Driving a Convertible with Style

This is the first in a series of blogs about driving and enjoying your car with style.  Today’s installment: Convertibles.  Owning a convertible immediately tells the world you have style and like to have fun.  Congratulations.  Driving a convertible, especially on a daily or semi-daily basis, proves that you value style over utility.  You are more concerned with form over function, willing to sacrifice some trunk space and deal with a little more road noise for the sake of having fun and looking stylish. Bravo to you!   How much style you present to the world while driving a convertible depends on how much attention you pay to the details.

Details, you may ask?  Oh yes.  Here are a few tips to enhance your convertible driving experience and look exceptional.

1 – Keep your car clean.  Dirty cars are not attractive.  Just as a gentleman pays attention to his hair cut and wardrobe, he must keep his car reasonably clean.  This includes the interior. The only thing that belongs in your car’s interior is you.  No water bottles, coffee cups, cell phone charging cords, etc.  Some of these things must be used while driving, but should be tucked out of sight when parked.57 Ford Skyliner

2- Windows.  When the top is down, so should all the windows.  If it is cold, and you are on the highway, you may have the windows up, but ALL the windows up.  When rolling at slower speeds, all windows should be down.  Nothing is more unsightly than seeing a nice American convertible cruising down the road with a quarter glass raised and nothing else, or just the passenger glass up and the rest down.  Disgraceful.  Simple rule: Top down, windows down.

3- Boot cover.  Some cars feature a top that is automatically fully concealed when the top is down (i.e. Thunderbirds and Corvettes), but many others use a boot cover to cover the top when in the lowered position.   Having the boot cover installed does two things.  One is that it protects the top from wind buffering and dirt, and secondly, you guessed it: style.  Having the boot cover in place makes the whole car look more finished and sleek. No one wants to see the bunched-up material, metal frame and inner panels of the top well.  No sir. Installing the boot cover shows your attention to detail, and is infinitely more stylish.

4- Music.  You are going to be more noticed when you drive with the top down.  Convertibles are sporty and turn heads.  What will turn those smiling admiring glances into looks of disgust and scorn is loud music. Turn the dam music down when you are in a parking lot or at a light.

5- Headgear. The sun can be hot and sunglasses and a hat can keep you more comfortable.  Be sure to choose a hat and sunglasses that are appropriate for the car and the era from which it comes from.  Wearing a bright baseball cap and a pair of Oakley wraparound mirrored sunglasses completely ruins the look of a 1930’s automobile.  Consider a tweed cap or Gatsby cap instead.  Sunglasses of a retro design such as a Ray-Ban Wayfarer or Persol will look for more elegant and stylish.  Remember, you are part of the car when you are behind the wheel and therefore part of the aesthetic.

1952 Pontiac convertible

 

I hope these tips will help you enjoy your convertible while achieving a level of taste and style that you desire, and others will admire.  Ciao!

Nova convertible

Always remember the boot cover

Airstream: America’s World Traveler

I have to admit, I’m not much of a camper.  My idea of camping is a poorly stocked mini-bar.  That being said, I think Airstream campers are cool.  Airstreams are retro-cool and high-tech all at the same time.  They have been called the Rolls-Royce of campers and after reading Patrick R. Foster’s new book Airstream : America’s World Traveler, I have an even higher opinion of these shimmering silver land-yachts.

Eighty-five years of Airstream history is covered in this book, bringing to life the story of Wally Byam, camping enthusiast, inventor, salesman, founder of the company   that would create an American icon.  Wally was more than just a businessman out to make a fortune, he was a dreamer.  Perhaps that is what the world needs more of today, dreamers.  Wally was a dreamer with big ideas and the strength and fortitude to get things done.

Wally knew the best way to test his product was in the field and on the road.  The United States is a big country, but not big enough for Wally Byam.  Leading caravans of Airstream owners on epic trips through Mexico, South America, Europe and across Africa, Wally became legendary amongst loyal Airstream owners in the fifties.

Wally Byam

Wally Byam

Battle-tested on the road and perfected in the company shop, Airstream trailers were simply the best   engineered and efficient trailers produced.  From its humble beginnings in a small shop in Southern California, the company stayed in business through the great depression, came back after World War II, survived the gas crunch and the recession to remain a high-quality, respected product to this day.  Airstream owners are among the most loyal and enthusiastic people in the camping community, and for good reason.

Airstream: America’s World Traveler is delight to read and has a trailer-load of fantastic factory photos to enjoy.  The author was able to access the factory archives to fill the book with great images and interesting insight into the company’s history.  A must read for any camper fan or lover of Americana.

Hardcover with 192 pages and 464 images.  Available now from Motorbooks or on Amazon.

