Saturday, December 31, 2011

Livermore Street Sighting - 1996 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport

It's time to have a look at another car spotted near a car show, this time a modern classic: a 1996 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport. I don't normally photograph C4 generation Corvettes in depth, but the Grand Sport special edition stands out from the rest. By 1996 the C4 body shell was getting very long in the tooth despite all the facelifting done over twelve years of production. Chevy chose to wind down the final model year of the C4 with this blue bullet, of which only 1000 copies were built. It came with the optional 330 hp LT4 V8 and a six-speed manual transmission.

Visually, the Grand Sport is not everyone's cup of tea, with a bold white "skunk" stripe, black rims and a pair of red fender accent stripes that Dodge has recently seen fit to copy. The whole package was inspired by the original Grand Sport race cars of the early 1960s. Love it or hate it, I suppose one makes a statement by driving it. It's a far cry from the 2010-2011 Corvette Grand Sport, which incorporates some of the body modifications of the Z06 without all of the Z06's performance upgrades (granted, it does make 430 hp which should be enough for most people). The new one has similar (optional) fender stripes and special dark-colored wheels, but to be honest the new car does nothing for me. I drove one several months ago and it didn't stir my soul the way I imagined a Corvette would. If only GM's Main Street In Motion high-performance course had been longer, maybe I would have enjoyed the car more...
If you're looking for a sporty C4 Corvette, a '96 Grand Sport might fit the bill. If speed and subtlety are what you want, though, look for a 1990-95 ZR1. It looks just like a regular 'Vette, but makes over 400 hp and will top 180 mph.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1987 Nissan Sentra GXE wagon

Not every rare vehicle is exciting. Many are humble and unassuming, perhaps unpopular variants or editions of mainstream nameplates. Such is the case of this 1987 Nissan Sentra GXE wagon. Of all the cars I've photographed in depth, this is the one that I debated the most (and probably the longest, over two years). Is it notable? The guys who run OldParkedCars would have posted it, for what that's worth. Why feature this while turning up my nose at a lot of older, cooler cars? In a town full of old and unusual cars, an old Beetle or Mustang typically doesn't evoke a reaction from me anymore. For some reason, this relatively straight example of a rarely seen late 1980s Japanese station wagon just spoke to me. What do you think? Milquetoast '80s econobox or interesting automotive footnote?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of the Rest: Circle The Wagons

1958 Ford Ranch Wagon, San Francisco

1963 Studebaker Lark Wagonaire Daytona, San Francisco

1966 Dodge Monaco, Santa Cruz

1968 Ford Country Sedan, San Francisco

1971-73 Chevrolet Vega Kammback, San Francisco

Sunday, December 18, 2011

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1968 Ford Galaxie 500

With space at a premium, city dwellers often choose vehicles that are easy to park and will fit in small spaces. Not so the owner of this fantastic maroon 1968 Ford Galaxie 500 sedan, a car that probably has enough steel in it to build two Smart Fortwos and another four Vespa scooters. But screw those. San Francisco already has too many Smart cars and Vespas. Big boats are a dying breed and few of them are as straight and clean as this. Most are beaters that earn their keep until the day when their owners send them to an unceremonious death at Schnitzer Steel. This one looks like a car the owner is proud of and wants to drive, and has been shown the love a classic deserves.

We've already seen a '68 Galaxie fastback coupe here on California Streets, so a sedan is a nice complement to it. Both are powered by the venerable 390 V8, the engine that also propelled Steve McQueen's Mustang over the city's famous hills in Bullitt. I really like this car, because it's such a throwback to the car chase movies and police dramas that took place in and around San Francisco back in the day. I can imagine Dirty Harry driving this car, the whitewalls knuckling over and howling as the barge understeers wildly into a corner, or the rear end kicking out in true Hollywood fashion as he pursues the baddies, one chrome dog dish hubcap separating from the wheel and bouncing down the street away from the car. Or maybe Ponch from CHiPs could pursue crooks on his police bike as they flee a bank robbery in this car. I can only imagine how many of these plain-colored, low-trim V8 sedans were destroyed filming those kinds of scenes over the years. Thankfully this one has survived.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1964 Volkswagen Type 3 1500 Notchback

I've never understood Volkswagen tuners. It seems like most VeeDubs have one or two preferred "looks" with little variation among them. Most modern customized VWs I see are slammed to the ground, rolling on BBS lace wheels with stretched tires, negative camber and smoked light lenses. Many are debadged, sporting roof racks and fart can mufflers. For some reason a recent trend seems to be a rusted hood on an otherwise shiny car.

