Tuesday, December 29, 2015

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1967 Ford Falcon

This has to be one of the most visually interesting cars I photographed in 2015. The '67 Ford Falcon never set out to be exciting originally, just a basic economy car that lived in the shadow of the Mustang. Ford produced a car that checked the boxes for a car of the era: Four doors, two doors, station wagon; six or eight cylinders; automatic or manual, done. The body was conservatively styled and the chassis conservatively engineered. The colors it was offered in were generally conservative as well. Nothing about this car really stands out, but for the incredible patina it wears.

I sometimes like to refer to a car like this as having been around the block and hit everything along the way. It's an old urban runabout, the sort of car that you aren't making payments on, have no collision coverage on, don't care or don't notice if it gets another scratch or ding, and keep driving because it's as reliable as an anvil and almost as tough.

I'm almost certain this Falcon will never see restoration, because why would someone go to the trouble? The value of a garden variety 1967 Falcon two-door sedan isn't high enough to justify straightening, patching or replacing every rusted, crumpled and bent panel. Since it isn't a Mustang, many parts such as the front grille most likely aren't available in reproduction form. NOS (New Old Stock) pieces are still out there but they're becoming scarce.

I'm fascinated by the severe weathering this car has undergone during its long journey to the present day. Twenty years of San Francisco residential parking permits, a KMEL Jams 106 FM bumper sticker and various other faded and peeled stickers adorn the rear bumper. The rear glass bears decals from what looks like three different universities. The windshield sticker advertises that a smog pump or some other emissions control system was bolted in to satisfy the California Department of Consumer Affairs in the 1970s. The license plates are original; the paint probably is as well. It might be an extremely faded Frost Turquoise, or maybe Arcadian Blue which was a fleet and commercial color that year. Arcadian was also offered on Thunderbirds, so maybe the original buyer special-ordered that color? It would be an interesting quirk to spring for extra-cost paint on an otherwise bargain-basement car. Damage aside, a Falcon is one of those tough, simple vehicles like a Plymouth Valiant that will just about keep going forever if the mechanicals are serviced. For some people that's all that matters.

Photographed August 2015

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Collector's Corner - Maisto 1989 Porsche 911 Speedster

The story of how this model came to me is mildly interesting. It's no accident that I'm writing about toy cars so soon after Christmas, but this Maisto Porsche 911 Speedster was no gift. I was bored around 3:00 in the morning, browsing eBay for anything cheap in 1:18 scale. Someone had listed a black 1989 Speedster in a factory cardboard box and protective foam shell for under $10. Being the amateur speculator I thought I was at the time, I bid on it. I figured an auction ending in the early morning was unlikely to get much attention and I ended up owning the Porsche. My original plan was to turn around and try to sell it at a profit, but after taking a good look at the model I decided to keep it.

When researching this model for this writing, I found that apparently the 911 Speedster was Maisto's very first foray into 1:18 scale. It's kind of apparent from looking at it that the level of detail is more basic than other cars in this large scale, but it displays really well and the proportions look correct. It's clearly a used model with some wear and light scratches. It's a black car that I've never waxed, what do you expect?

Getting down to details, this is decent for a budget model of its time. Doors, hood and engine cover open. Paintwork has some orange peel but classic black just looks so good on this car. The interior is sparsely decorated with an exaggerated pebble texture on every surface and just a sticker to serve as the instrument panel. Inside the "frunk" there's a spare Fuchs wheel with a tire that's curiously low-profile relative to the ones on the car. Out back is Porsche's famous air cooled flat-six engine, replicated with what looks like just two parts and some silver paint. The engine cover bears a "Carrera" badge which actually should read "Speedster".

I'd say Maisto engineered it more for kids than adult collectors, and that's fine. These were never intended to be high-end adult collectibles like Auto Art, Minichamps or other precision collectible brands that sprang up years later to cater to the more discriminating adults who probably had this car as children. The funny thing is, I believe Maisto is the only brand that makes this generation of 911 Speedster in 1:18 scale diecast. So if you want one, this is it. The closest thing is a 964 911 Speedster made by GT Spirit at a much higher price point, or Minichamps' 1983 911 Carrera Cabriolet. Like many of their models, Maisto released the Speedster in several colors, so if you're a Porsche fan, chances are you can find a Speedster you like.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas from California Streets!

It's that time of year again! Wishing all my readers and their families a safe, warm and happy holiday season.

