Friday, October 31, 2014

Oakland Street Sighting - 1964 Mercedes-Benz Unimog 404S

Today is Halloween. With the current zombie craze in popular culture, everybody likes to fantasize about how they'd survive the zombie apocalypse. Well, here you go. A Mercedes-Benz Unimog is a military-grade four-wheel-drive truck known for its off-road prowess and durability. It might also do well for running down hordes of zombies.

The Unimog first came to be in 1946, an agricultural truck designed for occasional road use. Early production Unimogs were powered by a Daimler-Benz diesel engine. Mercedes-Benz took over Unimog production in 1951 and it received the familiar three-pointed star on the front. In 1955 the 404 series was introduced, with a rounded front end and a focus on actual off- and on-roadability. These trucks were available with an open or closed cab and a variety of rear cargo boxes or specialty utility bodies. The 404 S was built with a 2.2 liter Mercedes gasoline engine instead of a diesel, one of few Unimog variants designed that way. The 404 is also the most popular model and the easiest to find in the United States.

This is a 404.1, the first version of the 404, built somewhere between 1955 and 1973. I guessed 1964 as a model year because that's the midpoint in the production run. I could be totally wrong and I welcome a correction from a more knowledgeable reader. The house it was parked in front of had security cameras focused in the direction of the unusual purple 'Mog so I felt it would be wise not to get too close. (If you're reading this after reviewing your security camera footage from last year and you saw some dude flash a thumbs-up after photographing your truck, that was me.) The color scheme is really quite odd, particularly having Minnesota Vikings colors on a vehicle in the heart of Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers territory. That's going just a bit farther than my friend who walks around in the city wearing a Dodgers hat just to spite Giants fans. Then again, purple and yellow are complementary colors, and the original tan paint color (still visible on the inside of the cab) was aging. There is some red visible around the passenger side door window as well, so this truck may have had a second career with a fire department or something before it ended up on a quiet residential street in Oakland.

Come to think of it, this thing would be a pretty awesome zombie crushing machine. And it even has a hatch in the roof that could be used for shooting at the undead (the hatch is a factory option on these). In the meantime, it's just the most interesting pickup truck on the block. Personally, that's how I'd like it to stay.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Millbrae Street Sighting - 1982 Cadillac Coupe DeVille Pickup

Last year I commemorated Halloween with two vintage Cadillac hearses. I hoped to feature another hearse this year but I haven't seen one on the street since a midnight screening of Tommy Wiseau's "The Room" in Oakland. Photographing a black car on a dimly lit street at night while waiting in line for a movie doesn't work so well. So the closest thing I had in the archives was this, a 1982 Cadillac Coupe DeVille converted into a pickup truck. How is that related to a hearse? Well, some people I showed these pictures to believed it was a funeral flower car. I'm not so sure.

A California company called Caribou performed conversions on Cadillacs from the 1970s to the mid-1980s to turn them into luxury pickups. I guess it began with Evel Knievel's custom 1974 Coupe DeVille truck built by Gene Winfield, and went from there. Other companies offered their own variations on the theme, like American Custom Coachworks' Paris and Traditional Coachworks' Mirage.

This Coupe DeVille doesn't look to me like it was a flower car, primarily because such vehicles usually have stainless steel runners or liners in the bed, and boxes or channels or some other kind of stainless structure on top of the bed rails for holding flowers and whatnot. The shape of the buttresses, apparently fiberglass bed and vinyl roof covering extending all the way to the rear end suggest a Caribou, though I could be mistaken. The headlamps are retrofitted from a 1990-92 [Fleetwood] Brougham and the wheels appear to have come from a 1993-96 Fleetwood. I tried to Google for pictures of similar vehicles and can't find any pictures of another '82 Cadillac pickup. Honestly, there are precious few of these things around, making this one very unique even in the slightly rough condition it's in.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Danville Street Sighting - 1975 Datsun 280Z

On an ordinary day, I don't expect to see a lot of exciting cars around Danville, at least not ones that appear to be daily drivers. This customized Datsun pops up here and there on occasion, and I happened to catch it sitting still one day. It's a near twin of the white one I found on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California two years ago.

There are a lot of old Z-cars in my area. There are a 240Z and a 280ZX on my block alone. On a typical day I see at least one, frequently more, and they range in condition from tired beaters to cherry restored examples. A couple are modified like this, a pretty popular style with Z tuners. Flared wheel arches, 8-spoke Rota RBs, Konig Rewinds, Panasports or Watanabes with a wide lip, shaved bumpers, various aerodynamic add-ons and a fat tailpipe are the typical recipe, not to mention a fortified L-series straight-six that may or may not be turbocharged. Fit and finish may vary depending on the owner's budget and whether it's a driver, racer or show car.

