Wednesday, May 29, 2013

San Jose Street Sighting - 1941 Dodge D-19 Luxury Liner

Prewar cars can still be found here and there on the roads of California, but one will often notice that they all seem to be Fords (or in some cases Chevys). Very rarely do you see Chrysler products of this era, particularly Dodges. Here we have a Dodge D-19 Luxury Liner sedan.

I'm saddened that I had to photograph this car at night, because my pictures under one of San Jose's infamous yellow street lamps do not do the car justice at all. It appears to be a member of a lowrider club that didn't make it into the Silicon Valley International Auto Show's car club display tent nearby, and was parked at the end of an alley by a loading dock patrolled by a security guard. The location is just around the corner from where I photographed the 1941 White Super Power fire truck earlier the same day, across the street from Crow's Auto Sales.

The Luxury Liner was an optimistic tagline for the mid-priced Dodge. This was apparently the uppermost trim for the Custom Town Sedan range and featured more exterior trim, nicer seat cushions and interior features than lesser models. This one is the long-wheelbase 8 passenger sedan and has the optional turn signals mounted on the fender tops, amber foglights and a swamp cooler-style air conditioner on the right rear passenger window. It also comes equipped with Chrysler's Fluid Drive semi-automatic transmission. Dodge also featured a straight six with possibly the best name for an engine ever: "Scotch Dynamite".

Styling of 1940s Dodges has never been my cup of tea; even the late '30s cars put me off. This may have something to do with their relative rarity today, as Dodges and Plymouths were generally economy cars bought for reliability and practicality rather than looking cool and going fast. It was a very good year for Chrysler Corporation, oddly enough, as they produced more cars than Ford and were number two in the industry. The front end looks serious, but unique. The rest of the body is a familiar look that would mostly carry over into 1948, even the suicide doors.
This car may still be a work in progress, as the body looks like it wears a tan primer and the bumpers are in need of new chrome plating. The wheels look freshly painted and have nice chrome and wide whitewalls. There are a number of period accessories, a common theme on lowrider "bomb" cars. Modifications have been kept to a minimum and appear to be limited to a lower ride height, possibly through the use of airbags or hydraulics. It's subtle but it works.
I can't always pick where and when cars will appear, and sometimes the coolest subjects appear at night in poor lighting conditions. I'm glad to have stumbled across a prewar Dodge in any state.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pleasanton Street Sighting - 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Wagon

I have a soft spot for Chevelle wagons, in no small part because my father learned to drive in a base-model '68 Chevelle Nomad wagon and adored it. Apparently other people have a similar soft spot, because while I was photographing this car a man came over and started checking it over for originality, remarking that he had once owned one just like it. Then he wrote a note to the owner asking to buy the car and left it under the wiper. You just don't see completely original Chevelles anymore. Even the wagons find themselves being built up into street machines these days, as the steel wheels and small engines are tossed in the trash for a GM Performance crate engine and whatever pro-touring wheel style is popular these days. Had this been a coupe I might have passed on it.

This '66 Chevelle Malibu looks to be on its second coat of paint and is ready for a complete strip and repaint, but it's a nice shade of metallic turquoise that in my opinion suits the car perfectly. I'm impressed with how straight the body is after all these years, and even if the black steelies with dog dish hubcaps aren't original I quite like their subtle appearance. The headlamps are modern halogen units that fit in place of the dim old sealed-beam lights, making the Chevelle safer to drive at night. The fenders bear a V emblem, indicating a V8 engine. However they don't say which displacement, suggesting the 283 cubic inch engine. My uncle once built a 400 small block in his '64 Malibu coupe and deliberately put a 283 air cleaner sticker on it to fool anyone who might look under the hood. It's fun to make people think you haven't got anything special. In this case, though, I'm not sure if I'd advocate a sleeper performance build. The car is just so straight and original. Honestly, my favorite original detail on this car is the Moffett Field Naval Air Station parking permit on the front bumper. I love seeing old military and government parking permits (and to a lesser extent, real period bumper stickers) on vintage cars; it tells an interesting story about their history and past ownership. It tells me that this car once lived in the San Jose area and its owner was in the Navy, perhaps a pilot or mechanic.
I don't know if that man ever convinced the owner to sell him his wagon, but whatever the case I hope it's in good hands that will treat it with respect. I think it's earned continued preservation and a quality repaint.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Santa Cruz Street Sighting - 1965 Mercury Comet Caliente

