Saturday, June 8, 2013

Vintage Cars

I've become immersed in a number of different pursuits throughout my lifetime. Some (reading, music) have persisted through the decades and will be with me for the duration. Others (drawing and painting, tennis) faded away some time ago and may never rise from the ashes.

In the third category are hobbies which leave and return, like a pleasant character (who you think has made a cameo) that re-emerges later on in the story, after they've been forgotten. One such interest for me is vintage cars. 

In 1979 my best friend turned me onto cars, though it would be years before we could legally drive. Once engaged I dove in head first. I paid close attention to every magazine and tv ad, walked through parking lots identifying cars and lingering on the beauties, and perused the price sheets in new car windows at the local lot. Eventually I could identify most of the cars I saw on the street and fantasized about owning a Corvette.

American automobile aesthetics declined in the '80s. Cars became boxier, less elegant, less distinctive. I moved on to sports, weightlifting, heady rock, and writing.

Over the past few years my visual appreciation of vintage cars (now loosely defined as vehicles which are at least 30 years old) has been rekindled as I've come across interesting specimens on my bike rides through San Francisco, where mild weather year-round allows vehicles to age gracefully.

On my most recent ride, I saw two Plymouth Valiants. This black '60s convertible

with a nifty little nameplate on the back and

a Valiant Duster (a bigger, ballsier '70s spin-off of the original model) 
which'd had an unfortunate meeting with someone's front bumper. 

This Ford Fairmont from the late '70s/early '80s caught my eye. 
In color, length, and release era it reminded me of my grandma's 
more sedate Ford Granada, which I took a driving test on.  

I always liked the thick pillar between the side windows and
the slant of the Fairmont, which makes me think of a mullet 
(business in front, party in back). 

First generation Ford Mustangs are common in San Francisco, 
particularly in the Mission District. 

The grill ornament is one of the most recognizable automobile insignias.

I always liked the fourth generation Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
It had sharp lines and a taste of luxury without being too pricey. 

Here's the front.

Just down the street from the Oldsmobile was a classic '60s Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Having one of these boats in every driveway would be a disaster for the environment, 

but they sure are pretty. 
I've especially always loved the Cadillac tail fins, 
which make me think of upturned shark eyes.

I also saw some vintage foreign cars on my ride. 
This ancient Volvo resembles a Volkswagen Beetle on its left side,

although the long rounded hunchback is different and

the front is grander than any I've seen on a Bug.

A British car took the cake. 
I chatted with a (more knowledgeable) fellow admirer as I moved around to 
photograph this gem from different vantage points; he couldn't tell whether this 
Morgan had been customized or had been sitting peacefully in someone's garage for decades.

Here's a front wheel,

the face, 

the interior, 

and the logo, 
here seen in a wraparound psychedelic image 
not unlike the cover of "Are You Experienced?"

Stumbling on the Morgan was a perfect bookend to the evening. 
Camera in pocket, I cycled home as the shadows grew long.

Previous photo essays:

"Gone but not Forgotten" is a tribute to a friend who left this world all too soon 

"Random San Francisco" has 46 photos which range from ornate architecture to street scenes to vistas to murals

    "California in November" includes shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands    

"A Sunny* Monday in San Francisco" is a day tour of the city, from Mission Street to the      Pacific Ocean


  1. Great article Dan!
    One of the things I miss about San Francisco is the eccentric people. That includes old car buffs of cars long forgotten about. Rather than the cliché '57 Chevy or '65 Mustang, you see old cars that were never seen as classic or collectible but still interesting. Valiants, Fairmonts, Cutlass and Fleetwoods aren't high on the list of collectible classic cars but are still unique and interesting. They have way more style and character than the new jellybean shaped cars of today.

    Interesting that your interest in cars started in 1979 and faded throughout the 1980s. Kinda like with music. As we were very young in the late 1970s, we didn't realize how spoiled we were with great music of that time. Throughout the 1980s the quality of music had slipped (much like car designs). Therefore lost interest of anything new by the late 1980s/early 1990s had rolled around.

    We had no idea how bad things would get later in music and car designs throughout out the 1990s and today.
    Occasionally we would get teased with a retro design (2002-06 Ford Thunderbird or Plymouth Prowler) similar to a new talented artist with a retro sound (Jamiroquai, Mondo Grosso, Alicia Keyes and Esperanza Spaulding) which is wonderful - but over all, car designs and music over all really sucks today and is bland with just a few bright spots of those mentioned above.

    Looking through a new car magazine in 1979, every car had it's own distinct style. Everything from a little Chevrolet Chevette up to a Lincoln Continental Mark V had character. Turning on the radio in 1979, you were treated to Styx, Chicago, Rush, Earth Wind & Fire, Gino Vannelli, Chic, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Supertramp, Heart, Prince, Kansas, Bob Segar, Kenny Rodgers, David Bowie, etc. All was good.
    Today, listening to new music is depressing and so are the designs of new cars today.


  2. Vintage cars are definitely catchy. You wouldn't dare not to stare at them because they hold a certain charm that you won't feel with usual vehicles. I guess it has something to do with their age. The idea of how old these cars are yet still in great shape and condition is just fantastic!

    Prince Moss @ Lexus Of Ann Arbor