Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Alameda Street Sighting - 1973 Cadillac Superior Hearse

Last year I marked the occasion of Halloween with a car named after the Spanish word for 'devil', a Lamborghini Diablo. This year I have no Dodge Demons or Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts or monster trucks. What I do have is a vintage Cadillac hearse.

Cadillac has dominated the hearse market for decades, and older examples are still floating around as funeral homes and mortuaries have decommissioned them for new units. Until the arrival of the Cadillac CTS wagon in 2010, a hearse was the only way to go if you wanted a Cadillac station wagon. That is, of course, unless you got a special custom coachbuilt wagon - those are out there as well and I've seen a few.
Old hearses seem to be bought by young people, maybe because they're spacious and cheap and have a stigma of weirdness that appeals to rockers and gothic types. Certain social outcasts might like cruising around in a car intended to transport a dead person in a box, because the public thinks that's strange and they really don't care what the public thinks. I have friends who are like that, some of whom aspire to own a hearse someday for exactly that reason.
This hearse appears to have coachwork by Superior. It's clearly seen better days and is badly in need of new paint to stop the rust that's slowly decaying the body. Aside from that, virtually all the parts appear to be present and intact, right down to the fleur-de-lis decorations on the C-pillars. The only real body damage is on the right side where a couple of stainless trim spears and a side marker lens have been knocked off from a minor collision. Annoyingly, some immature individual saw fit to draw a certain feature of the male anatomy in three or more different places on the right side of this car with a Sharpie marker. Come on, people. It's a vintage Cadillac! You don't mess with that.

Wishing my readers a safe and happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Collector's Corner - Polistil Morgan Plus 8

You're looking at one of my first large-scale models, if not the very first. This is a 1:16 scale Morgan Plus 8 by Polistil, an Italian model company that forged an unlikely alliance with Tonka to sell diecast toys here in North America. It didn't work out so well and Polistil went under in 1993.
According to this blue "hill climb" edition Morgan was first released in 1987.

Compared to modern models, it's exceedingly basic and toylike. The wheels don't steer, there's no suspension, and the tires aren't even rubber. The chrome steering wheel turns but isn't connected to anything. The doors open, but not the hood (I accidentally broke the hinge on the driver side door when I was much younger, so it falls off). The strange baby blue color seems uncharacteristic of a Morgan but what do I know? It is apparently Iris Blue. All body decals are stickers including the gauge cluster, the package shelf and both (crooked) license plates. The taillights aren't even painted or anything! The plates are interesting in that they aren't in the UK DVLA system as being registered to a Morgan, but they would come from a car registered in 1963 in London. The wheels are an unusual design, replicating the 15-inch Morgan alloys installed as standard on Plus 8s (72-spoke wire wheels were optional). The fender mirrors are fragile as can be seen from the photos, as are the fog lights on the bumper. One is already broken off. It's lucky that it survived my destructive youth as well as it has. It's probably a credit to the car's simplicity and toughness. The only other model I have from the early years that has held up so well is my Bburago Dodge Viper. Bburago builds their cars to be played with, not just displayed.

I don't know how rare the Polistil/Tonka Morgan is, but Google searches don't yield too many of them. I'm surprised that they trade for as much as they do, mint in box and all that. Mine obviously doesn't fit that category, but it sounds like a rare curiosity from a strange partnership between the Italians and a company known for pressed-steel dump trucks. I don't plan on getting rid of this goofy old busted Moggy anytime soon.

Friday, October 19, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Lincoln Continental

This isn't the first time I've stumbled upon a 1963 Lincoln Continental sedan. In fact, this is the second one I've found in San Francisco. What surprised me, is where in the city it lives. This giant boat parks on a very narrow, winding street on a steep hill - not its natural habitat by a long shot. This is why parking laws tell drivers to curb their wheels. You don't want an out-of-control, unmanned '63 Continental barreling down your street. It should come as no surprise then, that the white Continental I found in perfect condition a few years ago was parked on a nice wide street in the flat, level Richmond District. Life is tougher with a big car, and it shows in the damage this car has suffered. A skilled body man could probably massage out that large dent in the left passenger door, the right front fender and the trunk lid. The body appears solid for the most part, with only a little rust visible. It's nice to see a car like this with all the hubcaps in place and wearing a period (if not original) license plate. I also like the color, because I see too many of these cars painted white or black.
While the condition is a little worse than I initially hoped when I saw this big Lincoln, the fact it's apparently someone's daily driver is encouraging.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Alameda Street Sighting - 1973 Mercury Comet

