Monday, February 29, 2016

1990 Lincoln Continental - What is a Luxury Car?


You know it's late winter in Cleveland Town when the "car show" rolls into the old tank factory near the airport known as the "I-X Center". That's "eye-ex" and not "nine" by the way; it's for "International Exposition Center". The belle of the ball this year, for me at least, is Ford's all new, Lincoln Continental. Read what I wrote about it here about a year ago. Now designated a 2017 model, the new Continental is Ford's latest attempt to revive a brand that was never all that alive in the first place. Rather than rehash this car, whose styling I believe derivative and is ridiculously over priced, let's step back in time nearly thirty years and look at another over priced attempt by Ford to revive Lincoln. 


Like I mentioned in my blog about the new Continental, you'd swear that "Lincoln Continental" was the most awesome nameplate in American automobile history. Well, if that was the case, why did Lincoln stop using it after the 2002 model year? It was because "Continental", which for a time in the '30's and '40's and even in the '60's, was arguably the most alluring luxury automobile in America, had eroded down into just another old American luxury car marquee like DeVille, Town Car and New Yorker. What was worse, it was a marquee that had become more associated with the blue hair set than the "monied" set.


New for 1988, the "D186" platform based Continental, this is a 1990 model, shared much with the Ford Taurus and replaced the Fox bodied, "hunchback" Continental sedan that was introduced in 1982. It was amazing that a nameplate that at one time was the stuff of dreams had been reduced to sharing running gear with a plebian family car. A good family car but a plebian one none the less. At least the Continental and Taurus shared no sheet metal or interior bits and pieces. 

Bowing to public demand for the conventional, Lincoln sold these front wheel drive Continentals  along side rear wheel drive Town Cars. Cadillac did the same.  


While much of the blame for the "graying" of the Continental lays at the tires of that Fox bodied Continental this replaced, and honestly, the debasing of Continental goes back to 1970 when Lincoln discontinued suicide doors, this car was nothing remarkable at a time when bold and innovative design was sorely needed at Lincoln; Lincoln played it safe. If anything and incredibly, this car made the entire Lincoln division of Ford even older. The '88 Continental's styling was handsome if not ordinary, but ultimately, forgettable. My millennial sons are enamored of suicide doored Lincolns; can't say they'd think much of this car.  


Which brings us to the age old question, "what IS a luxury car"? Up until around 1960 or so, a luxury car offered amenities that you could not get on lesser cars. As those lesser cars became available with the accouterments once exclusive to luxury cars and luxury car makers offered nothing more than a stretched wheel bases and perhaps better interiors, lines blurred. Lines blurred and Lincoln, and let's be honest - Cadillac was as guilty as Lincoln, sold their cars on reputation more than anything else. Cars like this are luxury cars only inasmuch as the advertising brochure and salesperson told prospective customers that they were.


Hard to say what's going to happen to Lincoln. Many believe the brand doomed and honestly, I don't see the new Continental being that savior. Then again, what do I know? I happened to believe that the 2013-2016 MKZ was a brilliant looking automobile above and beyond that it's a Lincoln. My wife likes that car so much she'd like me to find one for us and she hates the Lincoln brand. One thing I do know for certain, as nice as the 1988 Lincoln Continental was, it didn't do nearly as much good as it should have and if anything continued the downward slide of an automobile marquee that is currently at the brink of extinction. As it seems it always has been. 


Thursday, February 25, 2016

1985 Buick LeSabre Coupe - No Good Can Come of This


Here's exactly what I'm looking for. A less than perfect but very solid 1980-1985 LeSabre COUPE with the Oldsmobile V-8.


GM's 1980-81 refresh or update of their 1977 B and C bodies did wonders for the coupes at a time when the market for big coupes was quickly fading. I love the look of these big Buick LeSabre coupes in particular. Even in old man maroon. 


Years ago, and I mean years ago, I had come fairly close to picking up an '83. I was, honestly, underwhelmed by the car enough to pass on it. 


A lot of the problems I had with the car stemmed from the car just being too damn big for the little Oldsmobile 307 that made at most 150 horsepower. It was annoyingly sluggish at a time when almost everything on the market was sluggish. The fact this car has the V-8 would make swapping another V-8 into it fairly straight forward. At least on paper. 


