Monday, January 30, 2017

Italy + America - the worst of both worlds

I was driving around Newtown Connecticut with a couple of friends recently when I implored them to stop so I could jump out. A little old lady out of central casting was walking away from her infamous automotive Brundlefly; a TC!
This is a 1990 Chrysler TC by Maserati in Black. It is in astonishing condition throughout. I jumped out of the car I was in and caught up to the owner as she was walking into a store to explain myself and ask if she minded me snapping some pics (she was very gracious). She and her husband bought the car new for $35,000 and she said it only has like 20,000 miles on it today!
The story of this amalgamation starts back in the early 1970s when Lee Iacocca (who was at Ford at the time) developed a friendship with race car driver and builder Alejandro De Tomaso. They launched a collaboration with the De Tomaso Pantera being powered by Ford V8 engines and transmissions. 2 decades later Iacocca was at Chrysler forging a similar deal with Maserati where a Chrysler drivetrain would power an Italian sports car. The thought alone is ridiculous as Mitsubishi supplied the engines for this era Chrysler anyway. What exactly were they trying to accomplish?
Unfortunately the result looked a lot like the already available Chrysler LeBaron GTC convertible based on the *K-Car platform. I always assumed this was a K-Car tarted up with Maserati badges and leather, but it turns out I was only half right as the bodies were made in Italy.
*To be fair the GTC was built on the J platform but that was just a modified K.
Regardless here is the result which Iacocca promised would be "the prettiest Italian to arrive stateside since his mother immigrated". His poor mother!
This isn't a bad looking car and indeed it has aged pretty well in the years since production. The hardtop is removable with a manually operated canvas top stowed beneath.
It was obvious that this TC is beloved. She even parked far away from ever other car to keep it scratch and dent free.
The third brake light is very prominent due to the hardtop design. Confusion extends to the naming:
Who exactly is responsible for this car then? It seems that 2 automakers are trying to pass the buck.
The late '80s/early '90s were a curious time in U.S. automotive design. Cars were moving from the squared-off boxy angles of the '80s towards the rounded blobs of the '90s. Smaller, 2 seat convertibles were available from GM as well; the Buick Reatta and Cadillac Allante joined the TC on the roads of 1990. The Allante was also partially designed by an Italian company; Pininfarina. 
Mercury revised the Capri name on a small convertible from '91-'94, but they were sadistic enough to claim that it was a 4 seater. The rear seats were ridiculously, painfully small to the point of being unusable except for small children.
The opera window portholes on the hardtop were possibly the last of their kind. Most automakers left them behind by the mid-'80s as holdovers from the Malaise era.
The logo is a combination of the Maserati trident surrounded by the Chrysler Pentastar.
The color of the leather interior is Ginger. There were only a few choices of interior and exterior colors during the 3 year production run of 1989-1991. Interior appointments are no frills except for the small amounts of wood trim that K and J cars of the era lacked.
I'd like to point out the large airbag on the steering wheel which was standard equipment for the TC. There was no hiding these older airbags. You can clearly see the dimensions of it and the middle seam where it will give way if needed.
Well there we have it: a forgotten footnote in the history of 2 automakers. The TC was in development longer than it was actually produced. All 1991 models were actually holdovers from 1990 that hadn't been sold or titled yet. While sales projections predicted 10,000 per year leaving showrooms a total of only 7,500 were ever built. 
Amazingly Chrysler wouldn't let up on the idea of a collaboration even after the TC. More than a decade after the TC died off they offered the Chrysler Crossfire which used the mechanicals of a Mercedes Benz SLK with a domestic body that Jeremy Clarkson referred to as having the same stance a dog takes while defecating. Mercedes treated it with embarrassment and shame, pretending it didn't exist. Regardless when enough time passes these bastard offspring are entertaining to encounter in the wild. I wouldn't pay much for a TC, but I would be curious to drive one I suppose.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Avanti by Avanti

