Friday, March 30, 2012

Pleasanton Street Sighting - 1963 Buick Electra 225 convertible

Few cars have a reputation built on sheer size. The Buick Electra - the real one, not the silly post-1986 FWD version - was one of those cars. It was affectionately called the "Deuce and a Quarter" for its massive 225-inch length. These cars were luxury boats, loaded with chrome and convenience features, as well as what passed for "safety" items in those days like extra padding and warning buzzers in case the two-ton car's inertia proved too much for the drum brakes to stop in time.
This 1963 example is the rarest Electra 225 variant, the convertible of which 6,367 were built. I found it parked near a Goodguys car show in Pleasanton, which most of my readers seem to think is eligible as a street sighting since it was legally parked and unattended on a public street. Interestingly, Goodguys has since posted No Parking signs on this stretch of road during show hours. I figure it's more for increasing fairgrounds parking lot revenue than it is for safety.
With the exception of the headlight treatment, I quite like the styling of the '63 Electra 225. The rear angles are particularly attractive to me, with rear quarter panels styled so sharply that you could practically slice cheese on them, and taillamps set deep beyond those wonderfully useless bumpers. Clearly this is a car designed to cruise and not crash. The owner of this beautifully straight Bronze Mist barge has elected to add some elaborate pinstriping to the hood and trunk lid, a custom touch I don't particularly care for. However, the whitewall tires with chrome five-spoke wheels are perfect. It just needs a center cap on the right rear and someone with enough patience to find a good classic rock station on the AM band.

Friday, March 23, 2012

BART Cars - Corollas

The Toyota Corolla is the most produced car in history with over 40 million sold. So one might assume that the Corolla is a common car, and not very special. However, some older variants of the Corolla are now rare and considered desirable. General Motors had some Corolla-based joint-venture cars from the '80s onward, which included the Chevy Nova and Geo/Chevy Prizm and later, the Pontiac Vibe. (The former two were available in limited numbers as 'high-performance' versions using the famous Toyota 4AGE four-cylinder engine.) Here are the top five Holy 'Rollas I found in the BART parking lot over five years of university commuting.

1977 Toyota Corolla SR-5 Sport Coupe

1982 Toyota Corolla SR-5 Coupe

1985 Toyota Corolla AE86

1988 Chevrolet Nova Twin Cam

1991 Geo Prizm GSi

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1958 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

Old European cars frustrate me. I hate when I can't correctly place a vehicle's year, or sometimes even the decade of manufacture, because it doesn't have little superficial details so commonly employed on American cars to keep them fresh year after year. Volkswagen used to pride themselves on how little they altered the styling of their cars, and that brings us to this early Karmann Ghia.
The VW Type 14 Karmann Ghia was produced for 19 years, beginning in 1955 and ending in 1974. Like all Volkswagen products of this era, the Ghia was changed just enough to comply with safety regulations and make the car function better. And rightfully so - the car was penned by Ghia and hand-built by Karmann, with a level of style and quality that earned it praise from a number of sources.
Karmann Ghias are still relatively plentiful and can be found in all manner of condition, but the pre-1960 ones are becoming rare. This car was built somewhere between 1957 and early 1959 based on the dipping front fender line and low-mounted headlamps and late-'57-on bumper over-rider tubing. I split the difference with an estimated age of 1958 (anyone who can pinpoint the year is welcome to correct me). This example also appears to have been undergoing customization at the time I saw it, with a new exhaust system and various accessories like fog lamps, a wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel and a modern stereo head unit.
I enjoy night shoots when the lighting is sufficient, and I think this came out reasonably well, considering that I had no tripod and used my old camera. It might have been nice to shoot in the daytime, but some cars just take on a whole different feel at night.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1969 Plymouth Fury III sedan

Several days ago we looked at a 1969 Plymouth Fury III convertible. Now let's check out another Fury from the same year, but this time it's a big old four-door in an interesting sort of caramel brown color (could be Honey Bronze). This vintage American barge has the same lines as the convertible, but somehow it looks a bit less prestigious despite the luxurious padded top. What do you mean, padded tops aren't luxurious?
This car is another one I regret not shooting in more detail. It was parked outside the Hall of Justice and I certainly didn't want to upset anyone there. Although one of my university buildings was located a few blocks away and I would continue to pass nearby for the next few years, I never saw this Fury again.
Looking at the pictures, this example appears more well-used than the red convertible. The trim is a little beat up, though the delicate-looking grille appears almost brand new and the bumper chrome is in good shape. This one definitely needs paint, since it doesn't have a cool patina (doesn't look bad enough to look good? Irony). Well, the current paintjob may be sufficient to protect the body from rust for a few more years if the owner isn't worried about appearance. It looks okay from across the street. The most oddball detail I see is the fender mirror on the passenger side. Fender mirrors are a popular feature on older Japanese cars and some European cars, but I've never seen them on late-sixties American sedans. Oh well, whatever floats your boat. I'm sure this boat floats quite well - and the extra mirror helps the captain avoid running aground.

