Wednesday, April 25, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Volkswagen Type 2 Bus Pickup

The VW Bus pickup seems to come in two distinct varieties: Custom lowrider or beaten work truck. I don't see many that are stock, and even fewer that are in this stage of degradation. This is one of the newer Bus pickups I've seen, and yet it's in arguably the worst condition of any I've seen on the street. Found in the Mission District, this old single-cab Splittie has been through the wringer.
VW Buses were basic to start with, but this one is missing the passenger seat and even the driver seat is down to bare springs. It's been hit on every corner and both ends, which gives the owner good reason to have installed heavier-duty bumpers. The rust seems to have started both in the rockers at the bottom and in the roof rails at the top in a race to meet in the middle. But since the engine is air-cooled and has only about four moving parts, I'm sure it's bulletproof and will continue to run until the body rusts off.

P.S. For anyone at Google who might have stumbled onto this post... I made it using the new Blogger editor which freaking sucks no matter how they try to spin it. Blogging should never be as aggravating as it is now.

Monday, April 23, 2012

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1981 Bradley GT II Electric

After some three years, we finally see our first electric car. They're hardly a new invention - some of the earliest cars were powered by electricity. The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are only the newest arrivals on the market, and perhaps the first to take the electric car mainstream. Thirty years ago, the electric car was typically something you built from a donor vehicle in your back yard with a bunch of batteries stuffed in places they didn't belong.

This is a Bradley GT II Electric, the final evolution of the Bradley GT kit car. The Bradley was a curious concoction, a fiberglass sports car body on the chassis of a VW Beetle. Like many kit cars of the 1970s, the Bradley GT could be assembled at home, but the company also offered factory-built cars which had a higher level of quality than the average Joe wrenching in his back yard. The GT II had a revised body shape that made it look less cartoonish, but maintained the DeLorean-style gullwing doors and pop-up headlamps. Late GT IIs (1980-81) were factory-built with electric power. I don't know how many were ultimately constructed, but I've only seen three of them in recent memory and two of those live at the same house.
Today, talk of so-called "range anxiety" is used to sway people between buying the Volt or the Leaf, because pure electrics typically have less range than cars with a gas engine. Considering the price of a new electric car, though, even with all the government tax incentives and such, it's hard to argue the economic benefits of paying a premium for a new car with minimal luggage space and the inability to drive very far between charges. The owner of these two Bradleys probably picked them both up for much less than the cost of one Nissan Leaf, and uses them both as commute vehicles. Take one to work one day and charge the other to use the next. If you have the space, why not?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Triumph TR4 roadster

I don't know if it's because they're cheap, or British, or just because it's the big city, but it seems as though most British roadsters in the city are in some stage of disrepair. They often have worn, weather-beaten paint and some degree of rust sullying their bodies. The upholstery is cracked, convertible tops are often bandaged with tape, bumpers bent and pitted and wooden steering wheels worn smooth with many miles and many years of experience. Some people call such a car a beater. Others call it "cheap and cheerful". And nobody does cheap and cheerful like a drop-top sports roadster.

This Triumph TR4 is one such example. Unlike the last TR4 I featured, this car looks like it means business as a bona fide driver's car. Gone are the baby blue paint and wire wheels. In their place are no-nonsense black and standard 16-hole pressed steel wheels with plain hubcaps, as well as stone guards over the headlights. This car also sports a trunk rack for strapping down a bit of weekend luggage, begging to be taken out on the back roads of Sonoma County, perhaps for some exploration of the various wineries and bed-and-breakfasts (and it's just as well since the trunk lock is missing). And, as an oddly playful personal touch, the rear bumper has a Sex Pistols bumper sticker which stands out from the otherwise restrained car.
Dating these cars is frustrating. They're smog-exempt, so no emissions records are on file with the state, and they didn't change much over the four years they were built. I'm guessing it's fairly close to the other TR4 which I averaged out as a 1963 model. The license plate on this example is a very recent issue, implying that it was purchased by the current owner only a short time ago.
It makes me wonder, forty years from now, will people still be driving classic Pontiac Solstices, Lotus Elises, Honda S2000s and Mazda MX-5s in slightly rough shape as daily commuters in the city? Will such cars still be in style then as this Triumph is today? Or will we all be resigned to stupid automated commuter pods like in those bleak futuristic films? Some of us will still want to drive our own cars, to have the option of putting the top down and in many cases shift our own gears, and some of the next generation will want to do the same. Save the sports cars!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car

