The Truth About Cars » Down On The Mile High Street The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 10:00:44 +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 » Down On The Mile High Street What Is It With the Dr. Bronner-Style Tirades Painted On Cars? Thu, 10 May 2012 14:30:21 +0000 When you need to get your message through to the ignorant hypnotized masses, what do you do? Why, paint that message in small shaky painted type on your Dodge Aspen!
Those of you who are not familiar with the tiny-print rantings printed on every possible space on bottles of Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One liquid soap should probably head over to the Straight Dope’s explanation. The example cited by Cecil goes like this: “Replace half-true Socialist-fluoride poison & tax-slavery with full-truth, work-speech-press & profitsharing Socialaction! All-One! So, help build 4 billion Hannibal wind-power plants, charging 96 billion battery-banks, powering every car-factory-farm-home-monorail & pump, watering Babylon-roof-gardens & 800 billion Israel-Milorganite fruit trees, guarded by Swiss 6000 year Universal Military Training.”
Dr. Bronner has an important message, and so does the owner of this Aspen in Denver. Cars are very popular canvases for lengthy and complex manifestos, no doubt because they move around and have a lot of square feet to work with. I’m going to start photographing each one that I see.

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What Is It About The Vanagon Syncro? Tue, 27 Dec 2011 14:30:00 +0000 I’m now experiencing my second winter as an ex-Californian in Denver, and I feel as though I’ve been adjusting pretty well— got an Outback in the garage and everything. However, there’s one big automotive mystery here, and that’s the incomprehensible love many otherwise sensible Coloradans have for the Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro. At the risk of enraging the Vanagon Jihad, I have to say that the only way Volkswagen could have made the fragile-at-best Vanagon even less reliable was to give it four-wheel-drive. And yet I see these things being used as very costly daily drivers all the time.
I understand the allure of a lovable, high-maintenance European vehicle loaded with interesting design features and with ancestry stretching back to the pre-hippie era, but the zealots of the Vanagon Jihad believe that the Syncro actually makes sense as everyday transportation in snowy areas. Please, someone, explain this!

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Down On The Mile High Street: 1953 Chevrolet 210 Sedan Wed, 09 Nov 2011 14:00:03 +0000 I’ve been on a Junkyard Find roll lately, but I haven’t forgotten the old/interesting cars that are still among the living. Here’s a nearly-60-year-old Chevy that lives— more accurately, thrives— on the street near downtown Denver.
I’m pretty sure this is a ’53, what with the one-piece windshield and 53-ish gutted grille, but you never know for sure with all the parts-swappage that takes place with these things.
It’s good to know that such cars still get used for transportation these days.

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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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Mystery Car: Quick, What the Hell Is It? Tue, 13 Sep 2011 13:00:25 +0000 I usually limit my cars-in-the-wild photography to street-parked machinery, but I had to make an exception for this fine motor vehicle that I spotted in a Denver parking lot. I’m pretty sure I’m seeing Chrysler K-platform ancestry here, but… words fail me.
Quite a bit of labor-intensive customization has gone into this machine, and I can’t tell whether it’s a K-based kit car with further modifications or a 200-proof, one-of-a-kind dream project.
If I had to guess, I’d say there’s a late-80s/early-90s LeBaron in there somewhere, with custom grill, custom hatch, custom taillights, and custom everything. Your thoughts?

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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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Down On The Mile High Street: Take That, Homeowners’ Associations! Thu, 21 Jul 2011 13:00:07 +0000
It just does my heart good to see a suburban Denver neighborhood in which there’s no meddlesome HOA to tell a man he can’t have a vintage customized Econoline on the street and a Mustang drag racer in the driveway.

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Down On The Mile High Street: Subaru Justy GL 4WD Wed, 22 Jun 2011 13:00:49 +0000
Denver is home to plenty of AMC Eagles, BMW 325iXs, the occasional Vanagon Syncro, and just about every other oddball four-wheel-drive vehicle made. Until yesterday, however, the only Justy 4WD I’d ever seen was this Crusher-bound example. Then this extremely clean red Justy 4WD showed up in my neighborhood.

Is it sick to want one of these things? With three cylinders and (in most cases) a misery-enhancing CVT transmission, it’s tough to explain to normal folks why anyone might want a Justy as a winter car.

But who cares? This thing is probably rarer than an Aston Martin Lagonda!

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Down On The Mile High Street: Baffling Honda Accord Pickup Thu, 09 Jun 2011 13:00:33 +0000
Back in the “good ol’ days” at Jalopnik, Davey Johnson, Jonny Lieberman, and I would spend our days searching for examples of homemade El Camino-ized cartrucks. It sort of peaked in early ’07, when we found the Starionmino, but it’s taken until now for me to find a genuine El Accordamino live and in-person, parked just a block from my house.

I caught it out of the corner of my eye while driving by and thought, “Whoa, a Dodge Rampage parked right in my neighborhood. Cool!” I returned to shoot some photos, because street-driven Rampages are about as common as Aston Martin Lagondas these days, and… wait, what the hell is this thing?

