Tuesday, January 31, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1976 Mini 1000

When a car is built for many years with the same basic body it's easy to get the different models mixed up. The classic Mini is probably the best example of this, and probably the most easily interchangeable. Countless special editions and variants were released, and continuous improvements were made over the years. This car hails from the British Leyland years as evidenced by the fender badges, and is also badged as a Mini 1000, which if correct, makes it a 1976-77 model. It's also right-hand drive and bears a foreign license plate which resembles New Zealand. It wouldn't be the first NZ Mini I've seen in California.

Monday, January 30, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1967 Datsun 520 1300 Pickup

Some of the least common old cars in this area seem to be old Datsuns - but not the cars, oddly enough. A large number of Z coupes and 510s have been saved because they were good cars despite being rust-prone. What doesn't seem to have survived, are the compact pickups Datsun fielded in the American market.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Danville Street Sighting - 1965 Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII

This is one from my archives, and it shows. My earlier photos, especially with my old camera, just aren't much to look at. The car, on the other hand, is quite the looker. It's an Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III, produced around 1965.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Best of the Rest: 1980s GM

1980 Chevrolet Citation, San Francisco
1983 Buick Century T-Type, San Francisco
1988 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo, San Francisco
1989 Buick LeSabre T-Type, San Francisco
1989 Cadillac Allante, San Francisco

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1956 Packard Patrician

The story of Packard is a long one, but unfortunately it doesn't have a happy ending. The name Packard conjures up images of graceful 1930s luxury cars with tall, distinctive grilles and long hoods. The company itself was a pioneer of automobile design, with their first cars rolling off the line in 1899. The earliest models were true horseless carriages, some resembling the Olds Curved Dash Runabout. As time progressed, Packard became one of the recognized names in luxury, and persisted as a high-end marque even through the Depression. In the mid-thirties, though, Packard saw the need to diversify and offer less expensive "aspirational" cars to attract more buyers. These cars were something of a catch-22; they kept the doors open longer, but they also cheapened Packard's brand image.

Monday, January 23, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Triumph TR4

Fifth in my collection of San Francisco cars photographed and featured by both myself and by my friend Colin Stacy of The Automotive Way, is this early 1960s Triumph TR4 roadster.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1972 Citroën 2CV4

Fourth in my collection of San Francisco cars photographed and featured by both myself and by my friend Colin Stacy of The Automotive Way, is this 1972 Citroën 2CV4.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1973 Volkswagen 412

Third in my collection of San Francisco cars photographed and featured by both myself and by my friend Colin Stacy of The Automotive Way, is this 1973 Volkswagen 412.

Friday, January 20, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1972 Ford Gran Torino

Second in my collection of San Francisco cars photographed and featured by both myself and by my friend Colin Stacy of The Automotive Way, is this 1972 Ford Gran Torino coupe.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1977 Ford Granada coupe

Last year my good friend Colin Stacy and I spent a day driving around San Francisco. I showed him the sights, and we both kept a look out for old and interesting parked cars to photograph. As some of my readers know, Colin operates The Automotive Way, his own blog about cars he finds mostly in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Owing to the general scarcity of rust-free old cars in Minnesota, he also features cars found in other places such as Kansas and Idaho, whereas I limit my focus to cars from my home state of California.
Since San Francisco is pretty much my back yard, you can figure I wanted to feature the cars we photographed, but Colin beat me to it. So enjoy our different takes on these vehicles. First up is a 1977 Ford Granada coupe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 2003 Wuling LZW 6360Bi1 Dragon

As feature vehicles go, a white minivan typically doesn't earn a second glance from me. They're just not exciting. So why did I bother to photograph this thing?
All right, yes, I admit it. This is a pretty boring subject. At first I thought it was a Japanese 'kei' van like a Daihatsu Hijet, but it had "Marathon" badges and an alphabet soup emblem on the front - the latter a common practice with Chinese vehicles.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1954 Pontiac Chieftain

