When it comes to old cars, there's rare, and then there's rare. There are a number of classic cars where the remaining models number in the single digits. In a few cases there may only be one single example of a vehicle left. Such is the case with a vehicle I had the pleasure of discovering this summer, the 1923 Lexington Skylark roadster.
According to a poster on the vehicle, this is the last remaining example of the Skylark roadster. Thankfully, the owner has restored their car to flawless condition. There didn't appear to be a bolt out of place nor a scratch on the glossy blue paint. The profile if the vehicle featured a prominent, horizontal hood and a lower, curved rear end that gave it a great look, even with the top up. I can only imagine how great it looks with the top folded back!
Of all the great features and details on the Lexington, the oil, water and gas cans strapped to the side was my favourite! I have seen Jeeps with gas cans on the back, but I had never seen a car with the three fluid cans built into the fender. One of the big hassles when restoring an old car can be finding all of the original accessories, so this owner is very lucky to have what appear to be the original cans that store neatly along the running board. Also, I'm curious if this was an original model sold in Quebec that featured the labels in French, or if this was a small modification the owner made for use in 'la belle province'.
Lexington would produce cars from 1909 until folding in 1926, meaning this 1923 model was one of the last to come from the manufacturer. I don't know if Lexington's history is well known or if there are many other remaining models, but if the info on this car is correct, this is one rare car indeed! I will never get sick of stumbling across old cars that I have never heard of, so I am pleased that I can add this rare sighting to my list.
Automotive trends have always existed and always will. When one manufacturer has success with a certain design theme or style, others are sure to copy. Every generation of vehicles has its own set of common trends that make them stand out as vehicles from the same era. A few examples include rear fender fins, partially enclosed rear wheel wells, front fender vents, pop-up headlights, grille-less noses and more.
In some cases, design trends are a marked improvement on what was done before and become the norm, such as with flush mounted headlights and aerodynamic styling. Other trends come and go and are quickly forgotten to automotive history, such as rear 'suicide' doors and frameless side window glass.
One interesting design theme that never seemed to catch on at all but really stands out is the reverse-angle rear window. Pioneered by Ford on several 1950's Lincoln and Mercury models, the backward-slanted rear window was a novel idea that incorporated a power window section that could be lowered for increased ventilation. The UK Ford Consul Classic (a vehicle I had the pleasure to experience firsthand in England a few years back!) was another example of a reverse-angle window vehicle and one of the prettiest version in my eyes, though the Citroen Ami6 coupe is a contender as well with its miniatureized take on the 'Z' pattern rear window design.
The only other vehicle I know of that dared to deviate was the Ford Anglia. While the name may not seem all that familiar outside of the UK, many people HAVE seen one before, in the Harry Potter films. The Weasley family owns an enchanted flying Anglia that enjoys significant screen time in The Chamber of Secrets, the second installment in the series.
I was lucky enough to see one recently at a summer car show, and I can't even remember if I've ever seen one in person before or not! It's the kind of car you notice from far away and begs closer inspection, simply because of the unique rear window design. Advertising back in the day suggested that the rear window in the Anglia always stayed clear of water when it rained, a claim that apparently wasn't always the case. Still, it's exciting when designers try using uncommon design themes to create an appealing and original car that stands out from the pack.
This Anglia was a 1961 'Deluxe' model in white that has clearly been well taken of during its lifetime. I don't know if it spends all of its time in a garage or if it is a summer runabout, but I'm sure that any time it's out it turns heads. It's not everyday you see such an odd rear window design, so I love that the designers of the Anglia came at the design of their car from a different angle than usual...
As the hot summer drags on, I'm always looking for ways to stay cool. I've mentioned before that a nice cold Corona with a slice of lime is one of my summer beverage go-to's. A few weeks back I attended a car expo in Chambly, Quebec, and came across a different sort of lime Corona.