A high school friend of mine had a '77 LeSabre coupe with the Pontiac 301, which made less horsepower and torque than the Olds 307, and that car was far more spirited than that '83 was, That was probably due to a lower final drive ratio than the rear end that car had and what this one probably has. Amazing what a slightly more aggressive ring and pinion will do for an automobile. Upside to low horsepower and tall gearing was very good fuel economy. Seriously, this big old boat will pull down 20+ miles per gallon highway. 


This being an '85, GM had by then sorted out the Metric transmission issues that plagued these cars. Most likely deep down below "the hump" there is a 700R4 - as bullet proof a transmission as a GM ever made. There's an entire cottage industry out there that could provide me with parts and knowledge to bolt up who knows what to it. This car would make quite the sleeper. 


Ha. As if that's going to happen. Shame, though considering this car is going for just $3,500 and it's located in nearby Pittsburgh.


Considering the myriad issues I have with my 1977 Corvette, the last thing in the world I need is this thing. No good can come of this.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shopping For a Cheap Used Car Under $9,000 - Beggars Can't Be Choosers

On a fairly regular basis I enjoy shopping for cheap used cars on cars.com. It's the way I've found all of my current cars and have shopped for cars for more than ten years now. Cars.com is a great tool and it's amazing what you can find out there if you're flexible and not too choosey. This morning I set the dollar amount at $9,000 and 50 miles from my zip code, I vary the $$$ amount and mileage a bit every time I do this, and I came up with these three beauties.


First up is this 2002 Ford Taurus wagon with only 21,000 miles on it and with an asking price of just $3,900. What a value this car is. We had a 2002 Taurus that never gave us any trouble until the heat stopped working. Why I ditched that car for that reason is beyond me and I wish I had it back. These vintage of Ford Taurus weren't the sexiest of automobiles but they were rock solid. And who doesn't love the practicality of a station wagon? This is a good looking car too. 


If you can stomach the age of the car and a less than perfect interior, our 2002 Taurus' leather interior wore just like this interior here, this is a really terrific car. It has the less powerful of the two engines Ford offered that year so it won't have much zip but it will be quite frugal at the pump. I just hope it's not a smoker. Not much you can do about cigarette stink in any car. 


Next up is this fetching 2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue. The Intrigue replaced the Cutlass in the late, great Oldsmobile lineup and shared a lot underneath with other "W-body" cars from GM like the Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo, Buick Regal and Pontiac Grand Prix. I'm a huge fan of W-body cars from GM. Big difference with this car is it has the Oldsmobile exclusive, 3.5 liter DOHC, 24 valve V-6. This engine is based on the 4.6 liter Northstar V-8 and is not to be confused with other 3.5 liter engines from General Motors. That fact makes me a little nervous since the vast majority of GM W-bodies of this vintage had the more commonplace 3.1 or 3.8 liter V-6 engines. No doubt the engine in this car would be expensive to repair since it's so rare. Consider yourself warned. 


That said, this car is still a terrific value albeit, like the Taurus, quite old. Only 35,000 miles on it, though and the asking price is a very decent $4,995. No leather and no sunroof but it looks to be clean as a whistle. You'll love how that DOHC V-6 runs too. I'd call on this car.


Our last gem for today is another 2002 car, this time a nicely equipped Toyota Camry SE with 45,000 miles on it and a relatively steep asking price of $8,500. It also has 4 cylinder engine compared to the V-6 engines in the Taurus and Intrigue but that's not an issue seeing this is a Toyota - their 4's rivaled domestic V-6's back then for power and smoothness. They also beat them at the pump too. Score. 


The SE package comes with this lovely leather trimmed interior and a sunroof. This is a swell car that while more than twice the price of the Taurus, is arguably ten times the car. It's got more in common with the somewhat tonier Oldsmobile but again, it's a better car. The SE package also comes with, most importantly, a firmer suspension setup than what was standard. Firmer but certainly not harsh. This is a family car after all. A dash of sport to any car is never a bad thing and the fact this car is so stealthy makes it very appealing to me.