Friday, March 16, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1966 Ford Fairlane 500

Readers may notice that my photo quality and quantity have gone down a bit this week. I'm using up some archive material, much of which was photographed in 2007-08, long before I even started this blog. In fact, the reason I photographed this 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 sedan as much as I did was because my friend was making driveable virtual vehicles in the online community SecondLife and was interested in textures for his models. Basically he needed a good front, side and rear shot, as well as a wheel photo, which could then be mapped onto the 3D model to make it look more realistic and detailed. Only one of my sets of textures ever made it into SecondLife, but that's beside the point.
I am a huge fan of the 1966-67 Fairlanes, so I really wish I'd done a better shoot. This car has a real Dragnet feel to it, and I can't remember the last time I saw a four-door Fairlane like this. It's a V8 car judging by the badges (which I should have photographed; they're cool), and the body looks like it's in great shape. I'd call it a prime candidate for a restoration. A new coat of paint, rechromed bumpers and a complete set of hubcaps would do wonders for this very straight and solid Fairlane. And yes, I just might paint it gold like Joe Friday's car. Just the facts, ma'am.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1987 Suzuki Samurai JX

While we're on the topic of supposedly unsafe cars whose sales someone went out of their way to destroy, let's take a look at the Suzuki Samurai. I admit, normally I wouldn't write about something like this, but it seems appropriate and these little 4x4s aren't especially common anymore. Consumer Reports pretty much ruined the Samurai. It was a cheap, capable personal SUV that happened to have a high center of gravity and a short wheelbase. And to Consumer Reports, that equals flip hazard. Never mind that video evidence exists of them doing everything they could to force the truck to go up on two wheels. A photo in a print magazine doesn't capture the voices offscreen of staffers cheering when they get the results they wanted, rather than the results the vehicle would give under regular driving input.
The Samurai was relatively popular in North America until it was rated "Not Acceptable" and called a safety risk. Sales were slashed more and more each year, and Suzuki was pissed. Consumer Reports continued to use their deep-six of the Samurai as a bragging right for years afterword. It's entirely possible that they are the main reason Suzuki no longer has much brand presence in the United States. Well... that, and no car Suzuki has sold in the US since in the last decade has been particularly memorable. A lot of people have forgotten that Suzuki still makes cars. On the other hand, Suzuki faced more than 200 lawsuits over rollover accidents involving Samurais over the years, so it is possible there was some truth to Consumer Reports' findings after all...
This Sami is a 1987 JX model, equipped with a 1.3 liter 4-cylinder engine hooked to a 5-speed manual transmission. It seems to me that a Samurai would be a good 4WD vehicle for a person living in the city where parking space is at a premium, and where frugal fuel economy is very important. If you're careful on the hills, you should be fine. This one looks like it has a lot of life left in it (or at least did when it was photographed in 2007) and according to California smog records is still on the road.

Monday, March 12, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza convertible

I have a certain fondness for cars with terrible reputations. Maybe it's something about the way that dependable and safe cars tend to be boring. That's probably why, to date, I've only featured one Honda. And so, we take another look at a favorite automotive whipping boy, the Chevy Corvair.
One would almost think from reading this blog, that the Corvair Monza convertible is relatively common, seeing as this is the third one I've featured. I don't know how many are left, but in San Francisco at least, almost every Corvair one sees is the more desirable Monza trim. A convertible top is also desirable, so this clean white '65 seems to hold all the cards. It's mostly factory stock with a nice set of wire wheelcovers with knock-off hubcaps, accented by thin whitewall tires. The only visible modifications are some ghastly aftermarket fog lights and - interestingly - a Yenko Stinger sticker on the front. Don Yenko was a famous Chevy tuner who today is known mostly for his special high-performance Camaros and Novas. Less common are his Yenko Stinger Corvairs. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. It is also unfortunate that I found and photographed this car during my pre-blog phase when I photographed interesting cars primarily for the purpose of sharing them with my friends online to see what they thought of them. I missed so many good shooting opportunities over the years that it inspired me to begin my periodic "Best of the Rest" series. It was sheer luck (probably brought about mainly by those awful foglights and the fact the street had very little traffic) that I even took more than two or three pictures of this car.
As with so many convertibles of this era, I'm not really concerned about how this one drives. I don't care if it has the wimpy two-speed Powerglide automatic. It's not going to be especially fast by modern standards, nor will it handle especially well. People who expect a stock 1960s car to drive like a new Corvette are missing the point. Unless you plan to dump serious money into it and turn it into some kind of Pro-Touring track monster, the best thing you can do is roll the windows down, put the top down, and go for a drive on the most beautiful highway you can find.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1969 Plymouth Fury III convertible

A lot of people today will easily recognize the 1969 Plymouth Fury, but not necessarily because it's a collectible classic. The fact is, a two-door '69 Fury is a common background prop vehicle in many levels of the popular zombie-shooter video game series Left 4 Dead. There are certainly more of them lying all over the place in that game than there are in the real world.
This is a less common variety of Fury, the top-line Fury III convertible. I've long thought that 1969 was one of the best years for Chrysler Corporation, because they had a lot of designs that ranged from inoffensive to freaking fantastic. I think 1970 was the tipping point, when slab-sided "Fuselage" styling really took over (this is an early example of the theme) and the popular muscle cars started to get a little weird (and in the coming Malaise years would become glorified personal luxury coupes). I rather like early Fuselage cars such as the Fury, because it's big and elegant without being gaudy. If anything, I find the styled wheelcovers to be the most fussy detail of the car. And the Fury script emblem on the taillight panel is one of my all-time favorite car badges.
Based on a quick visual inspection this one looks to be in great shape, with mostly just cosmetic issues. It needs the paint on the trunk and hood buffed back to a nice shine, and could definitely use a really good bumper polish or better yet, a re-chrome. The white convertible top has a hole in it and really should be replaced, especially since it's an invitation to thieves and the plastic rear window is so crazed and yellowed it presents a visibility hazard.
Would I drive this red-on-red V8 boat? I wouldn't own it, but it sure would be enjoyable to drop the top and cruise in the California sunshine, and I wouldn't say no to a chance to do just that.