What is it with Pennsylvania and the Avanti? I have seen exactly 4 Avantis in my adulthood and 3 of them were in PA (the other is behind a chain link fence somewhere near JFK that I saw from the back of a passing cab). Regardless much thanks to Sarah from Everywhere for sending these pics a few months back:
This is a 1965-1981 Avanti II in some sort of red. The Avanti started life as a swan song for the ailing Studebaker company designed by the legendary Raymond Loewy. As beautiful and groundbreaking as the Avanti was it couldn't stop Studebaker from folding. However a couple of local Studebaker dealers bought all the tooling, production space, and manufacturing rights to the Avanti from the defunct company in order to continue making the car. This is an example of one of those post-Studebaker Avanti IIs.
Outwardly it is very difficult to tell the difference between the original and an Avanti II. The area surrounding the fuel filler door is pretty nasty on this ride. However if this was a Studebaker it would have a square chrome emblem on the sail panel in front of that door.
Aye aye Cap't! Awesome Skipper hat from Gilligan's Island on the back deck.
The Avanti emblem is taking the place of the Studebaker one on the original.
The interior is on the far end of salvageable in this ride. When dealing with white or cream colored leather it's easy to allow filth to penetrate, especially when you're resting a spare wheel on the seat! What are you thinking Avanti owner? Unfortunately I've run across so many cool older cars that were obviously owned by a mechanic who thought nothing of driving in grease covered work clothes.
Even in this forlorn condition roosting in the yard this is a beautiful car. The Avanti II came with either a Chevy 327, 400, 350, or 305 V8 (in that order over the years from '65-'81). The chassis was a Studebaker design through the early '80s. Obviously an original Studebaker would be the most valuable but if you can score one of these in running condition you'd be guaranteed to have to coolest ride on the block.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

One of the prettiest BMWs ever made

I was walking in the recently recognized micro-neighborhood of Wallabout when I noticed a fin slicing through the waters. Shark attack!
1971 BMW 3.0 CS in what might be Island Blue. Interestingly BMW offered something like 12 or 14 different shades of blue in this era, each prettier than the last.
BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke which translates to Bavarian Motor Works. Their cars are ubiquitous in the States today but during this era there was one single person named Max Hoffman was responsible for BMW importing. Mr. Hoffman is the rarest of rare in that he was an automobile dealer who was responsible for several automotive legends. He suggested the development and production of the Porsche 356 Speedster, the Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing, and the BMW 507. He is in the Automotive Hall of Fame as a result.
I find this design to be one of the most beautiful of the '70s, and indeed it looks fresh today. 
The small details like this vent grill lend lots of class to the design.
This is what's known as a Grand Tourer; seating for 4, a powerful engine, luggage space, and killer good looks. To think that 15 years before this ride was built BMW was selling 1 cylinder microcars where the entire front end was the door is remarkable. It's safe to say no other car company leapt so quickly from postwar diminutive transportation to producer of world class automobiles.
Pardon my super fuzzy pics! This thing puts every other vehicle on the block to shame with its mere presence.
This beat-down industrial block is the last place this car probably thought it would be parked.
We can just barely make out the 4 speed manual gearshift through the windows in this pic (I didn't want to press my phone up to the glass on a block with warehouses full of workers looking on). These rides are unique in that the power window, heating, and windshield wiper controls are all on the console surrounding the gearshift. A truly bizarre fact is that the turn signal stalk is located on the right side of the steering column! I couldn't even get used to that in New Zealand when I was driving on the opposite side of the road. The stalk on the left side controls the high beams only.
Well that's where I'll leave this unexpected cruiser. These cars remain popular with collectors who really like to drive. The fact that this thing is 46 years old and looks as good as it does it incredible. In many ways BMW owes its future success to this model which was the harbinger of the company look for the next 2 decades. If you see one in good shape at or under $10,000 I would grab it quick! It's not  uncommon for nicer examples to cross the 30 thousand dollar threshold these days.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

