Sunday, April 28, 2013

Alameda Street Sighting - 1967 Imperial Crown

I have long thought that the latter half of the 1960s and early '70s was a great time for Chrysler Corporation styling. This wasn't true in all cases across all brands and models, but the Pentastar produced a lot of really handsome cars during this time period. And before they dipped into an awful rut of desperate-looking "luxury" cars during the Malaise era that lasted even into the 1990s, Chrysler made some impressive luxury cars. Among them is the 1967 Imperial Crown four-door hardtop.
In the '50s and '60s, if you wanted a luxury sedan, you often either got a proper limousine or a 4-door hardtop. The hardtop allowed all four frameless windows to roll down for a feel like the open touring cars of old; or like a 4-door convertible with none of the sunburn risk.

Imperial had in a few years gone from a swoopy, finned leviathan to a downright modern-looking fullsize luxury car with sharply sculpted lines. Fins were suggested in the long pontoon-like extensions off the end of the rear, and the round medallion at the center was the last vestige of the fake spare tire bulge. Most of the design is cleanly styled, though I think it gets a tad fussy in the front end with three grilles and a gaping hole where the Imperial name is. The fake woodgrain on the front fender badge, however, is an unusual and interesting touch. I've always liked the stylized eagle emblem found on all Imperials, since I found a 1973 Imperial LeBaron in a junkyard years ago and took home its big round rear end badge to be used as a belt buckle. I never did make that belt buckle, but I still have the badge.

The 1967 Imperial was the first to be built on a lighter-weight unibody platform. The styling came from Elwood Engel, who previously penned the 1961 Lincoln Continental and 1964-66 Imperials. Sole engine was a 375 horsepower 440 V8, but a higher-output 'TNT' option was available. Sole transmission was a 3-speed Torqueflite automatic. Imperial Crown was the mid-range Imperial below the top-level LeBaron.
This one is for the most part in great condition, with all trim intact and a very straight and solid body with shiny Daffodil Yellow paint. The only problem I see is some rust going on in the C-pillar, a curse of living mere blocks from the salty San Francisco Bay.

There's a man who frequents car shows near me, who bought one of these cars very cheap after it had sat for years in a garage. The previous owner had died and the estate unloaded the old car. It took very little to get the car running after sitting so long. He expected to use the car in a demolition derby, but realized it was just too nice to destroy. Now he shows the Imperial instead, a happy ending for a great car.

Don't believe me? See it here.

A late '60s Imperial seems like a pretty good value to me.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Culver City Street Sighting - 1970 Saab Sonett III

The Saab Sonett is something of a mythical beast among Saab enthusiasts. It began as a lightweight two-seater open sports car with a 3-cylinder two-stroke engine producing 57.5 horsepower, primarily for racing, but rules changed and only six were built. The name Sonett refers not to the poetic form popularized by Shakespeare (spelled 'sonnet') but rather is based on a Swedish phrase meaning "so neat they are" or more loosely, "how cool is that?".

Production Sonetts began with the Sonett II in 1966, quickly replaced in the US in 1967 by the Sonett V4 which was better able to meet American emissions regulations. Another benefit of the V4 was its increased power - a whopping 65 horses. Most Sonett V4s ended up stateside. All Sonetts were front-wheel-drive.

This is a later Saab Sonett III, one of 8,368 produced between 1970 and 1974. Assuming that the tiny rear bumper is stock, it's a 1970-72 model. It's not an especially clean example, more of a running project car apparently being revived by a local Saab shop. I first saw it while looking for a hotel at night. The unique shape stood out in the row of cars even though I only saw it for mere seconds. The next morning my friend and I backtracked and found the car still sitting there. I was disappointed by its condition but it seems to be in good hands with the Saab shop. The decal package on this one doesn't appear to be factory, as the rocker striping is factory-inspired but the lettering is a generic typeface that doesn't match Saab branding. This one is missing the stainless SAAB block letter badge on the left side of the kamm tail, replaced by a red decal strip and the same typeface reading "Saab Sonett III". All 1972 Sonetts had a black taillight panel, but due to the lack of 5-spoke "Soccerball" wheels I'm guessing this car is a 1970 model with the base steel wheels and stainless center caps shared with more mainstream Saabs. I can't figure out the large blackout on the rear of the body. There were a few unique graphics packages for these cars but that doesn't look like one of them. I hope it gets restored. I don't recall ever seeing another Sonett III, or indeed any Sonetts at all outside of a car show besides this one.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1951 Pontiac Eight sedan

For some reason the neighborhood of Bernal Heights is a haven for circa-1950 Pontiacs. I know of at least three of them in the compact area. The first one I found was a stock 1954 Chieftain sedan, followed by this apparently rat-rodded 1951 sedan which almost looks like it was a police car decades ago. A 1949 Pontiac sedan exists as well, but I haven't had the opportunity to find it yet.

