Car Spotting, Staten Island NY, March 2021

A few weeks ago, on one of the first sunny Saturdays we’ve had this season, my wife and I decided to cruise over to Staten Island, NY, where we both spent time as youngsters. (I was born and raised there; my wife did the “Western hop”: she was born in Brooklyn, moved to S.I. and then to New Jersey, all before she was out of her teenage years.) Our goal was simply to drive by a few of our old haunts, grab a cultural lunch at an Italian deli, and head back home before it got too late.  

The last thing on my mind was that this visit, my first trip back to The Old Country since the pandemic shutdown started, would turn into a Car Spotter’s Event. But Event it became. I don’t recall noticing this many old cars on the Island during any previous trip. Perhaps most surprising is that two of these cars were parked on the street as if they’re seeing regular daily driver duty.

I grabbed what photos I could, but traffic congestion caused me to miss a few, notably a 1973 Buick Century two-door coupe on a trailer parked on the street; and a Lincoln Continental Mark III in the parking lot at South Beach.

It is also complete coincidence that the two Fords below are the same year, and the Chevy is also the same or within one year of the other two. (Any of you Chevy experts able to distinguish a ’62 from a ’63 from a ’64 Chevy II from the rear?)

This 1963 Ford Falcon convertible (first model year for a Falcon droptop) was parked on Bement Ave. in West Brighton. Looking at Google photos of similar Falcons, I believe that there was a substantial amount of exterior trim along the sides and back which have since gone missing on this one. That top may not be keeping out much moisture, but the car is plated, and looks like one could drop that top and enjoy a sunny ride to the South Shore.

This 1963 Ford Thunderbird hardtop was spotted in a driveway on a side street off Bard Ave. in West Brighton. It hasn’t moved in a while, and its outdoor storage isn’t doing it any favors. From this angle, it appears to be all there, but needs someone with welding skills. It’s the final year of the three-year run of the “Bullet Birds”, a personal favorite.

This 1st generation Chevy II (1962-1964), fuzzy dice and all, was parked on Father Capodanno Blvd. in South Beach. The best I could do for a shot was to pull in behind it and shoot through my windshield. It’s a four-door sedan, and Chevy probably sold a million of these “normal” compacts (compared to the “abnormal” Corvair compacts). The “Godeny” dealer emblem from Carteret NJ (just over the Goethals Bridge) likely means that this car has never left the area.

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Car Spotting: Winter 2020/2021 Edition

Just because a global pandemic has shut down almost all our car hobby-related group activities doesn’t mean that car owners aren’t taking their prized possessions out for solo spins. Shutdown or not, while many of us (your humble author included) salt away the collector machines every winter, there are many others who continue to pilot their cars during the colder months, as long as the roads are dry and the skies are clear.

Below are snaps of a few of the older vehicles I’ve spotted out and about these last few months, at least before the Northeast snows descended upon us. One car was spotted in a hardware store parking lot; another was dropping off an offspring at a sporting event; and a few were seen in the relatively balmy climate of Cape May NJ. In all cases, the vehicles were either moving under their own power or were legally parked, with license plates attached – these were not project-cars-in-waiting.

1965 MERCURY COMET

This 2-door hardtop was in the parking lot of my local Home Depot on a Sunday afternoon. While far from a show car (note the heavily worn paint on hood and roof), it’s obviously owned by an enthusiast, based on the wheels and the license plate. I trust that his planned hardware purchase will fit in the trunk or back seat. This is what you drive to the store when the ’49 woodie wagon is in the shop.

1965 Mercury Comet

‘60s VW KARMANN GHIA

An end-of-year visit to Cape May rewarded me with a VW two-fer. This Karmann Ghia was parked downtown and gave the impression that it had recently been driven. While the paint was dull and the bumpers were rusty, there were no body issues from corrosion or collision, and with bumper overriders, wheel covers, lights, mirror, and antenna all accounted for, this Ghia was reasonably complete! Make special note of the undented NOSE. It fit the casual funky vibe of Cape May perfectly.

VW Karmann Ghia

‘60s VW BUG

A few miles away from downtown Cape May is a United States Coast Guard Receiving Station, complete with barracks. Parked in front of one of the housing units was this Bug, with Texas plates if I recall correctly. The driver’s side running board was missing, and the bumpers didn’t look original, but like the Ghia, it looked like you could hop in it and take it for a day-long ride if you so desired. Was it driven up from Texas? I for one would not wager that it didn’t make its way up here in that manner.

VW Beetle

1966 FORD MUSTANG

This Mustang was parked at my local gas station. The paint looked recent, and aside from what appear to be incorrect wheel covers, it looked bone stock. Maybe it had been dropped off for some service work. I think that these first-generation hardtops have aged well, and compared to the more expensive Mustang convertibles and fastbacks, continue to be affordable collector cars that make for an ideal way to enter the hobby.

