Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Paradigm Shift, Part Two.

photo source: Autoweek
Okay, the previous post was kind of long and rambling, but the point was to impress you with the depth of my commitment to the Cadillac marque. There was now an evolution at work in my thinking. The move to the Riviera was in response to my acknowledgement that a silk purse cannot be made out of sow's ear. A '50s or early '60s  Caddy is never going to be a competent road car by modern standards. In their day, they were great cars. The father of an old buddy of mine bought a brand new 1956 Cadillac and drove it down to Mexico City on a family vacation, it must have been great on that trip. Forty years later standards have changed and it would probably not seem so impressive.

So the Riviera was chosen because it would be a cool old car while still having better roadability. My first Riviera was also chosen as an anti-Yuppie statement. Think back to Silicon Valley in the early 90s. Yuppies were everywhere! Bimmers, Perrie, big cell phones and MBAs, Luxury Condos, Designer clothes, etc. What could be a bigger shock to Yuppies driving down the freeway in their Bimmers, Audis,or  Volvos? How about this?

                                             photo source: carswithmuscles.com

Yes, this is about as over the top as as a "modern" American car ever got. A 1971 Buick Riviera. With a 455 V8, disc brakes, and "Accu Drive" it was surprisingly good as a road car. It was around this time that I joined the Riviera Owners Association (ROA). I had always been attracted to the 1966 Riviera. To my eyes it looked like a customized car straight from the factory. Back in 1968 when I was in seventh grade there was a real estate office on the corner near my school. One of the agents would park their '66 outside the office at the curb. The car always impressed me with the sleek clean styling, minimal chrome and the hidden headlamps. A much better design than the "in your face" '71. Much later on I would own two '66s and a '67.

Many cars have been under my stewardship over the years. A quick count brings the current total up to 32. I don't want to make a boring list, and these cars were of all different types. In other words there is not a progression to better and newer cars. My lean toward the vintage cars really began in the 1990's, after I had bought my Seville.

In 1990 I bought a new Honda Civic SI. This was a very impressive car. The handling and performance was very rewarding. The utility and economy was outstanding.

By the time I was in my Fifties I had owned a lot of different American cars. I had even owned some Japanese cars. The biggest change was when I bought my first Datsun 280Z. It was actually a 1977 280Z 2+2 5 speed. I had told my son that I would never own a small car, a sports car. I will admit that I was pretty impressed. Here was a car that was built for the fun of actually driving and maneuvering down the road. Prior to this I had  gotten my tactile driving sensations from my motorcycles. I had owned thirteen different motorcycles up to this point.

Mine was white. photo source: classic car for sale .com

The 280Z was a turning point. I later bought a 1992 Nissan 300zx. This was a modern state of the art, high performance sports car. Several years ago I bought a 1996 Mustang GT convertible and these were very affordable at this time. Compared to the muscle cars of the Sixties these cars were a revelation. Better in every way; handling, braking, economy, comfort and safety. While there have been some quicker cars in the 60's, most of these had very low gearing and their top speeds were usually limited to 110 to 120 mph. Modern cars can cruise at much higher speeds and return impressive fuel economy. So what is so good about those Sixties cars?

This is a good question.

Well, there is the styling. Many of these cars were cleanly styled. There is also a refreshing honesty in their specification. No power steering, brakes, cruise control, anti lock braking, fuel injection or air conditioning. Chassis development? Who needs four wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, independent rear suspension, fuel injected alloy engines? Well, I do. How about safety? These cars are perfectly safe if you don't mind driving without air bags, shoulder harnesses, crush zones and roll over standards. I will stop short of calling these cars deathtraps, but they can only provide the meager protection their engineers were obligated to incorporate at the time. However if you want to be brutally honest, the only really cool thing is that these cars were deadly cool back in the early 1970s. All of us who attended high school in the 70's and 80's wanted to own cars like these, in fact many of us DID own cars like these. They were everywhere, they were cheap, and during the following "gas crisis" they were pretty much giving these things away. Most of us drove them, used them up, and moved on to a brighter future. The die -hards that held onto these cars were even ridiculed at the time. "Grow up", "Get rid of that mullet!" "Jeez that is sooo redneck!"

Fast forward to today. The '70's high schoolers are now in their Fifties and Sixties. Wouldn't it be nice to relive what might have been the best years of our lives by driving that Mustang or Chevelle that we wish we had. Wouldn't we have been more popular if we had been driving that Camaro instead of our Mom's clapped out station wagon?

