Thursday, July 31, 2014

Pleasanton Street Sighting - 1967 Ford Mustang

I must admit I'm disappointed. When I was driving through the neighborhood and rolled up on a pretty blue Mustang California Special I grabbed my camera immediately. A GT-CS is pretty, well, special. They were produced originally for one year, 1968, and were the closest thing to a notchback Shelby that a customer could buy. The GT-CS was based heavily on a 1967 Shelby design study called "Little Red", and received many of the same Shelby fiberglass pieces for the side scoops, taillight panel with '65 Thunderbird taillights, trunk lid and ducktail spoiler. Up front, the Mustang running horse "corral" was removed and two rectangular foglamps occupied the otherwise empty black grille opening. Unique "California Special" script badges and side stripes were also created and stuck on the cars. Only 4,118 were built including 251 cars marketed as "High Country Specials" for the Denver, Colorado area.

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw this one. But on close inspection it looks fishy. The color combination is right, as the GT-CS was available in metallic medium blue with white side stripes, but the stripe stickers are slightly crooked around the rear spoiler. Could be an amateur restoration, perhaps? It happens. But the front grille is standard Mustang with the corral and no foglights, and worse yet, I think the corral is actually a piece off of a 1966 Mustang. There are no side marker lights, which normally would make this car a '67, but most other identifying features between a '67 and '68 are not visible in these pictures. Also, some owners prefer a cleaner look to their cars and remove the side markers. So I could let that slide. The GT-CS fiberglass pieces look correct, though such components are available in reproduction for building Shelby replicas. The body also wears Mustang badges on the fenders and trunk that are correct for a '68. The final big hint for a '68 Mustang versus a '67, assuming the interior is all stock, is a two-spoke padded steering wheel. But this one has a 3-spoke wood-rim wheel like a Shelby - a 1967 Shelby. A smaller hint, one which required some Googling to confirm, is that the '67 and '68 Mustang grilles vary slightly. Most '67s have a horizontal bar on either side of the corral, which mount to a pair of holes located slightly above the middle of the grille. A '68 doesn't have two holes; instead it has four holes made to hold a decorative chrome surround that encircles the inside of the grille. This one is a '67. Yeah, I'm no doubt reading way too far into this, but I like to be thorough and accurate when ID'ing a car.

So it's not a '68 GT California Special, which is too bad. But it is someone's toy and no doubt good enough to turn heads and fool a casual onlooker. Like me. For a while.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1978 Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT

I've always liked the Alfa Romeo GTV6 of the 1980s. What I didn't know for a long time was that the GTV6 had its roots in the 1972 Alfetta sedan. The Alfetta range was expanded in 1974 when a fastback coupe, the Alfetta GT, was added. The GT initially was offered with only a 1.8 liter engine, though a 1.6 and 2.0 were added later. This was where the GTV moniker came from, the top-spec 2.0 engine. At this point it was still a pretty simple-looking package, a car that could almost wear four rings on the grille if the Alfa triangle were removed. If my comparison seems far-fetched, Google "Audi 100 Coupe S". The similarity is uncanny. I don't think Giugiaro was involved with designing the Audi like he was for the Alfetta, though the 100 Coupe S has been described by Audi themselves as having "distinct echoes of contemporary Italian car design". Funny given that it came to market more than four years before the Alfetta coupe.

This is a nice original '78 Alfetta GT, finished in what's possibly the original metallic silver and wearing Turbina wheels. It's a nice look for it and the body is in great shape aside from a small dent in the right rear corner and some scuffs on the bumpers. The badges show some wear and there's just a tiny bit of rust starting on the taillight panel that should be checked before it has a chance to spread. Inside, the owner has installed some aftermarket Pioneer speakers for a little better music experience. Not every driver is happy to just listen to the sound of their own engine all the time, no matter how passionate they are about driving.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

San Jose Street Sighting - 1992 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser

I never really knew what to make of the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser when I was younger. Well, the older ones made sense to me, the big boxy ones built between 1977 and 1990. To me, they had always been, and they were kind of cool.