1949 Chrysler Inauguration wrought rant edition

This blog isn't political. I like old cars and talking about them more than people need to be subjected to in person so I leave my descriptions here for anyone with an interest. However in light of the general mood of activism today (The day of the Women's March on D.C. and elsewhere) I thought I'd pepper my post with period correct facts to let you decide whether or not America was better then. It's shocking how recently things we couldn't imagine being allowed now were the norm.
This is a 1949 Chrysler either Windsor or New Yorker. It's hard to say because it seems the tell tale side trim has been shaved off. In 1948 when this car was being prepared for release the Supreme Court declared illegal the practice of private parties blocking minorities from buying homes in white neighborhoods.
The powerful double chrome bar grill was new for '49. A few years later in 1952 the Tuskagee Institute stated that for the first time in their 71 years of keeping records there were no lynchings of African Americans for the year.
1949 was the Silver Anniversary for the Chrysler Corporation which was founded back in 1924. In 1924 the United States granted citizenship to Native Americans (how generous) as recognition for the 10,000 who served in WWI. Several Indian nations declined in favor of retaining their sovereign nationhood. The years between '24 and '49 included such diametrically opposed events as the U.S. internment camps during WWII and the founding of the NAACP. Jackie Robinson broke baseballs color barrier in 1947 (HELLOOOOO BROOKLYN!).
There was originally a chrome spear following that line trailing back from under the headlight to the end of the front fender, and another on the rear fender. It looks so factory perfect that long with those dog dish poverty hubcaps I thought maybe this was a stripped down model. Chrysler was at the top of the Mopar hierarchy though so no base models existed (you were encouraged to look into Dodge or Plymouth for cheap wheels).
From the rear you can see this is very much a '40s car with its big rounded dimensions. This represented the transitional time between the rehashed pre-WWII models available immediately after the war and the futuristic '50s rides to come.
The next generation Chrysler was a brief chapter, running from '53-'54. 1954 also happened to be the year of Brown vs the Board of Ed which is widely regarded as sparking the Civil Rights Era. The following year had Rosa Parks refusing an order to move to the back of the bus.
I'm a fan of any tape repair on a car. This one os remarkably conservative, keeping the general feel of the missing or damaged taillight lens.
When this car was 10 years old Hawaii and Alaska were granted State status bring the total of states to the current 50. The following year of 1960 was the year of the famous Lunch Counter Sit-in which started in Greensboro, NC, and quickly spread throughout the South.
In 1962 this ride was 13 years old, usually the age where it would have found at least a second owner. The overall condition is so solid that perhaps it sat in a nearby garage all this time. '62 was also the year Cesar Chavez organized the United Farm Workers Union. 
In 1963 someone more often than not would jump up from their stool to fill up your car at a service station. It was also the year of the legendary I Have a Dream speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. JFK, more of a civil rights champion than any previous president of that century, is assassinated.
Due to the placement of the column shifter I imagine this is a semi-automatic Fluid Drive trans. With the Fluid Drive you used the clutch to start in first gear from a stop but simply lifted your foot off the gas to shift through second and third. There is also a factory radio with preset buttons for your favorite stations. This ride was also built with a surprisingly complete array of gauges for a luxury car. This radio most likely played the reports of 1965 from Selma, Watts, and the assassination of Malcolm X.
The interior looks to have redone in a somewhat tasteful way, even if a little doo-wop for my preferences. This is strictly a 1950s look, with solid hues becoming the norm for the '60s.
1966, '67, and '68 were definitive years in the Civil Rights movement. Race riots spread across 164 cities throughout the country, sparked by a Detroit police raid on the Black Panthers. Within 2 months of each other MLK and Robert Kennedy are assassinated.  
This quirky little shape at the base of the windshield is a push-up scoop to allow airflow into the interior. It harkens back to the early days of the automobile.
When this car was 20 years old in 1969 police raided the Stonewall Inn in NYC, sparking the Gay Rights Movement. The initial riot grew in size and quickly became organized into activist groups.
Look I don't really know what the point of this post was except to highlight the fact that millions of people are taking to the streets today in some good old fashioned peaceful activism. It's refreshing to see that this country's still got it together enough to care about issues on such a grand scale. The 68 years that have passed since this Chrysler was built witnessed so much change on so many levels, mostly in the interest of inclusion, that I felt compelled to state that the hellfire and brimstone inauguration speech was built on empty claims. Hopefully by the time this Chrysler turns 72 it can drive off into a progressive future for one and all.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Jimny came to America to become a Samurai

