Saturday, July 28, 2012

Santa Cruz Street Sighting - 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7

One of the great things about Santa Cruz is that someone, somewhere, always has their old car out for the day. They're rarely concours examples, but usually a decent driver. I found this 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7 while looking for a parking space near Marianne's ice cream shop. The shop is extremely popular and has a tiny parking lot, so we had to go down the block and around the corner to find parking. I was with a friend who's a huge fan of early Cougars so this was a good sighting for both of us.

I love the styling of the 1967-68 Cougar. Considering that they were given a Mustang to work with as a starting point, the finished sporty luxury coupe that resulted is a masterpiece. I'm more partial to the '67 mainly because it lacks the '68's side marker lights, but this car is a good example of its breed and model year.
I'll start by saying I love this color combination. Deep metallic green with a white vinyl top just works on this car. The white pinstripe along the car's beltline ties in nicely with the roof color. One of the great things about this car is how subtle it is. So many Cougars have been turned into snorting street machines with big chrome rims and loud colors and deep, throaty exhaust systems. You can't even see the exhaust system on this car. It makes no claims about itself, it has nothing to prove, it just sits there and looks pretty. The thin whitewall tires are perfect but it desperately needs hubcaps to dress it up a little. Factory Cougar turbine-style wheelcovers would do nicely. Then a wash and wax with the chrome trim polished up would make this car downright beautiful.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Santa Cruz Street Sighting - 1968 Lincoln Continental coupe

Over the years on California Streets I've featured multiple Lincoln Continentals and a couple of Mark series coupes. Most have been sedans, but the regular Continental was also available as a coupe for part of its production run. This practice continued from 1966 until the early 1980s when the Town Car was also offered as a Town Coupe. I almost never see Continental coupes like this, which made this one that much more special.

This car belongs to the Santa Cruz collector who also owns the Peugeot 403 I featured a few weeks ago. This big blue boat is in good condition for its age and has clearly been maintained with pride. It's not a concours example by any means; the paint is failing on the trunk, there's a small rust bubble on the trunk lid corner, and one hubcap and the hood ornament have gone missing. But the big formal coupe displays well at the curb and is clean enough to be a daily driver classic. This is a true personal luxury coupe. It's gigantic, nearly twenty feet long. And yet, the greenhouse is tiny. The back seat must have almost no legroom or headroom. I've always found the proportions of these cars a bit odd, but the intention is clear. Personal luxury means one or two people, not the whole family, coddled in the most sumptuously appointed interior and and riding on a pillow-soft suspension, with a powerful engine and an enormous trunk for whatever the owner and his or her traveling companion wishes to bring along. This car has that in spades. It makes up for its unusual midsection with instantly recognizable Continental design cues, proper thin whitewall tires and full styled wheelcovers. The '68 Continental coupe may not be my favorite Continental year or body style but it has a heck of a presence and I'm glad I was able to photograph it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

San Jose Street Sighting - 1968 Ford LTD Country Squire wagon

It's still summertime, and summer is the season of the road trip. Unless you're me, in which case my road trips usually seem to occur in winter. But that's another story.
Back in the good old days, road trips were the domain of the family station wagon. I could of course wax romantic about traveling hundreds of miles in the back of a big station wagon with no air conditioning, the rear hatch window rolled down to let in all the exhaust fumes, and the sun magnifying its rays through the untinted windows in an effort to fuse the children to the vinyl seats. Why? Because I'm 24 and that was before my time. My family road trips happened in a 1985 Pontiac 6000 STE, a 1994 Ford Taurus GL, and later a 1999 Buick Regal GS. All had air conditioning and some kind of music player, but they pale in comparison to the infotainment systems available today to keep kids occupied on long journeys. Honestly, I'm not really a fan of TVs and video game systems in cars. In my youth I'd look out the window and try to enjoy the ride, provided it wasn't all just Interstate 5 for six hours straight. I'd usually arrive at our destination with a sunburn on one side, a neck ache and a severe case of boredom. Road trips have gotten a little less boring in the years since I got my driver's license and a digital camera.

