Sunday, June 29, 2014


Sometimes a once-common car will reappear in mint condition decades after most of them have been lost to history and it surprises you. Behold the 1981 Toyota Corolla SR-5 Liftback:
Obviously the Corolla has been enormously popular forever. Either you had one, or knew somebody who had one, or just didn't realize it while dozens of your friends & family had them. They've been in constant production from 1966 through to the present day, and their basic tenet hasn't changed at all; small, thrifty, reliable, and affordable. 
The fact that this otherwise totally disposable and very rust-prone car from 33 years ago was parked in Gowanus looking like it came from the dealership the week before is astonishing! Usually if you run across one it's seriously customized or beat up at this point.
This is from the very boxy era of the early '80s when most cars were designed with rulers and t-squares. The only curves on this car are the wheels and the Os in the name Toyota. Even the rims look like the designers tried to fit a square peg in a round hole as if they couldn't bear the roundness of the tires! '81 is also the first year for the square headlights; the 1980 model was just as boxy but had 4 round headlights in the grill.
The VW Beetle was as popular a car and came in basically 4 body styles (regular, convertible, Karmann Ghia, and The Thing). In 1981 the Corolla was available in a whopping 7 different body styles, as well as several trim levels. This example is the SR-5 Liftback which means it has more of a 2-door station wagon rear than a traditional sloped hatchback (which was also available). 
This color is Dark Blue Metallic which, while offered in name in years before and since, only looked like this for '81.
The 1.8 liter 4 cylinder was the only engine available in 1981, which was perfectly adequate to slowly drive around getting mpg in the mid-30s.
Just to show my own affection for these funky little econoboxes I thought I'd close out this post with a couple shots of my own recently sold Corolla; this one a 1983 wagon.
This car was hilariously rusty under that YELLOW paint, as well as being one of the slowest cars I've ever driven. It did make it up to Providence and Boston as well as the Catskills several times. I drove this car ruthlessly for a year between the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, parking on the streets and cutting through traffic with the reassurance that it was extremely visible. Finally a truck backed into it while it was parked in Bushwick, tearing a hole in the side and breaking the spell for me. It sold almost immediately for a low cash price to a guy who promised to fix it up. I once did a Carfax on it and found that it had changed hands legally 13 times and always lived in NYC! If I needed proof of the reliability and absolute refusal to die of these cars that was it. RIP lil' Yeller!
*Not only is the car gone, but that row of 6 buildings behind it have now been leveled to make way for a new mid-rise. And so it goes in NYC as it has forever.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

1955 Buick Special

It might seem like I'm always hanging around under the BQE due to the amount of posts featuring this shadowy underworld. The simple fact is that it runs past my neighborhood and continues on through Brooklyn to my shop, so I'm constantly driving or biking on, under, or next to it. This was one of my rewards for taking this path to work:
Looks like we've got a big, dirty, dusty, slightly rusty 1955 Buick Special on our hands! This beast has quite a presence to say the least, and nice proportions for such a large ride.
The Special line was also known as the 40-Series. There were more upscale 50 and 60 Series models as well, each of which would have a 4th porthole on the front fender. The Special is the descendant of the Buick Century of the '30s, which got its name from being able to hit 100mph.
You've gotta love that swooping check-mark side trim, the shape of which could be found on Buick bodies all the way up to the end of the '60s.
This thing has a huge no-nonsense truck and great visibility due to the almost 360 degree window treatment. Reverse lights on a 1955 indicate that even the thrifty trim model Buicks had all the bells and whistles.
General Motors was careful in terracing their many brands from value to luxury so that no one division stepped on anothers toes (and sales for that matter). It was aspirational; the everyday Chevrolet driver aspired to step up to the more well-appointed Pontiac or Oldsmobile, then on to  Buick, before finally attaining Cadillac status. Being a close #2 to the top of the GM heap, Buicks of the day were fine machines; well built and carefully engineered for luxury and performance. 
This taillight is a classic example of the "Jet Age" design. The first passenger jets were only a few years old and Sputnik wouldn't be launched for a couple more, so this is the sort of styling that was common.
 I test drove a '55 Buick back in high school that was listed for $1,500! The most amazing detail I remember was the starting procedure; you had to turn the key with the gas pedal planted all the way down to the floor or the starter motor wouldn't engage. I was turning the key fruitlessly until the amused owner told me what to do.
From this angle you can see the wrap-around windshield that was introduced the year before. The size of the backdoor is almost limousine scale! Neither footroom nor headroom were an issue in the '55s.
This emblem is fantastic! One easier to miss detail is the lower edge of the door handle, curving around clockwise to follow the contour of the pushbutton. Subtle but nice detail!
The mesh grill was new for '55. Looks like someone was tired of the puny rear-view mirror and tied a larger one right over it!
This little turn signal is cool, and the three-prong design resembles the centerpiece of the grill. I looked for meanings to the "V" hood ornament and the 3-prong circle but found none. Some old man out there remembers what they refer to, as they probably refer to something.
Mexican blanket interior is the fail-safe option when you're ready to cruise and aren't restoring your ride any time soon. Just visible through the reflection is the large ashtray mounted in the middle of the front seat back. This car has a curious options list as it seems to have a clock next to the glove compartment, but radio delete. Next to the metal plate where the radio would have gone are smaller, individual ashtrays Cadillac style.
This beast looks capable of firing up and rolling down the highway. It has a 264 V8 under the hood; the first of the "Nailhead" engines, which is perfectly adequate to keep up with modern traffic. When new it was also rated at a very respectable for the time 17+ miles to the gallon. Considering many trucks fail to achieve that today it is impressive.
Finally let's close out with this important detail: those chrome bullets jutting out of the grill are known as Dagmars. "Dagmar" was actually the stage name of Virginia Ruth Egnor, the first female star of television, known as a "statuesque busty blonde" who wore low cut tops and bullet bras. She was amused at the tribute!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Space-age Savoy

