Old Cars, Stories Told

1972 Chevrolet K/5 Blazer CST: Don’t mess with Grandma!

(First published 8 August 2016.) You didn’t mess with my grandma. She was barely 5 feet tall, but she swore like a sailor and drank like a fish. And she always drove 4-wheel-drive trucks. One of them was an orange 1972 Chevrolet K/5 Blazer CST very much like this one.

1972 Chevrolet Blazer d

Grandma was so short she had to grab the steering wheel and pull herself up into the cab. That had to really work her biceps! I’ll bet it gave her a mean right cross. But had she ever needed to defend herself, she would have instead reached for the .22 pistol she always kept in her purse.

1972 Chevrolet Blazer b

My favorite place to ride was the front passenger seat, and I called shotgun as often as I could. Even though SUVs weren’t common in the 1970s like they are today  — we didn’t even have the term “SUV” then — riding around in that seat didn’t exactly give me the rooftop view of traffic that you might think. Grandma lived in rural southwest Michigan, where serious winter snow and unplowed side roads meant almost everyone owned four-wheel-drive trucks. I was used to looking at tailgates ahead as we rolled down the road.

1972 Chevrolet Blazer f

Grandma preferred the lightly traveled gravel back roads to the highways, though, and so I got to take in a lot of Michigan’s beauty while riding with her. Even when I had to ride in the high and upright back seat, I had a good view. That seat also sat a good distance back from the front seats, giving unbelievable legroom. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now I think GM should have moved that seat a foot or so forward to give more aft cargo space. It was pretty tight back there.

1972 Chevrolet Blazer c

Grandma and Grandpa had been a one-truck family (a 1972 Dodge 100 Power Wagon) until the grandkids started coming to visit for extended stays every summer. Riding four abreast in Grandpa’s truck worked while we were all very little, but as we grew the cab became too cramped and so Grandma bought the Blazer. We ran around all over southwest Michigan together running errands and visiting various taverns for lunch or dinner and, for Grandma and Grandpa, always a beer. I knew then that back home in Indiana I wasn’t allowed in taverns. Maybe Michigan’s laws were different. Or maybe it helped a lot that Grandma and Grandpa seemed to know every law-enforcement officer in six or seven counties. Perhaps Grandma’s smile, nod, and words of greeting to any deputy who stopped in were enough to secure us. We were certainly less uptight about such things forty years ago.

1972 Chevrolet Blazer a

After Grandpa finally retired, they sold both trucks and bought a top-trim 1978 Bronco in gold with a white top. The CST package meant Grandma’s Blazer was top-trim too. This is what passed for luxury in an SUV in 1972. Today, these big body-on-frame SUVs are all but gone out here in rust country.

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Old Cars, Photographs

10 headlights

1935 Chrysler Airflow f
1935 Chrysler Airflow. Canon PowerShot S95.
69 Chevelle SS 396
1969 Chevelle. Kodak EasyShare Z730.
63 Dodge Polara 500
1963 Dodge Polara. Kodak EasyShare Z730.
56 Lincoln Premiere
1956 Lincoln Premeire. Canon PowerShot S80.
Stacked headlights
1976 Chevrolet El Camino. Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor, Fujifilm Industrial 100.
We can drive it home on one headlight
2006 Ford Focus. Pentax K10D, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M.
'61 Plymouth headlights
1961 Plymouth. Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X.
Ford headlight
1939 Ford. Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax, Kodak T-Max 400.
Dual headlights
1958 Plymouth. Olympus XA, Arista Premium 400.
67 Ford LTD
1967 Ford LTD. Argus a-four, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros.

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Old Cars, Photographs

15 hubcaps

1966 Plymouth Belvedere h
1966 Plymouth Belvedere, Canon PowerShot S95
1979-80 Dodge D-series Adventurer
1979-80 Dodge Adventurer, Apple iPhone 5
1966 Ford Galaxie 500
1966 Ford Galaxie 500, Kodak EasyShare Z730
1951 Buick Special
1951 Buick Special, Canon PowerShot S80
1965 Rambler Marlin
1965 Rambler Marlin, Canon PowerShot S80
1956 Hudson Rambler wagon
1956 Hudson Rambler, Canon PowerShot S80
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, Canon PowerShot S95
1940 Ford
1940 Ford, Canon PowerShot S80
1968 Chevrolet Nova Super Sport 396 b
1968 Chevrolet Nova Super Sport 396, Canon PowerShot S95
1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass S b
1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass, Canon PowerShot S95
1935 Chrysler Airflow d
1935 Chrysler Airflow, Canon PowerShot S95
1951 Chevrolet Deluxe b
1951 Chevrolet Deluxe, Canon PowerShot S95
1967 Pontiac Bonneville
1967 Pontiac Bonneville, Canon PowerShot S95
1953 Packard Carribean b
1953 Packard Carribean, Canon PowerShot S95
64 Pontiac GTO
1964 Pontiac GTO, Kodak EasyShare Z730
Old Cars

Carspotting 2021

I love old cars! Always have, probably always will. I’m excited to see an old car still on the road, doing what it was designed to do. I photograph them when I come upon them parked.