The front half is clearly an ’84 or ’85 Honda Accord, and— in spite of the faded paint and general beater-ness— the conversion job appears to have been very nicely done. I don’t see any of the adobe-grade Bondo, corrugated roofing material, and pop rivets that are the hallmark of the two-12-packs-and-a-torch backyard El Camino-ization job.

I thought that perhaps I might be looking at a Rampage rear half mated to an Accord front half, but a glance at some Rampage photos killed that theory.

The rear strut mounts appear to be very Accord-y, so this may be a heavily modified Accord rear body with a RWD minitruck’s tailgate grafted on. You couldn’t get an Accord wagon in the mid-80s, so it’s not a quick-and-dirty wagon-to-truck hack job.

I’m out of theories about this fine vehicle, and I wasn’t able to track down the owner. Can any of you identify this tailgate? That might be a start…

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Down On The Mile High Street: 1966 Ford Thunderbird Wed, 08 Jun 2011 13:00:41 +0000
Here’s a car that I’ve been seeing in my neighborhood for a year now; on a busy street that makes photography tough, it kept getting sort of overlooked by me when I went out hunting cars with camera in hand. Yesterday, however, I decided that a 45-year-old, 4,400-pound personal luxury coupe that still survives on the street deserves to be admired.

Thunderbirds of the middle 1960s sometimes get overlooked; not quite as swoopy and/or sporty as their predecessors, yet not as absurdly, bloattastically Malaise-ified as the T-Birds that grunted off Dearborn’s assembly lines in the following decade.

This one isn’t quite perfect, but it appears to be a good solid rust-free survivor.

A 275-horsepower 390 was the standard engine for 1966, but optional powerplant choices included 410- and 425-horse 427s (dual-quad carburetors on the latter), plus a 345-horsepower 428. Sadly, a manual transmission wasn’t an option.

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Denver Boot Still Sees Action In Namesake City Wed, 18 May 2011 18:00:21 +0000
Invented by a Denver Symphony Orchestra violinist in the 1950s, the Denver Boot now immobilizes parking scofflaws worldwide. While not used as frequently as, say, parking-ticket-revenue-obsessed San Francisco, the Boot still makes regular appearances in the city that gave its name to the device.

The owner of this Tahoe was probably feeling carefree on a beautiful Colorado spring day… until he or she saw this.

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Down On The Mile High Street: 1967 Chevrolet Impala Tue, 03 May 2011 13:00:35 +0000
With all the relatively solid big Detroit cars from the 1960s getting eaten by The Crusher in these days of $4/gallon gasoline and $250/ton scrap steel prices, how does a rough survivor like this sedan manage to stay out of the Chinese steel foundries?

The probable answer: because it keeps running!

The mid-to-late-1960s full-sized Chevy cars (and I can’t sweat this is actually an Impala, since all the emblems and most of the trim are gone; we might be looking at a Biscayne with Impala taillights, or a detrimmed Caprice) tended to be very sturdy and simple to fix, and they were manufactured in such vast numbers— well over a million units for the 1967 model year alone, counting wagons— that parts are still easy to find. Engine blows up? No problem— just drop in a random 350 from Pick-N-Pull and off you go.

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Down On The Mile High Street: 1968 Volkswagen Beetle Wed, 27 Apr 2011 13:00:19 +0000
Given the way that Beetles have had all their parts swapped over the decades, I’m always reluctant to try to nail down an exact model year of a street-parked example, particularly when it’s a primered-out survivor owned by a guy who spends a lot of time at junkyards. If we are to go by the taillights and hood latch, this car should be a ’68… or it might be a ’64 with a fender swap… or a ’74 pan with a ’68 body. Anyway, the important thing is that it’s an old air-cooled Volkswagen survivor that gets used as a tow vehicle.

This car is the daily driver and freight hauler for an artist who’s something of a legend in my south Denver neighborhood. His studio is an overwhelming house-sized collage of found objects, including thousands of automotive emblems; I’ll have to get over there and document his place with my stereo camera one of these days.

Here’s a short video that gives you the idea. This VW makes a couple of cameos.

Some folks would say that a Toyota truck with a good heater would be the ideal Denver art-material-scavenging machine, but a Beetle with a small flatbed trailer works just as well (provided you dress warmly in the winter).

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Down On The Mile High Street: Toyota MasterAce Wed, 20 Apr 2011 13:00:03 +0000
Here in North America, Toyota’s marketing wizards figured out that a vehicle name that sounds like “Master Race” would be something of a liability, so they put in a bunch of grueling all-nighters and produced… the Toyota Van Wagon. Not so fast, said Volkswagen, claiming that the name sounded too much like “Vanagon,” and Toyota lopped off the “Wagon” to create a van name so boring that we still can’t quite believe it ever existed: Toyota Van.

Despite the terrible name (why couldn’t we have had Toyota Space Vans, as Europe did?), the Toyota Van turned out to be an excellent machine. Cockroach-grade indestructible with car-like manners, you’d think the thing would have sold like crazy on these shores.

The mid-engine layout ate up a lot of interior space, however, and Chrysler’s minivan was so much better suited for American tastes that sales of the Toyota Van were mediocre at best. Today, you still see them in use as work trucks, as is the case with this example I found parked on the Denver street. Californians might also see an Audi-powered race version in the near future.

