Friday, January 30, 2015

Miniature Triple Threat!

Let's get one thing straight; I know as much (or less) about classic Minis as I do most foreign cars that weren't imported into the U.S. Unfortunately for my reputation they actually were brought into the country between 1960-1967, but I've never had the chance to ride in one, and rarely see them in action. This is a glaring omission in my car lust as this is one of the most iconic vehicles in history. Unbelievably I ran across 3 of them within a couple months last year within a mile of my shop in Brooklyn. Time to begin the research!
To start off we have this beautiful example of a Mark II Mini as denoted from the bold grill. Minis were introduced in 1959 by British Motor Corporation (BMC), and continued on in the same basic form until the year 2000! In shear longevity this makes the Mini the English equivalent of the Beetle.
Other than being '67 or newer due to that trapezoidal grill I'm not entirely certain as to the year. The small square light above the front wheel well seems like a safety feature that first appeared in some markets around 1975.
From the rear we can see another clue to the vintage in the larger rectangular taillights that incorporate the reverse light which happened in '77. We can see that the steering wheel is on the left hand side for driving in the States, but converting one is an easy and commonly performed task.
These little rides are front wheel drive, with a low and wide stance for great handling. Most of the volume of the Mini goes towards interior space for passengers.
Look at this hilarious little squash from the side! I just want to jump in a tear away in this little punk. The tough looking fender flares are original options as are the cool mag wheels.
This show-worthy ride is parked in front of a shop in Gowanus that seems ready to repair any car but definitely attracts foreign classics. Incidentally that drab gray building in the distance used to have CITROEN painted along the top. I believe it was a parts and repair shop but can't be sure. The gray paint covered all traces a couple of years ago.
On to a double take yielding a double discovery:
Sweet! This cool little Mini looks to be rally prepped with its triple accessory lighting on the chrome brush guard. This one looks to be a Mini Mark I due to its more rounded grill. Don't let those oil drips on the pavement scare you; this thing looks ready to pounce right now!
I rode past this ride on my bike in Windsor Terrace and did a u-turn to take some snaps. Only then did I realize there were 2 rides in that driveway! More on that other one in a minute . . .
It looks like there's a roll cage installed from this angle but it's only a reflection on the rear window of some house trim. Again those tough fender flares make an appearance, as do the mag wheels.
As if I needed any more confusion in trying to pinpoint the years on these things the taillights are post-'77 Mark II style. It seems I have absolutely no idea what to go by in determining the vintage then! It turns out that a decent percentage of the 5.5 million Minis produced were CKDs which stands for Completely Knocked Down kits. Basically the car was shipped as a collection of parts in a crate to be assembled in the country of origin. Parts on the Mini are mostly interchangeable for the duration of their production, so grills, lights, doors, and just about everything else can be easily swapped out. If your Mini got in a fender bender in the U.S. you could go to the scrapyard and pick up replacement parts from any vintage to fix your ride, so I hereby forfeit the dating game.
But wait a minute! The one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that they never produced a Mini convertible!
Yes indeed we can see from the cracking fiberglass top-rear of the body that this was any old Mini before someone decided to lop the top off of it. I personally think this is a great decision!
It probably looked pretty darn good when it was recently done, though now it's showing some wear. That roll bar is a good idea, not only for keeping your head somewhat intact if you rolled over, but to try and retain some of the rigidity lost when the roof came off.
Also adding to both the rigidity and craziness factor is the fact that they welded in the lower doors, cutting a small climb-over entry point. If you ever wanted to steer a bumper car towards the wall and break through it to drive on the street this is what it would look like. Look at the tiny windshield too!
It actually has 2 individual windshields which is somewhat in line with classic British sports cars of days gone by. This was as close as I was willing to get to a car parked up against the wall of a house without an owner around to ask permission, but I'm curious to see the interior.
I think the line in the center of the canvas cover is a zipper which would allow you to drive solo with the other side covered. In theory this would be cool like the old LeMans racers but I imagine the canvas would be buffeting pretty hard in the wind.
It's hard to show just how small a topless Mini is with pictures, but this entire ride only comes up to the 3rd step on that staircase.
Since the taillights on the convertible don't contain the reverse lights I'm guessing it is the oldest of the 3 examples featured today. It also looks to get the least use, but the plate is a recent style so here's hoping I can catch it zipping up the road one day in the warmer months!

