Friday, November 29, 2013

Livermore Street Sighting - 1955 Pontiac Chieftain 860

Perhaps one of the most important model years ever for Pontiac was 1955, the year that the brand lost its stodgy, roly-poly image and gained V8 engines across the entire model range. The 1955 V8 replaced the old inline-six and straight-eight engines that had served Pontiac for many years. What the '55 Bel Air did for Chevy, the '55 Chieftain and Star Chief did for Pontiac. The '55 was one of the last "Silver Streak" Pontiacs, the bright trim pieces that ran over the hood and down the sides of the little tail fins. Silver Streak had long been a trademark of Pontiac, and had become something of a symbol of the "old" Pontiac. After 1956, Pontiac was reworked into a sporty brand that would be heavily marketed as such right up until its final years.

This 1955 Chieftain sedan appears to be a lower-spec 860 model finished in Valley Green or the surprisingly similar Nautilus Blue with White Mist two-tone. It has a single exhaust and limited body trim, and non-original hubcaps which I believe came from a 1958 car and were color-matched to the body. There are some issues with bumpers that need to be straightened and polished, and of course new paint, but otherwise it's a solid example with no visible serious rust. It looks to be a longtime local car judging by the period McKissick Motor Company dealership license plate frames. McKissick sold Pontiac and GMC vehicles based at 770 East 14th Street in San Leandro; the building is now Linen Life Gallery.

The owner is clearly an enthusiast with a small collection of old cruisers including a '58 Pontiac, '59 Pontiac Bonneville sedan and a '63 Ford Galaxie Boxtop. I'd love to feature any of them but I'm not going to trespass to do it. If the owner ever wants to park his beautiful red Bonnie on the street, though...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1977 Pontiac Sunbird Sport Coupe

If you think '1977 Pontiac', there's probably a 90% chance you think of the black Trans-Am Burt Reynolds drove in Smokey and the Bandit. Admit it, that's what you thought.

Pretty much everything else Pontiac made back then was less interesting. At the bottom of the food chain was this, the Sunbird. It was built on the GM H-platform shared with the Chevy Monza, Buick Skyhawk and Oldsmobile Starfire, all of which were based on the old Chevy Vega and Pontiac Astre. The Sunbird Sport Coupe evolved from the Monza Towne Coupe and in 1977 could be had with a 2.5 liter Iron Duke four only - except in California and high-altitude areas, which got the old Vega 2.3. A fastback-styled hatchback was new for 1977. Two more powerful V6 and V8 engines would be added for 1978. The old Astre wagon continued as a Sunbird Safari for a couple more years. These little cars were available with some interesting appearance and mild performance packages, including Trams-Am-inspired sport touches like 'snowflake' cast aluminum wheels, sport steering wheel and body striping. A Sunbird Formula was a pretty cool little package for what it was.

This Sunbird is a rough example of a base Sport Coupe that appears to be a daily driver. Living on the coast as it does, it's been subject to a lot of salt air which translates to rust. I always thought the grille shell on these cars was fiberglass, but it turns out to be sheetmetal judging by the rust-through on the passenger side. I can't figure out what color the body was originally; I'm guessing Buckskin Metallic, the color of the famous Rockford Files Trans-Am. The doors appear to be replacements in Firethorn Metallic. I'm not sure how much longer for this world it is, because the roof has some serious rust holes around the cowl, windshield and rear window. All the more reason why I felt the need to document this little Pontiac now before it disappears forever.

Monday, November 25, 2013

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1967 Pontiac Tempest Custom

I'm a big fan of the Pontiac brand, so this week I'm doing a Pontiac theme.

The Pontiac GTO has garnered almost universal respect in the muscle car community as a strong performer and a very collectible vehicle. But there is a double standard, as the GTO was really a higher trim level and performance package based on the mainstream Tempest. Despite these humble roots, the GTO is considered a collector's item and the Tempest is a used car. If either is less than pristine, the GTO is a restoration project and the Tempest is its parts donor.

While the Tempest is perhaps not as cool or valuable a car as the sporty GTO, it's not a total junker. This 1967 Tempest Custom coupe has the optional 326 cubic inch V8 and a nice red color that sets off its Coke-bottle shape nicely with black interior. The 1966-1967 Pontiac midsize models are some of my favorite cars of the decade. The Tempests could be had as slick four-door pillarless hardtops and two-door hardtop coupes like the GTO. In my opinion, the GTO-only styling touches fixed whatever was a little awkward on the regular Tempest, like the delicate-looking grille and generic taillight design (1967 GTOs had a completely different taillight panel with 8 small rectangular lenses and the reverse lights set into the rear bumper). Note the GTO-inspired (albeit non-functional) hood scoop and the cool Rallye II wheels. I love those wheels on most Pontiacs from this era through the 1970s.