Now if these cars were still cheap to buy than it might make sense to get one and update it. Still it basically means scrapping all the original engineering and starting over with modern components.

This was mine until March 2016

The car pictured above is what finally changed my mind and changed my whole automotive game plan.After enjoying my '96 Mustang GT I still had the desire to roll it "old school". The desire to drive a classic ride still persisted.  If you go back to my early postings you will see that I tried to do an end run around the problem  of a high buy in price. I bought a salvage title six cylinder coupe and started a modest program of upgrading.

Compare the specification of this car to my 280Z.  Z: rack and pinion steering, Mustang: power recirculating ball ( the power ratio reduced lock to lock by two revolutions). Z: four wheel independent suspension, Mustang: A arm front with poor geometry, rear end leaf springs. Z: ventilated front disc brakes, finned alloy rear drums, Mustang: un-assisted 10 inch cast iron drums front in back, ( with the 250 cid. six, these were the same as the small block V8 models). Z: OHC fuel injected, electronic ignition, alloy head straight six motor, Mustang: cast iron straight six, single barrel carb, 250 cid. displacement (the base engine was the 200 cid six). The Z had superb ergonomics and comfort. The Mustang was uncomfortable and the controls and switches were difficult to use when belted in.

 I know this is kind of an unfair comparison. The Mustang was intended at a lower price and content point. But... This particular Mustang still cost me more than my '89 XJS convertible did. When I sold it I had around 5,000 dollars into it. It would have needed almost another 5,000 bucks just to achieve acceptable levels of equipment and performance. It just wasn't worth it to me. The ugly truth was that I really didn't like the car very much. I liked the IDEA of the car. I would bet that many contemporary owners of early "Muscle Cars" feel the same way. However, you are never going to admit to your wife that you don't like driving the  car you were pleading to own. The car that cost as much or more than a new Camaro or Mustang. So the car just sits around in the garage until the next Good Guys Event. Since I didn't have too much money tied up in mine I figured I would cut my losses.  Originally I tried to sell it at a price that would recoup my expenses. When I sold it I priced it low enough to ensure a quick sale. I still got over a thousand dollars more that I paid for my XJ6.

Once your underlying assumptions change, then your preferences will change. When your standards are changed you may find that certain things are no longer as relevant, interesting or impressive. These changes can come about due to new experiences; exposure to people of different economic levels, educational levels and different lifestyles will usually have an effect. Sometimes it will encourage you to stretch your  comfort levels to include these new possibilities. Other times it will result in an entrenchment in your thinking, causing you to "circle the wagons" and defend yourself against these new foreign concepts.

A lot of these experiences are just the result of aging. The process of aging means that you have seen more, done more, can afford more, (both in money and time) and would probably like to expand your areas of interest. "Been there, Done that. " Such a dismissive statement, but so true. Does anyone really want to be the same person that they were in high school, college, or in their independent young adulthood? This doesn't mean that we should dismiss the aspirations and adventures of the young, they are on their own path forward.

My expectations had changed. I was looking for more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Paradigm shift: n. a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.
(definition courtesy of the New Oxford American Dictionary)

Paradigm Shift, or How does the Heart cool in it's ardor? How do you start out loving old Cadillacs and end up loving old Jaguars? It is a long and winding road.

Photo source: E bay
I was a grammar school kid in Oakland Ca. in the mid 1960s. As I walked to school I would pay very keen attention to the cars I saw parked along the street. I especially remember when I was in fifth grade. There was a very clean 1959 and a 1960 Cadillac sedan parked near each other at the curb. This was in 1966 and these cars were only six or seven years old. These Cadillacs were imposing in size. The other cars on the street were large also, downsizing was not a concept that even appeared to be on the horizon. But they paled in comparison. They were like new, the paint was glossy and the interiors were immaculate. As I walked by I would peer into the car and marvel as the fancy chrome trimmed instrument panels and plush leather and cloth brocade seats. I would marvel at the radio with the "more stations" signal seeking wonder bar. What, does the radio manufacture more stations? My Dad's 1964 Pontiac Tempest wagon was only a couple of years old and it had a regular push button radio with a speaker in the dash. The Tempest had a spiffy red vinyl interior but it was sadly lacking in comparison to these incredible De Villes. Sometimes I would run my finger tip along the bright trim that outlined the curvature of those amazing tail fins.

Talk about imprinting! These experiences instilled in me a desire to own and drive one of these beauties someday. These were real cars, anything else would be an incredible step down. This era was the heyday of the Cadillac mystique. If you could not afford to own the newest Cadillac, then the next best thing was a clean older model. This was the fulfillment of the American, and Afro American dream. These cars became the treasured and pampered prized possessions of their owners.