PLYMOUTH by Plymouth
I had just ridden the bike over the Prospect Expressway when I happened upon this wonderful oddity:
This is a 1962 Plymouth Savoy. I absolutely love this car! When this design came out in was very controversial, resulting with the man responsible for it being shown the door. It is undeniably quirky, but totally awesome at the same time.
The Savoy was the lowest-priced offering from Plymouth in '62. If you spent a little more you could get the Belvedere, with the Fury being the top of the heap. Both Savoy and Belvedere were named after famous hotels because why not? Incidentally, the movie car Christine was a Fury from 1958; in just 4 short years that swoopy, high-finned '50s classic became this little grocery getter.
This thing has funky lines all over it! The rear edge of the rear door coming to a point with the gentlest hint of a curve on the lower half is great. However, look at how the lower part of the window opening steps up a bit. That detail is so odd I can only assume that the window needed just that little bit of clearance when it was rolled down. The complete absence of chrome and trim says "budget edition".
Another identifying feature of the cheap-o Savoy model are the single taillights. Much like Chevy with their Impala vs Bel Aire, the more expensive the car the more taillights you get. Also, when was the last time you saw a car without reverse lights? I believe it was 1968 before federal law required them, but they were already pretty common by the time this was built. 
Rarely is the make of a car written in 2 different ways on the same vehicle. For some reason the trunk has PLYMOUTH in all stately caps while the curiously place door emblem has Plymouth in script. Another strange decision is that chrome band just under the window on the door. Is that supposed to make the overall opening look bigger, or hide the fact that the rear opening has that step up?
That concave grill is made up of what looks to be some basic screen material. I'm not entirely certain, but I think all 4 headlights are the same size; those bright trim rings around the outer pair gives the illusion that they are larger. This was a design cue that Dodge and Plymouth carried through the decade, with even more pronounced bug-eyed rings on later trucks and vans. And what about this little fluted lines on the inner-top of those trim rings? I assume they must serve a purpose as they're in a location not really visible from the street. I like how the bumper has a cut-out to make way for the faux-enormous headlights.
The design staff in a company as big as Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge is huge, with the head guy at the top and dozens of worker bees beneath, toiling away in anonymity. However, sometimes a brilliant little moment makes it to production such as this fender-mounted mirror. You know some unknown designer was very proud of it and rightfully so! I love it on it's own.
The interior is just as funky as the exterior; just look at that bonkers Ren & Stimpy gauge cluster! The speedometer is off-center, which was another Mopar feature of the early '60s. The original owner ponied up the cash for the optional radio with a big fat mono speaker above it in the middle of the dash.

Here you can see a most excellent and unique feature; the pushbutton transmission! The buttons controlling the trans are mirrored on the other side of the gauge cluster by buttons controlling the heat. These transmissions were offered from the late '50s through the mid '60s, and worked very well. The strangest pushbutton tranny ever was in the 1958 Edsel; the buttons were arranged in a circle in the center of the steering wheel!
I was very happy to run across this plain-Jane oddball on the streets of Brooklyn. This is one car I would love to have for myself due to the combination of everyday reliability and crazy design, but I'm just happy it somehow survived all these years.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

loose CANNON vs Bane!

