Monday, May 30, 2016

1974 Dodge Monaco - Double Whammy

Few cars, that, on the surface appear very ordinary, are a snap shot in time like this 1974 Dodge Monaco is.

Chrysler got their collective Highland Park bumpers handed to them in 1962 and 1963 when, upon hearing that General Motors was introducing a smaller "standard size" car, they radically downsized their full size lineup. However, Chrysler's intel was perhaps only half correct; rather than downsizing their standard sized lineup, GM came out with a new line of mid size cars.  To make matters worse, some of Chrysler's designs, particularly the Dodge models, featured bizarre styling and sold poorly. Chrysler got back in the full size game by 1964 and, never looked back. Well, until the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 led to the OPEC Oil Embargo.

Talk about bad timing; the embargo happened just as Chrysler unloaded a vast new line of gigantic, heavy, gas guzzling full size cars across all their divisions. That new line included our lovely Dodge Monaco here. While Henry Kissinger was able to negotiate an end to the embargo by March 1974, he was unable to reduce the price of a barrel of oil that had nearly quadrupled thus nearly doubling the price of a gallon of gas. While cars that got terrible gas mileage was nothing new, the increase in the price of gas made them all but pariahs.

Because of the embargo and subsequent price hikes, 1974 was a terrible year for The Big Three. Chrysler, though, took the brunt of it since they had  made nary a penny off their new lineup to amortize the expense of their development and retooling. Too bad too since, especially in the case of our Monaco, Chrysler had a nice new line up of big cars for 1974 that while derivative in styling detail, at least were solid interpretations of everything else on the market at the time. Again, based on what they experienced in the early '60's, wrong as the information they got was, you can't blame them for going with designs they would assume sell well. The "gas crisis" though, made these cars seem as dated as a Desoto.

Sticking with convention ran more than sheet metal deep. This Monaco, for instance, rode just as well on pin straight, level roads as the cars from GM and Ford that it aped. And just like them as well, it shuddered, bucked and heaved when the going got rough. These cars would also handle around an obstacle course as well as a school bus would.

Just like GM and Ford, under hood was a patchwork of old think thrust through the charcoal filter realities of that long ago present day. That's a Chrysler "B", or "big block", 400 cubic inch engine. The Chrysler 400 was a 383 cubic inch "B" with a longer stroke; the longer stroke added a tad more torque off idle to give the driver at least the impression at throttle "tip in" that the big Chrysler engine hadn't lost a step or two because of lower compression and "smog plumbing".

This near pristine Monaco is for sale down in Virginia and had a reasonable starting price of $2,500. As much as I like this car, I'd be leery of spending too much for it. Parts for it would be very hard to find; not mechanical parts, mind you - I'm talking about fenders, doors, trunk lid etc. Pitty that a minor fender bender could be a total loss for the owner. Last I checked it was at a click over $4000 - fair price to pay for a car as unique as this is and in the excellent shape it appears to be in too. Unique, by the way, not always meaning that an old car is worth more than its contemporaries. Here's the listing with more pictures and a little bit history on it too. Be careful and good luck.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass S - Family Heirloom


This librarian's special of an automobile no doubt has been able to survive four decades by being a cherished family heirloom. It was probably Grand Ma or Grand Dad's "last car" and someone in the family held onto it as a keep sake or thought that it would be an appreciating asset. After all these years, it's time to sell "The Oldsmobile" and you have to believe that if it was held onto with the idea that it would one day become a little nest egg, a 529 fund isn't going to get as large a deposit as once anticipated.

Usually, a bone stripper like this, which is so bereft of options it may have started life as a rental, right down to it's 1977 only, Buick V-6, are completely beat to death by now. If they're even still running. Priced appropriately at just $3,800, this Cutlass is a good value but it will still be hard for the owner to find a buyer. These cars are not sought after by collectors and with this Buick V-6 reducing performance to a veritable standstill, most interested buyers would take one look under the hood and walk away without even so much as a test drive. At least it's not powered by an Oldsmobile Diesel, those being in development as this thing went over the curb brand new.

