Friday, February 27, 2015

1975 Chrysler Newport - Being Willing To Be Insulting

This time of year, old cars like this start popping up for sale all over the place. Ebay, Craiglist,,, Hemmings Motor News; you name it. They're for sale because people want to get rid of great granddad's old block long Chrysler that's either costing them a hundred bucks or so a month to store or it's been taking up too much room in the garage. Shame too since many of them will be bought for what they are as opposed to being revered for purely sentimental reasons. What they are being nothing more than a nice, low mileage transportation appliance. One that is, at $7995, very overpriced.
How much should this go for? Well, how much something is worth depends on how much someone is willing to pay for it. With only 26,000 miles on it, this car, at least on paper, makes sense as an everyday driver purchase as opposed to something that someone purchases as a new family heirloom. Even then that asking price continues to rear its ugly head; 8 large is a ton of cash for this forty year old, plebian, entry level, sparsely equipped Chrysler. Hate to low ball at the risk of looking like an opportunist, but this will sell quickly at anything under $4,000; I'm thinking closer to $2,500. You have to be willing to insult someone to get what you want. Helps to do that with a smile. If you don't have the stomach for that but want the car, it's going to cost you. A lot. Then there's the issue with mileage; this car is going to make a Chevrolet Suburban appear thrifty.
The gas mileage culprit being the car's substantial curb weight, a complete lack of aerodynamics and a large, carbureted, computer control free V-8 engine. Let's not forget the rugged but inefficient, over drive-less, 3 speed "Torqueflite" automatic transmission doing you no favors at the gas pump too. The engine's relative lack of power being, perhaps, the only thing this car has going for it that saves it from being a single digit mpg car. Regardless, gas shoots up to $4 a gallon and this thing really hurts as a daily driver. How much is this worth to you now?
Mechanical parts are a plenty but good luck finding anything else if need be too. Also, you drop that kind of money on this, be sure your insurance carrier will cover you if the car is totaled. Antique insurance? Sorry, all of the "Classic Car" insurance companies I know of don't allow you to drive an old car as a daily driver. This thing gets in an accident while you're driving to and from work, that antique insurance you have won't do bupkiss for you.
Still, she's a handsome automobile. A comparable Buick or Oldsmobile in similar condition might have an asking price of almost double. Not saying I'd pay that either since for that kind of money you're into mid 1970's mint condition Corvette money. This is a solid, $3,000 cash car. At best.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

1972 Cadillac Coupe DeVille - Mirror, Mirror on The Wall

When people find out you're a "car guy" they invariably ask what your "favorite" is. Honestly, if you're a true car wonk you don't have a favorite; you loves them all. You do, however, have some that you hold dearer than others and for me you're looking at my most dear. A 1972 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. Mirror, mirror, this is fairest of them all. 
Yeah, even in this baby poop brown, I swoon for this massive machine for reasons that are beyond me. I actually find the color quite fetching. My father had a dark blue '72 sedan on black leather and thought it ruined the look of the car making an elegant design look sinister. White on black, white on red, and black on red also appeal to me. However, despite the fact that brown is right up there with purple and green in terms of colors I don't like, I think it fitting of this car. Could also be that love is blind. I digress.
I laugh when people find my taste in cars leans towards these leviathanesque GM luxury boats of the early 1970's.
They do, though, high five me emphatically when I tell them my wife and I own this 1977 Corvette. Apparently when most people think "car guy", they think of something like this when they think of what a "car guy" should own.