Vintage VWs also get dropped down low, but they offer a little more variation. This mid-1960s (identified by the former owner as an early 1964 with the 'push button' dashboard - thanks for stopping by!) Type 3 Notchback is a refreshing change from your average Beetle. It doesn't stray far from the classic VW tuner's rule book: EMPI 5-spoke wheels, low stance, a clean body and some accessory lamps. However, the trunk badges are missing (possibly soon to have their mounting holes filled and painted over for a smoother look) and the hood appears to be on its way toward the rusted look. However, it's entirely possible the owner bought a replacement hood and hadn't gotten it painted yet at the time I found it. According to the former owner's comments, he was actually in the process of restoring the car to more original condition from its modified state.

What really made this car stand out to me was the fact that the Type 3 Notchback was never part of Volkswagen's US lineup. We got the Squareback and the lesser-known Fastback (the car whose engine Dustin Hoffman famously couldn't find in the TV ads), but the Notchback wasn't offered here. So the only way to get one is to import one from Canada or Europe or some other market where the Notchback was originally sold. Being the same basic car as the other Type 3s, and old enough to be exempt from emissions testing, it shouldn't be too hard to certify in the States.
I've always liked Type 3s, and despite my love for station wagons, the Fastback and Notchback are my favorite body styles. The Notch has an airy greenhouse design with good visibility, and the engine's air vents beneath the rear window are subtle enough that it doesn't scream, "I'm a rear-engined, air cooled car!" If you took the badges off, I bet a lot of people would never know it was a Volkswagen. I like the EMPI wheels on this one, and the stance is fine. I'd keep the trunk badging and paint the hood. A car this clean and straight really should be one color and complete. Amusingly, the owner has made an effort to enhance the vintage look of his car by painting the mid 2000s-issue license plate to look like a California "black plate" issued between 1963 and 1969. It's a nice touch, but black plates were six digits with "ABC 123" pattern. The current plate numbering system ("1ABC123") is similar except for the seventh prefix digit, 5 in the case of this car. To a casual observer unfamiliar with California plates of 45 years ago, it's convincing enough. And now, California actually has a Legacy License Plate program that's re-issuing vintage styled plates painted in the correct color for the era of manufacture.
Nice car, Volks tuner. Keep it clean.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1964 Studebaker Daytona

I'm totally a sucker for Studebakers, even the ones I don't like that much. Maybe it's the amusing-sounding name, maybe it's the fact they were solid domestic cars not built in Detroit, maybe it's just the fact they have a unique flavor not found in a Ford or a Chevy or a Dodge.

This car presents an interesting question: When is a Lark not a Lark? Some readers may remember the red 1963 Lark Daytona S2 convertible featured during Independents Week back in July. This is a Daytona too, and it's a facelift of the Lark body, but it's not badged as a Lark. And like the red Daytona, it has a V8, but it's not supercharged. How very confusing. Everywhere you look, particularly in the profile, it's not hard to see the Daytona's pedestrian Lark roots. By 1963, the Lark's faux-Mercedes grille and little round taillights were becoming dated and a refresh was in order. The results of that refresh, while perhaps not the most handsome car, gave it a more modern look without outright copying the competition.

As this car belongs to the collector I commonly refer to as Stude Guy, it has been modified to suit his taste. The chrome hood ornament is added, as are the polished American Racing Torq Thrust wheels (A-R rims of various kinds are a customary addition to his cars), custom tailpipes and the Studebaker Drivers Club license plate frame. I was surprised that this car doesn't wear the Frost & French Studebaker dealer plate frames most of his other cars have. Luckily the interior has been left largely stock and looks quite lovely. it seems to be a dark blue leather or vinyl that goes great with the vibrant metallic blue body. I've never been a big fan of the later Studebakers, but this one is growing on me the more I look at it.
I actually met Stude Guy once, very briefly, and since he was busy and had to leave right away I never learned his name. Just from what I've seen, he has an impressive collection of these rare and fascinating cars that get driven on a daily basis, and I can't wait to find and document all of them someday.