Even those seeking a cheap car might test drive it and think something's wrong with it and walk the other way. No. Nothing's wrong with this car; it just has an absurd power to weight ratio that's all. Sorry, who ever it was who coined the phrase that it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than drive a fast car fast never drove one of these two ton brutes with only 110 horsepower.

To the engine crane you say? Well, perhaps it would make sense if you just happened to have a good engine in your garage already and you were doing the work yourself. Otherwise, a solid junk yard engine, transmission and rear axle swap will run you in the neighborhood of at least $2500. Not bad, right? Again, that's with you doing the work. Figure $5500-$7000 for a shop to do it. You could be into more than ten grand on this car easily if you went with a custom build engine and you'll never see that money back if you were to flip it.

Hope you really like these car since what you'd have then is a non numbers matching, 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass; these 1973-1977 Colonnades have never gotten the love that I, for one, feel they should have. Even if they aren't hard tops. Too bad. Grand Dad's "last car" deserves better.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Plymouth Prowler - Big Picture vs. Little Picture

Sometimes the Big Picture gets in the way of the Little Picture...and vice versa. For instance, years ago my wife and I were planning on renovating the kitchen in our home back on Long Island when I suddenly lost my job. Suffice to say, we didn't go ahead with the remodel since the Big Picture problem got in the way of the Little Picture. That Little Picture-Big Picture dichotomy certainly didn't dissuade Plymouth, at the time a division of Chrysler that was knocking on death's in the late 1990's, from pushing out a 2,800 pound, two passenger creme puff based off of, of all things, a Dodge Intrepid.

The Plymouth Prowler was the answer to a question no one was asking but then again, no one was asking for the Dodge Viper when that luscious V-10 brute appeared in 1992. Love 'em or hate 'em, I'm ambivalent at best about Prowlers if you're wondering, you know there are fans of these cars who sing late Plymouth's praises for creating such an automobile. But why did Plymouth, long a boat anchor in the Chrysler portfolio, make this car in the first place? And, frankly, would the money and man power spent on developing this thing been better spent on differentiating a Plymouth Breeze from a Dodge Stratus?

With Plymouth sucking the life out of Chrysler, the Prowler was not unlike my wife going forward with our kitchen plans even after I got a bullet. Hey, Plymouth? You guys have any inkling the factory was on fire? I say that about my wife to illustrate my point. I'm sure Plymouth had some notion of their dire situation; perhaps it never occurred to them that Chrysler would chop them off like a dead limb. Blame Daimler for that but still, did Plymouth have any clue about what was going on upstairs?  

Now, there are people, just like Plymouth product planners in the midst of extinction, who would have gone forward with that kitchen remodeling confident that they would find employment quickly and they would have taken the time off and spent it on the kitchen. That's not me, of course; I'm way too high strung to relax in "Big Picture" situations and with what I do for a living, finding gainful employment that would keep my family above water would be quite difficult. No rest for the weary and the neurotic. I did, fortunately, find work relatively quickly that time around but it was not without further drama, mind you; my new job included the first of four moves in six years. Talk about relentless "Big Picture" issues. No wonder I'm so grey. Anyway, without the benefit of talking with a Chrysler product planner, it's all but impossible to figure out exactly what Chrysler-Plymouth was attempting to do with this car. A "halo" product, perhaps? That's all well and good and Chevrolet did that for years with Corvette, not to mention what the Viper did for Dodge, but if you're familiar with what Plymouth had to offer in the late '90's and early '00's, the "halo" theory makes no sense.

Certainly didn't help matters that the Prowler was more or less exactly like the hot rods it was attempting to emulate. That meant flinty and darty at best, kidney bruising at worst. If you've ever driven one of these you've no doubt experienced what I did; ridiculously responsive step in, an automatic transmission that shifted so harshly you'd think there was something amiss with it, an inherent level of crudeness belying the car's sticker price. Corvettes and Vipers feel crude compared to a family sedan too but Prowler felt more shop class built than it should have. Redefining hot rods like the Mazda Miata redefined European sports cars was not what this car was all about; as if there's anything really clear about this car.

What Prowler was, like junkyard built hot rods of yore, was an automobile cobbled together from choice bits from the Chrysler parts bin de jour, this car gestating before the influx of Daimler splendor and Hemi engines. So, you've got a little Neon here, a minivan there and the whole thing is build on top of a modified Dodge Intrepid chassis. The use of the Chrysler LH platform (Intrepid) explains, sort of, the absence of at least a Magnum truck V-8.

