The Truth About Cars » Curbside Classic The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:28:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Curbside Classic Ed Niedermeyer Returns To Automotive Journalism Fri, 21 Sep 2012 16:41:27 +0000

Yes, dear readers, I am happy to announce the Ed Niedermeyer has returned to automotive journalism. Sort of. And not for TTAC. Ed’s essay on the Subaru Outback and the Mini Countryman is perfectly timed for reading over your Friday lunch. Check it out over at Curbside Classic and curse our fearless Editor Emeritus for installing a snot-nosed neophyte like myself into such a hallowed vocation.


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Down On the Mile High Street: Fiat 124 Sport Spider Wed, 12 Oct 2011 15:00:50 +0000 After seeing the sad little yellow Fiat convertible in a Denver junkyard, let’s admire a happy little yellow Fiat convertible that’s still managing to evade the cruel jaws of The Crusher.
These things didn’t change much during the first few years of production, and I’m not a sufficiently maniacal devoted Fiat aficionado to spot the subtle model-year identifiers on this car, but I’m going to guess it’s a ’70 or ’71 model. I found it parked in front of a Denver church on a Sunday, so it may be one of those much-sought-after “little old lady only drove it to church on Sunday” cars. If so, I’m impressed by the little old lady’s choice of a 40-year-old Fiat over, say, a Buick LeSabre.
This car appears to be a super-original, rust-free example; probably not worth a ton of money (if we are to go by the Hemmings Motor News Classifieds), but a lot rarer nowadays than its British competitor, the MGB. The ’71 124 Sport Spider listed at $3,382 and boasted 90 horsepower, while the ’71 MGB sold for $2,875 and had 92 horsepower. Having driven both types, I’d say both are pretty poky, but the Fiat seems faster.
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Down On The Alameda Street: 1967 Plymouth Barracuda Convertible Tue, 20 Sep 2011 13:00:32 +0000 Back when I lived in Alameda, California (also known as “The Island That Rust Forgot”), I photographed and posted nearly 600 interesting street-parked cars and trucks on Jalopnik. The first one was this Cadillac Cimarron d’Oro, back in May of ’07; the next 499 may be found here. I moved to Denver last year… which means the ITRF has had ample time to add many new DOTS candidates. I was on the island for a very brief time over the weekend and managed to shoot a couple of them.
This specimen wasn’t actually parked on the street, though it was in a blue-zone spot in a public parking lot downtown. I’ll make an exception to the “must be parked on the street” rule for a handicapped-placard-equipped Datsun 411.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the forgotten ’67-69 Barracudas, which ended up hidden in the shadows cast by the goofy Valiant-with-vast-fastback-glass versions that came before and the Baby-Boomer-nostalgia-inducing E-body versions that came after. I had a couple of friends at Alameda High with ’67 Barracuda fastbacks, which they were able to buy cheaply because— even in the early 1980s— nobody wanted them. This car is still an A Body, like the Dart/Valiant, but the sheet metal no longer looks quite so Valiant-ish.
Apologies for the crappy phone-camera photos here; one uses the camera on hand when a car like this appears. This extremely rare convertible looks a little rough, but I didn’t see any rust and it appears to be on the road to restoration.
The important thing is that it’s a classic Detroit pony car convertible that still sees the street as its native habitat. Perhaps it will be worth too much for street use in a few years, but for now it’s still out there.

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Down On The Mile High Street: Volkswagen Beetle Fri, 12 Aug 2011 19:00:42 +0000 I don’t see quite as many Old Beetles on the streets of Denver as I did when I lived on the Island That Rust Forgot, but a few of the clattery old Germans still serve as daily transportation in the Mile High City. Even though I’ve owned several Beetles, I still can’t nail down exact model years at a glance; we’ll leave that to you Volkswagen zealots aficionados.
Judging by the taillights, bumpers, and flow-through air vents, I’d say this is an early-to-mid-70s Beetle. By 1974, the Beetle’s 1600cc engine was rated at an even-worse-than-the-MGB 46 horsepower. Can you imagine what Beetles with the air-conditioning option were like to drive?
I thought this was a Super Beetle at first glance, but it doesn’t have the long hood of the Super. Even with its allegedly more modern McPherson strut front suspension, the Super had even scarier handling characteristics than the torsion-bar regular Beetle. Hey, what’s that black stuff on the engine lid?
Air-cooled VWs often have a little problem with fires in the engine compartment, thanks to the hot engine and leak-prone fuel pump and lines. The driver of this car was on the ball when his or her engine started to burn and put out the fire in time.