This car certainly won't get your blood pressure just looking at but if you're looking for a inexpensive car that will be rock solid reliable, here's your ride. And remember, when shopping for a good, cheap used car, us beggars can't be choosers. 

Good luck in your search! 



Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Little Red Corvette - More Electrical Problems

 
I've had this car going on four years. In those four years I've put less than two thousand miles on it. That lack of miles in four years is not for a lack of wanting to drive the car as much as the car being not being able to be driven for much of that time. 
 
I write this a couple of days after a most vexing with weekend with the '77. No sooner had I decided on not continuing work on the trailing arms that another problem reared it's ugly head. Actually, reared it's ugly head again; the car has no power.
 
 
The electrical systems on these cars is atrocious. With so much exposed and nothing fastened down properly, it's a wonder anything works. This is the starter and fusible links.  
 
The same thing happened to me last year when I was working on the passenger door power window. I had to dismantle a good part of the interior to get at the switch in the console for that window that wouldn't work and when I put it all back together all I got from turning the ignition forward was a loud "ca-chunk" followed by nothing. No more ca-chunk, no lights on the dash, no radio - nothing. No jumping of the battery could revive the beast and the battery, fusible links and alternator all tested out fine. I even brought relays from the fuse box, thinking they were what Autozone said where "the master fuse" in for testing. All good and that was not good.
 
 
Through it all, when it is running, it's a fun car to have even if the driving experience is far from what it looks like it would be. It's a very primitive car with many suspension component designs dating back to 1963. 
 
I put everything back together and wouldn't you know it? Car started right up and was fine for most of last summer. My thought was that obviously something was loose that I tightened up when I put the car back together. Maybe, but who knows. All I know is that now I have a dead Corvette in my garage. Again.
 
 
If you're thinking of getting an old car, be confident in your mechanical abilities or have a good, cheap mechanic on hand.
 
My plan this weekend is to put the car back together and hope for the best. If it doesn't start I will first look at the negative battery cable and how it grounds to the underside of the car. Then I go to the fuse box and see if anything is loose. I'm not adverse to replacing the electrical harness that goes from the fusible links to the fuse box. Has to be something.
 
 
The old beast remains a big part of the family. This picture was taken the day I drove it home. It took me two days to get it home since it broke down on me on the way home.  
 
The good news is the car doesn't leak power steering or transmission fluid anymore so I just might be able to finally power wash my garage floor. It's the little things, you know?
 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

1974 Cadillac Coupe DeVille - Climate Change


There's little doubt that a climate change changed the environment such that the dinosaurs could no longer survive here. What's debatable is what caused that climate change. Ironically, it was a climate change as well that killed off fossilized dinosaur burning automobiles like this lovely 1974 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. Unlike the climate change that killed off T-Rex, however, we have a pretty good idea what caused the climate change that buried these two and half ton monsters.  


If you're in the business of providing trappings of the wealthy you're on quite the slippery slope. For example, cell phones. Thirty years ago cell phones were prohibitively expensive for everyday persons to own. As they became more "affordable" and everyone it seems has come to own one they've become a commodity. Same with automobiles in general and in particular, amenities first found in luxury cars moving down to less expensive cars. Today, even the most basic of transportation will have power steering and brakes, an automatic transmission and air conditioning; all items that were first introduced on luxury cars like Cadillac. Cadillac cutting it's fanciful teeth on engineering innovation like fully enclosed bodies, electric starters, power seats with memory, air conditioning and much more. Throw in savvy, manipulative marketing and it's no wonder the prestige marquee of, at one time, world's largest automobile maker, became what it became. Sadly, by the time our '74 here went into showrooms, Cadillac had long given up the vanguard of innovation and was clearly resting on it's laurels. 


Whether or not Cadillac rested on its laurels deliberately is conjecture but what is not up for debate is what happened in 1964; a better mouse trap was introduced - the Mercedes Benz 600. The Mercedes Benz 600 not only offered everything that Cadillac offered but it did so in a much more efficient package. What's more, it performed like a sports car compared to the leviathan like Cadillacs and suddenly, the rich had a  viable alternative to wallowing domestic luxury sedans. Despite the fact that the Mercedes was considerably more expensive than a Cadillac. Cost being no object when you have money to burn and you want to upstage the Joneses.