1966 Ford Mustang

‘70s VW TRANSPORTER

I’m no VW expert, but I believe that this vehicle is a 2nd-generation Transporter (T2), produced from 1968 to 1979 (and if I’m wrong, the Vee-Dub air-cooled authorities will be sure to respond). I spotted this “bus” in the parking lot of a local playing field, as a parent was dropping off a child for sports practice. What a cool way to get shuttled to soccer! This one must be a camper; note the pop-up roof and the duct vent just aft of the driver’s door. It’s also wearing the ultimate VW bus accessory, a peace sign decal.

VW Transporter T2

Three of the five vehicles I spotted were air-cooled Volkswagens. Are these cars, which lack liquid cooling systems, the ultimate winter collector car because they can’t freeze? What if you need heat inside? They’re notorious for lacking good interior heating systems (my dad’s ’57 Bug had no heater installed, and he kept blankets inside it for passengers). Perhaps it’s coincidence to see three of the same make, but it’s still a treat to stumble across the occasional old car on the road, especially in a season that has been devoid of normal car shows.

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The Personalized Plate

(NOTE: The following is a work of historical fiction.)

Bill Farrell was not a car guy, and he knew it. He was painfully aware of it because his father, Thomas P. (Tommy) Farrell II, had been a car guy, and never let Bill, his only child, forget it.

Tommy came of age in the early days of hotrodding: shoehorning worked-over flatheads into chopped Deuce coupes was all he and his Army buddies wanted to do once the war ended. Laying rubber and chasing girls (not necessarily in that order) helped them forget the horrors of World War Two. They were just happy they survived.

Tommy wasn’t really one for much chasing. His high school squeeze, Helen, was waiting for him at the end of the war. But Helen was done waiting; she told Tommy in no uncertain terms that if he wanted her, he needed to get down on one knee “and be a man about it”. And so he did, and so they did: by the summer of ’46, the knot was tied, and it wasn’t long after that Helen was “with child”.

Tommy secretly hoped for a boy. Helen claimed she didn’t care, but growing up as the only girl in a family of five children, she dreamed of a daughter. On the 7th of July 1947, a son was born to Thomas and Helen Farrell. Tommy knew all along that if he had a son, he’d be named “Thomas P. Farrell III”. (The P stood for Patrick, and his Irish grandparents told him the name came from St. Patrick, even if he didn’t himself believe it.)

Helen had a secret she never told her husband: before Helen’s mother passed away, while Tommy was at war, Helen promised her mother that if she ever had a son, he would be named William, after Helen’s father, who succumbed to cancer when Helen was just 12.

In a way that only wives can do, Helen gently but firmly informed her husband that she wanted their son named after her dad. Tommy actually fought it for a day, then gave in, knowing he would never win. As something of a consolation prize, their son was given his dad’s name as a middle name.

For reasons which remained unspoken, and which were eventually taken to their graves, Tommy and Helen stopped trying to have another offspring. Bill was an only child.

He was a typical boy, playing with the typical toys of the time. Yet any attempt by Bill’s dad to coerce the youngster into joining him in the garage fell on deaf ears. Bill (“William” in school, and never “Billy” at home) would rather watch that new-fangled TV, for which Tommy had no use. So Tommy continued to fiddle with his Deuce in the garage, while Bill played with Lincoln Logs and watched Saturday morning cartoons.

Fast-forward to 1963: Bill, at the age of 16, was eligible for his driver’s license, and succeeded in passing his driver’s test on the first try. His mom’s car, a ’62 Dodge Dart 440 station wagon with automatic, was what he preferred to drive. His dad’s daily driver, a ’59 Chevy Biscayne 2-door post with 3-on-the-tree, would have been first choice for most teenage boys, but Bill didn’t know how to shift with a clutch, and showed zero interest in learning.

Always meticulous, the boy did enjoy the wash-and-wax ritual, and treated his mother’s wagon to a fresh coat of Simonize at least twice a year. He may not have been the consummate car guy, but he wanted his ride to be clean while he was behind the wheel.

There was one way he was very much like his dad: Bill met a girl, Sally, in high school, and it wasn’t long before they were going steady. By the time each of them was 20, they knew they wanted to spend their lives together. In the autumn of 1967, Bill and Sally married.

The newlyweds stayed in town, and took advantage of both sets of parents living nearby, very handy when Andrew (1969) and Eileen (1971) were born. Their house, at 7 Hemlock Court, in their leafy New Jersey suburb, had a two-car garage, of which Bill’s dad was unendingly jealous. Although Tommy could always afford to provide a vehicle for both Helen and him, he never managed to own property with more than a one-car garage. He burned up a bit more when he saw his son and daughter-in-law use the garage for bicycles and lawn furniture rather than automobiles.

