Old Cars

Cars and coffee

There are a couple cars-and-coffee events near my home that run once a month during the warm-weather months. I like ’em all but I seem to make the one at Gateway Classic Cars most often. The pickings were a little slim, I assume because it was race weekend. That’s what we call Memorial Day weekend around here, because of the Indianapolis 500.

One fellow brought his 1966 Plymouth Satellite coupe. It originally had a 318 cubic-inch V8, but he swapped it out for a 440. He also painted it in a 1967 color and replaced several interior panels for an all-black interior. It’s got a few blemishes and imperfections, but that’s just how I like them. It makes for a car an owner isn’t afraid to drive. And what’s the point in owning a classic like this if you don’t drive it?

1966 Plymouth Satellite
1966 Plymouth Satellite
1966 Plymouth Satellite

I’ve never been a big fan of GM’s 1973-77 Collonnade cars. They were supposedly mid-sizers but they were enormous on the outside and cramped on the inside. Yet it was good to see this 1976 El Camino. That two-tone pattern with the chrome sweeps was available from the factory, but I’ll bet this particular color combination wasn’t.

1976 Chevrolet El Camino
1976 Chevrolet El Camino
1976 Chevrolet El Camino

I’m sure that for Gateway Classic Cars the whole purpose of Cars and Coffee is to get people inside their showroom to see the classics they have for sale. I have an enormous soft spot in my heart (or is it my head?) for the VW Karmann-Ghia. I tried to buy one once; read that story here.

Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia
Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia

You don’t see too many 1966 Chevrolet Biscaynes at shows and sales. The Biscayne was Chevy’s least-expensive full-sized car. Most buyers optioned them lightly if at all; the bulk of sales went to fleets. Riding in one of these you were facing rubber floor mats and, often, no radio. They were most often powered by an inline six-cylinder engine, which was no speed demon. This one, however, packs a big-block 427 cubic inch V8.

1965 Chevrolet Biscayne
1965 Chevrolet Biscayne

The 1970s were a time of increasing luxury in automobiles. Cars from many manufacturers had a “Brougham” trim level that represented the finest on offer. This 1972 Mercury Marquis is a “20 footer” — it looks great from 20 feet away, but when you get up close you see it’s true so-so condition.

1972 Mercury Marquis Brougham
1972 Mercury Marquis Brougham
1972 Mercury Marquis Brougham

My favorite car this day was a 1969 Ford Falcon Future Sports Coupe. Ford’s Mustang ran on Falcon underpinnings, so much so that lots of Falcons were sacrificed to keep Mustangs running. Also, based on my childhood memories most Falcons were the low trim levels, bought to be basic transportation. That’s why it’s so great to see this top-of-the-line Futura Sports Coupe. I’ll bet that driving it feels almost exactly like driving a Mustang of the era.

1969 Ford Falcon Futura Sports Coupe
1969 Ford Falcon Futura Sports Coupe
1969 Ford Falcon Futura Sports Coupe

I made some film photos at this Cars and Coffee too. I’ll share them when they’re back from the processor.

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Stories Told

The ultimate car for the man who hates to spend money

My dad pinched his pennies so hard he had Lincoln thumbs. It had galled him deeply to borrow money to buy his 1983 Renault Alliance (read its story here). Knowing Dad, he paid off that note very early. He submitted to those payments only because Mom fell in love with the Renault on the test drive and insisted he buy it. She knew she could play that card only so often – like, once each decade. But the Renault was, to her, a slam dunk: attractive, comfortable, well equipped in top-line trim.

Then in 1987, when Dad was driving 50 miles round trip to work and the Renault piled up the miles, Mom fretted. “I don’t want you to be stranded on some back county road!” So Dad went car shopping – and didn’t take Mom along so he could get what he wanted. Dad returned to his first love, Ford, and found the biggest bargain on the lot: a leftover new 1986 Ford Escort as the 1988 models were about to be delivered to the showroom. He got it for a song and paid cash. He was so tickled by that deal that he talked about it for years.

IMG_2164

It wasn’t a bottom-of-the-line Pony, as the pictured Escort is. But it might as well have been: the same utility white color, manual transmission (though a five speed rather than the Pony’s standard four), steel wheels, AM radio. It had cloth seat surfaces where the Pony was all vinyl, but it had the same plain interior door panels with the most perfunctory armrests I’ve ever seen. It did have air conditioning; Mom told him not to come home in a car without it. But that was a mighty stripped-down car even for the late 80s. No wonder this pig had languished on the lot so long.

I drove Dad’s Escort a few times. It had good power for the time. I remember the shifter being vague and rubbery but the clutch being sure. I always turned off the radio with its tinny center-of-the-dash speaker as it would give me an instant headache. You could hear the gas sloshing around in the tank when you made a turn.

Dad drove that Escort until 1993. He’d have cheerfully kept driving it, but it had racked up the miles and Mom began to fret anew. So Dad returned to his Ford dealer and came home in a well-optioned Escort LX four-door hatchback. It was so much better a car than its forebear – more comfortable, more fuel efficient, more lively – that even Dad had to allow it was worth spending the money.