They don't think of this which is ironic to me when you take into consideration that this is much more a complete car than our Corvette is. And it's not because our Corvette is just shy of being a "basket case" (car guy speak for a total hunk of junk). Now, the Cadillac is actually comfortable and is easy to get in and out of. Even the rear seat passengers have an easier time getting into and out of the back of this car compared to just getting into our Corvette.  
Don't get me wrong, I love our Corvette but I have no deep, personal connection to it aside from owning it now. Also, I love the idea of taking a nice long Sunday drive (in summer of course, after all I live in Cleveland) with my entire family in the car. And then some. This seats six, the Corvette of course just seats two. Seats just two in a cramped, compact, noisy, hot, torture chamber of sorts.
I found this delightful Coupe near our home and with an asking price of a very reasonable $7995. I liked it so much that I inquired if they would be willing to take my Corvette as a trade for it. You might recoil in horror at that thought but understand, I'm a car guy and our tastes do tend to run the gamut. Did I tell you that I'm also a sucker for station wagons?
After I contacted the dealership I asked my older son, he's on the right in this photograph, who has somewhat of an appreciation for old cars, if it would be ok with him if I traded the Corvette for an old Cadillac. Now, neither of my boys talk much about our Corvette, they're not fans of driving it, but my son's immediate "no" when responding to my question told me a lot about how he feels about it. 
His "no" was not a "no" towards the Cadillac, mind you, just a "no" towards trading the Corvette for it. If ever I needed a winning lottery ticket, now's the time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Gas Monkey Garage 1978 Ford Granada Ghia - The Sum of Its Parts

Gas Monkey Garage is an automotive customizing shop in Dallas, Texas and is featured in the "reality" TV show, "Fast "N Loud", Monday nights at 9 on the Discovery Channel. The program features Richard Rawlings, whom we understand is the owner of Gas Monkey Garage, his "Gas Monkeys" and their weekly forages around the country looking for unusual automobiles of seemingly any vintage. While I haven't seen this 1978 Ford Granada on the program, it came up on my Facebook wall through the news feed of some car wonk page that I like, it intrigued me instantly. One of the things I like about "Fast 'N Loud" is that Rawlings and I (or the producers of the show) have have very similar tastes in automobiles. Rarely do they feature a car that I don't find interesting.

Now, let's get something out of the way first. I (usually) despise Ford Granadas (the American version, most of the German versions were quite cool) in any guise; coupe, sedan, wagon, V-8 or six although I could warm to a V-8 Granada two-door with the 351. I, again, generally, loathe these shoe boxes because of their soulless styling that looks like it was done by a high school kid slothing through a mechanical drawing class. They also share way too much mechanically with the 1960 Ford Falcon that also was the underpinning of the (strangely cool) Ford Maverick coupe. Not to mention of course, the first generation Ford Mustang.  

Still, this car is somehow cool in ways that only us car wonks could possibly appreciate it. I think it's why it's featured for sale by Gas Monkey Garage. It goes way beyond it's freakishly mint condition too since after all, this is a 1978 Ford Granada; a car so generally awful that even it being a two door variant fails to incite any passion. So, what is it then that makes this car alluring?

This car is special because it has a factory V-8 engine. While it's only the 138 horsepower 302, a 177 horse 351 Windsor was available on this car albeit just in 2 barrel guise, this slow poke of a V-8 does take the car from being god awful to being almost acceptable. But wait, there's more to help seal the deal of appeal.

It's also, be still my beating heart, a four speed car. Wow. You don't see many of these around.

Points off for it being a four speed car with a god forsaken bench seat but beggars can't be choosers. At least the interior color scheme isn't plaid or hounds tooth or worse.  Love the padded glove compartment door. 

Years ago you could custom order your car in any number of different configurations. A manual transmission on a V-8 powered two door in high line trim (Ghia) was not out of the ordinary and they clogged dealer lots because Ford needed to sell some of them to help their CAFE numbers. The multitude of different ways cars could be put together back then was said to be one of the major reasons why quality was as poor as it was. General Motors and Chrysler offered manuals on some of their mid size, V-8 powered, rear wheel drive models too back then. 

Rawlings is offering this car for sale on ebay at no reserve. At last check, it was at $7,700; a remarkable number for a car that is nothing if not remarkable. Comparable six cylinder Granada coupes in similar condition are selling for well south of $3,000. There's also the cache of the car being "celebrity owned". 

This car being  is nothing exceptional save for its unexceptional V-8 and clunky 4 speed. Classic example of the sum of its parts greater than any individual part. Here's the link if you're interested. Happy bidding and good luck.