To make this list, the car has to be at least 20 years old. It’s crazy to me that cars from 2001 qualify! But such cars are becoming quite long in the tooth.

I encountered 21 old vehicles parked in 2021. Not bad for a second year in a row when COVID kept me home far more than normal. Here they are.

Old fire truck. I have no idea when this fire truck was made and I lack the energy to research it. I found it parked on South Meridian Street in Indianapolis.

1953 Dodge. I found this parked in Putnamville, Indiana, during my Ride Across Indiana. I’ll bet it doesn’t run, but I included it anyway.

1957 Ford Fairlane 500. I found this gorgeous car parked in someone’s driveway on US 40 during my Ride Across Indiana.

1959 Ford. Good heavens, but are these ugly. I found this in Putnamville, Indiana, near the 1953 Dodge above.

1961 Rambler American. I found this in Putnamville, Indiana, with the 1953 Dodge and the 1959 Ford. Who knows if it actually runs.

1964-66 Ford Thunderbird. I found this while riding my bike across Indiana, on US 40 in either Wayne or Henry Counties.

1969-75 International Harvester Travelall ambulance. Easily my favorite find of the year, I encountered this in the parking lot of the Red Lobster in Richmond, Indiana.

1972 Ford F-100. Spotted on State Road 340 in Cloverland, Indiana, on my Ride Across Indiana. SR 340 is an old alignment of US 40.

1977-84 BMW 633csi. The look of these still make me swoon. Spotted in Carmel just before Thanksgiving.

1982-87 Chevrolet El Camino. This ElCam belongs to a neighbor. He usually parks it in his driveway, but this day it was on the street and easy to photograph.

1984-85 Chevrolet Celebrity. The first time I encountered this nearly pristine survivor was here, at the local car wash. I’ve since seen it on the street exiting my neighborhood, so it’s just a matter of time before I find it parked somewhere on one of my neighborhood walks. This is my second favorite find of the year because of its rarity and condition.

1984-96 Jeep Cherokee. This is usually parked right across the street from where I work in Downtown Indianapolis. It’s the first of four Jeep Cherokees I found this year.

1984-96 Jeep Cherokee Sport. Spotted at my nearby Meijer, this is the second of four Jeep Cherokees I spotted this year.

1985-87 Ford LTD Crown Victoria. Finding a Crown Vic of this era in this condition is a big enough deal — finding it in the rarer two-door version makes it a hat trick. Spotted at my local Meijer.

1986-91 Buick Skylark. Spotted in downtown Zionsville. This might just be the rarest car I found this year. Buick built plenty of these, but most of them ended up as cheap-transportation used cars and then went to The Crusher. Very few of these have got to be left.

1986-91 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia. Spotted on the mean streets of Zionsville, Indiana, this Westie has clearly been very well cared for over the years.

1992-97 Ford F150. Spotted at my local Meijer. These are still plentiful and I don’t usually photograph them when I find them. I just liked the look of this one. I wouldn’t mind owning it.

1993-98 Mercedes-Benz SL500. Another Meijer find. It’s crazy what people drive to the grocery store.

1997-2000 Saturn SC2. I wasn’t a Saturn fanboy but I did like the looks of this coupe. Spotted at Meijer.

1997-2001 Jeep Cherokee Classic. Spotted in downtown Zionsville. I love the excellent condition of this one.

1998-2001 Jeep Cherokee Sport. For a minute, I thought I had found the one above again, until I got home and realized that that one was a Classic and this one is a Sport. Found parked on Mass Ave in Downtown Indianapolis.

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Essay, Old Cars

The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems

Originally published 22 July 2016. When we look back at the past, all too often it’s through rose-colored glasses.

But who doesn’t like to indulge in nostalgia? I sure do. I especially enjoy photographing classic cars and reminiscing about times when they still roamed America’s roads. One of my favorites is the 1966 Ford, like this convertible I found at the Mecum auction in May. My dad owned one when I was small, a two-door hardtop. I spent many happy hours in its spacious back seat.

1966 Ford Galaxie 500XL

Check out that styling! This long, low car looks so purposeful, so strong. Aren’t those tail lights just the bomb? It’s so much better looking than the tall, blobby cars they make today. And they made these cars out of heavy steel. You could sit five people on the hood of this car! Man, didn’t things just make sense back then? Today’s cars are bodied in steel so thin that if you sink your bottom onto a hood, you will dent it.