Monday, January 26, 2015

There was a spaceship parked in Greenwich Village on the coldest day of the year

This car will single-handedly prove how misguided the stereotype of French surrendering is. Take it all in; this is a seriously complicated 43 year old French car living through winter on the streets of Manhattan. Steadfast, loyal, persistent, and durable are the nicknames I bestow upon this beast!
*PS - yes the person in the background is wearing pants.
Under this coat of many colors lies an incredibly important milestone in automotive history. I will break routine here and offer a direct quote from Wikipedia that sums it up nicely;
"After 18 years of secret development as the successor to the Traction Avant, the DS 19 was introduced on 5 October 1955 at the Paris Motor Show." Now let's think about this for a moment; 18 years before the debut of the DS means that research and development on this ride started back in 1937! 18 years in automotive design is a lifetime, but when the DS was introduced it still managed to set the other cars on the road back by 10 years. When you consider what France went through during those 18 years it becomes all the more remarkable.
We know automatically that this car was meant to be sold new in America because the headlights are exposed. The original European edition has a glass lens covering each headlight pod. Up close you can see the sweet styling details that make this car so sweet; reflective trim piece under the headlight corner, curved front bumper, and that funky little turn signal emerging from its concave home.
Another even more unfortunate omission on the U.S. model is the lack of directional headlights. Starting with the 1968 European DS the inner headlights turned with the direction of the steering wheel up to a whopping 80°! Why this ingenious feature wasn't allowed in the States is a question of bureaucracy.
This car looks modern today but in 1955 when the first ones were introduced it really looked like nothing anyone had ever seen. The beautiful looks can be attributed to an Italian sculptor named Flaminio Bertoni, while the groundbreaking technology under the skin is credited to Aeronautical Engineer André Lefèbvre. And the technology of this ride was groundbreaking, with myriad advances in ride quality, handling, and braking. While marketed as a luxury ride the DS went on to prove itself a great rally car, winning the Monte Carlo twice and competing strongly all the way up through the mid-'70s.
I dig the cool DS emblems on the sail panels.
Having the rear turn signals mounted so high up is a great safety feature. On this futuristic cruiser they look more like jet engines propelling this into outer space.
Part of the reason this car handles so well is that the entire roof is fiberglass which makes for a very low center of gravity. The DS also sports a fully hydropneumatic independent suspension, inboard brakes (where the brakes are mounted to the inner part of the axle as opposed to the wheels. Jaguar XKEs used these too), and front wheel drive. The hydropneumatic suspension allowed the car to be self-leveling as well as offer a variable ride height. In postwar Europe the roads were pretty beat up, but the DS would deliver a soft and luxurious ride over even the worst surfaces.
Enough fawning already; let's take a moment to enjoy just how multicolored and patinaed this car is! Most of the trim pieces and brightwork are still present with the exception of the rear corners. The trunk looks to have been sourced from some desert junkyard where the paint with dissolve in the sun and blowing sand. The amount of salt all over the sides tells me this has been parked on the city streets for a while where the plow trucks cruise by spraying salt with enough force to reach the sidewalks.
That double chevron emblem on the trunk is the logo for Citroen by the way.
Here we get a good idea of just how low the car sits when parked. In true lowrider fashion the rear of the DS would raise up by 4 or 5 inches when the car was started.
Such an odd shape overall. Just look at the line of the hood that is basically an S curve. Beat-down and heavily used this thing looks bizarre and menacing. In great shape with a nice coat of paint and all trim shiny it can cut quite the dashing presence though. 
That funky front wheel is pure Citroen. I believe the company used this exact wheel for everything from the diminutive 2CV and plastic-bodied Méhari all the way up to their "large" delivery trucks (still small by U.S. standards). The only difference I can reckon is that the smaller cars had 3 lugs per wheel while the larger had 5. Imagine the perils of losing a lug nut when you start with only 3!
The interior is in a condition similar to the exterior, but you can still see how well appointed and classy it once was. The steering wheel has only one spoke going from the center to the rim. I don't know what was standard or optional on these cars but this one is definitely loaded with am/fm radio and air conditioning. Look like someone elected to install and under-dash removable stereo at some point (most likely the late '80s/early '90s because when was the last time you saw one of those?).
*One cutesy but correct detail is the Michelin Man air freshener hanging from the mirror. Michelin is indeed a French tire company harkening back to 1889.
The original '50s version of the DS had a single headlight on each side that was exposed at the top but sitting in a concave housing at the bottom. This combined with a slightly flatter hood made the car look very much like a frog. If you haven't seen the French hit man movie classic Le Samourai I highly recommend it! The DS is featured prominently throughout this awesome flick.
Though the DS was produced until 1975 this was the last year imported to the States. It was followed by the Citroen CX which looks much like the modernized version of a DS that it is. While the follow-up CX was a massive success none were officially imported to the U.S. due to an idiotic ruling on the Hydropneumatic suspension. It's a shame too, as that suspension was so wonderfully built that Rolls Royce licensed it for use in their own Silver Shadow. Regardless, this is one of my greatest discoveries yet on the streets of NYC and I'm happy to have stumbled across it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Show Car Sunday/Monday returns with Chevys faster answer to the Beetle!

