November 26, 2007

Old Fiats in their natural habitat.

On a recent trip to Rome I saw quite a few Fiats, as one might expect. These are some of the more notable ones.

Abandoned Fiat 500L:

The quintessential Fiat. Cheap to buy and run, easy to work on, you can park it anywhere and it gets great gas mileage courtesy of a 499cc air cooled 2-cylinder. They were produced from 1957 to 1975 and they're still very common in Rome.

Seemingly abandoned Fiat 126. Turns out it wasn't and I got some interesting words from the owner for taking pictures of it:

Introduced in 1972 to replace the 500, it never got as popular as the 500. They did make them in Poland until 2000 so that says something. I believe a British road test from when they were new said they had "an engine that managed to be frenetic but ineffective-- like a hamster trying to push a filing cabinet."

Fiat 850 Sedan:

This one appeared to be all original and was in beautiful shape. A real dream come true for me seeing as I've lusted after an 850 Sedan for years. Those were introduced to replace the 600.

November 22, 2007

Count the Citroëns.

This is the first of many, many, many photos that this particular contributor will be posting from the yard at Shade Tree Enginetrics in Nevada (say Neh-vay-duh), Texas. For those who don't know, Shade Tree is truly heaven on earth for Italian cars. Acres upon acres of old Italian cars - mostly Fiats but a good number of Alfa Romeos and Lancias as well as the odd Citroën. Why would a Citroën be parked in a lot full of Italian cars? The SM features a Maserati V6, of course!

I think the pictures speak for themselves. Expect many, many, many more photographs from Shade Tree, including lots of cars that you simply won't see on the road. Ever. Like an Alfa 6. And a Lancia HPE. Cool.

November 14, 2007

An Alfa-Saab shop? That's what dreams are made of!

How's this for perfect? A shop that specializes in my two favorites: Alfa Romeo and Saab. It's located in Albuquerque, just blocks from one of my favorite New-Mex restaurants. It had been about five years since I had last seen the shop, but I made a point to visit it again. There weren't many unique Saabs this time, but I did spot a couple of interesting Alfas, including Berlinas, Alfetta/GTV 2000s and a Giulia or Giulietta Spider. Having lived in the Midwest for the better part of the 21st century (prior to a recent move to Texas), it's always refreshing to see unrestored vintage cars that haven't been bitten by the rust bug. These cars have obviously been driven hard for their whole lives, but unlike cars in Michigan, their bodies are intact and, if the drivetrains are functioning, they're ready to go.

A shop like this would be a dream come true for me... but how many mechanics are trained in classic Swedish and Italian cars only? Probably not many!

November 13, 2007

A Renault what?

In May of 2006 I spoke with a guy in Ogden, Utah, who had a 1961 Fiat 600. He mentioned a junkyard off of Beck Street in North Salt Lake had a couple of Fiat 600s and he bought a lot of parts from there.

North Salt Lake is a mildly depressing place dotted with refineries, factories and construction businesses. To find a bunch of obscure European cars there seemed odd. Although, story has it there used to be a guy there with a couple of Miuras and a 300SL (the 50s, gullwing type) but that's a different story for a different time.

I went to check it out and sure enough, the cars were there. There were no Fiat 600s but they had two Fiat 850 Spiders, a Fiat 850 Sedan, a Saab Sonnett II, a Lancia Beta that had been hit by something significantly larger in mass, two Fiat X1/9s, a couple of Corvairs, a Crosley sedan and, of all things-- two Renault 4CVs. They weren't hit and mostly complete. You could easily have made one car out of two.

Sadly, I left the country the day after that and didn't do much about them. When I got back, most of the cars were gone and the remaining ones were stacked on top of each other and consequently had major body damage. The yard clearly had no interesting in saving them.

I went back there a couple of months ago.. the yard has since changed ownership and all the old European cars have been crushed, replaced by Firestone-era Explorers and the like.

November 12, 2007

Don't see these too often.

My old boss who is a genuine German mechanic has a lot of interesting crap that he's collected over the years. One of the most interesting is this circa 1971 Mercedes-Benz Unimog that was rescued from a junkyard many years ago. Originally this Unimog served as an airport snow plow before being retired and rescued again. It does run, but hasn't in a couple of years. According to the owner, it maxes out at about 40mph and is handy for driving around the perimeter of a house to reach your gutters for cleaning them out.

Alfa Milano Verde in a junkyard.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine called to tell me about a Milano Verde in a junkyard west of here. For those who don't know, the Milano Verde has a 3.0 V6 (as opposed to the 2.5 V6 that all other U.S.-bound Milanos had) and they imported roughly 880 of them. Just to put it in perspective, DeLorean Motor Company made roughly ten times as many DMC-12s.

