Thursday, May 26, 2016

A terrible "Where are they now?" Celebrity sighting

On a lovely block in Park Slope I recently found myself taking pictures of a filthy station wagon whose design stems from the '80s. Other than the fact that everyday cars of this era are disappearing fast there isn't much appeal at first glance. However this wagon is slightly different (though not much).
This is a 1990 Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport wagon in what was formerly White. The Lumina was introduced this year, taking the place of the Celebrity in the Chevy lineup. Only the station wagon remained. How awkward is that? It's like meeting the new guy at work and training him only to find out that he's your replacement!
This grubby wagon pines for soapy water and a hose. It is straight-up, unforgivably FILTHY! If you own a white car you should roll through the automatic car wash annually at least.
The bumper has that deep shoved-in look that cars on the streets of Brooklyn acquire. The grill is painted for 1990 only.
Looking at it today I have to say that the lines aren't bad on this ride. For a station wagon it's not too huge, and the amount of body hanging past the front and rear wheels is proportionate.
At one point way back in 1986 the Eurosport option was added to the Celebrity lineup as an appearance and handling package. The suspension and wheels were upgraded. All badges got this red on black treatment as did the trim. There was another, much rarer VR package for Eurosports that dramatically changed the looks with a full ground effects kit and special colors. For one of the 2 years the VR was available it came with a fully red interior, and I mean RED. The carpets were absurdly plush deep red, as was the dash, seats, door panels. Car & Driver called it the Very Red model.
This is an easy way to pinpoint the age of this ride. The 3.1 Liter engine was introduced in '90, which happened to be the last year for the Celebrity wagon.
That curved tailgate glass helped with the aerodynamics a great deal. Subtle cues like that are signs of what's to come as the automotive world was transitioning from boxy cubes to the rounded blobs of the '90s. This is smack dab in the middle.
I thought this was one of the very last vehicles to offer a backwards-facing third row seat but it turns out they're still making them! Mercedes has one at least.
Turn the key to the left for just the window or right for the whole liftgate. Another shoved-in bumper lending a bit of street cred.
Minivans were in full swing when this rolled off the assembly line and SUVs were just emerging as a large market segment. The days of domestic station wagons was coming to a close.
Here we have Eurosport showing off its special wheels. To me they look a lot like the Olds Cutlass wheels from the late '70s through the late '80s. Another defining feature of the Eurosport is that all of the window trim is blacked out as opposed to faux chrome.
You can't really see it but the 3 spoke steering wheel is a Eurosport special. If you really wanted to sport it up you could get a console with a T handle shifter. I have no idea what happened to the far side of the dash which looks to have a piece of cardboard screwed into it. Originally there was nothing there but an expanse of dash padding. Maybe they went animal-style when replacing the heater core or something and just tore into it? Who knows.
Well that's that. I suppose if I stumbled upon a VR edition Celebrity in decent condition super cheap I'd consider it. Other than that this is the quiet end of a sad era in domestic automotive design. Some celebrities age well, and some don't.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Twofer Tuesday returns with a couple of bargain Rolls Royces!