This Z had me believing it was a 1972 240Z at first, because it has the round Z medallion badging on the C-pillar that came out in 1971.5, and lacks the two vents beneath the rear window that were installed on the earliest cars. However, the taillight panel has two vertical backup lights separate from the brake lamps. These were first seen on the 1974-only 260Z and carried over to the 1975 280Z. This car is likely a first-year 280Z, because it has grille indicators and the license plate is an issue probably from 2007 (6B prefix, same as my 2007 Ford Focus). A 1976 or newer 280Z would be subject to California emissions testing and this one has no tests listed in state records -- which are publicly accessible here. Stop thinking I'm creepy. The Bureau of Automotive Repair is a big help in identifying 1970s and newer cars.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

San Mateo Street Sighting - 1957 Ford Thunderbird

When I was a kid I adored the 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbird. They were just infinitely cool. I had a Hot Wheels '57 T-Bird from their "Gleam Team" series, a strange release with a plastic body molded in gold-chrome with geometric patterns. I also had a larger, probably 1:43 scale red '55 T-Bird coupe with opening doors, which was one of my favorite childhood toys until I accidentally broke it into several pieces. Oops! My childhood love of early T-Birds stuck with me and I still really like them today.

The original formula for the Ford Thunderbird called for a stylish new body on a shortened Fairlane chassis, with a 292 V8 sourced from Mercury. The car was a two-seat roadster with a removable fiberglass hardtop or (also removable) folding soft top. Thunderbirds are considered the first personal luxury car, competing with the Chevy Corvette which was sportier (particularly with the V8 new for 1955), but cruder than the T-Bird in its materials and amenities. The '57 Thunderbird was a little more exaggerated in its styling than the '55-56, with a larger trunk and a new 312 cubic inch V8 with optional Paxton supercharger.

I can't say what motivates this striking black roadster, but the Hurst four-speed on the floor suggests the owner likes to do more than just cruise the boulevard. I've seen relatively few of these cars in black with red interior, and it looks amazing. Speaking of amazing interiors, I'm a complete sucker for machine-turned aluminum, and it appears to possibly have factory air conditioning as well. The red pinstriping running from the tail forward to the fender trim and back around above it is an interesting touch. Wire wheels, wide whitewalls and period-correct license plates complete the package. It's awesome.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1979 Ford LTD 2-Door Sedan

When I was a kid I saw a lot of the boxy 1979-1991 Ford Panther platform cars. FoMoCo sold a ton of LTDs, Crown Victorias, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars, and their Ford Country Squire and Mercury Colony Park wagon variants. What I didn't realize though, for a long time, was that Ford sold a coupe version (actually a two-door sedan) of the LTD/Crown Victoria. And what took me the longest to figure out, was that for the first few years of production there were two different front ends offered. Base models received a two-headlight front clip with its own unique eggcrate grille and turn signals mounted inside the grille. Fancier Landaus and Crown Victorias got quad headlamps placed on top of large amber blinkers. This base LTD became the LTD-S in 1980 and lost the hood ornament seen on this '79 car. Note the free-standing side mirrors (passenger side is a non-factory replacement) and funky 1970s holdover hubcaps. Those caps were apparently still used until 1983 -- in my opinion they looked dated on day one.

I was sure that this was a rare LTD-S when I found it. Heck, I think it was the first two-eyed Panther I've ever seen in person. Alas, it's just a base '79 LTD, but as a coupe -- excuse me, two-door sedan -- it's the rarest variant of the LTD made in the first year of the long-running body style. Rarity is relative though, where LTDs are concerned. Had this been a 1980 LTD-S 2-door, it would have been one of 553 made. The only production figure I can find for the '79 LTD 2-door is for the Landau version, which sold 42,314 copies. Padded vinyl tops were kind of a big deal back then.

This big Ford wears a most likely original coat of Light Medium Pine that, while not mint, looks minty. The toothpaste color unfortunately has not been enough to prevent cavities, a significant amount of surface rust that's eaten through the trunk lid and one spot at the top-right corner of the rear window. The trunk can be replaced easily enough, but that hole in the roof is a bigger problem. Assuming that's addressed, the car can probably be saved. I've always liked this generation of LTDs and the early base cars are pretty unique today.