Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Today I'm featuring THE automotive icon for my 300th post

I was walking near Smith Street the other day in Boerum Hill when I stumbled upon what is perhaps the most famous single model year of automobile ever produced:
Ladies and gentlemen, you know what this is already! This is a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air in the two-tone combination of Sierra Gold with an Adobe Beige roof. I've never seen this color combination before and think it looks fantastic even in this condition.
The Model T, the VW Beetle, and the '57 Chevy are arguably the 3 most well known cars of all time. Only the Chevy hales from a single year (yes of course the '55 Chevy starred in 2 Lane Blacktop with Dennis Wilson and James Taylor and a '58 Chevy was the main car in American Graffiti but this is way more famous).
A huge part of the '57s success is the distinctive front end. The grill was meant to emphasize the width of the car, and incorporated those pointy Dagmars (named after a notoriously busty film and TV star of the era - really). The three little gills above the side trim also added a bit of jewelry along with those Jet-Age spears emerging from the hood.
One distinctive feature of the '57 is the air intakes which can be seen here above the headlights. I've always loved these hooded headlights which, to me, looked like the covers of traffic signals. Only recently did I find out that the design was functional as scoops to collect fresh air for the cabin!
Here is the classic definition of a factory hot rod. The overall look of the 2 door coupe is tall and stout with a low roof and that sweet side trim that opens up near the rear. It just looks ready to drag race.
The condition is actually excellent too. There is no rust to be found and really only flaking paint can be counted as demerits. 
The trailing wheel wells also imply movement. That little bump up in the middle of the rear side window was carried across all body styles in '57, and there were many. In addition to the coupe you could order a 2 door hardtop, 4 door coupe, 4 door hardtop (very rare in itself), convertible, 4 door wagon, and the classic 2 door Nomad station wagon.
That trunk lid is incredible! Almost straight back and then straight down. This would all look very blocky and clunky if not for those famous fins.
The fins and rear bumper mesh beautifully in 1957. If you look closely you can see a couple of horizontal lines in the chrome of the fin edge between the taillight and fin top. On the drivers side this is a flip-open door that conceals the gas cap!
The taillight is obviously that red lens. Below that is the reverse light if the car was so equipped, otherwise it's a metal blank. Below that the piece of metal mirroring the taillight shape was originally painted flat black. The Ford Thunderbird of the mid '50s had the exhaust coming out of the bumpers in openings much like these reverse lights but the Chevy never did.
*A detail for the '57 Chevy fanatic: this car is from the 2nd series of production for 1957. If it was the 1st there would be a tiny raised ridge on the chrome between the bottom of the taillight and the top edge of the reverse light opening.
I love the wrap-around rear window with that low rear roof treatment. The license plate light is just a rectangular lens set into the bumper.
There were 3 trim levels for the '57 Chevy; the 150 was the stripped-down base model which you could get as sparse as you dared. There was even a Business Coupe version which was this same body but the rear windows were fixed in place and there was no rear seat! The 150 side trim was just a single chrome spear that went from the fin to the rear wheel well before turning up to rear side window.
The next level of trim was the 210 which had most expected creature comforts such as mirrors, ashtray, and carpet. The side trim was the same as this car but the chrome on top of the fin only went from the rear edge to about a foot forward on the quarter panel.
The highest was the Bel Air which we see here. In addition to the full compliment of chrome trim the names and some of the emblems are anodized gold. You can just make this out in the Chevrolet writing above the V on the trunk.
This Bel Air has gone through a few adjustments over the years. Under the dash there are aftermarket gauges. That is a floor mounted automatic transmission, and I believe the bucket seats aren't original. The factory radio is in the dash though with its center mounted speaker above it on the dashboard.
This car offered so many firsts when it came out. This was the first domestic production car to offer tubeless tires which the public had a hard time trusting at first. While the first production auto to offer fuel injection was the '55 Mercedes Benz 300SL, Chevrolet was the first domestic company to do so in 1957. A 150 coupe from '57 with the larger V8 and fuel injection was the very first car Nascar made illegal because nothing could remotely compete with it!
This tank is wearing Rally wheels up front and some generic rims on the back. The tires on the back are Hoosiers who are famous for making racing tires. They make drag radials which you can drive daily and use on the track on the weekends (or at any red light). I think these are them.
Well that's where we'll leave this beast almost. I do have one aside though:
I first saw this thing sitting on flat tires a couple blocks from my shop!
It had the back window covered as if the top was getting touched up or chrome trim installed. The lighting and shadows were too harsh for me on this day so I made a note to return later. That night as I sat in the shop it drove by me (the license plate light works great). Damn! I missed my chance and was so frustrated. Imagine my excitement when I happened to walk by it on the street a mile away weeks later.
Thus concludes my 300th post for the NYCHoopties blog! I'll have to start looking for something for 400, 500, and hopefully 1,000 soon. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

This is my 299th post so here's a 300 preview!