Like the alleged meteor or asteroid that struck the earth that some say led to the climate change that led ultimately to the dinosaurs demise, it took years for the impact of the 600 to be fully felt as well. Cadillac sales remained robust for years after the 600 came ashore but Cadillac's clientele began a slow shift. Customers who had been long trained to aspire to a Cadillac continued to do so but those whom already had the means to acquire a car that was really nothing more than a Chevrolet Caprice with an arguably more handsome interior now had other choices. And more were on the way. All Cadillac did to stem the climate change was to add more chrome, fake wood and increasingly large engines. The car maker that at one time offered exclusive features peddling nothing more than cache. Slippery slope.

 
The gas crisis of 1973, just as this car was being introduced, certainly did not help matters much but it wasn't the cataclysmic event that led to the extinction of massive cars like our gorgeous '74 here. It was a confluence of events which began with the Mercedes Benz 600 and either an inability or more likely hubris that prohibited change, that ultimately led to the demise of 19 feet long, 5000 pound beasts like this.

Monday, February 15, 2016

1951 De Soto - The Pain. Oh, The Pain.

This is the latest in a series on the mysterious cars my parents had before I was born in 1964. Read the first of the series, a blog about my father's 1941 Buick Roadmaster here.


Of all the cars my parents had, the one my mother found most dear was "The De Soto". That car was, apparently, so nice and so special that all other cars they had afterwards were judged against it and none of them came close to it. I estimate tha my parents owned "The De Soto" between 1955 and 1960 so I don't have a lot of information about it aside from it being "very nice" and Kelly green (dark green). Connecting the dots through some disparate details I do know of, I have been able to deduce what model year "The De Soto" probably was.


I wish I could say that my parents had a dashing 1957 De Soto Fireflite like this one that's for sale with an asking price of more than $16,000 down in Nashville. Good luck with that, sir. No. They did not have a 1957 De Soto. The timing's just not right. I know they had "The De Soto" when they first moved to Baldwin in October of 1956 so a befinned De Soto like this was never in their garage on Overlook Place before I was born. These late '50's Chryslers are spectacular, aren't they? Even in four door guise. Lovely. 


Nor did they have an all new for 1955 De Soto. While not nearly as flamboyant as the '57, the '55's were long, low and wide and came available in wild color combinations like these two that are illustrated. This hard top coupe also has a V-8 denoted by the badge on the rear quarter panel. That pinkish sedan, with no V-8 badge, powered no doubt by Chrysler's hoary flathead six. The timing could have been right for "The De Soto" to have been a '55 but it couldn't have been for other reasons. 


I remember my father telling me about how difficult cars like "The De Soto" were to steer before power steering became common place. Taking that comment into account, I've found that power steering was not offered on De Soto's until 1952. So, that means that, sadly,  "The De Soto" was more than likely a 1950 or 1951 model like this drab, kelly green lump. The pain. Oh, The Pain. Let's say it was a '51 rather than a '50 so I can think Mom and Dad, who always bought used, didn't buy something too old. 



The '51 De Soto featured "three-roller-tooth gear" steering; that sounds medieval in a car as large and heavy as this car was. Manual brakes too; this thing was handful. Knowing my shy, quiet and retiring father who was a Willy Loman meets Walter Middy kind of guy, he let my mother steer the purchase of a brutally hard to drive car that she never drove. After all, she liked how it looked and thought it the nicest car they ever had. 


Not the first time I've disagreed with Mom.

De Soto's were mid priced automobiles that competed with Buick, Oldsmobile and Mercury. Founded in 1928 and named after the Spanish explorer that discovered the Mississippi River, Chrysler dropped the division in December 1960.

Friday, February 12, 2016

1986 Toyota Supra - Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?


"Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind" by The Lovin' Spoonful tells the tale of a young man who has to choose between sisters who are vying for his attention. The song, written by John Sebastian of the Spoonful was pure fantasy; Mr. Sebastian had a crush on two sisters he had met a summer camp but any romantic feelings for him were allegedly not reciprocated. Nonetheless, it made for a hit record in 1966. Today, let's use the premise of the song to decide if I would have purchased today's subject car, a 1986 Toyota Supra, or the car it competed against, the Chevrolet Corvette. After all, in reality, I had as much a chance to buy either of these cars new in 1986 as, apparently, John Sebastian had with either of those girls.


