Two thoughts immediately sprung to mind when I saw this ad. First, my brain immediately screamed “CORINTHIAN LEATHER!!! It even says it in the ad!” Second, I thought “you know, keeping a Cordoba covered in the garage for 35 years is probably the best use of that car.” The “small” Chrysler was an almost exact copy of the contemporary Chevy Monte Carlo, itself a baroque affront to automotive stylists everywhere. Of course, being the ’70’s, it sold like crazy, at least until they started rusting on dealer lots and the wonky emissions equipment started shorting out after 10k miles. As an artifact of a forgettable period in motoring history (and a link to Khan himself), this car is interesting. As anything else, it’s just regrettable. On second thought, I guess it would be cool in a subversive kind of way if you bought it, shoehorned in a Viper engine, and proceeded to stupify anyone who opened the hood at your local cruise-in. But that’s for someone crazier than me.
Monthly Archives: October 2011
I hate to rain on ol’ Barry’s parade, but if your “California truck” looks like it just finished hauling the Joad family and all their belongings back to Oklahoma, no amount of “rare options” or (non-original, I might add) big block engines are going to make it worth $6500. The price gets even more ridiculous when you notice the three different shades of primer, plywood bed sides, “Indian blanket” seat cover, and massive amounts of rust. Even Mater himself wouldn’t pay that much for this heap.
That said, this thing will likely run until armageddon, and might be more solid than it looks. These trucks come from an era when trucks were utilitarian vehicles – not a cupholder or padded armrest to be found – but would make a great work truck, parts hauler, or even a budget hotrod for about 1/4 the price.
A lack of t-tops, an automatic, and somewhat off-putting one-year-only styling may prevent this car from any involvement in Smokey and the Bandit reenactments, but the paint is shiny, the color combo is appropriately late-70’s, and you could probably sell those awful black wheels for a profit, so $8k isn’t too bad for this Trans Am. One could make an argument that the last good year for this body style was ’73, and I would probably agree. But these cars still make nice drivers, can be made to handle, and stand out in a crowd. Just remember you have to have MONEY to call Bob.
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here, but sometimes there are little features on old cars that are remarkably useful. Things like floor-mounted dimmer switches, wing windows, and kick panel vents are interesting because they are obsolete features that were once considered modern conveniences. For example, I always thought it was kind of neat that the Tempest’s doors automatically unlock if you shut them with the lock engaged; sure it’s more work to lock the door with the key from the outside, but at least this prevents you from locking the keys in the car, right? An old-car-owning coworker and I were talking about this a while back when he mentioned that if you kept the button on the door handle depressed while shutting the door, it would stay locked. I should have known right then that I would manage to misuse this information.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I’ve regularly started shutting the door in this fashion – apparently putting the key in every time was getting more tedious than I had realized. Left to my own devices, it was only a matter of time before I screwed up and left the keys in the car. Sure enough, I came home from work one day, locked the car, and couldn’t find the keys a few hours later when I needed to run some errands. After checking all of my pockets three times, it dawned on me where they must be – dangling from the dashboard, right where I’d left them. I couldn’t even lie and say that they must have fallen out of my pocket when I got out of the car.
Cursing myself, I grabbed a wire coat hanger and got to work. It’s at this point that I should probably mention that I only have one set of keys (the 1967 originals) to the Tempest. I’d never gotten copies made because the doors have this handy unlocking feature – why would I need a spare set? Anyway, hanger now bent into a long hook, I gingerly inserted it between the weatherstripping where the door glass meets the quarter window. After a few minutes of fishing and a couple adjustments to the hanger, I managed to hook it around the lock knob and pull it up. I would not make a successful car thief.
Thoroughly red-faced, I added an extra stop to my errand-running – the hardware store, to have a duplicate set of keys made. If my past is any guide, I’ll need them eventually.
It’s pretty rare that you’ll see me lust after a foreign vehicle, but it does happen from time to time. There are a number of cars that just look right to me, including the early Z-cars like this one. It’s rare to see one of these in decent condition for regular-guy money, thanks to rust and poorly-thought-out modifications, but this one looks like a nice little runner for the money. I could do without the black rims, but the paint color fits well and the fastback lines look great even today. The work that’s been done to it seems smart, and the seller seems to know what he has. Not surprising, since there’s an active (and vocal) group of enthusiasts for these cars, which is both good and bad – good for when you need help, and bad for when you “ruin” the car with the wrong modification (like an LS swap). Hell hath no fury like a fanboy scorned.