Who cares what kind of van this is? It started out as a Ford Econoline of some late 90s vintage but it has evolved into loosE CANNON!
 Having had several cars in my youth that were haphazardly spray painted into oblivion I fully support decisions like this. This beast is a collection of amazing statements and declarations; GET FUN, and STOP LOVE START WAR are featured right on the front. Look at that milky turn signal lens that looks like it was repaired with tracing paper. This thing has been around and probably smells like CBGBs inside.
That red stripe in the top rear corner looks like there was a clear vision at one point before mayhem took over.
More knowledge adorns the back in the form of RAT SEX and HERMITS GO HOME.
A small round window is the official seal of the party van. It crosses boundaries, alighting upon the vans of '70s shag carpet Coors swillin' free-lovers and gutter punks alike. I don't know what KTT eU was thinking tagging this circle of unity! Some punks have no respect.
 What officer could place a parking ticket on Dog Veal? The tires have air in them and the license plates match so maybe this thing will be visiting a city near you.
Next up we have a very sinister and bold van, full of confidence after having almost vanquished Batman in the latest Nolan chapter:
Yes! How post-apocalyptic can you make a Chevy van from 1990 look? Here's your answer! Why not add hundreds of pounds of useless metal to an already heavy gas guzzling brick? After all, this example features BOW TIE PERFORMANCE and CHEVROLET Racing credentials.
This is definitely somebodys baby. However, could there be a less appropriate parking space for a tinted van than in front of the Early Childhood Learning Center?
Yeah Bro! The Calvin & Hobbes dirty decal is the tribal tattoo of tough-guy vehicles. It lets the ladies know there's a potential mate nearby. If that wasn't enough, the picture attached to the ladder says The Happy Fisherman on it and the image is one of the fisherman in unorthodox communion with a fish. I just take these pictures people!
A wing on the roof, louvers over the rear windows, the ladder, homemade bumpers, and decals everywhere tell us this is an owner who can't resist amassing flashy trinkets for their ride. You just know this thing has those super loud air horns installed under the hood. If I read it correctly the decals on the lower quarter say Melan Pa Pi Outrageous. I couldn't agree more.
 I love vans and have had a few myself. However, any statement you make with one is somehow amplified by their sheer size. Few vehicles can cut as intense a first impression as a customized van. When you pull up in either one of these beasts people have already decided whether or not you could be friends, whether to hide their children, or whether to write you a ticket. There is some genius in cutting through social filters like that, but be forewarned; a van purchase should not be taken lightly!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mid-'60's GM in large and small for 2-fer Tuesday

Everybody loves to make fun of the sidekick. Phife Dog said it best in Clap your Hands;
"to heck with the groupies, like um, Ralph was to Potsie, Brooklyn to Dodger, Laverne to Shirley, Rerun to Roger, Ren to the Stimpy, Laurel to Hardy (Q-Tip and Phifer, they mashed up the party)".
I love the sidekicks, so I'm going to feature this buddy buddy team right now.
Here we have a majestic 1966 Cadillac and his lil' buddy; the1964 Chevy II (not even a high enough trim level to be called Nova!).
The Cadillac color is great, but seemingly impossible to identify! My best guess would be one of their Firemist colors, possibly Gold, but I can't locate any color chips or codes to confirm. I did find images of another '66 Cadillac in the same color but it was from a years-old classified ad and the info to go with the thumbnails is long gone. Very frustrating for a car geek like me! 
The sheer amount of metal each of these Caddys contains is stupefying. You've gotta love the Star Destroyer taillights that obviously double as jet engines.
These cars are basically parked nose to nose so you can see how much extra trunk the Cadillac is sporting. There is something cathedral-like about the bumper/taillight combo.

Little design vignettes like these side marker lights are sometimes surprising in their elegance. This looks like an architectural model for a bank of windows on some 1950's office building. The Cadillac symbol on a field of brushed metal is very proud of it's heritage.
Aerodynamics were not the name of the game for this beast. Gothic headlight treatments were.
The backs of the front seats have quilted leather with buttons framed in thick stainless steel over thicker shag! I have a feeling those blue seat belts were added later as such a color clash would never happen from the factory on GM's flagship luxury yacht. Still an old car though as Prestone anti-freeze and a gas can make an appearance.
There are some dashboard details worth pointing out on this model. First of all check out that radio with both dials on the drivers side; look but don't touch Passenger! Secondly, that wide rectangle of stainless steel below the a/c vent and radio is a lift-up door hiding an absolutely colossal double ashtray. If the door were to be open we'd see a fat pushbutton lighter in the middle with individual ashtrays on each side. In case you were wondering each rear armrest had an ashtray with lighter as well; GM fully expected this car to carry cigar smoking adults in every seat, each lighting up and ashing at will.
What a contrast to the dashboard of the thrifty and economical Chevy II! It too has an expanse of plain metal in the center, but this one is a radio delete; that's essentially the cover they install over the gaping hole in the dashboard that says "I'm too cheap to order a radio".
While we're at it let's take note of the fact that there are 3 pedals on the floor (though the actual pedal of the accelerator is missing leaving a gas stalk). This is a "3-on-the-tree" stick shift transmission. At least that black rectangle of plastic hanging below the dash means that this car has a heater (not a guarantee as some Chevys of this era were made with heater delete too!). I believe one or two of those knobs control the heat in a very basic way. Better hope it works as that is the ground visible through a big hole in the floor. 
Oh man, Frumpy II has a finish made up of a mist of oxidation, lack of paint, and oily drips. That remnant of a trailer hitch is extremely optimistic!
Yes these two rides couldn't be more different though they are siblings. The big and powerful Cadillac obviously didn't do an effective job of protecting lil' Chevy as the bullying took it's toll. Regardless, in the Old Age Home of the BQE everyone's equal.