Bill’s automotive choices were always practical. He liked full-size Fords as family cars, and had a series of them throughout the decade of the ‘70s, usually in brown or green. But between two gas crises and diminishing vehicular quality, Bill began to sour on cars from the Blue Oval. One day a new dealership opened in town, selling these nice-looking Japanese front-wheel-drive sedans. By 1978, Bill bought one of the first Honda Accords in his neighborhood, and he never looked back.

Before the decade of the ‘80s arrived, both of Bill’s parents passed away from natural causes.

Bill never so much as changed his own oil (“that’s what dealer service departments are for”), but it still haunted him that he never lived up to his dad’s image as a “car guy”. One day, he noticed a car in the parking lot at work with 3 letters, followed by a number. That’s it! He told himself that he’d honor his father in his own way by getting a personalized plate, featuring his initials and his lucky number “7” (he was born on 7/7/47, and his house number was 7).

In New Jersey, car owners are allowed to transfer plates from one vehicle to the next, and that’s just what Bill did. His home state eventually redesigned their license plates, moving from the non-reflectorized “straw & black” to reflectorized plates in different shades. Still, Bill held onto his cherished tag, moving it from Accord to Accord. (He occasionally selected a different exterior color, but stayed with the same model.)

Both Andrew and Eileen grew up to be polite young adults, and like their parents and grandparents before them, each of them married young. Andrew and his bride Sandy moved to Indiana for her job. They also decided, for reasons kept to themselves, to remain childless. Eileen married Robb, and they moved two towns away from her folks. Bill and Sally became convinced they would never become grandparents, but Robb and Eileen were only postponing things until they got settled in their careers. They had two boys in quick succession, Tyler (2002) and Jordan (2005).

By the second decade of the 21st century, Bill Farrell wasn’t old by any stretch of the imagination, but he did feel himself slowing down. He drove less, mainly because he realized his eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. One day, approaching his car in the mall parking lot, he thought his eyes deceived him. A group of young boys was running away from his car, giggling. He thought he might have been imagining it. Then a few months later, some high school girls were using their phones (“how does a phone have a camera in it anyway?”) to take their pictures next to his car. “What could be interesting about an old Honda?” he asked himself.

Because his car was more than a few years old, and because Sally drove a newer Acura, they tended to use her car whenever they visited Eileen, Robb, and the boys. One day, since the Accord had just come back from the car wash and was blocking her car, they decided to hop into his car for the ride to visit their grandkids.

As soon as they arrived, Bill was heard to exclaim “gosh darned if these kids can’t get their noses unglued from their phones!” His daughter just shrugged her shoulders as he implored the boys to join him for a game of catch. Finally, Jordan, who had just turned 10, said, “sure Grandpa, let’s go outside”. Gramps replied, “OK, but no fastballs! And don’t hit my car with any wild pitches!”

Everyone else stayed in the air conditioning. Bill and his grandson got no further than 10 feet from the driveway when Jordan, catching his first-ever glimpse of his grandfather’s car, could not stop the hysterical laughing. Bill was equally stunned and annoyed. What in hell could be so funny? When the belly laughs finally subsided enough for Jordan to speak, he felt that he had to whisper the truth to his grandfather.

All that Bill could manage to muster in response was “texting?? Is that like email on the phone?” Beyond that, Jordan’s grandfather was speechless. And so it came to pass that William Thomas Farrell, who was so proud of the manner in which he honored his father’s memory, learned the irony of his personalized plate from his own young grandson.


This is a real photo, taken of a real car, with a real license plate (no Photoshop usage here). While driving in Flemington NJ during July of 2017, I saw this plate and fired off a shot with my phone before the car was out of my sight. The story almost wrote itself around this obviously-old NJ plate on the Accord.

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

Car Spotting, Woodstock NY, August 2017

My wife and I spent this past weekend in the Woodstock NY area. It was a quick visit: up on Saturday and back on Sunday. We were gone for barely more than 24 hours, but it was fun. She had never seen the town of Woodstock before; I have been there, but so long ago that I can’t remember when it was.

Sidebar for those who may wonder if this was the site of the famous Woodstock Music & Art Festival of 1969: it was not, although the Festival was named after it. While this is an automotive blog and not a musical one, here is a Wikipedia link which provides the story to that event.

I mention the above because, wandering the streets of this artsy-and-crafty town, I felt like I could have been in Greenwich Village circa 1972. The hippie vibe is alive, and certainly not discouraged by local townsfolk, many of whom make a living from reliving the August ’69 weekend. This “vibe” extends to some of the automobiles I saw on the streets and in the parking lots.

 

One of the more colorful shops which celebrates all that is Woodstock- note the VW bus shirt

 

Below are pictures of a few of the interesting cars and trucks scattered through the town. (Cars which drove by too quickly for me to capture on camera included a first generation Ford Bronco and an early chrome-bumpered Fiat 124 Spider.) Sadly, no flower-powered Beetles were seen, but I’m certain that one or two are tucked away in backyard sheds in Woodstock. A return visit is in order so that I may hunt them down.