300 FOR 299
With the post after this one being my 300th I started going through my many unused pics to see if indeed I had ever shot a Chrysler 300. It turn out I did, but only through a driveway fence after pulling over upstate. Regardless here she is!
This is a 1965 Chrysler 300 in Spanish Red Poly. It is really making the scene with the setting and all.
 Even though the body is identical to the New Yorker and Newport we can identify the 300 by its grill with the large cross hairs. The New Yorker had an eggcrate design while the Newport had a vertical center bar bisecting it. Behind that grill lies the mighty 413 V8 good for 360hp and a whopping 495 ft lbs of torque. I drove one of these once and despite it's monumental scale it got up and danced like a much smaller car. The 440 would replace this engine in '66.
This model is a true 4 door hardtop so when all the windows are rolled down nothing separates the front and rear openings.
It's not clear here but the headlights are actually behind panes of glass. Eventually this was deemed illegal and the headlights in future years were no longer covered. These cars are the ultimate in '60s muscle & luxury combined. I would write a book on this car but I've only got these pics so I'll hold off until I'm lucky enough to find one I can walk around.
Stay tuned though as tomorrow brings the 300th post for this blog! I've got a truly iconic ride just waiting for its moment.
PS - there was an old man rounding the corner of the house on a riding mower when I shot these pics. I immediately regretted not walking up and motioning for him to talk to me about the car. Its prominent display lead me to believe that he was extremely proud of the car (rightfully so) and his vintage meant he could've been the original owner. Next time I'm riding around Pine Bush I'll try to track down this driveway again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hodge Podge Poncho

I was driving aimlessly through the furthest reaches of Queens recently when I found myself revisiting the oft-ignored neighborhood of Broad Channel. This out of the way little 'hood is located on an isthmus in Jamaica Bay that connects Howard Beach to the Rockaways. I pulled an egregious u-turn when this beast appeared:
Whoa! This is most likely a 1974 Pontiac Luxury LeMans in various shades of primer. The grill we see here was only for 1 year; in '73 the grill wasn't deeply inset like this one, and in '75 it had the addition of a single horizontal bar in the middle. Upon further inspection however we can see that this car contains bits and pieces from other years and models.
The hood scoop confounded me at first glance. There was an optional hood for this year that had dual scoops set into the hood but there was a space between them of about a foot. Finally after scratching my head and searching I realized this is a 1965-'67 GTO scoop grafted on to a '70s hood. Why not?
This era is known as Colonnade styling from GM (the word means a row of columns supporting a roof). Most of the 2 door Colonnade cars had a large 3/4 window and very thin roof pillars. The Luxury LeMans of '74 and Grand LeMans of '75 had these smaller rear quarter windows. Some models like the GTO and Grand Am had louvered 3/4 windows that are awesome!
The first year of this body style had a pointy rear end. The trunk lid and lower quarter were at steep angles and there was no noticeable bulge for the trunk at all. That pointy styling was polarizing and after '73 Pontiac went to this more conventional look.
*Big shout out to the '75-'79 Chevy Nova 4 door in the driveway.
The trunk lid looks to be the factory color Lakemist Green. The taillight surrounds and rear valance not only look to be the introduced-in-1975 color Arctic Blue, but also from a Grand Am as opposed to Luxury LeMans. The Grand Am taillights from '74-'75 consisted of these 2 vertical lenses on each side in a waterfall design whereas the LeMans had a solid lens on each side. 
That little Pontiac Arrowhead emblem was only on the right side of the trunk for '75. There must be a couple of 1975 parts cars laying around here somewhere!
The wheels are Rally IIs that were standard on the Firebird and Trans Am but optional for other models. Those little metal side mirrors are bogus as all Colonnade Pontiac coupes had body colored aerodynamic versions.
When I'm way off the beaten path I get a bit more nervous about actually placing my phone against the window for an interior shot so this isn't the best. The steering wheel looks more like an Oldsmobile version from this distance though.
This car has so many different donor parts that it could almost be anything really. Maybe it's a '75 with a newer front attached?Looks like a Cameo White front fender made its way home on this side.
That unapologetically massive bumper is '74 or newer.The '73 was big but had turn signals on the sides, not in the middle.
Well that'll about do it for Frankenstein's Pontiac. I love Pontiac styling and feel that GM in general weathered this unfortunate malaise-era better than the other Big 2. Even though it's massive and has guardrail bumpers this car still has a hungry aggression to it. When and if it becomes a single color I'm sure it will turn heads again. Good luck Pontiac!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Quirky Swedish instant classic

