Saturday, June 18, 2011

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1972 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75

The first thing you'll probably notice about this 1972 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 is that it doesn't look like the average person's modern concept of a limousine. That's because it isn't a stretch limousine. This is not your pink Hummer with neon party lights and a dozen drunks throwing up inside it. It's a formal limo, made for transporting important people in smooth, refined luxury. Well, at least it used to be.
That's probably the second thing you noticed about this car: it's fallen a long way since its days as a chauffeur-driven representative of the Standard of the World. It's been exposed to the unusual desert festival known as Burning Man, and apparently it was built into a sort of Popemobile, with the metal box on top installed vertically like an observation tower. The rear section of the roof and trunk were cut away, and the rear seat replaced with cushions (and garbage). If memory serves, the Caddy's Burning Man career started out with a blue paint job, then it later received a coat of garish pink. Today it is a more sedate gray color, but looks very much the worse for wear. I imagine that multiple trips to the desert can't be kind to it.
The chances of this car undergoing restoration are slim to none. It's not worth much, it's been hacked up pretty badly and it probably smells awful inside. The engine is unfashionably thirsty for San Francisco and when it finally dies, the whole car will likely disappear into a crusher at Schnitzer Steel. A sad and undignified end to an interesting old limousine.

Friday, June 10, 2011

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1971 Ford Ranchero

There are some vehicles I've been hesitant to feature here on California Streets. Some are just not that rare, not particularly photogenic, or maybe I just don't get enough pictures for an exciting feature. I have an informal name for stuff like that: "Quick Takes". It usually applies to cars that are interesting but I have fewer than five pictures of them. In this case, I have six.
Being the Ford fanboy I am, I've long had a bit of a preference for the Ford Ranchero over its primary competitor, the Chevy El Camino (fear not, you Bowtie fans will get some El Camino love eventually). This is only the second Ranchero I've shot for a CS feature, and it was a tough call. The 1970 and '71 Rancheros are some of my favorite cartrucks (or coupe utilities, utes, as such vehicles are called Down Under). In my opinion at least, they have just the right amount of style without sacrificing utility. So when I happened upon this well-used example parked near a major street while returning to downtown from a freestyle walk late in the day, I did a quick shoot of it before the sun went down. These pictures were taken nearly two years ago.
This vehicle is pretty close to what I'd want if I had a '71 Ranchero, at least the light blue color and the Magnum 500 wheels. I'm torn on the matte black stripes that run from the grille up into the hood scallops. I'd guess there's probably a moderately sized V8 underhood, somewhere between 289 and 351 cubic inches. Given the load in the back, and the general condition of the body, it looks like this tough old beast still earns its keep in a tough city.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1968 Plymouth Valiant Signet

In my last feature I commented that the Coke-bottle shape of the 1967 Plymouth Barracuda made the Valiant look on which it was based look like the box the Barracuda came in. After looking at this 1968 Valiant Signet two-door sedan, see if you don't agree somewhat. Now don't get me wrong, I like a lot of late-sixties Chrysler products including several model years of the Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Dart twins. But any way you slice them, they are pretty straightforward cars. These were marketed as "senior compacts", smaller and cheaper than other Mopar offerings and also generally plainer to look at with square bodies and relatively little chrome ornamentation, but better equipped and more powerful than a basic economy car like a VW Beetle. Note the "fanned-out" effect on the taillights and the defiant dogleg crease on the lower body that dare to add some character to an otherwise conservative, blocky car. All Valiants up until 1964 were built with a slant-six engine, then the 273 ci V8 was offered as an option. Then, in 1968, the now-venerable 318 V8 joined the Valiant lineup for the first time.
In the San Francisco classic car scene, Valiants are some of the most common old cars I see around town. In fact, most of them don't catch my eye enough to warrant more than a snapshot or two, if that much. This one, however, is one of just 6,265 Valiant Signet two-doors built in 1968, making it the second-rarest '68 Valiant variant after the Barracuda convertible. Honda sold three times as many Civics in the U.S. in May 2011 alone.
The condition of this example is also better than most. It has its share of minor dents, mostly on the corners as one would expect of a car that gets parked on the street in the city. The paint bears the orange peel of a modern Maaco respray of what I assume is code Q Electric Blue Metallic, or close to it. What impresses me about this car is how clean it is. Most Valiants and Darts I see are bland-colored, faded beaters plodding around, frequently driven by people who can't afford something else. This one looks like it's driven by someone who wants it, loves it, and takes care of it. As Valiants go, it's really quite nice.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1967 Plymouth Barracuda

