Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pleasanton Street Sighting - 1968 Morgan Plus 4

The beginning of fall brought a huge termite swarm across the Bay Area this past Sunday. Usually that's only a problem for homeowners, and doesn't affect cars. Coincidentally, however, that same day marked the Danville D'Elegance concours car show in Danville, California. And one car present there would be very much at risk from termites - the Morgan.

Morgan is known for doing things the old-fashioned way. They've been building roadsters with ash wood frames and the same overall body styling since 1936. Far more modern models have come along, including the Aero 8 and Aeromax, but the quaint little Roadster, be it the first 4/4 or the Plus 8, has endured and evolved as little as possible.

The Morgan Plus 4 was introduced in 1950 and has been produced on and off ever since. It was available as a two- or four-seat roadster and was motivated by a Triumph four-cylinder linked to a four-speed manual gearbox. This particular car is a 1968 Plus 4, which I found in historic downtown Pleasanton one evening. Further research revealed that it came to California from Vantage Sports Cars in Orlando, Florida. For that reason I question the 1968 California license plates (complete with 1968 registration tag); and being a left-hand-drive car I question the originality of the UK plates as well. If the British plate is in fact original (perhaps for purposes of importation), the car would have first been registered in early 1968. It has benefitted from a full restoration, and of course those 'correct' items could have been added. Thanks to the show-quality resto, there's hardly a flaw to be seen. I've sighted this car three times to date, one instance of which was at the Danville D'Elegance. Must be why all the termites were around.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Alameda Street Sighting - 1983 Chrysler Executive Sedan

I never thought I would geek out over a K-Car.

In the late 1970s Chrysler Corporation was in deep financial trouble. A government bailout kept the doors open, but only if the Pentastar could source some profitable product that could pay back the loan. The Chrysler K platform arguably saved the company with a wide range of FWD sedans, coupes, convertibles and wagons mostly powered by frugal four-cylinder engines. This platform gave rise to the first Chrysler minivans and the larger E-platform sedans, and darn near everything else they made in the '80s and to an extent, even into the '90s. But perhaps the oddest K-Car variant was the Chrysler Executive.

The Executive was Chrysler's solution to a very 1980s problem: how would the rich travel in luxury if fuel was scarce and expensive? Never mind that a truly wealthy person doesn't need to worry about the price of gasoline. Even in the current economy I don't see rich people trading in too many of their Escalades because of gas prices. Chrysler was betting that the Cadillac Fleetwood 75 and Lincoln Town Car limousines would soon have no place in a 'new normal' of smaller, more efficient cars. And to their credit, Chrysler really tried. The first Executives were available in two sizes, the Executive Sedan and the Executive Limousine. This one is the shorter 124" wheelbase, 5 passenger Sedan, which translates to plenty of legroom for rear passengers. It featured dual-zone air conditioning, adjustable rear headrests and footrests, reading lamps and other luxury touches. Colors and interior materials were limited and formal. The body was hand-built by ASC from a LeBaron coupe and powered by a Mitsubishi 2.6 liter four. So yes, that thing's got a hemi, but it's only making about 114 hp.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this car is the fact that in 1983, only nine Executive Sedans and two Limousines were built. The Sedan was only built for two years, with 196 produced in 1984 before it was dropped. (A single original 1982 prototype Sedan was also built). The Limousine continued until 1986, with a total of 1,494 built (including the 1982 prototype).
This car is in pretty good shape and is owned by an evident collector of K-Cars and K-based oddball Chryslers (note the TC by Maserati and a LeBaron Town & Country wagon in the driveway). For this reason I have high hopes that it will be preserved by someone who appreciates its rarity. It could use some cosmetic work, but judging by the lack of license plates and the DMV sticker on the window it's just beginning its new life in Alameda. All in good time, little limo.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1974 Chevrolet Camaro Type LT

Until recently I had a strict rule for myself regarding pony cars, particularly Mustangs and GM F-Bodies. And that rule basically was that I wouldn't feature, let alone shoot, any of them unless they were sufficiently rare or awesome. Usually a Malaise-era, big-bumper Camaro evokes no emotional response from me whatsoever, but I really like this one.

