Chrysler’s 1934-37 Airflow may have been a masterpiece of streamlining, but it bombed in the marketplace. It simply looked too strange, and buyers stayed away. But removed from the context of its time, the Airflow is clearly a groundbreaking design.
Not that you can see much of it in this photo. I found this 1935 Airflow at the 2011 Mecum auction. I moved in close to photograph this detail.
The other day I looked back through my many photos from the Mecum classic car auctions I used to go to. What fun those auctions were for me.
I used to take all of my digital cameras, plus all of my extra battery packs. That was one camera at first, then two, then three, all point-and-shoots. I also always brought one film camera. I was loaded down with gear!
This 1961 Chevrolet Parkwood station wagon was such a lovely color. I tended to shoot my Canon PowerShot S80 at 28mm, its default setting, which let me bring in lots of this wagon’s flank.
I love old cars! I always have. As a kid I used to be able to pinpoint the year, make, and model of any car built starting in about 1955, and of many cars built since the end of World War II. It still fills me with pleasure to find an old car parked, and I usually pause to photograph them, usually with my iPhone.
I’m a lot older now, and I’m amused to find that cars I remember debuting when I was an adult are now old and used up.
For the purposes of this annual post, I include any car 20 or more years old. Here now, the cars.
1956-71 Morris Minor 1000. I’ve seen this car at shows around town so I was pleasantly surprised to find it parked in Lions Park in Zionsville one day when Margaret and I took a walk there. I’m hardly knowledgeable in this car’s year-to-year trim changes; perhaps one of my UK readers can narrow down this car’s year better than I.
1961 Chevrolet Corvair Lakewood. This may be the rarest automobile I’ve ever found parked somewhere. Only about 33,000 Corvair wagons were ever built. Given this wagon’s Lakewood badging it has to be from 1961, as in 1962 the Lakewood name disappeared and these were just Corvair wagons.
1965 Chevrolet Corvairs. There must have been a Corvair convention nearby because these two Corvair two-doors were parked across the street from the Lakewood. I’m positive one of them is a ’65 because it has a 1965 license plate on it. I’m only pretty sure the other one is a ’65. I found all three of these Corvairs on the square in Lebanon, IN.
1967 Pontiac Tempest Custom. This car belongs to the fellow who lives two doors down from me. One day he and it were out at the curb by his house, so I went over to talk to him about his car. He said, “Would you like to drive it?” Does a drunk want a case of Jim Beam? I drove it around the neighborhood and photographed it in our community area. My neighbor has had the car for a few decades, and was friends with the original owner. He restored and gently modified it, replacing its tired but original 326 cubic-inch V8 with a crate 350 and doing other little things to it. It drove very nicely and stopped confidently on its drum brakes. Assuming the top doesn’t leak this would be a fun car to own.
1973-79 VW Bus. Good lord, but do I love these things. They were common during my 1970s kidhood and I got to ride in several. They had great visibility and plenty of room for a large crew. When Chrysler introduced its minivans in the 1980s I wondered what all the hubbub was about, because VW had already done it with its ubiquitous Bus. Spotted in downtown Zionsville.
1985 Toyota Celica Supra. A college buddy owned one of these; he bought it new. He let me drive it a time or two and it was great fun — low slung, tight handling, good acceleration. I guess this was more a boulevard cruiser than true sports car but so what? It was still a joy to drive. Spotted in downtown Zionsville.
1987-91 Honda Civic. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of these. Most of them have died a sad death because the kids all bought ’em cheap, hopped ’em up, and hooned ’em into the ground. And holy cow, is this ever an itty bitty car. When they were new they didn’t seem so small, but cars are so much taller and bulkier now. I found this in the parking garage next to my office in Downtown Indianapolis.
1987-91 Ford F-150. Ford trucks from the last 30 years are so common that it’s easy to overlook one. But here, parked in downtown Zionsville, was this one looking very nice. If I had to guess, I’d say it was an unrestored original that has received great care.
1987-91 Ford F150. When it rains, it pours. Here’s another F150 of this generation, also in very nice original condition. I found it at a nearby big-box store.
1989-93 Plymouth Sundance. This Sundance is an art project! I found it behind the dormitory my son lives in at his school.
1990-92 Oldsmobile Silhouette. Good heavens, how did GM’s designers think this design was a good idea? But these sold well enough, and were hardy enough, that I manage to find one every two years or so. I found this one at a Cracker Barrel in Indianapolis.
