‘Green’ is a buzzword that has been gaining steam over the past decade. Anything ‘green’ refers to a product, service or concept that is environmentally friendly and often has to do with reducing waste, pollution and fuel consumption. In urban settings, going green can also mean creating environmentally-friendly buildings that include the use of recycled materials, vegetation and energy-efficient heating and cooling to reduce the carbon footprint.
A recent New York vehicular sighting had me scratching my head, however. I can only assume that this ‘Ecotone’ company is involved in building or renovating urban buildings to be more green and natural, what with their ‘Urban Natural Building’ tagline. Their choice of company vehicle, however, may need to be rethought.
This ‘Ecotone’ sticker was stuck on the back of a 1980’s Chevrolet Suburban ‘Scottsdale 20’ 6.2L monster! The 30+ year old Suburban had seen better days, and it seemed that perhaps it was trying to recycle itself in the name of ecology! Large patches of steel on the doors, fenders, rocker panels and rear gates were turning into oxide and flaking off, seemingly eager to rejoin the earth.
The Suburban was even painted a light shade of green, perhaps to help it blend into a natural urban setting like a park or greenspace? If Ecotone wants my advice, they might try starting with a less conspicuous vehicle than a rusted 80’s ‘Burb for their next company vehicle, though! As much as I like this vintage type of SUV, especially in stump-pulling 6.2L format, it simply doesn’t give off the ‘green’ vibe they’re looking for.
Or perhaps this vehicle is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the green movement? Looking at it another way, keeping an older vehicle on the road longer means a new vehicle doesn’t have to be produced. Manufacturing a new vehicle involves consuming materials, electricity and other resources and creates pollution at the factory and during transportation. Might the ecological footprint of this gigantic Chevrolet Suburban be smaller than I think, relatively speaking?
In the end it doesn’t matter to me which type of vehicle a company chooses to use. I’m actually a big fan of these large 80’s vehicles and think a 6.2L Suburban would make a handy vehicle to tow old cars and haul parts for an automotive restoration project. My first modification, however, would be to cover up ‘Urban Natural Building’ with a more suitable and accurate sticker for a 6.2L V8 diesel Suburban… how does ‘Rollin’ Coal’ sound?
A recent oddball car sighting was exciting for two reasons. The first was because it was a nearly mint 1980's Plymouth Reliant, a car that has all but disappeared from the streets. The ones that didn't suffer head gasket failure early on have long since been retired to the scrap yard or have completely rotted away. This red Reliant caught my attention on a recent trip to Montréal with a friend as we visited the Paris-like Square Victoria subway stop.
The second cause of excitement was that it was on this exact spot that this same friend I was travelling with had spotted and photographed another Plymouth Reliant two years ago! He recalled taking the pictures and sending them to me, and I checked back in my blog to confirm: two years prior, he HAD seen a blue Plymouth Reliant in almost the exact same spot!
It would seem an automotive fan with tastes similar to mine lives or works nearby! The red Reliant was an SE model and had a healthy dose of chrome trim to spruce it up. While no one would have have called a Reliant 'classy', this one was clearly a step up from the base models of the era. Back then, it didn't take much for a car to earn a 'Special Edition' badge, but the chrome touches did actually make it a little more attractive.
While these cars (and the nearly identical Dodge Aries) changed little over the years they were produced, from 1981 to 1989, the presence of a Chrysler 'Pentastar' hood ornament suggests that this is a 1983 model. It's hard to point out particular design features that stand out on these boxy little sedans, but the large slotted grille with egg-crate insert gives the little Reliant a rather grown-up look, not unlike a 1980's Mercedes.
One fun features of these cars was the hidden trunk lock. You simply rotated the rear Pentastar badge to access the key. It's fair to say that a car who's most exciting exterior element is the trunk lock, there isn't much going on to attract attention. Seeing one in excellent shape in 2017, however, makes it stand out to me. I even got a laugh out of a gentleman walking by my photo shoot with the Reliant. He didn't quite agree with my suggestion that it was a 'classic', but he DID have to admit that he hadn't seen one in ages!
