Monday, October 16, 2017

The weirdest, greatest supercar you'll ever see

Robin of Omaha recently sent these pics of a true oddity. Even in stellar condition its not surprising to see this ride hunkered down at the mechanic as it is fearsomely complicated. Behold!
This is a 1972-1973 Citroën SM in Jaune Bouton d'Or (also known as Buttercup Yellow). This thing was so ahead of its time that it shouldn't even be gauged against other automotive makes.
While we're staring this thing in the face let's talk about the main visual difference between the European and U.S. models. In France the SM had 6 square headlights placed behind angled glass like the middle panel above. Also in France the headlights turned with the front wheels! The glass cover and turning ability of the lights were both illegal in the U.S. which is why we can't have nice things. 
Just look at this strange creature. It could be from outer space or the depths of the ocean. The body is extremely aerodynamic which helped take advantage of perhaps the most incredible feature of the SM: it came from the factory with a Maserati V6 motor under the hood!
Those wheels are steel with stainless trim. If you preferred a lighter weight rim they offered a first-ever carbon fiber resin wheel option. As long as this thing is it won all kinds of rallies and races when introduced. When it hit these shores it won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award, a rarity for a non-domestic model at the time.
Top speed from the factory was listed at 140mph; no small feat for an early '70s luxury touring car. It is fitted with the self leveling hydro-pneumatic suspension that was made famous by the earlier DS. Four wheel disc brakes provided for the shortest stopping distance of any car tested up to that point. The suspension system was set up so that under hard braking the car would lower evenly.
The styling is so awesomely French!
Supposedly you could drive this car for hours at 120mph with no discomfort, achieving 19 mpg the whole time. The steering took some serious getting used to however. It is a unique variable powered assist that allowed for no road feel at all. Citroën recommended 50 miles of careful driving to get used to the steering as it was so sensitive. I've never driven (or ridden) in one of these but accounts are that once you get over the learning curve other cars feel archaic and old fashioned to steer.
To add to the futurism the windshield wipers detect rain when set to the lowest setting and will turn on and off as needed. This is a feature just becoming more common now. If we could pop the hood you would see a bizarre sight; a pair of honeydew melon sized spheres painted forest green are on the top sides of the motor, attached to two green tanks. They are the hydro-pneumatic suspension components but they look crazy to the uninitiated.
This car came about because Citroën bought Maserati in 1968 and they decided to marry the high performance motor to this design which was already years in the making. Unfortunately that means maintaining one of these involves a Maserati specialist and a Citroën mechanic.
The lovely sensualists of France underestimated the immovable and indifferent federal safety regulators of the U.S. and assumed they would get an exemption to the 5mph crash safety bumper regulations coming due in 1974. They did not and as a result the SM stopped being imported overnight. It is a shame as this car represented a bright future in automotive design where speed, efficiency, and pure style could work in harmony. Instead we kept producing bloated dinosaurs until the industry almost totally collapsed at the end of the decade.
Viva la France (and Italy)!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Mad Men, Tin Men, and Made Men all agree

I was riding my bike along the warehouses of lower Sunset Park when this mighty vision appeared:
Yes! This is a 1962 Cadillac Series 62 convertible in the appropriately named Olympic White.
I've said it before and I'll say it again; the streets of Brooklyn are littered with old Cadillacs but this one manages to tower over the rest even in shabby condition.
Cadillac was the undisputed king of class in 1962. There were more expensive cars out there (not many) and several that were more exclusive but none more damn American than this. One look at how stylized the logo here had become will show you how streamlined the entire look was.
It is a coincidence that this is a Series 62 from '62 as the Series 62 name was used from 1940-1964. It represented the entry point for Cadillac but let's put that in perspective. First of all this is absolutely a luxury car, and a convertible to boot. The lowest Caddy is like the most humble Rolls Royce.
*The one surefire way to pinpoint the vintage on this ride is the shape of the turn signals. The otherwise identical 1961 Caddy had perfectly round signals as opposed to these rectangles.
This sleek front end treatment was only produced from '61-'62. The massive yachts of the '50s had brooding eyebrows hanging over the headlights, a look that would return from '63 on. For these 2 years there is a fresh faced eagerness to these big rides that suits it beautifully.
One great design element left over from the previous decade is the fact that the front bumper makes up the leading edge of the wheel well. These bumpers are absolutely mammoth.
My favorite features of the '61-'62 Caddys are the lower fins that start just behind the front wheel and emerge as sharp points in the rear. This car has 4 freaking fins! At the same moment when they were leaving the automotive scene Cadillac decided to double down.
Few cars are such natural convertibles as these big Caddys.
Dig the faux grill treatment on the rear - another design holdover from the 1950s. The Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters was based on a Caddy from just 2 years before this example. These fins, while prominent, are massively downsized from the 1959 peak.
Even grubby and schlubby the lines on this ride are unbeatable. A little bit of black electrical tape is securing the end of the fin. Those fin lenses do light up with the larger taillights by the way.
A free breathing 390 V8 lurked under the massive hood which had plenty of grunt to toss this beast around as if it were a much smaller car. Cadillac was proud of the performance and handling, something you might not expect from a 4,600 lb car. Since they were the flagship of the entire General Motors company they spared no expense in perfecting these rides as best they could. Starting price for this ride before options was a whopping $5,588!
Anyone who watched Mad Men knows the deal with this ride and they weren't exaggerating the lifestyle. This Caddy came from the factory with 4 individual cigarette lighters and ashtrays! If they offered an ice machine and martini bar option they would've sold a million of them. The somewhat forgotten Danny DeVito/Richard Dreyfuss movie Tin Men featured Caddys like this as part of the backdrop. It goes without saying that this was THE car of choice for the Mafia (not that there is a Mafia of course because the Mafia doesn't exist).
If those pointy spoke wheels didn't already give it away we can see from the interior that this ride has led a couple lives. This is flashy period correct early '80s lowrider style upholstery. Seeing the fender skirts in the backseat means that this ride is only missing a front signal lens.
Chrysler tried with the Imperial and the Ford Motor Company tried with their Lincoln Continental (losing money on every one they sold) but nobody made a convincing attempt to topple Cadillac from the top of the automotive heap. In this era the Old World stalwarts Rolls Royce and Bentley produced bloated, out of date cars by hand. As a result the production would remain minuscule and prices astronomical. Cadillac produced 16,800 Series 62 convertibles in '62 alone while Rolls and Bentley combined for less than 6,000 cars.
Out of the many vintages of desirable Cadillacs the '62 is a wonderful choice for the collector or classic car fan who wants a drivable ride. The mechanicals are widely available and easy to work on. You'll never save on gas money with one of these but you can sit in it while parked and still outclass everything on the street.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The greatest wrong car at the wrong time

