Tuesday, July 31, 2012
How is it popular for a car that during its heyday was the most popular selling car in the UK and one of the best sellers throughout Europe and even into America today be so rare? We’re not talking some great grandpa of a car from the early 20th century. This is a car that ruled the British roads in the 1960s and into the 1970s.
Greg Shooner has just such a car in his 1970 Austin America. He bought the car about three years ago from the owner who lived in Louisville, KY.
Greg admitted that he was looking specifically for an America when he was car searching. “This is third one I’ve owned. My very first car in high school was an America,” he said. Though that car was an automatic and not the sexiest or the peppiest, Greg still loved it.
“You always love your first car. The best car you ever own is your first car. Even it’s actually a terrible car. It’s your first one,” he added.
One of the biggest drawbacks of that first car was that it sported an automatic transmission and at the time these cars were only sold in the USA as automatics. Greg stated without hesitation that the automatic transmission in that first car was terrible and that he much prefers the manual four speed in his second and current car. “It was a car made for a four speed,” he said. “It drives the same as a Mini.”
With good reason. The car that is the America was originally manufactured by the British Motor Corporation, later British Leyland, beginning in 1962. At the time BMC was the largest automobile company in Great Britain and, similar to how General Motors had various brand names within its holding, released cars badged by MG, Riley, Woolseley, Mini and, yes, Austin.
What was originally coded the ADO16 came to market as the Morris 1100 in 1962 and sported a 1098 cc transverse mounted four cylinder engine. In 1967 the car received a 1275 cc option that would carry it through the rest of its life, ending in 1974.
Essentially what British Leyland did was take the basic construction of the car, engine, frame, suspension, etc. and re-body it slightly to make it brand specific. But essentially it was the exact same car.
These cars had a number of unique features that set them apart from others around the world. They sported single caliper disc brakes in the front, were front wheel drive, had rack and pinion steering, and sported a hydrolastic suspension. There were no springs or dampers in this system. Instead, the car road on fluid filled units that were interconnected between the front and rear.
“If, say, the rear end compresses,” said Greg as he pressed down on the left rear quarter panel of his America, “the front would go up keeping the car perfectly level.” He added that because of this and despite the high profile of the car, it tightly hugs the curves.
“I really have to try, go into a corner hard to try to get any sway at all,” he said.
So why is a car that was seemingly ahead of its time, affordable and wildly popular so rare these days? Simple; they are prone to rust.
“Most of the cars they imported to America have probably disintegrated by now,” Greg explained. While there aren't exact numbers, Greg has found that his is one of only a handful of unrestored, rust free models still on the road.
His is in such great shape because it was stored in a climate controlled garage in 1975 and didn’t come out until he bought it in 2008.
While the engine was understandably locked up and he needed to fix the brakes, clutch, battery and give it a tune-up, the car is almost brand new. There was no rust, he said. The rubber, normally something that easily crumbles away with age, especially in a British car, and the upholstery foam in the seats are like show room new.
The car gets about 30 miles to the gallon and actually measures more leg room than some Rolls Royce models. Those are just a couple of the reasons Greg drives the car on a fairly regular basis.
He said he doesn’t drive it if the weather gets bad or there is salt on the road, he averages about three days a week. Even with it garaged for all those years he has managed to add to the total of 55,600 miles the car has traveled.
Even though his wife refers to it as his “clown car,” Greg finds a great deal of satisfaction in it. “It’s a winner. I really like it,” he said.
Monday, July 30, 2012
What were they thinking? How could the people behind the highly successful VW Beetle make something like this?
The truth is that the Volkswagon Type 181 Kurierwagon was not originally designed to be sold to the public. In the 1960s, the German government was in need of a light weight, durable and inexpensive vehicle to serve a number of functions. VW, who had turned down a request a decade earlier to make such a vehicle, had seen the success in the United States of people using the Beetle to create off road dune buggies.
Using the Beetle as the basic building block, they created the vehicle to answer the government’s call and in 1968 began rolling them off the assembly line. The vehicles proved to be a hit. And in 1971 they exploded their market by making them available to the general public, first in the US and Mexico and later in other parts of the world.