My love of the Ford Falcon does not always extend to its Mercury Comet cousin. The Comet had some iffy model years, but so do many models. For 1965, Mercury stylists worked pretty hard to differentiate the Comet from the Falcon, and they pulled it off. Whether the full package is attractive is open to debate. However, I do like certain angles of it, and it looks more modern than the '64 which was trying to be a Ford, Lincoln and Mercury all at the same time. The profile has a racy, forward-leaning look while remaining Falcon-practical for family use. The '65 adopts the stacked headlights that became so fashionable in the industry around that time, and in lieu of the Falcon's big round taillamps the rear features a narrow horizontal strip with little rectangular lights in it, beneath a heavy-looking rear panel. It also features more deeply sculpted sides that as far as I can tell, serve no purpose except to enable Ford to use Falcon doors on both cars. The Comet has a stout, mid-size look to it that makes it appear larger than the compact Falcon, though under the skin the two cars are very similar.

The Comet is like the Falcon on California Streets in that I've been trying to "collect them all", as it were. To date I've featured a 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964 Comet (as well as a 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1968 Falcon, 1962 Ranchero and two 1963 Falcon Club Wagons). So it seemed natural to stop and photograph this nice little blue '65 Comet Caliente coupe when I was exploring a part of Santa Cruz I'd never been through before. In short, I was lost. But I tried my Canadian friend's technique of making random turns until I discovered something interesting and it paid off.
The Caliente was, as its name suggests, a hotter version of the Comet (the Cyclone was the proper performance model). Packing a 289 V8 out of the Mustang, it was pretty much the basic formula that would become the Mercury Cougar in 1967. The Cougar was a slightly bigger, more luxurious Mustang with unique styling. Indeed, the Comet itself would grow to a midsize car for 1966, based on the larger Fairlane.

This Comet is a decent driver and a pretty good twenty-footer. Up close it becomes more evident that trim is missing, the bumpers need to be rechromed and the fetching light blue paint is most likely not original. I didn't snoop in the interior, but I can see from my photos that the headliner is shot. These are cool little cars and make good budget muscle for people who can't afford a Mustang or just want something different. It would be great to see this one benefit from a little reconditioning. The last Comet Caliente I saw before this one was also in Santa Cruz, a beautiful turquoise '65 convertible rolling on Magnum 500 wheels with white-letter tires. Before that, I only recall seeing a '64, and it's still sitting abandoned in a field just outside my town with the engine bay full of junk and the roof crushed in. This Comet looks downright pristine in comparison.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1960 Ford Thunderbird

It's been four years since I began documenting the collection of the San Francisco car collector I like to refer to as Fifties Guy. To date I've photographed over a dozen cars belonging to him or his friends who might share his hobby. Many of the cars have been sold over the years, and new ones appear as time goes by. The most recent one I've seen as of the time of this writing was this 1960 Ford Thunderbird. My friend and I were exploring the city after the California Mille car show and, as I frequently do when I'm in the area, I decided to stop by and see if there were any members of the collection present in the public domain.

Ford's popular Thunderbird personal luxury car was completely restyled for 1958, shedding its sexy two-seat body for a larger four-seat body, nicknamed the Squarebird. This new car received minor refreshes each year until another new T-Bird arrived for 1961. The 1960 model can be identified principally by its three vertical grille bars and six round taillights. Previous models had four. This T-Bird came with a 352 V8 and three-speed manual transmission standard - a 430 MEL ("Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln") V8 and/or three-speed automatic were optional. Fifties Guy has interesting taste in cars and tends to collect rare variations of popular models. This car is no exception. It's a rare "Golde Edition" equipped with a sliding metal sunroof supplied by Golde & Company of West Germany. Out of 92,843 1960 Thunderbirds, only 2,536 were built with this option. If this car also has the 430 engine, it's one of only 377.
This one is in pretty good shape for its age, a longtime Bay Area car apparently purchased used at one point in the mid-'60s through Lou Fox Studebaker Inc. at 2555 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. The dealership today is the used car lot for Berkeley Toyota. The paint may not be original, I really don't know. It's held up quite well except on the hard edges like the end of the tail fins. All trim is intact and present, even the little clear plastic ornaments on the front fender tops and the metal air deflector above the windshield, designed to keep wind noise and vibration out of the interior with the sunroof open.

