Saturday, October 30, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1960 Chrysler Saratoga

If you've seen the previous feature in the series, feel free to skip the following paragraph.It's that time again, time for another weekly series. This one comes to you courtesy of Fifties Guy in San Francisco. Frequent readers will know who that is, but for those of you just joining us, Fifties Guy is my nickname for a collector of 1950s and early '60s cars in SF who parks them on the streets around his home and drives them daily. Most are big, heavy, massively-finned and usually overstyled late-'50s Chrysler products. So here you have it, folks: Forward Look Week. The "Forward Look" was stylist Virgil Exner's baby, and was the design language for most Mopar cars from 1955 to 1961. Take a look at an early-50s Dodge or Plymouth. Pretty boring, right? Maybe some chrome gingerbread and a snazzy grille but not much else to liven up an otherwise stodgy car. Then Exner came along and made things interesting.

After a Forward Look Dodge and Plymouth, it seems only proper to also have a Chrysler. Unfortunately I don't have a 1959 Chrysler to go with the '59 Dodge and Plymouth but I do have a 1960. This is a Chrysler Saratoga four-door sedan, Chrysler's mid-level model between the base Windsor and the top-line New Yorker. It's a later example of the Forward Look design language, a time when Mopars were starting to forget how pretty they were just a year or two before. This would culminate around 1962, the year Chrysler executives shot the corporation in the foot (and everywhere else) by introducing an all-new lineup across all the brands, so disastrously styled that Virgil Exner himself referred to them as "plucked chickens".
Some folks find the gaping maw of the 1960 models endearing. An acquaintance of mine finds the '60 DeSoto of cartoon vigilantes Sam and Max is a very cool design. I always thought the model year was overdone, personally. The tailfins make up more than half the car's length, yet don't make it all the way to the rear end of the car. With the exception of those fins, the rear end styling is plain and dull. In fact, the fins are about the only part of the car I actually like. Yeah, I'm that picky. From a vantage point down low behind the car, it looks quite dramatic with those big fins reaching up towards the sky. From the front the car looks irritated, like it's shouting at some kid with a Honda to silence his fartcan. I do honestly like the badging on this car. I'm a sucker for awesome script badging and this one has some really cool coat of arms iconography on the emblems. Love the big gold lion on the grille.
The color on this big Chrysler is Iris Poly, known to you and me as lavender. Not the most masculine of colors, but this one wears it fairly well. Condition is better than most of Fifties Guy's cars, at least of the ones that get parked outdoors on a daily basis. The paint looks great from 20 feet; there are scratches and rusted paint chips but overall it doesn't look bad for its age. The chrome needs to be redone or replaced; it's getting badly pitted in places. The wide whitewall tires with original full wheelcovers really set this big boat off nicely.
Interestingly, 1960 was the final year a Chrysler would wear the name Saratoga in the US, but the name would be utilized in other countries on and off until 1995. Chrysler built 15,525 Saratogas in 1960, but I don't know how many sedans were part of that number.
She ain't the prettiest belle at the ball, and she's got a big mouth. But I must admit she's all right from certain angles. Probably a nice highway ride, too, with soft suspension and smooth V8 performance. If you can get past the looks, and keep up the maintenance, I'm sure it's a fine car.

Friday, October 29, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1959 Plymouth Fury

If you've seen the previous feature in the series, feel free to skip the following paragraph.
It's that time again, time for another weekly series. This one comes to you courtesy of Fifties Guy in San Francisco. Frequent readers will know who that is, but for those of you just joining us, Fifties Guy is my nickname for a collector of 1950s and early '60s cars in SF who parks them on the streets around his home and drives them daily. Most are big, heavy, massively-finned and usually overstyled late-'50s Chrysler products. So here you have it, folks: Forward Look Week. The "Forward Look" was stylist Virgil Exner's baby, and was the design language for most Mopar cars from 1955 to 1961. Take a look at an early-50s Dodge or Plymouth. Pretty boring, right? Maybe some chrome gingerbread and a snazzy grille but not much else to liven up an otherwise stodgy car. Then Exner came along and made things interesting.