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Back Down On The Alameda Street: 1962 Lincoln Continental Thu, 24 Mar 2011 18:00:03 +0000
Back in my Jalopnik days, I started the whole interesting-street-parked-car-photos thing with the original Down On The Street series. At that time, all the cars I shot were located in my old hometown on Alameda, California, and I got up to 600 or so before moving to Denver last summer. Now I’m back in Alameda, in preparation for my role working the 185-car Sears Pointless 24 Hours of LeMons race, and it wasn’t long before I spotted this fine machine parked near downtown.

It’s a very straight, mildly customized ’62 Continental, suicide doors and all, and it clearly gets regular street use.

Though a bit too slab-sided to look very graceful, the lines of this era of Continental have aged well.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been a car-club hotbed since, well, the dawn of the automobile. I’m not familiar with the Antioch Dragoons; the club could be 9 years old, or 90.

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Down On The Mile High Street: 1969 Ford F-100 Tue, 22 Mar 2011 21:00:44 +0000
Now that my ’66 Dodge A100 is back on the street, I find it pleasing that a Ford pickup of similar vintage lives in my Denver neighborhood.

This 42-year-old truck clearly gets used for real-world truck activities, proving once again that the vintage of a Detroit truck doesn’t matter as much as its ability to start, drive, and haul stuff every day.

A new ’69 F-100 Styleside with the long wheelbase listed at $2,430 for the base model with the 150-horsepower 240-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine and 3-speed manual transmission. That’s about $14,650 in 2011 bucks, a pretty good deal when you consider that the cheapest 2011 F-150 MSRP’s at north of 23 grand. Of course, today’s full-sized Ford pickup has more power and is way more comfortable, yet gets better fuel economy, but still: you can haul that big load of pork salivary glands and lymph nodes to your sausage factory just as well in either one!

With my van, this truck, and this ’51 Chevy pickup just around the corner, my neighborhood has vintage representatives from each of the Detroit Big Three. We’ve also got this mid-60s Land Rover Station Wagon and this Toyota FJ40 work truck rounding things out; all that’s missing are the elderly Jeep, Studebaker, and International Harvester trucks.

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Down On The Mile High Street: 1971 Chrysler Newport Custom Wed, 09 Mar 2011 14:00:03 +0000
Plenty of interesting street-marked machinery in my Denver neighborhood; on the same block as the Subaru GL hatchback coupe is this huge survivor of three major fuel-price upswings. It didn’t get crushed after 1973 or 1979, and so we can assume— or at least hope— that it won’t get crushed now.

Four-door hardtops are inherently cool, even when they sport a green vinyl top… or maybe that’s especially when they sport a green vinyl top.

The ’71 Newport was a pretty good deal at the time (some would say it kicked off the cheapening of the Chrysler brand that reached its nadir with the Sebring), with the four-door hardtop sedan priced at $4,496 (about $25,500 in 2011 bucks). As Aaron Severson points out in his excellent history of the Plymouth Fury, the more upscale Furies came with sticker prices within a few hundred bucks of their Chrysler-badged C-body siblings, so why buy the Fury?

The base engine in the ’71 Newport was the reliable, though thirsty, 383 V8; for $198, Newport buyers could get the monstrous 375-horse 440 engine. Sure, you’d get 8 MPG instead of 11 MPG, but it would be so worth it!

I’ve always liked the early-70s big Chryslers, and I’m glad to have found a Newport in Denver after shooting several in my former place of residence. There’s this ’71 Newport sedan, for example.

But I much prefer the Newport coupes, even though a 4,000-pound two-door is a pretty silly idea. Here’s a ’71 Newport Royal down on the Alameda street.

And, of course, my favorite: This mean-looking (and mean-sounding) ’70 Newport coupe. I tried to contact the owner of this car, with the idea that I’d buy it and install a 4-speed and 6-71 blower, but (probably fortunately) he or she never responded to the notes I left under the wiper.