I originally shared this story on Curbside Classic, back in May. It’s a good memory of my dad and I wanted to share it with you, too.

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Custom

Rusty Custom
Nikon D50, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-6.3 Tamron AF
2015

My Canon PowerShot S95’s battery died after the first shot of this old truck, so I borrowed my girlfriend’s camera to shoot it.

Photography
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Ford

Ford in the driveway
Yashica Lynx 14e, Kodak T-Max 400
2014

Photography
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Old Cars

A visit to the National Auto and Truck Museum

As long as I’ve been online — and that’s 25 years now — whenever a virtual community thrives, it eventually wants to meet in person. The community at Curbside Classic, the old-car blog for which I write, is no exception. I had to miss last year’s inaugural meetup, but I didn’t want to miss this year’s meetup since it was set right here in Indiana.

Auburn, Indiana, was the site of the Auburn Automobile Company, which made high-luxury automobiles under the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg names from the early 1900s through the Great Depression. Today, the Auburn factory and office buildings are museums. The factory houses the National Auto & Truck Museum, while the offices are home to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. This post is about the former; I’ll write up the latter soon.

The 810 and 812 Cords were radical automobiles for their day, featuring front-wheel drive and an independent front suspension. This 1937 Cord 812 is painted in Indiana State Police livery because it was used in the fleet, although I’m not clear on what it meant to be a “safety car.”

1937 Cord 812 Supercharged Sedan

Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg were luxury makes. This 1929 Auburn Model 8-90 was not targeted at the Ford Model A demographic.

1929 Auburn Model 8-90

Here’s this car’s radiator cap and hood ornament.

Radiator cap

The museum had a handful of the namesake cars right up front, where the lighting was terrible. I shot RAW all day, though, and that let me to bring several washed-out photos to life, such as this one of a 1936 Auburn 654.

1936 Auburn 654

I never found the card teling what year this Auburn 851 is.

Auburn 851

That didn’t stop me from taking this detail shot. Here, the room’s lighting worked in my favor: the source was behind me.

Air inlet

I’m a sucker for dark-blue cars, like this 1931 Auburn 898A sedan.

1931 Auburn 898A sedan

The rest of the museum is filled with cars made ostensibly in the spirit of Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg. As a native of South Bend, I was drawn to this 1965 Studebaker Wagonaire, despite it having been built in Canada after the South Bend plant closed. That thing in the back is a refrigerator, showing the Wagonaire’s retractable roof.

1965 Studebaker Wagonaire

One of my favorite cars of all time is the step-down Hudson. Here’s a 1951 example. The difficult lighting continued in this part of the museum.

1951 Hudson

I’m always happy to come upon an Avanti, especially when it’s from the Studebaker years. This one was built in 1963.

1963 Studebaker Avanti

I’m not sure how a 1959 Buick LeSabre captures the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg spirit, but it was good to see this basic black Buick nevertheless.

1959 Buick LeSabre

This Kaiser was wedged into this spot, making it hard to photograph. It’s an unusual Kaiser, in that it was built in 1962 — seven years after the last Kaiser automobile was built in the United States. Apparently, automobile production continued in Argentina. This car was built for Henry J. Kaiser himself.

1962 Kaiser Manhattan

The basement of the museum was filled a huge selection of International Harvester trucks, which were built in nearby Fort Wayne. I didn’t photograph any of them, but I did photograph this 1968 Ford LTD. My mother’s mother’s mother had one in dark blue. I rode in it a couple times.

1968 Ford LTD

Several other cars dotted this basement. I was completely smitten by this 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak.

1948 Pontiac Silver Streak

My girlfriend fell in love with this 1951 Nash Healey — the first one built. She would look good in it. I’m confident I could never afford it.

1951 Nash Healey

I barely scratched the surface of this museum with my photographs. It was such a large collection it was hard to take it all in! This means I must return another day.

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Stories Told

When do you give up on your car?

Ford Toyota

I’ve had a run of bad luck with my two little cars this year. The Ford Focus has seen my mechanic three times. In February, the power-steering pump failed. In March, a check-engine light led to replacing the thermostat and its housing. And then in April, the alternator died – in 65 mph Interstate traffic at 9:30 at night. I limped along at 25 mph on the shoulder and managed to get off the highway before the car shut down entirely. On top of that, my high-mileage Toyota Matrix needed a new axle half shaft and brakes all around. I’ve now invested $2,400 into keeping my two cars going this year. A lot of that cost is labor, as both cars cram the engine and all accessories into tiny spaces, necessitating removing lots of stuff to get at the dead part. Replacing the Focus’s alternator involved lifting the engine partway out of the car!

Repairs are part of the territory when you buy cars that are 6 to 8 years old and then drive ‘em into the ground, like I do. But my opinion about a car changes dramatically when it leaves me stranded. The car has breached a basic trust, and I think seriously about replacing it.

I came really close to putting a For Sale sign in the Focus’s window. But given all the other things competing for my dollars this year and my severe car-payment allergy, I’ve decided to stick with my two old cars. For now. If they don’t act up any more.

How much nonsense do you put up with from your car before you give up and replace it?

I also posted a version of this at Curbside Classic, a site about old cars and their stories. Check it out!

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