Thursday, July 30, 2015

Danville Street Sighting - 1979 Chrysler New Yorker

The R-platform cars are not often regarded as a high point in Chrysler's history. To some observers, it's a miracle that Chrysler has survived this long, what with a long succession of great cars, terrible cars, apathetic cars and a lot of strange decisions in design and marketing. In the latter half of the 1970s, Chrysler was in deep trouble. General Motors rolled out an all-new fullsize car platform for 1977 that was shared across all of its core passenger car brands. Chrysler management often used a wait-and-see approach for market trends -- if something worked for GM and Ford, Chrysler would usually follow. In 1978, Chrysler dumped their Dodge and Plymouth C-body fullsize lines, leaving only luxury-minded Chrysler to peddle big cars. In '79 the R-body appeared, a reworked midsize B-body with smaller engines, a three-inch stretch and over a quarter ton of weight loss. The platform was old, the engines were old, but the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and did their best with a small budget. This car would serve as Chrysler's big sedans for all three divisions through 1981.

Most Rs were fleet vehicles and were popular with police forces. Thanks to pollution regulations even the police packages were slow by today's standards, and then California compounded the problem by banning sale of the 360 cubic inch police V8 and strangling the 318 down to 155 horsepower by 1980. The result was a good police cruiser but an embarrassingly inferior pursuit vehicle. For civilian use, I suppose, the engine was sufficient - provided you got a V8 and not the old slant six (80 net hp in California spec!). If you weren't allowed to exceed 55 mph legally you didn't really need to worry about the 0-60 time.

The fanciest R-body offering was the Chrysler New Yorker, seen here. It tried to make up for being a 1962 chassis with a detuned engine by tacking on all the Chrysler hallmarks of an American luxury car. Padded vinyl half-landau roof? Check. Squishy thick-padded leather seats? You bet. Whitewall tires, body pinstriping and freestanding hood ornament? Naturally. Another popular trend of the era was to put hideaway headlight covers on luxury cars, so the New Yorker got those as well. Digital interior clock and a "soothing" door chime were advertised as luxury features. An eight-track player was available. Fake side vents for the front fenders and a clear plastic Pentastar hood ornament could also be added as part of the Fifth Avenue luxury package.

This car is a standard New Yorker which has been kitted up with Magnum 500 wheels on blackwall tires. Magnums are one of my favorite wheel designs ever, and in my opinion they totally transform the car from a Malaise-era middle manager's company car to a pretty tough-looking vintage cruiser. The side rub strips have been removed for a cleaner look. Note the little chrome wiper squirter ports in the front fender tops, and cornering lamps mounted just ahead of the front wheels. There's still some work to do, mainly the replacement of small details like the trunk lock trim piece and the warped rubber bumper fillers. I'm pretty sure such pieces aren't reproduced anywhere and finding good originals is next to impossible. The body is in great condition, and the apparently original Medium Cashmere Metallic paint is worn in places but still looks pretty darn good from across the street. I'm not usually a fan of this kind of car but this one definitely caught my attention.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1964 Mercury Montclair Breezeway

I have a lot of respect for people who collect oddball classics, off-brand cars and base models. All it takes to own a fleet of shiny Bel Airs, Camaro and Chevelle Super Sports is money. Barrett-Jackson will be happy to peddle you any number of perfectly restored cookie-cutter showboats. But then you have the small-time collector with a two-car garage and ten old cars that all have to park on the street because his wife's car gets the garage, and she rates higher in his book than any of the cars. At least, she does if he knows what's good for him.

Anyway, it's cars like this that I like seeing preserved: a mid-range 1964 Mercury Montclair Breezeway two-door hardtop in original condition. It's a big family car with the unusual design feature of a reverse-slant rear window that lowers into the body for venting fresh air. Full-length stainless steel body trim runs along the car's beltline, ending in pointed fenders reminiscent of the 1961-63 Thunderbird at one end, and vestigial tail fins at the other. The grille resembles an electric shaver and the rear end has just a touch of 1960 Lincoln Continental in it. The end result is something of a mutt car, a medium-priced offering that looks a smidge like a Lincoln for not much more money than a Ford.