This one was a 1972 Toyota version, and specifically, the Corona Deluxe model. A rarity in North America, the different Toyota Corona models were a relatively common sight across Southeast Asia when I was living in that part of the world. This beautiful lime-green example, which appeared nearly perfect, was one of the 4th generation models, produced from 1970 until 1973.
As much as I love this '72, my preference still lies with the older 3rd generation. The dusty blue one I saw sitting on a street in Luang Prabang, Laos, was nowhere near as pristine, but had a shape and detailing I just love.
It was a newer 6th generation Corona in a rusty orange colour that caught my eye on a trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, back in 2015. Seeing how much care the owner obviously gave the car, I have no doubt it's still on the road and looking fantastic all these years later.
I also saw a much more rough-and-tumble example from the 5th generation (that I had a tough time identifying at first!) in Indonesia years ago that looked like it was still offering dependable to its owner long after the expiration date had passed...
Still, I have huge respect for enthusiasts who restore and maintain their classic cars, and the owner of the lime green Corona in Quebec should be proud. I'm sure it catches lots of attention, especially since it's such an uncommon vehicle in Canada. As usual, a Toyota Corona sighting makes me thirsty, so I'll have to pick up a case of beer tonight and toast this beautifully-kept classic car. Cheers!
Back in April I hopped on a plane and headed down to Arkansas for a whirlwind weekend. For months, a group of car-fanatic friends from the US had been planning a roadtrip through the Ozark Mountains northwest of Little Rock. I decided to join them, enticed by the chance to meet these guys I had been exchanging with for years and perhaps crawl behind the wheel of the McLaren MP4-12C that belonged to the trip organiser.
In the end I didn't grab all that many photos of the vehicles in our convoy (including the McLaren, a tuned Mustang, a rental Chrysler 300C and a motorcycle), because we were simply having too much fun driving to stop for many photo opportunities. At one stop something DID catch my eye, however: a graveyard filled with an assortment of VW Beetles and Vans. The 'Bug' has always been and will always be a car that puts a smile on my face, so I wandered over to take a peek.
A 'Keep Out' sign made it clear trespassers weren't welcome, and the small town we had stopped in for gas felt exactly like you might think a small Arkansas town might feel like. The locals appeared friendly and extremely curious about the McLaren, though many hadn't heard of the make before and thought it was a Lamborghini. At one point, I'm pretty sure I heard banjo music off in the distance, and I definitely saw more than one old man sitting on a rocking chair on his front porch.
While I exaggerate slightly, it really was a unique and exciting trip. I got as close as I could to the VW graveyard and saw a few really cool oddities, including what appeared to be a homemade tow-Bug with an odd harness hanging off the back, as well as an old red VW Van with my last name written on the side! As much as I would loved to have gotten closer to the vehicles, the banjo music seemed to die away as I approached the barrier and I'm convinced I heard a few shotguns being cocked...
The trip was short but sweet and I know I've made some friends for life. Once again cars have brought me closer to other fanatics like myself, and this time it lead to me discovering another corner of the US that I didn't know before. If I have the chance one day to visit the Ozarks again I gladly would, but before I go, I'll take some banjo lessons so I can converse with the locals in their native tongue!
The only sure things in life are supposed to be death and taxes, but for me, there's a third: Fiero. Ever since my first 1984 Fiero died on me back when I was 18, I KNEW I would have another one someday. Turns out that day has come. Last week I was made aware of a pair of red 1984 Fieros for sale nearby and I quickly made an appointment to go see them.
The first one was a 4-speed manual and was in excellent shape. It hadn't been driven much over the past few years, but ran like a top when I took it out for a test drive. Within moments I knew I'd buy the car. With a wheezing 2.5L under the rear deck, the 2M4 Fiero model is far from a true performance car, but the mid-engine layout and low ride height make it entertaining enough on twisty roads.
Even if this Fiero was in good shape, it wasn't perfect. The paint needs a good polish, the interior is showing its age, and the headliner is falling out. There were also some common 'Fiero' issues, like a leaking sunroof, broken hideaway headlights and some dash cracking around the heater and radio. Overall, though, it was too good to pass up, so I jumped at it.