I have a reaction toward many pre-1955 General Motors cars that couldn't be called "love-hate". It's more of a "like-don't care" relationship. It's easy to accuse me of being a classic car snob because of statements like that, and perhaps you'd be right, so allow me to qualify my statement. Pre-1955 GM sedans and convertibles often appear much taller and stodgier than the all-new '55s, led by the standout Chevrolet Bel Air as the mainstream styling leader complete with its new small-block V8 engine. In 1949, GM finally replaced their pre-war designs with a plethora of brand-new cars. Since all they had to work with in the regular brands were old six- and eight-cylinder engines, styling was important to their success. It was GM's goal to be the styling leader of the Big Three and fight against the relatively dull but reliable straight-six Dodges and Plymouths and quick flathead V8-powered bulletnose Fords and slick Mercurys for sales superiority.
The 1949 GM bodies continued with gradual design improvements and styling changes until 1954. Some of these changes were made only to keep the car fresh and tell customers that it was a different model year. I like the look of the 1951 and '52 Chevys, for example, as well as the '54. I am largely apathetic toward the '49-50 and '53. It's nothing personal, I just don't care for their grille designs. But here I go talking about Chevy again. As you probably gathered already, this car is a Pontiac.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1965 Grumman-Olson Kurb Side

Occasionally cars seem to take on a life of their own, or at least a purpose beyond their typical role as a transportation device. In the city, having a delivery van with big blank sides is an invitation to be tagged by graffiti artists ready to express themselves all over that huge canvas. Now, imagine you're a hip young person who thinks that graffiti looks wonderful and you just happen to own a vintage Grumman-Olson Kurb Side that you got for dirt cheap and it needs something to cover up those faded dairy or bread company logos. Well, being that hip young person, all of your friends are graffiti artists, right? Invite them over and go nuts!

Monday, January 9, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1972 Fiat 500L

One of the very first cars I started photographing in depth when I began attending university was this 1972 Fiat 500L. It helped that the car was often parked one block from the building where most of my classes were held, and the fact it's the color of macaroni and cheese also helped the diminutive Fiat stand out. Where would one find the quintessential Italian city car? Why, in front of an Italian restaurant, of course! This car was featured by Murilee Martin on Jalopnik's Down on the Street series a few years ago and was described as belonging to the owner of the Umbria restaurant on the corner of Second and Howard Streets in San Francisco. He purchased the car for $500 in Italy and had it shipped over and registered with the custom license plate "FOLIGNO". Foligno is a city in Italy, which fittingly is located in the Umbria region.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Game Review: Driver San Francisco

I know this is a major departure from what I usually do on California Streets, but I thought since it's a game that takes place entirely on the streets of the city where 4 out of 5 of my street sightings come from, and features a number of historically notable vehicles, it might be appropriate to do a review.

I received the PC version of Ubisoft/Reflections' Driver San Francisco as a Christmas gift from a good friend. Having watched the Internet Game Car Database's page on Driver SF in the months before its release, I was thrilled to see their list of over 120 licensed cars and a huge city that I could actually relate to.

The Driver franchise was groundbreaking back in 1999 when the Reflections studio released its first driving game. Playing as an undercover cop, you performed driving tasks in four cities: Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. It had vastly better graphics than the contemporary sprite-based, top-down driving game Grand Theft Auto - and if you could live without the pre-rendered cutscenes, it even worked without a CD! On the surface, Driver seemed simpler than GTA: You exist only as the driver of whatever car you're assigned for whatever task to take down gangs and baddies you never meet except in cutscenes and car chases. Pedestrians aren't an obstacle because they run out of the way when you come close, and can't be hit or killed like in the Grand Theft Auto series. If you smash your car, you can't just hop out of the smoldering wreck and commandeer a new vehicle, you must restart the mission. The cars' limited handling abilities ensured lots of movie-style skidding, tail-happy power slides and bouncing hubcaps. And like in most movie car chases, the cars don't usually go very fast. In fact, most of the cars in the game can't top 100 mph unless you enable a "Super Fast Cars" cheat.