Second in the Forward Look Week series is this Flame Red 1959 Plymouth Fury. She's a bit faded now, almost a magenta pink color. And please spare me the Christine jokes, she's the wrong year. I'll be honest, I never liked the '59 Plymouths at all. After the fantastic 1958 model which improved so nicely on the already mostly pretty '57 (a proper '58 Belvedere or Fury two-door hardtop is a gorgeous sight to behold), a 1959 just looks... wrong. You may disagree, and that's all right. But examine the design from all angles and it comes off as a superficial, slapped-together nip-tuck done for the sake of having something new in the showroom. And don't even get me started on the fake spare tire hump on the trunk lid. But compared to the 1960 and even more disastrous '61, this thing is beautiful.
As you may know from reading past features here on Plymouth Furies, this is a purer form of Fury than the generic full-size sedans and wagons made during the '60s and '70s. For its first few years of life, the Fury name was only affixed to the coolest, most powerful, most expensive Plymouth coupe. The same year this car was built, Plymouth offered a four-door Fury. It was the beginning of the end. The next year you could buy a Fury wagon. After that, "Fury" was no longer special.
The condition of this example is about on par with most of Fifties Guy's collection. Faded paint is to be expected on a fifty-year-old, red car. Heck, a lot of red cars fade after 10 years. The body is primarily rust-free and straight, albeit missing some trim (namely the Forward Look insignias on the fins). Wheels aren't stock and aren't helping very much. I'd like to see it with the correct OEM wheels and hubcaps, a new paint job in the same color and rechromed trim.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer

It's that time again, time for another weekly series. This one comes to you courtesy of Fifties Guy in San Francisco. Frequent readers will know who that is, but for those of you just joining us, Fifties Guy is my nickname for a collector of 1950s and early '60s cars in SF who parks them on the streets around his home and drives them daily. Most are big, heavy, massively-finned and usually overstyled late-'50s Chrysler products. So here you have it, folks: Forward Look Week. The "Forward Look" was stylist Virgil Exner's baby, and was the design language for most Mopar cars from 1955 to 1961. Take a look at an early-50s Dodge or Plymouth. Pretty boring, right? Maybe some chrome gingerbread and a snazzy grille but not much else to liven up an otherwise stodgy car. Then Exner came along and made things interesting.

This is a 1959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer, the car they forgot to stop styling. Big sweeping tailfins with projecting "bullet" taillights; scowling, heavily lidded headlights; quite a bit of curious metal sculpting in the front grille area. The whole package appears angry and aggressive. Under the skin though, it's fairly conventional Mopar. V8, Torqueflite push-button automatic, same platform as all the other full-size Chrysotos and Plodges. The interior is loaded with gimmicks and luxury features like plush carpet, optional swiveling bucket seats, air conditioning, and a ridiculous (and unfortunately standard) three-color speedometer that features no needle but uses colored lights that turn green up to 30 mph, yellow from 30-50 and red above that. I wonder how well that system works today in this car, if at all.
Most 1959 Dodges were Coronets, but about 1/3 of them were Custom Royals, and of that total, 6,278 were Custom Royal Lancer two-door hardtops like this one.
Condition on this car is fairly good. Fifties Guy's cars are all in fair-to-decent daily driver condition and this is one of the cleaner ones. Straight, generally rust-free and shiny body panels are a definite plus. It has good chrome, in need of a polish job but all there and in nice shape. I'm really not wild about the Biscuit (or Rose Quartz) and Mocha two-tone color scheme, but it was the '50s and I guess having a car that matched your breakfast was normal. I think it might look better if the pinkish color was matched with white accents instead of the Mocha, or if the Mocha accent was on a white car. I really do like this car from a number of angles, provided they don't show the front. The rear 3/4 view, especially if it emphasizes the fins, is awesome. The front end, though, in my opinion is just awful. Still, it's a rare vehicle and could be worth a fair amount of money fixed up really nice.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Biased?

