Thursday, June 30, 2016

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1957 Berkeley Sports

I've mentioned the Arcane Auto Society car club before when writing for this site. They're all about preservation and driving of weird old cars that nobody else appreciates. I went to one of their club meetings and this was parked down the block. Folks, this one is pretty arcane. It's a Berkeley Sports roadster ...and that's about all I know.

Berkeley Cars Limited was a company that produced lightweight fiberglass sports cars in England from 1956 to 1960. The trick with Berkeley's cars was their tiny size, front wheel drive and two-cylinder motorcycle engines. Some Berkeleys were even built with three wheels and could be registered as motorcycles. The cars were produced to supplement parent company Berkeley Coachworks' fiberglass camping trailer income during the off season. The result was a cheap and fun little sports car that could run in small-displacement racing classes.

This Berkeley has been heavily modified with fender flares, a double-scooped hood and odd bug-eyed headlights in place of the sleek faired-in units the car originally came with. The package is topped off with a winged Bentley badge on the front that fools no one. It amused me, though. This car has the early style of door shut lines, indicating it's probably a 1957 to early 1958 model. It could be an SA322, SE328 or SE492 depending on which engine it came with originally. The dashboard looks like a 328 or 492 unit with various extra gauges. Only the later 492 with revised door design originally came with hidden hinges. That this one has them is unusual. Perhaps the owner retrofitted it with hinges from a late SE492? Whatever the case, this oddball Berkeley is certainly unique. I doubt I'll ever see another one on the street.

Photographed April 2014

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Just wanted to say thank you to my readers for over 500,000 pageviews. It's been a long road these past seven years, and I'm glad you're here.

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1955 Morris Minor Series II

Before the Austin Mini made its debut and took the world by storm, the Morris Minor was British Motor Corporation's iconic postwar people's car. The Minor went into production in 1948 as the product of several years of development by Sir Alec Issigonis. It featured modern unit-body construction, rack and pinion steering and front independent suspension. Issigonis wanted to create a small cheap car that handled well, that a normal person would want to own and drive. He was successful in that mission and the Minor was the first British car to sell a million copies.

This Minor appears to be a late Series II car produced between 1954 and 1955. My guess of 1955 comes from its horizontal slat grille and split V windshield glass, making it part of the transitional period between the Minor Series II and the Minor 1000 introduced in 1956. It is right-hand-drive with long plates under the recent-issue California plates, making me wonder if this Minor is a recent import from the UK. I believe it's owned by the same collector with the daily driver 1930s MG Midget.

I've never seen many four-door Morris Minors. Living near the coast as I do, it seems like most of them are the two-door wood framed station wagon. Those that aren't, are usually two-door sedans. I've previously featured an interesting Minor van here. Oddly enough, considering that some 30% of Minors were convertibles, I have almost never seen any.

This Minor is a little dirty but looks to be a solid driver. It probably doesn't need much. The dark maroon wheels are an interesting contrast to the white body without going all the way to black. Cool fact about those little stick things between the door pillars: they're flip-out trafficators used to indicate turns. On this car they operate on a timed mechanism that swings them back into the closed position after a certain amount of time. These were replaced by actual turn signal lights for 1961. This particular car looks like it has been updated with blinkers and taillights from a later model. It's a very useful upgrade for safety's sake, especially in today's world where nobody knows what a trafficator means. And in a car with 30 horsepower, if someone doesn't see you, you can't really floor it and get out of their way. So visibility is key. I certainly didn't have any trouble spotting this one.

Photographed March 2015

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Danville Street Sighting - 1966 Austin Cooper S

Most everyone knows what a classic Mini looks like. It's up there with the Volkswagen Beetle and Ford Model T in terms of recognition, because all three cars were important milestones in mass-market vehicle design. The Mini was sold worldwide under various names between 1959 and 2000 and cemented its place in history with over 5.3 million copies. Only about 10,000 were originally imported to the United States through 1967. This is probably one of them.

Pretty much everybody who owns an old Mini wants one graced by John Cooper's touch. And if they can't get a real one, they want a reasonable facsimile. I think this is a real US-spec 1966 Austin Cooper S. Mini Coopers were originally developed to homologate the Mini for Group 2 rally racing and were quite rare and desirable. The Cooper engine increased displacement from 848 to 997 cc and from 34 to 55 horsepower. It featured twin carburetors, an upgraded transmission and front disc brakes. The Cooper S was the super-Cooper with a larger, more powerful engine and bigger brakes. The 1966 Cooper S came with a 1275 cc engine and in American spec, produced about 78 horsepower.