The new for 1986 Toyota Supra wasn't the sexiest sports car on the market in 1986 but it was, arguably, the best. Especially for the money which one would need less of than to buy the car it competed against for buyers, the 1986 Chevrolet Corvette.  


Driven back to back with a more expensive Corvette, why would anyone buy a Corvette instead of a brand new Supra? Because as amazing as this car is, it's not a Corvette; that having had  as much to do with marketing and association as anything else. Image is a powerful thing.


From 1978 through 1985, "Supra" was the top of the line model of Toyota's fabulous Celica. With a an exotic DOHC, fuel injected six and impeccable build quality, it was a wonderful car that while not faster in a straight line than a Corvette, it literally ran circles around it. However, the Celica and Celica Supra were not, per se, marketed at Corvette buyers; they were marketed at, if anything, the disenfranchised pony car market. 


That changed in 1986 when Toyota split Celica and Supra into two completely new and different automobiles. The Celica remained targeted at the pony car/sporty economy car market switching to Toyota's "T-platform" which it shared with the front wheel drive Corona. Supra, which remained a rear wheel drive  grand touring car or sports car, was targeted at more expensive fare like Corvette and to some degree the Porsche 928. The well informed riche that could care less about a car's lack of pedigree or cache appreciating a bargain as much as anybody.


1980's Japanese automobiles were so far superior to everything built domestically I have to wonder why anyone bothered to by American back then. Then again, when I put my 1986 vintage Members Only jacket on I remember that Corvette had as much a mythic pull on the American automotive psyche as it does today - if not more. Although, in reality, the car's image was far greater than the car itself. In fairness, the 1986 "C4" Corvette was world's better than the car it replaced but it wasn't nearly as solid an automobile as Toyota's new Supra was. Also, regarding sales of Japanese cars in the United States, Japanese cars were still fairly niche back then; it wasn't until late in the '80's that their full effect on sales of domestics was felt.   


Thirty years later the answer to the question of which to buy, Supra or Corvette, is as obvious as it was back then. However, the answer today is completely different from what it was back then. What would I have bought in 1986 had I been of the means? Corvette. Of course. What should I have bought? Supra. Of course. 

Did you ever have to make up your mind?
You pick up on one and leave the other one behind
It's not often easy and not often kind
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
Did you ever have to finally decide?
And say yes to one and let the other one ride
There's so many changes and tears you must hide
Did you ever have to finally decide?
Sometimes there's one with deep blue eyes, cute as a bunny
With hair down to here and plenty of money
And just when you think she's that one in the world
Your heart gets stolen by some mousy little girl
And then you know you better make up your mind
And pick up on one and leave the other one behind
It's not often easy and not often kind
Did you ever have to make up your mind?




Thursday, February 11, 2016

1986 Buick LeSabre - Geriatric Heaven


I wanted nothing to do with GM's new for 1985 front wheel drive "H-bodies" when they first came out in 1985. I thought them weird, boring. Stodgy. They were so different from what came before them; they were so small - that can't be a full size car! I thought they were homely too. A "full size" car with front wheel drive? Really? Isn't front wheel drive for little 4 cylinder golf cart cars like the Cavalier? And a transverse mounted V-6 with fuel injection? Oh, c'mon now. 


I felt that way about all the "H's" until I saw a Buick LeSabre coupe for the first time. While I still sort of pine for a LeSabre T-Type, they were only available as coupes, this one here, which is not a T-Type, stokes my old Buick loving heart despite it's dreadful grey on grey palor. Brutal, isn't it? The height of luxury when new it probably has that hairy old man smell now that is so unique to old GM cars. No way this would get past the wife either; she'd think I'd died and gone straight to geriatric heaven. Sigh. BTW, save for the mechanically identical Olds 88 coupe I still think the H's god awful looking. Especially the Cadillacs...but I digress. 


