Tuesday, January 31, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1976 Mini 1000

When a car is built for many years with the same basic body it's easy to get the different models mixed up. The classic Mini is probably the best example of this, and probably the most easily interchangeable. Countless special editions and variants were released, and continuous improvements were made over the years. This car hails from the British Leyland years as evidenced by the fender badges, and is also badged as a Mini 1000, which if correct, makes it a 1976-77 model. It's also right-hand drive and bears a foreign license plate which resembles New Zealand. It wouldn't be the first NZ Mini I've seen in California.
Old Minis are surprisingly abundant in San Francisco, being one of history's great city cars. These were considered a small family car in their time, but are no longer suitable for many plus-sized people in America. Compare this pint-sized Mini to the contemporary Toyota Corolla in front of if for a real idea of what a "compact car" has become in this country. This one is in great shape aside from a little bit of bumper damage in front. I like that it isn't a cliched Cooper clone sitting on Minilite wheels, finished in red with white hood stripes and a white roof like so many others. Don't get me wrong, people do it because that's pretty much the quintessential Mini, but it does get rather dull when they all look like that. The simple light blue with steel wheels and shiny dog dish hubcaps looks just fine to me. Just don't expect to win the Monte Carlo Rally or escape the Turin Police with this one.

Monday, January 30, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1967 Datsun 520 1300 Pickup

Some of the least common old cars in this area seem to be old Datsuns - but not the cars, oddly enough. A large number of Z coupes and 510s have been saved because they were good cars despite being rust-prone. What doesn't seem to have survived, are the compact pickups Datsun fielded in the American market.
It's still easy to find old Toyota pickups on the West Coast, even with their own atrocious rust problems. These and Mazda's B-series trucks competed with the Datsuns and were popular with buyers who wanted a more economical choice than a full-size Ford F-Series, Chevy C/K or Dodge D-Series. The existence of the small imports forced the Big Three to rethink their game. Ford would respond in the '70s with the Mazda-based Courier, Chevy would field the Isuzu-based LUV, and Dodge brought over the Mitsubishi-based Ram D50.
This pickup is a 1967-68 520 model with the 1300 cc J13 engine making 67 horsepower. This body style was introduced in 1965 and gained quad headlights for '67. Condition is okay, with a small amount of body damage and a lot of surface rust in the bed area. It's fragile and basic and slow by today's standards, but I'm sure these little haulers worked hard in their day and saved a lot of dino juice for the rest of us.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Danville Street Sighting - 1965 Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII

This is one from my archives, and it shows. My earlier photos, especially with my old camera, just aren't much to look at. The car, on the other hand, is quite the looker. It's an Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III, produced around 1965.
The 3000 has always been my favorite Healey roadster, and you don't often see one just parked on the street. Luckily this one was a spectator at a local car show, but parked his car on the street a few blocks away. Lighting wasn't the best, and if I'd had half a mind back in 2008 that several months later I'd be starting a blog, I'd have spent more time with it and taken more pictures.
The Mark III (1963-67) was the final incarnation of the 3000 and was also the most luxurious and powerful (both being relative as power translated to 150 horsepower and luxury meant a wood dash and roll-up windows.) I would also argue that the MkIII was the busiest looking, with all its federally mandated indicators and running lights and reflectors that stick out of the front and rear corners like so many warts. This particular car has a center high mount third brake light for added visibility to other drivers. Most of these cars that I've seen are painted in two-tone, but commonly with the darker color on top and a white lower tone. This reversal looks to be Old English White over Colorado Red with red interior, a walnut veneer dash and a Nardi wood-rimmed steering wheel. Looks like fun.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Best of the Rest: 1980s GM

1980 Chevrolet Citation, San Francisco
1983 Buick Century T-Type, San Francisco
1988 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo, San Francisco
1989 Buick LeSabre T-Type, San Francisco
1989 Cadillac Allante, San Francisco

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1956 Packard Patrician

The story of Packard is a long one, but unfortunately it doesn't have a happy ending. The name Packard conjures up images of graceful 1930s luxury cars with tall, distinctive grilles and long hoods. The company itself was a pioneer of automobile design, with their first cars rolling off the line in 1899. The earliest models were true horseless carriages, some resembling the Olds Curved Dash Runabout. As time progressed, Packard became one of the recognized names in luxury, and persisted as a high-end marque even through the Depression. In the mid-thirties, though, Packard saw the need to diversify and offer less expensive "aspirational" cars to attract more buyers. These cars were something of a catch-22; they kept the doors open longer, but they also cheapened Packard's brand image.

