Thursday, October 31, 2013

Alameda Street Sighting - 1972 Cadillac Superior Crown Landaulet Funeral Coach

Second in my Halloween hearse double-feature is a 1972 Cadillac Funeral Coach, which looks to be a Superior Crown Landaulet. Unlike the 1970 Superior hearse featured previously, this one has the half-roof bordered by a stainless roof band. Interestingly, it appears that the roof is not covered in vinyl as I initially thought, but it is actually a textured finish called a crinkle top. It's a 3-way hearse, meaning a casket can be loaded via the rear door or either of the rear-hinged suicide doors on the sides. It is in remarkably good condition and clearly shows pride of ownership. In fact, it's owned by a lady known as Miss Lynda, described by as "hearse owner and burlesque star" and "Grim Rides Poster Girl". The site gives her credit for doing everything right in finding the perfect hearse, and it shows.

The car was a little dirty when I found it, but under the typical summer crud the paintwork is very nice and the body straight. The hearse once served a funeral parlor in South San Francisco and was still doing regular funeral duty until around 2000 when Miss Lynda purchased it. It has an electric extending casket table which apparently is a rare option. It's by far the cleanest classic hearse I've come across on the street, and one of a precious few Cadillacs of this era I've felt the need to photograph in depth.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kensington Street Sighting - 1970 Cadillac Superior Crown Sovereign Funeral Coach

It's something of a tradition for me to feature a hearse for my Halloween post. This year I have two to share. The first is a 1970 Cadillac Superior Crown Sovereign Funeral Coach. That's kind of a mouthful. Specifically, it is a Cadillac Funeral Coach, with coachwork performed by Superior Coach Company, and the model as offered by Superior is the Crown Sovereign. These professional cars were offered as an end-loader or side-loader ("three-way"), the latter of which came with rear-hinged suicide doors to aid in sliding a casket through either side of the car. Other options included the Landau or Landaulet trims, a padded vinyl roof covering which covered the whole roof as on this car, or in the case of the Landaulet, only half the roof was covered. The vinyl ended at a stainless steel band which extended from the C-pillar up and across the roof.

This Caddy is a bit mossy but still solid, with most of its original gold paint left intact. I haven't seen many gold hearses, which sets this one apart from most. Unfortunately I have my suspicion that it doesn't get driven much and spends most of its life collecting more moss under trees. It might be why the shaded side is still shiny and the rest of the car is dull and sunbaked. On the bright side, corrosion is minimal, all trim is present and the hubcaps are all there. I can't tell from the images whether the roof is actually vinyl or if it's just metal painted brown. Given the tendency of 1970s vinyl tops to let water in around the edges and rust out the often unpainted steel underneath, this may be a blessing.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Alameda Street Sighting - 1956 Nash Metropolitan Convertible

There are some cars that, when you see them, you just have to smile. One of the cutest vehicles to come out of the 1950s has to be the Nash Metropolitan.

The Metropolitan was a revolutionary concept for an American manufacturer, a small car marketed to women as a second vehicle to be used for shopping or commuting. It was not the first of its kind in the budding subcompact segment, as several companies had tried compacts in the 1930s and 1940s like Crosley and American Bantam. Chevrolet came up with the stillborn 1947 Cadet concept and Willys devised the horribly named 6/66 prototype, neither of which went into production. The small car market, miniscule as it was, was dominated by imported cars like the VW Beetle, British sports cars and the occasional odd French Renault or Citroen. Most American manufacturers at the time dismissed the market segment, as buyers preferred full-size cars. One of the few American small cars in the early '50s, the Hudson Jet, failed pretty badly. The six-cylinder Willys Aero also sold in small numbers. Then Nash designed a tiny bathtub on wheels, contracted with Austin to build it in England, and sold it in North America as the Metropolitan.

The Met was offered as a hardtop or convertible, with an Austin-sourced four and a three-speed stick. While famed Italian designer Pininfarina had been involved with design work on other Nash products, he didn't want to be associated with the almost comical-looking Metropolitan which used similar corporate styling. The cars came well-equipped despite their small size and low price. They were not without their foibles, of course. The car had no trunk, only a storage cubby accessed by folding down the rear seatback. It was a surprisingly good handler on the road thanks to its light weight, though on the highway the little engine had to rev unusually high to keep up with traffic.

This Metropolitan was a lucky find for me. I was driving through Alameda and happened to spot it halfway down the block to my left while crossing an intersection. Were it not for Alameda's 25-mph speed limits I probably would have missed it. The color combination is hard to miss, a bright red over white with the trademark dogleg divider first seen in 1956. The color is a unique treatment I haven't seen before; usually the white lower paint follows the body crease across the hood and ends halfway up the headlights instead of following the body seams straight down on the leading edge of the fenders. It's a Series III car with the larger 1.5 liter Austin engine and various improvements. It was around this time that management was getting ready to market the Metropolitan as its own brand, without Nash badging. I suspect this car may be a late 1956 model as the front bears only the stylized "M" badge and no Nash logos. For that reason I initially thought the car was a '57 model, but a posting on the New York Times website by the owner specifies the car as a '56.