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Down On The Mile High Street: 1951 Chevrolet Pickup Thu, 17 Feb 2011 14:00:54 +0000
This truck has been parked a block from my house since I moved to Denver in June, but early-1950s GMC and Chevy trucks are sort of like fire hydrants or street signs to me— they’ve been around so long that they just seem like standard street accessories, and I tend to overlook them. Finally, I went over and got some shots of this great-looking survivor.

How many 60-year-old vehicles do you know that still do work? Aircraft, sure, but light trucks? I’m putting this one down as a 1951 model, based on the lever-type door handles and lack of pop-out driver’s vent (yes, I’ve photographed a few of these things over the years), but junkyard parts swaps tend to blur model-year lines on workhorses like this; it might be a ’53 with ’50 doors, or it could be a ’49 with a ’52 cab… oh, hell, it could be a GMC with Chevrolet grille and emblems, and God only knows what weird engine is under the hood. I’ll leave that debate to the purists.

The half-ton ’51 Chevy pickup scaled in at a mere 3,120 pounds. The current Chevy Colorado weighs 3,735 pounds, so Model Bloat hasn’t been too bad over the last 60 years (though you could make the case that the Silverado is more the descendant of the ’51, in which case its 4,733-pound curb weight does trigger the Model Bloat alarm).

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Down On The Mile High Street: 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Wed, 16 Feb 2011 14:00:13 +0000
Since I started the Down On The Street series for some other site back in ’07 (the very first car in the series was this ’84 Cadillac Cimarron d’Oro, of all things), I’ve photographed exactly three first-generation Camaros: this perfect ’67 RS convertible, this purple ’69… and today’s car, a Denver survivor that lives on the street and doesn’t fear a little snow.

The mercury in Denver now reads about 80 degrees higher than it did a week or two ago, and I can’t swear that this car was driving around when it was 15 below and snowing like crazy. Rear-wheel-drive, 350 power, and a 1960s heater/defroster technology require a bit more concentration from the driver than these newfangled modern machines, but our forefathers managed to drive cars like this in all weather conditions.

I’ve never owned a first-gen Camaro (though I have owned plenty of small-block-Chevy-powered machinery), but I’m old enough to have driven, ridden in, and worked on many, many examples of the breed; you’d never guess it today, but the first-gen Camaro was a common sight on the street as recently as the mid-1980s. I recall a friend of mine in 1983 agonizing between a fairly beat ’68 Camaro with a 327 and a semi-nice ’67 Mustang with a six-cylinder, both priced at 300 bucks (he bought the Mustang, which he promptly wrecked when its parking brake failed while parked on a steep hill). What a dilemma! They drive pretty much the same as their first cousin, the Nova, but most of them have been banished to the golden cage of the car-show/cruise-night milieu by now. I’m glad to see that the owner of this car still drives the thing; I’m bored to death by ’67-69 Camaros in car shows, but one on the street is very welcome sight. I’m going to go back and try to track down the owner, so I can get his or her story about the car.

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Curbside Classic: 1975 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Wed, 19 Jan 2011 14:00:15 +0000
You’d think that all the Malaise Era Montes would have been crushed 15 years ago, but you still see the occasional survivor chugging around these days. I spotted this battered-but-solid example in a Denver park a few months back.

You could get a 235-horse 454 V8 for the Monte Carlo in ’75, but most of them came with a 145-horsepower 350. This in a car that weighed 3,950 pounds. Think about that next time you complain that your rented Cobalt (205 horsepower, 2,783 pounds) lacks power.
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Cargo Capacity Slightly Diminished, But Totally Worth It! Tue, 11 Jan 2011 17:00:37 +0000
Here’s a totally practical daily driver I spotted on the south side of Denver a while back.

My sources tell me that this Svenmeister Hardcore Kustoms creation, which appears to be a ’49 Ford pickup, was driven to the salt flats and back immediately after completion. Must have been a rough ride, but who cares?

The only disappointment about this fine machine is the small-block Chevy, though the cop-enragin’ straight pipes compensate somewhat. If ever a truck needed a Lincoln 462, this is it!