Fast forward several years to 1968 or so. I accompanied my Father to a trip to an auto parts store that was located in East Oakland's Chinatown. As we walked to the store from our parked car, I saw an incredible sight parked in the gas station alongside the auto store. A long, low, ferocious yellow beast that looked like a resting monster. Now even today I cannot truthfully say that I think these cars are beautiful. With their scowling visage and protruding tusks they seem petulant and aggressive, more like a rhino than an antelope. But somehow this car, while not a sleek jet age wonder like the 1960 model I had marveled over earlier, became the object of my budding automotive desire.

When we left the store I asked my Dad if we could take a look at the car, which had a for sale sign in the window. My Dad, great guy that he was, went over so "we" could inspect this monstrosity. A 1956 Cadillac Sedan de Ville four door hardtop. The massive hood that towered above the headlights with those eyebrows would have looked more at home on the front of a truck. The bumper over riders, those pointed chrome tusks seemed like something that would be displayed by an angry walrus. My father opened the hood and I peered down into that cavernous engine bay where an oily blue cast iron lump was adorned by a black air cleaner that sported two intake scoops along each side. The rocker arm covers were proudly emblazoned with the marque's name in script.

photo source: E bay

The smooth roof sloped down to a curved rear window that was framed by the "Florentine curve" of the "C" pillar. The kicked up tail light became a forward leaning tailfin that crowned the protruding exhaust outlet, the contour that was faired into the side of the quarter panel. I slid inside, behind that thin steering wheel and gazed at the tombstone shaped instrument panel. As I gripped the wheel I was enveloped in that great, musty, funky old Cadillac smell. This was a machine to drive to ends of the earth! I think the sign was asking 400.00. "Buy it Dad, Buy it!" I implored. My Dad was nice enough to let me look and sit in it, but he had no need for an aging dragon, so the answer was no. Back in the last year of the 1950's my Dad had let me inspect, believe it or not, a Model T that was on a used car lot only a couple of block's away from our old house. I had also begged "Buy it Dad Buy it!" then, and of course he didn't buy that one either.

                                                               photo source: e bay

The point of this rather long fanciful anecdote is that due to this encounter I became obsessed with owning an old Cadillac. This desire was later translated to include newer models, and I owned a string of them. I was known as a Cadillac guy, and I finally did own a turquoise and white 1956 Sedan de Ville hardtop sedan of my own! It would be an almost thirty year wait.

As I approached the age where I could get a driver's license my focus moved over to motorcycles. I had also been obsessed with two wheels for a very long time. That's a whole nother story. I ended up owning thirteen different motorcycles over the 35 years that I was a rider.  Where did that first two wheeler come from? Who facilitated the move to two wheels? Why my Dad of course!  My Mom told me that my Dad was bringing home a surprise.  I couldn't believe it when my Dad showed riding a little 1965 Honda 50. A black 1965 C110 scrambler. "It's not a big motorcycle, just a groovy little motor bike!" This is a story for another time. Let's finish up my Cadillac journey.

My Father did not want me to buy a Cadillac as my first car. He didn't want me to buy an old man's car. He encouraged me to buy a Mustang or Camaro. So I did, a '65 Mustang hardtop with a 289 and four speed. I just never really liked this car. I fixed it up a bit but kept my eyes open. One rainy afternoon I was taking the bus to my karate lessons at the dojo on Broadway Blvd. in downtown Oakland. It had been raining so I didn't want to take my Kawasaki Mach Three 500cc motorcycle. Right next to the bus stop was a used car lot and I saw this big gold car in the back. I only looked at the back rows of car lots in those days! The car I saw looked exactly like the one in the photo below. A 1964 series 62, (not De Ville) convertible. Wow, it looked really nice, straight, clean and it fired right up. The price on the window said 325.00. I already had the money. I had sold the Mustang the week before, that's why I was riding my bike all the time. I didn't tell anyone, but took the bus back a couple of days later. I paid the man a total of 340.00 and drove that gold beauty home. It wouldn't be the last time that I showed up with some automotive surprise, but my dad was always a good sport. He got used to the Cadillacs.

photo source: Wkiipedia
 A long string of Caddys followed. I will just show pictures of the different models. I owned them in a non chronological order. I didn't start out with older models leading up to newer ones. I just bought what appealed to me at the time.   Next in line: a white over gold 1970 Coupe de Ville. With it's high compression 472ci.  motor that thing could run!