This Pontiac is a low-trim example, but comes with the 268.2 cubic inch straight-8 engine. This is consistent with a fleet-spec police car. Keen-eyed Pontiac enthusiasts will notice that the grill is a 1949 unit, but the body trim and badging are 1951. Note the small chrome piece between the grille and the wheel arch. The stock 1951 grille had an extension of the main horizontal grille bar that wrapped around the corner and tapered to an end at the fender. The chrome plug covers the mounting hole for that grille bar end. The rear passenger door handles have also been shaved and the owner has added teardrop-shaped taillights inboard of where the stock round units sit. Oddly, the round embossed Pontiac chief's head emblem that should be present on the quarter panel on the '51 is not there. Perhaps the owner built a 'mutt' car out of whatever parts he had available? I originally guessed this car was a 1950 model, and it's actually possible it is one, albeit with 1951 body trim and a '49 grille.

It's entirely possible that this has always been a civilian car, as spotlights were a relatively common addition in the '50s, but those combined with the black and white paint job (and the big red light in the rear window) make it easy to imagine this thing tearing down the road with a big red gumball light on the roof and a slowly wailing siren - in pursuit of a hot rodder.

Ordinarily I'm not a fan of rat rods or flat paint, and this is really no exception. I'd prefer to see it shiny and fully intact with factory trim. But what can I say? I'm a purist like that. I'm just glad someone saved a vintage Pontiac four-door from the scrap heap.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Danville Street Sighting - 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SL

I'm still a bit ambivalent toward Mercedes-Benz. They are a brand revered the world over for reliable, well-engineered and safe cars. Many consider them the de facto inventors of the automobile. And yet, the vast majority of Mercedes-Benz products do absolutely nothing whatsoever for me. In fact, only a handful have made it onto California Streets, mainly because mainstream Mercedes cars are a dime a dozen in California and they bore me. The cities and suburbs are still crawling with old clattering diesel W123s and even the older sedans can still be found in moderate quantities. But then there is the matter of the SL-Class.

I've already featured an early W113 SL here, a 1968 250SL hardtop. These are a collectible, desirable and well-represented generation of Mercedes' luxury sports car. The 280SL (so named for its 2.8 liter inline six) was built from 1967 to 1971. This car is one of the last 280SLs built before the R107 generation, a series of cars which would take the SL in a more relaxed, luxurious and generally boring direction. Those were the cars destined to be bought by yuppies or milquetoast wealthy baddies in 1980s TV detective dramas. According to Wikipedia, only 830 of these cars were built in 1971.

This one is a fine example in an attention-grabbing red color with color-matched wheel centers and black leather interior (the convertible top is also black). The interior is in great shape and makes me wonder how original it is; the stereo certainly isn't factory. I would venture that it's either restored or a very low-mileage car. I've seen it previously at a local car show, where it was also for sale. The sign on the windshield advertised the car as having a rebuilt engine and including the removable factory hardtop. I don't remember the price the owner was asking.

These SL roadsters rarely evoke much of an emotional response from me, but I readily admit they're pure and good-looking little cars from a time before the Sport Leicht name became a joke. Today the SL-Class is a hideous styling mess that weighs about as much as Jupiter. When it's that ugly, I don't really care how fast it is. Even I would rather cruise down the highway in a classic W113 (or a 1990s SL500) than a $100,000+ rolling travesty.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Alameda Street Sighting - 1975 Chevrolet Monza V8

There are some cars I photograph more extensively than others, and it frequently depends on the environment or how good an example of that model the vehicle is. Sometimes both factors apply, in the case of this orange Chevy Monza in dappled late afternoon shade. Parked on a quiet residential street in Alameda, this Monza is not really what one would expect to find. But given that the same block contained a 1973 Cadillac hearse, a late '70s Trans Am, a VW Thing and another Monza, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

Most Monzas are relatively tame economy cars, though a V8 engine was available. In 1975 the car could be had with a 2.3 liter four or a 4.3 liter V8, though California cars came with a low-output 5.7 liter V8 instead for emissions reasons. This car has dispensed with stock power in favor of a 6.0 liter V8 probably out of a Chevy truck or perhaps a late-model Pontiac GTO, tucked under a hood that bears a large scoop that would look more at home on a drag car. The engine swap suggests the car is a first-year model, because 1975 is smog-exempt. The paint job is of course custom and was likely applied with rattle cans in the street with minimal masking or disassembly. The whole package doesn't look like much, but when the car drove past me while I was returning from photographing the '61 T-Bird a few blocks away, it sounded pretty wild. I bet it's a handful.