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Curbside Classic: The Ugliest Car Ever? 1977 Datsun F-10 Fri, 08 Jan 2010 20:55:00 +0000 a load of ugly coming your way

After two beautiful coupes this week, it’s time to get ugly. Seriously ugly, as in a serious contender for the ugliest car ever sold in the US. Yes, there’s competition for that title, one of which we’ve covered (Gremlin), and others we will soon. But let’s behold this Datsun F-10 Coupe, for which I am thankful that one is still around. It’s driver bought it new in 1977, and she’s still in love with her beautiful baby. Which raises the question: is ugliness in the eye of the beholder?

which is worse, front or back?

There has to be some truth to that, because some folk’s idea of ugly cars is so totally off base. Business Week recently carried a list of ten ugliest cars ever, and it included (get your meds ready): the Corvair(!), one of the most influential, revered and copied designs ever in the history of modern automobiles! They also listed the Vega, which was rather cute and well done, despite its other flaws. Just goes to show there’s no accounting for taste.

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It’s amazing how quickly a car company can fall off the pedestal. The Datsun 510 was hailed (still is) as a landmark in clean, timeless design, from a country that at the time was still finding its way stylistically. But only two years after the 510 arrived, Datsun was already going down a very different path stylistically. It started with the 1970 Cherry, the predecessor to this F-10. You can see two things going on in Nissan’s first FWD car, and one of the first from Japan. Its back half accurately predicts the very successful 240 Z but the front half is already going down the ugly road towards the F-10.

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The Coupe version of the first Cherry then adds a very high and bulbous rear end, and now the ingredients are largely in place. But what really makes the F-10 bad are the front and rear end details: the front looks like the designers went home one night, and the janitors cobbled something up out of junk and by beating on itwith an ugly stick. It’s about as bad as a front end gets on a car, no doubt.

(Update) I now realize our featured coupe has non-original or different black trim around its headlights. Here’s a wagon (not my pic) of the un-adulterated F-10 front end:

wearing its proper eye make-up (not my photo)

And lacking any other inspiration, the designers decided to mirror the front on the back end, with over-sized tail lights and a general lack of design acumen. I don’t know what Nissan was feeding its designers at the time, but the F-10 wasn’t the only recipient of its effects. The B210 was the RWD counterpart to the F-10, and it’s details are only slightly less ugly, but its proportions aren’t quite as bad. We’ve got some nice ones coming in a CC soon.

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My only regret is that I haven’t found an F-10 wagon, so that we could debate which one was worse. I couldn’t even find a decent color picture of one. But I knew someone who had one for years, and like the owner of this F-10, she loved it for the reliable and economical little hauler that it was.

Let’s get back to automotive aesthetics. It’s a funny thing about ugly cars, because even the ugliest can become endearing, because of their intrinsic qualities. The Citroen Ami 6 falls in that category. It was ugly as hell, but it was also so advanced, unique and eccentric, that I would love to have one. In the case of the Citroen, it was obviously designed by engineers who placed function over looks in every regard. That’s somehow honest and endearing.

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What’s really ugly is when designers try too hard to make something good looking, and cluelessly step on their own member in the process. I give you the Ssangyong Rodius, which sports a rear appendage of a hatch that looks like the ultimate bad photo-shop addition. Or the Cadillac Escalade EXT, which is just a bad dream come true. The Isuzu Vehicross falls into that category quite handsomely. I see more than a hint of the F-10 in the Vehicross, if we can blank out the large wheels.

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Much of aesthetics is context, and this is where the F-10 story gets interesting. As much as I like greenhouses with visibility, and can hold up the VW Passat/Dasher as an example of clean timeless 1970′s design, I also recognize that gun-slit windows may be here to stay, and the benefits of aerodynamic kamm-back tails are indisputable.  So as I sat looking at these pictures last night, I realized that from a side profile, the F-10 really is somewhat contemporary, and a prophet of things to come. Just blank out those ugly front and rear end details, and you’re looking at what could be a Prius coupe, circa 1975. Or even a predictor of things yet to come, like the Honda CR-Z. Have we uncovered the design inspiration of another new car?

More new Curbside Classics here

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Curbside Classic: 1970 Datsun 510 (Bluebird/1600) Tue, 15 Dec 2009 18:01:46 +0000 a true curbside classic

There were three key ingredients that that made the Datsun 510 fly: the BMW 1600, “Mr. K”, and a certain sharp rise taken flat-out on Bunker Hill Road.

