December 23, 2009

December 19, 2009

Five classic cars you should buy while you can.

Buy these while you can, they're not getting any newer or any more common.

1. Volkswagen Beetle; pre-1967

Little needs to be said about the Beetle except that pre-1967 examples are getting scarce. Parts are readily available from a number of sources so restoring one is easy (albeit not cheap). Look for an unmolested example with minimal rust and hell, drive it as-is, even every day. Post-1967 models are interesting too but not (yet) worth what the old ones are.

2. Alfa Romeo GTV/Giulia; 1964 - 1974

These cars have skyrocketed in value recently but you can still find examples that need minor work for less than $10,000. There aren't enough to go around so if you find one, go for it. Most issues can be fixed, even if the engine has to be swapped or something similar. While you don’t have the factory’s support for parts, you can find most anything through aftermarket vendors that offer quality reproductions. The DOHC engines are reliable if well-maintained, though the SPICA injection in later GTVs can be a pain to tune correctly. They’re fun to drive (like any Alfa should be) but it goes without saying that they rust, look for it in the rockers and in the floors.

3. Citroën ID/DS; 1955-1975

Citroën’s legendary sedan, they were imported in America for a short time and if you look you can usually find one for sale. The twenty year production run means you can find one to suit almost any taste: automatic or manual, carbureted or fuel injected, etc. The hydraulic system is intimidating but not impossible to figure out; it’s nothing compared to modern car electronics. Parts are readily available but they’d probably have to come from France. Once restored these are arguably the smoothest-riding sedans on the road today. Bonus points if you can find a Safari wagon.

4. Mercedes-Benz w108; 1965-1972.

The w108 S-Class line was made up of convertibles, coupes and sedans. The sedans can be picked up for cheap and are simple, reliable and you can get almost any part new through the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. The 280SE 4.5 is a particularly popular option due to the 4.5 V8 under the hood. Provided you can fund its gas habit this can be a reliable daily driver that is slowly appreciating in value.

5. Lancia Beta; 1972-1984.

Front wheel drive Fiat-based cars, they're reputed for being unreliable and for rusting quickly. They live up to the reputation for rusting but the unreliability is unfair and a typical bias against Italian cars. These cars use DOHC Fiat engines which are robust if maintained correctly. They come in a variety of flavors including coupe, Zagato, HPE, Monte Carlo and the rare sedan; all are equally fun to drive. The Fiat drivetrain means that engine parts aren't too hard to find but Lancia-specific parts can be tricky. Find a rust free, complete one and work on the engine rather than one with a good engine and a bad body. These unappreciated cars are the next Lancias to go up in value.

December 18, 2009

December 9, 2009

Daihatsu Hijet

Well here we have it - my tuition dollars at work. Penn State has some new vans for its maintenance crews and so on. Behold, the Daihatsu Hijet in all of its 660cc glory. Apparently none of the myriad of cargo hauling vehicles the United States market has to offer are appropriate for this institution.

There are several examples of small Japanese "Kei" class vans to be found on campus this year. Most of them are just like the Hijet pictured here, but also a few Suzukis. I have to wonder however, who's decision it was to purchase these for the university. All of these vans are right-hand drive, illegal for road use, and probably rather hard to get parts for. (I wont even ponder how little time they take to rust out) They also all seem to use manual transmissions which, I'm sure, not everyone on the staff can drive.

Furthermore, how did they even get here? They're all in full Japanese domestic market spec and I would imagine imported under some gray zone of legality.

Now my only other question is why PSU decided that the Housing office needed to have a Smart Four Two...

PS: If I'm not mistaken, the last car to wear the Daihatsu name Stateside was the 1988-1992 Charade.

December 7, 2009

Datsun B210: Helping establish a Japanese foothold in North America

It's not too often we choose to cover Japanese cars here on RWP - but a recent trip to California made me remember just how much the Asian Invasion of the 1970s helped define the current automotive landscape and it made me nostalgic for the era of the rear-wheel-drive economy car.

Datsun's B210 series, launched in the United States in 1973, was a fuel-efficient line of pint-sized coupes, sedans and wagons. The predecessor to today's rather lackluster Sentra, the B210 was an instant success the minute gas prices skyrocketed and it lives on today with a small but loyal following. A BMW 2002 it ain't, but it also cost a fraction of that default German cult car.

Powered by either a 1.3-liter or 1.4-liter four-banger, the B210 was no hot rod. Although not nearly as emissions-strangled as a V8, the four-cylinder was never rated at more than 85 horsepower. A five-speed manual came towards the end of the B210's era, but rather than offering performance benefits, its gear spacing optimized fuel efficiency. Amazingly, the EPA rated the B210 at 50 mpg with the five-speed shifter - a number achieved today (using modern calculations) only in hybrids.

It wasn't a hot handler like the 510, but contemporary media often favorably compared the B210 to the Ford Mustang II.

The B210 is extinct in most parts of North America, but thanks to California's steel body-friendly climate and a population inclined to buy imports (a friend of mine argues that Californians hate Detroit), they're not gone entirely. This one, spotted in an L.A.-area junkyard, will be crushed soon.