Monday, February 23, 2015

1984 Chevrolet Caprice - Yesterday When I Was Young

Amazing what seven short model years will do to a car. In 1977 when this car was young, Motor Trend named it their "Car of the Year" as it was considered nothing short of a revelation. A foot shorter than the car it replaced while weighing almost a thousand pounds lighter, it also had more interior and truck volume as well. Cars like this didn't come around but once in a lifetime.
Fast forward to 1984 and this car was seen in a negative light just as the car it replaced was. Too big, too heavy, too thirsty, too crude and primitive. What happened? Thank a second gas crisis in ten years and the influx of smartly engineered, impossibly perfect cars from Japan. Those brilliant imports weren't just better in every way; they also showed Americans just how bad their cars were.  
Why anyone would buy one of these after driving a contemporary Camry or Accord is beyond me. The one thing this car and cars similar to it, those GM "B and C bodies", did offer was considerably more interior room than the Camcords. Did Grandpa buy his 1984 Caprice because he could put a little trash can under the dashboard?
If you're of a particular age, like I am, you perhaps have an appreciation for these cars that goes perhaps beyond reason. This car is 31 years old going on 90. If you're honest with yourself, there's nothing quite like the chill of realizing that you're not as young as you used to be. Despite your own best intentions not to be as old as the those who were "old" when you were  young.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

1959 Lincoln Capri - The Struggle

Lincoln, a division of Ford, had all new "unibody" designs for 1958

I took "writing for television news" in college and struggled with it. Part of the problem was the stuck up, stick in the mud professor but my biggest challenge was with my being an expressive, creative writer, I found it hard to just let the pictures "do the talking".
That unibody allowed for a cavernous interior
I'm guilty of not letting the pictures do the talking with my blogging as well. I will sit on a blog for weeks before I publish it because I can't find anything significant to add to a picture. I can't leave well enough alone that there isn't some deeper meaning in something that is little more than an appliance.  While there is  certain nobility in those appliances, anything more than that, as is such the case with '59 Lincoln, is completely contrived. After all, this is just a car. Those cars that are more than just a dishwasher are few and far between. Try as this car might, and this is true of most cars not just these juke box like '50's designs, it falls short of being anything more than just pretentious.

46 inches of leg room combined front and back. These cars were the largest unibody cars ever made.
That's why with this (weird and gruesome) old Lincoln, I've given up on writing about the car and instead focused on the struggle of writing about it. It's been one of the tougher cars I've found to write about; it's that way with most cars I've found that were new before I was born. By the time I became aware of cars, say between the age of 8 and 10, most cars like this were long gone to the crusher. This blog came to gather quickly after my decision to focus on the writing of it versus writing a boring, mechanical piece about unibody design or Lincoln's decades long losing battle with Cadillac. You can find that information in Wikipedia after all.
And at 227 inches long they were one of the largest automobiles ever made as well.
So, just sit back and imagine rubbing your cheek on that cold, damp, grimy 56 year old hood and feeling the damp dirt dribble down your face. Why your cheek? Anyone can put their hands on this car; go for something a little more personal.
These cars sold poorly and Lincoln replaced them with a more conventional looking automobile in 1961.
It's only after all these years that I've grasped what it was that professor was actually talking about; the nobility of simplicity.

Friday, February 20, 2015

1963 Buick Special Skylark - Once A Problem Always A Problem

By the late 1950's, Buicks had become very big and heavy. Even their smallest model, the entry level "Special" was a zahftig two tons. Responding to a slow but growing trend of Americans buying smaller, more manageable and fuel efficient makes and models from Europe, Buick introduced their first truly small car in 1961. They recycled their "Special" nameplate for the little car and in many ways the new "Special" was really special. 
The new for 1961 Special was on GM's brand new unibody compact Y body platform or chassis that it shared with the Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile F85 and Chevrolet Corvair. This particular 1963 "Special" is a upmarket "Skylark". Skylark was a trim level on many Buicks  like "Riviera" had been and was not its own separate line until 1964.
1963 was the last year for this car's production cycle and Buick made major revisions to its sheet metal.  The Special lost the distinctive scalloping on its flanks that it had in 1962 (above).
Curiously, the 1963 Special gained vestigial tail fins. Goes to show you how far in advance design changes actually occur. When the '63 was originally planned, tail fins were still de rigueur.
Engineering wise, if this car was special it was because of its engines. While the 1962 Special was noted for being the first American car to use a V-6 engine, this particular Special uses an aluminum 215 cubic inch V-8. However, this engine was highly problematic. It had an abnormally high scrap ratio due to hidden block-casting porosity problems which caused oil leaks. Another problem was clogged radiators from antifreeze mixtures incompatible with aluminum. Buick sold the tooling for the 215 to British automaker Rover (later became British Leyland). British Leyland refined and developed the engine further and used it in many of their vehicles through 2002. 
It's remarkable that this 52 year old Buick still has the 215 engine and not a transplanted conventional iron block GM engine or even a period correct V-6. I'd avoid it like the plague; once a problem always a problem. "Special" remained Buick's entry level model, on and off through 1996.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Little Red Corvette - Too Damn Cold