I've enjoyed my visit in Montréal, a fantastic city with lots of history and culture. I now have another reason to get back soon: my first visit every time I come to Montréal will now be to Square Victoria to see if I can get déjà vu all over again! With luck the next time there will be another Plymouth occupying this spot and begging to be immortalized.
I tend to consider myself an optimistic person. Why see the glass half empty when you can see it as half full? Apparently I’m not the only person with this outlook on life. Today on a lazy little drive in the countryside a flash of white caught my eye as I drove by a small garage. I had to turn around and go back to see what it was. That flash of white was an impressively clean and well-kept 1988 Ford Escort GL wagon!
Once a common sight on North American roads, the little Escort has all but disappeared. This model was produced from 1980 until 1990. While an even cooler find would be one of the diesel wagon models, this Escort GL came equipped with the standard 1.6L gas engine and a 5-speed manual transmission. With just 68 horsepower on tap, this 1000+ kg wagon, when fully loaded, was likely fairly sluggish, though the manual transmission would have helped a bit.
Features appeared few and far between, with manual windows and locks, though I could see that this model had the ‘high-tech’ display panel that indicated when washer fluid and fuel were low or if the headlights, taillights or brake lights were burnt out! Impressively modern for a car with origins back just one year after my birth!
The interior was a fantastic red, a reminder that car interiors weren’t always 50 shades of beige. Considering this car is coming up on its 30th birthday soon, it was in incredible shape, especially inside. I didn’t see a mark or tear and anywhere and it puts many cars much newer to shame. I’m willing to be the owner bought it new and babied it during its entire 151,170 kms.
After checking the car out and grabbing some pictures, I poked my head into the garage to see if anyone was around. I spoke with someone working there and asked if the Escort was for sale. He laughed and said no, unfortunately, it wasn’t. The owner had just dropped it off for a safety check! I admired their optimism, but considering the condition of the car, there’s a good chance it will pass safety.
The garage employee said that when he had seen a ‘1988 Ford’ listed for a safety check this week he was surprised, and even more surprised when he saw that it was an Escort wagon! I guess he doesn’t see many of them anymore either. I’m glad I trusted my gut and made a U-turn to come back and see this unlikely automotive throwback. While I can’t have this one, my optimistic nature tells me that I’ll find my own ‘forgotten gem’ at some point too!
In a major city like Barcelona, there's no shortage of things to see. This major Spanish city is worth a visit for the Gaudi architecture alone, not to mention the general architecture, parks and avenues. On a recent visit, I discovered the recently unearthed ruins of 18th century Barcelona beautifully preserved and presented under the Mercat del Born public market. Barcelona should be on anyone's list of cities in Europe to visit!
As an unrepentant car fan, I was also extremely pleased to run across a lovely car I had never seen before. This model happened to be British in origin, a handsome and clean Triumph 2000. Knowing nothing about this car (except that it had overdrive, as a badge on the rear proudly stated!), I had to look it up, and discovered that the 2000 was produced from 1964 until 1969. The 2000 was meant to offer the low operation and maintenance costs of an 'average' car with upscale comfort and luxury features unexpected for the class.
This handsome light blue sedan was in beautiful shape, and only needed a wheel detail to look perfect. A touch of chrome trim added to the design without being too flashy, making this Triumph a surprisingly understated sight on a Barcelona street filled with modern vehicles. The 'Overdrive' badge suggested this was an automatic model, which struck me as surprising in Europe where manual transmissions have long been the norm.
While it's still common enough to see sporty Triumph coupes and convertibles out, especially when the nice weather hits, you don't see a car like this 2000 sedan every day. Barcelona is a fantastic city with lots of sights and sounds to entertain a tourist, but for a car fan, a discovery like this only makes it better. This Triumph-ant visit makes me want to get back and discover even more!
A boxy old Volvo may still be a relatively common site in Europe, but they still manage to turn my head every time. This recent 240 GL sighting, was especially interesting for a few reasons:
1) It was an appealing light beige tone
2) It was in really great shape
3) It was a wagon
4) It was a diesel
5) It was a manual
Any of those points alone make an 80's car worth looking at, but the five combined make it the holy grail of old relic finds! As I snapped a few pictures I took a close look at the overall design and details of this imposing wagon.
