Wednesday, April 25, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Volkswagen Type 2 Bus Pickup

The VW Bus pickup seems to come in two distinct varieties: Custom lowrider or beaten work truck. I don't see many that are stock, and even fewer that are in this stage of degradation. This is one of the newer Bus pickups I've seen, and yet it's in arguably the worst condition of any I've seen on the street. Found in the Mission District, this old single-cab Splittie has been through the wringer.

Monday, April 23, 2012

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1981 Bradley GT II Electric

This is a Bradley GT II Electric, the final evolution of the Bradley GT kit car. The Bradley was a curious concoction, a fiberglass sports car body on the chassis of a VW Beetle. Like many kit cars of the 1970s, the Bradley GT could be assembled at home, but the company also offered factory-built cars which had a higher level of quality than the average Joe wrenching in his back yard. The GT II had a revised body shape that made it look less cartoonish, but maintained the DeLorean-style gullwing doors and pop-up headlamps. Late GT IIs (1980-81) were factory-built with electric power. I don't know how many were ultimately constructed, but I've only seen three of them in recent memory and two of those live at the same house.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1963 Triumph TR4 roadster

I don't know if it's because they're cheap, or British, or just because it's the big city, but it seems as though most British roadsters in the city are in some stage of disrepair. They often have worn, weather-beaten paint and some degree of rust sullying their bodies. The upholstery is cracked, convertible tops are often bandaged with tape, bumpers bent and pitted and wooden steering wheels worn smooth with many miles and many years of experience. Some people call such a car a beater. Others call it "cheap and cheerful". And nobody does cheap and cheerful like a drop-top sports roadster.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car

Not many people seem to care about Ford's Lincoln luxury division anymore, because it has nearly lapsed into irrelevance. Lincoln builds only a small range of models, most of which are thinly disguised Fords that are gradually being upstaged by the redesigned versions of the cars on which they were originally based. Ford is shedding luxury and near-luxury divisions like crazy. They sold off their stakes in Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin, and phased out the mid-range Mercury brand completely. Suddenly the "One Ford" policy (combining American and European product lines) is starting to sound like "Only Ford". Even today, some people have a hard time making a case for Lincoln's continued existence.
People have long lamented the decline of American luxury. Some bemoan the death of the large, rear-wheel-drive sedan with floaty suspension and couch-like seats. Others pin the blame on those same cars as being short-sighted, ill-handling, gas-guzzling barges, symbols of wretched excess that seemed to parody themselves and increase our dependence on foreign oil. Along with Cadillac, Lincoln carried the torch for the traditional American RWD luxury formula well into the 1990s. Both were popular with the aging population, but not many other buyers. Both brands dabbled in front-wheel-drive and smaller powerplants, but as Cadillac transitioned primarily to FWD, the last true American RWD luxury car was the Lincoln Town Car. Today the Town Car, much loved by octogenarians, limo and livery cab drivers everywhere, is dead. Chrysler fields a revitalized 300C, and Cadillac's CTS takes on BMW instead of Lincoln. To a degree, Chrysler and Cadillac have been embraced by the hip-hop scene, courting younger buyers. And of course, the luxury market is dominated by brands from Europe and Japan, many of which didn't exist when this car rolled off the assembly line.
Lincoln is trying so hard to market itself as a thinking man's car, the sort of car driven by slick ad executives with thin-rimmed glasses and trendy suits who, if the ads are to be believed, would actually buy an MKZ Hybrid or MKS instead of the latest Audi.

Monday, April 16, 2012

San Jose Street Sighting - 1980 Porsche 911SC

I'm a major sucker for the 1980s Porsche 911. Nobody does crazy as conservatively as ze Germans, and the world is all the better for it. The 911 is a formula that shouldn't work. The engine's in the back, the handling can be tricky, and Jeremy Clarkson hates them with a passion. And in the right color, with Fuchs wheels and a whale tail spoiler, you might have a hard time finding a better looking 1980s sports car.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1955 Ford F-100 pickup

The Haight is a strange place. Lots of potheads, hipsters, burned out hippies and anti-establishment types all trying to coexist in an area where progressive policies and marijuana are about the only things they have in common. It's an area I would avoid altogether were it not for the occasional person who cares to leave an interesting or historic vehicle parked on the street. It's stuff like this 1955 Ford F-100 that makes me risk an asthma attack from the smoke. I was in the area to show some friends around town when the classy pickup caught my eye.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Petaluma Street Sighting - 1947 Studebaker M-5 Coupe Express pickup

Have you ever had those times when you really wanted to take pictures of a vehicle, but the town you're in is a small, close-knit community and there are neighborhood watch signs posted on every street light claiming that "We report all suspicious activity to the police"? It's a bit intimidating, even though a city street is public property and what I do is perfectly legal. Some people just freak out, and when there's risk of freaking them out it makes me nervous.
It all started about five years ago when I was berated by a woman who thought I was scoping out her street. Apparently someone had stolen several vehicles from her neighborhood at some point in the past and so the residents were on edge. I was told that the police would be called if she ever saw me again. I believe that I was within my rights to take pictures, since I never strayed onto anyone's private property and never touched anyone's car. But I can also understand why a person would be concerned that a perfect stranger is photographing every interesting vehicle on the street.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Petaluma Street Sighting - 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle wagon

By 1971 the Chevelle wagon was beginning to show its age. The same body shell dated to 1968 with few changes except an updated front clip and some revisions to the lights and interior, namely a new dash and a dual-action tailgate that could hinge down over the bumper or swing out to the left side. The '71 Chevelle lost the 1970's handsome four-light front in favor of two larger round lamps with amber and white turn signals installed in the squared-off corners.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle wagon

Of all the cars that ever wore the Chevelle nameplate, the 1970 model is my favorite. To me, it just looks right from every angle. The SS 454 coupes are what everyone cares about, and the exceedingly rare LS-6 convertibles. Of course, because everyone loves (and pays top dollar for) the SS cars, most of them that you see are fakes. Some people are into building "phantom" variants of muscle cars such as the SS-badged wagon you see here. It has the blacked-out grille with SS emblem, and a cowl induction hood with hood pins and Rally wheels. I'm guessing it was a very budget build, judging by the rust eating away at the rear hatch and above the rain gutters. And someone has unfortunately run into the front end, damaging the grille.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tomales Street Sighting - 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu wagon

In 1968 my grandparents walked into Val Strough Chevrolet in Oakland and traded in a 1963 Ford Galaxie coupe for a brand new light blue Chevelle Nomad station wagon. It wasn't much to write home about, a 307 V8 car with a Powerglide 2-speed automatic, but it was the car my father learned to drive in and it made an indelible impression on him. Sadly, that Nomad eventually went the way of so many low-spec cars of the era -- a hand-me-down car that broke one time too many and was left for dead. Today, one never sees a later Nomad, but the higher-spec Malibu has been saved in larger numbers.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Best of the Rest: The General's Privates

General Motors has been known for building a fair number of lousy cars over the years. Most companies have built some stinkers, but GM seems to have a reputation for it, particularly during the dark days of the 1980s. One of the most infamous bad ideas to come out of GM during this era was the Cadillac Cimarron, a luxury car based on the J-body Chevy Cavalier. Other domestic J-platform cars included the Pontiac Sunbird, Oldsmobile Firenza and Buick Skyhawk. Most Cimarrons (and J-bodies in general) I see these days are beaters, and I'm pretty certain that some if not most of the cars in this post have since been scrapped.

1983 Cadillac Cimarron, San Francisco

1984 Cadillac Cimarron, San Francisco

1986 Cadillac Cimarron, San Francisco

1987 Cadillac Cimarron, San Francisco

1987 Buick Skyhawk, San Francisco

Saturday, April 7, 2012

San Jose Street Sighting - 1977 AMC Hornet AMX

I don't know many people who will admit it, but I'm one of those people who watches the Bond flick The Man With the Golden Gun just because of the silly car chase through Bangkok involving two obscure American Motors cars, a man with three nipples, a midget and a bumbling Louisiana sheriff. What can possibly go wrong? Of course one of said obscure AMC cars can fly. Well, the other one did, too, at least briefly.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Point Reyes Station Street Sighting - 1961 Comet sedan

Oh dear, here we go again with another Falcon. Or is it? Nope, this is a Comet. We've already had a 1962, 1963, and 1964 Mercury Comet show up here, so why not an early one that predates the car's official association with Mercury? Originally devised as a baby Edsel for 1960, the Ford brass nixed the horsecollar grille in a hurry when the Edsel brand went down in flames and made the Comet a stand-alone economy brand for two years. Aside from some cosmetic touches, the Comet's Falcon roots are plainly evident. But hey, it was 1961 and you got four headlights AND tailfins on a compact car that was no less frugal than the bargain-basement six-cylinder Falcon.