Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Livermore Street Sighting - 1987 Merkur XR4Ti

It's the mid 1980s. You're a moderately successful professional in the market for a new prestige car. You could buy a Cadillac, or a Lincoln, or a nice Chrysler. But you want something a little more European, smaller, and sporty. You could buy a BMW 3 Series, but every yuppie buys a BMW. So you bite your lip and walk onto the lot at the Lincoln-Mercury dealer, past the squishy Grand Marquis and Town Cars, past the formal-roofed Cougar and hump-trunked Mark VII LSC with their thirsty V8s. On one side of the lot there's a shiny two-tone hatchback that looks like nothing else there. "What's a Merkur?" you ask the eager salesman who caught you staring at this strange car that says it was made in Germany. A four-cylinder with a turbocharger? The salesman proudly tells you this car shares its 2.3 liter turbo engine with the Mustang SVO and Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. You didn't even know you could get a Mustang with a turbo! So you test drive this unusual alphanumeric car. It ticks the boxes you're looking for. Alloy wheels, moonroof, rear spoiler, minimal brightwork, rear-wheel-drive, sport-tuned suspension, five-speed manual, and it pulls when you stomp the gas and the turbo spools up. You take a chance, sign on the dotted line and become the only person in your neighborhood with a Merkur XR4Ti.

Fast forward 25 years. You're a young guy. The muscle car bug has bit you bad and you're surfing Craigslist looking for a Foxbody Mustang. The problem is, they're all thrashed except for a couple that are too expensive. One of the search results isn't a Mustang at all but it piques your interest. An older gentleman is selling his well-kept Merkur XR4Ti. "What's a Merkur?" you ask yourself. The thought of a four-banger Ford hatchback initially gives you bad memories of that Escort you drove in high school. The silver car looks a little weird but it's the same size as a Mustang, rear-wheel-drive, stick, and it has a turbo so it shouldn't be a total dog. With some mods it might give your buddy's E30 325i a run for its money. You take a chance, sign on the dotted line and become the only person in your neighborhood with a Merkur XR4Ti.

I've always been fascinated with Merkurs. When I was a kid I had a toy car by Maisto, labeled on the bottom as "Ford Sierra XR4Ti". On the hood it said "Merkur XR4Ti" which my young mind interpreted as "Xrati". I played with that car a lot and only later did I learn about the name discrepancy, but to me it was always a European car. I never used to see many of the real cars, nor their Scorpio hatchback sedan stablemate, on the roads. This was probably because the Merkur brand itself only lasted from 1985 to 1989, and failed to compete in the U.S. market much like Rover's Sterling brand.

The XR4Ti was based on the Ford Sierra XR4i introduced in 1983 in Europe, with design changes made to comply with American crash and emissions regulations. Ford never imported the Sierra sedan, but would eventually bring over the 1985 Ford Scorpio in '88 to give Merkur dealers a four-door luxury model to sell. Both models still looked relatively fresh for their age, but the Scorpio was competing with the sleek Mercury Sable on the other side of the same dealership, which was slightly bigger and more exotic-looking, for less money than the Scorpio. The XR4Ti was competing with three or four other sporty coupes in Ford's own portfolio, made less power than a Mustang GT, and was rather expensive. The cool functional biplane spoiler was reminiscent of the European Sierra RS Cosworth, but the non-intercooled engine of the US car paled in comparison to the Cossie screamer.

Of course, the XR4Ti is now a relatively cheap used car. Our hypothetical young guy has pulled the stock alloys for larger-diameter, probably lighter rims on upgraded tires. The foglights and driving lights are gone, sacrificed to provide air inlets to -- what's this? -- Looks like it could be a much-needed intercooler for that turbocharger, or a high-performance radiator. Metal pins keep the hood closed during high-speed driving adventures. A stock five-speed '87 XR4Ti is supposed to be able to hit 130 mph. Who knows what else is going on under that hood?

Photographed September 2014

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Alameda Street Sighting - 1946 Chevrolet Stakebed Truck

Two years ago I featured a mid-1940s Chevy commercial flatbed truck. That one was a challenge to identify because of I don't know commercial trucks very well. Here we have another one which may be a 3600 series 3/4 ton model, which if I've guessed correctly is classified as a model 3609 stake bed.

Chevy trucks didn't change a whole lot between 1941 and 1946 on account of a little event called World War II. Postwar trucks had engineering improvements but visually were almost identical to models of five years before. True to their utilitarian nature, they were sold in a variety of solid, commercial-friendly paint colors with black fenders unless otherwise specified. Many featured simple painted trim in place of chrome. This one appears to be Export Blue over black, with body striping in Armour Yellow. Assuming the sales literature I read was correct, factory striping on blue trucks was normally Argent Silver. Customers had one engine option on smaller trucks like this, a 216.5 cubic inch inline six making roughly 90 horsepower. A three- or four-speed manual transmission put that meager power to the rear wheels.

This truck is in pretty good shape. I like the cheerful color combination. The stainless grille seems like it wants to be seen, because the battleship gray paint is coming off. Most of these trucks that I see have been restored with nice shiny grilles and bumpers, so it's a little unusual seeing bright mirrors and hood trim along with a black bumper and gray grille. There are a few modern pieces on this truck, mainly the rear lights, cab running lights and a newer trailer hitch. They don't spoil the vintage look of the old Chevy. This was one of my earliest shoots with my current camera, discovered by chance on a quiet little street. Some of the best sightings can come from random turns down streets like that.

