away, this truck looks darn near brand new. Up close, there are a few blemishes here and there, most noticeably the well-worn steering wheel which is likely original. The body is straight; the chrome is in good shape though it could use some polishing to get rid of a small amount of surface rust in a few places. The paint job looks recent, the wood bed is clean and undamaged, and the Firestone wide whitewall tires with painted steelies and chrome hubcaps and trim rings really set it off.
I'm not 100% sure that this is a 1950 model, but that's my best guess since it lacks the new-for-1951 vent windows, and has red "Chevrolet" lettering above the grille. I'm not sure the hubcaps are correct for this model year, but they contribute a lot to the truck. The door handles may also be from a different year, but I'm not sure. It may actually be a '49. I tried to research it the best I could, but most images on the web are of trucks that have been customized in some way, making a 100% factory stock pickup difficult to find for comparison.

Bottom line? It's distinctive, it's beautiful, it's one of the coolest company trucks I've seen in the Bay Area. My hat's off to you, Mulhall Construction.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Mercury Comet Custom

I don't know what it is about Falcons that keeps me coming back to them. They aren't particularly exciting, aren't revolutionary in their design or engineering, and are still plentiful on the roads. Perhaps what I like about the Falcon is its honesty, with a general lack of gingerbread and a rugged simplicity built to meet the needs of those who wanted economical family transportation in a compact package. The earliest Falcons were only about half a foot longer than a modern Focus sedan, slightly wider and actually weighed less. My first experience with a Falcon was a ride in a blue 1964 Futura convertible once owned by a friend of my dad.
So you get it now. I like Falcons.

So why did I go through that spiel if this isn't a Falcon? Clearly it's a Mercury Comet. But take a good long close look at that profile. Kind of looks like a Falcon, doesn't it?
That's because the Comet is a gussied-up Falcon with quad lights and mini tailfins. The powertrain was the same, chassis was effectively the same. Interior was probably a little nicer. Some may find the Comet to be more stylish. I personally find certain aspects of its styling to be gimmicky and generally trying too hard.
The Comet was something of a bastard child at Ford. Originally intended to be a compact Edsel, the Comet was hastily redrawn (basically they just lopped off the horsecollar grille) when the entire Edsel division blew up in Ford's face. The Comet didn't even have an actual make and model going into its inaugural year, 1960. It was just sold as the Comet. It wouldn't officially become a Mercury until 1962. By 1963 the new-for-'60 body was showing its age, despite Ford having done a credible job modernizing the car's rear end to get rid of the dated slanty taillights and integrated fins. It was time for a refresh.
This particular example is equipped with the 260 Cyclone V8, the first year this engine was offered in the Comet. 1963 was also the first year for the convertible body style, with 13,111 copies sold (7,354 of those were Custom convertibles like this one). It's in good daily-driver condition with all correct badging and trim, and the original 1963-issue California black plates. Unlike many cars of this era, it hasn't had a wheel upgrade, instead rolling on the stock steelies with poverty caps. Interior appears to be dark blue vinyl with a split-bench front seat (I believe you had to get the S-22 sport package if you wanted bucket seats and a console). Exterior color is Cascade Blue with a white top. It's a nice example of a reasonably loaded, mid-level Comet convertible from an important model year.