Want to con some rubes into thinking you're rich? This is the car for you!
This is a 1990/1991 or thereabouts Rolls Royce Silver Spur II in some form of Black. When you think of that fabled RR marquee you probably think of the highest of English society driving hand built unparalleled luxury machines. Way back when you would've been right.
This slab represents the highest in luxury filtered through 1990 lenses. Unlike the storied classics of yesteryear like the Silver Ghost, this is a big and heavy 4 door car with a fancy grill.
 Now that I've thoroughly panned it let me backpedal a bit. Even these cars were still hand built for the most part. Legend has it that each body panel has the craftsmans name etched somewhere on the hidden side so that if there is ever a defect it can be traced. The grill, remarkably, is built by hand with no measuring tools! One person takes an entire day to make each grill followed by 5 hours of polishing.
  As with most expensive and/or rare cars the components are worth much more than the entire vehicle. These wheels run into the thousands apiece to replace.
 The Silver Spur II was introduced in 1989 with an improved suspension that was fully automatic that would level each wheel independently. It is also considered a long wheelbase model although the true limousines were much longer.
The paint and glass on this ride look great. Before these leave the factory the finish is polished relentlessly all the way past jewelers grit to using crushed oats (you can't make this up!). The windows are polished to optical specs so that they will be as clear as a nice pair of eyeglasses.
 I guess I dis this era so ruthlessly because it fails to distinguish itself from not only other luxury cars, but economy cars of the day. Tell me these taillights don't look like an '89 Toyota Cressida.
 The first edition of the Silver Spur was introduced in 1980. Known in Europe as the Silver Spirit, this was the first new design for the company in quite a while.
 The original Rolls Royce Ltd company went out of business in 1971 and was nationalized as a result. As the most famous British company it was deemed essential to keep it around. In 1980 the RR company was sold by the government to Vickers; another British firm that had been 75% nationalized previously. Volkswagen then owned it from 1998 to 2003, when a new Rolls Royce Motors division of BMW took full ownership.
 I suppose this completely boxy look is in tune with its era.
Inside is where you start to feel you're in a luxury car. Massive, well constructed seats support you. Walnut trays fold down for your Grey Poupon. The little fixtures such as switches and handles are all made from real metal polished to a brilliant shine.
I drove a brand-new Bentley back in 1996 when I was detailing cars in Providence. The interior was identical to this. The seating position was tall, and the overall feel was that everything was solid. That car, while fast, seemed rooted to the ground firmly. This shouldn't be too surprising as they weigh over 5,000lbs. 
The steering wheel looks crummy to me though.  Original price for this ride was a cool $154,700. Give me a nice wooden steering wheel for crying out loud!
These days you can buy this car in this condition for under $15,000. That's the rub with uber-luxury cars; they depreciate faster than anything but still require ungodly amounts of money to keep them up to spec. It's not uncommon for used luxury cars to be advertised with lines like "just completed $10,000 service, asking $20,000". 
This smug punk doesn't care! He's blissfully ignorant of the fact that any Porsche of the era is worth more than twice what this is.
 One last look at the grill with the famous Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament.
 Now we'll move onto some terrible nighttime pics that I have to include because what are the chances that 2 Rolls Royces of the same era were parked withing 10 blocks of each other in Park Slope?
This tarted up ballerina is a Rolls Royce Corniche II from the same late-'80s/early '90s era as the one above. Look at this thing all ready for the prom!
 I simply cannot hate on this Rolls as much as the Silver Spur. For one thing this retain the classic look of the original 1966 Corniche from the 4 round headlights to the soft curves of the body. Another reason is that it's a convertible, and if you're driving a convertible Rolls you're doing as well as Richard Dreyfus in Down and Out in Beverly Hills!
 This car is almost identical in every way to the Bentley Continental, right down to the wheels. However in this era Bentley was experimenting with Turbos and other performance minded gear.
 I was taking these pics when a voice from above yelled out "DO YOU LIKE IT?"
I looked up and saw some dude in a suit leaning out of the 2nd floor window. I did what I always do in this instance which is guess the year. 1989 was correct which settled the guy down. He explained that they just had a daughter, hence the pink decorations.
I've had people coming up ready to scream and yell but knowing the year and some details diffuses everything (at least so far). Some people do NOT want their car photographed!
 This was also similar to the car George Lazenby, in his only roll as James Bond, was being driven away at gunpoint in in Her Majesty's Secret Service. They start off with the top down but proceed to put it up while driving which always blew my mind! How did the top not rip off?
 Well there we have it; one boring Rolls that looks like a Ford LTD and another nicer one reminiscent of a Checker Cab (at least in the front). If you absolutely hate money and want to get rid of it as soon as possible I recommend both. These would also be good for securing the confidence of someone you're trying to swindle. Either way you can blame Margaret Thatcher if they're not your cup of tea.

Monday, May 23, 2016

1989 what? By who?

Some cars are just born under a bad sign. For whatever reason they remain unloved, made fun of, or misrepresented as lemons if only because people hear jokes about them and nothing else. Ford begot the Edsel back in '58 which, while a great and very modern car, was immediately maligned due to its looks and timing. 31 years later they ran into the same problem.
This is a 1989 Merkur XR4Ti in one of the 5 or so versions of Black they offered in that year. You almost never see one of these on the streets, especially on a nice block in Windsor Terrace. Maybe out West where rust can't get a hold of them. Get a load of that swoopy '80s styling!
Someone worked long and hard on designing this facade, yet somehow it looks equally like '70s architecture as it does '80s automotive. Like many automotive footnotes it would've looked more at home if it was released 5 years later.
Merkur was introduced as a separate brand in 1985 by the Ford Motor Company (though meant to be sold through Lincoln Mercury dealerships). If you get right up close to this image you can see FORD WERKE A.G. GERMANY stamped along the bottom of this emblem. Indeed these cars were each hand-built in Rheine, Germany.
The 4 cylinder engine used in these Merkurs was the same as the SVO Mustang and Turbo Coupe Thunderbird. Both of those are popular with collectors though and not these.
The styling is a bit generic, but really it's in line with other sporty imports of the day. The original '85 version had a goofy double wing on the rear with the upper of the two wings up in the rear window area.
This egg shape was very efficient in the wind tunnel and performance and economy were both good.
In Europe this car was known as the Ford Sierra XR4i. The "T" America ended up with in the name refers to the fact that all were turbocharged. These cars were rear wheel drive making for fun driving.
Here it is staring into the rear of another Mercury product from the same era; a full size Colony Park wagon. I shot that too so I'll leave it for another day. Could be a Mercury-of-the-'80s fan owns both!
It's hard to pinpoint why certain cars get such a cool reception. You could chalk it up to life not being fair of course, but usually there are subtle reasons. When this came out its sibling the Taurus was also curved and swoopy, and proved to be a gargantuan success. When the Edsel was released America was in a small and almost totally forgotten recession, so laying out decent money for an advanced and controversial design was way out of favor. When Merkur hit the scene it was the go-go '80s (though of course there was a major stock collapse by the time this example was built). Who knows why it never took off?
The interior is yawn-inducingly boring, with the saddest steering wheel known to man, a transmission that looks like a screwdriver jammed into a crack, and all the gauges stuck in a deep box. Boooo.
With zero excitement I will end this post just looking this thing dead in the eye. Merkur went on to release the 5 door luxury hatchback Scorpio in '87 to directly compete with BMW and Audi customers. Nobody noticed or cared and so Merkur went quietly into the night, finally bowing out completely with the 1989 model year. Take a good look because these will no doubt be extinct in mere moments.
While I have a deep love for odd rides that were released and killed off quickly I have no longing for the Merkur XR4Ti. If I ever saw a Scorpio I'd be stunned (only 12,000 were produced during its entire 3 year run) and perhaps a bit excited, but for now I'll just wait patiently for the rest of them to make it to the crusher like the rest of my fellow Americans.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Show Car Sunday returns with an Italian supermodel