See you in 2016!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Danville Street Sighting - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau

In my previous feature we looked at a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, which debuted a few years after Elvis Presley got into the rock 'n roll scene. Now we look at a 1979 Thunderbird, a car that was built a couple of years after Elvis died. And much like Elvis, the Thunderbird was immensely popular from the start and they both got very fat around the same time. Unlike Elvis, though, the Thunderbird survived for another few decades thanks to a series of total reinventions.

The 1977-79 Thunderbird is a strange thing. I always thought this generation was a twin of the Lincoln Continental Mark V, but instead it was built on the smaller Torino platform shared with the LTD II and Mercury Cougar. Despite its elephantine appearance this car is actually smaller than the '72-76 cars that were rebadged Lincolns. Compare a '79 T-Bird to a '79 LTD II coupe and you'll see that very little is actually different beyond front and rear fascias. The sheetmetal itself looks to be the same and the quarter window encased in padded vinyl landau roof on this car was optional on both models. The huge blocky taillights fit into the same space that on the LTD II was occupied by a filler panel with badging and reflectors (the LTD's taillights were mounted at the rear corners, which are styled blank filler pieces on the T-Bird). The trunk lid appears to be the only unique piece of exterior sheetmetal that I can see.

The upside of such blatant rebadging is that you can do a lot of upgrades to another model without doing heavy-duty metal work. People have constructed Thunderbird and Cougar pickups by just bolting the car's front end and wiring harness onto a '77-79 Ranchero. I expect it would be totally feasible to put most of the luxury coupe's interior into the same Ranchero and have a pretty luxurious hauler.

Ford sold nearly one million Thunderbirds between 1977 and 1979. It's rare now to move that many units of a single model, let alone a gas-guzzling personal luxury coupe. Speaking of fuel economy, the '79 Thunderbird was V8-only, but it was a range of small block engines shared with the Torino range. The big 400, optional the year before, was now reserved for the bigger Lincoln Mark V. In California for some reason only the 351 was available, with a 302 serving as the base unit in other states. Why the bigger engine was less polluting is a mystery, but it's not the first time I've heard of such a thing in California-specific models. This car wears what looks like the original Midnight Blue Metallic with Chamois vinyl roof and side rub strips. I've always liked turbine wheels on Ford and Lincoln cars of this era and I think they work better than wobbly fake wire wheel hubcaps. Thin whitewall tires add just enough class without being too gaudy. I think they also serve to make the wheel diameter appear just a touch larger.

This one was for sale when I spotted it. It would be a fairly affordable cruiser for someone just looking for a big comfortable car on the cheap -- someone who also doesn't mind making up the difference with increased fuel costs. The bodywork can be dealt with fairly easily, and I'm sure missing parts can be sourced. The biggest knock against a car like this in California is simply bureaucracy. It's a 1979 model and therefore is subject to this state's emissions testing forever, or until the politicians stop trying to kill all the old cars and update the smog test exemption from its 1975 cutoff. Save the land yachts!

Photographed July 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015

Livermore Street Sighting - 1956 Ford Thunderbird

When I was a kid I had a fairly limited range of interest in cars and one of my favorites was the first-generation Ford Thunderbird. Children aren't the most sophistocated creatures so I guess the most iconic designs make the biggest impression. For me it was the '57 Bel Air, the '59 Cadillac, '70 Chevelle and various bedroom-poster fare such as the Viper RT/10, Ferrari F50 and Lamborghini Diablo. Take a look on eBay sometime at the most common diecast models for sale and you'll see what I mean about what appeals to kids. That said, the early T-Birds are very pretty cars. I always preferred the '57 when I was young but the '55 and '56 have their own merit and my interest in them has grown over the years.

The Thunderbird was created to compete with Chevrolet's two-seat Corvette sports car, and it most certainly did. While the Corvette was a sparsely trimmed, fiberglass-bodied roadster, the T-Bird was conceived on the Fairlane platform with a European-inspired two-seater body, offered with a removable hardtop complete with optional porthole windows. It was a more luxurious and generally more powerful car than the early 'Vettes, and it handily outsold its GM competitor for much of its life.

I attended a rib cook-off in Livermore this past May to support a former work colleague who was competing. As I was leaving, I spotted this clean silver '56 T-Bird parked a few blocks down. Old "Pippy" here looks resplendent in this apparently non-factory hue with contrasting black hardtop, fat whitewalls and full stainless wheelcovers. Oh yes, and that Continental kit hanging out back there. It seems to be a popular accessory both among originals and latter-day additions. When I was a kid I thought it was weird to see one without it. This is a lovely old 'Bird and I'm sure it's a fine driver for the couple who owns it.

Photographed May 2015