Due to a massive internet outage yesterday I'm featuring Show Car Sunday/Monday/Tuesday.
Way down on the Southern end of Brooklyn between Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach is a collection of neighborhood pockets bisected by the Belt Parkway. Unless you're actively rooting around these blocks you might never notice them while on your way to JFK. I poked around a bit wondering what was down in that area when I turned up this little gem:
Sweet! This is none other than a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza coupe in the beautiful original color Glen Green. This is a landmark car, and really one of the most important and cutting edge Chevrolets ever produced. Even though the Corvair was produced from 1959 to 1969 with only one major redesign, the 1965 model year is one of the easiest to identify; before '65 the car looked totally different, with a flat front end and more square overall styling, and from '66 on that Corvair emblem moved from the hood to the front panel between the pod and the center of the car.
Check out this aggressive styling on such a small car! The prominent shark nose and main horizontal wrap-around body line are very much like the Corvette of the day. Both cars however could not be more different. The first clue is that the door to the gas cap is right there on the front fender. This, ladies and gentlemen, was General Motors only air-cooled, rear engine car.
The Coke-bottle styling on the '65 Corvair was reflected across the entire Chevy line through the beginning of the '70s. Those wheels are not correct for the car but are close enough to pass muster. They are 1968-'70 Chevy Rally Wheels most often seen on Chevelles of the day.
The body lines on these cars are clean as a whistle. When the Corvair was introduced in 1959 it came in a wide array of body styles; the Lakewood station wagon, a van called the Corvan, a pickup truck called the Greenbriar (with a unique side-loading tailgate between the cab and the rear wheels), a convertible, and 2 and 4 doors in both hardtop and pillared. After '65 it was reduced to the droptop and 2 or 4 door hardtops. This one is a Monza which was the sporty version that included bucket seats.
It's hard to see but the little badge in the center of the hood above the license plate says 110 between checkered flags. That means that this car was built with the optional 110 horsepower engine. All engine choices in '65 were 2.7 liter flat-6 cylinder units which have the cylinders laying horizontally. This layout results in a well balanced power plant that has a low center of gravity and is ideal for air-cooling. The 2 large ventilation banks under the rear window supply fresh air for the engine.
In the early 1962 Chevy introduced a turbocharged version of the Corvair called the Spyder. It was good for 150 horsepower, but more importantly it was the very first production car that offered a Turbo as an option. Oldsmobile launched their own turbocharged car called the Jetfire a month later, but the Jetfire was so plagued with problems that eventually the Oldsmobile dealerships offered a free conversion to a standard carburetor. The Spyder never had any issues and they can still be found at car shows to this day. Very few Jetfires remain with their original turbo (some say under 100!).
This is the proud little emblem announcing this as a Monza.
The Corvair was very popular and definitely groundbreaking during its entire run. However, it is one of 2 cars pilloried in Ralph Nadars book "Unsafe at any Speed"(the other car was of course the VW Beetle). Nadar claimed that the transaxle in the Corvair allowed for possible failure which would cause a rear wheel to collapse under the car when cornering. This was true for the first few years of production, but by the time the book came out in '65 the problem had been remedied with a fully independent suspension. Too bad though as people will always remember the Corvair for this accusation much like people will always think of Ford Pintos as about to explode. Still, I was very happy to find this one still in use in 2015 Brooklyn.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Very Definition of a Hooptie!