The new for 1985 GM H-bodies were far more radical than GM's downsized for 1977 B bodies that you hear nothing but great things about. While the now legendary 1977's B's were really nothing more than restyled 1973-1977 GM A bodies, these H-bodies represented all new thinking at General Motors and, most importantly, were far superior automobiles to the much beloved "B's". Don't believe me? Drive a 1985 LeSabre coupe then drive this car. Case closed. 


The fact that these cars aren't lauded with same amount of appreciation as the 1977 GM "B's" and other seminal cars like the 1955 Chevrolet and 1964 Ford Mustang boggles my mind. Timing is everything and less than perfect timing has as much to do with the lack of love these cars continue to get as anything else. When the H's were introduced, the imports had already taken a huge bite out of GM's sales and these cars were seen as more or less "answers" to the import problem rather than being heralded as anything innovative. BTW, that's the Buick 231 with port fuel injection before they started referring to it as the "3800". Love the cast intake manifold (not the leak prone plastic POC like on my 2002 "Series II) and that clam shell hood is to die for. Lovely. 150 horses too. Pretty heady for a V-6 in a family car thirty years ago. 


Somehow this little gem has only 16,000 miles on it and is for sale for only $3,500 in San Francisco  - so, bonus! it's rust free. I'm sure there's an interesting story as to how it has so little mileage and the owner probably has no idea how special this car is. Well, special to me. Can't say there are too many people out there who will buy this old Buick because they actually like it. This car will sell quickly because it's a cheap car with no mileage on it. I'd be willing to fly out San Francisco and drive it back to Cleveland. That's not going to happen. Here's the listing. Hope it goes to a good home. http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/cto/5442766364.html


Saturday, February 6, 2016

1976 Mercury Grand Marquis - Git It


The folks at the Ford Motor Company who had the unfortunate job of having to distinguish Mercurys from Fords and Lincolns certainly had their work cut out for them in the mid 1970's. Given only so much leeway to work with, can you tell the difference between a Comet and Maverick or a Granada and a Monarch ? - Ford was strapped for cash but they actually did a very nice job distinguishing the hardtop coupe version of the top of the line Mercury from 1975 through 1978 from the car it was based on, the Ford LTD. This is a 1976 Grand Marquis in all it's "Brougham" glory.
 
 
It just as well be a trim version of the Ford LTD that it's based on though since there's little if anything to distinguish it mechanically from the slightly less expensive Ford. However, there is something to be said for the big Merc's subtle decoration that makes it, somehow, more than "just a Ford".
 
 
Losing buyers for years to General Motors middle divisions, Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's son who at the time was president of the Ford Motor Company, created Ford's own "Oldsmobile-Buick" division in 1939 and called it "Mercury". Using a Ford flathead V-8 and sharing much with "lesser" Fords, Ford  marketed the car as being more upscale than Fords but not quite a Lincoln.

 
In 1976, you could get a Ford or Lincoln powered by this same 460 cubic inch V-8 engine our Grand Marquis has; again, little to no difference mechanically between a Mercury or a Ford. Or Lincoln for that matter. Unlike GM and their myriad divisions that produced their own engines even in the 1970's, Ford never produced unique engines for Mercury. However, there was a time in the late '50s and early '60's when Ford produced a series of engines exclusive to their full size cars. The so called "M-E-L" engines, for Mercury, Edsel and Lincoln, could also be found as an optional engine in 1958-1960 Thunderbirds. Confusing, no? Somehow GM's divisional engine schematic seems simpler to understand.
 
 
A two ton plus sedan with only two doors? They sure don't make 'em like this any more and that landau roof somehow works aesthetically. The raised white letter tires, owner installed obviously, do not.
 
 
The mid 1970's was a time of crazy interior color schemes and perhaps I'm just plain snockered by this car but I really like this interior. That's vinyl and cloth by the way and not two tone leather; it's in remarkably good shape for being forty years old. 
 
 
This handsome devil is for sale on Oklahoma City for a very reasonable asking price of $5,000. Here's the listing. It needs some interior work and no doubt could benefit from a little under hood massaging to get more oomph out of that big 460. Throw on a set of stiffer shocks, thicker sway bars and shorten the rear axle and you a great, stock looking '70's cruiser as you're gonna find. And at a bargain price. Git it.