Sunday, June 29, 2014

Alameda Street Sighting - 1957 Chrysler New Yorker

One of my favorite cars on the Island that Rust Forgot, also known as the city of Alameda, California, is this excellent 1957 Chrysler New Yorker four-door hardtop. Chrysler Corporation was really at the top of its game when Virgil Exner unveiled his Forward Look lineup of dramatic yet graceful new cars for '57. The fanciest four-door Chrysler that year (apart from the Imperial, which was its own luxury brand) was the New Yorker. We've already looked at a base-model '57 Chrysler Windsor pillared sedan, now see how the other half lived.

The New Yorker for 1957 came with a 392 cubic inch Hemi V8 and brand-new three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. New Torsion-Aire torsion bar suspension made the large car handle and ride better than its predecessor. Early models came with single headlamps, with dual lamps optional and made standard later in the year as seen on this car. I've always thought the 1957 Chrysler front grille and bumper design was a bit clumsy, but if I'm honest it didn't get any better in '58 or '59. I still think the pinnacle of Exner's Forward Look was the 1958 Plymouth lineup (although I prefer the taillights of the '57s) and I also have a soft spot for the 1959 DeSoto.

This one is in fantastic condition. I'm sure it's restored, with a nice coat of Cloud White with roof and side accents in what could be Champagne Gold (non-metallic). I've seen the owner working on it in the street before, so it's no trailer or garage queen purchased from an auction by a speculator or some hipster trying to be ironic. It's all stock apart from some restrained dual exhaust tips. I can't find much, if anything, wrong with it. And I like it a lot.

Friday, June 27, 2014

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1970 Mini Mk III

Oh dear, a Mini. Let's see what an ignorant fool I am about these cars. Readers from the UK, please be gentle!

Okay, the best I can tell from research is that this is a 1970 to 1975 Mini Mk III, because of its internal door hinges, roll-up windows and large quarter windows. This is still before reverse lamps were incorporated into the taillamps or tacked on under the rear bumper. The grille is retrofitted from a Mini Van or Pickup, which was usually welded into place instead of bolted. This one looks like it may have been installed using two bolts, one on either side through holes drilled in the grille. Note the mounting holes for the stock grille that are still visible above the commercial grille. Most of the improvements and changes made to the Mk III Mini occurred below the surface, mainly in suspension components. For that reason I'm completely clueless how to identify it further.

This one's a bit of a panel beater with mismatched pieces and aftermarket wheels with fender flares, making it appear a little tougher than the average basic Mini. The commercial grille and twin tailpipes also give it attitude. It's not badged as a Cooper, which is a nice change. After spending the day in San Francisco, I was pleasantly surprised to see this car still sitting on the street in the evening on my way out of town. I had passed by the Mini earlier and continued on in search of the nearly two dozen other cars I photographed that day. San Francisco continues to be a gold mine for old cars and this definitely won't be the last classic Mini you see here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Castro Valley Street Sighting - 1967 Buick LeSabre Custom 400 Sport Coupe

In fall 2006 when I began going to college in San Francisco, I commuted on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), basically a regional subway/light rail. I always caught the train out of the Castro Valley station, and when there was no space left in the BART parking lot I'd park down the street. It was early on that I'd often see a huge old green Buick LeSabre parked on the same street. It came and went and after a while it disappeared. I never saw what became of it until two years after graduation, when I was exploring a different part of Castro Valley and there it was. This was one of the first cars I photographed in depth with my then-new Canon 60D, as my poor trusty Kodak Z980 had just died four days previously (the power switch broke while attempting to photograph this 1974 Chevy Camaro). So I apologize that the photo quality is a bit poor; I hadn't figured out all the camera settings yet.

