Saturday, December 31, 2016

Livermore Street Sighting - 1959 Pontiac Bonneville Vista

All right, let's end this year on a high note. This was one of my favorite subjects of 2016 and one that I waited nearly three years to shoot.

Of all the cars made in 1959, the Wide Track Pontiacs are on my short list. If I had to own two American cars of that vintage I'd probably choose a Pontiac Catalina coupe and an Edsel Ranger sedan. Unusual choices, perhaps, but I like them. Interestingly, the gentleman who owns this car used to also own the 1958 Edsel I featured earlier this year. That car has moved on to a new home, but this magnificent Sunset Glow Pontiac remains. I regret that I had to shoot this car with an iPhone, but my DSLR was at home and the phone was all I had on hand at the time.

The '59 Pontiacs were special among everything in the GM stable. They were supposed to be the sporty brand, so a new look and a new gimmick were created. The gimmick in question was called Wide Track, and pushed the wheels farther out toward the corners of the car -- five inches wider than before. Most cars of the era had their wheels tucked under the fenders with a large gap between them and the wheel arches. The Pontiac became a much better handling car as a result of Wide Track, and Motor Trend magazine awarded the brand its "Car of the Year" golden calipers.

There are three things that I find most striking about the '59 Pontiac. One, the split grille up front. I love it. So did Pontiac buyers. It's a menacing car without being completely psychotic like, say, the '59 Buick. Second, the rear end. This car has four tail fins. Four. Even on the station wagons. Finally, the interior. The upholstery is a striking combination of three colors of "Jeweltone" leather and Morrokide vinyl in bold stripe patterns keyed to compliment the body paint. On this car it's ivory and maroon with a center stripe in mahogany vinyl.

The Bonneville was Pontiac's top model and thus was the fanciest and most powerful. A 389 cubic inch V8 motivates the big car to the tune of up to 300 horsepower and 420 lb ft of torque. Mechanix Illustrated rated such a car at 0-60 mph in 8.2 seconds. That's marginally quicker than my Ford Focus while weighing 1500 lbs more. Granted, that test Pontiac was making more than double the power of my little Ford. Thrift-minded buyers could buy an economy version of the 389 that ran on regular gas. Unlike previous Pontiacs, it appears no six-cylinder was offered.

This car looks like it's pretty much stock apart from a couple of small details. There are little chrome skulls on the door locks and chrome dual exhaust tips exiting diagonally behind the rear wheels. Thin whitewall tires get the job done without being too showy. A striped Navajo rug protects the front seat. It's an interesting contrast to the factory upholstery. The body is in great shape for the most part with a number of minor dents but no crash damage that I can see. License plate frames from McKissick Pontiac in San Leandro could be original. It's a completely awesome old tank I'm proud to feature here.
I hope the owner doesn't mind me coming back. His collection consists of several of my favorite cars of the '50s and '60s and I'd love to shoot some more of them.

Photographed October 2016

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Van Man Review - 2008 Dodge Sprinter 2500 CRD

In the three-plus years I've worked for Country Club Cleaners in the eastern Bay Area, there have been few vehicular constants. When I came on board the company fleet consisted of six Ford Transit Connects, two Dodge Caravans, two Chevrolet Astros, one Ford Econoline, two Chevrolet Expresses and a Dodge Sprinter. Of those vehicles I believe we have one Express and four Transits left; the rest have been replaced due to age and mileage. It's easy to take something for granted that's just always there, and the Sprinter has been the biggest workhorse of the company.

The 2008 Sprinter 2500 diesel long-wheelbase van was the company's primary shuttle vehicle, which is to say that it ran loads of both clean and dirty clothes as well as supplies between two storefronts and the main dry cleaning plant location, a round trip of over 30 miles. It often made three or four round trips a day and the shuttle van honestly is pretty much the backbone of the company. Consider that we handle dry cleaning and restoration work sixteen miles away from the shirt laundry and wet cleaning facility. Without a large, reliable van you're forced to make more trips throughout the day to make sure customers receive their clothes on time. Isn't logistics fun?

This post is both a review and a eulogy. On December 17 this year the Sprinter was doing a routine shuttle run when it was involved in an unavoidable accident on the freeway. Nobody was hurt but the Sprinter was declared a total loss by the insurance company. I consider it a testament to the van's toughness that it ran and drove back to our store under its own power. As far as I know it was still roadworthy despite the damage. Unfortunately an eight-year-old work van with about 180,000 miles and many dents and scrapes wasn't worth fixing.