1992 Mercury Tracer. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I came upon this Tracer in the big-box-store parking lot. Tracers were far less common than their Ford Escort sisters, and the wagons were the rarest of them all. I know this is a ’92 as that was the first year for the lightbar grille and the last year for motorized front seat belts. I sort of wished this one had a For Sale sign in the window. I’ve always really liked these cars, ever since my dad had a terrific one in four-door hatchback form that lasted and lasted. The wagon would be just that much more useful.
1992-97 Ford F150. It was a good year for old trucks. This shortbed F150 is in like-new condition. It parked next to me in the garage where I park to go to work.
1996-99 Saturn SW. I always thought this body redesign of the original Saturn was better than the original but still weird looking. Spotted in Downtown Indianapolis. That broken side mirror and a little peeling clear coat were the only obvious flaws on an otherwise nice condition survivor.
1996-99 Toyota Celica. In profile, I always thought these looked like the old Ford Pinto. I always thought the headlight treatment was cartoonish. Spotted in the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis.
To see all of the Carspotting posts I’ve made over the years, click here.
I recently updated my 2012 review of the Pentax K1000; see it here. On my first ever roll in that camera I walked through the parking lot at work, photographing colorful everyday cars up close. I’ve always thought these photos were fun. A couple of these have been only on my hard drive all these years.
Over at Curbside Classic, the old-car blog to which I sometimes contribute, someone will occasionally post a parking-lot photo from 30 or 50 years ago. It’s always great fun to see the everyday cars of the era. The cars that get saved or restored tend to be the more noteworthy or upper-trim models.
These photographs are far too close up to ever provide much of that feeling of nostalgia. But even seven years later, when was the last time you saw a Dodge Neon R/T (above)? Even the once-ubiquitous Chevy Malibu Maxx (below) is starting to be thin on the ground.
Cars date photographs. I follow a group on Facebook for vintage photographs of Indiana. The posters are often left to guess when photos were made. Because I have good knowledge of American automobiles after World War II, I can frequently help narrow it down. “That had to be made no earlier than 1968 because there’s a 1968 Chevy in the photo.”
I made all of these photos with my 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens on Fujicolor 200.
It’s easy to make detail photos of old cars; there are so many details. I find newer cars to be more challenging. Revisiting these seven-year-old photographs makes me want to try more often now.
Have you ever missed a car you owned after you sold it?
I miss my old blue Toyota Matrix. A lot. Above you see it shortly after I bought it, in 2009. The photo is from its first road trip, along the National Road in western Indiana.
I owned this car for nine years, the longest I’ve ever owned a car. I bought it used with about 90,000 miles on it, and I drove it another 90,000. By the time I sold it about a year and a half ago, it looked terrible. It had several scrapes and dents, and the front fascia had broken off. The paint had gone chalky, and had peeled off a large section of the hood and a little on the front bumper.
I bought a used Ford Focus in 2012 to be my primary car, but kept the Matrix. The Focus was terrific to drive, more fun than the Matrix by far. But I never bonded with it like I did this Matrix. I was always happy behind its wheel for reasons I can’t put my finger on.
In the last couple years I owned the Matrix I used it like a work truck, hauling anything and everything in its capacious wayback. By the time I traded it in on my VW Passat, it looked every bit as used up as it was.
I was happy to get my new car, and it’s working out fine for me and my family. But every time I see a Matrix rolling on the road, I find myself hoping to see a for a For Sale sign in the window.
I’ve reached a time in life where I can recall memories from my adulthood with great clarity, as if they happened last week — but to my surprise, some of those memories are 30 years old.
As I think back beyond 30 years, memories seem to have aged on a logarithmic scale — the farther back I go, the disproportionately more ancient the memory seems. My college days now firmly feel like they happened a long time ago. My public-school days feel more remote and disconnected the farther back I recall them. What little I recall from before those days seems to have happened in another era, in a different place, the jumbled images faded and color-shifted like cheap photo prints left in the sun.
Yet so much happens in even a relatively short time span that it’s easy to forget key details. In this ten-year-old photo I’m at my first Mecum classic-car auction, having won tickets in a radio contest. I was in nirvana, happily experiencing cars I’d only ever before seen in photographs. I had recently bought my first digital camera, a surprisingly capable Kodak. I shot a couple hundred photos there with it, depleted the battery, and wished I had a spare. I switched to shooting with my phone, a Palm Pre, until its battery had depleted as well. And look at my hair! I wore it to my shoulders in those days.
This photo reminds me of most of these details. Would they be lost to me now otherwise? Do I remember the last 30 years as clearly as I think I do?
More importantly to me now: at what point will my 20s start to feel like they happened a very long time ago? My 30s? My 40s? I know a blogger in his 80s who says he mostly can’t remember his kids’ childhoods anymore. Is that my fate, too?