Near as I can tell, it's a 1974 Type LT. The Type LT was a cushier, more luxurious Camaro than the standard sport coupe. It was a sign of the times, as horsepower and engine displacement were decreased due to stricter emissions and fuel economy. It was, however, a very good year for Camaro sales. The AMC Javelin, Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger were on the way out and the wimpy new Mustang II was more like a gelding. GM tried to make up for the slower, fatter, long-nosed 1974 Camaro by making it a more comfortable place to be - and it was possible to still have some fun at the same time. Buyers could combine the LT and Z-28 packages for a quick yet classy coupe devoid of loud go-fast stickers and stripes.

This Camaro wears the styled 15" steel wheels first seen on the 1971 Chevelle SS line. As far as I know, most Type LTs came with the 6-spoke Rally wheel commonly seen on mid-1970s Novas. The Chevelle wheels were offered on Z-28 Camaros and are plausible for this car if it also has the Z-28 performance package. I consider it a mild custom job, since the Type LT badges are missing from the C-pillars and the fender badges have been replaced with early-style Camaro script emblems. I think it looks quite handsome in a rich metallic gold with black rally stripes and grey wheels. The stripes appear to be custom, since the Z-28 stripe package for 1974 was a tacky 3-stripe affair with huge "Z28" block letters on the leading edge of the hood. The small ducktail spoiler, white-letter tires and dual exhausts all look great.

As '74 Camaros go, this one struck me as incredibly beautiful. I used to see it every week on my delivery route, and one day decided to photograph it after work. That day was the same moment my trusty Kodak Z980 decided it no longer wanted to function, and it did so while shooting this car. Unable to continue, I returned another time with a different camera. I'm glad I did. It's easily one of my favorite second-generation Camaros I've seen.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Santa Cruz Street Sighting - 1963 Rambler American Wagon

When I travel down to Santa Cruz with friends, one of my favorite places to stop is the Santa Cruz Diner on Ocean Street. It's an eclectic little place that apparently is good enough that Guy Fieri from the Food Network stopped by to sample their food. But this is a car blog and you aren't here to read about how much I like their Monte Cristo sandwich. This 1963 Rambler American was parked just around the corner.
While coming off of highway 17 into town, I couldn't help but notice the odd little Rambler grinning (grimacing?) at us as we drove by. I've seen another '63 Rambler in Santa Cruz before, a blue 440 convertible that was featured here in October 2012. I always enjoy visiting Santa Cruz, in no small part because its unique population of artists, hippies, surfers and eccentrics makes for a mix of unusual cars dotting the streets. Some of them dot the street in more ways than one.

The Rambler American was always a bit of an odd duck. It lasted three generations over 11 years. As always, Rambler (and later AMC) had to design new cars on a shoestring budget, leading to creative ways of disguising their humble origins. The American began as a bathtub-looking car with leftover Nash corporate styling. Then suddenly everyone in Detroit was building compact cars that looked modern and the old tub was obsolete. So the American modernized as well. How? A new body on the old platform. In 1961 the four-door wagon body style was introduced, supplanting the old 2-door wagon. The frowny face lasted through '63 before it was replaced with a completely new car. The basic 1964 body would serve another five years.

This wagon was for sale, an example of a sturdy little economy car that has withstood the test of time. It looks pretty good for a fifty year old vehicle that's likely mostly original. The paint isn't original, evidenced by the white paint peeling off of the American script badges on the fenders. Up close, there's some lumpy Bondo repair visible in the right quarter panel and left front fender. I'm not sure if that's rust bubbles or more Bondo in the left rear passenger door just above the rocker. It's too bad it's not a more solid car, but at a price point of $4500 I don't think anyone is expecting a concours winner. I actually like the way the four-door Ramblers of this generation look, more so than their stubby two-door siblings. To me, the wagon might actually be the most attractive. What can I say? I'm a sucker for old station wagons.