This is a 1967 Buick LeSabre in Custom spec (bright wheel arch trim!) with the 400 Package (Super Turbine 3-speed automatic and 340 cubic inch V8 with 4-barrel carburetor). It's a well-equipped car and still wears its original (albeit faded) Green Mist Metallic. The only visible modification is an unfortunate set of large-ish chrome wheels. I can't say they really compliment the swoopy, elegant lines of the car. Buick was unapologetic about the sheer size of the LeSabre, playing up its more than 18-foot length in the brochure as well as its big-car luxuries.This one appears to have a green Madrid grain vinyl interior, one of the five "Recommended" interior colors in the Buick catalog to go with Green Mist ("Saddle" was an 'Acceptable' interior color). I'm always amazed by how well some of these old vinyl seats hold up over time. This is nowhere more impressive than the 1964 Pontiac Bonneville wagon that has been sitting on (and usually under) the beach at Morro Bay since 1973.

But I digress. This solid Sport Coupe is a nearly extinct formula, now reserved for only the most expensive brands: a huge car with a fastback roofline, two doors, a powerful engine and luxurious interior appointments. Sounds like a Bentley Continental GT, but it's a Buick. You used to be able to plunk down $3,172 and have a stylish living room on wheels with sporting pretensions. That's about $22,469 in today's dollars, less than the MSRP on a base 2014 Buick Verano. Talk about a value.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Danville Street Sighting - 1994 BMW 840Ci

I must say, the 1990s were very good to BMW. There aren't many brands that consistently produced good-looking cars throughout an entire decade. I love the E34 and E39 5 Series, E36 3 Series and E38 7 Series. Even the aging E30 and E32 still looked decent into the '90s, the early E46 3 Series was all right, and like it or hate it, the Z3 was the Z3. But one of my all time favorite Bimmers remains the E31 8 Series.

The 8 Series was developed as BMW's halo car, a sporty grand tourer that was both fast and beautiful. It was penned in 1986 by Klaus Kapitza, a link between the square cars of the '80s and the slippery shapes of the future. Under the long hood sat a 4.0 liter V8 (enlarged to 4.4 liters in later models) or a 5.0 liter V12 (also later enlarged to 5.4 liters). Relatively rare among modern cars, the 8 Series is a pillarless hardtop coupe. This fact is partly responsible for the car's high curb weight thanks to the bracing required to pull that off and allow all the side windows to roll down into the body.

This car is a '94 840Ci in a fetching shade of metallic blue. I'm not sure exactly which blue it is since several were offered, but I really like it. It might be Tobago Blue? The interior appears to be a grey or bluish-grey leather. You can't get much more '90s than grey leather. I love the M-Parallel wheels, though without BMW roundel center caps they could be retrofitted replicas. Speaking of the BMW roundel, the one on the hood is every Bimmer's cosmetic weak point. An easy fix, but the BMW logo facing the sky always seems to be the first piece to fail in sunny climates. Once the clearcoat is baked away, the color is as good as gone. This 840 looks like it still has a lot of life in it, and still looks like a more expensive car than it is.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1956 International Harvester SM-120 Metro Van

If ever there was a vehicle I should have posted on St. Patrick's Day back in March, it's this one. Either that, or the Irish community will be happy that I didn't force another stereotype of Irish culture on the holiday of their patron saint. This colorful International Metro with its manic-looking leprechaun and his disturbing mechanical friend are trademarks of O'Grady Plumbing, a business based in San Francisco. A small (I'm sure very small, only a few at most) fleet of these little vans serve as rolling billboards for the company, to be parked in visible locations in the city. I doubt that the Metros see much active duty given their age, condition and rarity.

The Metro Van first came on the scene in 1938, based on the six-cylinder D-Series trucks and available in a range of lengths, cargo ratings and body configurations. The short-wheelbase, light duty vans were useful as milk trucks and bread delivery vans and retained the same general shape and Raymond Loewy design for decades. They looked so similar for so long that it's very difficult to determine the exact year of manufacture of a particular van. Front and rear lamps were moved around a bit, but mostly things are the same. As far as I can tell, this is an SM-120 Metro Van built between 1956 and 1959. But I honestly don't know. Anyone with more information is welcome to chime in and correct me.