1966 Ford Galaxie 500XL

But those wistful memories can’t mask the truth: you’re safer in any modern car than in this one. And it’s not just that this old Ford lacks airbags and has only lap belts. Fords of this vintage were famous for sloppy handling, making it hard to quickly steer to avoid a crash. And the brakes are drums all around, subject to fast fading during a hard stop. Oh, and see that steering wheel? It’s mounted to a rigid steering column. In a head-on crash, it becomes a missile that smashes into your face. In modern cars, that column collapses on impact. Also, in modern cars a safety cage frames the entire interior to resist crushing in a crash. That thin exterior sheet metal, along with everything else outside that safety cage, is designed to absorb impact and keep you alive and intact. If you had a serious accident in a ’66 Ford, the car would crush in, and you would absorb the impact. The safety advantages of modern cars are well documented; check out this head-on crash between a 1959 and a 2009 car to see it in action.

1966 Ford Galaxie 500XL

When we look back on the past, we often fall prey to nostalgic preferences and the fading affect bias. In other words, we tend to remember the past’s good parts and forget the bad. It’s human nature to forget that in a crash, an old car like a 1966 Ford would cheerfully maim or kill you, and that far fewer people die in crashes per mile traveled today than 50 years ago.

But this forgetting tends to make us think whatever bad things are happening now have sunk society to new lows. We live in a time of great national economic uncertainty, racial unrest, and global terrorism. The specter of authoritarianism and fascism has risen in this year’s Presidential election. We have a right to be worried, angry, and even afraid. But think back to any time in the past and consider national and world events then. Racial tension has always been with us and has led to violence at various times in our history. Terrorism has been going on for years, but until the last 15 years or so it was largely a problem only in the rest of the world. Our government, a magnet for narcissists, has always contained people who have committed crimes and immoral acts. And at various times in our collective memory, we’ve been at war, or in economic recession or depression.

Life is like riding a roller coaster. While you’re on it, it’s scary. You don’t know what is coming: tall loops, long drops, hard turns. Yet when it’s over, we look in a new light at the parts that scared us. Retroactively, we find them to be exhilarating — or, at least for those of us who don’t enjoy roller coasters, safely completed. What was unknown is now known and our minds reframe the experience accordingly.

We look upon past times like roller coasters we’ve ridden: reframed based on what we know now, viewed through nostalgic preferences and fading effect bias.

We face very real perils and need to address them squarely. But perils have always existed. Now is not necessarily worse than any time in history.

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Old Cars, Photography

A long ago car show

On a mid-September Saturday in 2007, my longtime friend Brian and I documented all of the old alignments of US 31 we could find in northern Indiana. When we reached the town of Peru, we found the highway closed through the heart of town for a car show.

Miami County Courthouse

This is one of the reasons why I love to take road trips — you never know what you’ll encounter!

Brian knows I love old cars, so he patiently let me walk among these and photograph them. This little Nash is heavily customized.

Car show

I’m pretty sure this is a 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster.

Car show

This 1960s Chevy truck was heavily customized. I liked its front end, so I squatted for a close photo. I make a cameo appearance in the bumper.

Car show

This boy from South Bend always stops to look at a Studebaker.

Car show

A Chevy Nova SS. It’s likely this didn’t roll off the assembly line as an SS — most Novas were what we used to call “grocery getters,” with boring sixes under the hood.

Car show

My favorite car of the day was this 1966 Plymouth VIP. Ford luxed up the Galaxie to make the LTD, and Chevy the Impala to make the Caprice. Plymouth put fake wood trim and upgraded seats into its Fury, and called it the VIP.

Car show

This one looks to have been modified some. The fake wood is missing, and the door cards don’t look stock to me. But whatever; it’s lovely and I lingered over it.

Car show

As I prepared to take the shot below, a fellow tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I’ll have to charge you a quarter for each picture.” He owned the Plymouth. When I told him I had recently seen an old television ad for the VIP on one of the online video sites, he lit up for a moment. He told me that there was precious little information available about the VIP, which didn’t sell very well. He said he had had a difficult time finding trim parts for the car, and pointed out a few places where he had to use slightly scuffed chrome or parts that didn’t fit together just right because that’s what was available.

Car show

This blog was about six months old when I found these cars. I wrote about this Plymouth then; read about it here.

My camera’s battery died while shooting the Plymouth, which brought me out of my old-car delirium to notice that Brian was standing politely on the curb, ready to move along. Even though there were more cars to see, we headed back to my car to continue our trip. I fished my spare battery out of a cup holder, put it in the camera, and we were on our way.

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