There was even a bonus parts car that came with it! Two-for-one-Fieros! This second one was also a 4-cylinder, but came with the sluggish 3-speed auto transmission. It currently isn't in running condition, but it shouldn't take much to get it driving again. I have decided this will be my project car, and I'm already thinking of what I'm going to do with it...
The Fiero gets mixed reactions. Some people give it a thumbs up and are excited to see one still on the road. Others seem less impressed and mention what an awful car they were. The other day I had to run into a Nissan dealership for business and the manager there saw my car. He said "Those things were death traps"! I had to remind him that, in 1984, they shared a top safety rating with Volvo and are well known to hold up extremely well in an accident. No one gets away with belittling my Fiero aside from me!
To be fair, the 4-banger 1984 model isn't a very likable car by modern standards. It's slow, rough, noisy and poorly finished. These flaws, however, are part of why I love this car so much. The low ride height and wide track make it an incredible handler in the corners (just hope you don't hit a bump mid corner!) and the 'rough around the edges' character and lack of power steering make the drive more engaging.
The 'Holy Grail' Fiero is the 1988 GT model with a revised suspension, V6 engine and 5-speed manual transmission. Due to their relative rarity, they have really crept up in price over the years. I have detailed several encounters with my ultimate dream Fiero in past blog entries, and I am still adamant that I will own one someday.
You can read up on a lovely 1988 that belongs to a forum friend I got to drive a few years back, as well as another local one I saw shortly after: I took them as a sign at that point that my Fiero story wasn't finished, and it seems that was the case with this new pair in my driveway!
My first roadtrip with the roadworthy 2M4 will be tomorrow, and I have been spending my evenings in the garage with the other one trying to get it running and planning how I want it to look. This Fiero Story: Part 2 has just begun, with many more chapters to come!
A fun game to play when I was young was "I spy with my little eye, something that is..." and you would name a colour. The other person playing would have to guess what you were looking at. Last Sunday, it wasn't so much a colour as a strange car feature that caught my little eye: a continental kit.
The continental kit came into fashion in the 1940's as a way to carry a spare tire without taking up trunk space. The upright rear tire, often in a styled case or cover, added a bit of style to cars of the day. By the 1980s, the continental kit had fallen out of fashion, but that didn't stop Dodge from making it an option on their 600 convertible. The K-Car based 600 convertible was never a beacon of style, so I suppose anything that made it stand out a bit more was worth a try!
Aside from the continental kit, which is the highlight of the 600 convertible design, a few well-placed chrome touches made for a tidy package. The chrome trim on the A-pillar was an especially nice touch, and is a design element seen on many convertible luxury and sports vehicles over the years. This example of the 600 had a 3-speed automatic transmission and 4-cylinder engine, meaning it would be better suited to lazy Sunday drives than sporting driving, but the spotless interior and exterior as well as the like-new folding top make it appealing nonetheless.
This isn't the first time a K-derived Chrysler product has caught my attention and likely not the last. This 600 is about as unique and stylish as they come. The 600 was parked behind a building that housed a used car dealership, so hopefully with the nice weather coming, it will be put out for sale and find a happy home. You can be sure that if it ends up somewhere nearby, I will catch sight of it again. Not much gets past my little eye!
It's hard to hold out much hope for a $270 vehicle. Last summer I had the chance to purchase a 1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara. A family member knew of someone looking to get rid of their little 4x4 and they were hoping someone would keep it on the road, instead of scrapping it. Having spent most of its life in British Columbia, the vehicle was showing very little rust for its age. With 214,000 kms, it was no spring chicken, and had a few problems:
While none of these were major problems, they all had me worried that the Suzuki wouldn't pass safety and emissions testing. As much as I loved the idea of owning a 'proper' 4x4 like the Grand Vitara, I didn't want to have to spend alot of money to get it on the road, only to find that something else would go wrong in a short time.