I've always been a fan of traditional Volvo styling, and I think that they are even more interesting nowadays that most cars have a similar curvy shape with little to distinguish them. Even when most other cars were similarly brick-like, Volvo stood out as the 'boxy' brand. It's easy to imagine designers starting with a block of clay in the studio and hacking away at it with a chainsaw to get the upright profile of this wagon.
That said, there are some great design features like the gently curved windshield, rounded fender line running the entire length and an extremely long hood that differentiate the Volvo 240 from other wagons from the same period. The tall, upright greenhouse and ample glass all around make this car an excellent family vehicle with fantastic visibility for all aboard.
To compliment the overall design, Volvo designers added some simple yet attractive details, such as sporty rims, chrome door handles and trim, tall taillights and exposed hatch hinges. Think of these things as cuff-links, a lapel pin and a pocket square on a simple, handsome suit.
It would appear that this Volvo Wagon, which was sitting on a street near the Eiffel Tower, was a regular daily driver. It's great to think that some families still enjoy this sort of throw-back family car. As much as I generally prefer smaller cars, every time I see one of these brutal and yet at the same time elegant wagons I picture myself entering my 'Volvo' years. Considering how tidy this one is, I doubt the owner is in a hurry to part with it, so I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for other examples of this 'styled by chainsaw' legend!
On a recent trip to the UK, I had a very exciting automotive encounter. For several years I have been getting to know Ian, a friendly and knowledgeable British car fan that stumbled across my blog when I posted about a Ford Consul Classic I discovered in a garage covered in dust in the south of France. While we did our best to help a member of his Ford Consul Classic club purchase the car before it was hauled out of its dilapidated garage and off the the wrecking yard, we were unable to determine what happened with it in the end.
When I told Ian that I would be visiting Manchester in February he invited me up for a visit. He was more than happy to show me his collection, which includes a Ford Consul Classic 315 sedan (a model that was built in 1962 but registered in 1963, in Goodwood green), a 1962 Ford Consul Capri 335 (in Lime green and Ermine white) and a 1963 Ford Consul Capri GT (in white and Monaco red).
One rainy afternoon I headed up his way and we met at a local pub. After a short drive to the property where his cars are stored I finally got to see his beautiful collection. The three cars are safely stored away in a large garage with a bunch of other vehicles, so simply walking in was a treat. There was an old Jaguar, a Rolls Royce, a Citroen SM and a rare Renault Alpine. But it was Ian's cars I went to see, and I wasn't disappointed. The battery of the green 1963 Ford Classic was nearly dead, but with a quick boost it fired it. He pulled it outside for me to get a proper look.
In what I assume is typical fashion for a February in East Lancashire, it was grey, cloudy and drizzly, but that didn't bother me. Ian was more than happy to take me for a drive through the countryside and let the old girl stretch her legs after sitting for a while. We headed along some fantastic country roads and snaked our way not too far from Pendle Hill. The Consul bobbed and leaned gently through the corners and made an appealing growl every time Ian accelerated.
After an enjoyable ride we got to a small town called Downham. There are no road markings and few moderns touches, which allows you to feel like you've stepped back in time. With the car parked at the perfect angle (I'm pretty sure he did it on purpose!), I was able to grab some great shots.
The most obvious and remarkable feature of the Consul is the reverse-angle rear window. Only a few cars in history have featured such a unique and interesting rear window, and it makes the Ford Classic really stand out from other classic cars you see. The rear end is equally interesting, with wings that climb up over the taillights. Chrome bumpers, grille and trim add class to the Consul Classic and give it a very appealing look.
After a stroll through the village while Ian explained a bit about the history of the town and the surrounding area, we headed back. At one point we were on country lanes that cut through farm fields and I even had to jump out and open an close a gate to let the car through! The setting seemed perfect for this gorgeous old car and I enjoyed the ride back to the garage. It was late in the afternoon and it was starting to get dim so I couldn't get a great look at the other cars, but Ian said if I came back in the summer he'd be happy to show them to me as well.