This 1968 Ford LTD Country Squire wagon is a relic from the "good old days" of the station wagon. Before the SUV this was the utility vehicle for soccer practice and running down to the hardware store for cedar paneling and linoleum. It's unapologetically big but with a touch of '60s style. There's a subtle Coke-bottle shape in the body, and a sleek front end with hidden headlights in the grille. You can't even get those on a Corvette anymore, and here they are on a station wagon! The interior is huge with thickly padded bench seats perfect for stuffing the whole family and their dog in, and the steel roof rack looks sturdier than most modern units for holding luggage.
Where this wagon falls far short is its condition. And that isn't the car's fault despite Ford's reputation for hit or miss rustproofing in those days. The paint on the body appears to be the original gold color, and it's lost its luster. From across the street, the paint doesn't look too bad. But when the artificial woodgrain on the sides began to peel and look otherwise nasty, the owner did a half-hearted masking job with tape and rattlecanned almost the whole bottom half of the car brown. The result is an unappealing overall look on a car that makes it seem worse than it is. True, there's some rust starting in the roof and the rear bumper's mangled, but it could be saved. The body panels are in great shape and from what I can see, so is the interior. The chrome hubcaps, too, are free from damage and it wears its original license plates. The only non-stock parts on the car are the door mirrors. Come on, spring for a proper paint job when you can afford it. This is a really cool car in search of a restoration.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1985 Subaru BRAT GL

In the world of coupe-utility pickups the names Ranchero and El Camino are well loved and widely known. Utes are a way of life in many countries, where the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore and even Fiats and Peugeots are offered in car-based pickup versions in certain markets. There is another ute that was sold in the US market which a lot of people forget - the Subaru BRAT.

The BRAT (Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) was based on the Leone, which could be had in a variety of body styles. It was produced from 1978 to 1993, but was only sold in North America until 1987. Some 92,445 were sold in North America. To avoid the chicken tax for imported trucks, Subaru installed two rear-facing plastic seats in the bed complete with hand holds, seat belts and adjustable headrests, thereby qualifying the BRAT as a passenger car. (Interestingly, the California DMV doesn't seem to have been fooled, as this one wears truck license plates.) This is a notable example because 1985 was the final year for the jump seats in the back.
This little trucklet caught my eye because it's in fantastic condition. I was initially conflicted about shooting it because it's so modern, but I very rarely see BRATs that look this good. Curiously, this one also has glass T-tops, a feature I don't think I've ever noticed on a BRAT before, but apparently it's a common option on these. It's a GL trim level, which means it has quad headlights, nicer carpet and a dual range transfer case in case you feel the urge to go rock crawling.
Subaru tried the car-based pickup formula again with the Legacy-based Baja in 2002, which was produced apparently to give their plant workers in Indiana something to do. The Baja was for all intents and purposes a sales failure with only 30,000 sold in four years. Who knows? Maybe years from now someone will find an old Baja on the street and take pictures of it for their blog.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1970 Morris Minor 1000 Van

I've seen a number of unusual cars cruising down the streets of San Francisco over the years, and occasionally I've been lucky enough to turn on my camera and snap a picture or two as they drive by. Three years ago I was walking through the Haight and this Morris Minor van puttered past. Needless to say, I was excited, but after two photos I figured I'd never see the little van again. And for a while I didn't see it, until this April when it showed up parked on Nob Hill.

The Morris Minor was a fixture on roads in the UK for decades and over a million were sold during a twenty-plus year production run from 1948 to 1971. Even today the little cars have a strong following in their home market. But not many made it over here to the States, so they have a limited presence except as a novelty at car shows and in the more eclectic cities such as San Francisco.
I have no idea when this van was actually built, but I would guess after 1963 due to the two-colored front indicator lights. It's a mystery whether any of the yellow color is original, but the green fenders and roof are definitely not. Pictures of this van exist on Flickr, taken in 2008 when the body was all yellow. The wheels came off of a Chevy Vega, apparently a popular modification in the US because they bolted right onto the Minor and used a more commonly available tire size. The first time I saw this van it had thin whitewall tires which I think looked better on it than the plain blackwalls it wears now. Until this year the van had a body-colored bumper cover on the front, which has been removed and allows the dainty chrome bumper to shine freely. The side windows look like additions, but may be factory because a number of other Minor vans had them.
I'd like to see this van with a proper repaint, whitewall tires and original style steel wheels painted body color with chrome trim rings and Morris center caps. And scrape off the rest of that Obama '08 bumper sticker, it doesn't belong on a vintage car.

Update 7/7/16: I'd like to thank a reader known only as ~G~ who knows this car inside and out and is a friend of the owner. According to him, this Morris is a 1970 model imported from New Zealand. The side windows are factory for NZ-spec Minor vans and the yellow is the original color. The windshield visor is a later addition. He converted the car to run a Datsun 210 engine and five-speed manual transmission. Many thanks to ~G~ for his additional information!