One of the highlights of the Grand Vitara is the small 2,5L V6 engine. By 1999, V6 engines were typically 3.0L or more in displacement, so such a small V6 was a rarity for sure sure. With 142 hp and 153 ft-lb of torque, it isn't a particularly powerful engine, but it is well suited to the 'pocket-sized' GV.
Another great feature is the true 4x4 system. Unlike other small 4x4s with button-selected or fully automatic all wheel drive systems, the Grand Vitara features a manual gear selector to shift between 2WD, 4 HIGH and 4 LO. 4 HIGH is designed for driving in snow, mud and other low-traction situations, while 4 LO is designed for low-speed off-road use.
The owner of the Suzuki had been offered $270 as a trade-in on a new vehicle, so was only asking that much when I went to check it out. He liked his little 4x4 and preferred the idea of someone driving it a bit longer. I decided to take gamble and buy it, not sure if it would prove to be a money pit or not. It took a few hundred dollars to safety, but for well under $1000 dollars it was on the road.
Just a few short weeks after buying it, I put the Grand Vitara to the test. My nephew and I headed out on a road trip to the East Coast of Canada in a convoy with other family members. I had flown to the West Coast just before, so it was exciting to dip my toes in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in the span of one week, especially since it was Canada's 150th birthday as a nation! Despite some burnt oil fumes that wafted into the cabin at every stop and less than encouraging fuel mileage (11 mpg, on average), the trip was a success.
Eight months have passed since I bought the Suzuki, and I feel that it has definitely proven itself. A scan of the OBD system indicates that the intermittent check engine light is due to a faulty O2 sensor. Changing the brake pads fixed most of the brake shudder, though new rotors will be necessary. I installed new winter tires to tackle the snow and will soon be installing a set of meaty summer tires. My brother in law helped me tighten the valve covers and the oil leak has all but stopped.
I have now put over 12,000 kms on my $270 purchase and am convinced there is lots of life left in it. There are a few dents, scratches and a bit of peeling paint on the bumpers, but overall, the body and frame are in fantastic shape for the age. The interior is looking a bit worn and tired, but a thorough cleaning when the warm weather finally hits will help. What is needed now is a little TLC to the engine and drivetrain to ensure the vehicle is running properly. My plan is to take care of a few issues that affect fuel economy and how the vehicle performs:
With this bit of TLC, I think the Grand Vitara will easily make it to 250,000 kms, and hopefully beyond. I enjoy extracting every last km out of an older vehicle and am excited at taking it on more adventures this summer. While I have yet to do any serious off-roading, I have tried it in 4x4 on some rough, muddy trails and enjoy seeing what it can do. A friend said that with a small lift and some serious all-terrain tires, my little 4x4 would be unstoppable as an off-road warrior. This is probably the best $270 investment I have ever made, so lets see just how far I can stretch it!
After years without, I will finally have a garage! It's actually a mystery why I have lived in places without a garage for so long when I love the idea of having a space to work on a car project. An upcoming move means I will have a small garage that's all my own. It may be small and lacking a lift, but it will be perfectly suitable for some sort of automotive project.
Think of it as a concrete representation of The Automotive Attic. Some junk needs to be cleared out, and the tool bench organised, and a few lights added, but it's dry and insulated and begging to be stuffed with a fun older car project. I had my eye on a 1987 Pontiac Fiero GT as well as a 1982 Buick Skylark, so hopefully one of those two will work out. If not, I know that something fun and unique will end up parked in that space soon.
As enjoyable as this winter has been, the sun and clear skies today got me thinking about summer. Or last summer, to be exact. I had the chance to visit the south of France last June and spent some time in Perpignan, just north of the border with Spain, on the Mediterranean sea. With sandy beaches all along the coast, it's not hard to find a place to stretch out and enjoy the sun, sea and sand.