CC 12 040 800In the history of affordable enthusiast cars, there are obvious milestones. Pre-war Fords created the genre by yielding a seemingly infinite source of frames, bodies and drive trains to keep hot-rodders busy, even yet. The tri-five (’55-’57) Chevys combined a trim and sturdy body with the ubiquitous small block V8. The MG roadsters birthed the whole sports car genre in the US. The VW was the closest thing to a Lego-mobile, a source of building blocks for seemingly infinite possibilities. And the legendary Datsun 510? It changed the low-bucks performance equation forever, and spawned the whole ricer scene. It’s earned its beatification and immortality, and now sits exulted at the right side of the holy trinity of ’55-’57 Chevys.

The little boxy Datsuns that Nissan was pushing in the US during the sixties were a modest effort. The 410/411 (Bluebird) was still a dyed-in-the-sake Japanese-market affair, too small and weak-chested. Yes, the SSS version was a zippy little number, if you were vertically-challenged enough to actually climb in, but only very limited numbers found their way here. Datsun’s early success was heavily dependent on their pickups, which pretty much had the mini-truck market to themselves.

Let’s start with the first two pivotal ingredients that made the 510 the high flier it became: the BMW 1600 (later 2002) was a revolutionary car in its own right, and one we’ll look at in CC soon. Its formula of a small, light, boxy body; a rev-happy 1600cc OHC four; and all-wheel independent suspension took the market by storm and spawned the 3-Series legacy that took BMW from obscurity to the head of the class.

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Yutaka Katayama, known reverently as Mr. K and “the father of the 240Z”, was a rebel outcast of hide-bound Nissan. Exiled to the US, he became the founding father and president of Nissan USA, and fought tirelessly for more competitive and sporty product. Certain aspects of the 510, especially the size and performance level of its engine, were the direct result of his back-door lobbying, inspired by his admiration of the little BMW.

So it wasn’t exactly coincidence that both the BMW and the Datsun had 1600cc SOHC engines with 96 horsepower, and front strut and rear semi-trailing arm IRS. While the 510 was just a tick above VW Beetle in price ($1996), the BMW was a whole notch dearer, and zoomed even higher as a consequence of exchange rates. The 510 quickly established itself as the bargain Bimmer.

CC 12 037 800That’s not to say it was its equal. But you had to drive both of them to appreciate the BMW’s substantially more refined ways, especially in the suspension department and general quality of materials and finish. In unadulterated form, the 510 was nevertheless a blast, but the limits of its handling could be a bit abrupt, and adrenalin-inducing.

My high school buddy Nick came by a new 1970 510 when the family Volvo 122S spun a bearing. I will never forget our first effort at “getting lost” in the 510: heading out into the endlessly undulating and windy country roads of north Baltimore County at night without any plan of action or map, never knowing where we would end up, just as long as it wasn’t in the ditch.

The 510 was a rite of initiation and an eye-opener after the VW Beetle, Dodge Dart and other fine machinery I was used to flaying around these facsimiles of English country lanes. The little Datsun four spun its heart out, redline-cheating shift after banging shift. Nick was a naturally gifted driver, and we were immortal anyway, so exploring the 510’s somewhat unpredictable limits on blind, narrow curves late at night was just the counterpart to the somewhat unpredictable psychotropics whose limits we also explored regularly. Sometimes at the same time, other times not. The Datsun was entertaining either way.

Enough of the psycho-brabble. But I assure you that catching air on that rise was not a hallucination; we confirmed it for ourselves via the scientific method: repeat and verify the results. Nick went on to take ownership of the 510, and embark on that series of suspension, brake and engine mods that became so typical of the enthusiast owners of these cars. I had moved away by then, and he eventually moved on to bigger and more expensive flying toys, but he still pines for that 510. I know why too: he now lives near that rise in the road, and it’s calling for him to relive that first flight.

ready to fly

Well, there’s plenty of old 510s in Eugene. I’ve gotten familiar with at least a dozen or so. My friend Mike, who owns the ’51 Caddy, has three of them. I picked this orange four-door because it reminds me of the low-budget mildly-modded 510s typical of the seventies or so. I’ve got a nice well-worn original two door in the can too that we’ll look at some other day: it’s a fairly rare find; it seems the two-doors have all been heavily redone by now. And a wagon (which has a solid rear axle) is coming too.