Over the years, the Driver series became more like GTA, and with the advent of GTA III, that series became more like Driver with full-3D graphics. Driver 2 allowed players to get out of the car and jack another one. Driv3r was almost universally panned by critics who hated its emphasis on on-foot action and shooting, which to some degree was rightfully earned. Tanner could run, jump and swim (the latter something you couldn't do in GTA Vice City and Reflections wanted you to remember that - one of the game's Easter Eggs was an overly tanned, machine-gun-wielding character in a Hawaiian shirt named Timmy Vermicelli, who wore inflatable water wings as a symbol of his inability to swim) but his animations outside the car were poor and robotic at best. At its heart, Driv3r wasn't a terrible game and for years was on my short list of favorite driving games because it had some good cars and enjoyable driving. Its sequel, Driver Parallel Lines, had its own plusses and minuses. You don't play as Tanner, rather as a cocky kid named T.K. but the plot is slightly less convoluted than in earlier Driver releases and becomes a fairly simple revenge trip on the game's antagonists after they set you up for a murder and you serve 28 years in prison (rather than Driv3r's mission of recovering 40 stolen cars and killing several hundred nameless henchmen, bystanders and cops in the process).

Parallel Lines was a refreshing change, with two eras to play with, 1978 and 2006. Each era of New York City has its own flavor and distinct differences in the pedestrians, cars and police behavior. But if anything the cars were less realistic in their handling, and by God did I hate the on-foot action. For one thing, your character can no longer jump or swim at all. It seems that one constant with the Driver franchise is that if the studio cannot do something right in one game, they stop trying altogether. All the more reason why the arrival of Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008 blew Parallel Lines clean out of the water. Suddenly you had an interesting protagonist, tons of stuff to do, more cars, and a sandbox city that was fully interactive.

So after all that, we arrive at Driver San Francisco. I popped the DVD in and installed it, and was so excited to play the game I anticipated for so long. Immediately I noticed that it was more like the original Driver I grew up playing. Everything you do is in the car, except for very nicely rendered cutscenes in which John Tanner (holy crap, he has a full name!) and his cop partner Jones try to foil the crimes of Charles Jericho. The player acts out the "prologue" in which you learn how to control the car and then Tanner has a nasty accident that puts him in a coma. Thus begins the most controversial part of the game, the "Shift" mechanic. This is what makes or breaks the game for most people. If you're used to getting out of the car and stealing another one, it will seem strange to zoom out of the roof of a car and float above the roadway, able to choose pretty much any car at will and possess its driver to do whatever you need or want to do. Some players hate it; I got used to it pretty quickly.

Driver SF is an entertaining game for people who enjoy car chase movies and stunts. A lot of the missions involve pursuits, police or otherwise, and you collect movie tokens hidden throughout the city to unlock challenges inspired by famous movies. The city is stupid fun to drive in, kind of a loose interpretation of San Francisco optimized for stunts and fast driving. The streets are wider, almost every light is green, and the streets no one cares about are re-routed or omitted completely. In real life, Lombard Street is one of the longest roads in the city and begins at the top of Telegraph Hill and ends at the eastern edge of the Presidio. In Microsoft's Midtown Madness 2 (released in 2000), you could build up momentum for several blocks with the right car and launch over the famed crooked portion of Lombard. In Driver SF, Lombard Street is two blocks long and there is no jumping of the curvy bit (which itself is about 3 times larger and wider than it should be). Likewise, the bridges are too wide, especially the Bay Bridge which in real life is a double decker span with one-way traffic on each level. I suppose I can forgive things like this because the game is still fun to play without being totally true to life, and it makes battling traffic easier.

