There’s something fascinating about microcars, from the Nash Metro to the BMW Isetta to the modern Smart. This Honda isn’t quite that small, but it’s funny to think that this was considered the company’s large car. It sounds like it was pretty sophisticated for the time, with a transverse “air-cooled, dry sump, four cylinder engine with four carbs.” The car looks to be complete and running, but the suspicious absence of an interior shot makes me worry that the certainly unobtainable trim and upholstery might need repair. $11k for an oddity like this is a lot of change, and the seller had better hope there’s somebody in the area who collects old Japanese cars, because there are much better values to be found in the collector car arena right now. Not only that, but being a RHD car from Australia might cause some licensing issues if you wanted to actually drive the car – and notice that it doesn’t have plates in the pictures. But I suppose if you were a huge Honda buff or a retro Japanophile, this might for you. I like the faux-Pontiac grille (Soichiro Honda apparently drove an early Firebird) and the sorta-fastback styling, but I’ll let somebody else have this one.
Monthly Archives: December 2011
I try to mix up the As Seen on Craigslist posts, but after Mrs. Magicboltbox expressed her dismay at my desire for last week’s car, I felt I had to go back to the well this week. This ’64 looks a little rough, but I like the “patina,” as the rat-rodders would say. It’s all glass and rocket-age straight lines, with just the right amount of curves in the grille treatment and the tailgate design. I’d tune it up, lose the tint on the windows, shore up any gaping rust issues, and drive that thing all day long. Until my wife kicked me out and I had to live in it, that is. Then I’d park it down by the river.
Despite the dreaded “needs restored” tag, which usually translates to “barely runs and needs more sheetmetal repair than any sane person would attempt,” I love this car. Right body style, right trim level (none), nice color, and right price. Of course, that’s all contingent on the existence of floorboards and brakes, but if it checked out OK, I’d drive this thing as-is. Sure it’d be slow, but the box-on-a-box design is timeless and I love the simple grille treatment and the vestigial fins that taper into the taillights. The airy greenhouse, with its thin pillars and all that glass, makes for great outward visibility, something that almost all modern cars lack. Of course, those modern cars won’t crush like tin can if you flip them, but that’s the price you pay for looking this cool.
Shortly after posting the Chrysler Cordoba “As Seen on Craigslist,” I read this article about an interview with former Oasis leader Noel Gallagher. He puts forth an interesting argument about the nature of music criticism – that creating a critical narrative around a series of albums is inherently unfair, because each album is then gauged against the previous one. For example, Oasis’ bloated Be Here Now is viewed as a failure, despite selling millions of copies, because it wasn’t as good as the two albums before it. Everything the band released after it is seen as continuing the downward spiral to musical irrelevance. This isn’t to say that things should be judged “in a vacuum,” but that music critics set up easy conclusions by trying to make everything part of a continuum.
Gallagher turns this idea on its head by showing what would happen if you viewed Oasis’ discography in reverse. Rather than seeing the last ten years of their work as desperately reaching for their initial success, it becomes a journey – the fair-to-middling recent albums become stepping stones to later greatness. Be Here Now is still the band’s turning point, but it now, as author Steven Hyden puts it, “suddenly seems like the work of a slowly evolving trad-rock band taking a grandly ambitious stab at a masterpiece and falling short. It’s an interesting failed experiment before the twin achievements of Maybe and Story, the kind of record that fans eventually come to regard as “criminally underrated.””
So what does this have to do with the Chrysler Cordoba (or cars at all)? In my post, I posited that the Cordoba represents “a forgettable period in motoring history.” The Malaise Era of automotive history owes much of existence to ongoing social changes in the 1970’s, but viewing it against the (theoretically) freewheeling, high-horsepower, cheap gas 1960’s is what truly defines it. Much like Oasis’ Be Here Now, 1970’s cars stink because the cars that came before them were so much faster, better looking, and fun.
But what happens if you look at automotive history in reverse? Instead of looking like the death rattle of an industry as it struggled to marry changing geopolitical needs and increased regulation with changing consumer tastes, the Malaise Era now becomes a stepping stone to greatness. Sure, the engines were underpowered and the cars overstyled, but once automakers learned to strip away unnecessary embellishments and really tune the engines, they started churning out beautiful, fast cars by the million.
