Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Italian Beauty

            In 1975 one of John Wagner’s friends got himself a college graduation gift. It was red, it was sleek, it was beautiful, and it was Italian. It was a 1975 Fiat 124 Sport Spyder.
            Fiat introduced the 124 in 1966 in both coup and Spyder, or convertible, versions to replace the 1500 and 1600S Cabriolet models. The 124 was a thing of beauty with distinct lines and trim that could only be Italian. There was good reason for this; the car was designed by the brilliant Italian firm of Pininfarina, who has designed so many other Italian models over the years, including many of the most beautiful Ferrari models.
            The car originally had a 1400 cc (1.4 liter) dual overhead cam four cylinder motor which was continually tweaked and re-designed. By the time the 1975 model came out it was now sporting a 1.8 liter engine and came fitted with the rear badge proclaiming such: 1800.
            Up until 1975 Fiat was making 124s for both the European and U.S. markets. In order to adhere to new U.S. regulations the car maker had to modify the 124 and the decision was made to only sell in the U.S.
            Ten years ago John’s friend decided he was going to sell the 124 and John swooped in to buy it.
            “I had a ’73 MG that was very high maintenance,” John explained. Plus he had always liked his friend’s car and, since John knew the car that went into it, buying the 124 was an easy decision.
            John hasn’t had to do much to the car other than basic maintenance. “It came with all the original paper work. It’s mostly the original interior.” He added that nothing has been done under the hood other than that basic upkeep.
            He did paint the car to match the original. Beyond that, the biggest adventure was in getting the convertible top repaired.
            “It was old and it was starting to fray a little,” said John of the cover. “I couldn’t find any place to take it to get it re-stitched. I ended up taking it to a shoe shop to get it done. My wife suggested it because she had had a purse repaired there.”
            Being an Italian sports car, the 124 is obviously fun to drive, according to John. “The first few years I completely abused it,” he said. “My son was in little league and we would throw all of the equipment in there. He’d get in with muddy shoes.”
            Now John is a bit more careful when he chooses to take the car out, paying particular attention to rust. “I don’t drive it in the winter,” he said. “I do take it out most weekends when it’s nice.”
            Even with the amount that he drives the car, John said he fills it up with gas two or three times each summer. That is a small price to pay to be able to drive a true Italian work of art around town.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Keeping It In the Family

            Some families pass down heirlooms such as jewelry or pictures or even clothing. Mike Weigel got the opportunity to keep something in his family and jumped on it.
            Twelve years ago his father had picked up a 1947 Ford Coupe which he kept and drove and took to shows. “He bought it already fixed,” he said. “The previous owner had done a frame off restoration.”
            According to Mike they were able to salvage many of the original parts when they did that job. “It has the original body, original glass, the original chrome,” he said. “It has a newer Ford 302 engine and new suspension.”
Mike also pointed out that it has new steering and that his father had put in a new gas tank. “He did so many small things to make it really tight,” he added of his father’s work on the car.
“This was the first older car that he got. It was something from when he was growing up. I guess there were a lot of memories there,” Mike said. In a way, the car held memories for Mike as well. He had seen all of the things his father had done with the car and wanted to make sure that it’s “legacy” remained intact.
            “Two years ago dad wanted to sell it. He was getting tired of it. I knew how good it was so I bought it,” Mike said. “I wanted to keep it in the family.”
            So the ’47 Ford joined Mike’s stable of classic cars. He also has a 1966 Cadillac Calais and a 1964 Buick Skylark convertible. These, he pointed out, were the cars from when he was growing up.
            Speaking of the ’47 Mike said, “I don’t drive it near as much as the other two. I’m usually out two or three times a week in one of the classic cars,”
            From the looks of this 1947 Ford Coupe and the determination that Mike has to keep it in as good of shape as possible, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this collectible car become a family heirloom for generations to come.

Monday, November 28, 2011

20th Annual Chariots of the Past

            Parker Floor Covering was the site of one of the last car shows of the season., the 20th Annual Chariots of the Past. The name of this show alone is as classic as many of the cars that roll in. Located out on Millville-Oxford Rd. a large contingent of cars, well over 100, took advantage of a beautiful fall day to see and be seen.
            Even though this is quite a drive for many of the cars in the show (it’s almost all the way northwest to Oxford) this is always well attended. Being one of the last shows of the season it is one of the last times to show off a ride and to mingle and meet other car owners. With the weather co-operating this year it is no wonder that this show featured a great number of familiar but also new cars. Here is a first taste of some of the rides on display at this year’s show.