The beauty of the 510, and its oft-repeated similarity to the ’55-’57 Chevys, lies in its interchangeability with later Datsun/Nissan engines and parts. The L-16 engine was just the first step of the long evolution of that family, so that the 1.8 and 2.0 liter engines drip in as easily as swapping SBCs. The popular the Z series, which were produced through 1989, are also based on the L-engine block. Then there’s Nissan’s later hot DOHC fours. And from there, the sky’s the limit, like this rotary-powered 510. It seems pretty typical for 510 enthusiasts to get carried away.

CC 12 038 800Let me quickly just add that the 510 had a spectacularly successful career in racing too. The hot 2.5 liter class of the Trans Am series was pretty much owned by the Brock Racing Team’s 510s. Bob Bondurant started his racing school with 510s, and Paul Newman got his start in one of those abused Datsuns. It was terrific advertising, and Datsun rode the tails of its racing/sporty image way longer than it deserved to into the seventies.

The 510 was like an automotive mayfly: it seemingly went as quickly as it came. By that I mean, it successor utterly lacked the 510’s qualities, and the 510 became a frozen moment in automotive time. The bigger, heavier and bizarre-looking Datsun 610 was the ’58 Chevy to the ’55. But the 510 had done its job, propelling Datsun from relative obscurity to a very competitive number two behind Toyota. Datsun went on to wretchedly ugly cars and a confused image, allowing Honda to pass it by forever. The pathetic Datsun/Nissan 510 revival in the early eighties certainly wasn’t successful in recapturing the magic of the original. There’s only one way to do that: buy one. Are you listening, Nick?

More new Curbside Classics here

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Curbside Classic Clue Mon, 23 Nov 2009 21:55:35 +0000 CC 44 072 clue

Last week’s fuel filler door clue for the Blazer was a bust. Everyone piled in on it, right from the start. But I’m going to give the win to CyCarConsulting, because Hank limited the time frame too much by saying it was an early-mid nineties Blazer. OK, this week, we need some different parts to look at, like under the hood. Calling all driveway mechanics; you’ve got the advantage here. Now where’s that can of starting fluid?

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Curbside Classic Clue (Updated With Hint) Mon, 09 Nov 2009 23:58:48 +0000 CC 52 015 clue

Still too easy! rpol35 unveiled the ’68 Chevy on the first guess. Must try harder to make it harder. And why is this color so popular in Eugene? Did Maaco get a deal on a tanker truck’s worth? Did I make it hard enough yet?

Update: Someone said it was plenty hard indeed. OK; Hint: we’re looking at the right (passenger side) rear quarter.

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Curbside Classic: 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne Tue, 22 Sep 2009 15:30:05 +0000 Imagine...

Look at the picture above. Now pretend it’s your rearview mirror. That giant set of batwings is right behind you and gaining; now it pulls into the fast lane. A couple of teenagers grin as they zip by you ass-backwards at seventy miles an hour. The front grille of the ’59 Chevy slowly recedes in the distance ahead. If you spent any time on the roads of Cincinnati around 1969, this may well have happened to you.

BiscayneThe 1959 Chevrolet begs not to be taken seriously. It’s just way too over the top, which makes it an open invitation to pranks, abuse, stereotyping, ridicule, and even willful destruction. Think about it: if you were given the opportunity to crash test a sixty year old car against a new one, wouldn’t the ’59 Chevy be the obvious choice? Well, except maybe a ’59 Cadillac, but they’re too expensive, and folks might get seriously upset.

The ’59 Chevy is the apogee of late fifties American taste spun out of control; it represents the point at which the collective consciousness said: STOP! That’s quite enough! We’ve gone down this road as far as it can go. Time for a one-eighty, time to reel in the excess, time for the bubble to burst, time for a recession.

By 1961, a recession and a drastically slimmed down Chevy arrived. And within a few short years, the ’59 developed cult status, a rolling art object (forwards or backwards), as well as the favored object of creative destruction. I speak from experience as an early participant.

