Saturday, June 29, 2013

Alameda Street Sighting - 1952 Dodge B-2B Job Rated Pickup

GMC likes to market itself as "Professional Grade". That tagline implies that GMC trucks are built to work hard and will hold up under the stress of whatever job they do. This kind of statement is nothing new. As long as the truck could reasonably live up to the claim, manufacturers would trumpet it loudly. And some even bolted that claim onto the front of their trucks. Long before Dodge spun its truck line off to become RAMs, they built these, the Job-Rated B-Series pickup.

Job Rated was a term coined in 1939 to describe a range of Dodge trucks built for a spectrum of jobs. Lighter duty trucks would serve general pickup use, all the way up to big commercial rigs hauling or towing heavy payloads. Dodge introduced all-new trucks for 1948 with the B Series, beginning with the B-1. These trucks were improved over the pre-war design that, while visually interesting, was woefully outdated by the time it was phased out. The 1948-1953 trucks, in my opinion, are not the prettiest things out there. However, they do have a certain toughness to them.

This one appears to be a 1952 B-2, or close to it. Judging by the tough-looking tires it could be a 4x4 model, but the lack of a visible solid front axle makes me wonder if it's just a 2WD truck with beefy rubber. It's a badass hauler in dark green with black steel wheels and minimal brightwork. It reminds me almost of an old Buddy L toy in large scale (complete with paint chips and play wear). The only chrome or stainless pieces on the whole truck are the hubcaps, headlight bezels and D-O-D-G-E badge on the grille. Note the small "Made in USA" stamped into the middle D on the emblem. Cars these days usually have their point of origin listed on the window sticker, broken down into parts content percentages. Made in USA tends to be a decision made by 'foreign' automakers to save money on shipping and to curry favor with Americans by bringing in new jobs. American automakers frequently outsource to Canada, Mexico or any number of other countries for cost cutting and whatnot. It's become a novelty for Chrysler to advertise its cars as "Imported from Detroit" (which is also false in the case of the Canadian-built Chrysler 300 and Town & Country minivan). Sigh.

Anyway, cool truck. It's nice to see an early 1950s pickup that isn't a Chevy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Collector's Corner: Cars & Co. 1989 Trabant 601 Universal

One of the diecast models in my collection that has special significance to me is this Trabant 601 Universal, made by Sun Star under the Cars & Co. brand name. I purchased the model from the gift shop at the Auto und Technikmuseum Sinsheim, an incredible German museum of all things automotive, military, aircraft and technology in general. I visited the museum in August 2009 after vowing that I would not return home to California without some kind of diecast Trabant. The museum pretty much blew my mind, featuring everything from a Citro├źn 2CV-bodied drag car to a Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic airliner and everything in between. They even had a real Trabant on display! If you ever find yourself in Germany, GO THERE. They even have a sister museum in Speyer to hold all the cool stuff that doesn't fit in Sinsheim, but I digress.

The Trabant is fairly ubiquitous as a relic of communism and the dreary days of the Iron Curtain. Built in East Germany for decades and always having a waiting list, the car was bread and butter motoring for many people stuck behind the Berlin Wall who had no access to "Western" BMWs, Mercedes, maybe even Volkswagens. When the wall came down in 1989, a lot of East Germans drove their Trabants to the west side and promptly got rid of them. Today the car is a bit of a punchline, much like the Serbian-built Yugo. The Trabant was decades out of date, inefficient and smoky with its 2-stroke two-cylinder engine producing up to 26 horsepower. The body was made from Duroplast, a combination of recycled cotton and resin that according to legend also incorporated rat poison to keep animals from trying to eat the body.

I love these silly little cars and of course wanted to own a diecast replica of one. Sun Star makes quality 1/18 scale models and I've been satisfied with their cars in the past. When I found this tan 601 Universal in the gift shop I pounced on it. Sun Star also produces a 601 "Limousine" (a two-door sedan). These may actually be the same tooling used by Vitesse in the late 1990s.