Before parting ways we enjoyed a bite to eat and a pint at the local pub (thanks again Ian, I owe you!) and talked more about cars and travels and other adventures. Ian even gave me some tips and directions as I headed up to visit Scotland. It was a real pleasure not only to discover this wonderful car in person but also meet a real class-act like Ian. Thanks for sharing your passion for old cars. I look forward to getting back in the summer and see your other classic Ford's... hopefully next time I'll have an interesting car to show you too!
The term 'collectible' doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. While certain classic cars are without question worth investing in as collectible cars, certain old vehicles only have appeal for certain people. In France, you still see a fair number of the Renault R4 (also called the 4L) van on the road. This model was produced from 1961 until 1994 during which time over 8 million models would be manufactured. Available in several versions, the 5-door model was by far the most popular as an affordable, practical and reliable family vehicle along the lines of the similarly-sized Citroen 2CV.
One of my favourite models of the 4L is the utility version, the F4. It trades the rear passenger compartment for an enclosed cargo space with one large rear door. Some versions had full windows, but this beautiful example I saw recently only had small side windows on either side. This type of vehicle, the small white 'utilitaire' van is a common sight on French roads as the tool of choice for businesses as an economical and practical work vehicle suitable for small French towns and roads.
I discovered this example in Coucy le Chateau, an old French town with medieval walls and the ruins of an old castle and prison. Most of the original site was destroyed during the first and second world wars, but many of the walls that surround the city are still standing. The old Renault 4L may not be medieval, but it looked right at home in this quiet rural town. Parked in front of a Bed & Breakfast, I can imagine this vehicle gets used to make runs to the hardware store and grocery store, as it makes a practical buggy to pick up all sorts of cargo.
As with most old cars of this type, the Renault 4L wasn't spotless. As it's not a true collector vehicle, it doesn't spend its days parked in a heated garage. This one probably gets used daily, and there's a good chance the owner would be surprised that I not only stopped to take pictures but am also writing a story about it. That's what's fun about liking cars that don't fall under the traditional 'collectible' heading. I frequently run into vehicles that most people wouldn't give a second look but that really make my day. I'd be happy to add this one to MY collection!
Distill the automobile down to its basics and you have this: the Caterham 7. I can't think of any other way to describe it. I had the extreme pleasure recently of piloting this gorgeous, raw roadster and instantly fell in love with it. It's noisy, rough, uncomfortable, and yet somehow the most enjoyable car I've ever driven.
Right around the time I was leaving France back in summer 2014, my friend Christian told me he was buying a new car. Already the owner of a gorgeous Alfa Romeo GTV 1300 Junior, he had always wanted the classic 7 roadster. After nearly buying a kit car version (that needed to be assembled), he decided on a green and yellow model that was already built and ready for the road. It has the 128 hp Rover Twin Cam SuperSport engine and 6-speed manual transmission, and such incredible luxuries as a heater and windshield defogger.
Two long years later I found myself back in France. I was eager to see Christian and catch up with him, though I have to admit seeing the Caterham was never far from my mind! On a chilly Sunday afternoon we headed down to the parking garage to pull the car out. Quite literally, we pulled it out of the garage. At approximately 550 kg (or 1200 pounds), the 7 is easy to drag around by hand. Once it was out of the garage Christian checked the oil and fired it up. The engine makes a lovely growl even at idle, and we looked the car over as it warmed up.
The Catherham is long and low, with the wheels pushed as far to the corners as possible for the best possible handling. There's very little body to the car. There are no doors, so you simply step over the sides. The hood is a flimsy piece of steel that unsnaps with a couple of hooks. There's a little trunk but only a canvas cover over it. Apparently there's a folding top but we didn't bother with it that day. The design of the Caterham 7 dates back to the 1950s, when Lotus created their legendary 7. After several decades of production (and countless racing vistories), they sold the rights to Caterham who are building the 7 to this day.
Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus, once famously said that the key to building a proper sports car was "Simplify, then add lightness", which is evident in the 7. The same engine in a heavier car might not be all that impressive, but in the featherweight Caterham 7 it's more than enough. I would find this out quickly enough, as we climbed into the car, buckled our seatbelts, and headed towards the countryside.
The 7 has to be experienced to appreciate fully. For some it might seem rough and uncomfortable, which it is. There's little room for your legs, which makes climbing in a chore. Once you're in there's hardly any space to buckle your seatbelt, so you find yourself stabbing blindly until you hear a click. The rearview mirror is there for show, as are the side mirrors. With an exhaust pipe running down each side, you have the full sound of the engine right in your ears. If you prefer modern, quiet, insulated cars, the 7 isn't the ride for you. The rest of us can enjoy the appeal of this glorified Go-Kart and the sensations it provides.
Even as a passenger this car is a hoot, but halfway through our sunny yet chilly ride, Christian pulled over and told me to take the wheel. I was hesitant at first, since the roads were a bit damp, but I wasn't going to miss the chance. My first few rows through the gears were pitiful, as I upshifted way too early. Christian kept telling me to hold gears until 5,000, 6,000 or even 7,000 rpms... engine speeds at which my own car would explode! He knows his roadster well, however, because as soon as I let the revs climb I found the 7 much more responsive and entertaining to drive.
I didn't dare hit the speeds Christian did, since I wasn't all that familiar with the car or the roads, but thoroughly loved pushing the Caterham 7 through the twists and turns of the quiet country roads we took. The low weight and wide stance means the Caterham holds the road incredibly well. The ride is sharp and choppy, which would be annoying in a family sedan but only adds to the appeal of a sports car like the 7.
Just as we were pulling back into town an older couple walking down the street slowed down and gave us a thumbs up. That's just the kind of car this is. Few people don't turn their heads when it goes by. Even if you know nothing about cars you can see that this is something special. I don't know when I'll get the chance to own something like the Caterham 7, but I can honestly say it is now at the top of my list of dream cars. Christian said anytime I want to borrow it for a week I can, so as soon as the warm weather hits I'll be calling him again. This. Is. Car... and I'm. In. Love.
Through motoring history there have been a fair number of automakers who have created true legends. When it comes to affordable compact models, the list gets shorter. Their popularity and simplicity meant that the average person could afford one and keep it on the road for many years.
The Model T is the first example, opening driving up to the masses well over a century ago. More recent cars like the VW Beetle, Fiat 500, Austin Mini, Hindustan Ambassador and Trabant 501 offered, at different times and in different regions of the world, the chance for people to get mobile and enjoy the pleasure of motoring. Nowadays we view these vehicles with nostalgic glasses, so it's hard to guess what people thought of them when they were new. I suspect their compact size and simple nature offered real appeal, and their ease of repair and maintenance certainly made them even more desireable.
In France, few cars marked the history of the automobile as much as the Citroen 2CV. Designed to open up driving to rural populations, the 2CV took its name from the term '2 cheveaux', meaning '2 horsepower', the 2-horsepower tax bracket for automobiles. In development by Citroen since before the Second World War, existence of the 2CV was hidden from the Germans until after the war, and it was finally released in 1948. The unmistakable Citroen would be produced more or less in its same form for 42 years, and eventually 3.8 million would roll off the assembly lines.
A few changes to the air-cooled engine, front and rear lights, wipers, and brakes were made over the years, but the basics never changed. The first models had center-hinged 'suicide' doors, making them extremely sought-after, so those models are getting very hard to find. Many variants, including a proper 2-door convertible, the Acadiane 'utilitaire' van, the slightly more modern-bodied Dyane, and the roofless beach buggy Méhari would appear, but it's the 2CV that remains the most legendary and celebrated.
This lovely grey example belongs to a family I know. The father Gérard, who owned a 2CV many years back, had always dreamed of restoring one, and picked this one up several years ago as a family project. With his two brothers (one a mechanic and one an automotive painter, conveniently!) and his sons, my friends Franck and Stèphane, they set out to restore their 1970 'Deudeuche' (the loving nickname of the 2CV). The goal was never to create a show car, but instead do a clean restoration that would give the car many more years on the road. Apparently Gérard wanted to have a car to enjoy in the summer with the top down to putt-putt around with his wife, which is about the best reason I can think for restoring an old jewel like this!