Now, you're saying the that the Intrepid was front wheel drive and the Prowler was rear wheel drive, correct? True. However, in the Prowler, instead of diverting torque to the front wheels through what amounted to an elaborate transfer case, engineers placed a drive shaft at the back of the biggish, 24 valve. yet single over head cam V-6, and bolted it to a transaxle out back.
Just like on C5 Corvettes and beyond, that transaxle necessitated an ungainly and homely rear end that only added to the Prowler's cartoonish stance and proportion. How'd this thing pass crash tests anyway? There's a vestigial trunk too that might be good for a garment bag or two. Forget golf clubs.
Niche vehicles like this, and say what you will about comparisons to this and say, the 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang, never sell well. Even America's sweetheart, the Chevrolet Corvette, has never sold more than 50,000 in a single model year so it came as a surprise to no one that production of this car was discontinued after 2002. By then, Plymouth had been vaporized and the remaining Prowlers were sold under the "Chrysler" awning. The Big Picture eventually swallowing up a Little Picture just as when you go through a massive upheavel in life like a job change, massive relocation or worse, all Little Picture issues like remodeling a kitchen fall by the way side.
How has my family and I made out so far since a Big Picture problem swallowed up our Little Picture? Pretty good overall, so far, thank you very much but, again, it isn't been without a myriad of challenges and white knuckle experiences. Always looking for a positive in any situation, while we've owned three homes since we first left Long Island back in 2004, none of them required a kitchen remodel.

Friday, May 20, 2016

1978 Chrysler LeBaron - Like Wearing Sneakers With a Tuxedo


Several years before John Candy and Steve Martin played second fiddle to a 1986 "K-Car" Chrysler LeBaron in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles, there were these Chrysler LeBarons.


If you think this looks like a plumbed up Plymouth Volare, which in and of itself looked like a Duster, you wouldn't be completely off base. Beginning in 1977, Chrysler used their new intermediate "M-body" shell for these "LeBaron's" and the very similar and also new for 1977 Dodge Diplomat. Underneath is an elongated "F-body", or Volare, chassis. There was also a four door sedan and a wagon.

If that makes you furrow your brow, understand we are talking late 1970's Chrysler Corporation; this car a symptom of a company struggling with cash flow versus an actual ill. You know what they say about not being part of the solution, though. Therefore, it shouldn't have been out of the question for Chrysler to hit a grand slam with a car that was built from parts bin extras. For more on how that can be done successfully, at least in terms of sales and profits, please read my article on a 1976 Cadillac Seville here.

Our subject, which for the record I find quite handsome, is, apparently, quite original. For instance, under hood, the "Lean Burn" system appears to be remarkably in tact.

In the bad old days of early emissions systems, Chrysler's "Lean Burn" system was far more advanced than anything GM or Ford had. "Lean Burn" engines ran "cleaner" before combustion rather than after where exhaust gas is scrubbed with catalytic converters. This system worked so well, in fact, that "Lean Burn" equipped Chrysler's didn't need catalytic converters to pass emissions tests. At first. In later years more stringent emissions regulations necessitated cats in "Lean Burn" cars.

However, "Lean-Burn" quickly gained a dubious reputation. With the computer mounted to the air cleaner, under hood heat and inherent vibration led to many failures of the system. Reputation aside, no one can deny that Chrysler had the right idea. A system similar to this has been used in every computer-controlled, fuel-injected car sold in this country for decades now.

Through 1981, Chrysler offered a 4 speed manual transmission on LeBarons powered by either the 225 cubic inch "Slant Six" or 318 V-8 that this car has. This always struck me as odd for a car that had luxury aspirations; it's like wearing sneakers with a tuxedo. It's not like Ford or GM didn't offer these things either but Cadillac didn't offer a "stick" on their Seville and Lincoln didn't offer one either on their Versailles. Then again, by 1978, for all intents and purposes, Chrysler (the division) was getting out of the luxury car business and was positioning their wares more in line with Buick, Oldsmobile and Mercury. So, in hindsight, this stick shift sorta/kinda makes sense. I guess.