Photographed August 2013

Friday, July 22, 2016

Oakland Street Sighting - 1966 Plymouth Sport Fury

I'm not really sure how the words "Sport" and "Fury" go together. I guess it's something like "Mustang" and "Cobra". When you don't think about it, it makes perfect sense. The name Fury comes from the three Greek goddesses of vengeance. So a Sport Fury must be a very athletic, angry goddess.

The Plymouth Fury debuted in 1956 as a special top trim level on the Belvedere line, available only as a hardtop coupe and offered in a single color scheme. The Fury line branched out in 1959 to include a full complement of body styles, and the addition of a Sport Fury coupe and convertible. Sport Fury disappeared for 1960 and '61, then returned in 1962 and would remain a part of the Plymouth lineup until 1971. Sport Fury was generally the top performance-oriented Plymouth with standard V8 power.

The 1966 Sport Fury was a mild refresh of the all-new '65 model, with visual changes limited to restyled grille and rear fascia, and different side trim that followed the body's character lines. If you wondered where the funky new grille came from on the 2016 RAM pickups, this may well be the inspiration.

This Fury is what I'd call a solid driver. It's not flashy, not concours, still looks good from twenty feet but doesn't stand out so much that you'd be scared parking it on the street. Full wheelcovers, blackwall tires and an off-white paint color give it an unassuming appearance. The windshield sticker announces that the car had been made compliant with California's emissions laws during the 1970s. Now that it's been smog-exempt for the better part of two decades, all the better to hide a big Mopar V8 under the hood of that plain white wrapper, should someone feel so inclined. And if not, it's a cool big old cruiser for the streets of Oakland.

Photographed May 2015

Monday, July 18, 2016

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1959 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan

My God, has it really been almost two years since we last visited with Fifties Guy? My schedule doesn't allow me to visit San Francisco as often as I used to, and that means fewer opportunities to stop by the street-parked collection of the man I like to call Fifties Guy. Keen readers will remember his steel menagerie of chrome boats. Every so often he buys one, sells another, but always has enough old cars to stay busy with their upkeep. Here's a 1959 Chevy Impala flattop.

We've previously looked at two other '59 Chevys here on California Streets. I tried for a long time to track down the green Impala coupe on Potrero Hill, which would have made for a nice trifecta with the Brookwood station wagon and El Camino pickup. This Impala four-door hardtop turned up across town in the usual place where I find Fifties Guy's cars. It makes for a little bit of difficulty in photographing the right side of the car on account of the tree planted in the sidewalk, and the owner doesn't want me on his driveway. Remember that yellow '54 Hudson Hornet? I featured that one back in 2014.

I've long been a big fan of the '59 Impala with its "bat wing" tailfins, "cat eye" taillights and long "eyebrows" above the main grille. It comes across as looking almost like a custom car right from the factory. General Motors' 1959 lineup was a mixed bag of styling excess that ranged from the wall-eyed Oldsmobile to the angry Buick to the downright crazy Cadillac with its fins three feet off the ground. The Pontiacs and the Chevys are my favorites from that year, and the Chevy was the choice of most car buyers at GM dealers.

An Impala Sport Sedan such as this one was a $72 upgrade from the standard Impala sedan. The sleek flat-top car with its huge wraparound glass graced both covers and the first spread of Chevrolet's 1959 brochure, so GM must have been very proud of it. The 185 horsepower Turbo-Fire 283 V8 was the standard engine on most of these cars, with hopped-up versions of the 283 or bigger 348 engine optional. Frugal and patient buyers could get a Hi-Thrift six for slow, quiet economy driving.

This Impala looks like it wears the factory two-tone combo of Gothic Gold metallic and Satin Beige. GM's "Magic Mirror" paints were touted as being able to "stay lustrous and new looking up to three years with only an occasional washing". Still looks pretty good after 57 years; I wonder if it's original. As a top-trim Impala it wears most of the body ornamentation available in the options list. Notably it lacks the $6.25 decorative second rear deck antenna or $10.50 body sill moldings, but it does have the optional $29.50 front grille guard and I think the $1.35 insect screens inside the grille eyebrows. Remember when you could order options piecemeal like that? Now you have to buy that kind of stuff aftermarket.

Judging by the stickers on the window glass, this car spent considerable time in South Dakota during the 1970s and '80s. Interestingly though, it wears a period 1950s California license plate. I wonder if the original plates were kept when the car moved across country? The front plate has a dealership frame on it from Fred Hudkins of Palo Alto, a city on the peninsula south of San Francisco. From what I've read, Fred Hudkins had three dealerships in the Bay Area, but he sold Chrysler products. So this car may have once come through their inventory as a used vehicle. There is also a 1959 registration sticker on the front, which is curious to me as such stickers only go on the rear. Perhaps the plates were reversed when the car was moved back to California and re-registered, so that the original sticker wouldn't be covered? I'd love to learn more about its history.

I had a good time photographing this car. It has a ton of great angles and details. And like so many of Fifties Guy's other cars, it's just a wonderfully honest survivor.

Photographed August 2015