Monday, September 29, 2014

San Jose Street Sighting - 1964 Rambler American 220

I always love a little AMC, and sometimes what I find is literally a little AMC. This is a 1964 Rambler American 220.

The 220 was the base trim level of the American, and the American was frequently the cheapest domestic car sold in America. So this car was one of the most attainable new vehicles available in 1964. A low cost of entry and a handsome, sporty-looking new body meant buyers had room to make the car their own without paying a premium for a new Mustang, Corvair or Barracuda. The weak area in '64 Ramblers was power -- the small budget for development meant the old 195.6 cubic-inch straight-six engine, originally a Nash design dating back to 1941, continued in the new car for another year. Americans for '64 were available with three different versions of the engine: an iron-block flathead economy model; new iron-block overhead-valve model; and aluminum-block overhead-valve with iron cylinder sleeves and iron cylinder head. These engines ranged from 90 to 138 horsepower, enough to propel the small car but not especially quickly.

The beauty of the Rambler, oddly enough, was in American Motors' lack of funds. The 1964 restyle was the last major redesign the Rambler American would receive, meaning that most of the bigger and better engines - including three V8s - introduced later in the car's production run probably bolt right in with minimal modification. From the mid-1960s on, as the cars aged, they could be built up as budget muscle cars. This one is a plain-Jane two-door sedan that would have retailed for just over $1,900 new with no options. I have no way of knowing what lies under the hood now, but the Keystone Raider wheels with wide tires and raked stance, combined with its scruffy but solid body, make for a tough appearance. I'd put a grille in it, but the rest of it lends itself well to a subtle vintage-look performance build. Put one of the post-'66 AMC V8s in it, keep everything else visually the same, and have fun with it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1974 Volvo 164E

It's still kind of weird to me hearing the name Volvo tossed around as a luxury manufacturer. They've gone upmarket in recent decades, but living in the San Francisco Bay Area it's very hard to shake the mental image of ratty old 244DLs with colossal black rubber bumpers. One of Volvo's first efforts to break into the luxury field was the 164, an upgraded version of the 144 sedan with a longer wheelbase and bigger engine. The 164 featured 3.0 liter straight-six power, wrapped in a unique front end with round headlamps and a tall, upright grille. Officially sold from 1969 to 1975, a small number were apparently also titled as '76s. This one is a '74, built with Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection, a facelifted grille, large rubber bumpers, flush-mounted door handles and the first year without front vent windows. The 1974 164 was also available with heated seats, a perfect luxury item for a car from a Nordic country. Buyers had a choice of four-speed manual transmission with or without overdrive, or a three-speed automatic that hampered acceleration dramatically. Regardless, the automatic was popular in North America. I guess nobody really bought a Volvo sedan for its performance in the pre-turbo days.

This one is generally in good shape, and I was glad to see it since I'd been planning to photograph a 164 for a long time but could rarely find one. The paint is a faded version of what was probably Alpine Blue Metallic, paired nicely with blue leather interior. The left doors show minor panel damage and the side trim is missing from the right-side doors, but otherwise the body is solid and apparently free of rust. Only little trim bits are missing, like the right-side rear bumper filler piece and the quarter panel stainless pieces on either side of the trunk lid. I've always thought these are interesting cars, more so than their dog-and university student-schlepping 140 and 240 cousins. A dent removal service, some combing of eBay and a trip to a paint shop would have this one looking almost new.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1967 Austin Mini Cooper S

Lately we've been looking at a lot of huge cars here, so today let's switch it up with a classic Mini. This one's a Cooper S from the late '60s. I didn't spend a whole lot of time shooting it, so I don't know much about it. From what I can see in the pictures, this Cooper has been customized quite a bit with a roll bar, fender flares, different wheels and an aftermarket grille. The yellow-tinted headlamps give it a French-market appearance. If the taillight design, script badging and rear window shape are any indication, I think this is a 1967 car, an early Mark II. Mini fans, please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

I have to hand it to the owner for picking a custom wheel that isn't a Minilite or knock-off of a Minilite. The eight-spoke slotted design is kind of interesting, though I can't identify the maker. Likewise, the monochromatic yellow color stands out from most other Minis. Apart from that, what can I say? It's a classic Mini and those are always welcome in my viewfinder. You'll be seeing more of them in the future.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1932 Cadillac V-16 Dual Cowl Phaeton

There is something of a mythical quality about the Cadillac V-16. These were some of the greatest luxury cars in their time, comparable to contemporary Duesenbergs, Pierce-Arrows and Packards as ultimate symbols of wealth, power and opulence. They were always limited-production, built to order and built to specification for clients in a number of body styles. It is estimated that domestic GM affiliates Fleetwood and Fisher Body built as many as 70 different body variations on the V-16 chassis, and other coachbuilders produced their own around the world to order. The V-16 was offered for eleven model years from 1930 to 1940, and only 4,076 were built. More than half of these were made in the first year alone.