We're in a stretch of some of the most brutal weather I've ever experienced in my life and it's ironic that, apparently, the country in general is in the midst of one of the mildest winters in recorded weather history. Really? You'd never know it up here on the shores of The Great Lake Erie. It was 7 below outside yesterday morning so that meant it was not even 10 degrees inside my garage. I know it's really cold out when the snow on the snow blower doesn't melt over night when it's in the garage.  
With the day off yesterday for President's Day, the wife working and thus being stuck at home with our teenage boys who are more than happy to do literally nothing all day, I got ambitious and attempted to get at the brake line/proportionating valve part of my endless "brake job" on the '77. I broke the line last weekend attempting to secure the new cross over line to the brass block behind this flange. If you've kept up with the scintillating details of my winter of '15 exploits, the old cross over line is what failed causing the rear brakes not to function. In replacing that line, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
What's in my way now, in addition to the soul crushing cold, is that big, frozen nut on the proportionating valve. The proportionating valve "proportions" hydraulic fluid to the brakes based load, weight and demand. Most of the braking force goes to the front so the back brakes are little more than secondary but still, with no fluid in the rear brakes, all of the braking has had to have been done by the front. This big nut hasn't been tampered with in almost 40 years and is not happy about my wanting it gone now.
Of course it wouldn't budge despite a week of soaking in PB Blaster and I rounded it off with my 9/16th box wrench right from the get go. Why these fittings are made of aluminum is beyond me and the cold weather only adds to the misery. Getting that bolt off, with my massive vice grips and then getting the brake line out will have to wait until it hits maybe 30 degrees this weekend. Wish me luck.

Monday, February 16, 2015

1981 Chrysler Imperial - Real Cars Have Just Two Doors

Growing up in the personal luxury coupe crazed 1970's, and to some extent 1980's, you can't blame me for loving them. I should know better and I most certainly do. Still, a big, cushy, wallowing, leather lined, sloppily assembled, completely unreliable, American luxury coupe from the 1980's? Look at that raked back windshield and impossible to get into back seat. What's not to love? This is a perfect car. To this day I believe that anything with four doors is an appliance. Real cars have just two doors.
The personal luxury coupe boom was beginning to peter out by 1981 but you'd never know it by the amount of effort that Chrysler put into the designing and building of their new Imperial. Chrysler boasting that only laborers with 25 years or more experience on the assembly lines worked on building these cars and that a complete wet sanding was done between applications of paint. Other frivolous details like the filing down of welds (most of which you'd never see) and five mile test drives for each car sounded great in sales pitches but in the real world were more like an excuse to jack the price up to more than twice that of the cars it was based on, the new for 1980, Cordoba and Dodge Mirada.

This optional Mark Cross leather interior certainly looked sumptuous and luxurious even in this hideous grey/silver shade. Sad truth was it gave about as much support to backs and backsides as grand dad's barcolounger. Not bad on a short jaunt to the mall, golf course or into town but on a long trip from say Long Island to the Poconos, the Old Man would be downing the Doan's back pain pills by the fist full before suiting up for the smorgasbord.