Condition on this car is pretty good. The body is nice and straight and it looks like it just needs a new coat of paint and polished chrome to really look nice. We can't all have a GTO, but this one looks about 80% the part for a lot less money.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Oakland Street Sighting - 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Sedan

At this stage I'd have to say that one of the most cliched vehicles known today is the 1957 Chevy Bel Air. If I were to have you name a generic 1950s car, you'd probably either come up with the '57 Chevy or the '59 Cadillac, because both are so distinctive due to their chrome fronts and pointed tailfins and are heavily associated with drive-ins, rock and roll and anything retro from the era. Of course, I then disprove my own point by doing a Google Image Search for "1950s car" and the first thing that came up was an Edsel. The '57 Bel Air didn't appear until the fifth row of results on page 1. But still, it's a popular enough car that the Santa Cruz Boardwalk has a ride attraction called Rock & Roll, where the riders sit in little cars on a track that are all clearly patterned after the '57 Bel Air - the attraction's sign even has a full-scale fiberglass Bel Air front end bursting out of it. Arlen Ness, a Northern California motorcycle builder, built a bike called Ness-Stalgia that's directly inspired by the '57 Bel Air. And when you go to car shows, try counting how many '57 Bel Airs show up. They all seem to come out of the woodwork, as well as their '55 and '56 brethren. It has to be something really special to get me to photograph one at a show. And the ones that do show up are typically red, blue, or black and sitting on American Racing TorqThrust wheels. Not that that's bad, necessarily. People do it because it looks good. These things still go for big money on the collector car market and are very collectible. Heck, I loved the '57 Bel Air as a kid. I built a model of one. I painted it blue and put on the TorqThrust wheels that were optional in the box. So yeah, the '57 Bel Air is a bit stale. But do you see the '57s on the street? Rarely.

I was going to visit my friend in Oakland one afternoon and decided to take a side trip past Hanzel Auto Body Works on 23rd Street. They have a rare 1952 Ford F-3 HanzLift tow truck which I've been dying to shoot because it's the only one of its kind left. The fact the company specializes in servicing Citro├źns also lures me back every now and then. But it was not to be, this time. No, instead, a few blocks away from the shop sat this pale yellow '57 Bel Air Sport Sedan.

What I like about this car is it's a survivor. It's not a slick resto-mod with large chrome wheels and resale red paint. It doesn't have flames, pinstriping, murals or painted chrome. It's just subdued factory Colonial Cream with a two-tone by Father Time of rust brown. It's also refreshing to see a four-door pillarless hardtop instead of the more desirable (and cliched) Sport Coupe. The Sport Sedan isn't my favorite body style for these cars; in fact I'm actually partial to the far more common 4-door pillared sedan for some reason. The only things I see that aren't stock are the clear plastic cover over the front license plate, and the rear license plate frame. Dual exhaust and gold V emblems indicate the 265 or 283 small block V8 engine, but I can't tell whether it has the 3-speed column-shifted manual transmission, or the 2-speed Powerglide or even the 3-speed Turboglide automatic. It is not one of the rare fuel injected cars, as that would be called out with fender badging and would also mean a high-performance 283 Super Turbo-Fire engine underhood. It is also missing the black rubber "Dagmar" front bumper tips commonly seen on these cars, but appears not to have been equipped with them from the factory.

I hated that the light was fading so quickly during my shoot. In an urban environment with tall buildings late in the day, you have to be quick or your subject is half in shadow before you know it. So many of these cars ended their days in motorsport, be it drag racing, NASCAR, even demolition derbies, that they are relatively difficult to find in unmolested condition today. The ones that did survive tended to be the more collectible coupes and convertibles, or reliable family cars that continued to earn their keep and passed from owner to owner. Many of the lower-trim examples and six-cylinder cars were used up and discarded like so much trash. Most Bel Airs seen today are restored or customized, making solid originals that much more special to me. As the saying goes, they're only original once.

As it turns out, this same car was previously featured on Curbside Classic in 2012, having been photographed about a block away from where I found it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

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

The first time I ever recall seeing a 1941 Dodge Luxury Liner was in January outside the Silicon Valley International Auto Show. They're not nearly as popular with owners today as Fords and Chevys of the same era, making them very hard to find. I commented on this in my feature on it. So naturally I stumbled upon another one in my own town a mere two days after I wrote the post.

This particular '41 Dodge turned up on the street on a day I was working my delivery route. After work I stopped by to check it out. It looked like something that had perhaps been in storage for a while, a car with sunbaked paint in an unusual shade of blue-purple and nearly new license plates with tags set to expire in a couple of months. The body was solid, chrome and trim were in great shape. It looked like all it needed was paint and a good scrub on the whitewalls. Oh, and to reinstall the wheel on the right rear. I don't think I ever saw the car on the street with the wheel in place, so far all I know it could have been a theft deterrent. It disappeared a few days after I photographed it, but then appeared in the Cars For Sale Corral at the Goodguys Autumn Get-Together at the Alameda County Fairgrounds this month. So I guess it's going on to a new home, and hopefully will see some reconditioning to preserve a rare vehicle.