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Car Lust Quantum Leap: The Chevette

I guess it should not be a surprise that I picked this microbial minicar, since about anything you do to a GM T-Body will improve it anyway. But I have always defended this car, which was the best-selling American small car of 1979 and 1980. After all, I did own two of these beauties.

Chevette 2 door

First off, I'd keep virtually all of the external sheet metal, but build an up-to-date, high-tensile steel space frame under there that meets today's crash standards. After all, is the Chevette really such a bad looking car?

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Car Lust in the early 1950s: A Boy And His '39 Plymouth

A bit of a digression from our usual fare for this post. Over the last couple of years I've developed a bit of a hobby with old diaries. I'd always wanted to maintain a diary/journal, though not so much because I think I have so much of importance to say for posterity. After my dad died several years ago, I realized that all of the stories he'd told us over the years now only existed in our memories; we couldn't go check them with him or hear them again, they were all lodged only in our imperfect memories as something of an oral history. I made a few attempts over the years to keep a diary (even when I was a kid) but they never lasted, I 1939 Plymouth Ad-07think because I never thought I had anything of profound interest to write. 

Then one day on a lark I bought a diary at an estate sale and started reading it through. That one was from 1948 written by a 60-something-year old Seattle housewife by the name of Lillie May (Reasoner) Smith. She wasn't anything particularly special and mostly she just recorded her daily doings. . . .which I found utterly fascinating. Instead of profound thoughts on Life and the Big Events of the day, she recorded her shopping trips, her husband's work as a longshoreman, picking berries on Orcas Island, dinner parties they attended, etc. Such a different world from the one I inhabit here in the later 20th and early 21st century with our computers and Internets and cable television and cell phones and such. So, I started my own diary, online this time, and went through and transcribed Lillie's  entry for the same day ("On this day in 1948. . .") and then entered my own doings. And I kept at it, I guess, partly out of a feeling of obligation to give the world her story as well as my own. When the year was up (her diary only was for a single year), I found another and started in on it. The second one was for 1967, a man this time, and he was kind of dull. 

But I found another one that was fairly complete for almost three years from 1952 to 1954 and started in on that. To be honest, for the first month or so I thought it was a teenage girl -- there was no identifying information in it -- but turned out it was written by a teenaged boy from Yakima, Washington. And he had a 1939 Plymouth coupe, much like the one pictured here. He was 16 at the time and the Plymouth kept popping up as he went through his daily teenaged high school boy life.

While we were both teenaged boys at one point, like Lillie May, it was a different world from the one I grew up in. He's had a few adventures in his Plymouth and many, many problems with it, some of which were his own fault. But the way he related to his car and the things he did with it are far different from what I experienced, and I thought I'd share some of his entries with Car Lust readers. No doubt some older readers will relate to what he went through, and younger ones may find the actual writings of a car-loving guy from the early 1950s enlightening. 

A couple of notes: He had very small, cramped writing and it was often difficult to make out words. Those I've put in [brackets] with the the word I think it is or in some cases just the letters it looks like in hopes context can render it intelligible to someone. More on the diarist below the fold. 

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Birth Year Fantasy Garage Challenge: Big Chris (1974)

Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Introduction 
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Cookie the Dog's Owner (1961) 
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Tigerstrypes (1989) 
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Anthony Cagle (1962) 
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Chris Hafner (1976)

1974 was a great year.  The world population reached 4 billion people.  Elvis was still alive.  Hank Aaron became the home run king passing Babe Ruth with #715 April 8th.  Nixon resigned, and I was born.

1974 wasn't what I'd consider a great year for cars, though there were some great car still being made.  It comes just after all the fun of the muscle car era.  Styling began to change, and the OPEC oil embargo plus smog restrictions had an impact on horsepower and performance.  Despite that, I was still able to find some cars I'd love to own today.

I live in the rust belt (Minnesota).  There's not much from 1974 left for picking through here.  So for my birth year challenge, I'm looking to Dallas. And when I run out of options there, I'm going to Phoenix.  I'm going to limit my search to just these two markets. I'm not going to just pick my favorite cars from 1974, but am choosing to pick from what is available on the market today.

Orange Corvette

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1968-1973 Ferrari Daytona

Ladies and gentlemen, I declare this The Perfect Car: the 1968-73 Ferrari Daytona.

Technically, yes, it's the Ferrari 365 GTB/4. But really, it's the Daytona. And it's wonderful.  Ferrari-daytona_1475650c

A while back I made up a bit of a fantasy post, specifying that if you had to have a single vehicle -- and only one -- for the rest of your life, what would it be? I gave two options, a real world one (you pay for everything), and a fantasy one (someone else buys it, insures it, gasses it, and maintains it). For mine, I actually went all practical and chose a couple of SUVs, a Honda Pilot for the Real Word and a Range Rover for the Fantasy Realm. 

But I dunno, I may rethink the latter and throw caution to the wind and get my (fantasy) self into a Daytona. 

I'll let you just gaze at that photo for a bit before clicking to read the rest of this post. Take your time, I'll wait. 

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Birth Year Fantasy Garage Challenge: Chris Hafner (1976)

Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Introduction
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Cookie the Dog's Owner (1961)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Tigerstrypes (1989)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Anthony Cagle (1962)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Chris Hafner (1976)

Spirit 76At first glance, it might seem foolish and misguided to assemble a $100K Fantasy Garage exclusively from cars available in my birth year of 1976. Compared to the classic 1950s and high-horsepower 1960s, the 1970s seem to be remembered by enthusiasts as the decade in which car enthusiasm cratered.

The first fuel crisis and emissions standards had sapped horsepower and drivability, leaving the fire-breathing muscle cars of the 1960s largely extinct by the early 1970s. Imports were still rare and out of the mainstream, the domestics were experimenting half-heartedly with downsizing, and the disco era manifested in the size and styling excess of the personal luxury land yachts.