photo source: pinterest.com

This was followed by a Pontiac Astre?  Astre? Really nothing but a badge engineered Vega.  Then I came to my senses. I was driving down Mission Blvd in Hayward when I saw a '57 Cadillac on a used car lot. I think that they were asking 299.00. The deal was made and then this 1957 Sedan de Ville hardtop shows up in my driveway. Actually my car was white over tan. I drove this while I finished up my classes at San Jose State. I also had a Harley Sportster. Life was good.

photo source flickriver.com

Filled with anticipation of upcoming success after graduation. I put my beloved '57 up for sale on a consignment lot on Winchester Blvd. The owner of the lot decided that he wanted my '57 but he didn't want to pay me in cash. "Pick out a car on the lot and we can make a deal". There was a Naples Yellow 1977 Coupe de Ville sitting on the lot. "Could we make a deal on that?" I asked. I didn't put any money down, I didn't know or care what the interest rate on the loan was. I was getting that '77! This was my dream car. When it came out three years before I told myself that this is the new apex of the Cadillac marque. The crowning achievement of Cadillac evolution. I have never enjoyed a car more than I did this Coupe de Ville. I would like to say that this car changed my life, but of course it didn't. It couldn't. It's just a car. But it's ownership coincided with the big changes that were coming in my life. College graduation. My start in my long time occupation, my marriage (I met my wife while driving this car). I was well into the "dress for success" ethos. We must forgive the boundless enthusiasm of the young.
photo source: GM

I enjoyed this De Ville for quite a while. Though I found the need for a new car because I was often driving up from Southern California on a very tight time frame. I bought a new 1984 Mercury Cougar. A nice car, but my Cadillac dreams were placed on hold for awhile. Until this car debuted. My 1994 was also all black, with sunroof and chrome 1997 wheels. It had 27,000 miles when I got it.

photo source: cadillac motherauto.com

A Cadillac for the modern age. In many ways it reminds me of my '97 Jaguar XJ6L. This Seville STS is a design that is currently underappreciated. With 295 hp this car was a rocket. It handled great and was supremely comfortable. My wife grew to love driving this car. We bought it when it was three years old and kept it for another ten. Unfortunately it had it's share of problems as it aged. In the final years of it's ownership I got the itch for that '56 Caddy that I never got. I looked around and found a white over turquoise hardtop Sedan de Ville. It had the gold trim package. Pretty nice, fairly clean, no rust. I got it into decent running shape though it was never a daily driver. My wife took a great photo of my Seville and my '56 backed into our driveway with me standing between them. I wish I could include that shot here as it is a great summation of my Cadillac journey. It's in a box somewhere. I will poke around some more looking for it.

photo source: pinterest.com

My '56 looked pretty much like this. And no, I don't own it any more. It had to go to make room for my new love, the Buick Riviera. Even after all this time, I will still occasionally pine for an old Cadillac. Before I bought my XJ6 I semi seriously considered looking for a 1963 Sedan de Ville hardtop. However, there is someone at work with a new Cadillac ATS coupe. I keep admiring it as I pass by it most days, maybe the flame is still smoldering.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The brotherhood of gear heads, or I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.

                                                   image source: Honest Charley.com

At one time these club affiliation plaques were commonly found displayed in the rear window, mounted above the license plate, or hanging from chains from the rear bumper. There were all kinds of cool club names and logos in the Fifties and many have been resurrected in the modern age. Not only could you display these cool plaques but you could  fly your colors on your club jacket. Remember the "Pharaohs" in American Graffiti? While they were cruising around in that cool chopped Merc it seems like they were more concerned about kicking somebody's ass when the opportunity presented itself. Or how about the" T-Birds" in Grease? I guess for most of us any ideas about these old timey car clubs comes from these movies. I don't think that too many of us are trying to relive these fictional celluloid fantasies. When I was more in tune with the Rockabilly phenomenon I remember reading a few years back why the West Coast Nationals of the West Coast Kustoms Club were moved from their home in Paso Robles. It seems that some of the members of these resurrected old timey clubs thought that it would be charming to stage a old time "rumble" at one of their concerts. After this was repeated a couple of times the city fathers pulled the plug. The event was moved to the confines of the fairgrounds in Santa Maria. This was a real loss as the event taking place in the Central Park and streets of Downtown gave the event an amazing nostalgic vibe. The streets and businesses were full of vintage customs and I'm glad I got to experience it a few times.

