It is difficult to say why I love cars, but when I see one that I think it unique, emblematic, or just plain interesting, I feel I have to document it,
I was raised in the automobile business, so cars were our bread and butter, and because the family car was constantly changing, they had an quite an impact on our daily life. However, I also grew up during a one of the Golden Ages of the American automobile, and our cars went through puberty and adolescence with a Rock and Roll soundtrack just like we did
Until the early 1950s, the most of the cars were still kind of frumpy and without a lot of personality
but after the middle of that decade, their bodies started developing fins and bulges, decorative chromework and colorful paint jobs, including two tone.
In 1954, Chevrolet introduced the Corvette, and in 1955, Ford gave us the Thunderbird. The 60s brought us the pony cars-Mustang, Cougar, Camero and Firebird along with the Muscle Cars, Barracuda, and GTO.
Gas was cheap, President Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway system, and the Nation wanted to get on the road.
We strived for expressions of our own individuality, and our cars reflected that goal.
It is said that Henry Ford once declared that the consumer could get a Model T in any color they desired, “As long as it is Black”, but by the end of the 60s, not only did we have color choices that rivaled a Baskin Robbins flavor list, but the car companies had product lines for each budget*, and within product lines there were several models to choose from, each with their own choices of budget, power train, and luxury.
I don’t recall if all of these existed at one time, but the Chevrolet product line was like the three bears, with full size (Biscayne, Bel Air and Impala), mid size (Chevelle, Malibu, and Malibu) and compact (Chevy II, Nova) models. They topped each of those sizes off with the “Super Sport”, offering more horsepower, bucket seats, and fancy trim packages.
They also made the rear engine drive Corvair and the mid size coupe/ pickup named the El Camino.
Cars didn’t last very long in those days (insuring job security for the industry). Manufacturing tolerances weren’t as tight, so moving parts wore out, and we were surprised if a car went 100,000 miles.
Also, the salt that Snow Belt cities used to melt Winter road ice, severely corroded body panels, and bodies often wore out before the engine did.
The rule of thumb was to buy a new car every three years, four at the most.
This is a great thing about California, the cars don’t rust out.
Every day, you can see really great cars not as precious objects that you dust off on Sunday, or show trophies that are kept in conditioned garages, but daily drivers that real people use to go shopping and to work. Most of the cars I am showing here are parked at the curb.
Every day, you can see the proverbial sedan driven by “a little old lady”, and they are still being driven by little old ladies, and you know they were young ladies when thay bought that Plymouth Valiant new in 1966.
There is another new market for these mid Century cars-for about 20 years, Hipsters have been buying them, and tooling around in them.
Last month, when president Obama declared the US was going to open up trade with Cuba, more than one pundit talked about buying up these cars and exporting them to Havana. The trouble is, there is still very little cash flowing in Cuba, and little if any support system for these cars. If you really want to cash in, bring your Aunt Ginny’s ’58 Pontiac Catalina to San Francisco and sell it on Craigslist!
I know guys who search for a ’55 Chevy because it was their first car, but all of this isn’t nostalgia for me- you can’t buy back your youth. For me, seeing one of these cars go by just strikes an internal chord. It lifts my spirits, but I don’t yearn for those days to come back, and I have no desire to relive anything symbolically.
I don’t have one of these cars, and don’t have any desire to (been there, done that).
Part of that jolt when I see these cars is knowing that, at one time, manufacturers had soul, and weren’t afraid to express it.
This is at least part of the genius of Steve Jobs-he had the moxie to put his ass on the line, and give us objects that were also art. My daughter’s Macbook does the same thing as my Toshiba laptop, but hers is considerably more stylish.
I like to think of myself as a photographer, but I know these are not great photos.
Many of them are grab shots I have taken while walking my dog or driving to work. Often the leash is tugging on the same wrist that is pressing the shutter. Often, the driver of the car behind me is blowing their horn, because I am stopped in the middle of the street, and they are trying to get to work as well.
In order to take some of the shots of this Buick, I was standing on the double Yellow line in the middle of a major street.
But it was fun to see them, and fun to shoot them.
And it is fun to share them.
*My brother and I once accompanied my Father in a doctor’s examination room, and upon hearing of my father’s career, the doctor was showing off for his nurse by reciting all of the General Motors lines- Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac.