Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lost History - California Junkyards, Part 1

Over the years I've been to a number of self-service auto recycling centers in northern California. The bigger yards tend to be a cross-section of the most popular and generic cars from the last twenty years - Ford Tauruses with dead transmissions and/or blown head gaskets, worn-out Buick LeSabres and Dodge Intrepids, sun-baked Honda Accords with 200,000 miles and work trucks beat to hell and back. You know how it is. But among the generica there's often a sprinkling of interesting older vehicles thrown in.
Sadly, most of these places don't allow cameras for liability reasons, a policy I find ridiculous. I see no harm in publishing my photos now since every car in the pictures is long gone. Even the yard they were photographed in is now defunct. Please forgive the less-than-stellar photo quality produced by a disposable film camera and a 1.3 megapixel cell phone camera. Here are my best California junkyard sightings from the eastern Bay Area (that I managed to photograph).

1951 Chevrolet coupe

Thursday, May 17, 2012

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1971 Pontiac Grand Ville convertible

Imagine you're a General Motors marketing executive circa 1970. You're planning a new model for the Pontiac division, one that will be a full size car even more luxurious than the top-line Bonneville. Naming a car after a large dry lakebed worked great, but it didn't sound especially luxurious. "Ville" is a good start, it's French and that sounds fancy. And if something is fancy it's "grand", so someone came up with the name Grand Ville. I suppose it translates to "large town", which makes sense given the amount of real estate this car takes up.
The Pontiac Grand Ville was sold from 1971 to 1975 and had a longer wheelbase and unique design differences that set it apart from its corporate siblings and lesser stablemates. Early Grand Villes came standard with a big honking 455 V8 under that long hood.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1968 Austin America

Five years ago I was wandering in San Francisco's SOMA (South of Market) neighborhood near the ballpark and happened upon a funky little red hatchback that piqued my curiosity. It turned out not to be a hatchback at all, but rather a two-door sedan. The car was for sale and, being the idiot I was, I didn't pay attention to the window sticker and only took a few pictures of the car. At the time I'd only seen two other examples of the Austin America; one of those was a non-running example at a swap meet in Pleasanton and the other was a rusted junker at a self-service wrecking yard in Hayward.
The 1968 Austin America I saw that day in 2007 would prove to be an elusive one. When I started writing and actively searching for interesting cars to photograph for California Streets, the America was high on my list. But it always got away from me. One day in 2010 I saw it driving, then nothing. I put it in my "Best of the Rest" post for British cars because I figured I'd never catch it standing still again. Then in January this year I was taking some friends around town and there it was. So I parked my car and quickly went to photograph the unusual little Brit.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Best of the Rest - Volvo P1800s

The Volvo P1800 coupe is one of the most distinctive designs the company ever made, and while I'm not versed well enough in Volvo to know exact model years, here are the top five P1800s I've photographed on the streets of California.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

San Jose Street Sighting - 1972 Chevrolet El Camino

Every now and then I visit a friend of mine in San Jose, and we like to eat at a Carrows restaurant on the main drag in his part of town. Incidentally, someone often chooses that block to park an older vehicle with a for sale sign on it. The first such vehicle I saw was the 1962 Chevy Impala sedan I featured some months ago. One of the several I've seen over the past year was this 1972 Chevy El Camino.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Oakland Street Sighting - 2001 Isuzu VehiCROSS Ironman Edition

Have you ever had guilty pleasures, the kind of thing you like but either don't want to admit or don't understand why you like it? This is one of mine, the Isuzu VehiCROSS. These little 2-door sport-utes are as much a fashion statement as they are an off-road vehicle. Many today see the VehiCROSS as an exercise in absurdity and the ugliest thing this side of the Pontiac Aztek.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1970 Citroën Ami 8 Break

I've recently had a discussion with one of my readers regarding notable cars spotted near car shows. It begs a question -- what do you do if the car you just found is a local vehicle you've known about for years, searched for in vain, and only just found parked on the street conveniently around the corner from the 2011 California Mille? The Mille is a 3-day driving event held every spring, catering to well-heeled driving enthusiasts who cover 1000 miles of scenic California roads in their (generally) pre-1957 cars. Prior to the race, the participants' cars are put on display in front of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. Occasionally someone drops in with an interesting vehicle and parks it near the show. In this case it's a 1970 Citroën Ami 8 Break, one of the most eclectic cars I've yet seen in The City.