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Enter the Kaiser Dragon

No automobiles were produced in the United States during World War Two, creating a huge demand during the post-war era for new cars.  Industrialist Henry J Kaiser (along with Joseph Frazer from the Graham-Paige automobile company) wanted to enter the car market and decided to launch the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation in 1947.  All other manufacturers went back into production with slightly face-lifted 1942 models, leaving Kaiser-Frazer with the only totally new car on the market for 1947. The cars sold well until 1949 when Ford, Chrysler and GM introduced their all-new models.  That is when things started to unravel for Kaiser.  Supply finally caught up with demand, leaving lots full of 1951 Kaisers unsold.  Joseph Frazer left the company in 1951 and the Frazer nameplate was dropped soon after.  Kaiser would produce some very interesting cars in the in 1950’s, including a fiberglass sports car called the Darrin, and an economy car bearing his name, the Henry J.

Enter the Dragon

The Dragon name had been used before by Kaiser in 1951 for some special paint and interior packaged sedans, but the 1953 model is the most coveted by collectors today.  1953 Dragon exterior styling featured a padded, thickly grained “Bambu” vinyl top, special “Dragon” fender identification, and genuine 14-carat gold plated hood ornament and emblems.  Interior appointments comprised more of the “Bambu” material, along with “Laguna” cloth.  Underneath it all was over 200 pounds of sound-deadening insulation resulting in the quietest Kaiser ever.  The Dragon interior is amazing to see and touch, if not a bit tiki-room in appearance.

With a price tag around $4000, about the cost of a new Cadillac, Kaiser found few buyers for the Dragon.  The out-dated, low powered 6-cylinder engine made the Dragon not much of a fire-breather on the highway, especially compared to Cadillac’s powerful 331 CI overhead-valve V-8.   By 1955 Kaiser would end car production completely, but not before leaving us with some memorable cars, not the least of which was the Dragon.

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The Riva Tunnel in Monaco

Checking another box off on my bucket list, I attended the Historic Grand Prix Races at Monaco in May of 2016.  Monaco is famous for its Grand Prix races and I was excited to see the race and all the great cars, but I was drawn to the fabulous boats in the harbor as well.  Dozens of boats and large yachts are docked next to the track and near one of the race paddocks during the race.  I mentioned my affection for Riva boats to a friend, knowing that there had to be more than a few in Port Hercule, one of the world’s wealthiest and exclusive marinas.  “Are you going to the reception at the Riva Tunnel?” my friend asked.  Riva Tunnel?  I had no idea what or where it was but I knew I wanted in.  My friend emailed me the link and I secured a media pass.  This is something I had to see.

The Riva Tunnel has been the home of the Monaco Boat Service since 1959.  It was created by burrowing for two years through rock under the Grimadi Palace, and holds about 100 boats.  Riva is the maker of one of the most expensive, exclusive and beautiful lines of boats ever created.  Vintage models are coveted and highly prized by collectors today.  During the Grand Prix, a paddock full of priceless vintage race cars is temporary located directly in front of it.  The tunnel is lined on both sides with classic Riva boats parked at a forty-five degree angle twenty feet in the air.  The floor level during the event was full of historic Riva race boats dating back to the mid-thirties, culled from private collections around Europe.  What a sight! 

The event was organized to celebrate Riva’s racing heritage and also to launch a new book on Riva racing.  Author Riccardo Sassoli was on hand to talk about his new limited edition book Riva Corsa : The Origins of the Myth along with Lia Riva, representing the Riva family.  The boats were fascinating to see.  One was powered by a Ferrari motor and all had an important race history.  The incredible boats and the fabulous food were amazing. The evening was capped off for me when I got to speak with both Riccardo Sassoli and Lia Riva and have them sign my copy of the book.     

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Book Review: Cuba’s Car Culture

Everyone that loves old cars is intrigued with the photos they have seen of colorful vintage cars running around the island nation of Cuba.  Although it is only 90 miles away from Florida, it seems like a distant land from the past.  In some ways this is true.  Questions about the cars in Cuba come up in car enthusiast’s conversations all of the time.  How many cars are there?  How did they get there?  How did they keep them running with no extra parts?  Are there any rare treasures hidden on that island?  Can I buy one and take it back to the United States?

All these questions, plus many more are answered in a new book entitled Cuba’s Car Culture, Celebrating the Islands Automotive Love Affair  by  well known automotive writer Tom Cotter and Bill Warner, writer, photographer, racer and founder of the prestigious Amelia Island Concours.  This is more than just a coffee table photo book.  The authors have visited Cuba multiple times and dig deep into a Cuban automotive history and culture of importing, selling, manufacturing, collecting, and racing cars from the beginning through to today.  The history of Cuba is shown through an automotive lens, giving the reader a full understanding of Cuban history and how the automobile fits into it.

One of the more interesting parts of Cuban automotive history is the Cuban Grand Prix races that were run from 1957 to 1960.  The book covers these events in detail and features many high-quality period photos of the race.  Did you know that the famous driver Juan Manuel Fangio was kidnapped just before one of the races?  It is worth the price of the book just to read the about Fangio!

