Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Petaluma Street Sighting - 1981 Toyota Celica GT Sunchaser

Some of you may be old enough to remember that from 1977 until the early 1980s, it wasn't really possible to buy a new convertible in the United States. I'm not that old, but I do research.
I guess late in the disco era, with hairy men in tight jeans going nuts for T-tops and car thieves slicing up ragtops, nobody wanted convertibles anymore. Then came the '80s and apparently someone decided it was time to offer convertibles again, but not right away. If you wanted a convertible you could always contract a coachbuilder to chop the roof off your coupe and turn it into a ragtop. That's what led to stopgap quasi-verts like this 1981 Toyota Celica GT Sunchaser.
Built by the Griffith company with the full blessing of Toyota, the Sunchaser is an unusual specimen. Instead of a full folding convertible top framework with fabric covering, the Sunchaser features a removable targa roof section and an unconventional ribbed fabric and plastic rear window that snaps into place. With both the rear window and targa section removed, the remaining bit of B-pillar and roof structure creates a "basket handle" roll bar that keeps the body from collapsing into itself.
The Sunchaser is quite rare, with only about 2000 built between 1979 and '81. This being an '81 model, it may be one of the last produced. Each Sunchaser has an individually numbered dashboard plaque. It was parked in a neighborhood watch area (you know, the kind where paranoid neighbors call the cops if they see you doing "suspicious" activity such as walking around taking pictures), so I didn't spend too much time loitering around it and didn't peek inside.
Condition isn't too bad for a street-parked car of this vintage in a hot, dry climate. I bet that a good wash and wax would bring out whatever shine remains in the Bright Red paint. Looks like the front valance has had a few dates with a parking stop and it could stand being straightened. It also needs a new chrome grille surround. Overall though, the body is remarkably straight for a 29-year-old Toyota. Normally I wouldn't bother with this generation of Celica, but a Sunchaser is the exception to my rule.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1956 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville

There is just something about a vintage Cadillac. They have what you might call... presence. Cadillacs of the 1950s have more presence than most, with tailfins and massive bodies often festooned with chrome, the ultimate symbols of luxury and conspicuous consumption in America. If you drove a Cadillac, you had really made it. The only other cars that could touch it in its day were Continentals and Imperials. Nothing else came close. Standard of the world, baby!
Well, as you most likely know, Cadillac got kicked off that pedestal as standard of the world about three decades ago, and has been scrambling ever since to claw its way back up the luxury car mountain. No longer can you buy a car like the '56 Series 62 Coupe de Ville pictured above. The only two-door Cadillac currently made is the new CTS Coupe, which looks like they brought in Richard Teague to design it. He's the guy who penned the Gremlin, by the way. The last Caddy coupe you could buy was the 2002 Eldorado Touring Coupe, a FWD beast with a massive blind spot and a body designed in 1992. Not to mention the last edition's badging abbreviated the name to ETC, announcing to the world that you drove a Cadillac Et Cetera.
Cadillac really has come a long way since this car was built. The CTS Coupe will run circles around this Coupe de Ville, and the CTS-V Coupe will run circles around the regular CTS Coupe. But in the styling department, neither comes close to this borderline baroque land yacht. Inspired by the twin tails of the WWII P-38 Lightning fighter plane, these tailfins date from midway in the fin era, before they became truly ridiculous. In fact, Cadillac fins didn't grow very much from their inception in 1948 till 1956 when this car rolled off the line. However, come 1957 the fins would go crazy, peaking in 1959. Aside from the fins, the design is pretty standard for a car of the mid-1950s. Tall, relatively boxy body with slab sides, huge chrome bumpers with bullet-shaped "Dagmar" protrusions, all that is typical. Surprisingly, the amount of side trim is pretty restrained compared to the gaudy, tri-tone, zig-zag-sided competitors. As far as performance is concerned, you got a 365 cubic-inch cast-iron V8 good for 285 hp, and a Hydramatic four-speed automatic transmission to motivate 4,445 lbs of Detroit steel. Zero to 60 time isn't likely to be your first concern when driving this. More likely, you'll be looking for a runoff area that doesn't include solid objects when it comes time to stop or turn quickly.
Condition of this Coupe de Ville is pretty decent from what I can see. There's visible wear from age and mileage, some rust peeking out from behind the side trim and under the doors. Speaking of the doors, it would be a good idea to check the fit of the driver door, and get the windows lined up properly so the car doesn't leak like a sieve when it rains. It's all intact though, with the exception of the left quarter panel trim, and the left taillight which appears ready to fall off. Some of the gold grille paint is still there. Color is... not my taste. It's not awful, but come on, this is a Cadillac. It appears to be stock Tahoe Blue, though, and mostly in decent "daily driver" shape with a Cascade Gray or Sonic Blue roof. Maybe it was a spring release, when carmakers would offer limited runs of cars in silly pastel colors. Oddly enough, it appears that a proper black Cadillac was not offered that year. You could get really dark blues, greens, greys, and maroons, though. I applaud the owner for keeping the wide whitewall tires and original full wheelcovers, as well as maintaining the original black-on-yellow California plates. Now polish up the chrome to a lustrous shine and take it out on the highway. Since this car was parked near the start point of the 2010 California Mille road rally on Nob Hill, I surmise the latter is just what the owner did, albeit as a spectator of the pre-race car show. Go for it! You can still freshen the old girl up in time for next year's Mille.

Correction: Further research revealed that this car actually lives in SF. Mega points for street-parking a car this old and this big in The City full time!

Monday, November 1, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1969 Rover TC 2000

I really love stories of people who buy cars new and keep them for a long time instead of replacing them whenever the warranty runs out or a flashy new model comes along. Many owners in our consumer culture bail on their vehicles when they suffer a mechanical problem or the condition declines due to poor maintenance habits. From here the ownership spectrum branches out; some keep the car because they love it, some keep it because they can't afford to replace it.
Happily, this 1969 Rover TC 2000 seems to be a prime example of the former.
The story on this car is fantastic. According to the owner, who I have never met but I tracked down a website he created for the car, he bought it brand new in the city - most likely from British Motor Car Distributors on Van Ness. It has been his daily driver ever since, with minimal modification and no restoration.
In 1969 Rover didn't offer much in the way of options or equipment. You had a choice of manual or automatic transmission and whether or not you wanted air-conditioning. This car is a four-speed stick with no A/C, no power anything. Over the course of decades, the owner has added Cibie fog lights and a CD player with the changer in the trunk. The interior is otherwise stock and recently received a reupholstery job to make the black leather look like new again. According to the owner's site, he covered some 300,000 miles with his Rover before the factory engine gave out and had to be replaced. People like to joke about the unreliability of British cars but this one evidently bucked the trend.
The Rover 2000 TC began life in 1963, as the Rover P6 in England. It was attractive but somewhat inefficiently packaged, with relatively little trunk space and seating for four. Only one 2.0 liter, overhead-cam, four-cylinder engine was initially available. Four-wheel disc brakes were standard. The TC was a higher-end model with dual SU carburetors for better fuel delivery and more power. A V8 model, the 3500, would be introduced in 1968.
Condition of this Rover is excellent for an unrestored car of its age. I don't know if the paint is original but it shines like new and the body is flawless. It even has the factory Icelert cold weather sensor still attached to the front end, a feature included on American-market cars. I wish more people took care of their cars this meticulously.
This fellow obviously didn't learn his lesson about Rovers after the first one, so a couple of years ago he purchased a gorgeous blue 1970 3500 sedan. I'd love to find it someday.