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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Old Cars

Captured: 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX hood ornament

67 Plymouth Belvedere GTX

The Mecum Spring Classic is a huge muscle car auction held every May at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. This is the Spring Classic’s 25th year, but only my fourth year attending. It is one of my favorite events of the year, as it brings together two of my most favorite things: cars and photography. I love to move in close and capture a car’s interesting details. This 1967 Plymouth was one of the first cars I shot at the first Spring Classic I attended.

This year’s Spring Classic started this week. I’m taking today off work and will spend the whole day with camera in hand happily wandering among the cars. I will probably take 500 photos! It’ll take me a while to upload them all to Flickr, but after I do I’ll share my favorites with you here.

I’ve uploaded all of my photos from this auction
to a set on Flickr. See the photos here

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Preservation

Is it crazy to think that downtowns and big-box stores can peacefully coexist?

As I’ve explored Indiana on its back highways, I’ve come to have a heart for historic preservation. While my first love is old bridges, I also really enjoy a restored historic building and I am always delighted to enter one of Indiana’s many small towns and find a vibrant, vital downtown. A real favorite is Plymouth, in the north central part of the state. As you enter from the south on the old Michigan Road, you cross a recently restored Luten concrete-arch bridge on your way to the city’s heart.

Northbound

Plymouth’s residents are very lucky to have such a charming and well-cared-for main street. Whenever I visit, I feel gently tugged to live in a place like this.

Southbound at Garro St.

But charm doesn’t necessarily translate to utility. A Plymouth resident can’t do all of their shopping downtown; the available stores just don’t support it. I don’t know whether the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the far north side of town helped cause that or merely filled a gap a once-declining downtown created. (My buddy Kurt is a preservationist in Plymouth who participated in some of downtown’s restoration. If he’s reading today, perhaps he knows and can explain in the comments.)

I grew up in the 1970s just 20 miles north of Plymouth in South Bend. I lived in a real neighborhood, with a grocery, two pharmacies, a dry cleaner, a dairy store, a five-and-dime (with a gleaming stainless steel soda fountain!), a library branch, several restaurants and bars, service stations, doctor and dentist offices, two municipal golf courses, and two public schools all within walking distance – sometimes a longish walk, but a walk nonetheless.

Regardless, my family did most of its shopping at a strip mall south of us where the suburbs began. Those stores had more to offer at better prices, and we could park our car once and do the entire week’s shopping in a couple hours. That was, and remains, a compelling value proposition.

Today only the library branch, the golf courses, and the schools remain. I can’t say for sure that families like mine are fully to blame for that. The neighborhood is much poorer than it used to be; its ability to support those businesses waned over the years. Many business owners couldn’t find buyers when they wanted to retire, so they closed their shops. Perhaps zoning has changed to encourage more residential growth there, blocking businesses from opening. Still, when I visit today, I feel sad that there are no more chocolate malts at the soda fountain, no more running down to the corner for a gallon of milk, and no more riding my bike to the dentist for a checkup. But that strip mall is still there, as are two or three more, and their parking lots seem always to be full.

Because it’s what I can afford, I now live in what used to be suburbs before Indianapolis annexed the entire county in 1970. It’s all cul-de-sac neighborhoods, strip malls, and four-lane roads out here. A few neighborhoods like the one in which I grew up still exist in Indianapolis, and they’re sought-after addresses. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to afford to live in one of them. The one nearest me features a few great local merchants who have persisted primarily by moving upscale. There’s an absolutely fantastic butcher shop there, for example, that now sells higher-end meats and attracts customers from far beyond their neighborhood. Perhaps this is how local businesses can survive, as there’s no margin in such madness for Meijer (a midwestern chain that’s like Wal-Mart, but slightly upscale). But even if I do move there, I’ll still do most of my routine shopping at Meijer because of price and convenience.

And so it should probably be no surprise that I’m on the fence about protecting heritage business districts by trying to block development of big-box stores on the edges of towns. I see the damage the strip malls and big box stores have done to small-town downtowns and city neighborhoods. But I also don’t see these large-scale retailers as patently evil; people seem to like them. Perhaps an environment can be created in which local businesses can adapt.

This post was inspired by this post over on Preservation in Pink.

I took photos of that nearby neighborhood last summer
with my vintage Agfa Optima camera. See the photos

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