The most interesting design element on this car is that wild trunk treatment. As a wee little nipper growing up in the vast concrete and asphalt jungle of south Nassau, New York, I happened upon one of these and thought it the oddest thing I'd ever seen. Little did I know that the target customer of this car, 55-65 year olds, which meant they were born sometime between 1915 and 1925, would think of it as a modern day Dusenberg, Rolls or classic Cadillac of the 1930's. The dream cars of their youth. Retro design, very hot a decade ago and to some extent still hot today (see Camaro, Challenger and Mustang) is nothing new.
Incidentally, this was called, a "bustle back". From this angle it's almost normal or dare I say, attractive.  

From this angle it looks like the designer fell asleep at his drafting table as he was drawing a straight line and liked what he saw when he woke up. It was probably from an angle similar to this that I first saw one of these and my initial reaction was, "the hell?" Ironies of ironies, Cadillac had a similar design ethos on their new for 1980 Cadillac Seville. It's been said Chrysler did the better job with it. I'm not a fan of either but I wouldn't argue with the sentiment that the Chrysler here is the less ugly of the two.

Despite the bustle back trunk and this derivatively styled water fall grill, Chrysler pulled the plug on this car after 1983 with a mere 17,000 sold in three short model years against projections of 75,000. Blame a combination of high sticker price and competition in a very small universe. If  you had the means to buy one of these, would you have? Unless you got this car at enough of a discount that it made sense to pass on a  Cadillac Eldorado, why would you? The personal coupe universe by 1983 was shrinking anyway with many of the people that would find these cars appealing moving on to the next great automotive trend, the sport utility vehicle. Many of them, but not all. Some, like myself, still keeping the personal luxury coupe torch lit and burning brightly.
From 1955 to 1975, Imperial was a separate division of Chrysler and not a Chrysler model.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

So What's To Become of Brian Williams?

This whole Brian Williams mess reminds me of my personal experience on September 11, 2001. I was in the city that day and actually heard, but did not see, the second plane hit the south tower. The rest of that day I spent being focused on keeping my radio station on track. That's the extent of my experience that day despite being thisclose to it. It would be a much more interesting story, when I tell it, had I actually seen the plane crash into the World Trade Center or perhaps warped the truth that I was one of the "dust people" downtown or worse. I'm as proud of myself as I can be given the circumstances of that sad day that I've stuck to my less than interesting 9/11 story after all these years. Mr. Williams tall tales are proof that once you open Pandora's box of lies and tall tales, you can't close it. Besides, why would I want to make 9/11 about me anyway?
By now it's old news about how Brian Williams story telling has led to a six month suspension without pay. This suspension without pay warranted? Well, given what he does for a living it's not out of the realm of reason. It probably won't hurt his bank account much considering he makes $10 million a year but his ego and reputation has been put through the ringer. Should he have been fired instead? Good question. Another good question is why wasn't he fired? It's easier to answer the latter rather than the former question.
He wasn't fired for the simple reason that he had high ratings doing the evening news for NBC. NBC has even been touting that they've been able to maintain those ratings through this entire thing. Remarkable but not surprising. Brian Williams represents millions of advertising dollars for the network so at the end of the day this boils down to ratings, dollar and cents.
Now, had NBC booted him chances are CBS, ABC, Fox or some other of network of sorts would have grabbed him immediately and either used him in a similar capacity as a news anchor or repackaged him as some sort of correspondent. His ratings performance, good, bad or indifferent would have been on his new employer and not on NBC. If he performed well, that was a risk that NBC was not willing to make.
Now with six months to cool this whole mess off, NBC knows that America has a short memory and attention span, and NBC looking like they took appropriate disciplinary measures by making him sit out sans compensation, NBC is in the best position to benefit, possibly, by his returning to the anchor desk in August. And if his ratings tank then at least there's no benefit of doubt.
So, what's to become of Brian Williams? America's TV news viewers will decide. If they don't tune in for the long haul that means they don't forgive him and if that's the case, he's toast and no one will touch him. Rest assured, though, a massive PR campaign is coming making him out to be the second coming of Walter Kronkite. America loves a big ole apology too and keep in mind, Mr. Williams didn't misrepresent "the news" when he was on the air above and beyond his warping of the truth when he made himself part of the news. Why he did that is anyone's guess.