Of course this is nothing but an intellectual exercise – taken on their own, Be Here Now is an overwrought record by an overreaching band, and 1970’s cars are generally disasters of design with few redeeming features – there’s a reason that the past decade’s retro trend has stopped with 1970. But that isn’t to say there isn’t something to be had there. Disregard the smogged-out engine and view the Cordoba as a blank canvas, and maybe it isn’t so bad. It has the same long-hood-short-trunk proportions as most 60’s cars, the interior is pretty well laid out and quite similar in design to most earlier cars, and it likely handles much better than cars a decade older. Modify the government-mandated truck bumpers, and you’d have a decent looking car that is, by most objective standards, better than, say, a ’68 Coronet.
Of course, that’s not how things work. Despite their flaws, enthusiasts prefer 60’s and older cars not just because the are faster or prettier than newer cars, which isn’t always the case. They prefer them because of what they represent – ideas of freedom, the open road, youth, and memories of an America that never really existed – things that were long gone by the time that Cordoba rolled off the assembly line a decade later. War, Nixonian politics, disco, and everything else that is now identified with mid- to late-70’s “malaise” also influence the way the cars of the era are viewed. So while a ’77 Impala might be objectively better than a ’65 Impala, it doesn’t tug at the same emotional, visceral chord.
Personally, I prefer the older cars because they are better looking and I’m drawn to old technology and design. I’m not old enough to have any kind of emotional attachment to cars of either era. Of course, being a child of the ’80’s might have something to do with my irrational love of Monte Carlo SS’s and Grand Nationals, so the theory still holds true. I would never argue that any Reagan-era car is superior to any performance car made today. But given the choice, I’d probably rather have a 1987 Buick than a 2011 Camaro. In other words, I’m insane.
The point of all this is that car guys and music critics fall into the same trap, and there’s not much that can be done about it. But the next time you see a ’76 Bonneville, maybe it won’t look so ugly.
While this may be a perfectly solid car and a great candidate for a full restoration (assuming it’s rust-free and just needs mechanical work and some freshening up), I couldn’t help but laugh at the downward spiral that the writer follows:
- “1966 Chevelle Malibu needs restored.” Great!
- “Doesn’t run has motor and transmission.” OK, it’s all there, just needs some work.
- “Motor needs put back together.” Hmm, that usually means it’s missing half of its parts, but for the right price it could be worth it.
- “Lost keys, been in storage for 5 years.” Well I guess… Wait, what?
So for $4700 you can have a potentially solid non-running muscle car with a disassembled engine and no keys that’s been sitting in a self-storage unit for a half-decade. When you put it like that, it sounds like a giant money pit. But I’d be willing to bet (someone else’s money) that a couple days worth of work, some fresh gas, new tires, and some hotwiring would turn this pile of parts into a great runner. You just might need to call a locksmith first.
Winter’s chill has set in for good here in Ohio, and the Tempest is safely tucked away in the garage for the season. I was scrolling through some photos and stumbled across this one from a warm summer day at work earlier this year:
That’s my car flanked by a colleague’s 1969 Buick Skylark and another coworker’s 2010 Dodge Challenger. Sometimes it’s nice to work in the automotive industry, if only for the gearhead camaraderie.
Anyway, now that it’s cold for a while, it’s time to put together the to-do list for the winter. This year’s edition:
- Replace the rubber hose that’s currently serving as fuel line from the tank to the pump with pre-bent steel lines. Funny, I’ve had several cars with rubber hose for fuel lines and never gave it a second thought; now that I’m older (and presumably wiser), it scares me a little.
- Installing the used TH350 three-speed transmission that’s been taking up space in the garage for over a year. The original ST-200 two-speed in the car has a terrible first gear ratio, making hard launches and smoky burnouts an impossibility. Adding one with a normal first gear will do more to make the car fun to drive than anything I’ve done yet. I’ve yet to decide whether I’m going to tear into the used tranny and put in a shift kit or just bolt it in and cross my fingers.
- Disassembling and cleaning the carburetor, again. Never assume that a “new, in box” rebuilt Ebay carb will work out of the box. This will be the third time I’ve had it apart to fix various leaks and other issues. I hope it’s the last.
I should be able to complete those tasks before spring. Of course, I said that about last year’s brake upgrade, and we know how that went.