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March 2012

Carspotters' Challenge #7 -- Get Your Antlers On

We're in Moose Lake, Minnesota, population about 1,500, sometime in the middle 1960s. There's a Monkey Ward's and a Red Owl, but no flying squirrels.

"Hoo boy, moose and squirrel reference. Sharrup you mouth!"Have at it, carspotters!

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Postcard image obtained from the "Main Street" postcard collection at lileks.com.)

1967 Dodge Deora Concept Vehicle

Deora and surfboardsEver since I was about 10, I have seen this odd pickup truck in Hot Wheels packages, AMT model kits, magazines, and images here and there. But I haven't seen one lately except in KMart's toy section, so I thought I'd look one up.

1967 was one of some really great custom car years. The Batmobile, The Monkeemobile, and The Munster Koach and Drag-u-la were all in fashion, and that's when the Deora premiered.

Designed by Harry Bentley Bradley and based on a Dodge A100 pickup truck/van, the rear glass of a 1960 Ford station wagon served as the windshield. The name "Deora" was coined by a 13-year-old, and (incorrectly) means "Golden" in Spanish. Its highback seats were years ahead of their time, and its rolled and tucked interior was posh by any standard.

Deora doorThe Deora's sharp angular lines, streamlined body, and forward look are appealing, but it's not hard to see why this vehicle never caught on... this may be the most useless, impractical, and unsafe pickup truck ever proposed.

And maybe that's why I like it. With the engine placed about where the empty cargo bed should be, the only practical cargo it might carry above its enclosed bed would be surfboards.

Also, there's no real front end/crumple zone space, so I would not want to be in a collision in one. Its windshield is tempered glass instead of being laminated, so it's unsafe as well. So the Deora exists mainly as scale models of the original, only to be a fantasy vehicle for the masses.

Continue reading "1967 Dodge Deora Concept Vehicle" »

100,000

Over 100kDad and I were in the "Battleship," the grey '76 Ford LTD, somewhere on I-76--I don't remember where we were headed. For the last couple of miles, Dad had been paying very close attention to the instrument panel. "Instrument panel" is kind of too strong a term for what the LTD had: a CinemaScope wide-screen speedometer, a gas gauge, and a bunch of dummy lights, none of which were lit up. The engine sounded normal, the car was tracking straight and true, but Dad was very intently focused on something. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing," he replied. "Just hold on."

He started slowing and pulling off into the median, extremely attentive to his speed and rate of deceleration. He came to a precise stop and pointed at the odometer, a very satisfied look on his face.

"00000.0", it read. All zeroes.

At Dad's insistence, we got out and stood in front of the car and shook hands, a modest ceremony to commemorate what was, at that time, something of an accomplishment: getting a 1970s Detroit car to hold together for 100,000 miles.

Continue reading "100,000" »

March 26th Weekly Open Thread: The Return of Datsun

Nissan recently announced that it was resurrecting the old Datsun nameplate after 20-some years in the dustbin of history. See this Reuter's story, for example. As of now, they're only planning on using the Datsun name for low-cost vehicles in some non-US markets such as India and Russia.

I remember at the time they dumped the Datsun name that there was a decent amount of controversy over the decision (they were selling both "Nissan" and "Datsun" branded vehicles). One can see the DatsunNissanpractical side of it from Nissan's point of view: They could consolidate advertising materials across the entire brand and across borders where one or the other was being sold, even though changing a lot of Datsun-related paraphernalia (such as dealership signs) was no doubt a significant cost. OTOH, quite a few pundits thought it was a needless change that got them away from a brand name that was well-respected. The widely-acclaimed 240Z was, of course, a "Datsun". Frankly, I'm not sure what sort of reputation "Datsun" had back in the day, whether it was on par with Toyota and Honda in terms of quality, reliability, etc., although I think they may have been, overall, a bit goofier looking.

So, here is the space to voice your opinion: Should they leave Datsun where it lies? Bring it back to the US, too, maybe like Toyota/Lexus or Honda/Acura (admittedly, they already have Infiniti)? Or is "Datsun" in the US forever linked to "reliable and efficient but still small and goofy"? It is yours to decide.

As always, feel free to discuss whatever y'all want as well.

Photo is courtesy of our own Chuck Lynch.

Carspotters' Challenge #6 -- Can you smell what the Swedish Chef is cooking?

This is the waterfront in Helsingborg, Sweden sometime in the 1960s. At that time, the city was a major hub for ferry service to Denmark.

"Bork bork bork!"The rail geek in me is drawn to the baby locomotive in the lower center of the frame, working the industrial branch which runs right through the middle of the ferry terminal plaza. There's plenty of cars for your car-spotting enjoyment, however. What do you see?

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Postcard image obtained from Ultra Swank.)

Car Gas Station Lust: Sinclair Oil

Is it possible to love/lust an oil company? For the most part, gas stations to me -- and likely most people -- are just part of the landscape, places that need to be visited every now and then to fill up the ol' family car, SUV, truck, whatever. I have my preferred locations and companies, of course, which all depend on various intuitive and actual calculations involving price, proximity, and quality. My engine SinclairOilLogo1_full does well on some brands, not so well on others, and I patronize various stations more or less often depending on how the calculus comes out. Around Seattle and the northwest, I generally go to Shell or Chevron for quality reasons (my engine runs better on those for whatever reason), avoid 76 (I still call it "Union 76") for similar reasons, and often end up at Sam's Club when I'm feeling thrifty -- although I can't use it for more than a couple of fill-ups as my engine starts to run rough after a while.