I think the greatest strength of this game is its cars. There are over 120 licensed vehicles and about a dozen more unlicensed trucks and buses. There's even an AMC Pacer. Yes, Parallel Lines had a Pacer knock-off called the Rhapsody and GTA IV: The Lost and Damned also had a Pacer knock-off which was also called the Rhapsody, but this is an honest-to-God licensed AMC Pacer. It's a terrible car but IT. IS. THERE. Likewise, normal cars like the perennially understeering FWD Cadillac DTS and dreary Chevy Impala and Dodge Caravan lend credibility (yes Virginia, the real world is full of boring cars). The chase favorites you see every drunk, car thief and redneck drive on World's Wildest Police Videos like the rollover-prone Chevy Blazer 2-door and GMC Sierra pickup are also included. The variety of supercars and classic muscle cars are also excellent, with a good range of past and present vehicles represented in beautifully rendered detail. And there's a dash view! There's something wonderful about seeing Tanner's hands gripping the steering wheel and shifting gears while you watch the door mirror flap about from your last scrape.

Where Driver SF falls flat is it's too easy in all the wrong places. Tanner's missions, while varied and having an interesting narrative in which he hunts down Jericho and his assistant (hint: it's not Calita, the associate we spent so much time dealing with in Driv3r), are too short. You do some unusual things like controlling your own car remotely from the driver seat of a different vehicle following behind, but it's all over too quickly. Even the side missions, which are often silly like deliberately scaring the crap out of a driving instructor, are over too soon. I beat the story missions - all of them - in three days. The small stunt challenges, however, are sometimes maddeningly difficult (as is the "Blast From the Past" challenge which emulates the original "Interview" from the first Driver. The Interview, consisting of a number of driving maneuvers that had to be completed in 60 seconds, was so hard for me I had to edit the game's mission ladder file to bypass it just so I could play the game's Undercover mode. Call it my Kobayashi Maru, if you know what I mean.)

There is another side to Driver SF though, and that's the other challenges located throughout the city. Races, "speed dares", "stunt dares", checkpoint challenges and loathsome "smash routes" are ways to earn "willpower", the game's version of currency. They've kept me busy longer than the story. Mind you, GTA IV took me 34 hours of playing time to beat the first time I played it through. I've since replayed the story and gotten it down to about 27 hours. It's said that Driver San Francisco's story takes anywhere from 7 to 20 hours of play to complete.

And then there's Tanner himself. Yes, the game mostly takes place inside his head, so the things you do don't affect real people. Tanner is a cop. During the course of the game this cop stops street racers by possessing soccer moms in minivans and ramming them headlong into the racers to disable their cars. And yet when you "Shift" into a cop car he lectures other cops on how to act to avoid hurting innocents. In races (what? Tanner street racing?) you have the option of cheating by crushing your opponents with big rigs instead of racing fairly. It's not very sporting, and you don't have to do it, but it calls into question some of Tanner's motives as a servant and protector of the public! But then again, it's all in his head, so nobody gets hurt. Right.

Tanner is sort of a lovable bastard, because he makes some genuinely funny sarcastic quips to people and there are some good exchanges with car passengers (especially when he warps into someone's body in the middle of an awkward conversation, like one in which a female cop reveals that she's transgender and talks about having once slept with the partner who was driving). One of my favorites is a woman who talks about committing an insurance scam and actually wants the vehicle to be destroyed, all the while "practicing" how to fake injuries until Tanner offers to hit her for real.

It's easy to tell that this game was made for fun rather than the seriousness of the earlier Driver games. Nobody gets hurt or dies in this game except a poor cameraman who gets dropped out of a helicopter during an introductory cutscene, and we never find out who he was or really even care. All right, there's one other guy who gets blown up in a car bomb, that's about it. Because very few of the game's events are actually happening outside of Tanner's head, there are rarely actual consequences to consider, and maybe that cheapens the experience. I must admit I was a little disappointed when the credits rolled, but I imagine that the developers expected players to spend more time doing online multiplayer games with their friends. I haven't even tried that yet.

So far, despite its flaws, I'm enjoying Driver San Francisco. We'll see if it has the staying power of other games like GTA IV.