One of the best ways to get around is in a convertible. While I didn't have the chance to myself, there was no shortage of cool examples at the beach. The most celebrated and legendary French example is the Citroen Mehari, a plastic-fantastic version of the already-legendary 2CV compact car. Manufactured between 1968 and 1988 as a beach-side runaround, the Mehari had a tub body in place of a traditional body shell, much like the similar VW Thing, Renault Safari, and Mini Moke. In the case of the Mehari, the body was made entirely from plastic and had the color 'baked' right in.
Thanks to the simple mechanicals it shares with the 2CV and the huge aftermarket that exists for that car, owning and operating a Mehari isn't a problem. What IS difficult is getting your hands on one for a decent price, since it never sold in huge numbers and is highly sought-after on the used car market nowadays. Thanks to the plastic body, rust isn't a problem, though accidents can crack the monocoque body.
This beige model I saw at the beach was in very good condition and came with a top and side windows that offered some protection from the wind and rain. I didn't see a drop of rain during my week in the South of France, so I imagine the tops on these beach cars don't stay up very often. A few days later I saw a blue Mehari at another beach, so while these ARE a rare car, they still can be seen, usually in their natural habitat along the coast.
A few snowflakes were flying tonight so it's not QUITE time for an open-air buggy like this cool Mehari in Canada just yet. Still, a toy like this would be very entertaining to have around in the summertime, and it's easy to see why this plastique fantastique Citroen is still so desirable today!
Last night the snow started falling before I went to bed, and it was still coming down this morning when I woke up. When I saw that it wasn't going to let up, I picked up a friend and headed off to the beautiful Gatineau Park in the province of Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa. Well known for its gorgeous fall leaves, Gatineau Park is also a winter wonderland; home to a myriad of ski hills, hiking, snowshoe and cross-country skiing trails and entertaining roads that wind their way up, through and around hills, lakes and valleys.
While some people avoid driving when it's snowing, I relish it. I enjoy a relaxed drive in the snow, especially when I don't have a particular destination and can take my time to enjoy the scenery. Winter driving is more challenging than summer driving, of course, but it is simply a matter of paying close attention to what your vehicle is telling you and not over-driving the roads.
There was a fair amount of accumulation on the roads through the park, though the plows were out trying to keep ahead of the heavy snowfall. At one point we ended up at the parking lot to the Camp Fortune ski hill. It seemed that 90% of the vehicles in the lot were SUVs, so the presence of a lone BMW sedan caught my attention.
The brave BMW 325i had won the battle against the weather to get to the hill. The driver had clearly arrived early to the ski hill, as the car was covered with a thick layer of snow. I am no BMW expert, so I had to look up the 325i model, and learned that it was sold in Canada from 1987 until 1991. This 30 year old car still cuts an impressive profile and appeared to be in good shape, despite a few rust spots made extra noticeable in contrast with the white paint and white snow as a background!
Apparently an all-wheel drive model of this generation of 325 existed, but this was simply the rear-wheel drive version. Equipped with winter tires (like all cars are mandated to in the province of Quebec) and decent ground clearance, the BMW somehow looked made for the role of winter adventure vehicle. The skis strapped on the top made it seem even more authentic, as did the Euro plate on the front bumper.
For those that don't know, vehicles licensed in Quebec do not require a plate on the front, so I suspect the owner is a European who brought their plate with them. Perhaps it's a German, Swiss or Austrian who is used to carving through deep snow crossing the Alps and wanted a touch of German's best engineering here in Canada. Whatever the back story, it is always exciting for a car fan to see these older models being used, and not simply sitting in storage somewhere, collecting dust.
My own car, a little Hyundai, is certainly less exciting than a classic BMW, but I still enjoyed my Sunday drive. The snow stopped for a while but I see that it has starting again this evening. I imagine that after an enjoyable day of skiing, the owner of the BMW climbed back in behind the wheel and enjoyed an equally entertaining drive home in their cool Bimmer. For some of us, snow on the roads is s'no problem at all!
Welcome! My name is Paul, and I am an old-fashioned, low-pressure, low-buck car fan with lots of automotive stories to tell!