But, you know, it's still just gas, right?

Well. . . .yeah. . . .but. As I like to say around here, a lot of what we think about cars is cemented early in life, usually by association with happy memories of youth in our parents' car, first teenage cars, etc. Same goes, I would posit, for gas stations. Our family road trips inured me to certain gas station highway signs, from the red, white and blue Mobil, to the red, white and blue oval-with-the-flame of Standard, and the big orange Union 76 signs. I also recall the old Phillips 66 shield, but for some reason I don't recall going there that often, on road trips or otherwise.

Oh, but there's one that remains forever in my childhood heart as the epitome of, well, exciting gas stations: Sinclair. Herein, my hommage to that wicked COOL "dinosaur gas" station that endlessly fascinated me as a youth -- and later. Oddly, however, it is perhaps my least visited station, largely because they aren't present in the states I have resided in either as a youth or an adult. Then again, maybe it's that mystique of unobtainability that fires my passion for that glorious green diplodocid.

Continue reading "Car Gas Station Lust: Sinclair Oil" »

A sunny day and a strange love affair

It seems that spring may actually be here in southern Minnesota.  A few weeks early, but I’m certainly not complaining.  With spring comes annual rituals – spring cleaning, fertilizing the grass (not quite yet though), putting out the lawn furniture, and getting engines you’ve stored all winter back into running condition.

I have a love/hate relationship with working on vehicles.  I grew up as a shop rat, learning much from my motorcycle mechanic father.  For him, working on cycles has always been a passion that earned him money.  For me it has always been a necessity to save me money.  I’m competent at it, but I just don’t enjoy it (be it cars or cycles).

I’ve never been in the position to have a project vehicle.  Everything I have owned in life I’ve needed as my basic mode of transportation, or I didn’t have the cash to work on the secondary vehicle while trying to keep the primary one running.  Somehow I find myself at that intersection of life again.
P1130227
With the weather being so nice today, I went to the garage where I store my ’82 Honda Goldwing and my ’88 Chevy S-10 (4x4 4.3L Tahoe package with topper).  Neither would start.  The cycle has had the trickle charger on the battery for the winter, and yet it just barely creaked when I tried to turn it over, and then stopped.  Battery.  Sigh.  Since the cycle saves me quite a bit on gas during the summer I’m sure I’ll break even through replacing it, but not really what I was hoping for.

Continue reading "A sunny day and a strange love affair" »

March 19 Weekly Open Thread: 3 Things I Wish All Cars Had

Welcome to this week's Weekly Open Thread where we talk about most anything automotive-related. This time, may I suggest a few features that I'd like to see on all new cars, and possibly retrofitted on all vehicles.

Brake lights1) Brake lights that work when the car in front of you slows down. Now that seems logical, right? But wait... the driver has to hit the brake pedal to make this happen, so what about the smarty- pants in front of you that grabs the hand brake or shifts down "enthusiatically?"

That car is rapidly decelerating, and you may not know it in time. That driver may be trying to get rear-ended. But if we had decelerator indicators, devices even as simple as mercury switches, we'd know that the vehicle is rapidly losing speed... and we could prepare better.

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Carspotters' Challenge #5 -- Packed to the Rafters

1966 was certainly a very good year for automobiles, and this Jewel-Osco "Master Market" in Chicago, which had free rooftop parking, was doing a lively trade on a winter's day when this picture was taken. Must've been the 49¢ ground beef and the 9¢ bananas that were drawing them in.

Jewel osco 1966You've got a whole parking deck to work with, plus the parallel parking out front. See anything interesting?

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo obtained from the retail history blog Pleasant Family Shopping.)

1984: Was It A Very Good Year?

Orwell_1984George Orwell foresaw it. David Bowie sang about it. 1984 was almost like "Y2K," in that we had been told it was coming and we should prepare for it. But looking back, the year seems to have been one of national pride, salad bars, economic prosperity, and, well, just good times.

Nineteen Eighty Four did not go unnoticed by several Car Lust contributors:

Anthony Cagle penned the 1984 Mustang SVO.

Bernard Bolisig wrote about the Toyota MR2.

Chris Hafner brought us the Pontiac Fiero.

Cookie The Dog's Owner did the VW GTI.

David Colbourn authored the 1984 Chrysler Executive.

But did 1984 impress other enthusiasts? Were there any new cars that changed the landscape? And did we run out of fossil fuels as had been predicted in 1973?

FieroAs mentioned, 1984 brought us the Pontiac Fiero. In typical GM fashion at the time, it was rushed to market and was not ready for sale, as early- model engine fires and other recalls proved. We all know the car was originally meant to be a high gas mileage commuter car, and by the time the Fiero GT was finally tuned as a true sports car, its reputation was soiled and the car was cancelled.

Continue reading "1984: Was It A Very Good Year?" »

Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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