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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: How To Look Cool Getting Picked Up at the Airport Mon, 14 Mar 2011 17:00:30 +0000
I do a lot of air traveling in my role as Chief Justice of the LeMons Supreme Court, which means I spend a lot of time at Shadow Government World Headquarters, aka Denver International Airport. My ride was coming to get me in a late-model Subaru Outback, i.e. the type of vehicle driven by approximately 70% of Colorado drivers… but this traveler climbed into an early, no-frills Ford Falcon. Yes, I was envious.

At the moment I looked up and saw this fine automobile, I had been thinking about Detroit’s struggles to build a good/big-selling compact car in the post-Falcon (and post-Chevy II) era. What would a 2011 equivalent of a 1960 Falcon be like?
Thanks to Old Car Brochures for the image above.

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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: 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback Thu, 03 Mar 2011 14:00:08 +0000
While I prefer daily-driven survivors for this series, it’s impossible to resist photographing a flawless 1960s machine making a rare street appearance in my neighborhood. This 289/4-speed ’67 fastback spends most of its life garaged, but the weather in Denver this week has been so nice that the car’s owner must have felt compelled to give it some fresh air.

I’ve never been much of a Mustang fan (I prefer the Fairlane-based Fords and Mercuries of the era), but I still think this is the best-looking Mustang Ford ever made. It’s great to see one with the factory wheels and no slapper bars on the leaf springs.

Since I’ve gone ahead and built a stereo digital camera to shoot 3D stuff for Cars In Depth, I figured I’d shoot the Mustang with my new twin-camera rig. The red paint on this car really messes with the view using red/cyan anaglyph glasses, so here’s the black-and-white version. More stereo shots in the gallery below.

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Down On The Mile High Street: Alfa Romeo GTV6 Thu, 24 Feb 2011 14:00:12 +0000
You’ll see the occasional Alfa Spider or Milano on the streets of Denver, maybe even a 164, but it’s a special day when a GTV6 appears. This one lives in my neighborhood, just a block or so from the ’52 Kaiser Henry J Corsair daily driver.

The GTV6 was a member of the Alfetta family, but instead of the old familiar Twin Cam engine it had a 2.5 liter V6. Along with the new engine came new, intensely 80s styling. I don’t have the Alfa expertise to ID the year on this car (the GTV6 was sold in the United States from 1981 through 1986), but the lack of a third brake light (probably) means it’s a 1985 or earlier model.

The list price for these cars ranged from about 16 grand to nearly $19,000, or roughly the same price as a BMW E30. Sure, the E30 was more reliable, better built, and more powerful, but who cares?

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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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Whoa, What’s That? Mon, 07 Feb 2011 13:00:27 +0000
Sometimes you’re just driving along when something catches your attention as you whiz past. Was that a… no, it couldn’t be. This happened to me as I headed home from the Tri-State Swap Meet at Denver’s Stock Show Complex on Saturday. So, we went back around the block and I took this blurry, Loch Ness Monster-style shot (rather than get out of the truck in a snowstorm). No, it’s not a factory-made Superbird or Daytona, but maybe it’s a super-rare Chrysler prototype from the depths height of the Malaise Era, just parked in some dude’s driveway!

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Down On The Mile High Street: 1966 Dodge A100 Sportsman Sat, 05 Feb 2011 01:00:23 +0000
It just occurred to me that my own A100 Hell Project hasn’t been featured on Whatever I’m Calling The Series Of Photographs Of Old Street-Parked Vehicles These Days. It’s a total nightmare to drive in the snow (particularly for a snow-country n00b like me), but it looks pretty good with the white stuff.

I think a limited-slip differential and some snow tires would make this thing much a much more civilized winter driver, but Denver snow usually doesn’t stay around for long and I’m not all that motivated to drive my van on the ice (though a limited-slip would be fun for 318-powered smokey burnouts). Did I mention that I still haven’t gotten around to fixing the heater?

Right now I’m building up parts for a suspension rebuild and shopping around for an upholstery shop that will do the seats in the proper metalflake-red Naugahyde with gold piping. I’m also hoping to find some seriously sci-fi-looking 1970s speakers for the 8-track sound system; those Mandrill and Montrose tapes need to be heard!. When the warm weather arrives, this van needs to be ready!

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Down On The Mile High Street: Subaru GL Hatchback Coupe Thu, 03 Feb 2011 22:30:28 +0000
Denver being the Land of Subarus, I see plenty of 20-year-old GLs, Loyales, and whatever else the marketing wizards at Fuji Heavy Industries decided to call the Leone over here. What I don’t see often is examples of the hatchback coupe version of the Leone, so I did a double-take when this car caught my eye today.

Denver’s getting some snow now, which means I was able to photograph this car in its natural setting.

I don’t have the obsessive Subie knowledge necessary to pin down the exact year of this sporty four-wheel-drive coupe, but I believe Subaru went to the Loyale name by 1990 and the Libby Light indicates that this car— or, at any rate, the silver car that donated the hatch— is an ’86 or newer model. Let’s say it’s a 1988 until one of you can make a better guess!
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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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