Not the classic VW bus, but close enough. Just add psychedelic paint.

 

Early ’60s Chevrolet pickup

 

This Triumph Spitfire looks like it’s been here a while

 

This Volvo 240 wagon’s rear bumper delete makes muffler service easier

 

This first generation Mustang was being used as Saturday transportation

 

While not an old car, the license plate plays to the flower-power mindset

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Car Spotting in Southern California, April 2017 edition

My wife and I spent a long Easter weekend in Santa Monica and its immediate environs, primarily to visit her family. For me, it’s always an adventure to go to California. For this native New Yorker, a stroll down the street is its own car show. The climate has, for the most part, ensured that automobiles survive for a very long time.

My life-long home turf of metropolitan NY/NJ suffers from the ravages of snow most winters. To be more precise, we suffer from the road salt liberally applied as the result of the snow. All this salt is not kind to vehicular sheetmetal, causing it to rust. Since salt is not needed in most of the Southwest, it’s not unusual to see 30, 40, even 50 year old vehicles still being pushed into daily-driver service on the streets of California.

As the designated driver for much of the weekend,  I was left with little time for strolling and picture-taking. Many cars from the ’60s and ’70s were spotted but not photographed. For the few instances when we were on foot, usually to or from a meal, my cell phone caught some neat old cars. Here are a few of the more interesting ones.

This first-generation Ford Bronco looked completely restored to stock condition. Given that the market currently values these things in the $30k-50k range, it was a surprise to see it unattended. However, it did have “The Club” on the steering wheel.

This 1969 Cadillac Coupe Deville didn’t need The Club. Paint was gone from most of its horizontal surfaces, several lenses were busted, and rust had eaten the hood’s leading edge, leading me to suspect that the car may not have been native to the state. Note the coveted ‘black plate’.

 

This early ’70s BMW 3.0 coupe looked too nice to not have been restored. The lucky owner drove it to church on Easter morning, as I found it in a church parking lot. It looks minuscule next to the Range Rover. Yes, the parking lot is carpeted. 

The biggest surprise for me was this early ’70s Alfa Romeo GTV, parked on the street in a residential area of Santa Monica. The paint was weathered, the wheels rusty, the windows dirty, and the chrome lackluster. Yet, it didn’t give the impression that it had been sitting there long. With no visible rust, this is a $25k car back east. I was tempted to leave my phone number….

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Forlorn Jaguar E-Type Roadster Discovered

A few weeks ago, my wife and I headed to lunch at a restaurant in Whitehouse Station (NJ) that we hadn’t tried before. It’s about five miles from our house, and it’s one of those places that we’ve driven past a thousand times, always saying “hey, let’s try that sometime”, and finally we did.

For 1pm on a Friday, the place was quite busy, and since their primary parking lot was already full, we had to park a half block further away. No big deal, as the day was sunny if a bit cool. Our parking spot ended up being closer to the back, not the front, of the restaurant.

Approaching the restaurant from the rear, my wife was already several steps ahead of me, when my eye caught a glimpse of an interesting shape in the yard next door. The adjacent business is an auto repair shop, and as is typical, there are always a number of semi-repaired cars strewn about. But this was no recent “we’re just waiting for that replacement oxygen sensor to come in” type of vehicle. No, this one had been there a while.

At first glance, it looked like it was covered by a tarp.  I walked closer, and as my vision began to focus on said tarp, I saw that it only partly covered the car. “What is it?” I asked myself. The shape was so familiar, yet I still didn’t know.

I didn’t want to get too close (I haven’t had my tetanus shot), but as I walked from its rear to its front, I recognized the unmistakable XKE shape. It’s as if it were wearing a disguise: vehicle partly covered, headlight removed, and both doors missing! By now, my wife was on the porch, wondering just where I had gone.

 

Tarp needs to be re-secured; good thing the top is up
Tarp needs to be re-secured; good thing the top is up

Out came the cell phone to fire off two quick snaps. I rushed inside so as to not keep her waiting any longer. My attention was directed to the menu, but it was hard to stop wondering how this Jag ended up there, in that condition.  Was this a barn find? (There’s no barn.) And just when you think that all the Jag project cars have been found, this pops up 5 miles from me. Somehow, I avoided the temptation to make an inquiry.

It wasn’t until I got home to study the photos that I saw that it’s a Series II OTS (Open Two Seater). These 2nd-generation E-Types still used 6-cylinder engines, but had exposed headlights, a larger grille opening, and larger tail lights mounted below the bumper. While not as pretty or desirable as Series I cars, they still have a commanding presence, and are still coveted among collectors of European sports cars.

Door removal aids in photography of interior
Door removal aids in photography of interior

My CPI (Cars of Particular Interest) price guide for Nov.-Dec. 2016 puts such a car at $97,000 in “excellent” condition. Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market Price Guide for 2016 assigns a median value very close to that, at $91,000. This example, as the pundits would say, needs everything, so even if the car were free, you’d spend more than you could earn on resale. Perhaps it’s best to let this one return to earth from whence it came.

