Friday, November 29, 2013

Livermore Street Sighting - 1955 Pontiac Chieftain 860

Perhaps one of the most important model years ever for Pontiac was 1955, the year that the brand lost its stodgy, roly-poly image and gained V8 engines across the entire model range. The 1955 V8 replaced the old inline-six and straight-eight engines that had served Pontiac for many years. What the '55 Bel Air did for Chevy, the '55 Chieftain and Star Chief did for Pontiac. The '55 was one of the last "Silver Streak" Pontiacs, the bright trim pieces that ran over the hood and down the sides of the little tail fins. Silver Streak had long been a trademark of Pontiac, and had become something of a symbol of the "old" Pontiac. After 1956, Pontiac was reworked into a sporty brand that would be heavily marketed as such right up until its final years.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1977 Pontiac Sunbird Sport Coupe

If you think '1977 Pontiac', there's probably a 90% chance you think of the black Trans-Am Burt Reynolds drove in Smokey and the Bandit. Admit it, that's what you thought.

Pretty much everything else Pontiac made back then was less interesting. At the bottom of the food chain was this, the Sunbird. It was built on the GM H-platform shared with the Chevy Monza, Buick Skyhawk and Oldsmobile Starfire, all of which were based on the old Chevy Vega and Pontiac Astre. The Sunbird Sport Coupe evolved from the Monza Towne Coupe and in 1977 could be had with a 2.5 liter Iron Duke four only - except in California and high-altitude areas, which got the old Vega 2.3. A fastback-styled hatchback was new for 1977. Two more powerful V6 and V8 engines would be added for 1978. The old Astre wagon continued as a Sunbird Safari for a couple more years. These little cars were available with some interesting appearance and mild performance packages, including Trams-Am-inspired sport touches like 'snowflake' cast aluminum wheels, sport steering wheel and body striping. A Sunbird Formula was a pretty cool little package for what it was.

Monday, November 25, 2013

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1967 Pontiac Tempest Custom

I'm a big fan of the Pontiac brand, so this week I'm doing a Pontiac theme.

The Pontiac GTO has garnered almost universal respect in the muscle car community as a strong performer and a very collectible vehicle. But there is a double standard, as the GTO was really a higher trim level and performance package based on the mainstream Tempest. Despite these humble roots, the GTO is considered a collector's item and the Tempest is a used car. If either is less than pristine, the GTO is a restoration project and the Tempest is its parts donor.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Oakland Street Sighting - 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Sedan

At this stage I'd have to say that one of the most cliched vehicles known today is the 1957 Chevy Bel Air. If I were to have you name a generic 1950s car, you'd probably either come up with the '57 Chevy or the '59 Cadillac, because both are so distinctive due to their chrome fronts and pointed tailfins and are heavily associated with drive-ins, rock and roll and anything retro from the era. Of course, I then disprove my own point by doing a Google Image Search for "1950s car" and the first thing that came up was an Edsel. The '57 Bel Air didn't appear until the fifth row of results on page 1. But still, it's a popular enough car that the Santa Cruz Boardwalk has a ride attraction called Rock & Roll, where the riders sit in little cars on a track that are all clearly patterned after the '57 Bel Air - the attraction's sign even has a full-scale fiberglass Bel Air front end bursting out of it. Arlen Ness, a Northern California motorcycle builder, built a bike called Ness-Stalgia that's directly inspired by the '57 Bel Air. And when you go to car shows, try counting how many '57 Bel Airs show up. They all seem to come out of the woodwork, as well as their '55 and '56 brethren. It has to be something really special to get me to photograph one at a show. And the ones that do show up are typically red, blue, or black and sitting on American Racing TorqThrust wheels. Not that that's bad, necessarily. People do it because it looks good. These things still go for big money on the collector car market and are very collectible. Heck, I loved the '57 Bel Air as a kid. I built a model of one. I painted it blue and put on the TorqThrust wheels that were optional in the box. So yeah, the '57 Bel Air is a bit stale. But do you see the '57s on the street? Rarely.

Monday, November 18, 2013

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1941 Dodge D-19 Luxury Liner

The first time I ever recall seeing a 1941 Dodge Luxury Liner was in January outside the Silicon Valley International Auto Show. They're not nearly as popular with owners today as Fords and Chevys of the same era, making them very hard to find. I commented on this in my feature on it. So naturally I stumbled upon another one in my own town a mere two days after I wrote the post.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Berkeley Street Sighting - 1972 Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina

One of my rules for shooting cars is that nothing is worth risking your life over. Running across the Pacific Coast Highway at rush hour on a blind curve to photograph a ridiculously clean International Scout might not have been wise. But the streets of Berkeley are rarely dangerous, aside from maybe the odd rented Zipcar Prius piloted by some millenial who hates driving because it interferes with their texting. I passed by this 1972 Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina while searching for a mid-'50s Buick that I believed lived in the area. I pulled into a driveway to turn around, and while reversing I was forced to jam the car back in gear and gun it to avoid being slammed by a Honda that had crested the hill and was sailing downhill toward me without paying attention. Close calls are scary, and it would have really ruined my day to get my Focus written off over some pictures of an old Alfa.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Livermore Street Sighting - 1986 AM General HMMWV

Veterans Day is a holiday in the United States that honors those who have served in our armed forces, both past and present. For that reason I'm featuring a military vehicle. And not just any military vehicle, but one of the workhorses of the modern military, the AM General HMMWV, or Humvee.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Livermore Street Sighting - 1963 Dodge Polara Convertible

Regular readers here know that I'm not exactly a Mopar fanboy. By that I mean I like a lot of Chrysler products, but there are also a lot of models and model years I don't particularly favor. Much has been said about Chrysler's amusing gamble to downsize their 1962 Dodge and Plymouth models on short notice, and how it left their formerly fullsize cars roughly the size of their competitors' intermediate offerings. The end result was a line of ungainly vehicles with scaled-down styling cues meant for larger bodies. Chrysler executives fired designer Virgil Exner for the unpopular goof, even though downsizing wasn't his plan and he wasn't actually involved in the reinterpretation of his original design. Elwood Engel was brought in to "fix" things for '63, and the result was the Dodge Polara you see here.