The '64 Montclair came from the factory with a standard 390 Marauder V8 to motivate over two tons of steel. Six engine configurations were available up to a 425 horsepower 427 Marauder Super V8. I'm guessing this car has the standard engine and a three-speed Merc-O-Matic on the column. It wears a coat of what looks like Glacier Blue paint, a fairly anonymous hue that could pass for a background vehicle on CHiPs. I would expect most of these Breezeway cars have gone by the wayside due to rust or as parts donors for Marauder fastbacks. The awkward roof design aids in ventilation and rear passenger headroom but does the overall styling no favors; the Marauder is a less bulky and more elegant roof style in my opinion.

This is a solid, original car with some minor rust and only a little bit of body trim missing. If anything needs work it's likely the interior, which might be difficult given the range of special patterned seat fabrics that are unobtainium for many restoration projects today. Fortunately many of these cars came with vinyl interiors, which can hold up remarkably well. And if you did need to replace vinyl upholstery, I'm sure it's not too difficult to find some with a similar "crush-grain" in a color to match. Assuming there's no major rot hiding underneath, it looks like a great candidate for restoration. Or just clean it up a little and keep it as-is.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Danville Street Sighting - 1956 Chevrolet Corvette

Every month on the first Sunday morning, the Blackhawk Automotive Museum holds a Cars and Coffee meet in their parking lot. A lot of local enthusiasts show up, from car club members to nouveau riche exotic owners to some older gentlemen just looking for a good excuse to get their favorite classics out of the garage. It's always different and a nice little free show for a couple of hours. After one of these meets I ventured into downtown Danville and ran across a car I didn't see at Blackhawk, this black and silver 1956 Corvette convertible.

The first-generation Chevrolet Corvette with contrasting-color fender coves is my mother's favorite version of America's iconic sports car. She likes it in turquoise or blue with white side coves, but Onyx Black over silver is a very classy color scheme. And if you're an Oakland Raiders football fan, it's only natural.

The Corvette was still getting a foothold in the market when the refreshed '56 came out. It had a rocky start when the '53 debuted with a Blue Flame six and Powerglide two-speed automatic as its only motivation, and very primitive amenities like clear plastic side curtains and a leaky soft top. A V8 was not even offered until 1955. The 1956 redesign produced a Corvette with real power, real glass roll-up windows, a superior convertible top with optional power lift mechanism and a flashier-looking body. Collectors looking for the ultimate two-eye C1 today would probably opt for the 1957 model, which was available with fuel injection, even more power and a four-speed manual. Visually, the only clue to differentiate the '56 from a non-"fuelie" '57 is the rearview mirror mount. A 1957 Corvette has a nut on the mirror stalk that prevents it from being adjusted without the use of a wrench. I had to consult the full-resolution images of this car in my archives to tell the difference.

This car, being a '56, is not equipped with fuel injection and features the 265 V8, though I don't remember which transmission it had. Whitewall tires were a $32.30 option that really set the car off (obviously these are not the original rubber!) Speaking of things that are not original, curiously the interior appears to be white or beige. Onyx Black cars only came with red interiors originally. I didn't know going in, that the '56 Corvette is so rare. Only 3,467 were built, of which 810 were painted Onyx Black. This one is a very clean, very pretty example.

Friday, July 24, 2015

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1962 Fiat Ghia 1500 GT

This post marks my 600th street sighting feature. I thought that I might as well pick something truly rare and unusual, so here we have a 1962 Fiat 1500 GT by Ghia.