Poor Suzuki. 
This little immigrant got caught up in a whirlwind of rumors and wild claims so pervasive that the first thing that comes to your mind is probably "that's the truck that tips over in corners". Well I'm here to defend the reputation of little Suzuki albeit 37 years too late.
This is a fuzzy picture of a 1988 Suzuki Samurai in Atlantic Blue. It is a supremely confident little 4-wheel drive vehicle kind of like a smaller yet taller Jeep. Being a Suzuki it boasts Swiss watch reliability and better than average fuel economy. It was a smash hit out of the gates selling 47,000 in the U.S. market debut 1986 model year. None of that carried as much water as a line in a Consumer Reports rating saying that it "easily rolls over in turns".
Not only did the Samurai garner an "unacceptable" rating in their review, but it was singled out in what was Consumer Reports 60th anniversary issue. This was obviously devastating to sales. Overnight the Suzuki was a punchline and all of its merits were forgotten. After hiring a firm called Failure Analysis Associates to independently investigate the rollover claims Suzuki filed a libel lawsuit against Consumer Reports in 1996. The lawsuit dragged on for 8 years, finally ending inconclusively. The one detail from the lawsuit I want to highlight is that CR doctored the test course to induce rollover in testing, and stated that they "never intended to imply that the Samurai easily rolls over in routine driving conditions". 

Tell that to anyone who glanced at their headline back in 1988.
Enough of that wordy history! 
The Samurai was available as a fixed or removable hardtop but you rarely see one with this fastback canvas rear. The wheels are aftermarket and look a bit goofy to me but the tires suggest that this is strictly an on-road ride.
As far as trucks or Jeep-like vehicles go this is the most parkable. The engine matched the tiny dimensions of this ride with a 1.3 liter 4 cylinder powering up to 4 wheels. This is a true 4-wheel drive with a transfer case and switchable low and high gearing.
You could order these without a backseat from the factory which makes sense with the top they have. In reality the backseat is a punishment anyway. I've sat in one and felt like my knees were pressed against my chest even though I'm 5 foot 8!
The interior is straightforward and well designed. The smaller gearshift engages the 4WD as well as selecting the range. Crank windows and manual locks round out the no-nonsense approach.
The factory name for the Samurai is the Jimny SJ413, but many names have applied over the years depending on the market. Some of the names used include Escudo, Sierra, Katana, Maruti Gypsy, and my favorite; Farm Worker. In the U.S. the name Katana was given to a Suzuki motorcycle.
Whatever you want to call it this little truck has been consistently manufactured from 1970 through today. The rest of the world still enjoys their capabilities and durability. It's a genuine shame that this ride joins the Corvair, Pinto, and Tucker as vehicles remembered for or pushed out of the market by a single salacious detail. 
- Pintos potentially blew up when rear ended due to a faulty fuel filler neck (more damning was a Ford company document showing that they calculated it would be cheaper to settle wrongful death lawsuits than fix every car).
- Corvairs were vilified by Ralph Nader for the potential of a rear wheel to fold under the car under sever cornering due to the transaxle. By the time his book came out the design was already fixed but that didn't change public opinion.
- Tucker was pushed out by the Big Three from basically the moment he started producing what was the safest, most advanced car the world had ever seen.
- Little Suzuki was framed! This is a great ride that was thrown harshly through very sharp corners on a course that was redesigned to encourage failure. Without that report I'm confident that we would still see Samurais in dealerships today.