Sunday, March 31, 2013

Collector's Corner - UT Models 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS

UT Models is a brand that I know mainly as a defunct maker of models that sell for really big money on eBay. The company produced 1:18 scale models mostly in the 1990s and has an interesting history. While UT went out of business around 2000, parts of the company survived through Gateway Global, and were absorbed into the now-established Auto Art premium brand.
Pretty much all UT diecasts are rare now, but the 1999 release of the 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS in Dark Gray Green is one of the more difficult ones to find. The GM B-body models are sought-after by police car aficionados who kit them out with LED flashing lights. I adored the '96 Impala SS in general, but my favorite color was the metallic gray-green. When I learned about the UT model's existence, I decided I wanted one. But prices were too high! As I type this, there is a green UT Impala SS on eBay, mint in box, for $129.94. Three years ago I was surfing eBay and found a green Impala listed with a starting bid of $9.99. The car was loose with no box, a bit dusty and needed the side mirrors touched up where the black paint had rubbed off. The car had been sitting in someone's closet for years. I jumped on it. It was used, sure, but where else are you going to get a UT Impala for $11?

If only that was all there was to it. The car arrived in the mail and I excitedly opened the box. As I pulled the car out I saw there was nothing cushioning in the bottom. Someone had set the model in a cardboard box, surrounded it with newspaper only around the sides and top, and handed it off to the postal service who had no knowledge of what was inside to take care of it. And boy did they. Two of the wheels were broken. The rear axle was cracked. One of the side mirrors was broken off (that was an easy fix, at least). The exhaust pipes which had already been hot-glued back in place were hanging loose under the car. I was horrified. The seller offered a second model of a UT Caprice squad car if it would smooth things over, but I wanted the Impala as a civilian Impala, not an unmarked police car to be cut up and stuffed with lights. The Caprice would have had no usable parts to repair my Impala. To date, the car remains broken until I figure out what to do with it. At least it photographs well on one side.

As detail goes, this model is decent. The real 1996 Impala doesn't have a whole lot of stuff going on, so the model doesn't have to be flashy. By modern Auto Art standards it's a bit primitive, but this was made back when 1:18 scale models were regarded more as toys for older children than proper adult collectibles. The body is in great condition, with relatively little wear aside from the scuffing on the mirror caps. I've been afraid to detail the top and hood of the car which are a bit dirty; having little experience with UT diecasts I'm not sure how strong the paint is to hold up under polishing. The Impala C-pillar badges are neatly picked out in silver paint, as is the Chevy bow tie on the front grille. The Impala SS script is actually faintly visible on the quarter panels, a feature I never previously noticed even while photographing the model. On the real cars this was an embossed decal applied to the body. The taillights are very realistic-looking, though the headlights have very visible mounting pegs that make the car faintly resemble some four-eyed lazy fish staring at you. On close inspection the shipping damage to the wheels can be more easily seen. And that's the car's good side. I normally keep it suspended off its wheels to protect them from breaking completely. The trunk lid and two rear doors do not open.

Under the hood there's a fair amount of detail, painted for realism but suffering from prominent mold lines especially on the air intake. The interior is handled nicely, with seatbelts, seats embossed with the SS logo and a well-detailed dash with individually labeled HVAC controls. My biggest gripe with the interior (aside from it being very difficult to clean due to the sealed rear doors) is that the steering column is narrow and unsubstantial. Otherwise, good effort.

Of all the models to get broken in shipping, this one really made me upset. I still love it, though, and hope that maybe someday I can fix it properly.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Alameda Street Sighting - 1956 Ford F-100 Custom Cab Pickup

One of my favorite trucks of all time is the 1956 Ford F-100. I've already featured a '56 Effie here and it was a bit crusty. That truck was also a longbed, with slightly odd proportions. This one is the desirable big window Custom Cab in short bed configuration, painted a simple red color with chrome Cragar S/S wheels and conservative chrome dual exhaust tips. It has a V8 and the optional Fordomatic auto transmission. It's an effective mild custom job that would have looked great back in the 1980s or whenever the truck was customized to its current look. Unfortunately the chrome bumpers are not faring well and the paint is losing its luster from being left outside. It doesn't look like this one moves much, or at least isn't washed often. It's really too bad, because I really like this truck.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Danville Street Sighting - 1950 Dodge B-2B Pickup

The Dodge B-Series was the first new postwar truck design from Chrysler Corporation, introduced for 1948. Most of the large manufacturers revamped their truck lineups before their passenger car ranges, and Dodge was no exception. Following Dodge economy-vehicle tradition, the new trucks had a flathead six-cylinder engine. The new cab was designed for improved visibility and more space, dubbed the Pilot House cab. The new truck bed featured improved cargo capacity.

