Saturday, November 11, 2017

Florida? Kanye? Who knows but look at this big Jag!

'Neen from the Empire region was at it again, snapping these pics on her postal route. If you love cars and have friends/family who are letter carriers you're in luck. Behold!
This is a 1966-1968 Jaguar 420 in Laguna Beige. Below the inner right headlight is a faux horn grill added to break up the expanse of painted metal. Every 420 I've seen has one on each side so this is either an anomaly or one was missing and they elected to fill in the mounting holes when repainting the car at some point.
The proud, leaping Jaguar hood ornament mimics the overall shape of this ride nicely. Daimler made an identical car to this one and besides the hood ornament the only way to tell them apart is that the Daimler has a scalloped top of the grill.
Every inch of this car is rounded in stark contrast to the angular American cars of this era. I love the mirrors all the way up on the fenders.
In the sales literature they still bragged about the 420 being "assembled by craftsmen", and indeed they probably were. Total production over its 3 year run was a mere 10,236. To put that in perspective there were more than a million Chevy Impalas sold in 1965 alone!
Look at this big rounded baby. This ride is almost identical to the 420G, but the G has a full length chrome spear running down the side. Under that long hood resides the 4.2 liter inline 6 cylinder XK engine. It was plenty to move this large saloon around in traffic.
This looks to have the optional automatic transmission installed. Manual trans 4 doors were getting pretty scarce in the States so many imports were outfitted with an auto.
That diminutive chrome line running between the door handles finishes in one tiny pointed piece beyond the rear door. This makes me so happy because it is the first thing a company putting cost above style will cut. I'm also a big fan of the subtle indentation between the door handles and the window glass as it wraps around the corner.
Even the rear window shape is rounded and irregular. Looks like there was a parking knock to the right side bumper guard. That's what it's there for!
They're easy to miss but the reverse lights are incorporated into the trunk lock/license plate light assembly. Check out how awesome the font is in the word JAGUAR between the reverse lights.
The rear of this ride is identical to the earlier Jaguar S-Type which was sold from 1963 through 1968. The major difference is that the S-Type had a nose as rounded as the rear where the 420 has that pronounced, forward leaning face.
We've got a house for sale with a big classic car resting on half-inflated tires (pardon me, tyres). Not to read into it too much but this is the time to strike if you've always wanted one! Often a well-timed knock on the right door will free up a car for much less than if they take the trouble to list it. Take it from someone who bought a near-perfect '74 Cadillac for $285.
Ever heard of Knock-Off Wheels? Well these are they, named as such because you take a mallet and literally knock that center spinner to unscrew it. Real-deal spinners are quintessentially British like everything on this fine ride.
The rear quarter windows pop out for ventilation. Look how lovely the mechanical opener and hinge are!
That is real-deal soft leather, probably so comfortable that it would be dangerous to drive at night. British cars of this era had the finest hides hand stitched and they age beautifully.
By the way that is real walnut along the window. The same wood is used on the dashboard and will polish up nicely.
Well there we have it; a nicely presented natty Brit ready to burn up some petrol on the motorway. In the grand scheme of things these rides are undervalued, especially in the States. They aren't complicated mechanically (though you'll have to keep the dual carbs in tune) and offer a very comfortable drive. As with other British cars of yore the electrical system is the weak spot, to the point where I highly recommend keeping a fire extinguisher on hand when driving one. Still you've be hard pressed to find a classier ride for the money. Ebay currently has 3 listed; one for a grand, one for just over 10, and a flashy yellow one looking brand new for just under 20. Considering that VW buses are trading in the 6 figures these days with no heat or comfort this would be a cool ride.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

First of its kind but last call before World War II

As the green leaves suggest these pics were snapped in Summer. I was driving upstate when I passed what looks to be an abandoned project. I had to turn around and pull over!
This is a 1941 Chevrolet Fleetline that may have once been painted Volunteer Green Poly. This car doesn't show up in any of the Chevy literature for 1941 as the Fleetline was a late addition to the model year. This simple 4 door was the only version available initially.
Despite looking truly abandoned this ride has many (if not all) of its components either installed or roosting in the backseat. A full set of original hubcaps still bearing a hint of the red accent swoops is present. One look at the dry rot on this tire and you know its only function will be to roll this on and off of a trailer. I was kind of shocked they held air at all.
This is what happens when you drop your car off for a full restoration and stop paying your bills. All of the trim has been carefully removed and most of the paint has been sanded off. Evidence of smoothed out Bondo where dents or rust repair were are visible all over. This beast looks like it was almost ready for paint when the clock stopped.
Yeah I know this is a terrible pic. I only include it to show off that upholstery.
This roofline is unique to the Fleetline as every other 4 door Chevy had rear quarter windows behind the rear doors. The worst of the body seems to be the rocker panels and lower door edges. OG paint remains only around the door glass.
The rockers on this side have been cut out completely. I'm guessing this was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"Runs & Drives!" meant slowly even when new. Under this mighty hood sits the 216 Blue Flame inline 6 cylinder engine good for a mere 90 horsepower. A three on the tree transmission and drum brakes all around complete the chilled expectations. This engine was later bored out to 235cc and it was a higher performance version of that block that powered the original Corvettes from 1953-1955. Variations of this motor were produced from 1937-1963. 
The lines for this are pretty sweet in my opinion. Production of all passenger automobiles ceased in 1942 so the factories could be used for the war effort. When production resumed in 1945 there was a pent up demand for new cars so they built what they could which meant that this car was produced with very little change through 1948. However back in '41 this was up to date.
Unfortunately these rides aren't worth much even in pristine condition. I can almost imagine the series of phone calls reaching the end of the line for this thing pretty quickly.
Someone probably drove this to the shop proudly figuring it didn't need much. They removed the paint and found damage which they started to repair. Then the rocker panel bad news came along with estimates for the interior and re-chroming. At that point you realize that you can go to the classic market and buy a perfectly preserved example for what you've already put into it.
Another scenario is that the elderly owner wants to restore his first car. The project starts and the owner dies or can't drive anymore. The relatives either try to sell it or look into finishing the restoration and see that the cost far outweighs the reward. Unless you have a deep emotional connection to a car like this it is akin to restoring a 1983 Ford Escort from the ground up.
*Notice the tiny opening at the bottom of the grill above the ER in New Jersey on the license plate. That's where you would put the crank if your starter failed! A true holdover detail.
**I also have no idea what that round thing is under the right turn signal.
I include two pics of the interior to show different aspects. Here you can see a perfectly round hole in the floor under the driver's feet. In my '47 Dodge this was an access panel for the master cylinder so I'm guessing it's the same.

The interior is actually pretty nice with the optional clock on the passenger side and speedometer in lovely condition. The horn ring is in place and the Bakelite gearshift knob is intact. My '47 Dodge had a massive under dash heater that would be clearly visible. Who knows if this came with one or not? If this ride was delivered to a Southern state there's a good chance it was never built with one. If you were a serious penny pincher you could order your Chevy without one all the way up through the mid-'60s but who would order a clock before a heater?
Well that will do it for this well worn example of a mass produced, very old car that few people want. Best bet for this beast would be for a father/son project or for someone to rat rod it out. I know it's sacrilege to say that about a running 76 year old car, but a truly stunning '46 fastback Fleetline sold recently for $3,800 so you know the cards are stacked against this thing.
Good luck faded trooper!

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.