The Good:
  • Awesome cars, and lots of them.
  • Beautiful graphics.
  • Excellent driving views with a fully rendered, accurately modeled interior for each vehicle complete with shifting animations for manual cars.
  • Much better crash 'debris' than in past Driver games.
  • Fun while the story lasts, still fun to chase and be chased through afterward.
  • San Francisco isn't perfect but is big enough to explore for a long time and is very drivable.
  • You get to explore parts of Marin and Alameda County as well as San Francisco.
  • Shift is useful and gives you some options you don't normally have in a driving game, like the ability to warp across town if you don't feel like driving.
  • In free roam, you have almost unlimited freedom to drive the way you want, provided you stay on the roads.
  • Film Director is back and allows you to record, edit and publish your driving exploits. (Driv3r had this too, but it apparently decided you didn't need to be able to publish them and forced players to use a third-party program like Fraps to rip their videos from the game.)
  • Traffic and police AI is vastly improved.
  • Music in the movie challenges is tailored almost perfectly to the mood and style of the films that inspired them. For example, the jazzy background music of the Mustang and Charger chase inspired by Bullitt is reminiscent of Lalo Schifrin's original soundtrack.
  • Different times of day are represented, as are different moods, depending on the challenge or stage in the story.

The Bad:
  • The story is too short and not very gratfiying.
  • Oakland and Emeryville, Yerba Buena and Treasure Island are included, but can't be driven through except on the highway.
  • Players are limited to roads, plazas and alleys, lacking much of the sandbox feel of the GTA series. Think more like Need For Speed, with invisible walls and such. Shifting can be a pain on highways unless you zoom out.
  • I hate smash routes with a passion.
  • Completing missions unlocks cars and abilities, however you still have to spend your willpower credits to actually buy them.
  • You cannot modify cars owned in your garage, not even to choose the paint color. You get a random color each time you use it.
  • No day/night cycle or weather during free roam.
  • "Thrill Cam" sucks hard for driving. Rapidly (and randomly) changing viewing angles that diminish the player's forward visibility are what Film Director is for; don't even bother unless you like driving slowly or crashing a lot.
  • Pedestrians are silly and literally slide out of the way if you come in contact with them before they can complete an evasive animation. No ragdolling peds here for fans of GTA IV or even Garry's Mod. Parents may consider this a plus for younger players, and it helps account for the game's Teen rating in the US rather than Mature.
  • In free roam, cops only chase you if you hit them first.
  • The unlicensed "ASYM Dessayne" sedan and cop car, as well as the 1974 Dodge Monaco cop car, are unplayable.
  • Not enough variation in traffic (granted, that's asking a lot of a game that requires fewer system resources and much less disk space than GTA IV).
  • No cable cars! The original 1998 Driver had moving cable cars in San Francisco. This has the tracks present in the streets, but the famous cable cars and electric trolleys are missing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1962 Ford Thunderbird

Rounding out "Where were you in '62?" week is a Blue Oval product, a 1962 Ford Thunderbird coupe. Third-generation Birds are becoming scarce on the roads, particularly as daily drivers. They're a guilty pleasure of mine, a car I like even though it's not particularly attractive. For a while I collected diecast '61-63 T-Birds, and was fascinated by them after seeing a cherry red '63 Thunderbird Sports Roadster in Disney's Flubber (pretty much the only saving grace in that film).
This one's rough around the edges but appears quite restorable. From across the street, it seems as though all it needs is a coat of paint, but up close I'm concerned that rust is starting in the rockers and the bottom front corner of the doors. Fords of the '60s tend to suffer from rust there.

Monday, January 2, 2012

San Jose Street Sighting - 1962 Chevrolet Impala sedan

Second in my series of "Where were you in '62?" is this 1962 Chevy Impala sedan. Being an Impala, it's one of the more common American classics. This is due in no small part to the ridiculously large number of Impalas the General cranked out back in the day. They were fantastically popular cars with American car buyers.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1962 Chevrolet Chevy II 100 wagon

With a new year comes the realization that we're all getting older. This year let's celebrate the 50th birthday of some cars with a catchphrase from George Lucas's early film, American Graffiti. Where were you in '62?