It should be noted that I only drove this van twice. I felt that it was enough to get an idea of the truck's driving habits. It is a very big vehicle and arguably the biggest box I've ever piloted. Despite its intimidating size and height, the Sprinter has remarkably civil road manners. It wasn't fast but my coworkers who did shuttle duty liked the common-rail direct injected V6 turbodiesel's 280 lb-ft of torque. My biggest fear was in reversing, since the van had no rear or side windows and no parking sensors. It didn't even have a backup beeper. What it did have were decently sized mirrors and Mercedes engineering behind a Dodge badge.

The interior was nothing to write home about, cheap parts bin plastic and amber backlit displays. The automatic shift lever felt odd with its small size and dogleg pattern whereas the handbrake was a long exposed metal thing with an almost industrial look to it. The cargo area was very spacious with the medium height roof option. The average person could stand up inside there if you were careful not to hit your head on the overhead racks. It had five or six steel pipe racks welded left to right and could hold several hundred pieces of clothing at once. It received a new livery and number within the last year. Despite having the newest unit number (43) the Sprinter was actually the oldest truck in the fleet. I figure it was bought around the same time as #18.

I'll miss our Sprinter. It was a good van that I think deserved a better fate.


If you're in the market for a dry cleaner in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, please consider our services.
These posts are not sanctioned by my workplace and I don't get any promotional compensation for them.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Well, it's that time of year already. As 2016 draws to a close I'd like to wish all of my readers and their families a safe and happy holiday season.

I hope that the new year brings new opportunities for adventures and as many new car sightings as possible.

As always, thank you to all who read and comment and appreciate this humble little blog. Merry Christmas to you!

Jay W

Monday, December 19, 2016

Danville Street Sighting - 1952 Chrysler New Yorker

That thing got a Hemi? Yep.

Most people probably associate the Hemi engine with the muscle car era of the 1960s and early '70s, so much so that it's become almost a mythical beast. The name refers to hemispherical cylinder heads, designed to produce power more efficiently through less heat loss during the combustion process. Domed pistons accommodate the hemi head shape for proper compression. Second-generation, 426 cubic-inch Hemis were considered the pinnacle of Mopar performance at the track, even though the non-Hemi engines were often more "streetable" and easier to live with. Hemi engines were physically huge, heavy, expensive and finicky about low-quality gas. As a result, relatively few were produced and Hemi-equipped cars usually go for big bucks at auction today.

For the past decade Chrysler has hyped nearly all their V8s under the Hemi name, milking that legacy with engines that are technologically superior but are not true "hemi-head" designs in the literal sense. (One might consider the 2.6 liter "Hemi" Mitsubishi four in the 1980s K-Cars an insult to the name... though those actually WERE proper Hemi-head engines.) The early Hemi engines of the 1950s were generally smaller and less powerful than today's Chrysler V8s, carbureted and individually designed and marketed for their respective brand. Chrysler and Imperial got the Hemi first as the 331 FirePower in 1951, then DeSoto debuted its 276 Fire Dome in 1952 and Dodge got an even smaller 241 Red Ram for 1953. Plymouth wouldn't see a Hemi until the second-gen 426 monster of 1964.

The 331 FirePower as equipped in this 1952 New Yorker produced 180 horsepower. That's 180 hp motivating 18 feet and 4400 lbs of Detroit steel through a Fluid-Matic Drive semi-automatic transmission. Zero to 60 took roughly ten seconds. Power steering was an option that I'm sure a lot of owners appreciated. The 1952 Chrysler was no styling standout but the Hemi engine was solid. I'm sure many of these cars donated their engines to hot rod projects and racers over the years.

This New Yorker is in good "driver" condition with enough visible wear to show that it's been repainted but not overly restored. This is a car you can still use. The seller helpfully included a photo of the 331 Hemi for those who might doubt the front license plate's validity. I'm assuming it sold a long time ago because I never saw it again after I photographed it. The asking price of $22,500 seems a bit high but if you look closely at the details, you can see that somebody went through this car inside and out and made it presentable. And you can't really even buy a new Chrysler with a "Hemi" for that price. This looks like a very nice classic car for the right person.

Photographed January 2015