This, by the way, was not Chrysler's tip of the hat to drivers who wanted the "sportiness" of a "stick". No, this is a misbegotten fuel saving option that may have helped the driver get 2 miles per gallon more if driven prudently. Holding on to first or second gears as the 318 hit redline to get some modicum of performance would no doubt turn this thing into a little gas guzzler. 4th gear is in green to denote, "overdrive".

That's not a tachometer to the right of the speedo, it's the gas gauge. Shifting gears in this car was all feel and sound; talk about going back to the future. And I have no idea what that thing on the column is. After market horn, maybe?  By the way, the available from 1977-1979 360 V-8 did not come with an optional stick. Again, the manual transmission was a fuel saving gimmick.

This LeBaron's cabin is another prime example of Chrysler's wonderful leather trimmed interiors from the 1970's that put GM and Ford's to shame. Corinthian leather, which was cured in New Jersey of all places, may have been the butt of many jokes but it was actually quite nice. Nothing a little leather conditioner couldn't spruce up here.

Wow. Glass T-Tops. More to love. So, this car has a 318 V8 instead of the technically more fuel efficient Slant Six, T-tops, leather interior, no power windows or door locks and a manual transmission. Sort of like ordering a Big Mac but washing it down with a Diet Coke. Personally, I'd skip all the fluff and just spurge for the 360. The hell with the extra calories. Then again, this is 1978; big V-8's were bad. Back then, new car buyers could custom order cars from the factory and choose options ala carte as opposed to option packages like today.

Well, chin up, grass hopper. Perhaps someone will love you for what you are as opposed to disliking you for what you are not. That's important with old, original cars like this. The bones are good, there's nary a spot of rust anywhere on it and it would make a most excellent sleeper too. Here's the listing with lots of extra pictures too. Happy bidding.

The LeBaron nameplate was first made famous in the 1920's and 1930's and belonged to a Bridgeport, Connecticut based builder of custom automobiles. Back then, manufacturers like Rolls Royce and even Cadillac would provide running chassis to custom builders like LeBaron who would then build extravagant, custom built automobiles for well heeled buyers. Sounds ridiculously expensive and indeed it was and custom coach works fell out of favor in the late 1930's. In 1957, Imperial, which at the time was separate division of Chrysler, denoted their top of the line model, "LeBaron". A "LeBaron" model remained with Imperial lineup until Chrysler discontinued the division after the 1975 model year.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

1971 Ford Country Sedan - Me, Car Guy, Like Station Wagons

Ironies of ironies and despite the fact I flat out loathed the station wagon my father had when I was a kid, I am inexplicably drawn to station wagons. Not sure why that is and I'm not going to spend any time attempting to analyze why either but I, car guy, like station wagons. A lot.
Do I like them more than a 1970 Dodge Charger, '70 Hemi Cuda or a 1969 Camaro? Let's not get crazy here. However, if I was to have a Jay Leno-esque parking garage of cars only I like, I would have a floor of American made station wagons. Shoot, I might have an entire wing dedicated to them.
Might be a generational thing as much as anything else too. There hasn't been a honest to goodness station wagon built by the Big Three since Ford pulled the plug on the Taurus wagons in 2007. Seems longer than that, doesn't it? Those were some good looking wagons, by the way.

I'm not the only "car guy" who likes wagons either. Warning: I'm about to name drop. Years ago I met John Schneider of Dukes of Hazard fame and we quickly got to talking cars. While we talked about the General Lee and what a rattling tin can piece of crap most of the cars used on the series were, I don't recall how the conversation transgressed to station wagons but it did. And John gushed, just as I do, over station wagons without any reference to some nostalgic, feel good, familial nonsense. Don't tag me "family guy" based on what I like; if you're so inclined to do so please do so based on my family. Another important facet of being a car guy, it's all about the cars. Screw  memories.
John said that "wagons are cool, they're tough...strong". And I couldn't agree more. Even in stripped down "Country Sedan" guise like this well worn 1971 Ford Country Sedan. People never appreciated these "magic tailgates" either. That thing can open out and fold down. Amazing. And GM had a clam shell design were the glass would slide up into the roof of the car. Love that.