Looking at the model directly, it's accurately shaped and surprisingly hefty for a replica of a car that weighed less than a ton. I like to joke that it's actually all wrong, because it has a diecast metal body when the actual car did not. Same goes for my Auto Art Saturn SC coupe (which would have had polymer body panels) and my dad's Maisto Corvette Z06 (which should have a fiberglass body). Body detailing is minimal, which makes sense for two reasons. One, the Trabant was an exceedingly basic car. It didn't have a lot of equipment, or body trim, or other gingerbread. It's a car that carries people and goods, that's all. The other reason is that diecast models have become more complex over the years. They aren't seen so much as toys anymore and so many have gone upmarket for adult collectors. The Trabi introduced in 1998 by Vitesse may have been part of the older school of "it's a child's toy, we can't have too many small parts".

The Trabant model effectively captures the spirit of what a Trabant was, and I thought it fitting that I photographed it on a dreary grey, drizzly day in front of a retaining wall in my back yard. It's a depressing low-gloss mustard color with an interior that's a mix of similar tan and that weird pinkish "flesh" color they use for artificial limbs or crash test dummies. Curiously, there's one bright strip running the length of the beltline, perhaps one concession to style. Oh yeah, and jutting taillights that resemble tail fins. I believe it's a later model, specifically a 1989 if the Vitesse releases have any relation to this one.

Regarding detail, yes, I wish the rear hatch opened. It doesn't. The doors and hood open, but under the hood there isn't much going on. You have a fairly basic black molded engine and what looks like a white battery and brake master cylinder. Inside, the dash is basic and probably accurate. What, you wanted a tachometer? The light lenses have a nice texture to them, and the body is smooth and free of glaring casting seams. Tampo-printed details are cleanly applied and not from the Hot Wheels school of "close enough" that allows for smeared or misaligned decals. My only gripe is the grille, which is a flat piece printed with a bunch of rectangular "holes" instead of actual indentations. This may have been too difficult to mold, because the grille bars on the real car are very thin. The side mirrors and separate molded plastic door handles are a nice touch. To me they add value where Sun Star could have copped out and made the door handles a black-painted bump in the door and left the mirrors off entirely.

So, like a real Trabant, the Sun Star Trabi isn't terribly attractive, isn't overly expensive and exists mainly as a curiosity. It makes a great novelty addition to a collection. I'm hopeful that one day I'll pick up a 1/18 IST Models vintage VAZ Lada 2101 Zhiguli to go with it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Danville Street Sighting - 1937 Packard 120-C Convertible Coupe

This is the kind of car that makes readers say, "Come on, dude, you took this at a car show, it doesn't count!"

...Well, you'd be close. This lovely yellow 1937 Packard was parked two blocks from the Danville d'Elegance car show last year. I assume it was a spectator's vehicle and was parked in front of the restored Southern Pacific railroad station that now serves as the Museum of the San Ramon Valley. I'm a sucker for classic Packards because they're such classy, beautiful cars. This one appears to be a Model 120-C convertible coupe.

The One-Twenty was a sort of entry-level Packard during the 1930s, a smaller and cheaper luxury car that was aimed at people who wanted a Packard but couldn't afford the big expensive models. It worked for a while and Packard gained market share, but it watered down their image as a builder of exclusive luxury cars. It's funny how that works, given that today virtually every luxury brand does this. In Packard's case, though, it meant selling at least twice as many One-Twenties as all other models combined. A six-cylinder model with a shorter wheelbase, the 115, was also available.

This example isn't fully loaded as far as I can tell. These cars had a number of options available like side-mount spare tires, fender skirts, spotlight and fender lights - and such exotic accessories as a clock, cigar lighter and radio. This one has a rumble seat for the mother-in-law and a trunk, with an additional fold-out luggage rack, deluxe body color steel wheels with chrome hubcaps and trim rings, and a pair of big amber lights that may or may not be fog lights. Fog lamps were a factory option that cost $13.90 installed (though these lamps appear to be larger than stock). Convertibles also offered side mirrors for $5.00, a feature this car has.