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

An Unplanned Visit to “Cadillac House”

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were in downtown Manhattan, where we spent a pleasant afternoon at the new Whitney Museum. Our trip into New York County was via the Staten Island Ferry, and while we had taken a taxi from the ferry terminal to the museum, the afternoon weather was pleasant enough for us to make the return trip to the terminal on foot.

Much of our walk took us south on Hudson St., through the West Village and SoHo. These areas are full of trendy bars, coffee shops, and galleries, and autumn’s Sunday warmth had lots of people out and about.

 

Just about the last brand name I expected to see in SoHo
Just about the last brand name I expected to see on a building in SoHo

 

I’ll be the first to tell you that my eyesight isn’t that great … except when it comes to spotting cars. A few blocks past Houston St., in the glass window of a building across the street from where I stood, was the unmistakable chrome face of a 1958 Cadillac. “Wait, wait”, I yelled to my wife, whom I knew would have no choice but to follow me. “What is this place? Wait, the Cadillac emblem is on the front of the building!”

 

The view that first caught my eye
The view that first caught my eye

 

My wife went in first; I wasn’t even sure they were open. But sure enough, they were. We scooted past two young adults who were building some kind of display, and entered the first floor ‘showroom’, all glass and mirrors and chrome. Oh, and several Caddies from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

 

Public area on first floor is all hard surfaces
Public area on first floor is all hard surfaces

 

We wandered around a bit. There was a hipster coffee bar, and a small clothing boutique in the rear. A large placard gave details about an upcoming Andy Warhol exhibit. The space is open seven days a week, and “hanging out” is encouraged.

 

Sit, stay a while, enjoy the views
Sit, stay a while, enjoy the views

 

Cadillac + Andy Warhol - who knew?
Cadillac + Andy Warhol = who knew?

 

We didn’t stay long, and on the way out, I asked the young woman at the desk if this was in fact Cadillac’s headquarters. “Oh yes” she exclaimed enthusiastically. “All the upper floors are where all the offices are. We like it here, because this is a great neighborhood.”

 

Fun with mirrors, part 1
Fun with mirrors, part 1

 

Fun with mirrors, part 2
Fun with mirrors, part 2

 

The Cadillac brand, in an attempt to establish independence from its General Motors parent, moved its national operation to New York in 2015. This is all part of brand chief Johan de Nysschen’s grand plan to take the luxury car maker upscale.

 

Say "tailfins", and most will conjure up an image of the '59 Cadillac
Say “tailfins”, and most will conjure up an image of the ’59 Cadillac

 

My presumption had been that their offices would be somewhere in Midtown: perhaps near Bloomingdale’s (and Trump Tower), or maybe around the corner from Rockefeller Center. So Johan wants to be where the young trendsetters are. Hasn’t this been tried before?

 

1963 Cadillac, in black, natch
1963 Cadillac, in black, natch

 

I had one more question for our hostess: “Where are the new cars?” She said that they had all been moved out in preparation for the Warhol event. For now, these behemoths from Cadillac’s heyday had the floor to themselves. Here’s hoping that Cadillac finds its muse somewhere in lower Manhattan.

 

The organic coffee sign symbolizes the distance between this '58 and its trendy surrounds
The organic coffee sign symbolizes the distance between this ’58 and its trendy surrounds

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

1978: Car Spotting in Italy

Up until 1978, the extent of my travels by car had taken me to California and back. My sole trip via air was a family vacation to Florida in my late teens.  The only time I had been out of the U.S. was a quick trip to Toronto while a college student.

When my mother and several other family members planned a visit to Italy, I signed on, thinking that the food and the cars would offset the less-desirable attribute of traveling with relatives.

We were there for two weeks in September of 1978. The only one in our foursome not fluent in Italian was me, and since we spent most of our time visiting family members, none of whom spoke English, things could get boring.  To entertain myself, I would venture out on my own and purchase car magazines (in Italian, natch), and teach myself how to translate automotive technical terms.

My camera for the trip was a Kodak 110 Instamatic, with negatives the size of your pinky nail. It is amazing that the snapshots looked as good as they did. While most of my photos were of relatives, I did capture some interesting machinery on the street. It’s not surprising that the cars which fascinated me 38 years ago are the cars which fascinate me today. Some things, as the cliché goes, never change.

There was no driving by me during this journey. That would change for my next European visit.

 

BELOW: This Lancia Fulvia Coupe is from the late ’60s/early ’70s and is already an “old car” for the Italian streets. I always admired its tall greenhouse, reminiscent to me of the Fiat 124 Coupe I had owned. Note the lack of a rear bumper.

Lancia Fulvia Coupe
Lancia Fulvia Coupe

 

BELOW: This Volvo 66 (really a Dutch Daf with a Volvo grille) was the first non-U.S. Volvo I had ever seen.