I went out there to find that sadly, the car was in very decent shape. It was in much better shape than the Milano Gold I parted out a year ago. This one was complete (save for the Recaro seats my friend got off of it), relatively rust free and didn't appear to have been hit. Once again, a shame to see in a junkyard, and a real shame to see another Milano bite the dust. Too many of these cars have been parted out or otherwise junked (and yes, I haven't helped things).

My latest acquisition

After driving around in an entirely too-new 2004 Saab 9-5 Arc for the last few months as my only form of motorized transportation, I knew that I needed something else. I loved the BMW 2002 I had, but they're tough to find around here - and they're always overpriced. I contemplated a Mercedes W123, but knowing that this car would be (at least for a while) my only toy, I wanted something a little more fun to drive... that led me to yet another Alfa Spider. I'm now on my third.

I present to you... my 1987 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce. It has just 28,000 miles on it, and is in garaged, but not pampered condition. It will need some reconditioning, but it should be fun for a while and I will likely turn it for a profit when my automotive ADD kicks in again.

Better photos to come soon. I'm currently driving it on expired Michigan plates (despite the fact that the Spider and I are in Texas) that were once registered to a different Spider. That's bound to net me a hefty ticket, so I'm a little cautious about driving outside of, say, my ZIP code.

And the most interesting discovery so far was that the VVT connector solenoid was... unplugged. This might explain the fairly weak performance of this car. No idea how long it was unplugged or how detrimental this will be to the long term performance of the motor.

November 11, 2007

Don't see these too often.

Most vehicles in central Pennsylvania were made in the United States, many of them are tractors. However, thanks to the existance of a town built around a Penn State University, State College, PA has a few decent European car dealerships. It was at the Volvo dealer that I foud this very interesting Volvo C202.

These were originally designed by Volvo for millitary use and later sold to the public. They used the same gas engine as the 240 series and came in varying body styles. There's probably not many of these in the US, let alone in central PA.

A brief look at my ownership of Saab 900s.

Since before I was old enough to drive, I was already quite sure that I wanted my first car to be a classic Saab 900. Living in a somewhat rural location in Pennsylvania isn’t exactly conducive to locating a somewhat bizarre European sport coupe. Funny thing is, it turned out that the owner of the local Dodge dealer, which primarily sold Ram trucks, also had a bit of a Saab fetish. In fact, on any given day driving past the dealership’s used car lot, you were likely to see at least a few old Saabs (even a 900 based limo once), most of them wrecked and being stripped for parts, but occasionally on sale to the public. I distinctly remember what would become my first car sitting in the parking lot there surrounded by Dodges. I drove my $1000 900 base-model (complete with anemic 8-valve engine) for nearly two years. Put a lot of miles on it, a new clutch in it, new drive shafts and ball joints, and brakes and so on.
Considering that the car was only one grand, had 150,000 miles on it when I got it, and was a 1988, it really served me damn well. And when I decided it was time for a newer car, I had already decided on a newer 900 Turbo. As luck would have it, I found such a car at the very same place I had bought the first 900. Initially it was overpriced, but I waited them out and within a month or so, I was driving a clean Imola red 1993 Saab 900 Turbo with 72k on the clock. That was about 4 years ago this month.
Now I’m still driving my ’93 900 T, and it has 174,000 miles on it now. As you can see, I’ve put over 100k miles on it since I got it and I’ve done little major maintenance to it since then. It’s been wonderfully reliable, extremely practical, and a lot of fun. It’s modern enough to be right at home in today’s traffic, and even be able to embarrass riced-out Honda Civics and the like, yet old enough to be worked on by someone without a degree in electrical engineering or an experienced resume with NASA. It’s served me on long drives across the state, daily work commuting, camping trips, moving all my things to college, moving all my things to a different house, taking my friends out around town, and casually racing kids stoplight to stoplight, to name a few. It does all of these things well, even in horrid lake-effect snow courtsey of Lake Erie. Must remind it of Sweden. The car is getting rough now. My day-to-day use, and sometimes abuse, of the old Saab is taking its toll. But I can say pretty certainly now that this car has exceeded all expectations and in my opinion, really is one of the best passenger cars of the last 50 years.

Peugeot 505s at Pick N' Pull.

Pick N' Pull on 3300 South in Salt Lake City has not one but two Peugeot 505s. A black manual with north of 200,000 miles that's been hit and a white autobox with 120,000 miles that's in very decent shape. Kind of a shame to see them in a junkyard.