The absolute simplicity of the 2CV makes it an easy restoration project. Even today all of the major parts are easy to find. The doors, hood and trunk can be slid off their hinges and removed in just a few seconds. The front and rear fenders are held on with a couple bolts and hooks. The engine and transmission can be removed in a very short time, and be lifted out by one person. As a matter of fact, it's common practice at fairs and car rallys for teams to race to completely disassemble a 2CV and see who is first to reassemble and start their car!
With alot of elbow grease and some new parts (such as the removeable canvas top), they were able to get this Citroen back into roadworthy shape over the course of a year. All that's left is some interior work to repair the old seat fabrics and recover the door panels, and find a few pieces of exterior trim that aren't readily available.
The day I went to see it we tried to start it but there was a problem with the engine. It hadn't run in a while and the battery was a little low, so Franck told me he'll let me know when it's running again so we can take it for a drive. Several years back a friend, who had restored a gorgeous 'Cocoricco' version, let me take his for a drive, and let me tell you: it's a riot! The incredible body lean is disconcerting at first, but once you have it figured out, you can push it into corners hard and have a laugh as it works to straighten itself out thanks to a simple yet ingenious suspension system that uses the movement of the front wheels to 'prepare' the rears for a bump.
The 2CV was ready last spring for its inaugural roadtest, and Gérard got to take it for a spin with one of his brothers. Franck even showed me a video of his dad and uncle testing out the brakes! Unfortunately that would be the only time Gérard got to enjoy the fruits of his labour, having lost his battle with an illness shortly after. Still, it was such a pleasure to see this fantastic throwback to a simpler automotive time, and realise how much energy and passion had gone into this restauration. I'll consider myself priviledged to try it out next spring.
This is what an automotive project like this is all about. Working with family and friends and enjoying bringing a car back to life. I'm glad Franck shared this story with me, and I'm happy to share it with you. It also has me convinced that someday I need to pick up a Citroen 2CV of my own...
Day to day driving can be boring. Your regular commute to and from work is the same road day in and day out. Stop-and-go traffic can make your daily commute quite dull, which is why having a fun car can make all the difference. With the right car any drive is more entertaining, and encourages you to take the long way home. One such car I saw recently was a tiny 2-seater convertible that appears like it would make a great commuter car, and alot more exciting than most subcompact runabouts.
The Daihatsu Copen is a Kei-car, a special class of vehicle for the Japanese market. Kei cars are designed around size and engine displacement limits and benefit from reduced tax and parking fees in crowded Japanese cities. In overseas markets such as Europe, a larger engine was fitted to the Copen (a 1300cc unit replaced the Kei-specific 660cc turbocharged powerplant) to give it a bit more power. At 3395 mm / 133.7 inches it's a whopping 555 mm / 21.8 inches shorter than the original Mazda Miata roadster, the industry benchmark.
Unlike the rear wheel drive Miata, which was designed as a sporting roadster, the front wheel drive Daihatsu Copen is more of a casual commuter, but one that you can pop the top on to enjoy open-air cruising as well. The look is certainly more 'cute' than 'sporty', but to my eyes you could almost call it a baby Porsche. The round headlights, taillights and front and rear fog / reverse lights suit the curved shape of the fenders, hood and trunk well. The folding hardtop, when up, seems a little too upright, but with the top down the car has a much racier look.
A dinky little 1.3L FWD convertible isn't the kind of car to get most pulses racing, but if it's this or a basic subcompact commuter car, I'll take the Copen in a heartbeat. Reviews I have read make it sound like the small size and light weight deliver a relatively tossable little car, and while it may not be a substitute for a proper sports car, it doesn't claim to be one either.
If you have to be copin' with the daily commute, you may as well do it in a cool little car like the Copen!
Welcome! My name is Paul, and I am an old-fashioned, low-pressure, low-buck car fan with lots of automotive stories to tell!