Volvo 66
Volvo 66

 

BELOW: This late ’60s Alfa Romeo Giulia GT Coupe is done up to mimic a GTA (on the presumption that it is not a real race-bred GTA).  There was no way to determine if the Turbo badging was only an honorary add-on. Like the Lancia, the rear bumper was removed in an effort to add a dash of sportiness.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Coupe
Alfa Romeo Giulia Coupe

 

BELOW: At the time of my visit, I owned a ’77 VW Rabbit. The GTi hot hatch version was something that Americans could only dream about, and here was one barrelling down the strada.

VW Golf GTi
VW Golf GTi

 

BELOW: While being driven to southern Italy by my mother’s cousin, we were forced to come to a temporary stop while a farmer herded his sheep (and other farm animals) across the road. Admittedly, the photo was actually an attempt to capture the herding, but the Opel Kadett happened to be there. (Based on that crowded back seat, it looks like its driver is doing his own herding.)

Opel Kadett
Opel Kadett

BELOW: This Fiat 124 sedan, owned by my mother’s cousin, was our transportation for 8 hours as we were driven to southern Italy. My mom and aunt patiently wait in the back seat for the herding to end.

Fiat 124 sedan
Fiat 124 sedan

 

BELOW: On the streets of Rome, I came across this Fiat Dino Coupe, a car that I had certainly read about, but had never seen until now. Look at the dirt which has been kicked up by the front tire onto the fender and rocker panel – this is someone’s daily driver.

Fiat Dino Coupe
Fiat Dino Coupe

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

Test Drive: 1956 Packard Clipper

Went to visit my pal Pete yesterday. He’s the family friend from whom I purchased the Alfa. A trip to Pete’s place is always a guaranteed entry into some automotive fun, as he has a nice collection of “older” and “newer” cars, and always gives me a chance to take several of his cars out for drives.

There was no way I could have anticipated the “drive” which was on the horizon this day for both of us.

We were cruising in his 1979 Volvo 265 (original owner, 41,000 miles, AACA Preservation Award winner), with me behind the (thin-rimmed, non-air bag) wheel, when Pete said “see those cars on the left? Pull into that lot”.  Those cars on the left were unmistakable, even from a distance of several hundred yards: a first-generation Corvair sedan, and a mid-fifties two-tone Packard sedan. I stopped the car. Pete got out and said “let me find the guy”.

1956 Packard Clipper Custom 4-door sedan
1956 Packard Clipper Custom 4-door sedan

 

The guy was the proprietor of the gravestone marker business in whose parking lot we were sitting. Pete returned within moments, the Packard’s keys clutched in his hand, the guy right behind him. They were discussing a test drive route in the area. The guy motioned for me to climb in, said to both of us “have fun”, and went back to tend to several ladies who were shopping for granite.

Packard from the rear: it's as large as it looks
Packard from the rear: it’s as large as it looks

 

“We” were going for a test drive in this car, a 1956 Packard Clipper 4-door sedan.

Steering wheel feels 3 feet wide - it just that modern wheels are so much smaller
Steering wheel feels 3 feet wide – it’s just that modern wheels are so much smaller

 

Observation #1: there is a lot of room in the front seat of a ’56 Packard. The bench seat, combined with a dash barely extending out from the windshield base, provides a lot of stretch-out space. Pete, who is fit and slender, looked lost behind that enormous steering wheel. With the key in the ignition, the big V8 fired right up. Pete moved the column-mounted shifter into “R”, which on this car is at the far right, next to “L” (can’t say “PRNDL” here), and backed the car out of its parking spot.

Observation #2: a 1956 Packard does not have seat belts, unless some previous owner had decided to install them at some point during the car’s 50 years of life. No previous owner had made that decision here.

Grad rope is in lieu of belts; note obigitory ashtray
Grab rope is in lieu of belts; note obligatory ashtray

 

As we headed toward the road, a busy two-lane highway with a de facto speed limit of around 60, I asked Pete “are we turning left or right?”

Pete: “left”.

To myself: “oh shit”.

We both were trusting that this rig would not stall when the gas was mashed, that the steering wheel would at least pretend to be vaguely connected to the front tires, and that the brake pedal would not sink to the floor upon initial application. In other words, there was no parking lot test drive before stepping out to play with Friday’s traffic.

Pete successfully made the left turn, and the car was up to 50-55 with little effort. We cruised for several miles at that speed. I noticed that with Pete’s hand steadily on the wheel, the steering did not need constant correction in order to continue straight – impressive (and certainly not how my ’57 Ford steered).