Friday, November 25, 2011

1929 Mercedes Benz SSK

            There’s something magical about the look and feel of those old 1920s and 1930s style roadsters. Add in European flair with German engineering and an impressive lineage and you can have only one car, a Mercedes Benz SSK.
            Introduced in 1928 and manufactured through 1932, the SSK was the last Mercedes Benz design of famed engineer Ferdinand Porsche before he opened his own automotive consulting firm and later started building race cars. The name means Super Sport Kurtz or super sport short since the car had a smaller wheelbase than previous Mercedes roadsters.
            The car featured a seven liter straight six engine that produced over 200 horse power and over 500 foot pounds of torque. In all, this car could top out at around 120 miles per hour. The good Herr Porsche showed even back then that he knew how to make a fast machine. There was good reason for all of this power, the car was mostly designed as a racer. It proved itself quite well, winning numerous Grand Prix events between 1929 and 1931.
            It is believed that fewer than 40 SSKs were every built with about half of them designed solely as race cars. As many of the racers were wrecked, their parts were cannibalized in order to keep the other cars going.
            Today, bits and pieces of many of these cars have been used in creating about 100 restoration models. The SSK pictured here was custom built by Classic Motor Carriages of Miami, FL back in 1985.
            Of the real complete and in-tact models, it is believed that only four or five still remain. In 2004 a 1929 SSK was sold at auction in England for $7.4 million. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vintage Cars From the Clermont Sportsman’s Club Car and Truck Show

            The people who take the time to take one of those master works from the “distant” past and totally restore it to prime condition should all be saluted. These vintage classics are all worth preservation so that not only can today’s car lovers enjoy them but future generations as well.

            Since I’m of the age where I would have earned my “classic” license plate years ago, I’m familiar with all of the problems involved in keeping something over 50 running smoothly (thank you daily fiber), but when people put in the time, the energy, and yes, the money to keep some of these cars that go all the way back to the 1930s and beyond road and show worthy, they deserve to be saluted.
            Take a look at some of the beauties that were at the recent 16th Annual Clermont Sportsman’s Club Car and Truck Show and I think you’ll agree that these folks have done these cars justice.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pontiacs At the Sportsman's Show

            They were lined up in a row, four bright red examples of GM motor madness. I love seeing cars lined up like this, great cars that aren’t overplayed at car shows.
            On the surface, most people don’t think of Pontiac when they think of high performance American cars. For many, the Pontiac was a family car, something that dad brought home and pulled in the driveway to embarrass you when you were young. At least that’s what happened when I was young.
            My dad went car shopping, much to the consternation of my mom who didn’t think we needed a new car. Still, he went out on a Saturday morning bright and early and showed up several hours later in a brand new Pontiac Tempest. My fondest memory of that car was the odd transmission lever that was mounted, not on the floor or the steering column but rather on the dash board.
            The Tempest, though, gave birth to two sportier Pontiac lines, the Lemans and the GTO. In 1961 the Le Mans was basically a sporty trim package for the Tempest that eventually grew into its own mid-sized line. In 1964, a performance package for the Le Mans was introduced called the GTO.
            Chief Pontiac designer John De Lorean (yeah, him) borrowed the name from Ferrari’s infamous 250 GTO or Gran Turismo Omologata. The name basically translates to grand touring homologated which means that the manufacturer had rolled enough “consumer” cars off the line to qualify for various levels of racing competition.
            Still, what the Tempest had wrought, were a couple of absolutely classic examples of muscle car that on this bright autumn day shown as brightly as any car sitting in the show field. Hope you enjoy these pictures.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chopped Rides and Hot Rods At the Sportsman Show

            I’ve always felt that it took a certain amount of courage to take a perfectly good car and cut it up. Imagine having a classic Ford or GM car and deciding, rather than put in the time and effort to rebuild or restore it, to turn it into something completely new and unique. It is like taking a car and creating a Frankenstein vehicle out of it.
            “Chopped” rides were part of the Hot Rod generation which grew up in Southern California following World War II. Young men had the desire to race and prove themselves and their cars but often lacked the money to buy a new ride. What they started doing was buying old 10 year old or older used cars, lots of Fords and Chevys and used whatever parts they could find and manufacture in order to make something lean, mean and most importantly, fast.
            Custom shops began opening up all over Southern California highlighting the skills that some people had for turning a junker into a work of art. Perhaps no one in this first generation of hot rodder custom builders was as famous as George Barris. Proclaimed the King of Kustoms by many, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, Barris has created some of the most famous custom rides ever seen. Among them are the classic Munster Koach and the Batmobile among others.
            There have been some marvelous Hot Rods and Chopped beauties at all of the shows this season and as I show images from these last few events I’m going to highlight some of these works of art. Expect to see dedicated blogs about these unique rides in the coming weeks, starting today with some of the vehicles on display from the recent Clermont Sportsman’s Show. Hope you enjoy. Feel free to let me know which one is your favorite by leaving a message here or shooting me an email at