Sometimes I wonder if I unfairly overlook certain vehicles for consideration here.
Basically, my standards are that the vehicle is at least 30 years old unless it has something that makes it otherwise special (for example an extremely rare post-1980 car, or a particularly infamous design). I have a mental list of cars that aren't likely to show up here. Let me know if you think it's unfair.

- Any Acura. Period.
- Alfa Romeo Spider Veloces.
- Post-1980 Audis.
- Most BMWs, including 2002s (the 2002 Touring I featured was a rare exception). I also pass up E28 5 Series and anything produced in the '80s or later - unless I happen to stumble upon an M1 someday.
- Post-1980 GM unless there's something special about it to catch my attention. GMC Syclone/Typhoon, Corvette ZR1/Grand Sport, vehicles like that.
- 1978 and newer GM G-body cars unless they are particularly rare. A 1986 Pontiac 2+2 is acceptable. A 1986 El Camino isn't likely to end up here.
- Post-1977 GM B-body cars.
- Most 1970s and later Cadillacs.
- Fiat 124 Spiders.
- Garden-variety Ford Mustangs. Rare special editions are the exception, particularly 1960s Shelbys.
- Post-1981 Ford Escorts.
- Post-1979 Ford/Lincoln/Mercury Panther platform cars.
- Most Hondas. That early-'70s Civic better be really clean.
- Jaguar XJs, XJSs and post E-Type XKs.
- Mazda RX-7s.
- Most 1970s and later Mercedes-Benz, particularly W123 and later cars. They are everywhere, they don't die, and I don't bother to photograph them.
- Modern Nissans.
- Most Toyotas. Boring, boring, boring. Less common early 1980s RWD models may make the cut if they're in good shape.
- Modern Rolls-Royce/Bentley cars.
- Subarus. I'd consider a BRAT but an SVX probably won't show up here. Loyales and stuff are out for now.
- Most SUVs. You won't find an Explorer here. Pioneering Japanese 4x4s may be accepted. International Scouts are acceptable, 1970s and older Land Rovers and 1960s Ford Broncos are as well, depending on condition and age.
- Volkswagen Beetles, Jettas and Golfs/Rabbits. I typically pass on Microbuses unless they are pickups.

So what will you find here?

- AMC products (includes Rambler, Nash and Hudson)
- Cars with tailfins.
- Most anything from the 1950s and older provided it isn't too cliched.
- Less common 1960s cars. Common models should be visually interesting and/or in good shape.
- Old Datsuns. I'm very choosy when it comes to Z coupes, though.
- Ford Falcons, 'cuz I like 'em.
- Ford Rancheros, because everybody knows the El Camino.
- Fuselage bodied Chryslers.
- Obscure European cars. Vintage Opels, European Fords, Citroens, Peugeots, etc. French cars are a definite yes even though I hate most of them. A clean Merkur might make the grade.
- 1970s Japanese cars, i.e. Toyota Corona, Honda 600, etc.
- Vintage limousines and luxury cars.
- Cars that are rare or historically notable.
- Cars that are atrociously bad and yet still alive. I'm still looking for a Yugo.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1965 Fiat 600D

