Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Emeryville Street Sighting - 1971 AMC Hornet

One of my favorite annual traditions on this blog is Independents' Week. Not coincidentally, it falls on the week of July 4th, America's Independence Day.

It's an opportunity to look at some classic American cars not produced by Detroit's Big Three, Ford, General Motors or Chrysler. First up this week is a 1971 AMC Hornet sedan.

I've featured a few Hornets previously, including one four-door sedan, a hatchback coupe and a two-door sedan. This one is an early model, one of the oldest Hornets I've seen. I love the AMC Hornet and this is a refreshingly simple, honest example in factory stock form. There is a utilitarian look and feel to the Hornet, particularly on non-SST base models such as this one, featuring dog dish hubcaps and a single side mirror. The styling is so Spartan, the cool tri-color contrasting pinstripe seems almost like an extravagance. I like the detailed bee emblems on the front fenders and the fuel filler cap, the former of which was dropped on 1972 models presumably to cut costs.

Condition is decent, not mint by any means but a good solid daily driver. I'd expect a 3.8 liter straight-six under the hood and either a three-speed manual or the three-speed Shift-Command automatic. I actually really like it with the black steel wheels and stainless/chrome dog dishes. It gives the car a sort of 1970s government fleet look. At this point, a lot of the low-spec basic family cars that were prevalent on the roads decades ago have gone by the wayside, so it's great to see a basic Hornet sedan that hasn't gone to Pick 'n Pull.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Berkeley Street Sighting - 1985 Mercedes-Benz 409D Trueblood RV

There are a lot of old motorhomes on California's streets and roads, and a fair number of them are fascinating machines from long-defunct manufacturers and conversion companies. Unfortunately, a lot of them are also decrepit, parked in terrible areas and/or serving as permanent shelter for people down on their luck. For that reason I tend not to shoot such vehicles. But this oddball conversion van intrigued me. It's a 1980s-vintage Mercedes 409D van built into a camper by Trueblood RV GmbH of Frankfurt, Germany.

The 409D began as the Mercedes T1/TN, a long-lived ancestor to today's popular Sprinter, and a very versatile platform for passenger and cargo vans, pickups and numerous other uses. It was available in diesel or gasoline form, the former making up the vast majority of sales.

This RV may have been a grey-market import back in the mid '80s, since the license plates are from that era and I have only seen a precious few Mercedes vans in the United States. A little research revealed that the Trueblood RV was to be marketed in the U.S. as a luxury camper for discerning American road trippers, but whether that actually happened remains a mystery to me. Apparently such conversions are very rare. An online forum I found discusses a European-spec 1985 Trueblood RV in California. That vehicle was equipped with a non-turbo 5-cylinder diesel engine, automatic transmission, and painted light ivory with Hayes Lemmerz wheels, suffering from a roof leak and needing a lot of work. Sounds legit to me given what I see here, particularly with the rust around the rain gutters up top. I photographed this one a month after the RV owner on the forum posted asking for advice on their new purchase (I took these pictures in June 2014).

I have to say that I was thrown for a loop when I was cruising through Berkeley and sighted a curiously European-looking old van. It confused me enough that I drove around the block and doubled back for a closer look. Without the black horizontal bar grille and its prominent three-pointed star, a Mercedes 409D looks quite generic at a glance. The unusual window arrangement on the right side with two levels of small sliding windows suggests dual bunk beds as mentioned by the owner on the forum. I suppose this is a workaround for a vehicle that can't fit the traditional queen bed many Americans are used to having in the back of an RV. How else are you going to sleep two people in a van with opening rear doors?

This Mercedes is a pretty interesting camper that hopefully is getting the attention it deserves. It definitely isn't your uncle's Minnie Winnie.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Livermore Street Sighting - 1951 Plymouth Concord

One of the curious things about the 1950s to a modern observer is the complete market dominance of the full-size car in the U.S. To many in that era a large car represented space, safety, stability and status. Oh yes, and value. Some drivers favored the little foreign jobs like the early Volkswagens or some of the British MGs, Triumphs or the odd Austin or Morris that were popularized by returning military servicemen after WWII. The Japanese were still a few years away from attempting a toehold in the United States with diminutive Toyopets and Datsuns. Even such American small cars as the tiny Crosley, prewar Willys Americar and postwar Aero, upcoming Hudson Jet and Nash Metropolitan would prove to be little more than bit players in their respective times. Large American cars owned the roads and if you could only afford one car for the whole family, you might as well get the biggest and best car in your price range.

For a smallish family or a couple on a budget who still wanted a touch of style, Plymouth offered the Concord, their cheapest model. The Concord came in one "DeLuxe" trim level on sedan or coupe models, was offered only with two doors and only featured one engine option of a 217 cubic inch straight six with a three-speed manual gearbox. Engineering was conventional with relatively little new technology or content introduced. Plymouth cars were made to function reliably, and they were very proud of their reputation as the favored taxi cab brand nationwide. Rear fenders were still of the old bolt-on pontoon type (this was marketed as a feature, for being cheap to repair), and Plymouth was one of the last brands to still use flat-pane V windshields. The Concord came standard with electric wipers but a dashboard clock was optional.

This Concord 2-door sedan displays quite well on the street for its age, sporting all of its chrome trim, whitewall tires, full chrome wheelcovers and a steel sun visor. The paint is almost certainly not original, as no metallic colors were offered in 1951 Plymouths that I know of. I think I like the two-tone combination of maroon and champagne, though it may be time for a repaint soon. This is the same corner where I found the '56 Chevy 210 and '53 Hudson Hornet, and I keep coming back just to see what else is there. Incidentally, my previous feature of the '65 Buick LeSabre was shot on this same corner as well. I've only come across this Plymouth a couple of times as of this writing, and for being a simple cheap car of the era kept basically stock I think it's pretty cool.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Livermore Street Sighting - 1965 Buick LeSabre

I could have owned this car.

In 2009 the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association chose a light blue '65 Buick LeSabre as their annual giveaway car for their Northern California shows. I entered to win it, but it was not to be. I enter most of the giveaway contests and have been a finalist twice (red 1965 Mustang notchback and yellow '69 Chevelle SS 396), but have never gotten lucky. This is the car they gave away.

The '65 LeSabre was Buick's mid-range large car, available in sedan, four-door hardtop, coupe and convertible body styles. Engines included one of four V8s hooked to an automatic transmission. The 364 cubic inch Nailhead V8 installed in this car isn't one of those factory options and probably comes from a 1964 or older car. According to the Goodguys press release associated with the giveaway promotion, this car also has aftermarket air conditioning by Vintage Air, wheels by Intro and paint by Sherwin Williams. No word on whether it's a stock color but it resembles Astro Blue Metallic. This car has aged some since the giveaway and had some additional work done. The owner installed silver filler discs behind the wheels to hide the brakes, presumably to give the illusion of modern large-diameter disc brakes all the way around? I'm not really sure. The interior could benefit from some work, mostly in upholstery and the rear package tray area.

Ever since I first laid eyes on this big coupe I thought it was a very handsome car. It might have been fun to win but would have been difficult for me to own, store and maintain. I'm happy that someone else is enjoying it.