Friday, July 29, 2016

The Jersey Blindbird and its multi-colored freaks

I was on a rambling drive to the Delaware Water Gap when I decided to roll through some local New Jersey streets to see if there were any cool industrial ruins or cars. I found plenty of both but this freaky vision takes the cake!
What? Why? Who?
Look I don't have the answers. NOBODY has the answers. I think this might be an answer to an unspoken question by a madman. Regardless, what we have here is a 1965 Ford Thunderbird convertible in some ungodly horrific aftermarket LOOK AT ME yellow. Whatever with the color let's get to the glaring fact that this thing is bizarrely customized to the point where there are no headlights. Dude! You got rid of the headlights? If you're going this bonkers why start with such a nice and somewhat rare car? Are you absolutely certain you only want to cruise in the daytime?
Alright perhaps there are lights behind that grill but still, what a strange decision. I love cars with their headlights behind power flip-up doors but this seems unnecessary. Maybe it's a fiberglass front to save weight but then why choose a convertible with its heavier reinforced frame? I'll lay off now.
I'm fairly certain the bumper is the original under that paint. The main identifying feature of the '65 is still on display here; that small faux vent indentation behind the front fender well is a 1 year only detail for this generation 'bird.
This just added to my frustration! It seems this particular 'bird is fitted with the rare roadster option. The backseat exists in this car, it's just hidden beneath this large removable cover from the factory. These are referred to as the Batman Roadster covers as they make the car look faintly like the '60s Barris Custom Batmobile when the top is down. This is a scarce and sought-after piece for sure.
This is obviously going through a revamping so it can continue to bring tears of shock to people for years to come. While the exhaust tips are poking out from underneath the rear bumper you can see the yellow protrusion just behind the lower edge of the front wheel suggesting that this might've had lake pipes at one point.
Let's turn our attention to that magenta schnoz poking out in front of this blindbird.
What we have here is a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS all tarted up in some sort of trashy magenta. Really subtle with the high-rise hood scoop and fat tires in the back but you know what? On a Chevelle it makes total sense!
Both the '71 and '72 Chevelle had identical bodies and a single headlight on each side as opposed to quads, but the '71 only had a single horizontal grill bar while the '72 had 2.
This car should be all set up for the dragstrip. Heck I know a guy who races a '71 Chevelle on the quarter mile all season every summer. This one is sporting a vinyl roof which, while light as can be and not too much of a drag on aerodynamics, is superfluous when it comes to racing. Who knows how this started out. Maybe it has air conditioning too.
But wait a minute! There in the background lies one of the ultimate muscle car icons; a 1969 Dodge Charger. This is the same year, make, and model as the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard!
This example looks like it's wearing remnants of the original color Bright Blue Poly. That massive hood scoop is aftermarket but these could be ordered ready for the dragstrip from the factory in '69. The large enough 383 V8 was standard, but you could specify a huge 440 Magnum or the legendary 426 Hemi as well. Incidentally the way to differentiate the '69 from the '68 from the front is that the '69 had this center divider to the grill. There was a Nascar-inspired version called the Charger 500 that had exposed headlights which saved weight and very slightly helped with aerodynamics. Of course there was also the Charger Daytona which came with the pointed metal nose and massive rear wing (among other drag-killing aerodynamics) but that was so wild that it's hard to think of it as the same overall model.
This beast is in pieces with the entire quarter cut out and doors removed.
This goes to show the value and increasing scarcity of this car. Even if you have a frame and a vin tag it's probably worth the time and effort to try and create a car out of it. The Dukes of Hazzard went through somewhere between 255 and 320 1969 Chargers jumping and totaling them constantly. That and the fact that they were built to drive mercilessly used them up before they became valuable again.
Hats off to New Jersey for not disappointing!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A classy German who doesn't look her age