Following World War II, almost all Packards looked the same, so a person driving an expensive model didn't stand out from someone driving the cheaper model - not a good thing if, say, you paid Cadillac money for something that looks like a Chevy. Coming into the 1950s, a Packard looked much like any other large American sedan, albeit with a loose interpretation of the Packard corporate grille shape and a comically oversized swan hood ornament. In 1951 the Packard Patrician came out, billed as their top model. The Patrician name comes from the Roman Empire and referred to elite citizens. It seems a snobbish name for a car that, with all its tacked-on chrome bits, might have more accurately been called the Packard Pretender.
For 1955, Richard Teague was tasked with redesigning the lineup using the same basic body as the 1951 model. Yes, the same Richard Teague who later did the AMC Gremlin. Considering that he had a limited budget, Teague didn't do too badly bringing the old car up to current design standards. Packard also introduced a new trim pattern which allowed up to three different colors to be used on a car with minimal masking effort. On the Patrician, a machined aluminum veneer was used as the second tone.

For 1956, the final year for true Packards, the Patrician got a new grille and unusual pointed fender extensions that hooded the headlights, giving the illusion that they were set deeper inside their coves. Only 3,375 Patricians were sold in their final year. For '57 and '58, Packards existed only as "Packardbakers", or superficially restyled Studebakers. Then Packard was gone.

This Patrician is the only one I recall ever seeing. I found out about it via Flickr and finally managed to locate it. San Francisco Packards are elusive and this is one of only a couple I've managed to find parked on the street. It looks good for its age, quite likely an unrestored original. There are some dents in places and the whole thing badly needs a wash and wax. As near as I can tell, the color is Mojave Tan with a Dover White secondary color. This car lives near a collector who owns a small fleet of Corvair Monzas, and may well belong to the same person. It makes sense that a person who likes an eclectic car such as the Corvair would appreciate the last true Packard. Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to find it again, all clean and not parked under trees.

Monday, January 23, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Triumph TR4

Fifth in my collection of San Francisco cars photographed and featured by both myself and by my friend Colin Stacy of The Automotive Way, is this early 1960s Triumph TR4 roadster.

Vintage Triumphs are cool little cars. Being British, they're the kind of vehicle you can chat with your friends about over a pint, sharing all your adventures ... in fixing it when it broke down.
Okay, that's unfair. The stereotype of unreliable British sports cars is partly earned thanks to the infamous Lucas electrics, leaking oil and later British Leyland corporate bungling and apathetic quality control, but when they do run I'm sure that a classic English roadster is a thrill to drive. It must be, if American soldiers returning from duty in Europe brought home thousands of them, and Mazda sought to copy the formula when it developed the MX-5 Miata in the late eighties.

Triumph had some great and pretty unique little cars during their heyday, when the company wasn't forcing them to slap their badge on crap, usually rebadged versions of other mundane BMC or British Leyland products. They had the TR series of roadsters that lasted from the 1950s to the '70s, perhaps reaching its pinnacle with the TR6 and then promptly plummeting into a hole with the TR7. Triumph's last gasp was the Acclaim, a sedan which was a rebadged Honda Civic and probably sold in reasonable numbers because it ran. (That didn't stop the light Japanese steel from rusting in the UK's damp climate though...)
The TR4 sat pretty much smack in the middle of Triumph's roadster series. It was built between 1961 and '65, so I've split down the middle and called this one a '63. In late 1963 the dashboard design was changed to a mahogany veneer, but this one has the early style which was white with black trim. While not my favorite of their cars, The Michelotti-penned design has begun to grow on me. It's a cleanly designed little car that's probably the most fun to drive at low speeds on twisty roads. One of my high school classmates had a Miata with a license plate frame that read: "Happiness isn't around the corner; happiness IS the corner". And that is the mantra of the classic sports car. Unlike most American cars of the era which were made for cushy straight-line highway cruising or stoplight drag races, the TR4 has a small 2138cc 4-cylinder engine, a 4-speed manual gearbox and a chassis tuned for a hard ride and optimal cornering ability.
This one needs to be shown some love before the tin worms get into the body, but for an almost 50 year old roadster it looks pretty good. Maybe the owner fears that if it looks too nice, some vandal or thief will ruin it, or it will be too good to properly enjoy on the open road. And that would really be a shame.

You can read Colin's take on this car here.