I've never really liked the '58-'60 Squarebirds, but in their time they were considered something special and sold well. This is probably due to their combination of practicality, power and restraint. The latter is relative, because it has a lot of styling gimmicks of the era, but it didn't fall victim to the finicky novelties that didn't function properly or didn't make sense in the 1950s like retractable hardtops, fuel injection and supercharging. All of these ideas are fairly commonplace now, but the technology was still new and unproven back then. The T-Bird was not a very good handler, but as a highway cruiser it excelled. Notice that in those days you didn't often see cars in commercials being thrown too hard into corners. They were usually shown rolling leisurely along in a straight line on one of America's relatively new freeways or on a lightly curved back road.
This sunroof Thunderbird is a rare piece of history, and I'm glad to see it's in good hands.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1993 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3i

At this point I've featured a lot of classic Minis, and they pretty much all seem to live in San Francisco. What's easy to forget about these little cars is that while they look old, and the basic body dates back to 1959, these cars were built for over 40 years. The last "classic" Minis were rolling off the line when BMW was gearing up to build their all-new MINI Cooper for the 2001 model year.

The most collectible old Minis are of course the Coopers, but there's much more to it than just the name. The Mini came in seemingly dozens of flavors, from wheezy base-model city runabouts to cheeky fashion-themed trim packages. In later years, the classic Mini was popular in Japan. It can still be found in large numbers on the used-car market there, popular both as an import and an export to other countries. The Mini modernized as little as it could over the years, but by the 1990s it was becoming hopelessly obsolete. In order to meet updated crash standards and consumer expectations, new technology and features were offered such as a driver airbag, air conditioning and fuel injection. The latter appeared in 1991 as the 1.3i.

This particular car appears to be a Japanese-market Rover Mini Cooper 1.3i produced between approximately 1993 and 1994. I guessed that year because the dashboard is an unusual design that looks very different from the standard Mini style. Where most older Minis have painted metal or woodgrain dashboards, this example has one made of molded angular black plastic that looks like it could have been taken out of a circa-1990 Honda Civic. Extensive searches of inventory on Japanese dealership websites for Mini Cooper 1.3is only yielded limited matches produced in 1993 and 1994, all equipped with factory air conditioning. Air conditioning was a popular and often standard feature on Japanese Minis but my friend and colleague Art Tidesco of Getting A Little Psycho on Tyres!, a pretty knowledgeable car enthusiast in his own right, said he had never seen or heard of one so equipped. Perhaps it didn't get hot enough in the UK to offer A/C? Oddly enough, automatic transmissions are also fairly common on these later cars in Japan. Lending further evidence to suggest this car came from the Land of the Rising Sun are the right-hand-drive configuration, retrofitted fender mirrors (note the original mounting location on the doors, thanks Art for pointing that out), orange side marker lamps and last but not least, an official-looking kanji sticker on the right rear quarter window. Curiously, the importation rule for foreign-market cars is usually 25 years. I wonder if there was some loophole that allowed this Mini to come over early. The plates are fairly recent.

As for condition, I don't know enough about these cars to know if all the body badges are correct and in the right locations. The paint is metallic British Racing Green with a white roof and Minilite-style wheels, a classic and good-looking, but very cliched combination. At least it's not red and doesn't have white rally stripes on the hood. I can't say if the steering wheel is stock. These cars lend themselves so well to customization that one can do virtually anything they want with their Mini from the parts bin and a lot of stuff will bolt right on. It's nice to see a clean Mini with a history different from all the others.