When I first encountered this big German lurking on a Boerum Hill street I thought it might be the Moonlighting edition 6 Series that Bruce Willis drove in his TV debut. While that car was a 1985 635CSi, this is the even more mighty 733i.
Dating these cars exactly is incredibly difficult (and frustrating for me as I pride myself on this sort of useless knowledge). My best guess is that this car was sold new in the inaugural year of 1977 and that the color is Coral Red.
I really like the '80s and earlier BMWs that had the body color surrounding the center kidney shaped grill openings. If this were a European spec car the inboard lights would be slightly smaller (and most likely yellow).
That big shark-nosed front leans forward aggressively as if it's ready to pass anything on the Autobahn. The engine is a 3210cc straight-6 cylinder good for 194 horsepower and 210 ft lbs of torque. While these numbers don't sound terribly impressive it was tuned beautifully and by all accounts these cars did anything you asked of them in just about any condition.
This Bimmer has some period correct BBS rims on it. When this car was new it cost $21,365 which is a whopping $86,827 in 2016 dollars! For that kind of money the target market consisted of well-heeled folks who valued driving over being driven. A '77 Cadillac is a huge beast listing in the corners and diving towards the earth when you stomp on the brakes. The BMW remained balanced and poised even in the most spirited driving.
She's been around as illustrated by the orange peel spray paint touch ups dotting her surface. That's okay though because any car that spends decades worth of winters in Massachusetts and still looks this good gets a little leeway.
Inside is well appointed in the European style. Bucket seats that surround and support you were not the norm for domestic cars, especially in the luxury realm. Likewise power window controls in the center console were super foreign. It's hard to fathom now but in '77 buying a foreign car wasn't as nonchalant a decision as it is these days. Other than the Beetle and the still funky looking Toyotas and Datsuns there weren't many common choices. Mercedes Benz had been around forever but this represents BMW entering the U.S. full-size luxury market for the first time.
Styling didn't change much if at all from 1977 through 1982 when the 733i was replaced by the 735i (not that you'd notice the difference between the two externally and they did overlap for a couple years). To see a car from 39 years ago that looks right at home on a modern street is nothing short of remarkable.
There is a fantastic short story by Roald Dahl called the Hitchhiker featuring this exact year, make, and model 733i. It's worth a read so if you have a few minutes you can find it right here. Willy Wonka and the like made him famous but his adult fiction is wonderful too.
The BMW logo is missing or faded completely from its location on the trunk. One word about that logo; most of the world assumes is represents a propeller as the Bavarian Motor Works got their start building aircraft engines. That misconception started with an advertisement from the 1920s showing a plane flying and the spinning propeller shows the logo. The logo itself predates that notion however and simply displays the colors of the Bavarian flag.
Well we'll leave this capable beast here for now. This is one of those "classic hidden in plain sight" as most cars this old look dramatically different than others on the road. It's a testament to the timeless design of this automaker which continues at the highest level today.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Twofer Tuesday returns with 2 freaking supermodels

Can we take a few minutes to admire one of the most beautiful automobiles ever created? How about TWO of the most ultra-rare, ultra-sexy, powerful and elegant last-gasp hail Marys of all time? Behold:
In the parking lot of a Scranton, PA train museum of all places I ran across two examples of the mighty Studebaker Avanti.
Just look at this thing! 
This is a Studebaker Avanti from either 1962 or 1963 in Velvet Black. This car was built by a company that was 110 years old at the time. Studebaker was founded in 1852 as a producer of wagons. To think that a company that made wagons for the Oregon Trail was also responsible for a vehicle that looks like it came from outer space is remarkable.
This example was fitted with the optional Paxton supercharger from the factory.
The Avanti is a design from the great Raymond Loewy. His list of successes is staggering; the Shell, Exxon, TWA, and BP logos were all his work as were Coca-Cola vending machines, Lucky Strike cigarette packaging, and the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus. He started his relationship with Studebaker by creating the Bullet Nosed coupes of the early '50s with the wraparound rear window. 
This is one of the very few cars that I love every inch of. You can stare at this for hours and continue finding details. The angles of the front bumper are so complicated and subtle in their beauty. That tiki style S on the hood is nestled within a chrome detail that mimics the bumper edge.
Well this happens to be a former National First Prize car show winner which is pretty much the only reason you would bolt anything to the outside of this ride. Can I get a shout-out for that Avanti emblem?
One of the most unbelievable facts about the Avanti is that it went from design to fully realized clay model in 40 days! Legend has it that the president of the company doodled some sketches on a napkin during a flight and handed them to Loewys team as inspiration. You know what other iconic design was scribbled on a napkin? The VW Beetle! Bring napkins back people and lets design the future!
This car has the automatic transmission but with the supercharger I'll allow it. Look how pretty the interior is on this thing.
This font just makes me want to sip on a Mai Tai and eat a Pu Pu Platter.
If the body looks impossibly swoopy and elegant for metal stamping that's because it is. The body was made from fiberglass by the same Ohio company that made bodies for the Corvette.
The rear speaker was in itself a rarity for any car from the era.
Studebaker built the Avanti to save the company from its downward spiral. Unfortunately it didn't work and so after 1963 all domestic automobile production ceased. Trucks continued to be made and their Canadian division built cars through 1966 but for the U.S. this was the last gasp.
Before we hold a funeral for Studebaker let's check out the Blue car.
This is another '62-'63 in Riviera Blue.
The lines on the Avanti seem to come down to this; it it's made of metal the lines will be sharp and creased. If it's made from glass or fiberglass it will be rounded completely.
Every once in a long while you might see one of these at a show but this was ridiculous.
When Studebaker ceased production of the Avanti it was already regarded as one of the most elegant designs in history. Two Studebaker dealership owners bought the Avanti design, tooling, and plant where it was manufactured in order to continue producing examples. They built the Avanti (known as Avanti II at this point) with a Corvette engine through 1982. The next buyer ruined the design in my eyes by replacing the round headlights with square units. Ownership changed a couple more times with different iterations like a convertible and even a 4 door before stopping for good in 2006.
I like both wheel treatments equally.
Bringing the air for the engine in through this lower scoop was revolutionary for the time. Under the skin this was a traditional front engine V8 powering the rear wheels. Not having a big grill in the era of gargantuan grills was bold.
The staggered hood bulge and passenger side vent adds to it all for me. The fact that the hood bulge continues through the windshield as the top of the dashboard is just cool. By the way notice where the windshield steps up at the bottom for that bulge. Replacing any of the glass on this car would be crazy expensive!
While I wish they removed the GPS for my viewing pleasure this interior is amazing. This is fitted with the 4 speed manual trans which ought to be a lot of fun. The gauges are like beautiful watch faces. Even the steering wheel is classy.
Both Studebaker and Packard were highly respected automakers in 1954 when they combined forces to briefly become the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. However the finances of Studebaker were woeful while the designs of Packards were very long in the tooth. For the 1957 and '58 model year there were Packards available that were really rebadged Studes. Unfortunately they added an elongated nose to the grill that the public referred to as the Fishmouth. Ask Edsel how they did with a maligned front end design. 
I've never been in an Avanti or even heard one run but I would love to at some point. They manage to look fantastic and modern even 54 years after their introduction which is no mean feat.