I've known about this car for a while now, long before I knew what it was or where it lived. A couple years ago, an acquaintance on a car forum posted a picture he found on Flickr. It was a Google Street View screenshot of a strange little blue coupe, viewed from the rear 3/4 angle, that very vaguely resembled a Glas GT. It wasn't until some time later that I was wandering the east end of the lower Haight in San Francisco in my car, and after stumbling upon a 1976 AMC Pacer and 1958 Hillman Husky, I drove up a side street to make a U-turn and there it was. The car had no emblems except for a Ghia script badge on the fenders and horn button, and looked oddly kit-car-ish. But it was apparently the same car I had seen in that screenshot.

My first pictures of the Fiat didn't turn out well owing to the time of day, so I returned at a later date and shot it again in better light. That was July 2014. It wasn't until literally the week of this writing that I learned what year it was. Italian coachbuilder Ghia built some 846 1500 GTs for Fiat between 1962 and 1967, with only 36 of them officially being imported to the United States for sale during that time. The car apparently did not change visually during its production run and a small range of options and colors are the only obvious differences between cars. Options included typical European sports car fare such as a wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel, lap belts and leather seats. A radio and antenna were also offered as seen on this car.

I was searching Google for the various model years of Ghia 1500 GTs to see if they made any year-to-year changes. Lo and behold, I found this exact car on collector car site Bring A Trailer. Seems it was just put up for sale earlier this month (July 2015) by the original owner. According to the ad, it was purchased new in Italy and shipped to the United States when the owner moved to the East Coast. At some point he relocated to San Francisco and the car has resided there since. The paint is clearly not original and appears to have been sprayed right over the old Azzurro Metallizzato (Light Blue Metallic). The wheels have been painted silver, as has the rear bumper which should be chromed. Otherwise it looks quite original and has probably not been fully taken apart in a long time. The car could stand to receive a total restoration for sure, but where are you going to get the parts? A vehicle of which fewer than a thousand were ever made is an expensive and difficult project. I respect whomever decides to take it up and I hope it receives the proper respect as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1966 Jaguar 3.8 S-Type

Do you remember the Jaguar S-Type sold between 1999 and 2008? It didn't sell all that well stateside, despite the retro styling craze that saw the success of the Chrysler PT Cruiser and 2005 Ford Mustang. Perhaps it was difficult for American buyers to relate to a retro-styled Jaguar that hearkened back to the days of the 1960s, and wasn't an E-Type. It was inspired by, and named after, this.

Honestly when I stumbled upon this car parked in the Mission district I immediately thought it was a Mark II. While the Mark II is a highly desireable classic in its own right, the 3.8 S-Type that succeeded it was a higher-evolved car with a longer body, bigger trunk and rear independent suspension. The engine was fundamentally that of the E-Type (albeit with two carburetors instead of three). The result was a fast, good-handling car. For this reason, S-Types were very popular for use on both sides of the law in the UK. They never sold very well in the US, though, and just shy of 25,000 S-Types were sold worldwide between 1963 and 1968. North America could have been an important market for a Jaguar luxury sedan -- and indeed it would be once Jaguar brought over the right car. The 1968 XJ6 went a long way toward helping buyers forget the S-Type.

This is a '66 3.8 S in what appears to be Opalescent Dark Green, though the overcast sky at the time gave it a somewhat dull and bluish appearance. The body is in excellent condition with all brightwork and original Lucas lamp lenses intact. The only piece that has weathered badly is the plastic grille badge. The interior is a lovely place to be, with rich tan leather and a walnut dashboard with full instrumentation. My photo unfortunately doesn't do it justice because I was geeking out over the fact it's right-hand-drive and neglected to adequately document the rest of the interior. Most S-Types sold in the US were automatics. I don't see a "PNDLR" selector on top of the steering column so this one is most likely a manual. It features the standard pressed-steel wheels with center hubcaps, mounted on interesting red line tires. Note also a large fabric sunroof, apparently a popular aftermarket addition on these cars. While the S-Type is a somewhat awkwardly proportioned car (by Jaguar stylists' own admission), this is a very nice example of a rare English classic.