It's pretty clear this car's benefited from a restoration, and a fine quality one at that. I quite like the cheerful yellow color, which doesn't appear to be a stock paint color. The closest I can find is Packard Cream, which is less buttery. I could be mistaken or perhaps my camera settings made the colors too powerful. The pinstriping is dark red, which would be correct for a cream car (Color scheme "T", Packard Cream body with Casino Red striping and Packard Cream wheels). The fat whitewall tires and pale tan convertible top complete the package. It looks like a great car for a Sunday drive with the top down with your spouse or best friend, and at least one occupant needs to wear a long flowing scarf. So pretty.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Santa Cruz Street Sighting - 1964 Cadillac Sedan DeVille

One of my all-time favorite years for Cadillac styling is 1964. It was the last year of real tailfins, the last year before vertical stacked headlights, and in my opinion a very handsomely designed, surprisingly restrained car. Yes, the '64 was a facelifted '63 which was in turn a warmed-over '61. The details I didn't like about the '63 model were ironed out and simplified, and Cadillac dropped in a larger 429 V8 and a new Turbo-Hydramatic auto transmission for better performance.

This '64 Sedan DeVille would have been a very classy-looking car when it was new. Painted gleaming black with whitewall tires, full stainless hubcaps and body color fender skirts, and a contrasting white interior, it was a nice mid-range Caddy. Today it wears a bike rack, black tape that I'm almost certain covers severe trunk rust, and various paint wear from a lifetime battling the elements. A lot of the chrome is still good and most of the body still looks solid. Granted, it's not the best example of its kind on the roads, but it's a survivor. If anything, this is the kind of car that should be documented, before it ends up lost forever in a scrapyard.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Santa Cruz Street Sighting - 1967 Ford Thunderbird Fordor Landau

In the late 1960s, the large personal luxury car made up a popular segment of the new-car market. Mercedes would have you believe that they invented the four-door luxury sports coupe niche in 2004 with their CLS. What does that make this 1967 Ford Thunderbird, then? The Thunderbird was primarily known as a luxury coupe with sporting pretensions, or at least a big plush car with an enormous engine. It would propel you down the road nicely, and into the ditch at the first hard corner. Let's face it, this is not a sports car. It's a luxury cruiser that twelve years earlier had been a sports car with two doors and two seats. The 1967 T-Bird was a body-on-frame car with formal, yet dramatic styling. It was available as a coupe or a sedan with rear suicide doors and a thick C-pillar exaggerated by very small windows and an unusual shape of the window frame, so that the fake landau bars actually follow the shut line of the door. The four-door accounted for 24,967 sales in 1967, nearly one-third of all T-Birds that year.

I've personally always thought this generation of T-Bird was a styling disaster. The sedan in particular is an unusual look. The fighter-jet-intake grille and hidden headlights have an aggressive appearance, let down by a clumsy midsection. These cars have frameless windows for the most part, but it's a pillared sedan rather than a true four-door hardtop like the contemporary Lincoln Continental. I think the Thunderbird would have made a more convincing "four-door coupe" without a bright chrome B-pillar calling attention to the short doors. The T-Bird got a new front end with a pointed "beak" in 1970, and an optional fastback body style. I'd be interested to see someone build a phantom 1970 Thunderbird Sportsroof with 1967 front end sheetmetal.

This one is in great condition and hails from Oregon. If you're familiar with the blog OldParkedCars, you know that Oregon has a great many old and interesting cars in it. I'm guessing it's restored or at least well-kept, and the paint job looks like an approximation of Charcoal Gray metallic. The beauty of a car like this is that it would make road trips a breeze. Huge trunk, smooth and quiet ride, lots of interior space and privacy for rear-seat passengers if they really want it. Just make sure you budget enough money and time for gas stops to keep that big 390 fed. This is one of those cars I don't care much for and would never own, but I'm happy that someone out there loves and enjoys it. I believe that every model should be preserved in some quantity if possible for historical purposes. If owners get actual use and fun out of a relatively obscure car, that's even better.