Friday, February 20, 2015

Alameda Street Sighting - 1973 Pontiac Le Mans Sport Coupe

For most car brands, 1973 wasn't a banner year. It's memorable mainly for bad things, like the OPEC oil crisis and the beginning of federal 5-mph bumper standards. A lot of cars that year were retreads of 1970 or '71 models. For General Motors, 1973 brought the introduction of the midsize A platform's all-new "Colonnade" body. Colonnade refers to the style of roof pillars GM employed to allow frameless door glass without building a traditional hardtop. This was intended to allow the car to perform better in a rollover crash. The change was sort of a big deal since it meant a new Chevelle, new Olds Cutlass, new Buick Century and new Pontiac Le Mans. All of these models were huge volume sellers so getting them right was important. All mainstream Pontiac midsize models were now badged as Le Mans, with such option packages and styles as Luxury Le Mans, Le Mans Sport, Le Mans Safari (wagons), and for more adventurous buyers a GTO or new "European-styled" Grand Am could be specified. The Grand Prix luxury coupe was also based on the Le Mans this year.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts, 1973 was a bad year for performance. Rising insurance and fuel costs coupled with more onerous government emissions standards had just about ended the muscle car wars. A Le Mans Sport Coupe like this came standard with a 350 V8 making 150 horsepower. Bigger engines with performance carburetors were available but even the mighty 455 big block with a four-barrel carb topped out at just 250 ponies.

The body design features sculpted fenders and rear quarter window slats for a sporty look, with a blocky front end and pointed mini-prow as was popular in the era. The rear end almost looks like it was designed for a different vehicle, sloping off to a point with a large rubber-tipped chrome bumper attached underneath. The trunk looks like an afterthought designed around a pair of parts-bin taillights. Awkward styling details aside, as far as a '73 Le Mans goes, this is a very nice one. I like the metallic light blue color with white vinyl interior, and Rally II wheels lend a muscular look to any sporty '70s Pontiac. I think I might be more partial to the regular Colonnade quarter window than the "Sport" louvers, both for visibility and just a more flowing, cohesive design. A car like this has great potential, and sometimes factory stock isn't the best answer. Now that it's smog-exempt in California, you could have a lot of fun under the hood.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1989 Nissan S-Cargo

Some people go nuts for Japanese culture and "JDM" everything. JDM refers to Japanese Domestic Market, a Japanese car made to be sold in the Japanese islands and comply with Japanese road laws. That usually means right-hand-drive, different styles of lights, sometimes unique sheetmetal, trim packages and sometimes unique models entirely. This is one such Japan-only model, the Nissan S-Cargo.

The S-Cargo was a niche product, a small van produced by a Nissan special projects division called Pike Factory between 1989 and 1992. It was inspired by the Citroën 2CV Fourgonnette, and its name is a play on the French word escargot, meaning snail. S-Cargos were only offered in one trim level with one engine and transmission, a 1.5 liter four-cylinder hooked to a three-speed auto driving the front wheels. Options included an oval side window and a fabric sunroof, the latter of which is seen on this example.

I've known about this van since at least 2007. I'm frankly surprised it ended up in the States given our importation rules, though it has the same engine as a Nissan Pulsar so I'm sure it can meet California smog standards. Normally I would use smog records to look up the model year, since the S-Cargo never underwent model year changes that I know of. But alas, it has no tests on file with these plates. It's owned and operated by a company that sells pasta machines and other Italian "culinary toys". There are some interesting vehicles around this one. Note the early Fiat Panda and the Mexican crew-cab Nissan NP300 pickup in the background. This was also around the block from the Olds Vista Cruiser wagon I featured recently.
The S-Cargo's not the biggest or most practical cargo hauler in town but it's definitely one of the most eye-catching and distinctive.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1952 Ford F-1 Pickup

Some of the most interesting vehicles turn up when I'm not actively carspotting. I was with a friend in San Francisco, searching for parking near the Cable Car Museum when we happened upon this '52 Ford pickup. Ultimately we did find street parking and managed to visit the museum, but not before I took a moment to shoot the old truck.

For many, the 1951-52 Ford F-1 is best known as the beat-up red scrapyard pickup from the 1970s TV show Sanford and Son. I don't see a lot of these things, as builders usually favor the older pre-war models or sleeker 1955-56 F-100s. The '52 F-Series is effectively a facelifted 1948 model with a new front end and wider rear window. These were the last F-1s before the F-Series switched to the F-100 naming convention and an all-new modern cab. A 1952 F-1 could be ordered with a 215 cubic inch inline six or 239 flathead V8, and a three- or four-speed manual on the column. No automatic for you, at least not yet.

This pickup appears to be a shop truck or at least a rolling advertisement for Crown Customs, a hot rod shop on Van Dyke Avenue in the city. It features a patina that looks mostly earned, not faked, and the owner has shaved and filled the door handles for a mild custom look without going crazy like the poor '48 F-1 I featured years ago. That one suffered an atrocious roof chop and lowering that ruined an otherwise original pickup. This one has fat whitewall tires and black steelies to spice up an otherwise "tired" looking truck. I like the Iskenderian Racing Cams sticker on the windshield; who knows how old that might be. I just might have to pay a visit to Crown Customs someday. It seems like a cool place.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1965 Citroën DS 19

All right, I may have cheated some.
Last year a relative invited me to a meeting of his car club, the Arcane Auto Society, in San Francisco. This was what I found parked on the street outside the garage where the members met. It's a 1965 Citroën DS 19. It was not the only club member vehicle I photographed on the street that morning and I'll be happy to share the others with you at a later date. The club meeting functioned as an unofficial indoor car show and was a fascinating assemblage of everything from a right-hand-drive Reliant Regal three-wheeler with UK plates to a Peel Trident bubble car. Regrettably, those were off the street and within the boundaries of a car show and not eligible for blog features at the time, even though they were awesome. Even here, we have rules...

Speaking of rules, the DS broke a lot of the conventional wisdom of its time. It was probably one of the most revolutionary cars ever when it came to market in 1955 and was modern enough to stay in production for 20 years. Hydraulic self-leveling suspension was one of the most important features of the car, allowing it to offer some of the best ride quality in the industry. These cars were never known for their power, thanks to France's tax on engine horsepower, but their handling and braking ability were always very good relative to other vehicles of the era because of light weight and low center of gravity. It featured independent suspension, power disc brakes and front-wheel-drive.

This well-used but original example with Michigan plates is either a long way from home or just recently relocated to sunny California. Which is interesting, because it wears parking permit stickers from Castle Air Force Base near Atwater, California, dated 1995. Whoever owned this car must have been one of the last people stationed there, as Castle AFB was decommissioned at the end of 1995. It wears what may be the original coat of what looks like Carrara White, named for the slightly bluish marble stone native to Italy. The interior is a bit rough and the body has surface rust, but it all appears solid and quite restorable. That is, if the owner wants to do that. There's a great shop in Oakland that specializes in old Citroëns and could definitely help him out. I wonder if the hydraulic system still works?