Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Today we're featuring the ultimate bro-car

I was riding my bike way out in the hinterlands of deepest Brooklyn when I passed this muscle bound punk looking for a fight. That wide-eyed stare was unnerving to say the least. This is obviously a car that's still up from the night before . . .
What we have here is a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS in Rally Red with somewhat suspicious black stripes. I tend to be suspicious of any special edition of a hugely popular car when discovered in front of some shady shop off the beaten path. Who's to say this wasn't a 6 cylinder base model Camaro that someone keeps tacking SS parts onto? Nobody knows so I'll describe this at face value for now but be warned if you're looking to buy one of these; check the VIN to see what it started as because that's 75% of the value.
The option list for the Camaro was gargantuan from the get-go. This example has the rare concealed headlight option where the covers slide inwards behind the grill itself. Since those little turn signals are located beneath the bumper we can surmise that the concealed headlights are original to this car (if that option was not selected the turn signals would be located in the grill between the headlights). The badge in the center states that this is a coveted Super Sport equipped with the mighty 396 V8. This car could definitely destroy its rear tires in every gear with no issue.
This is the very first year of the Camaro; the Chevy answer to the Ford Mustang. In the months leading up to the unveiling of the Camaro the press was teased with references to a Panther that was about to strike. When people asked what the panther was Chevy replied "it is a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs". The proportions are pretty close to the Mustang with its long hood/short deck design.
That hood is correct for the SS package but there should be 2 non-functional chrome vents in those indentations. Originally the SS Camaros had a stripe that wrapped around the full width of the hood and down the sides past the edge of the bumper with a break for a chrome SS emblem on each side. With big stripes on the front, no stripes on the hood, and smaller ones under the windshield it's anybody's guess what this looked like when new. The Rally Red color looks correct. The 6x9 speakers on the back deck suggest that this is owned by a mook.
These taillights are 1967 only. The '68 version is very similar but has a central divider on each side. From this angle this ride is almost identical to the Pontiac Firebird of the same year. Both cars were released in tandem and shared most components with the exception of the grill and lights.
The Camaro was an immediate hit with the public and helped chip away at the pony car market that Mustang had essentially monopolized for the previous 2.5 years. They were built in such numbers that it doesn't really matter to me whether this is a clone in progress of an original SS 396. You can order every component for this car from a catalog including an entire body. In fact if you had some perverse desire to do so you could build a Camaro from scratch with no donor car needed.
Well that's where we'll leave this extreme bro of a car. You might not expect classic muscle cars to be hiding throughout the city, and indeed they are targets for thieves whenever they are left unattended, but they pop up now and then. This one being red with a whole shelf full of speakers gives me an idea of just the sort of dude who owns it and he's probably at the gym right now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Keep on Vannin'

Somewhere in the greater Bushwick area I found this Crayola-colored lunchbox. With its white outlined eyes and fun color it looks eager to please! Let's take a closer look.
This is a 1977 Chevrolet G10 Van in Tangier Orange. This style is known as the Shorty Panel since it's the shorter wheelbase and has no windows besides the cab and rear doors. This is the ultimate stranger danger model unfortunately due to its lack of side windows.
I love this van and for me a large part of the charm is the fact that it's the base model. Notice that the grill, bumpers, and mirrors are painted as opposed to chrome; every trim level above the base had those niceties as opposed to plain white.
This cool '70s logo was instrumental in pinpointing the vintage of this ride. This era of Chevy van ran from 1973-1977 but only in this final year was the number on top of a stylized sun. One thing that ran throughout the '70s on Chevy trucks is the use of that wild west font with the heavy serifs on the letters.
*The 10 refers to the load capabilities. Heavier-duty models were the G20 and G30.
I love how righteously plain this thing is. At first glance those square taillights seem to be the same as those used on Chevy trucks of the same vintage. However the truck versions are curved and wrap around the corners of the pickup bed slightly. This is a great example of lending continuity across different models from the same company.
I couldn't find a current listing for PAUL Chevrolet in Brooklyn but it's surprising that this vehicle still resides in its hometown. Being a base model van in the sort of garish color favored by municipalities makes me think this might have had some official use originally. Everything about this van screams FLEET VEHICLE. This is the sort of vehicle that brought road cones to job sites back in the day.
Plain white wheels and budget hubcaps complete the zero-frills look. That single exhaust makes me believe this ride has the stock inline 6-cylinder under its stubby hood. If it's really as basic as it looks it has a three-on-the-tree manual transmission too.
Someone added a little tinted window to the side in a crude manner.
How basic is it inside? Well there was never a radio installed which jibes with the fact that there's no antenna on the outside. Above the heater controls are two more blank squares where optional equipment would be. From here the floor looks to have a black rubber mat as opposed to carpet. Even the door panels look to be pressed metal.
This is 1977 though so even the base van has cool brown plaid seats!
Well we'll leave this orange lunchbox to roam the streets of its native borough. Evidence of a break-in on the top center of the grill probably stems from someone looking to lift the battery way back when. The customization possibilities are endless for plain panel vans like this so it's remarkable to see one so normal and untouched. I've had a few vans in my time and would gladly roll around town in this beast given the chance.