I usually prefer to go my own way in choosing what appears on my blog, but the inspiration for it remains Murilee Martin's Down On The Street series of posts on Jalopnik. He confined his focus to cars parked on public streets on the island of Alameda just south of Oakland. When I began blogging, I stayed out of Alameda because I didn't want to invade a fellow car blogger's turf. I got lots of good stuff in San Francisco because I was going to school there. Since Murilee Martin now lives in another state, I enjoy making the occasional trip to Alameda in the hope of finding something new. In some cases I stumble upon one of Murilee's old finds.
I was driving through town with two friends who wanted to see the Pacific Pinball Museum (I've told that story before; it was the day I spotted the green '55 Chevy 210). It was late in the day and we wanted to get there before the place closed, so I bypassed an apparently clean red Ford Maverick. As I got closer and then drove past, I saw that it was actually a Mercury Comet. I've only seen maybe five of these 1970s Comets in the last several years. The next time I was in Alameda, I managed to find the car again and take pictures.

The Comet was little more than a rebadged Maverick, an attempt to create a more luxurious version of Ford's mainstream larger small car. It was for people who needed more space and power than a Bobcat (Mercury's Pinto), but couldn't afford or didn't want a Montego (Mercury's Torino). The Comet differed from the Maverick mainly in its front end with a unique hood and jutting Mercury grille, and its taillight panel with four trapezoidal Montego taillights in place of the small Pinto lights used on the Maverick. On the body, the Comet received a little more chrome trim and Comet script badges on the C-pillars. Note the "Lincoln Mercury Division" hood badge. I never could understand why Ford was so afraid to give Mercury its own identity instead of always trying to tie it to the Lincoln brand. If I was going to buy a new Buick Verano, I already know it's a gussied-up Chevy Cruze. I don't need a badge that says "Cadillac Buick Division" on the hood. It wouldn't fool me into thinking it's somehow more luxurious than it is, just by name-dropping the premium brand. I could understand that Lincoln and Mercury dealerships were almost always paired together, but it seems excessive to extend it to the cars themselves.
This Comet appears to be a 1973 model with the lovely big federal bumpers (be glad it isn't a '74 - the bumpers got HUGE). The body is in great shape apart from an unfortunate run-in with someone who didn't know they were supposed to hit the bumpers instead of the quarter panel. That's a nasty dent there. Being a red car in California, they all fade eventually in the hot sun. This one is at that point, though some of it could perhaps be brought back to a shine with elbow grease and car polish. The paint on the roof and C-pillars, unfortunately, is shot. I love the all-stock condition of this car, with its original hubcaps intact and all trim present. It has a single exhaust, which suggests it's a six-cylinder car. Probably sounds like a sewing machine and returns decent mileage, even if it won't win speed contests. Most of Alameda is 25 mph speed limits, making it possible for even Model Ts to survive there. (I've seen one driving there, trust me.) It's mundane but uncommon old "survivor" cars like this that often make me happy to keep searching, shooting and posting.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Danville Street Sighting - 1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II

All my life I considered it sacrilegious to cut up a fine luxury car like a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, particularly a classic one. It was one of the things you just didn't do. So of course, someone did.

The Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud was produced from 1956 to 1966 and was RR's volume seller during that time. The standard car was built on a separate frame to allow for custom coachwork. Power came from an inline six for early models, but the Silver Cloud II gained a 6.2 liter V8.
This car is - or was - a first-year Silver Cloud II. It has come a long way since it rolled out of the factory in Crewe, and it's lost a lot of its original parts in the process. Most noticeable is the roof chop job. It is a bit extreme but is done well enough that it looks professional. The original Rolls frame was discarded for a full tube chassis, the body was channeled and a Chevrolet V8 was shoehorned under the hood. It sits very low to the ground thanks to an air bag system that can raise or lower it as desired. Wheels appear to have come from a late 1930s Ford and have chrome center caps with beauty rings, with wide whitewall tires to set them off. The front end has been subtly modified to reshape the headlight bezels into a teardrop shape, the two small vents on either side of the grille have been removed, and the foglights and bumper over-riders are also gone. Out back, the rear bumper has been cut and moved inward against the body, and the taillights have been sunken into the quarter panels. The body was sprayed with a color-changing metalflake silver over matte black in a two-tone that follows the body's character line nicely. Serving to upset the purists, the Spirit of Ecstasy has had her head cut off and replaced by the head from something else. I have no idea what. There's another Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament serving as the shift knob on the tall manual floor shifter. I must admit, if there's any part of the car I don't like, it's that. The interior is otherwise fairly subtle with wood, turned aluminum, and vintage style custom gauges that look like they were cribbed from an Auburn Speedster replica. The banjo steering wheel is a nice touch and more visually interesting than the plain black 3-spoke wheel that came with the car originally. Rounding out the whole package is a license plate that reads YIOUTAH which probably paraphrases what purists say when they see it. "Why I oughta..."

I give it points for being different.