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.

Car Spotting in Southern California

My wife and I just returned from a long weekend (5 day) trip to Los Angeles and its surrounding environs, primarily to visit her brother, whom we see all too infrequently. For me, it was another chance to immerse myself in southern California car culture. As a lifelong resident of the NY/NJ metro area, California has always been a car lover’s heaven. From my first visit here in 1977, through many subsequent business and personal trips, I have been in awe of “the land where cars don’t rust”. Walking down the street is analogous to attending an old car show back east. Car models which disappeared from my local streets eons ago have always seemed to be in plentiful supply in the Golden State.

Except this time, it was different. Perhaps because we stayed in a more concentrated and wealthy area (West Hollywood and Beverly Hills), the number of old daily drivers (informally defined by me as cars and trucks between 15 and 30 years old) was low. What stood out more was the incredible number of high-end cars. I’m not speaking of Mercedes Benzes, which were as common as Toyotas and Hondas are at home. I’m referring to Rolls Royces (3 while sitting in one restaurant), Ferraris (so common that people don’t turn their heads), Teslas (easily a dozen+ per day), BMW i8s, and Audi R8s. Topping this list was a Bugatti Veyron being driven down Sunset Blvd. Although I’ve seen the car at car shows, this was the first time I saw one moving under its own power on a public thoroughfare.

On Sunday, we drove to the charming shore town of Ventura (memorialized in the song “Ventura Highway” by America). As it was a weekend, I had the opportunity to see vehicles which likely were taken out for cruising. Parked on the street were a Ford Econoline COE (cab-over-engine) pickup, a Porsche 914, and a 1968 Cadillac convertible. Cruising the streets were two ’55 Chevrolets, several VW bugs (kids, these were the original Beetles with rear-mounted air-cooled engines), and a Toyota Land Cruiser which, in spite of its original-looking CA plate, disproved my idea that these things don’t suffer from the tin worm out here.

Ford Econoline pickup in Ventura CA
Ford Econoline pickup in Ventura CA

 

Porsche 914 in Ventura CA

Porsche 914 in Ventura CA

 

1968 Cadillac convertible in Ventura CA
1968 Cadillac convertible in Ventura CA

 

1955 Chevrolet wagon in Ventura CA
1955 Chevrolet wagon in Ventura CA

 

1955 Chevy hot rod in Ventura CA
1955 Chevy hot rod in Ventura CA

 

'60s era VW Beetle in Ventura CA
’60s era VW Beetle in Ventura CA

 

'70s era VW Beetle in Ventura CA
’70s era VW Beetle in Ventura CA

 

A quite rusty Toyota Land Cruiser in Ventura CA
A quite rusty Toyota Land Cruiser in Ventura CA

There were other cars to be found, although opportunities to photograph them were slim as we always seemed to be in a vehicle and on the go ourselves. Around the corner from my brother-in-law’s apartment was this gorgeous Airstream trailer, patiently waiting until it was time to hit the road again. One block from there was a Jeep Grand Wagoneer. Its paint was shot but its sheet metal looked solid. It caught my eye because I had just seen one sell in Atlantic City less than a month ago. And on Catalina Island was a VW Transporter, almost as rusty as the Toyota. I guess living near the ocean will eventually take its toll, even here.

While there were other vehicles of interest to be seen, there was no chance to photograph them all. Alas, the long weekend came to an end all too quickly. I’m back home in NJ, where the weatherman is predicting several inches of snow for the first day of spring! Hmm, need to plan that return visit to L.A.

Airstream trailer in West Hollywood, CA
Airstream trailer in West Hollywood, CA

 

Jeep Grand Wagoneer in West Hollywood, CA
Jeep Grand Wagoneer in West Hollywood, CA

 

VW Transporter on Catalina Island CA
VW Transporter on Catalina Island CA

 

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

 

 

Dad’s 1957 Volkswagen Beetle

Difficult as it may be to believe, but there was a time when most American families had only one car. In the years immediately after World War II, as America became prosperous again, plenty of new cars were being manufactured and sold, and roadways were being built to drive these cars to and from the expanding suburbs. Yet the “traditional” family model remained: dad worked, mom stayed home to take care of house and children, and one automobile sufficed. This was reality for many baby boomers growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was no different for me.

In my family, by the late 1960s, all three children were in school, which was close enough for us to walk. Mom had started to work part-time in the evenings, and Dad was steadily employed in Manhattan, commuting via bus, ferry, and subway. While the Corvair did the job as the family carry-all, my father decided that he could afford a second vehicle. Did we need another set of wheels? Not really. Certainly because he always liked small cars, and possibly because he had been born in Germany, he got a Volkswagen, a 1957 Beetle sedan.

The 1957 VW. Note the antenna, hub caps, and whitewalls.
The 1957 VW. Note the antenna, hub caps, and whitewalls.

As the resident car nut, I loved the idea of another car. There was also the pride I felt in an ability to distinguish one year VW from the next. At a time when we were still used to sweeping styling changes every year from the American car makers, Volkswagen actually bragged that they did not subscribe to annual redesigns. So for most drivers, all these Beetles looked alike. Yet I knew my father’s car was older. The one-piece oval rear window and tiny tail lights were all dead giveaways, and no prompting was needed for me to point these things out to anyone within earshot.

It was a treat to go for rides. I enjoyed watching my dad work the shifter and clutch, although I had no interest in trying to understand the mechanics behind such maneuvers. The VW had no heater, so winter rides were always accompanied by the warning to “bring a blanket”. It didn’t stop me from wanting to go.

The '57 Beetle from the rear. Note the blue & gold NY plates. Both photos taken in our backyard on Staten Island.
The Beetle from the rear. Note the blue & gold NY plates. Both photos taken in our backyard on Staten Island.

Alas, after almost exactly a year, Dad sold the VW. He never said why. Perhaps his practical side woke up to the realization that we really did not need two cars, at least not yet. For years afterward, my father continued to brag about that Beetle, repeating the line that he “bought it for $275, and sold it for $275”.

Pretty good deal. Wish I had it today.

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.