When I started this blog last year, I ran a series of posts on what I wanted my next car to be. While that list hasn’t really grown, there is an ever-increasing list of old cars that I’d like to own one day. I know that owning multiple classic cars is impossible at this point in my life and unlikely anywhere in the near future – I can barely keep up with maintenance and projects on one – but I tend to get irrationally attached to cars and have a hard time selling them. Part of the problem is that I have a hard time selling a car for less than I have in it, which is almost always the case – most cars don’t appreciate in value, and even if they do, it’s not often on pace with the amount of money invested in upgrades and repairs. The bigger problem is that after owning a car for a while and spending copious amounts of time under the hood and behind the wheel, I form a kind of bond with it that I have difficulty explaining. It’s silly and detrimental to my ability to pursue other cars, but it’s just the way I’m wired. Maybe there will come a time when dealing with the Tempest’s nagging issues will get the better of me and I’ll want to part with it, but I doubt it.
What’s more likely is that I will stumble upon a car that I just have to have, and finances or space will force me to sell the Tempest. While it will be bittersweet, there are a number of cars that would limit the regret factor. I’m going to limit myself to cars that I could reasonably expect to own – no Hemi ‘Cudas or Ferraris here – which is still a pretty long list. At the top of that list is my personal Eleanor, the 1987 Buick Grand National.
As a child of the 80’s, I don’t have the same nostalgic feelings about 60’s cars that people a generation older do. I like them and I always have, but they don’t have the same visceral, “time capsule” effect on me that 80’s cars do. Which is a shame, because there were a lot more cool cars in the 60’s than there were in the 80’s, mostly due to reduced horsepower, flaky, dead-end electronics, and funky styling. In fact, almost every car that was cool in the 80’s has not aged well – Trans Ams, IROC Camaros, Fox-body Mustangs, Corvettes, Whale-tail Porsches, and even Ferrari Testarossas look very dated and out-of-style at this point. Let’s not even discuss El Caminos (although I still think they’re cool). Where recent “retro” car designs have dipped into the nostalgic well and been successful (think Beetle, Mustang, and Camaro), those have all referenced cars from the 1960’s. I don’t see anybody reaching back to revive 80’s automotive styling any time soon, even as music and fashion have.
There is, I would argue, one car that contradicts this fact – the Buick Grand National. Taking a conservative grandpa car, dipping it in black paint, and cranking up the horsepower will always be cool (see also: 1994-96 Impala SS, 2004-current Cadillac CTS-V, 2003-04 Mercury Marauder, most of the Mercedes AMG line). Buick, shockingly, was the first to realize this when they took the insanely boring Regal, mated it to a turbocharged V6, and slathered it from top to bottom in the darkest paint they could find. In doing so, they managed to one-up intracompany rival Chevrolet, whose Monte Carlo SS looked the part but was lacking in the horsepower department, even with a V8. There’s even a documentary coming out that details the discrepancy between Buick’s image and the all-out performance and evil look of the Grand National.
For a time, the Grand National was the fastest car around, especially in limited-production GNX form. The ’87 cars were the best of the bunch, with increased horsepower and more options. But when GM transitioned the mid-sized cars to front-wheel drive in 1988, the high-performance models died off. Having seen these cars new as a kid, they’ve always had an effect on me and I’m still drawn to them every time I see one at a car show or on the street. These days, you can expect to spend between twelve and eighteen thousand for one in good shape. Low mileage, original cars usually command prices in the upper twenties, and beaters can be had for around eight grand. It would be a financial step up from the Tempest for me to buy one at today’s prices, but not necessarily out of the realm of possibility. In exchange, I’d have a car with an entirely different attitude, driving dynamics, and style – while the Tempest is more of an antique, with creaks, rattles, and 60’s handling, the GN has tight steering, air conditioning, and and entirely more modern feel; in the intervening decades GM had pretty much perfected the body-on-frame chassis, even though the two cars are remarkably similar from an engineering standpoint. Would I miss driving an old car (even though no one but me would consider a 1987 model “new”)? Absolutely, until the turbo spooled up and those sinister taillights rocketed into the distance.
It’s no secret that I have a penchant for wagons, and this beast ticks all the right boxes: woodgrain that doesn’t dominate the styling and actually fits the body, super cool hidden headlights and a great grille treatment, pea green 9-passenger interior, goofy instrumentation, and single-digit MPG. These “fuselage” body Mopars were actually pretty advanced for their time, and handle pretty well despite their obvious girth. The styling is obviously of the time, but is actually still pretty modern looking. It would be preferable if this thing had a big-block V8, since fuel economy isn’t your concern if you’re driving this and the extra grunt would be helpful, but let’s face it – under $5K for a Brady Bunch time capsule like this is probably a steal if it looks as nice in person as it does in the pictures. Pack the cooler, load up the kids, and head West.