Although you'd never know it by looking at it, this Ford Country Sedan was pretty high on the Ford station wagon totem pole in 1971. Ford offered no less than seven different iterations of this car and the Country Sedan was only a notch away from the prestigious "LTD" moniker and all that implied. Mainly wood grain trim. I much prefer these "naked" wagons sans the fake paneling wall paper. Let's not forget the plastic wood too. Pass. The lack of a photo showing the rear cargo area tells me this car does not have the optional dual facing rear jump seats. That's a shame. In any event, I can't imagine that parents today would ever think of putting their kittens out there without seat belts like our parents let us do all the time. What could go wrong? 
Bones appear to be in good shape. That's a Windsor 400 and while even when new it was hardly a fire breathing beast, with not much massaging it could live up to its potential. Then again, there's really nothing wrong with this car that a crate engine couldn't fix.
Oh, the possibilities.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

2002 Ford Taurus - The Power of Ambivalence


Amazing the power of ambivalence. If I was to make a list of all the automobiles that I've had and those include the ones that my wife and I have purchased or leased as "family cars", I almost have to be reminded that we had a 2002 Ford Taurus. Shame too. That was a very good car.  

But what makes for a great car? Performance and/or styling, right? If performance or styling was the case then my 2002 Camaro or 1977 Corvette would be considered great cars; and  so not the case. Styling and performance might get you to buy an automobile but in the real every day driver world, the most important attribute of an automobile is how reliable it is. Especially one that is to be used exclusively as a familial appliance. Yes, comparing sports cars to family cars is a bit of stretch but in the context of being driven daily, not really. So, if reliability is the most important aspect of what makes a car great, then that 2002 Ford Taurus we had should have been the greatest car my wife and I ever had since, save for the time the coil packs had to be replaced, it never gave us any trouble. Why is it then that we found it, ultimately, as interesting as a dutiful librarian?

Because the car was boring. So boring and dull, in fact, that's it's taken me nearly five years after I started this blog to write something solely dedicated to it. Shoot, I have to be reminded we even had it.

The Taurus was spacious, comfortable, fuel efficient, handled well enough and had more than adequate brakes. Our SEL model had every option available except for a rear spoiler that my wife nixed. I liked it, of course. I even found the lines of the car to be handsome. Enough. In short, the Taurus was everything any family could ask for. Problem was it was nothing more than that and  was a car with the soul of a rental car. Meh.

We bought the Taurus because our options were limited. Wanting to get off the leasing merry-go-round, when our 1999 Chevrolet Malibu came off lease, yes, we leased that car, it boiled down to a Chevrolet Impala LS and the Taurus SEL; Asian models of similar ilk were far more expensive and I abhor Chrysler products. While I liked the Impala better than the Taurus, the Impala was more expensive and couldn't be had with a  leather trimmed interior and a sunroof for the same money as the loaded Taurus. When purchasing a car you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere financially and we stuck to it; the Impala clearly crossed it. So much so that the Taurus in dreary black over black, made sense. Actually, when new the interior was quite alluring. It aged into a worn out taxi cab interior that only underscored our malaise with the car overall.

The Taurus was a tremendous upgrade over the Malibu it replaced and was, again,  a solid, oh-so-dependable ride. We bought it in New York and it came with us to Hartford, Dallas, Nashville and to Cleveland. It was here in Cleveland that the heat stopped working and I, honestly, looking for an excuse to get rid of it, rationalized that we would be better off with a mint condition 2002 Monte Carlo I had found since I was getting almost a brand new car for not much more money than it would have cost to make the Taurus whole again. Long putt to reason with as there was certainly many more miles left in the Taurus, we were only around 110,000 miles at the time, but that just goes to show you how ambivalence can help sway major life decisions.