This is a pretty dire picture, but I'd argue that there were still good cars made in 1976, and even those cars that weren't empirically good are at least interesting for a car enthusiast in 2015 who doesn't need to depend on them for daily transportation. In fact, the relative unpopularity of mid-to-late 1970s cars makes them much less expensive and more accessible than the more universally loved cars out there. Interesting and inexpensive? Sounds like a perfect formula for Car Lust.

I outlined the rules in the introduction, but I included a few personal rules. For example, I excluded any cars that I have already owned--which explains the absence of the Jeep Wagoneer, Cadillac Eldorado, Ford Gran Torino Wagon and Plymouth Valiant from my list. I also organized my choices into specific roles to curb my natural inclination to invest solely in land yachts and sports coupes. I chose average values from Hagerty and NADA in cases where actual listings weren't available; Hagerty's average value corresponds to something between Condition 2 (drivable show car) and Condition 3 (very nice driver), which perfectly fits my expectations for these cars. The eBay listings I chose were finished, above-reserve listings, in which the car actually sold.

In many cases I was faced with tough choices in a given category, but in the case of a tie I tried to break that tie in favor of the car more evocative of its time and most likely to put me in a 1976 mindset. Below I'm starting with my chosen daily driver and then working from most expensive choice to least.

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Carspotters' Challenge #132: "Where Were You In '62?"

I guess this Carspotters' Challenge fits in with this week's Birth Year Fantasy Garage Challenge. After all, these beauties of yore were then and are now treasures to behold. But being born five years before 1962, few if any of them meet the requirements for my own Fantasy Garage Challenge.

One of the best car movies of all time is "American Graffiti," set in the year 1962. After all, car-wise, 1962 was also A Very Good Year as well. So here are a few scenes from the movie with some great cars:

Mel's wide

A nice wide shot of "Mel's Drive-In."

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Birth Year Fantasy Garage Challenge: Tigerstrypes (1989)

Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Introduction
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Cookie the Dog's Owner (1961)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Tigerstrypes (1989)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Anthony Cagle (1962)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Chris Hafner (1976)

Let me give you further evidence to why 1989 was A Very Good Year.

IROC-Z 1LE 1989 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28 IROC-Z 1LE – IROC-Zs have always been a long-time favorites of mine. While any IROC-Z would do, I couldn’t pass up on picking up the best one of all: the 1LE. It included unique goodies intended for SCCA Showroom Stock racing.

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Birth Year Fantasy Garage Challenge: Cookie the Dog's Owner (1961)

Sheesh! Everybody's a critic.Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Introduction
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Cookie the Dog's Owner (1961)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Tigerstrypes (1989)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Anthony Cagle (1962)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Chris Hafner (1976)

The year 1961 was one of momentous historical events: President Kennedy's inauguration, the first human in space, the first American spaceflights, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the erection of the Berlin Wall, and my birth.

Okay, so maybe that last one doesn't rate quite so high on the historical importance scale.

For purposes of this fantasy garage challenge, the timing of my birth just ain't fair! Two of my little sisters get to have Avantis and Wagonaires in their birth year fantasy garages, but noooooo, not me, I'm too old for those. At the same time, I'm too young for Forward Look Mopars and Loewy coupes.

So where does that leave me? Is it possible to assemble an appropriately Car-Lustful collection entirely out of vehicles from model year 1961? Follow along and we'll see what we can do.

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Car Lust's $100,000 Fantasy Garage Challenge Update #1: The Jeep

A while back, we here at the Car Lust home office and used vending machine storage area suggested a $100,000 Fantasy Garage Challenge. And among other dream machines, I said that I wanted a Jeep.

DSC_1023Yes, a new CBR600RR found its way into the delapidated smokehouse/shed structure that doubles as its garage, but since I didn't mention that bike in the Challenge, we won't count it. But I did recently make one addition to the "fleet" that should be mentioned here, a 2001 Jeep Wrangler SE.

In my contribution to that Theme Week, I wanted a brand new Jeep per the Challenge's requirements that required at least one new vehicle. But after nearly a year of failed negotiations with our local dealer, I gave up searching for a Jeep... for a while. Then this one popped up out of nowhere.

Somehow I knew this Jeep was "right" as soon as I saw the ad's pictures. This one looked clean. And I mean clean! And it was. It's a 14-year-old TJ Series, but just look at that shine... and that's the original paint! Plus, there's not even a door ding on it. The only scratches are where a previous driver's boots met the paint under the door while climbing in and out. Rust? Nada!

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March 16 Weekly Open Thread: "What Is A Crate Motor?"

Crate motor 3We've all heard the term tossed around a lot, but do we really know what a "crate motor" is?

Well, there is no easy definition of a crate motor. It's easy to say that a crate motor is a brand new engine assembly, usually with a warranty, delivered right to your front door. And though that's true, things don't stop right there.

Some crate motors are just an engine block, crankshaft, and pistons, all nicely bolted and torqued together. This is called a short-block. A long-block crate motor is a short-block, but with the cylinder heads and gaskets also in place.

Next up the menu (And price range) is the more or less complete engine with all of the above, plus an intake manifold and exhaust headers. And finally, there is the ready-to-run option that includes everything you'll need except for oil, fuel, and electricity.

Oh, and money. You'll need money. Most crate motors are expensive. Really expensive. Why, a new GM 640-horsepower Supercharged LS9 like they drop into a Corvette will set you back around 30,000 big 'uns. But the ease of just dropping in one of these power plants saves a lot of time which makes up for a lot of that expense. Or so "They" say.

Continue reading "March 16 Weekly Open Thread: "What Is A Crate Motor?"" »

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

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