LÄTT NÅGONSIN quirkiest bilen gjorde
I was strolling along the mighty Gowanus Canal this past winter when I stopped to regard a still-common car before it's too late. History is rife with cars that were taken for granted until one day you realize they've all disappeared. When was the last time you saw a Datsun 280Z on the road? (hush up you West Coasters). Without further ado:
This is a 1993 Saab 900S in Nocturne Blue Poly. I found a list of the original paint color codes for Saabs of this era and the names read like a J Crew catalogue; Eucalyptus Green, Derby Gray, and Imola Red to name a few.
This car is the definition of quirky, creative design.
Look at this cheerful mug!
The 900 was introduced in 1979 and continued on with little change through this model year of 1993. It was derived from the earlier Saab 99 that looked similar but was a bit more awkward.
The name Saab comes from the name of the parent company Svenska Aeroplan AB (the last 2 letter are an abbreviation of Aktiebolag, itself meaning LLC or corporation) which translates roughly to Swedish Airplane Company Limited. They were founded in the late '30s to build planes but had their first automobile in production by 1950. From the get-go their cars were like nothing else in the marketplace.
At first glance this is just a 4 door car but as you examine it a bit further odd details start to stand out. That seriously curved windshield harkens back to their aeronautical roots and makes for some of the best visibility in the business. The bottom of the doors wrap underneath the side of the body; another airplane design influence. That long, sloping hood is hinged in the front. Not only that, it actually slides forward 5 or 6 inches before opening, providing excellent access to the mechanicals.
When the 900 was first introduced it was available in only 3 and 5 door hatchback. The sedans such as this one quickly followed. In the mid-'80s the president of Saab US suggested that they try a convertible to increase sales. It was an instant hit and remains very collectible today.
Just about every 900 from '79-'93 had a 2 Liter slant-4 cylinder engine (there were 1.9 and 2.1 versions too). A popular addition was the turbocharged model which was available in all body styles. These cars enjoy a reputation for astonishing longevity and durability with 300,000 miles not being an unrealistic goal. One guy in Wisconsin drove his Saab a million miles with its original engine and turbo before donating it to a museum (Saab gave him a new car at that point).
There was a facelift in 1987 that slightly altered some details on the 900. These bumpers are more integrated into the body than the earlier models but that's about all from the rear. The grill and headlights changed and became a bit slanted. Starting in 1994 the entire Saab 900 line was changed though it still remained recognizable as a relative of this era.
Ah the sweet stuck-on emblems of the '90s. How many car washes or hot summer days does it take to lose one of these? Who knows but this is pretty common.
The S in 900S is up to debate. I always thought it meant sunroof but some online forums insist that it means it has several options of some sort. I had an '83 4 door 900S and it had a manual sunroof that would slide back into the roof itself. Since my car had almost no options whatsoever I'm going with sunroof!
From here you can somewhat see the lower doors and how they wrap underneath the body.
The first Saabs from the '50s and '60s look so alien it's crazy. Everything about those cars is so bizarre but they proved capable and won many a rally. The engines were 2-stroke in the beginning which required a mixture of gas and oil. The windows didn't exactly roll down but rather slid down in the front as if there was a hinge on the rear lower corner. They are known as Saab Scarabs as they look like little frumpy insects with a round exoskeleton.
This looks exactly like the manual sunroof my 1983 had so I'm guessing it's the same. There was no lock or handle on mine; you literally just pulled back on an indentation and it dropped down onto a track and slid back into the roof. Somehow when it clicked back into place it was watertight but I was always nervous it would just get loose and slide back when I hit the gas from a light.
The 5 speed means this would be a fun car to drive.
Saab took their airplane expertise into the design of the cockpit. The dash ever so slightly wraps around so that everything faces the driver and is within easy reach. In addition everything is placed in order of usage which is why the radio is so high on the dash. One truly odd quirk of the 900 is the key placement. The starter is a part of the transmission itself and the keyhole is in the console between the seats. When you turn the car off you have to leave it in reverse or you will be locked out. WHY SAAB WHY? I forgot a couple times and there's nothing as frustrating as having your key in your hand and the car won't allow the key to turn.
Well that's where we'll leave this little Swede. Unfortunately Saab was owned by GM during the 2008 financial collapse. GM tried to sell it but the deal fell through. It was finally purchased by Stryker a year before they went bankrupt too. It's such a shame for one of the most beloved and innovative small car companies but that's pretty much how it died; in a messy haze of custody battles and terrible financial decisions.
Over the years I had the 1983 4 door and two 1989 2 door hatchbacks, all with manual transmissions. There is something wonderful about the feel of a first generation 900 on the road. It gives the impression of being rooted firmly to the ground yet is very responsive to all controls. I would love to have a turbo convertible at some point. They are still available and many are still in daily use thanks to their reliability. If you like quirky design I wouldn't hesitate to recommend snatching one up now.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