I photographed this Mini near a car show in Danville, but it's apparently local to the area. I see it driving around from time to time. I know nothing of its history and the license plates are not much help. The front plate is decorative and the rear plate is likely also fake since it doesn't follow the number sequence for British plates, and it's a left-hand-drive car anyway. The only "NDG1413" I can find is the model number of a Toshiba light switch. The California plate "FUNSTFF" is an old one probably from the '80s and online smog test records show it's been on a number of different vehicles. I'm guessing this car has only worn it since 2011 at the earliest.

Condition of this Mini is really good, finished in trademark red with white roof and steel wheels with center caps. I like that the owner hasn't stuck Minilite wheels and rally stripes on it. It's a good look for a Mini but everyone does it. I don't see many stock ones out there. And it's not like it's a garage queen. There are enough stickers from clubs and driving events to prove that this Cooper is properly enjoyed.

Photographed August 2014

Sunday, June 12, 2016

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1934 MG PA Midget

It takes a hardcore British sports car enthusiast to own a pre-war MG. They're small, crude, slow, unsafe and probably leak fluids from every conceivable place. But I imagine that they are one of the purest forms of motoring in a world dominated by modern Suburbans and F-150s with power steering, power disc brakes, automatic transmissions, dual-zone climate control and other such luxuries. A car like this 1930s MG PA Midget has a four-speed manual transmission, non syncromesh. Cable-operated manual drum brakes. Manual steering. Your dual-zone air conditioning is to lower the fabric top and/or hinge down the windshield. And as for power windows... what windows?

The MG PA Midget marked an important progression in MG sports car design. The previous J-Type Midget had a 1920s-era Morris four-cylinder engine with a two-bearing crankshaft that broke easily if over-revved. The crank was given three bearings and made larger in the PA. The PA also gained larger brakes than the J-Type, one of its predecessor's main failings. The PA produced 36 horsepower.

I happened upon this little sports car while browsing San Francisco's Sunset district late in the day, which accounts for the terrible lighting. I was trying to outrun the rapidly lengthening shadow of the houses across the street and naturally it ended up halfway up the side of the car. Oh well. Incidentally I did go back there once or twice on later dates and found other English classics out on the street. So you'll be seeing at least one other car from this collector in the future.

Perhaps my favorite part of this car is the interior with its massive wood-rimmed banjo steering wheel, polished wooden gearshift knob, aged black leather and assorted gauges that echo the MG logo's octagonal motif. The doors have handy map pockets inside stitched body-color panels. A tiny luggage compartment sits behind the seat. There is precious little excess on a car that can't afford any unnecessary weight. It has a beautifully honest quality to it that I can't help but love.

If you don't drive a car like this wearing a scarf, leather gloves and a tweed cap, then there's no hope for you. Handlebar mustache and goggles optional.

Photographed September 2013

Monday, June 6, 2016

Pleasanton Street Sighting - 1967 Triumph 1200 Sports

This feature was several years in coming. I first saw this 1967 Triumph 1200 Sports roadster in March 2008, parked on the street near the Alameda County Fairgrounds during a Goodguys Rod and Custom Association car show. Back then it was wearing a set of vintage silver turbine wheels. The next time I saw it, in 2010 in Livermore, the Triumph was sitting on English-made Cosmic Mk1 road wheels painted white. I photographed the car that day but it was in angled street parking and I couldn't get a good profile. That, and the owner showed up during my shoot and needed to leave. I finally got lucky in summer 2015 when I was returning to my car after another Goodguys show and the Triumph was sitting near a railroad crossing a few blocks from the fairgrounds.

The Triumph 1200 was an American-market version of the Triumph Herald, a small car produced from 1959 until 1971. The Herald was offered as a two-door sedan, coupe, convertible, station wagon and van. Its chassis was also used as a base for the six-cylinder Vitesse, and the Spitfire and GT6 sports cars. Over half a million were sold worldwide, but the car was never especially popular in the U.S., probably because it was relatively primitive, slow and handled poorly (though turning radius was impressive thanks to its rack and pinion steering). Power output from a 1967 1200 Sports like this one was 48 horsepower. Anyone in the U.S. today probably associates the Triumph Herald closest with the BBC's Top Gear and the ill-fated Herald sailboat that presenter James May built for the show's Amphibious Cars challenge.

Part of what draws me to this particular Herald, aside from it being a Herald that still exists, is just how original it is. The orange paint might be factory (or at least period) "Topaz" though it could be a faded Pimento Red. The interior seems original with the exception of the modern stereo unit and the exterior body trim is all there. I love the old stickers, particularly the 1979 parking permit from March Air Force Base in Riverside County, California. The Cosmic wheels wouldn't be my first choice on a car like this, but they're a rarely seen style so they make the car more unique. I wondered about the four screws in the trunk lid; they look like mounting points for a luggage rack. I'm glad to see a vintage Triumph car that isn't a TR6 (though I love them) and seems reliable enough to spend the day out cruising rather than in the garage wrenching.

Photographed August 2015