With a surprisingly high ground clearance and a curb weight just a touch over 2000 pounds, the Thing, as it would be called (among other fun names such as the Safari – a fallout of its use in the Wild Animal Safari attraction at Kings island Amusement Park), proved its worth time and time again.
Governments and individuals fell in love with the affordable reliability of the car. While the styling wasn’t anywhere near luxurious and the shape was something you either loved or hated, the vehicle sold very well into the early 1980s, even after VW had upped the specs and rolled out the Type 183.
Now you don’t see that many of this run car driving around but I was lucky enough to spot one at a recent show. They aren’t very comfortable but they can be fun to drive and they will always get people to turn their heads and look.
Friday, July 27, 2012
“It’s a renegade. It’s a little bit of everything put together. That’s what a renegade is,” said Weldon Haynes as he explained the name of his chopped 1951 Mercury.
This car that he bought as a mere shell about 10 years ago truly is a little bit of everything with some individual touches thrown in. For example, the car sports Packard tail lights, the fenders, which were straight on the original Mercury, have been flared, the grill was custom made in California. The explanation for these changes is quite simple. “I just think it looks better,” said Weldon.
“I’m 71 years old and I grew up with customs,” he added, While he didn’t actually do the work on this car he has personally chopped and rodded several cars in the past, including a Ford that is still in his stable. Instead, a good friend of his, who has since “retired” from customizing, did this car.
Perhaps the most difficult decision Weldon had to make with this car was what color he wanted to have it painted.
“I didn’t want red. Green doesn’t show up. Black, might as well not even paint it. I wanted something to jump out at you and pop. So I settled on orange,” he said.
This renegade attitude has worked. In 2005 at the Annual James Dean Run Car Show, Walden’s car was selected to be the T-Shirt car. What that means is that his car was drawn and used as the logo on all the t-shirts and other memorabilia. “I was quite an honor,” he said. “At least I thought it was an honor.”
He explained that his car was one of between 150 and 200 cars in the Mercury “corral” at the event and the folks in charge decided that it was the perfect model.
When he isn’t crisscrossing the region watching his son play baseball, Weldon will drive his car to shows. But even when he isn’t able to head out to shows he still drives his chopped masterpiece around.
“I drive it. I don’t believe in trailers. If you’ve got Hot Wheels you carry them around. A car is for driving,” he said, summing up his personal philosophy.
“I think having people look at you as you drive it around and give you a thumbs up, to me that’s the best part about it,” he concluded. Spoken like a true renegade.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Four years ago Charles bought the car off of EBay. “I guess a grandfather had passed and his kids didn’t know what to do with it,” he explained.
Nash first rolled out the Metropolitan in 1954 as a low cost, reliable compact car. Subsequently, Nash merged with Hudson to for American Motors which allowed the car to be sole under the Hudson banner as well.
While the 1950s and 60s was the heyday of monuments to massive steel cars, the Metropolitan was different. It was a small car that was less than 150 inches long and weighed only 1850 pounds. Manufactured in England it sported a 1200 cc or 1500 cc engine that didn’t produce a lot of power but gave the owner a solid 35 to 40 miles per gallon. The last of the Metropolitans rolled out in 1962.
Charles never owned a Metropolitan or a Nash for that matter but he did have some early connections. “Back in the 50s my family had a Rambler,” he said of another AMC classic, one that was instrumental in taking market share away from the Metropolitan. His very first car was something of a harbinger of this car. “My very first car was a 1957 Beetle.”
A retired Associate Dead of Business at the University of Cincinnati, Charles found that his Metropolitan was in pretty good shape when he first bought it. “I re-painted it and cleaned it up a little,” he said. It is in beautiful shape and he wants to keep it that way.
“People are always coming up and telling me stories about when they had one or there was one in their family,” he added. “That’s the fun part about shows for me. I get to meet a lot of folks.”
Because his car is in such impeccable shape and is such a rarity as well, he was recently invited to a big car show hosted by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“One of the perks of being invited to that show is you get to drive around the track,” Charles explained with a smile. So he and his 1961 Nash Metropolitan got to run where so many legends have driven.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Sure it was just a go-cart but it had a lot more kid cool juice than the Pontiac Tempest that the old man drove at the time.