The "Lone Wolf" plaque and patch were often worn by the singular hot rodder or "kustomizer" as a badge of honor or maybe a tragic plea to form a bond with other outcasts. If you didn't want to join, or weren't accepted into the club of your choice, wouldn't it be better to keep it yourself, instead of being thought of as a loser?

                                            imagesource: http://rivowners.org/clubcor.html

Before I even had the avatar of Rivguy I was a member of the Riviera Owners association. I got interested in Rivieras and bought my first one, a very nice 1971 Boat tail. I saw a note at the end of a magazine article and I contacted the club via good old fashioned US Mail. I was looking for a source of parts and information about the cars. The monthly club magazine was well produced and it contained news, upcoming events, feature articles and a classified area of cars, parts  and some club items like t-shirts and caps. I had a club decal which I proudly displayed in my car's rear window. The magazine was instrumental in building and maintaining my enthusiasm for the process. The process of owning, fixing, restoring and driving my Riviera. I even got started selling parts that I obtained from various wrecking yards. Through the club I even arranged the sale of my '71 to a buyer in the Netherlands. I remained a member for quite a few years. I attended National events at Lake Tahoe and Klamath Falls Oregon. I had even toyed with the idea of starting up a regional driver's club for the Bay Area. In these olden  pre internet days my plan was to contact local members listed in the annual Club Register (Remember these?) by mail or phone. I would cast the net by listing a possible  event in the club magazine. This plan collapsed because it was just more work than I wanted to do. As time passed and my interest in Rivieras waned I gave up on the idea.

These large organized Nation wide "associations" are not the same as clubs. They don't place the reciprocal responsibilities on their membership that an actual face to face club demands. These are easy to join, just send in your dues and wait for your magazine or newsletter, membership card to arrive. Think of the NHRA. You can be a member even if you don't have any interest in drag racing.

                                                    image source, SCCA SF Region

My next great interest became the first generation of the Datsun Z car. My son had seen one when he was still quite young, probably five or six years old. He became obsessed with these cars. He would point them out whenever he saw one. At the time I told him that I would never own a small car. I drove Cadillacs and Buicks, I was never going to drive a sports car. Well when he was in fifth or sixth grade I decided that I was going to be the cool Dad and drive a car that my son thought was cool and it would be a bond between us and provide us with a wealth of memories that we would share. I found a very nice, one owner 1977 280Z 2+2 with a five speed manual transmission. While the 2+2 models are somewhat shunned by the Z enthusiast in favor of the two seat models, this model was quite well suited to my needs. I had two rear seats which were perfect for my two kids. This gave me the opportunity to use the car as everyday driver. I joined the SCCA so that I could share a special experience with my son. I wanted to try auto crossing and as a benefit I could take my son along as a passenger. As a member when you participate in an event you must contribute by helping run the event. When I attended the first regional meeting I found a close group of very friendly and motivated people. I got to know some of these people during the years I was involved but I never formed any close friendships. This is probably my fault, while I am always pleasant and friendly to every one, I am seldom seeking close relationships. When my son moved away to attend college I found that I was unwilling to commit my time to this activity if it wasn't going to involve me as a Father and Son team.

Well this post has not been a good assessment of my potential as a future club member. Maybe I'm not interested in making close friends. Still, I know how to get along with all kinds of different people and be a pleasant companion. Besides social activities clubs perform a very important basic function; maintaining   energy and enthusiasm in the enthusiast. Restoring and maintaining older cars can be a lonely, discouraging and under appreciated activity. It is nice to talk to a sympathetic ear. It seems that internet forums can fill this void. There are forums for every car and subject. And these forums can be extremely friendly and helpful. Lots of very useful factual information and solidarity. There is usually a cadre of frequent and knowledgeable contributors. Friendly interactions and relationships can arise over repeated communications. These forums can build a real sense of identity.  The forums provide a convenient and relevant arena to keep in touch with their fellow enthusiasts. Sure beats licking stamps and stuffing envelopes! Social interactions can arise out of these exchanges. Groups of regional forum members can decide to host an activity, a meet and greet, car show, swap meet or group drive.

 I had a pleasant experience this weekend at an event hosted by members of the Jaguar Forum, (Jaguar Forums.com). They have formed a group named BAJ (Bay Area Jaguars). We met up for a group drive in the Napa Valley, a wine tasting at the Duckhorn Winery and a group lunch at the Archetype restaurant in St Helena. This event was a great combination of cars, people, driving and food. I thank the hosts for their hard work. Who knows, maybe a car plaque will come out of all this!