It's funny how certain vehicles are unique enough that you can search for them on Flickr. Go ahead, type 'san francisco fiat' in the Flickr search box. This car is a veritable rock star compared to most vehicles in The City. It shows up at least 13 times on Flickr from a variety of photographers. In several of them, it's misidentified as the more well-known Fiat 500. It's actually a Fiat 600, and as best I can tell, it's a 1965 600D.
The Fiat 600 was designed to replace the woefully outdated Topolino. I find it utterly hilarious that the 600 was considered a "midsize" city car in its home market. Seriously? It's somewhere between a Power Wheels toy and a Geo Metro by American standards. Powered by a teensy little four-cylinder engine in the rear, producing a whopping 21 horsepower (or 29, if you got the bigger engine). This is what it took to get 30+ miles per gallon back then. Given that this little Fiat is commonly seen parked at the bottom of San Francisco's famous Russian Hill, I wonder what kind of mileage it really gets when chugging up steep inclines.
The diminutive 600 is archaic in retrospect, and its design was quite old even when this car was built. From what I could tell, 1965 was the first year the 600 had conventional doors (1955-64 had suicide doors), and was the last year it had the front end "whisker" trim as seen on this car. They would be removed for '66, but little else changed. I suspect it may have been a cost-cutting measure. Take a look at the ridiculous simplicity of the dashboard. A speedometer, odometer, about two other simple gauges, three unmarked switches and the ignition. My 1985 Pontiac has 38 buttons on the dash, not including the horn. Some new cars have more, plus a navigation system and what-have-you. Crazy.
Condition of this one is fantastic, leading me to think it may have been restored at some point. When I shot it, the car was parked a block away from a specialized European car repair shop. Most of the Flickr photos place it there as well. An attention-getter perhaps? It certainly works for that.
It's not quick, it's not safe, it must be downright frightening to drive in San Francisco traffic. So why have one of these in a city of hills? Well, it sure as heck makes a statement and turns heads. Economy could be good if one drove it mainly on flat ground, which for the most part doesn't exist in SF. You don't buy a car like this purely for economy. If you want 30mpg, my '07 Focus will do that. This is for style, a fashion accessory almost. It's quirky and fun. Just make sure the owner of this car doesn't get too close to the yellow Hummer H1 that lives nearby in North Beach.

Monday, October 18, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1970 Ford Galaxie XL


I'm going to say straight up that this is one I've wanted to get rid of for the better part of a year now. I shot the pictures in spring 2009 before I even started this blog, in the hopes of submitting them to Jalopnik.com for Murilee Martin's now-discontinued "Down On the Street" weekend feature. Due to the crappy camera and bad timing (half in shade and half in evening sunlight, right down the middle of the quarter panel), I needed a better profile shot. Since the location of this 1970 Ford Galaxie XL Sportsroof is kind of out of my way usually, I didn't bother to seek it out for a while.
Then, I found out that this semester I had a drawing class down on Townsend, and this car lives only a couple of blocks off of my route to class. So, for five straight Fridays I walked past it, waiting for the right light. Honestly, I was uneasy because the street has security cameras right above the car's usual parking space and I didn't want to make the wrong impression on the neighborhood. No harm, no foul.
I'm kind of ambivalent about this car. I like its profile. I like its front to a degree. The back end is kind of a mess though, and the fastback roofline is fake. You get nice sail panels, but the rear window is a standard notchback angle and ends up resulting in a giant blind spot without the aerodynamic improvement of a fastback roof.
1970 was getting toward the end of the Galaxie's production run. The model was already 11 years old and '70 would be the last year for hideaway headlights. It was also pretty much the last model with sporting pretensions, as Galaxie became a more formal fullsize car. The XL designation refers to the luxury edition, and was dropped after this year (I suspect because Galaxie would soon become a strippo version of the luxurious LTD fullsize body for 1971). This one still features Magnum 500 mag wheels and dual exhausts. The color is a decidedly un-sporting brown which appears oddly different in good light.
As far as condition goes, this is no shining example. It looks all right from 20 feet or perhaps from down the block. It makes me sad how a vehicle can change for the worse over a year and a half period. Take a look at the profile shot. The busted mirror is still busted, but now there's a big dent in the fender and the hood has bent corners and sprung hinges from where it's apparently popped open and peeled back while driving. That had to have been scary.
Despite all its warts, I can't remember the last time I saw any 1970 Galaxie other than this one, let alone a Sportsroof XL model. It's also one of the last relatively cool Galaxies I've seen. And perhaps most importantly, this beast of a car is still surviving in Yank-tank-averse San Francisco. That's a very good thing indeed.