Big thanks to Neen from the Empire Region who sent these lovely snaps in of a landmark footnote brightening up a driveway in Glens Falls, NY!
There are a few automobiles in history that have a reputation that transcends reality. Not every Ford Pinto is going to explode if hit in the rear. Not every Rolls Royce is a great car (I'm looking at you, Carmague). The hardest sell to the general public will be this statement: The Edsel is not and never was a bad car!
This is a 1958 Edsel Pacer in two-tone Snow White over Spruce Green Poly. This beast is a Greatest Hits of late '50s styling; flashy chrome, tall and wide shape, and Jet Age features like the head and tail lights jutting out in their own enclosures. Still there is one big, rounded design elephant in the room that the public couldn't see past. 
That wide open Horse Collar center grill looks like a jet engine intake to me, and I'm sure that was the intention of the lead designers. I don't know if it was too advanced or too ugly, but once an auto journalist proclaimed that it looked "like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon", that's all the public could see.
Horse collar was one commonly used term, toilet seat was another. Regardless this center grill opening proved too daring for 1958. The following year would see this same basic look toned way down. The 1959 Edsel had no space between the three grill components and the center collar was much smaller. The hood ornament is an E suspended in glass which is a neat look.
*E was the given name for this ride while it was in development, standing for Experimental. After a committee within Ford tossed around dozens of potential names they chose Edsel. The name proved too hard to place for the public, one of the many missteps in this sad story.
The dimensions are pure Ford of this era. This one is as minty fresh as can be! The fit and finish where the grill and headlight surrounds meet the body is flawless. That chrome spear running along the fender is laser straight. Everything about this Edsel says "show winner".
The shape of the vent window shows just how far the wrap-around windshield goes. That green upholstery is perfect and correct.
The Edsel was the most expensive car to build up to that point at 250 million dollars just in research and design. This made it all the more tragic once it was deemed a flop after just 2 years (not to mention it takes its name from Edsel Ford; son of the company founder Henry Ford.

All that design money went into myriad innovations, some of them downright bonkers. For instance take a look at the center of the steering wheel. Where 99% of auto makers put the horn the '58 Edsel had their Teletouch system; a push button automatic transmission. That's all fine and good when operating under normal conditions, but when you truly need the horn you're instead slamming your palm into a cluster of buttons, throwing the car out of gear in the process! As you might imagine this lasted only 1 year before switching to a traditional column shifter.
Another cool feature was the speedometer which is barely visible in the pic above. Through the vent window there is a round dial identical to the one on the other side of the wheel. Above that dial you can just about see what looks to be a glass dome laying flat with a chrome band along the bottom. Within that dome is a round speedometer where the numbers are written around the angled edge. The inner dome would circle around while the needle was stationary. 
From this angle all we see is a beautiful 1950s sedan with its two-tone cove and rear panel.
The wheel wells lean forward giving the impression of movement. The trunk is gargantuan!
Unfortunately the Edsel was such a horrific disaster that its name became synonymous with failure. Not only did it look odd, but it was released into the now-forgotten mini recession of 1958. They never had their own dedicated factory, with Edsel being built in Ford and Mercury plants, usually at the same time. Imagine assembling 30 Mercurys in a row and then 3 Edsels come along on the assembly line! As a worker you have to grab the necessary tools for the Edsel out of another bin, perform your tasks, and then switch back to your usual Mercury gear. As a result there was great variation in build quality.
I had an Edsel once. When I was home from college I passed by a 1959 Edsel Ranger 2 door with $450 written on the windshield. Being a '59 it wasn't quite as odd as the '58 but it still captured everyones imagination who saw it. Registering it involved forging the signature of a man who'd been dead over 10 years as it had been sold several times but never registered after the 1st owner. My ownership of this heavily neglected beast was brief but entertaining. One day while driving I realized there was a mini pedal under the dash to the right of the accelerator. I stepped on it and the windshield wipers moved once! A great and forgotten feature from a maligned and wrongly accused car.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

