Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Favorite Street Sightings of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, let's take another look at some of my favorite street sighting posts of the year. These are the cars I had the most fun shooting, and/or interested me the most.

1929 Packard Model 640 Custom Eight Roadster, San Ramon

1930 Ford Model A Rumble Seat Coupe, Livermore

1932 Cadillac Model 452B V-16 Dual Cowl Phaeton, San Ramon

1948 Pontiac DeLuxe Torpedo Convertible, Danville

1951 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible, Danville

1957 Chrysler New Yorker, Alameda

1957 Fiat 600D Multipla, Berkeley

1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7, Los Gatos

1976 AMC Pacer X, San Francisco

1987 Yugo GV, Foster City

What were your favorites this year? What would you like me to look for?

See you in 2015!


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pleasanton Street Sighting - 1954 MG TF Roadster

I guess I went hog wild photographing this one. I typically don't pay much attention to old British sports cars but this first-year MG TF caught my interest. Where I work, a fellow comes into the shopping center occasionally with a beautiful black '55 TF roadster, and since I first saw it I've wanted to spot one on the street to feature. This one was out on Pleasanton's historic Main Street and it is lovely.

The owner came over while I was taking pictures and wondered what I was doing. Understandable. Most people take a snapshot with their iPhone and leave. I took almost two dozen from all angles with my DSLR and hung around the car for several minutes. It isn't every day that you come across such a cherry-perfect classic MG. And when you do, there's a chance it's a fiberglass replica on a VW chassis. This is the genuine article.

One of the unique details of a TF-series MG is the dashboard. The MG logo is octagonal, and that design motif carries over into the shape of the radiator cap. On the TF the gauges and dashboard knobs are also octagonal, whereas on the predecessor TD they were round. The dainty three-spoke banjo steering wheel, rimless glass wind deflectors and ornately designed side mirrors are all interesting features. This one sports a soft tonneau that covers the passenger seat and most of the cabin when not in use, which snaps in place. Note the lack of roll-up windows; this is a true roadster and probably not something you want to be in when it rains. The TF was perhaps the first "modern" MG, with headlights faired into the fenders and a slanted grille for better aerodynamics. It didn't stray too far from its pre-war roots, though, as it still had manual everything, suicide doors and an exposed gas tank strapped to the body.

This car looks like it's been restored nicely but built to be driven. The modern radial tires mounted on the classic wire wheels are a hint to that. I'm hoping the hood was just loosely closed and that it fits better than it appears in the photos. I like the detail of the British Motor Cars San Francisco dealership license plate frame on the rear plate. The front plate, PWC 42D, comes back as a 1966 Essex registration. Unusual on a car with a 1963 California plate on the back suggesting it's been in this state since before the UK plate was issued. In any case, it's a pretty little car and one I've been happy to see more than once on the streets of Pleasanton.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from California Streets!

Wishing all of my readers and their families a joyful and safe Christmas, and a happy 2015!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Collector's Corner - Maisto Hummer H1 Soft Top

Tomorrow is Christmas. Everyone knows that one of the most popular and enduring Christmas toys of the last 25 years is the Maisto 1:18 scale diecast model. And one of the most play-worthy Maisto models ever is their Hummer.

I loved this thing as a kid. It had a lot of play value, and display value as well. Maisto builds cars that are intended for children over three years of age -- past the sticking-things-in-mouth phase but not necessarily past the crashing-cars phase. They are designed to make a compromise between price and quality, since May Cheong Group has to make a profit on cars that sell for $12.99 at Costco and retail for about twice that elsewhere. We're not talking Auto Art detail or quality here, folks. Auto Art, Kyosho, high-end brands sell for big money because of the number of small components, smooth paintwork and careful assembly. Maisto has a margin of error greater than more expensive brands; when you cater to little kids, they aren't as picky about whether the hood edges are cast totally straight, as they are about getting the new Viper in bright red.