Orange valve covers out of place on green engine block
Orange valve covers out of place on green engine block

 

The road started downhill, the posted speed limit dropped to 40, there was construction on the right, an 18-wheeler was behind us, and the traffic light up ahead turned red. We needed to slow down QUICKLY. Pete braked with his left foot. The car dove to the right, he let up on the pedal, reapplied the brake, and the car darted left. The brakes pulled badly. The tractor trailer, in Pete’s words, was “up my butt”. To his credit, Pete controlled that big wheel, modulated the brakes, and got us safely stopped. Speaking of stopped, my breathing did for about 10 seconds. I recovered. Did I mention that the car had no seat belts?

Battery, hoses, clamps look recent; otherwise things look refreshingly original
Battery, hoses, clamps look recent; otherwise things look refreshingly original

 

As we turned left into a residential area, I was relieved to be away from that busy 2-lane. This was when Pete pulled over, put it in Park, and said “OK, your turn”. I had not driven a ‘50s-era automobile in many years. I had never driven a Packard. This was going to be a thrill.

With the transmission back in “D”, I pulled out onto the quiet 25-mph street. The car’s power steering certainly was effortless, but inputs did have a direct effect on the car’s direction. Accelerator tip-in was fine, and the V8 had lots of torque. The most remarkable observation during the test drive was the car’s ride. It was supple without being too floaty. There was nary a squeak or rattle from any of the four corners. The car handled better than a 2-ton ‘50s American car would be expected to handle. (And this on bias-plies.)

Kids: handle on right controls door window. Rotate one direction to raise, the other to lower
Kids: handle on right controls door window. Rotate one direction to raise, the other to lower

 

The two issues with the car were the aforementioned (drum) brakes, which needed adjustment or perhaps a service, and the transmission, which needed its quadrant adjusted, and which at one point during a downshift made a groaning sound.

The car’s odometer indicated 57,614 miles, and Pete and I agreed that nothing we saw before, during, or after our test drive would give us reason to doubt those miles were original.

Car's styling rivals anything else from Big 3 for '56; note exhaust pipe
Car’s styling rivals anything else from Big 3 for ’56; note exhaust pipe

 

Back at the gravestone store, I parked the Packard exactly where we had found it. Pete ran the keys back to the owner. It was then that I got the story that the Packard (and the Corvair) had belonged to the owner’s father, who passed away a year ago. He was just getting around to putting them up for sale. The ask was $16,000. Pete told him that he would think about it.

I know that Pete would love to have the car, but like many of us, he has an issue with room. His 4-car garage is full, and there’s still one (newer) car outside. Additionally, at almost 19 feet in length, there’s some doubt that it would fit (unless one drilled holes in the wall for the Dagmars). This car looks like it’s had one high-quality repaint but otherwise appears to be in fine original condition. It’s just several weekend’s worth of detailing away from being an HPOF candidate at an AACA event.

Front & rear badges say "Clilpper"; "Packard" is in small font on side of decklid
Front & rear badges say “Clipper”; “Packard” is in small font on side of decklid

 

Observation #3: a 1950s-era Packard motorcar would make a fine addition to anyone’s car collection.

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 


SIDEBAR: 1956: the year of the last “real” Packards

The history of the Packard Motor Company is a fascinating study of how a successful maker of some of America’s finest luxury cars still managed to go out of business. It is impossible to go into great detail here, except to note that by the 1950s, Packard merged with Studebaker, and finally replaced its straight-8 engine with a V8 for 1955. But there was much more to the 1955 Packards than that. Quoting from my copy of the Encyclopedia of American Cars, by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide:

“… the 1955 Packard was a technological marvel. Prime among its wonders was “Torsion Level” suspension: long torsion bars connecting front and rear wheels on each side. A complex electrical system enabled the suspension to correct for load weight, and effectively interlinked all four wheels for truly extraordinary ride and handling despite two-ton bulk…. …these were impressively fast and roadable cars…. Customers were scared away by … the ’55 Packards’ notorious quality and service problems. Ironically, the ‘56s were better built….”

Their write-up goes on to say that in a truly desperate move, Packard decided that the “Clipper” would be an entirely separate make for 1956:

“Besides registering the name as a distinct make, (company President James J. Nance) decreed separate Clipper and Packard dealer signs…. As a final touch, “Packard” appeared nowhere on ’56 Clippers except for tiny decklid script – and some didn’t even have that.”

By the 1957 model year, Packards were being built in South Bend, Indiana on restyled Studebaker bodies. It was the end of an era. But reading the above, it’s now understandable why our test-drive car rode so well (and why I’d want to learn more about the suspension’s electrics before plunking down my hard-earned cash). I also had no idea that “Clipper” was a separate make in 1956, which explains the badging on this particular car. Based on the quality and the engineering of the example we drove, it is a shame that Packard did not survive.

THE SUMMER OF ’77: THE FIRST CROSS-COUNTRY ROAD TRIP

In the summer of 1977, I had just graduated college; I had sold my Chevy Vega to my brother Karl and was without my own car; and I had decided to postpone the post-grad job hunt, knowing full well that this could be the last time for a very long time that I’d have a few months of freedom.