This pickup is a low-spec 1950 model built with the small-window cab. Curved corner windows were optional and today are seen on many surviving trucks. It's evidence that higher-trim examples of any vehicle tend to be saved while the base work trucks get used up and junked. This truck lacks a rear bumper and the only option I can see is the Fluid Drive semi-automatic transmission. 1950 was the first year this option was available.

I'm guessing this truck is a project in progress, judging by the mismatched paint. I'm unsure if the owner is responsible for the dull silvery look of the front grill and bumper. Many of these trucks came with a painted grille from the factory, though some have chrome trim. The wheels don't appear to be stock either, but they're a clean look. I'd love to see it painted all one color and finished. Not enough people are saving old Dodge trucks.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1951 International Harvester L-110 Pickup

I haven't featured a whole lot of trucks here, mainly because most old trucks are pretty ordinary. It's the oddball manufacturers mostly that interest me, or at least anything that's not Ford or Chevy. Maybe it's something that's just visually unique and cool, and maybe even pre-1960. Every so often you run across something that satisfies all of those criteria. You get something like this 1951 International Harvester L-110 pickup.

One of the first things I noticed about this truck was the OK Rubber Welders logo on the side. There's a phone number and location listed as Scottsbluff, Nebraska. OK Rubber Welders began as a tire repair shop chain in the 1930s. Welding rubber sounds strange today, but it referred to the process of creating retreads to give used tires new life. In 1962, some forward-thinking businesspeople broke away from OK Rubber Welders (now called OK Tires) and founded Big O Tires. Today, Big O is the largest tire store chain in the United States. OK Rubber Welders was still doing business at 820 Broadway in Scottsbluff well into the 1960s (even advertising in the local high school yearbook) and there is still an OK Tires at 710 Broadway.

The L-110 was International Harvester's light-duty pickup in 1951 and came with a 'Silver Diamond' six-cylinder engine making 100 horsepower, hooked to a three-speed manual transmission. This particular truck has a fascinating patina on it, making it difficult to tell whether the truck was originally orange or white. I think it was orange before it was white, since the white appears to have been covering the tire shop lettering. The shiny red wheels, on the other hand, beg the question of how legitimate that patina is. The sheer amount of rust all over the body could be difficult to fake. Note the tailgate lettering advertising 'New Auto-Float tires'. I've found references to this private-label tire in newspapers dating back to at least 1954.

I really enjoyed shooting this truck.

Friday, March 22, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1970 Cadillac Eldorado

One of my guilty pleasures of the automotive world is the 1967-70 Cadillac Eldorado. I've never understood what it is about that car that I like, but I think it's mostly the dramatic rear three-quarter view. Otherwise this generation is notable to me only for being the first FWD Cadillacs. Based on the Oldsmobile Toronado platform, the 1967 Eldorado packed a 429 Cadillac V8 hooked up to a chain-driven Turbo Hydramatic THM425 transmission under the hood. The styling, penned by Bill Mitchell, was unique and sporty with its hidden headlights and sharply creased lines. As the years went by, Mitchell's original design was diluted somewhat, as excess details like side marker lights and vinyl top trim were added, as well as fixed round headlights in 1969. To make up for its slight uglification, the 1970 model received a 500 cubic inch V8 producing 400 horsepower and 550 foot-lbs of torque. That's what you call a banker's hot rod.

This Eldorado has been kicking around San Francisco for some time now. I first saw it in 2007, sporting a body covered in grey primer and rusty steel wheels with dirty whitewalls. In fall 2012 when I photographed it for this feature, it looked much the same. The primer coat that had looked relatively fresh when I saw the car in spring 2008 was now well beyond its useful life and was splotchy with rust and discoloration from stem to stern. The trunk lid is rusting out around the edges. The side trim has been gone for at least the last five years. Oddly enough, the chrome is in perfect condition.
I was happy to see this car still running, since giant gas hogs like it are becoming so rare in the city.