Monday, July 25, 2016

How about a Wankel for your Monday?

I was making my way down 5th Ave in Brooklyn when I stumbled upon this well worn little chump:
This is a 1987 Mazda Rx-7 Turbo in Dove White. She's seen better days for sure but this was a pretty groundbreaking car when it was first introduced.
This is the second generation of the Rx-7 which debuted as a much smaller car in 1978. The redesign in 1985 added about 500 lbs to what was originally a tiny sports car with perfect 50/50 weight ratio between the front and back. Regardless of the increase in size this car proved to be a huge hit.
This one's taken a few hits as well but aside from some rumpling she seems to be alright for almost 30 years old.
The Rx-7 replaced the Rx-3 which had been around since '71. Those early cars are so funky and totally Japanese looking in the best way. This car was pretty much designed for North America.
That big hood scoop means that this is the turbocharged version. The use of the letters Rx on a Mazda means that it is powered by a Wankel rotary engine as opposed to traditional cylinders. Here's a nice Jalopnik article about the Wankel written when the last of its kind was built back in 2012. Suffice it to say that the Wankel looks like it shouldn't work at first glance; a triangular metal piece knocks around inside of a lozenge shape revving higher than normal engine and taking up less space. Mazda was far and away their biggest proponent for decades.
Those wheels are as '80s as a pair of Oakleys with orange lenses. I believe they are original to the car but have been painted white at some point in history. When you go back and look at cars from 1987 this is one of the most modern and aerodynamic. Besides the Ford Taurus most rides were super boxy.
From this angle you can see how shamelessly this design apes the Porsche 924 and 944.
Mazda built a small number of Sport models which were ultra lightweight versions of the Turbo. Among other things this rear wiper was deleted from the Sport. If you ever happen to run across a 2nd generation Rx-7 for sale that looks to have never had a rear wiper I would do my best to note the VIN if possible and grab it if it's genuine. Keep in mind they didn't have power steering either. 
For all its dings it really doesn't have any rust to speak of.
This car sports the removable steel sunroof as opposed to the retractable glass version. I feel like I've seen both but this is what you could've gotten with the older Rx-7s from 1978. Maybe the powered glass sunroof was an extra-cost option?
This ride has a funky aftermarket steering wheel and an upgraded gearshift. The fact that this has the 5-speed manual is great for getting the most out of this beast. You could've ordered a non-turbo with an automatic in '87 if you wanted so this is really the drivers edition. I love how monumentally out of place that tall square console is. It's like they fired the designer with just a few touches to go and some manager stepped in to finish the job.
Classic late-'80s paint just giving up entirely if you look at it wrong.
I've liked these cars since they were new and I was buying up Car & Driver every month. The Rx-7 Turbo was in the C&D Top Ten Cars list for both '86 and '87 so they printed a lot about it. Between 1988-1992 this generation Rx-7 could be had as a convertible too. Occasionally they come up for sale and I'm always tempted but having never had a rotary engine I feel like it would involve a learning curve that would require a parking space.