As you probably know, I'm a sucker for '60s muscle cars. However, like most people I've always been dedicated more to the Fords and Chevys than the Mopar products. It's not that Chryslers, Dodges and Plymouths of this period were bad; far from it. Some of the greatest muscle machines ever made came from the Pentastar. And in 1967, a slow-selling variant of the Plymouth Valiant economy car came into its own.
While it may be an exaggeration to call the 1967 Plymouth Barracuda "all new", it was a significant departure from the inaugural 1964 model which heavily resembled a two-door Valiant with fourteen square feet of glass on the back, was released on April Fools Day and was nearly called the Panda. I don't know about you but I'm glad that moniker ended up on a Fiat instead of a Mustang competitor. It might have been lazy like a panda though, with the choice of two Valiant slant-sixes and a 273 ci V8 making up to a whopping 180 hp.
The car was freshened and improved until, in '67, the stylists struck gold with one of my favorite designs of the era. The new Barracuda featured the Coke-bottle body shape popular at the time, with unique sheetmetal that made the staid Valiant look like the box the Barracuda came in. In addition to a fastback, one could also order a notchback coupe or a convertible. Powertrain options picked up steam with more displacement and a lot more power available, up to a 383 ci big block.
These cars are seldom seen today, partly because so few people bought them in the first place. This is one of 30,110 Barracuda fastbacks built in 1967, making it relatively common when compared to, say, a 1971 Hemi 'Cuda convertible. In terms of automotive sales in a market dominated by domestic brands, during an era when baby boomers were getting their licenses and the muscle car wars were heating up, 30,000 cars isn't that many. The 1967 Mustang alone (472,121) handily outsold every Barracuda ever built between 1964 and 1974 (about 380,000). And you wondered why I generally choose not to feature Mustangs.
In terms of condition, this Barracuda's definitely a driver. I've seen it cruising around the city multiple times - and it may actually belong to the same person who owns the green '65 Barracuda I posted a long time ago. The body is solid but clearly not concours, with a lot of dents and scrapes. Color may or may not be Turbine Bronze, which has faded to a dull brown over the years. Dual exhaust tips suggest V8 power. It's a handsome car with a lot of potential in the hands of a motivated restorer. It might be a challenge to straighten the thin brightwork around the taillight panel and align the front end so the hood doesn't stick up around the edges, but it would do the car a world of good. A nice coat of paint couldn't hurt, either.

Or just enjoy it as-is and have fun. That works, too.

A Letter to "Fifties Guy"

I received a comment recently from "Anonymous", the San Francisco car collector I have commonly referred to as "Fifties Guy" here on California Streets. Since he's come across this humble blog which has featured over a dozen of his cars, I wanted to address that fact.

Dear Owner:

Thank you for responding. You may have seen me out in front of your house with my camera (probably multiple times) in the past couple of years and I apologize if I have ever made you or your family uneasy or felt that your privacy was being invaded. Your collection of street-parked classics fascinates me and I always like seeing what's parked out there. It's a fairly unique phenomenon for a San Francisco resident to be able to maintain a car collection of that scale. I want you to know that I respect you and will respect your wishes.
For privacy reasons I have held off on featuring cars which were parked in your driveway. The yellow 1954 Hudson which appeared on the post "A Note to My Readers" was photographed way back in June 2009, and unless I have your permission, other photos of it will NOT appear here in the future. When composing shots and prepping pictures to post, I prefer not to show identifiable addresses, street signs or faces of people when possible. When writing posts I usually try not to use exact street names either.

Again, thank you for writing to me and thank you for collecting those awesome '50s cars.


Jay Wollenweber