The all-new 1991 Caprice with its slippery aerodynamic body was very different from the old car, and its badge-engineered clones from Buick and Oldsmobile adapted accordingly. Buick rolled out the Roadmaster as a sedan and wagon complete with optional simulated woodgrain trim, and Oldsmobile in an unusual move opted to only build a wagon version. The Roadmaster sedan differed from the Caprice enough to set the two vehicles apart, at least visually. The Roadmaster wagon offered a bubble roof window reminiscent of an Olds Vista Cruiser, an item the Caprice Estate didn't have. What did the Olds Custom Cruiser bring to the table that was new and different? It had the same body as the Roadmaster wagon, same roof window, same body panels and headlamps as the Caprice. But the grille was different. And it had a free-standing hood ornament, and its own wheels, and some badges that looked tacked-on. I guess the lower body cladding may or may not have been unique as well.

The Custom Cruiser was never as popular as the Roadmaster and certainly never sold as well as the Caprice. It was only offered for two years in this generation, in 1991 and '92. Standard engine in 1991 was a 5.0 liter Chevy V8 good for 170 horsepower. The '92s offered a 5.7 liter that bumped it up all of ten horses. Only 4,347 Custom Cruisers were built for 1992.

This one is a very intact example and one of relatively few Custom Cruisers I've seen that were not painted white. I spotted it near the Silicon Valley International Auto Show this past January and it interested me more than most of the new cars on display inside the building. A big, floaty, V8, rear-wheel-drive, body-on-frame '92 Oldsmobile wagon is hardly an advanced vehicle, nor does it have any pretense of being a sports car. It's a family hauler and highway cruiser in the tradition of the classic American station wagon, and the '91-96 GM fullsize wagons were stubborn holdouts of a dying breed. The sport-utility vehicle had begun its meteoric rise to market dominance, and the station wagon was seemingly finished. Now things have just about come full circle as customers want SUVs that drive like cars. Sounds a lot like a station wagon to me.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Santa Cruz Street Sighting - 1965 Mercury Monterey

A few months ago we looked at a 1965 Mercury Park Lane Marauder four-door hardtop sedan in San Francisco. Now we're looking at a lower-spec Monterey four-door pillared sedan from the coastal community of Santa Cruz. The Monterey was Mercury's cheapest full-size car for '65, but still came with standard 390 V8 power. This one seems to have found use as a metalhead's rat-rod cruiser.

This Monterey has gone the route of flat black and painted steelies as a quick fix for old paint and a stodgy car in apparent need of cheap visual badass-ness. Instead of the cliched red wheels, the owner has opted for lime green with black centers. Original color, visible around the front fender's straked chrome C-scoop, looks like it was a tan shade. Perhaps it was a very faded Pecan Frost metallic. I'm not sure what the "Cold Blooded" window banner is about, but there is a Cold Blooded Ridaz Car Club that's mainly for lowriders.

The car has a dealership license plate frame from Palomar Lincoln Mercury in Santa Cruz, which indicates a lifelong local vehicle. Interestingly, Palomar Lincoln Mercury was owned by Angelo Canepa from 1969 to 1981. Canepa's son, Bruce, now runs Canepa Design in Scotts Valley, an organization that modifies, federalizes and imports Porsche 959s into the United States. Bruce Canepa also operates a motorsports museum and high-end collector car dealership at his facility. A former address of the Palomar dealership is now an Enterprise Rent-A-Car next door to Santa Cruz Diner (my favorite restaurant in town) on Ocean Street. It appears that in later years it relocated at 1261 Soquel Avenue, which is now a 24 Hour Fitness gym.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Oakland Street Sighting - 1973 Chevrolet Caprice Classic

What?! A 1973 Caprice that's not a lowrider or a donk? Hold the phone!