Preamble preamble blah blah blah, just look at this car!
This is a ridiculously sexy 1969 Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 in Verde Vivo (Live Green?). The official name is Spider 1600 but everyone in the classic car game calls it the Duetto.
This is a hard ride to oversell as it is a landmark design in automotive history. Its worldwide popularity skyrocketed when a first year (1966) model was used in the movie The Graduate. For the record the movie uses the actual engine sounds of a '66 Duetto (something that happens less than you might expect in film), as well as highlighting the electrical foibles inherent in a '60s European sports car (the gas gauge doesn't work in the movie even though the car is new).
This charming 3 piece grill was only used from '66-'69. In 1970 a single body-width grill replaced it.
Look at that poor Mini Cooper getting upstaged when she's used to be being the cutest girl in the room. This car was parked on a lovely block in Carroll Gardens. Its mere presence made it look like a movie set.
I love these early covered headlights that are reminiscent of a Jaguar XKE. When this car was new it cost just under $4,000; a huge sum in '69! The Jag was priced pretty close.
This little beauty is wearing a set of Campagnolo C35 wheels that were optional on Alfas from the '80s. They are made from magnesium and are super light as a result. The original wheels & hubcaps from the factory were decidedly more delicate.
The Duetto was largely based on a 1960 Alfa show car called the Superflow IV. In fact it is so beautiful that I'm posting the pic from Wikipedia as an example:
YOWZA! I mean, this is a legit supermodel of a car. However look at the rear end and how it compares to the Duetto.
Incidentally this rear overhang is referred to as Osso di Seppia in Italian and Boattail in the U.S. The 1970 redesign gave the rear a flatter, more conventional look.
Seeing this parked on the streets of Brooklyn made ME nervous! All the edges are delicate and exposed, as is the very low rear deck. One thoughtless parking job by an SUV could ruin it!
The top looks perfect like everything else.
With the exception of a couple of mild facelifts this design lasted from 1966-1994; a remarkable run! Even more remarkable is that is heralds from the pre-safety regulation era and managed to meet requirements as they added up all the way through the '70s and '80s. The Beetle, Corvair, MG, and many others fell by the wayside as they couldn't keep up with newer laws.
This is a purists sports car. Plenty of actual gauges, wood steering wheel, stick shift, and that's about it. Somebody added a radio, but the windows, locks, and top are manual. There is a cigarette lighter right where your hand would normally fall because this is Italy in the '60s right?
In 1969 that mirror was relocated to the door from the front fender. That, combined with the rounded rear and 3 piece grill means this can only be a '69.
Too bad at least one thoughtless bastard parked by touch. From the odd placement you can see how this is a rear bumper that was trying to fit into a spot. Having had a VW Beetle with the "Cal Look" (front bumper removed) parked on the streets of San Francisco I know all too well what it's like to come out and find your baby with a black eye.
Well there we have it; a sweet little Italian job from the era of hi style. These were rare when new but luckily they've always been coveted so the survival rate is decent. To own one today you'd better be a tinkerer with a garage, an Italian mechanic, or someone with enough cheddar and patience to allow for frequent trips to the shop while you're driving the Other Car. Regardless you'd be hard pressed to look classier rolling down the street, especially if you're a lady. Bellissimo!