East Village Swinger

I was walking through the East Village with a couple of friends recently when I stumbled upon this smart little beauty:
Sweet! This is a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger in Dark Green Poly with a black vinyl roof. Scratches and scuffs aside this car is in spectacular original condition. Even the stance is correct as if it's sitting up on a new set of springs. I love this car!
The Dart was the compact offering from Dodge from the mid-'60s through the late '70s. Pinpointing the vintage on these rides is easy as the facade changed every year. The 1969 Dart sported a grill with a full-width horizontal central bar. The year after retained this split grill but the word Dodge wasn't written on the hood as it is here(it was however on the right side of the hood but the letters were small and non-script). 
How many cars have a facial expression? There is a subtley tilted eyebrow line giving the headlights a determined look that I think is great. That rust patch and the small scratches around the grill opening are reassuring as far as I'm concerned. The finish is original from the factory so there are no secrets lurking beneath a newer paint job. 
I love the old script writing of this emblem.
Remind yourself that this is a compact car when you look through the back window and realize that the trunk starts behind that back seat and runs all the way to the bumper!
With the slight bump-up at the beginning of the quarter panel and that bodyside folded paper crease it's easy to miss the subtle styling cues that make this a true classic.
Oh yeah it's 1970! In case you'd forgotten that how about we dot the I with a flower pulled from the Laugh-In set?
The Swinger was an option package on paper but in reality every 2 door Dart in '70 carried that name. Supposedly you could get a 4 door Swinger but very few left the factory.
The top edge of the fender leading into the quarter panel, angling down the sides, and continuing onto the bumper is just neat. Mopar as a company consisted of Dodge, Chrysler, and Plymouth in 1970 and you could find similar signatures across all levels of luxury. The mighty Imperial had many things in common with the lowly Dart even though they were meant for vastly different demographics.
This concave rear window was not cheap to produce but does a great job of making the overall look of this ride dynamic. With a perfectly flat angles rear window this would be cool but not nearly as distinctive. The fact that the hinge side of the trunk lid apes this curve shows that this wasn't a last minute idea tacked on to the model.
Looks like somebody liked the new rythym and blues quartet at some point.
The overall forward leaning arrow shape gives this rather square car some motion. The wheel wells trailing off in the rear adds to this.
Original funky hubcaps sporting the Mopar Fratzog in the center (the Fratzog was created in-house and given this made-up name by one of the designers. It is meaningless and was probably a flip comment but it stuck from '62 through '81!).
This Dart has a nice selection of options including the Music Master AM radio and air conditioning. However the one ultra rare option on display here is that steering wheel. This is the holy grail for Dart restorers; a 1970-specific, Dart-specific, Rim-Blow wheel. Basically the back side of the ring is one big button so if you're driving and need to use the horn you can squeeze the rim wherever you happen to have your hands already (smashing the center will still work too). This was a lauded option for the 'cudas and Chargers of the day but they looked different than this one. The fact that there is the cheapest looking button taped over the wheel on the left side under The Club leads me to believe this one doesn't work but it is oh-so rare and totally worth restoring.
The seat has been re-skinned by somebody more used to upholstering taxis. Just look at that slab of vinyl! Buckle up or you're definitely sliding into each other on corners.
Here are the handsome Dart dimensions on full display. I consider this to be a perfect classic car; enough performance to use in modern traffic, good enough economy for daily use, big enough to do classic car stuff like drive 6 people to the beach, but still parkable in scale.
Over the years I've had 2 Plymouth Dusters which are really identical cars to this except for the rear body. They are fantastic cars - easy as pie to work on and totally immortal with the Slant-6 engine.
I'll close this out with a cringe-worthy anecdote about redneck Putnam County where I went to high school: A friend of mine had a 4 door '74 Dart that he beat on relentlessly. He would tow sleds around fields in winter and practice e-brake u-turns and reverse Rockford j-turns all the time. When he finally got another car (an awesome 1980 Datsun 510 wagon) he decided he would blow the engine on his Dart (this was 1991 and any tan rusty 4 door '74 Dart was going straight to the crusher regardless). He drained the oil, put the back axle up on jack stands, a brick on the pedal, and stood back.
After 20 minutes or so of totally smooth running at high RPMs he took pity on it, took the brick off the pedal, and got it back on the ground figuring he would give it a more dignified death by driving it. He took it back and forth to high school (about 10 miles each way) for most of the week with no oil in it! Finally he was attempted a trip to the Danbury Fair mall which was over 20 miles away when it seized. Poor car wanted to give its owner another 100,000 miles!