Monday, September 26, 2016

You talkin' to me?

Few cars are associated with a place, especially if that place differs from where the car was actually produced. The Checker cab is forever thought of as driving around NYC even though it was sold worldwide and originally comes from Kalamazoo, MI. You know what other NYC icon hails from Kalamazoo? Derek Jeter! I rest my case.
This is a Checker Marathon from the last century looking brighter than usual in Empire White. Pinpointing the vintage of one of these is about as difficult as can be for any car, but we'll keep going through the checklist as clues present themselves.
 1961 was the first year they used the Marathon name so it's at least a '61.
Between 1968-'69 they introduced a taller windshield and those round side reflectors so it ought to be at least a '69.
Look at that big bulldog frown. Despite the fact that the Marathon has a bitchy resting face it was THE choice for taxicab companies from its introduction in 1961 through its eventual demise in 1982. There were plans for a new Checker cab to carry the company through the '80s and beyond but it never made it past the mockup stage. A couple of mysterious photos do exist of a stretched Chevy Citation 4 door, a stretched and heavily modified VW Rabbit, and a full size clay model of unique origin that looked like a K-Car in the Checker company lot but alas none even made it to test drive status.
This one happens to be parked in front of Gowanus Wine Merchants which means that all I had to do was walk outside and start snapping when it pulled up!
Boxy and tank-like, the Marathon was built for extreme durability. All of the drivetrain and suspension components were what you'd expect to find in a commercial truck rather than a passenger sedan. Checkers would routinely achieve 500,000 miles in the era when 100,000 was about as much as you could hope for from other cars.
Chances are excellent that this was a taxi when it first hit the streets as the overwhelming majority of them were produced for fleet use. Throughout its long run they were always available for civilians as well but they are rare. I've seen some over the years including a burgundy Marathon that had a black vinyl roof but it looked odd and my brain still said "that's a taxi" even though it wasn't.
Alright we have 1 more clue to the age of this ride on display here as 1970 was the first year for 4 red taillights! This is without a doubt a 1970-1982 Checker at least.
The two round lenses just inside of the lower taillight trim are the reverse lights. On the drivers side between the license plate and the reverse light is the gas cap. The awkward placement just above the huge bumper meant that spilling fuel was basically a given. Supposedly the only way to fill a Checker up completely is to have it parked at a 45 degree downward angle, otherwise just get to 3/4 and call it a day.
I took these shots years ago. The green scaffolding here is covering 2 buildings that have since been torn down and replaced with a new larger one. That is the F & G trains cross 3rd Avenue in the background and downtown Brooklyn is in the distance. There are a few new skyscrapers in the distance now too!
Alright it looks like this Checker is from at least 1973 after all!
One awesome allowance for classic cars registered in NY is that you can use a set of plates that come from the same era as your car as long as they're matching and in decent condition. NY issued license plates in this color scheme from 1973-1985, making these the colors I remember from my childhood. The current design looks remarkably similar to this as the same colors are back in use, however the new ones have EMPIRE STATE on the bottom and a band of blue along the top.
The emblems look delicate compared to the car itself.
More evidence of how much has changed; that smaller white row house has been modernized completely and looks ridiculous today, and that large garage door with no signage is now a thriving mechanic. In addition there is now a new building at the end of the block next to the elevated train.
These bumpers are basically guardrails that look like they could stop a freight train. Whatever caused this dent must've been yuge.
The reason this cab pulled up to the curb was to visit the (then) new pizza place at the other end of the block. I asked the driver if I could take some pics and he was very gracious so I'd like to give him a plug: Famous Fat Dave does eating tours of NYC in this Checker and it looks like he has some repute. Anthony Bourdain gave him props so big ups to Fat Dave.
Inside there's legroom enough to lay down on the floor and sleep. That red round thing pressed up against the front seat is actually one of two jumper seats for additional passengers. I remember riding in a few of these when they were still being used as cabs and I couldn't touch the front seat with my legs outstretched completely! 
*Love the old AIR CONDITIONED for your comfort sticker on the window.
This beast is utilitarian and basic. The a/c unit hangs under the dash looking like it was plucked from a hotel room. Switches and knobs are big and easy to grab onto. This has the automatic transmission as we can see by the little window on the column that shows what gear you're in but if it did have the manual it would be a three-on-the-tree. Imagine driving a manual taxi in NYC!
It's hard to tell but that logo in the center of the hubcap is a crest with C M C around it for Checker Motor Company. Beautiful original caps can't be easy to find for a cab!
Well there you have it; a car associated with Robert DeNiro, Danny DeVito, and NYC itself. I was thrilled to see this beast roll up to the curb like it's designed to do decades after it disappeared from the taxi fleets. Though once ubiquitous these cabs are getting seriously scarce. Their durability meant that they were used until they rusted completely away or had over a half a million miles on them. To see one today is a shock that floods anyone my age or older with nostalgia.
*One last tidbit - these were produced in Aerobus form as well which were 6 and 8 door passenger limos. Picture this exact car with the doors doubled and you get an idea of just how long a 15 passenger Aerobus is. There was one parked in the lot of a church in Paradise California when I was a kid and it fascinated me.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Let the Eagle soar!