My wife and I never experienced buyer's remorse or out and out regret over buying the Taurus over something else, I also to this day don't regret ditching it for something I found sexier. The amount of real life drama that my family and I experienced during the time we owned the Taurus put replacing it far back on any burner and it's with that that I'm grateful we had a car as trouble free as the Taurus was. Just wish it was a little more interesting. Perhaps if we had gotten it in red things would have been different. Red does make everything better, right?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11 V8 - Hats Off To The Driveway Mechanic

I've seen some very interesting (and expensive) swaps in my day like the Ford Taurus SHO V-6 in Jay Leno's Ford Festiva, this 427 cubic inch Chevette and even this Cadillac 500 V8 powered Fiero. Of all of them, this 1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11 powered by a Cadillac V8 might take the cake. Or at least the oil pan gasket. That's saying a lot; that Fiero is pretty freakin' awesome.
First, a warm round of applause to the builder of this car. He didn't just pick any car to swap a V8 into but one of GM's most vexed and despised automobiles. Furthermore, he did it all by himself and didn't have to physically modify the car (much) to get the engine to fit. That's someone who's not only a Chevrolet Citation fan, but someone who did their homework as not every V8 engine could fit in one of these.
The Chevrolet Citation debuted in 1979 as a 1980 model replacing the late, great Chevrolet Nova. The Citation and similar cars sold by Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Buick were the latest in GM's massive downsizing program that began in 1977 and were, at least on paper, a major step forward in engineering being GM's first compact front wheel drive automobile. They sold very well too - at first. Timing being everything; the United States was going through a second energy crisis in less than a decade and the big on the inside, small on the outside, front wheel drive Citation seemed to be everything America needed at the time. All of these cars and particularly the Citations, which I always found to be absolutely hideous especially in slant back ala Buick Century and Olds Cutlass Salon of the same vintage, sold extremely well despite being horribly under engineered and built on the cheap. These cars quickly developed a very bad reputation and sales cratered.
The X-11 was a 1981 model year "upgrade" of the standard issue, "Iron Duke" powered two door Citation. Along with firmer struts, thicker sway bars, a quicker steering ratio and (somewhat) sporty interior was a two barrel carbureted, 2.8 liter V-6 making 135 horsepower. Compared to the 'Duke powered Citations, the 2500 pound, V-6 X-11 was a downright hoot. Ah, early '80's American cars. How they sucked.
Anyway, let's take a look at the actual Cadillac V8 that they stuffed in this car. Adorable, isn't it? That's not, of course, a massive 500 cubic inch Cadillac engine like the one in that Fiero but the "best" version of one of the worst V8 engines in GM's history. Damning by faint praise? No. Not exactly as this actually was a very good engine but what it stemmed from was a different story.

It's fitting that this reject of a car is fitted with a "survivor" of an engine. The 4.9 liter Cadillac V8 in this Citation X-11 was the last upgrade of the crap-tacular 4.1 liter Cadillac V8 that debuted in 1982 as part of the "HT4100 Power System". Various upgrades and engineering revisions to the engine through out the '80's resulted ultimately in a fine running, performing and reliable "little" engine. Amazing how General Motors saw to it to invest the time and resources into the engine to make it what it eventually became. Imagine what things would have been like for Cadillac in the '80's had they started with the 4.9 engine in the first place.

Engine swappers like these Cadillac engines because they're tiny compared to even the most popular of engine swap choices, the Chevrolet small block. The reason these engines are so small, in physical dimension - at 300 cubic inches they were anything but small, is because Cadillac designed the engines first and foremost to power the front wheel drive deVille that debuted in 1985. Those cars had engines mounted transversely so installation of it in any front wheel drive car with a modicum of a large engine bay is somewhat straight forward. Somewhat. I can only imagine what the poor guy who shoe horned this in there went through.
The owner of this car claims to have spent over $7,000 on parts to get the engine to fit not to mention hours upon hours getting the whole thing to work properly.  He's selling the contraption for a price reduced $2,000. That's a lot for an old Citation but a pittance of what he spent to make it. His loss, your gain! Those buckets are standard issue X-11, by the way. I know, you'd think they came out of Cadillac too.
I'm the last person to scoff at what someone else spends their free time on, I'm spending a Sunday morning blogging about this car for crying out loud, but with furrowed brow I have decided to help this person sell this thing. Priced more than right it will find a new home very quickly and no doubt to someone who has no idea what in hell they've just gotten their hands on.
Here's the listing with even more pictures and even a video showing off that the thing runs. And runs well. Keep in mind you're buying someone's project car. Find a mechanic who can work on almost anything if you can't work on cars yourself. Good luck.