The Maisto Hummer is a great casting for variations. It's offered as a civilian hardtop, soft-top, station wagon, slantback, and as a slantback military HMMWV (Humvee) with a mounted gun on the roof. All were offered in an assortment of paint colors, and desert tan or camouflage on the military version. Another great thing about the Hummer is that all four doors open, a rare feature for a budget diecast. You get coil-spring suspension all the way around, with impressive travel that allows a kid (or kid at heart) to play with the Hummer on rocks and dirt.

Under the hood, the 6.5 liter diesel engine is acceptably detailed, and the grille is mesh with actual holes instead of a mesh pattern embossed on a solid piece of plastic. The hood can be locked shut with a pair of plastic straps that latch onto small nubs inside the fenders. These are some of the model's weak points as they, along with the side mirrors, are fragile. When the hood is opened, the front brush guard hinges down on the front bumper and can be removed altogether if desired. The interior looks Spartan, cheap and kind of ugly. If you've seen a real Hummer you know that's pretty much what the real thing looks like. I can't fault it too much as it includes seat belts, the high- and low-range levers and a pair of cup holders in the very wide (also realistic) center console. Unfortunately the soft-top does not come off.

My Hummer is from the Premiere series released in 1998. The white paint with black wheels and black top gives the truck a nice contrast, and while it doesn't appear as menacing as the black version available the same year, you can see all of the details clearly and the truck looks bigger. This was my first 1:18 diecast with four opening doors, too, and I treasured it for that added detail. In recent years I've begun collecting more models of mundane everyday cars, but the Hummer is going to remain in my collection as a big brash beast that just happens to look pretty awesome.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Alameda Street Sighting - 1970 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan

Admittedly I usually don't like photographing really beat-up cars but I do if they're interesting or uncommon. A 1970 Chevy Impala four-door hardtop used to be a common sight on America's roads, but certainly isn't anymore. GM produced over 600,000 Impalas in 1970, the vast majority of which were V8 cars. This number does not even include low-trim Biscaynes and Bel Airs or high-trim Caprices! I have seen an estimate of 46,000 for Impala Sport Sedan production but no actual number seems to be available.

Most Impala buyers were average people who liked average cars, a safe and reliable choice that wouldn't lose resale value, rode comfortably and was big. The cars were conventional almost to the point of mediocrity, and the public for the most part was okay with that. The Impala was available in fastback Sport Coupe, notchback Custom Coupe, convertible, four-door sedan, Sport Sedan and Kingswood station wagon in 6- or 9-passenger versions. Virtually anything a buyer wanted was available in the options list, from bigger V8 engines to multiple manual and automatic transmission options to front disc brakes (front drums were standard for the last time in 1970), to Positraction rear end. Even a ski rack, fire extinguisher and tissue dispenser were available (I assume as dealer options). A 250 Turbo-Thrift six was standard with a 350 Turbo-Fire V8 optional, and a hotter 350, 400 or 454 available at extra cost. The '70 Impala was the last refresh of the old 1965 body and still offered a little bit of style, just enough to keep people interested without appearing gaudy. Oddly, 1970 was the first year since 1948 that Chevy full-size sales dropped under 1 million units. (The all-new 1971 full-sized models also totaled fewer than 1 million cars, but outsold the '70 by a wide margin).

This car is kind of a mess, unfortunately. Looking at it, it used to be a pretty nice Sport Sedan with a black vinyl roof over what looks like Autumn Gold metallic. The roof looks more like brown to me, but brown wasn't a factory top color in 1970. The Magic Mirror acrylic lacquer paint has fought hard against the ravages of time and several accidents, still managing to reflect the curb on the car's right side. The left front fender and rear quarter panel are toast, and several of the remaining panels are tweaked or creased. All of the hubcaps are still present, though, and the chrome is in surprisingly good shape even with some bumper damage. Despite all the wear and tear, as long as it's fine mechanically it will probably keep going for a while longer. This car was featured on Jalopnik in 2007 and described as belonging to the owner of the '61 Thunderbird I featured here back in 2012. Seems he likes keeping beat-up old cars on the road that most other people would have parted out by now. I can appreciate that.