I was poking around the furthest backwaters of Central Pennsylvania near a nuclear power plant when I passed by what seemed to be an forgotten old gas station of repair shop still stocked with vehicles. I parked very conspicuously in an attempt to not come across as a vandal and started exploring. Stuck in the side of a tree was this old brown dog:
This is a 1979 Jeep SJ Cherokee in Alpaca Brown Poly with the Golden Eagle trim package. Rough and abandoned as it is I bet you could get this running with a battery, some gas, and 20 minutes tinkering. This is a utilitarian beast!
The Cherokee was the 2 door version of the Jeep Wagoneer which debuted as an instant classic in 1964. Both the Wagoneer and Cherokee shared most components and were produced in tandem from the Cherokee launch in '74 through '83 when the models separated.
This beast is loaded to the gills with late '70s Malaise-era styling cues: big decals with both lettering and imagery, square headlights, not to mention it's brown as can be!
Look at this vaguely tribal Golden Eagle on the hood like an off-road version of the Firebird from Pontiac! Motion lines surround the outer edge in '70s colors. I was snooping pretty hard in the parking lot of a long-closed repair shop by a busy country road otherwise I would've held those branches back for a better view. I was half expecting to be run off the property any second.
AMC had a penchant for using lower case letters in this gentle font. Even the Gremlin had only a capital G when most automakers either use all caps or frilly script. I'm afraid golden eagle has seen its fair share of salty winter roads from the tattered rocker panels.
Oh yeah that's it; LAST CALL for this wheel well which is poised to become an open door to the inside any second. Those '70s Wagon Wheels are great for rugged off-road trucks of this era.
Inside it's not really discernible but the upholstery is tan Levi's denim along the lines of the Levi's Gremlin I posted recently. To the right of the3 radio you can see a small black rectangle which is the clock. Below that is the large centrally-located glove compartment. 
The tailgate's either been replaced or spray painted over as it's missing its wicked striping. That chrome ball sticking out of the drivers side rear was likely a CB antenna which was all the rage in the late '70s.
The cardboard headliner is crying out for some good old fashioned duct tape.
We'll leave this eagle in its nest at the top of a mountain in PA. Old Jeeps are like the original VW Beetles; they rot away to smithereens given half the chance but chances are you could get this thing fired up and drive it away if you wanted to. This era of larger 4x4 hasn't really taken off in the collector market yet so there are bargains to be had. The mechanicals are identical to trillions of AMC products spanning several years so keeping one going would be a piece of cake. Find a decent frame & body and you're off!
Oh and by the way you're very welcome