White brick in Red Hook

I was making my way past Sunny's Bar out in Red Hook when this slab of cream cheese presented itself:
This is a 1972-1974 Ford E-200 Super Van in Wimbledon White. This thing rules! the hood is so tiny because most of the engine is accessed from the inside. You can basically check the oil and top off the radiator only from the front.
Take a look at this plain-Jane face. This is the stripped down model with zero chrome or frills whatsoever. The entire grill would be chrome on the higher end vans as well as the bumpers. If you had a small business and needed basic transportation this was the ride for you.
Scrapes and scuffs are the hallmarks of a working vehicle. Having no window on the sliding side door means this is truly the base model.
I love these lunchbox rides. You know this thing doesn't live in a city because it would be tagged to high heaven. Parking it in front of a Red Hook bar for more than 20 minutes invites writers.
Super Van is written on that lower-right emblem. I believe it denotes a slightly more comfortable interior because there's nothing about the outside that says Super.
I've owned a few ford vans over the years from the 1988-1989 model years and from the rear they look the same as this one. In many ways the Ford trucks and vans were extensions of the Model T; basic and ready to work with great economy. 
This is basically a portable storage unit.
I love the plainness of this slab side. I wouldn't be able to leave well enough alone with so much canvas space but with the white bumpers and mirrors it looks pretty neat.
Econoline is just what it sounds like. The 200 designation denotes its hauling ability. There is a 100 (1/2 ton) and 300 (1 ton) as well as this 3/4 ton version.
This hardy beast has the 3 on the tree manual transmission mated to what is probably a straight 6 cylinder engine. There were 2 different sixes; a 240 and the 300. In addition a 302 V8 was available but when the van is this basic I figure it's a 6.
Just about the only styling on this entire rig is that eyebrow line that goes down the length of the side and under the taillights. 
Alright that's what I'm talking about! This box contains 2 bikes hidden within. You can conquer the country with this setup. *I dig how the construction of these is so basic that you can see where the windows would be in the sliding door had it been so equipped. 
Well that's where I'll leave this sweet beast. When I walked by a few hours after taking these pics I saw the couple that owns this ride sitting on folding chairs behind the open rear doors. They were barbecuing on a tiny camp sized charcoal grill looking like they might as well just head out across the country that moment. The Jersey plate seemed almost too close for people packing motorcycles and a grill but who am I to deny those who know how to live?
Hats off you flat faced brick! See you in the Hook.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

This is the tuned car.

This is the tuned car.
My friends have been outpacing me drastically with the automotive finds and today is no different! Robin of Omaha recently stumbled upon a brace of beautiful Buicks:
This is a 1966 Buick Riviera in what seems to be an aftermarket two-tone graphite over black with a fearsome red stripe dividing the colors. The reason we know this is a '66 as opposed to the almost-identical '67 is the fact that those angled square lenses on the sides do not have a horizontal bar going down the middle of them. Even though they're large those are just the turn signals on the sides. This ride has 4 headlights hidden concealed in the grill. When they're open they look a bit crowded in there to me.
This ride is largely the same as the Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Toronado of the same year. However unlike the others the Riviera is a traditional rear wheel drive car. This is the final year for the venerable Buick Nailhead motor, this one a 425 V8.
Obviously the lines on this ride are fantastic and dramatic! The rear roofline swooping down to frame the trunk makes this beast seem like it's moving while standing still.
*Notice the lack of little vent windows! This is the first year since the '30s that a Buick didn't have them.
This is an evil ride with the black bumpers (something I usually frown upon). The vents beneath the back window are where the air exits the cabin as a part of the fresh air system.
Right next to the '66 is this 1967 Riviera with its tell tale horizontal turn signal bars. This is a mild custom like its brethren so the chrome hood trim has been shaved. 
I couldn't find any proof of two-tone Rivieras from the factory but this is a pretty common restoration choice. The mirrors on this ride are later replacements (the other ride has the correct driver-only chrome unit). 
I dig this roofline without the vinyl roof too. The wheels on both rides work really well. Both of these have the optional bucket seat interior essentially making them 4 seaters.
Somebody added a little pin striping to this ride.
1967 saw a new engine for Buick; the 430 V8 good for 360 horsepower and a whopping 475lbs of torque! Even at a weight of over 2 tons it was enough to move this beast around with alacrity. 
Buick (and indeed all of GM) was riding high through the '60s and they were understandably proud of the Riviera. It was touted as the "Tuned car" in their literature. In fact the entire opening paragraph is so assured that I'm going to close it out with this quote:
"We regret to destroy (again) the old theory that great road machines always come from Europe. But this one comes from exotic, far away Flint, Michigan - home of Buick, home of the Tuned car."