Condition is quite good; I'd call it a nice driver. There are a few scratches and a dent on the driver's door, otherwise all the trim's in place and looking shiny. The owner affectionately calls it Rosie. It's an appropriate name for a cute, playful looking roadster that turns heads and makes people smile everywhere she goes.

Friday, October 25, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1988 Isuzu Impulse

Rounding out my week of 1980s products from orphan brands is a car from a company that is still in business, but which no longer builds cars. It's a 1988 Isuzu Impulse.

The Impulse has always been an interesting animal. Called the Piazza overseas, it was designed by Giugiaro and offered suspension engineering by Lotus, and a normally aspirated or turbocharged four-cylinder engine hooked up to a 5-speed stick or 4-speed automatic transmission. I always found the Impulse intriguing since I was a kid; my swim instructor's neighbor had one and at the time it confused me to see not only a car made by Isuzu, but one with a "Handling By Lotus" badge on it as well. The name also amused me, as every customer who bought one was an Impulse buyer. Usually an 'impulse purchase' is something one does on a whim without thinking first, like a tabloid magazine or pack of gum at the supermarket. Wikipedia (as reputable a source as it is) claims the Impulse had a very limited production despite being built for ten years in its first generation. It estimates only a little over 13,000 Impulses were made. I'm not sure if that number includes the second-generation Impulse that also became the Geo Storm and Canadian Asuna Sunfire.

In 1988 the Impulse grew up somewhat. It received a refresh that gave it a larger engine, Lotus-tuned suspension standard, and virtually everything else standard except the turbo. The car also lost its pop-up headlight covers but gained a bigger rear spoiler. This one has lost all its Lotus badges, probably popped off and stolen by some miscreant. It appears to be a non-turbo model judging by the standard wheels (Turbos had a more interesting 5-spoke snowflake wheel design). Note the redundant badging on the front end; there is an Isuzu grille badge and an equally sized Isuzu logo debossed into the front bumper. These were pretty much the last rear-wheel-drive Isuzus that didn't have to wear a truck body. This one is a little beat up but still looks like it has a lot of life left in it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1989 Merkur Scorpio

This week we're looking at 1980s models from orphaned brands. Second up is a 1989 Merkur Scorpio.

It's been two years since Ford shuttered its Mercury brand due to slow sales and stagnant products. Mercury wasn't a bad brand, but it was little more than lightly restyled Fords marketed to women and old people. What people often forget is the existence of another brand, Merkur, that used to be sold through the same dealerships. Merkur was an unusual concept for Ford, an attempt to get Americans interested in a couple of their European offerings and compete in the burgeoning German luxury car market. What it was, was a couple of rebadged European Fords built in Germany, equipped with luxury touches, and sold at luxury prices. Ford of course couldn't call the new car Sierra (after the car on which the new models were heavily based), because GMC was already using that name. So the Sierra XR4i hatchback coupe and larger Scorpio sedan became the Merkur XR4Ti and the Merkur Scorpio. Merkur itself was a literal German translation of Mercury.

The Merkur Scorpio was a well-equipped, competent luxury car, and its base vehicle was very popular in its home market. Ford had all kinds of special benefits for Merkur owners like a 6-year warranty, free loaner cars and even a higher-than-average resale value if the buyer traded in for another Ford product later. So what happened? The cars were expensive to produce and import, which contributed to their high price tag. They were sold in the same dealerships as cheaper Mercury Sables, which looked somewhat similar (and some might say better). Unlike the European Sierra Scorpio, the U.S. Scorpio did not receive a sporty Cosworth model and was only available with one V6 engine (though a 5-speed manual transmission was a very rare option). The domestic Sable could be ordered with one of two larger V6s, and was available in sedan or wagon form. Five-door hatchbacks were not especially popular in the States at the time. The final blow to the Merkur brand was federal legislation mandating airbags and other safety equipment. The Sierra was never designed to meet those standards and could not be re-engineered on short notice, and was probably not profitable enough to justify the effort. So the Merkur Scorpio was killed after only two years on the market. A mere 22,007 were sold.

This car is a 1989 model, made in the final year of production. It is one of the cleanest Merkurs I've spotted in recent memory, and still displays well apart from some minor scuffs on the standard color-contrasting bumpers. Color is Diamond White over Nautilus Gray. This one appears to have the optional power moonroof and is probably well-equipped. I've long had a mild interest in these cars, even though they've never particularly appealed to me visually. Perhaps it's because they were always rare, and to me they don't look like anything else on the road. It's like a Sterling 827, one of those quirky bit players in the luxury car field that never caught on and is now just a nice older used car that happens to have limited parts availability.

Thanks to an astute reader for pointing out some erroneous statements in my original post!