True confession: at the age of ten, I had a spell of shoplifting, and the sole targets of my kleptomania were model car kits. Since my inventory soon resembled a current Chrysler dealer’s, I would stage elaborate crashes in the driveway. Lighter fluid was the accelerant of choice, augmented by firecrackers jammed into the engine compartment and trunk. One of my first victims was a 1959 Impala coupe. It was memorable, watching those crazy batwings droop and melt into a puddle. Roller

I say if you’re going to blow something up, make it a colorful object. The Chinese tumbled to this thousands of years ago. So I can totally relate to those IIHS guys and their choice of the ’59 Bel Air. Admit it: it was a beautiful destruction. Like a samurai warrior in his finest garb ready to meet death, the Bel Air glided gracefully to its spectacular end. Would you rather have seen the bland blob of a ’59 Rambler American take on the Malibu? I think not.

At Towson High, our dope dealer drove a Biscayne sedan just like this one. What a perfect rolling billboard. Everyone could see him coming blocks away, and we’d head across the parking lot to buy our dime bags of ditch weed. His eyes were about as squinty as the eyebrows on the Chevy. And his product was about as effective as those fins adding aerodynamic stability at speed.

One day at lunch time, we were lined up to make a transaction across the driver’s window sill, when someone said “Look, up there on the roof!” The Principal was standing on the flat roof of the auditorium, peering at us through binoculars. The dealer panicked, dumped his stash out the window, slammed the Chevy into gear, floored it, and clipped the stout back bumper of a school bus with his right front fender. Kapow! Another ’59 Chevy sacrificed to a higher calling. CC 28 040 600

The 1959 and the slightly-toned-down 1960 models were GM styling chief Harley Earl’s swan song. There are two ways of looking at them. As vehicles, they left a lot to be desired. With their huge overhangs, narrow tracks (inherited from the ’58 underpinnings), “Jet-Ride” soft suspension, undersized 14″ tires with a recommended 24 pounds of pressure, and flexible “X” frame, handling was atrocious. Build quality was mediocre and performance suffered under the bloat, up some 500lbs from the trim ’55-’57 models. Where the small block 283 offered sparkling zip in the classic tri-fives, now a big block 348 was necessary for decent momentum, unless you ordered it with the self-destructing Turbo-Glide automatic. In that case, you’d be gliding to a stop on the shoulder all too soon.

But life would have been so much less colorful without them. They’re a rolling testament to the blowout of late fifties irrational exuberance. And a magnet for creative minds. Like those that created the ass-backwards Biscayne that prowled Cincinnati.

It sprang from the same creative source that created Cadillac Ranch, and the other innumerable memorials to Harley Earls’ unchecked expansiveness. A friend who grew up there told me about it. A couple of high school classmates had the brilliant idea to lift the body off a ’59 Biscayne sedan, and drop it back on backwards. And unlike most wacko high-school inspirations, they acted on it. Why not? How hard could it be? These kids back then actually lived out their craziest fantasies in metal, not bytes, thanks to an uncle’s garage and welder. Try CC 28 051 600suggesting the same thing today to some high schoolers with access to a ’99 Accord.

The result was crude but highly effective. Rough edged holes under the rear bumper for radiator air. A crude steering column held in place by a couple of welded steel bars. The one bench seat was somewhere in the middle. No instrument panel. Or wipers. Lights? Who cared; it ran, and some kid’s crazy fantasy inspired by the ’59 Chevy was realized.

But it had an unintended effect: it brought traffic to a dead halt. Folks simply freaked when they saw those bat wings coming straight at them. Before long, the police put an end to the innocent youthful fun. I saw it some years later, when I drove my friend to Cincinnati: the bat-out-of hell-mobile was moldering away in a weedy side yard, a testament to the ’59 Chevy’s ability to inspire, amuse, revolt, entertain and cause traffic jams. Now if only those IIHS guys had resurrected it, to crash into the Malibu ass backwards. Now that would have been truly spectacular.

More New Curbside Classics Here

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Curbside Classic Clue Mon, 21 Sep 2009 23:34:42 +0000 Think you can hang?

All right, all you expert sleuths of vintage chrome moldings and extruded textures. I will once again try to stump you and will undoubtedly fail. I apologize for the lack of resolution, but it’s a small crop. And you’re too good. A shout out to last week’s winner, 6c1500, who nailed the stick-shift Caddy early on.

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