My friend Mike who was in graduate school also was free for the summer. He had recently purchased a 1971 Volvo 144 (his first choice, a Volvo 164, was a bit out of his financial reach), and together we hatched a plan to drive the Volvo to California and back, visiting friends and relatives along the way. Sometime in late July, we departed my parents’ house on Staten Island and pointed the car west.

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On the hood of his new (to him) 1971 Volvo 144

Growing up as an East Coast car enthusiast, I had tolerated the inevitable corrosion that beset our automobiles, brought on by winter’s road salt. California had always been a dream, not just for its beautiful weather, but for its supposed rust-free cars. At the age of 23, I was finally about to see the Golden State for the first time. Heck, this trip would be the first time that I would be traveling further west than Youngstown, Ohio.

The photographs I took during the 3-week long journey included some interesting finds in the Midwest, as well as plenty of neat cars in California, even by 1977 standards. My camera at that time was a cheap Kodak Instamatic, so please forgive the quality of these pictures.

To put some historical perspective on this trip:

  • A week before our trip began, on July 13, 1977, all of New York City was hit by a 2-day power outage.
  • During that summer, the city was gripped by the horrific Son of Sam killings. When we departed, he was still at large. As we traversed the country in our NY-plated car, more than one person asked if either of us was Son of Sam (macabre humor). On August 10, 1977, David Berkowitz was captured, and we both were relieved to hear this news on the Volvo’s AM radio.
  • Less than a week later, on August 16, while we were in Lexington KY, the news broke that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, had passed away.
  • Three days later, on August 19, Groucho Marx died, and the country was so riveted by Elvis’ passing that the loss of Groucho barely made a dent in the news.

 

In Ohio, we stopped to visit Marianne, one of Mike’s college friends. I snapped this photo as we parted company, as she strolled toward her Volkswagen Fastback.

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Marianne and her VW Fastback

We visited another college friend at her mother’s home in Stillwater, Minnesota. Imagine my surprise to discover that her mom drove a BMW 2002, and her brother’s daily driver was an Audi Fox, with an MGB-GT project car in the garage. All 3 cars had manual transmissions. The bro’ let me drive the Fox, which had a direct influence on the new-car purchase I would be making in about two months.

Colorado was a revelation. While I have returned multiple times, this first visit stands out because we young men had no idea why, as our sturdy Swedish machinery climbed the Rocky Mountains, we lost power. It got to the point that the car would barely do 40 mph uphill. Those funny-looking SU carbs under the hood were a complete mystery to us. The Volvo’s automatic transmission wasn’t helping with the search for more speed.

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Self-serve fill-up, Colorado style. Note the whitewall tires and missing hub caps.

When we arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Mike’s grandparents lived, he decided that he had enough driving for a while. Reaching California was my dream, not his. Content with spaghetti, beer, and A/C (which the Volvo lacked), my buddy handed me his car keys and said, “if you’d like to continue, you’re on your own. Just pick me up on your way back.”

I took the car and left. The one-way trip to L.A. was 800 miles and about 12 hours of driving. Making the trip in one day, the only “difficult” part of the journey was the Mohave Desert. I bought a huge iced tea in Needles CA, crossed the 110-degree desert with all the windows open, and stopped to refuel in Barstow CA, where this photo was taken:

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Barstow CA, 1977: A newish Caddy has its hood open, while a ’65 Caddy manages to look cool.

At last, San Bernadino, and the Pacific ocean. Finding a beach, I parked so that I could at least put my feet in water 3,000 miles from where I usually swam. This parking lot photo mainly features newer cars, but back home, Karmann-Ghias had already become rare sights.

 

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A VW Karmann-Ghia sits between a Porsche 911 Targa and a Chrysler Cordoba.

Searching for Los Angeles, I was confused by the sprawl. There were no clear city boundaries. But I did find Sunset Blvd., and as I was about to turn onto it, two ’60s era Chevrolets were in front of me. This photo was taken while driving, mainly for my brother Karl who was in the midst of trying to resurrect a 1964 Impala back home. Karl’s car looked nothing like this one!

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The street sign says Sunset! A Nova SS followed by a ’64 Impala.

Heading back to NM, a summer storm may or may not have been a contributing factor to this massive traffic tie-up. We were stopped long enough that most folks turned off their cars and wandered around on the highway.

 

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A 1972 Ford sits behind a 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix

Except for the power loss in the Rockies (which could have been cured had we known to lean out the carbs), the Volvo performed quite well. Its seats were incredibly comfortable and supportive for what was probably 7,000 miles of driving over 3 weeks. The gas mileage was decent. A stick shift and an FM radio would have been my preferences, but it wasn’t my car. It was my first real experience with the brand, and the irony of driving a Volvo on this trip was not lost on me when 13 months later, I entered the car business by going to work for a Volvo dealership.

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.