As most people know, soon after Cuba fell to the rebels in 1959, the United States placed an embargo on all products coming in and out of Cuba, including cars and parts.  Many things became difficult and challenging for people in Cuba after that, and even more so for car owners wishing to keep their vehicles running.  The determination, ingenuity, and perseverance of the Cuban people is magnified and brought to the forefront in the pages of this book.

I highly recommend this book.  Cuba’s Car Culture is available from Motorbooks, Amazon and at book sellers. It is hardcover, 192 pages and features 160 color and 38 black and white photos.

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What is in Herman’s Garage

We are all familiar with The Munsters TV show, the cast, and the Munster’s house.  But what really excites car nuts is what was in Herman Munster’s garage around back.  Two of the creepiest and coolest cars ever on TV, the Munster Koach and Grandpa’s Drag-U-La are legendary in TV land.  Both cars were created by another legend, custom car builder George Barris

In 1964 TV executives gave Barris just 21 days to build the Munster Koach.  Barris was no stranger to the film industry, or short deadlines, so he took the job.  The creeped-out hot rod was powered by a 289 Ford motor bored out to 425 cid with a trick Isky cam, Bobby Bar racing headers, and topped off with ten chromed Stromberg carbs.  Three model T bodies were used to make the car, set on a handmade 133” frame with an overall length of 18 feet.   Five hundred man hours were spent to hand form the ornate rolled steel scroll work alone.  All this custom work added up to a monster build cost of $18,000.

The car was a huge hit with audiences, so they called on Barris’s shop again when Grandpa needed a car for an episode of The Munsters entitled “Hot Rod Herman”.  Grandpa’s Drag-U-La was basically a drag car with a real coffin for a body, sporting a bubble top for the driver and a tombstone in front that read :Born 1367, Died?”.  It was power by a tricked out 289 Ford motor with organ pipes used for the exhaust.  Far-out and freaky, these two cars have haunted the memories of car enthusiasts for decades.

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1959 Ford Galaxie 500

1959 was a year of American automotive styling opulence.  Large fins, tons of chrome, complicated and sometimes bizarre styling that was over the top even when the cars where new.  Ford cars of the period were styled relatively conservatively by comparison.  Take a look at Ford’s closest competitor, the bat-winged 1959 Chevrolet line up and you get the idea.  Ford never really was comfortable with the whole finned styling craze, submitting to the fad with only small fins on their cars.  The best example of a finned Ford may be the very attractive 1957 models.  In 1958 Ford styling was attractive but becoming a little more cluttered.  The 1958 Chevrolet styling was even more cluttered but had no fins.  Ford decided to offer an alternative to the large finned trend with their conservatively styled (for the time) 1959 models.

Ford proclaimed their 1959 cars “The World’s most Beautifully Proportioned Cars”.  Styling features included quad headlights housed in gull-wing headlamp brows, an aluminum “ Fashion Star” grill with floating stylized stars.  The sides of the car are flat with a high belt-line separated by moldings flaring back into a small flaring back into a small fin housing the reverse lamps at the rear.  The back panel styling consisted of a flying V and large round tail lights.  Plenty of styling eye candy, but considered by many as tasteful by 1959 standards.

Convertibles were more popular than ever in the late fifties.  American manufactures at the time offered their convertibles only in top of the line trim levels.  For Ford, that line was the Fairlane 500, and the new nameplate “Galaxie” was added to the fanciest of Fairlanes.   Chevrolet had only one convertible in 1959, the Impala.  Ford offered three convertibles, the Thunderbird, the soft-top Sunliner featured here, and the Skyliner retractable hardtop, first introduced with great fan-fair in 1957.  The soft-top out sold the retractable model by a large margin, perhaps due to the retractables $500 price premium.  Other drawbacks to the retractable were a small luggage area in the trunk, accessible only with the top up, and the complicated system of arms, brackets and electric relays adding 500 pounds of extra weight.  45,868 Sunliners were sold, compared to 12,915 Skyliners.  Chevrolet sold 72,765 Impala convertibles by comparison.

The 1959 Sunliner is often overlooked by collectors.  Retractables and Thunderbirds gather the most attention today, but they were very popular when new.  These are great looking and dependable automobiles, with interest and popularity on the rise for these cars as collectors take notice.  The Sunliner is just as deluxe as the Skyliner and Thunderbird convertible, but without the complicated top system, and has a large, usable trunk.

The car featured here is an exceptional example.  Painted from the factory in “Diamond Luster” Torch Red and Colonial White, it has had a full body-off restoration and it is a real head-turner.  This car is enhanced with factory accessories that include the Flying Ellipse hood ornament, Sunray multi-colored wheel covers, bumper guards, chrome exhaust tips, fender skirts and two-tone paint.  Power comes from a 200 hp, 292ci V-8 with Ford-O-Matic  transmission and rides on a 118 inch wheelbase weighing in at 3,578 pounds.  Other engine options were a 223 six cylinder and 332 V-8.

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