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Greenwood box coupe

I was recently walking past the mighty Greenwood Cemetery when I saw this boxy beauty.
This is a 1979 Chevrolet Impala in original two-tone Carmine over Red (with a single Dark Blue fender of course). 
This generation of Impala replaced the massive yachts produced through '76. When this scale arrived in '77 it heralded the direction Domestic cars were headed for the '80s. The 1977 Caprice/Impala line received the Motor Trend Car of the Year award.
This somewhat flimsy looking grill is a surefire way to identify a '79. '78 had only 3 chrome horizontal bars within the surround. In 1980 the entire car was different even though at first glance they look similar.
Drivetrain combinations were many from a baseline 6 cylinder through 305 and 350 V8s. There was even a much maligned Oldsmobile diesel engine for anyone who wanted that sort of thing.
The 2 door coupes from 1977-'79 had this angled rear window foreshadowing the Monte Carlo Aerocoupe of the mid-'80s. Overall I think the design has aged remarkably well. With those huge forward-leaning wheel openings it retains a pretty aggressive stance too.
Two tone wasn't something common in this era of domestic cars but they pushed it in the literature for this generation Caprice & Impala. The brochure shows a very '80s dark red over silver combo.
Boxy was the new look for the decade to come and Chevy got it right on time. The huge federally mandated safety bumpers look alright on such a big slab.
That rear window really makes for a great profile on this ride.
For many years the way to discern an Impala from a lower trim offering was that the Impala had three taillights on each side while the Bel Air or Caprice had two. In '79 each model of this mid-size range had three openings. However Impala had the revers lights in the center of the center lenses while the Caprice had separate rectangular lenses below the taillight cluster.
I really dig the subtle way the rear panel has a crease 1/3rd of the way up where it angles back. The concavity of the tops of the taillights highlight this small detail well.
Purple tint & multiple 6x9s on the back deck mean this is owned and operated by pretty much exactly the sort of dude you're picturing.
Bench seat, crank windows, plain-ass steering wheel with a column shifter; no frills people! The interior is in great shape. I can just about smell that little tree from here.
Nothing like a set of Cragar SS wheels to make your ride look tough.
The orange slotted side marker light is Impala-only as well; Caprice had a wrap-around lens on the corner of the grill surround. The Caprice also had a stand-up hood ornament while the Impala has the bow tie logo in the grill center.
Well that's where we'll leave this Brooklyn tough guy. The 2 years previous to this one are my favorite for the later Impala, if only due to the slightly cleaner grill. Still this era looks great today especially in the 2 door coupe version. The 1980 model year would truly usher in the Box Chevy era which is hugely popular in some circles. This basic design lasted all the way up until the infamous and bulbous "Shamu" or Bubble Chevys of the '90s. Parts couldn't be easier to locate and the usability on a daily basis is great. If you're looking for a cheap way to get into car shows and drive a classic with a full compliment of creature comforts like reliable heat this might be the best bet out there.