Saturday, February 20, 2016

Danville Street Sighting - 1962 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan

It's been a good four years since I last photographed a '62 Chevy Impala for a feature here. I've previously mentioned that old Impalas are such a fixture in California's car culture, I tend not to pay much attention to them. However, they are still historic and still special even though GM rolled out nearly 705,000 of them for 1962. What clinched it for me to shoot this one was its relatively stock appearance and the story it tells.

A lot of the four-door Impalas I run across these days are the Sport Sedan hardtops with frameless door glass. These seem to be kept more stock than the coupes and convertibles that are so popular in the lowrider scene. This one has come a long way from its former home in Hawaii, and graced Danville's weekend row of for-sale cars with its presence.

One thing I imagine is difficult about owning a classic car in Hawaii is trying to keep old steel from rusting on an island surrounded by salt. There is a little bit of oxidation on this car but for the most part the body seems to be solid. The bright cherry red and white paint is a snappy look, though I wish the builder had invested a little more in the spray job. It looks awesome from across the road; there are just a few paint flaws noticeable only upon close inspection. I recognize that not everyone wants or can afford high-end paintwork for a car that's more of a weekend cruiser than a concours trailer queen.

Looking at the details, it appears that this Impala is a small-block V8 car. I'm guessing a 283 with a Powerglide automatic assuming everything is still factory. It sits on a set of American Eagle 15" wire wheels with knock-off hubcaps that give the car a hint of the lowrider look without going overboard. Inside, auxiliary gauges, cup holders and an aftermarket tape deck make life easier for driver and passengers.

This Impala must have come to the West Coast fairly recently when I found it, given the Hawaii vehicle inspection sticker expiring in December 2015. It can cost a good $1100 or so to ship a car between Hawaii and California so I'm surprised that the owner would have wanted to sell it already. Looking on the Honolulu Craigslist as of this writing, there were only three 1960s Impalas for sale across all of the islands, none of them 1962 models. Comparatively, on the San Francisco Bay Area Craigslist at the same time, there were at least nine '62s available amid dozens of other 1960s examples. That's not even counting all the Bel Airs and Biscaynes. I imagine such a car is more marketable in California even if it is more unique back home in Hawaii. I'm a sucker for honest old sedans and wagons simply because the fancy coupes and convertibles start to bore me after a while, and a nice solid four-door hardtop is a good find.

Photographed November 2015

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Danville Street Sighting - 1931 Ford Model A Pickup

A few years ago Ford killed off the Ranger pickup and a lot of people lamented the disappearance of one of the last true basic, compact trucks. For owners who want a very compact, even more basic truck, there's always one of these.

Ford Model As used to be a cheap, easily attainable classic for hot rodders and beginning enthusiasts. Now they're 80-plus years old and a little too primitive for many people's taste. That doesn't stop a few people in my area from keeping them around, though.

I spotted this 1931 Model A pickup on Hartz Avenue in downtown Danville one morning, fittingly along the same stretch of road where the Hot Summer Nights car shows are held. It looks great in a medium blue with creamy yellow wheels and pinstripe, stained wood bed stakes and bed floor with bright stainless bed rails. The bed looks odd, perhaps retrofitted from a 1932 or slightly newer pickup. One thing I like about this truck is, it shows both signs of restoration and of regular use. It wasn't completely finished when I photographed it; note the lack of taillights or license plates. I have since seen this pickup cruising around town multiple times, now fully assembled and wearing vintage plates.

Looking inside, one can see that it didn't take much to make a Model A livable for a modern driver.There's a cupholder and a power jack for the GPS unit. There could even be a radio in there someplace, but I don't snoop too closely looking inside parked cars.

This was a bittersweet photo shoot for me, a cool old truck in great condition. I say bittersweet because while photographing it, a group of young people passed by and not one of them commented on the Model A. They only cared about the hot pink vinyl-wrapped Mercedes E-Class across the street. Kids these days...

Photographed January 2015

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Emeryville Street Sighting - 1960 Lotus Type 14 Elite

I rarely get lucky enough to run across a car collector with a warehouse or garage full of cars. Just as rare is the collector who has something rare and awesome pulled outside on a nice day and is kind enough to talk to me about it. I had left the Laney College Swap Meet on a Sunday morning and decided to kill some time before I met up with a friend. That's when I happened upon this yellow Lotus Elite and its friend, an Elan SE roadster. The owner planned to take the Elan for a drive and needed to move the Elite in order to get the roadster out the garage door. The owner, a Lotus enthusiast, showed me around his garage filled with some incredible machinery. In the interest of privacy and respect for his property, I did not take any photos in the building and will not disclose its location.

The Lotus Elite was one of many cars that subscribed to Colin Chapman's motto, "Simplify and add lightness". The Elite was introduced in 1958 as a two-seat sports car constructed of fiberglass in a monocoque (unibody) design. Unlike most monocoque vehicles which use steel for its strength, the Elite utilized fiberglass for its frame structure and most load-bearing parts and surfaces. Steel was used for the front engine subframe, door mounting points, jacking points and not a lot else. The result was a car that weighed about 1100 lbs and handled great, but it had a severe drawback. On early cars the stress of performance driving often damaged the fiberglass mounting points for suspension components! Power came from a 1.2 liter Coventry Climax four-cylinder engine producing all of 75 horsepower. The car's extreme lightness allowed it to make the most of that power, and it proved a very competent racer.

If I remember correctly what I was told by the owner, this is one of the last 30 or so cars built by Maximar Mouldings (out of a run of 250) before production transferred to Bristol Aeroplane Company. This one looks to have a very original body and a beautiful interior. I love a good classic wood-rimmed steering wheel. The apparently wooden gearshift knob is an interesting touch. I like the cheerful yellow color and the wire wheels. Speaking of the color, the trunk lid appears to be red or orange underneath the yellow paint, and I have no idea if that was a replacement part, a repaint or primer or what. The proportions are graceful for such a tiny car, shaped mostly for aerodynamics and kept delightfully simple. Not bad for a vehicle literally penned by an accountant. The front bumper on this one has been removed, giving the car a racier look. The sort of gunsight-shaped, chrome-rimmed bullet taillights are cool. Dainty dual exhausts complete the package out back.

The Lotus Type 14 Elite is a car that demands love. You have to maintain it, from frequent drivetrain lubrication to checking for stress and damage to the monocoque. But if you show it that love, it will love you back.

Photographed July 2015