Just a block from my shop here in Gowanus Brooklyn I encountered this veteran of the city streets:
Oof. This big brown slab is a 1979 Buick Electra 225 Landau Coupe in the wordy but descriptive color Very Dark Camel Tan. To me this looks like a car that someone has owned in the city since new. It's been relatively well taken care of (not much rust-through to be found on the body) but it's sprinkled with knocks, scrapes, and other damage. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a true Hooptie. Of course the hood ornament is long gone!
I almost walked right by this car but the sheer brownness of it made me take another look. Then the myriad details started jumping out at me; tape holding the bumper trim on, a classic alarm system as evidenced by the keyhole on the front fender, rusty bumpers but rust free body, and original hubcaps. I bet this beast has been garaged locally since new.
More tape and a broken porthole trim piece are making the case for this being a lifelong city ride. Behind these portholes lives either a very low horsepower Buick 350 V8 or the rare and bizarre Oldsmobile 403 Diesel. The diesel engine was only optional for '78 and '79 and nobody except people who sold diesel fuel had anything good to say about it.
Things get a little rough in the back. The rear bumper has obviously helped out with plenty of parallel parking. However the saddest detail on this entire car is that missing rear quarter panel extension.
I was going to write about how impossible it would be to track this part down but decided to google it first. Much to my surprise you can order one for $50 in perfect condition! That's a lot more than black tape costs though so never mind.
Here's another one of those traits all old city cars seem to share; the reinforced trunk lock repair. Anything that was parked on the streets during the dark days of the crack epidemic has been tampered with at some point. 
Those extra wide taillights with the tiny Buick crest in the middle were new for '79.
This is where the truth about vinyl tops emerges; It is almost impossible to keep a car from rusting underneath them. All water needs is the smallest of openings to seep underneath to quietly wreak havoc out of sight. Usually there will be bubbling under the top, but with these late '70s padded versions you might not know until the damage is this bad. If you removed this top now the windows would probably fall out. I love the original Landau glass script though!
This thing looks fully loaded with its 8-track stereo, air conditioning vents, and large dashboard clock, but it's actually the lowest trim level for Electra. The top of the heap was the Park Avenue, followed by the Limited, and finally this, the 225, at the bottom. It's almost impossible to tell the difference from the outside but this vinyl bench seat was only installed in the 225.
Up front this thing still means business even if it does seem a little world-weary with its smoky eyes and drab chrome. The 1979 Buick was a one-year-only car most easily identified by this somewhat flat front end. Both the year before and the year after had angled front ends and taller grills featuring prominent vertical slats. It's rare for a company to change a design and immediately retreat to its former incarnation like this. The only other instance I can think of is the Chevy Impala which always had 6 total taillights with the exception of '66 and '67 when they were single rectangular pods. Regardless, here's to hoping this brown beast gets another 35 years under its belt before calling it quits.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Greenwich Village Scout

On this, the coldest day of the year by far (it's currently 13 degrees with gusty winds at 10:30am) I figured I'd post a vehicle that exemplifies summer fun! In the midst of Greenwich Village I encountered this hearty beast:
This is a 1973-1974 International Harvester Scout II. The Scout II was produced from '71-'80 with very few changes (until the redesigned but short lived 1980 model year). The best way to identify a Scout is by the grill. 1975 also had the 14 vertical slot grill but the headlight trim was black and square.
These things are absolutely unstoppable in any condition or terrain. I had a '79 when I was living in the snowfall-heavy zone of North Western Massachusetts and even after 2 feet of fresh snow lay on the ground I was able to drive around the steep unplowed hills near my house. In fact these are equipped with both a high and low setting on the four-wheel-drive, and I only engaged low once to see if it worked. Indeed it worked well but top speed in low was something like 15mph!
This color is very close to the original factory Red (as opposed to Flame Red which is more of a standard firetruck red), but I doubt it's original. Scouts just can't remain this shiny for so many years. The only thing that can stop a Scout is rust.
This example has the metal roof removed and a bikini top installed. The bikini is enough to keep you relatively dry when driving through rain but obviously this owner's not taking any chances.
I couldn't see if this was a stick shift or not but I'm hoping it is. Mine had a 4-speed manual powered by the 304 V8. A larger 345 was available but the 304 served me well. Those round gauges next to the radio are aftermarket add-ons.
It's surprising to see that the Land Rover in front of the Scout is about the same height. The Scout looks to have a minor lift kit to go with the larger off-road tires. From the factory these prodigious beasts were much lower with car size wheels.
This one has hookups for a trailer and an anchor for a hitch. It's crying out for someone to hook up the boat or camper and head out into the sunset!
With the mounted spare and extra gas can this certainly looks ready to head into the wild.
You can see how the bikini top doesn't quite seal up the compartment.
I love seeing this beast in this tony setting.
As I said these things will rust in the desert! The owner's on top of it though and with good reason as they're starting to gain in value with their growing scarcity.
This little IH logo stands for International Harvester, but it is also representing a red man on a tractor. This company made its reputation building all sorts of farm equipment before getting into the truck business. The Scout always sold well and would've continued into the next decade had it not been for a debilitating 172 day strike at their plant in '79. The financial loss IH incurred was so substantial that the company tried to sell the Scout line along with all its tooling to cover costs. The sale fell through and the Scout line went quietly into the night. All 1980 models were cobbled together from already produced parts and are recognizable by their square headlights.
The Scouts you see today usually represent somebody battling rust constantly, or living in a very dry climate. The drivetrains on these rides are legendary for being some of the most durable ever built. Stories of Scouts going 400,000 miles and more without needing a rebuild are common. Basically they would rot away to the point of being dangerous, but you could still reach into a rusty wreck, turn the key, and fire it right up. I'd love to have another!