Saturday, August 31, 2013

Don't Fear the Repo

On the way to Costco to get some petrol last night, I happened to pass the Citizen's Equity Federal Credit Union used vehicle sales lot in East Peoria. Around here, we call it the "CEFCU Repo Lot", since that's pretty much what it is. For folks that got in over their head with a vehicle loan, or life happened and they couldn't keep up...this is the boulevard of broken dreams. It appears that most people's dreams are 2008 Chevy Impalas or 2011 Mazda 3 sports.

My advice: Dream Bigger.

Occasionally I'll check out what they have behind the barbed wire in the off chance that it'll be some late model Shelby GT500 or SRT-10 pickup, but last night this Plum Crazy Purple 1974 Dodge Challenger was front and center. I pulled a u-turn and scampered back there to see what's what.

At first glance, the 1974 Challenger looks similar to the 1972 model, but this year's Hamtramck-built beauty featured a few additional safety features such as retractable seat belts and a seat belt ignition interlock that forced you to buckle up if you wanted to start the car. The federally-mandated 1973-spec 5 mph bumpers don't look too bad on this car. I'll admit Mopar did a better job of concealing these than GM or Ford. 

Aftermarket Cragar wheels complete the 70's muscle car vibe and although the R/T striping package looks factory, it isn't. According to what I've found, there was no R/T offering that year, which means someone called Year One and ordered a set for an earlier car. It looks good on it, I'll admit that.

The window sticker notes the car has a 440 V-8 motor, which is a great powerplant. Sadly, its not original to the car. In 1974 Chrysler only sprang for two engine options: their 318 or 360 V-8. The result was a rather anemic large car. The 440 was added at some point to put this car on par with Kowalski's from Vanishing Point. The truth is, less than 20,000 of these cars sold in 1974. The shininess of the muscle car had worn off on the American public as the 'free ride' came to a screeching halt. Insurance companies clamped down on high horsepower, baby boomers had babies and needed a back seat, and gas started costing real money during that time. Chrysler brass axed the Dodge Challenger after this model year, only to return it in 2008 as a retro model. Blech.


Even if its sporting a non-original motor and stripes package, I still felt bad seeing it sit behind a prison fence. The poor thing just wants to be set free & party like its 1974. $13,000 is too rich for my blood, so I left with my hat in hand, feeling that a conjugal visit was in order. Credit unions allow those, don't they?

Call the governor, and ask for clemency for this Challenger.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Boy, That Escated Quickly.

To quote the legendary Ron Burgundy, my post about the Mister Softee trucks and Civil Defense "got out of hand quickly". Daniel Strohl, online editor for Hemmings linked to it over at Hemmings Blog last weekend, and for that I'm eternally grateful. Daniel's post led to AutoBlog picking it up the following day, and by Wednesday morning, it was a featured story on the AOL homepage. Today its on Fark. Who knew and old rusty ice cream truck would generate so much buzz? Because of this I've enjoyed the most pageviews of any post I've created.

It was a nice little 15 minutes of fame, and I'm so appreciative of everyone's time, comments, and feedback. This transportation blog is a hobby of mine, but its also a way to connect and share stories with folks from all over. That's what I enjoy the most: sharing stories and experiences with everyone from all walks of life.

As a result of this 'publicity', I've heard some wonderful anecdotes and memories from New Jersey, Indiana and even Taiwan. Global village, indeed. It is my hope to continue to babble about strange and amusing subjects for as long as I can, and as long as you all enjoy it. Thank you all for stopping by my blog from time to time and humoring me. Happy motoring!


Monday, August 26, 2013

CivicS Lesson

In the beginning, sporty Hondas didn't exist. There wasn't an S2000 or a Civic Si. In the late 70's and early 80's, Acura wasn't part of the Honda brand yet and a mid-engined supercar was still years away. Instead, Honda made solid economy cars that were built with tight mechanical tolerances and that held their resale value. So what moved the brand forward? The car pictured above, their new-for-1983 Civic S, or Sport model. It was the affordable, reliable sporty Honda that everyone could own!

I caught a glimpse of this example sitting at a local used car lot tonight on the way home from the grocery store, a vehicle I haven't seen since I was a kid. Especially here in the rust belt, these cars didn't last I whipped around and snapped a couple of shots of it just for grins. More to come.