Actually, it's not that unheard of. Chevrolet built literally 800,000 of their big cars in 1973, and the luxury-oriented V8 Caprice accounted for 212,754 of them. That's pretty impressive for a full-size car today, with that segment of the (retail) market shrinking with each passing year. Chevy sold about 160,000 Impalas in the US and Canada last year, and you probably rented one of them. Back in 1973 though, a full-size car was still pretty much a fact of life and it was what you drove if you had a family of four or more. Yup, right up until that pesky OPEC oil embargo left you and all your neighbors waiting around the block for gas.

Today the 1970-1976 Chevy full-size cars seem to be popular with the high-riser crowd, and a lot of clean, low-mileage cars end up trading their 15-inch steelies and hubcaps for shiny chrome wagon wheels in ever-larger diameters and ostentatious bright metallic paint colors with the interiors redone in contrasting leather and TVs or stereo gear everywhere. I've gotten into the habit of photographing every clean original 1970s Impala or Caprice I see for sale at car shows, because I typically expect that it will never look that way again. Call me cynical, but that's the current trend.

So that brings us back to this car. It's... well, it's actually rather plain. Simple, original light blue with a white vinyl top is a decent color combo for a '73 Caprice Classic hardtop coupe. The only thing not obviously stock on this example is the set of directional chrome wheels, probably made by Pacer but also offered by several companies in the same style. They're not especially large and it's still rocking the whitewalls. I like that. This car would look pretty decent with fresh paint or a really good wax job, and a redone top. I tend to be more forgiving of custom "donk" Impalas and Caprices simply because GM made so many of them. That doesn't mean I like them, it just means I don't throw a conniption when I see one on "twank deuces" with an "ice cream paint job". Usually I just shake my head and take pictures of something like this instead.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Vacaville Street Sighting - 1979 Chevrolet Corvette L-82

Take a look at any list of the worst Corvettes or worst sports cars and you might see a late-model C3 generation 'Vette in there somewhere. Circa 1980 the C3 Corvette was a hopelessly old, increasingly plasticky sport coupe with no convertible option and low-performance variants to comply with California's draconian emissions standards. In 1980 it was not possible to buy a Corvette in California with a manual transmission, a 350 cubic inch engine, or a horsepower rating of 200 or more. A 305 making 180 hp and a three-speed auto was all you got. And an 85-mph speedometer. Dark days indeed, and yet the thing sold like hotcakes. The year this car was built, 1979, was Corvette's all-time best sales year. Maybe buyers saw what was coming.

So why the heck did I take the time to photograph a late C3 in depth and write a post on it? Well, for one, I was trapped at a birthday party for my cousin's kid and this was the only remotely interesting vehicle in the vicinity. But I also found it to be a mildly special car in very good condition that appealed to me.

The 1979 Corvette L-82 was basically the hot version of an exotic yet slightly dull car. L-82 buyers got a 5.7 liter V8 making 225 horsepower, 30 more than standard that year. This was the last year a four-speed manual was offered on the L-82 as seen on this car. The L-82 package was not offered in California after 1975, so it's anyone's guess when this one came here.

Styling has always been an important part of Corvettes and this one has made the most of it. Red-accented L-82 badges adorn either side of the power-bulge hood. Metallic silver paint with black accents running from the fender air vents to the back of the doors is an interesting look I haven't seen before on one of these cars. It reminds me of the pewter 1982 Collector Edition with its brown fade-effect side accent. Removable T-tops let the sun in. Inside, bordello-red bolstered leather bucket seats and color-matched steering wheel greet the driver. The body has been kept simple, no ducktail spoiler or curb-catching air dam. Wheels are the optional lightweight 15-inch cast aluminum units. Unfortunately the urethane rear bumper suffers the common malady of sun deformation. At least it hasn't cracked and fallen apart or severely melted like some Vettes of this era that I've seen. Until I come across a '78 Indy 500 Pace Car edition or stunningly beautiful '68-72 Stingray, I guess this will have to do. There are certainly worse ones out there.