Cadillac took advantage of an emerging market niche with the V-16, competing with other marques' eights and upcoming new twelve-cylinder engines. Only one other brand, Marmon, introduced a V-16 engine, and that didn't come to market until 1931. The timing could not have been worse, as Cadillac rolled out their new car just after the 1929 stock market crash. Sales were initially brisk, then slumped almost flat as the Great Depression wore on. It was simply the wrong time for a huge, gas-guzzling luxury car. Even if you could afford it, the optics of being seen in such a car were terrible.

This is one of 296 Cadillac Model 452B V-16s sold in 1932. Phaetons are particularly rare among V-16s, and this one is not only documented but in excellent original condition. The owner is a local businessman who also owns the 1940 Buick Limited convertible sedan I featured a couple of months ago. He told me the paint is old and might get repainted in a few years if he ever plans to do concours events with it. In the meantime, the car gets driven in long-distance car club trips. It has been driven across Europe including on the German autobahn, and driven across the United States from New York to San Francisco for the Lincoln Highway Centennial. I've seen it a couple of times in local shows as well. Judging by the paint combination and recent license plates, this is probably the same car that sold at a 2001 Barrett-Jackson auction for $193,600. At that point it was wearing apparently original Rhode Island license plates. These plates appear to be 2007 or 2008 issues, so maybe it was re-sold before it reached the current owner. The owner told me that this exact car was used as a reference by a diecast company years ago, possibly Danbury Mint, for their 1:24 scale Cadillac V-16 Phaeton. The Danbury model was produced in Carousel Green with cream interior, instead of the black interior and black fenders of this car.

The owner was kind enough to let me poke around his car for a while, even opening the hood for me to take a look at the magnificent 452 cubic-inch V-16 engine. And the best part was that it was a legitimate street sighting, not a car show spectator or entrant on the day I shot it. I literally walked there from my house to ask the owner if he would be interested in loaning a car for a photo shoot. An L.A. photographer had contacted me earlier this summer looking for help locating a cool convertible and a good San Francisco location for a photo shoot for an opera magazine. It didn't work out, and the photographer sourced a Mercedes E-Class convertible instead (though I did suggest that area on Telegraph Hill, corner of Montgomery and Green Streets). The day I stopped by, the Cadillac happened to be sitting out front and the owner was unloading a 1937 Cord 812 roadster from a car trailer. I haven't had the chance to shoot that one... yet.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Danville Street Sighting - 2013 Morgan 3-Wheeler

Most modern cars don't impress me much, and most will never merit a feature post on this blog. But what about new-old cars? Morgan has been building sports cars with many of the same designs and technologies since the early 20th century. Morgan is famous for its wood-framed sports roadsters, but its roots lay in the three-wheeled cyclecar. Cyclecars were a fad for a while in Britain because they were classified as motorcycles and thus were not subject to the tax on regular cars. They were light and primitive and small, and effectively made obsolete by improved cheap small cars.

Morgan built two-cylinder three-wheelers from 1911 to 1952, during which time their four-wheelers caught on and made up the bulk of their business from 1936 to the present. But the 3-wheeler would always have its own appeal, and Morgan re-introduced it in 2011. Even today, the Morgan 3-Wheeler is registered as a motorcycle and still powered by a bike engine. Modern production 3-Wheelers come with an S&S 1983 cc V-twin engine good for 81 horsepower, enough to fling the little 1200-lb roadster from zero to 60 in under five seconds.

I can't comment on the condition of this car since it was basically brand new when I found it. The UK license plate is interesting, but apparently fake. The number corresponds to a 1971 or 1972 Birmingham registration and this definitely isn't a '71 car. The interior looks quite uncomfortable for any kind of long-distance motoring, let alone doing so with two people on board. It's more of a low-speed canyon carver, I guess, a weekend toy that can be played with and then put away. That's presumably what this one was being used for. I found it some time after a Cars & Coffee event across town, but never actually saw it at the car meet. It's not old, but it's rare and certainly unique. So the 2013 Morgan 3-Wheeler earns a spot here.