Not many people seem to care about Ford's Lincoln luxury division anymore, because it has nearly lapsed into irrelevance. Lincoln builds only a small range of models, most of which are thinly disguised Fords that are gradually being upstaged by the redesigned versions of the cars on which they were originally based. Ford is shedding luxury and near-luxury divisions like crazy. They sold off their stakes in Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin, and phased out the mid-range Mercury brand completely. Suddenly the "One Ford" policy (combining American and European product lines) is starting to sound like "Only Ford". Even today, some people have a hard time making a case for Lincoln's continued existence.
People have long lamented the decline of American luxury. Some bemoan the death of the large, rear-wheel-drive sedan with floaty suspension and couch-like seats. Others pin the blame on those same cars as being short-sighted, ill-handling, gas-guzzling barges, symbols of wretched excess that seemed to parody themselves and increase our dependence on foreign oil. Along with Cadillac, Lincoln carried the torch for the traditional American RWD luxury formula well into the 1990s. Both were popular with the aging population, but not many other buyers. Both brands dabbled in front-wheel-drive and smaller powerplants, but as Cadillac transitioned primarily to FWD, the last true American RWD luxury car was the Lincoln Town Car. Today the Town Car, much loved by octogenarians, limo and livery cab drivers everywhere, is dead. Chrysler fields a revitalized 300C, and Cadillac's CTS takes on BMW instead of Lincoln. To a degree, Chrysler and Cadillac have been embraced by the hip-hop scene, courting younger buyers. And of course, the luxury market is dominated by brands from Europe and Japan, many of which didn't exist when this car rolled off the assembly line.
Lincoln is trying so hard to market itself as a thinking man's car, the sort of car driven by slick ad executives with thin-rimmed glasses and trendy suits who, if the ads are to be believed, would actually buy an MKZ Hybrid or MKS instead of the latest Audi.

This 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car is truly a dinosaur among dinosaurs. It was already a dying breed, as the basic body and platform dated to 1970. Lincoln designers had apparently realized the car's own obsolescence, as 1978 Town Cars finally lost their fender skirts. This was the final year for the hulking 460 V8. The Town Car was also the single largest factory passenger car in the world in 1978 -- GM had already downsized all their large cars the previous year, and the downsized "Panther" platform Ford and Mercury full-size cars would arrive just one year later.
Looking at this example, one can see why these cars aren't made anymore. This was still the era where a padded vinyl top, whitewall tires and spongy springs (and of course an upright chrome grille patterned after Rolls-Royce) were considered luxurious. Note the massive body but relatively small glass area and passenger compartment. Some modern observers despise these late-seventies Town Cars, calling them ugly and absurd. I'm torn on them, since I don't consider them to be especially attractive (particularly with the headlamp covers open), but the absurdity factor appeals to me. Would I own one? Hell no! But my God, this one has been taken care of. Inside and out, it looks like a brand new car that just needs a wash and wax job. I'd bet it's a low mileage car. Normally I'd never have featured a car like this, but when I passed by it a second or third time and saw a tow tag on the windshield, I feared the worst. Surely someone wouldn't abandon such a clean Continental! After I photographed this car, I never saw it again. Out of curiosity though, I recently checked the plate number against California smog records and it was tested the month after I last saw it. And the best part? Not only is this baby blue boat still alive and kicking, but it can pass a California enhanced-criteria emissions test. Take that, greenies.

Monday, April 16, 2012

San Jose Street Sighting - 1980 Porsche 911SC

I'm a major sucker for the 1980s Porsche 911. Nobody does crazy as conservatively as ze Germans, and the world is all the better for it. The 911 is a formula that shouldn't work. The engine's in the back, the handling can be tricky, and Jeremy Clarkson hates them with a passion. And in the right color, with Fuchs wheels and a whale tail spoiler, you might have a hard time finding a better looking 1980s sports car. Well-heeled driving enthusiasts of the day would of course opt for the 930 Turbo, but the mid-range 911SC was still a fine choice. The SC came with a naturally aspirated 3.0 liter flat six and narrower fenders than the wild 930 Turbo. With a lower power output but no turbo lag, the SC sounds like a sports car the average driver can enjoy without oversteering into a ditch. And even today it looks great while still delivering that trademark Porsche exhaust note. I don't know how many of these sporty coupes arrived on our shores in this fetching light blue (Minerva Blue?) with matching Fuchs wheels, but that color combination was an important factor in my decision to photograph this example. I'd seen it many times, but it was usually garaged. Seeing it parked on the street made me a happy camper. You aren't likely to see very many Porsches here on California Streets, but I'm proud to feature this one.