A little worn out, but a mostly complete '83 Civic S. I'll bet it still runs good, too.
The Civic evolved from Honda's first successful entry into the world of automobiles, the CVCC. It was named for the low-emission Honda engine that powered it, an acronym that stood for Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion, and it was patented, trademarked, and rolled out to meet US Federal Emissions Standards without catalytic converters while the big three choked on their own exhaust. That's right, they ran so clean...that they didn't need a catalytic converter. This kept the unit cost down on each Honda, and therefore boosted the company's profits. All this happened at the same time Chevrolet's Monza fizzled, Ford's Pinto exploded with frequency, and the folks at Chrysler sold re-badged Mitsubishis to try and keep their foot in the door. This was the Malaise Era, and Honda was set to kick some US tail.

As the "Hot Hatch" craze took off in the early 1980's thanks to the VW GTi, Honda took their pedestrian people mover and turned it up a notch with a 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that churned out something like 67 horsepower. But that wasn't where it was at. It was the exceptional handling that made the car fun to drive. Firmer suspension bits, a rear sway bar, and sport radials. Seats with bigger side bolsters and sport cloth came standard. Topping the entire packages off was blackout trim and "S" badges.

The choice of colors?

Just two.


The little car took off in 1983 while 1984 models got a complete restyle and new technology which helped its popularity. The third generation Civic models were the first to offer the "Si" trim level, or Sport injection (denoting the switch to a fuel injected motor). The performance options and the debut of the CRX that same year pleased the public. Sales picked up through the 1980's and 1990's and the rest is history. Honda still uses the "Si" trim series today when it offers a sport model, and tuners have a soft spot for them. 

But the Civic S was a one-year only deal. A final 'hurrah' for the second generation car with earlier design cues and ties to Honda's CVCC and a remarkable track record for reliability. A new trim series for an old platform. Could you call it an odd pairing? Sure. What's even more odd is that one of the Civic S cars is parked at Pioneer Auto Center in Peoria, Illinois in the year 2013. Here's a few shots of it for your amusement:

The body appears straight and free of rot. The hazy finish hints of a sunnier climate.

The giant "S" emblem on the grille is nearly as big as the Honda emblem.

A little buffing, a little Armor-All and you're in business.

Original seat fabric on the otherwise sparse interior.

Tons of room in the backseat, right? :P

 Every Honda got one of these back in the day. Must've passed inspection.

While nothing on the car indicated it was for sale, it may be. I checked the dealer's website just to see, and found nothing on it. I'm not into niche Japanese cars like this one, but someone out there would be proud to wrench on this little hatchback. Cheap to run, great mileage, Honda reliability and a nice handling chassis? One thing's for certain: you surely wouldn't see another one like it for another 30 years.

  Before I sign-off, here's a totally useless Honda Civic Tidbit

"Sorry, baby but I had to crash that Honda." - Butch

Film Director Quintin Tarantino featured a white 1980 Honda Civic in Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Kill Bill Vol. 2. I remember reading somewhere that he drove an old silver Civic around LA even after he made a few bucks.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

When Are Ya Gonna Finish It?

The following is an excerpt from the Preserving Surface Rust thread on the HAMB forums. This 6 year-old post has drawn a lot of heat from the traditional hot rod guys and purists who believe that no old car should have rust on it. They down on the 'patina' or 'fauxtina' craze that Rat Rodders have made popular, and I understand their point of view. However, what about people like Toddzilla, owner of this fine example of a 1947 International KB-1 Pickup? He's chosen to preserve the original US Forestry Service finish on his truck with Ospho and wax, and currently uses it to haul home other projects. He spoke up on the HAMB about why some people choose to do this, rather than strip it down to bare metal and refinish their cars & trucks with a high dollar paint job. It all boils down to $ money $.

Toddzilla's KB-1 before  Photo Credit: HAMB

After Ospho, wax, and heart transplant. Photo Credit: HAMB

These pictures were shared, along with a defense of preservation, rather than a full-blown restoration. That didn't seem to go over so well with many, who see something like this International and a cobbled-together rat rod as being one in the same. Some hobbyists claim rust was "never traditional" and "not something anyone ever wanted on their car back in the day".

Now here's a guy who's got a young family, several other cars, and works as a diesel tech and is trying to make ends meet while still enjoying his old KB-1. The shockwaves are still coming after Toddzilla's posts about preserving the original finish. So I snagged the link to his text and posted it here for analysis.

Read his comments below and judge for yourself if he's 'out of touch' or not.

Well, what did you think? I may be a little biased, but in all fairness I can see both sides. Is the patina  thing played out? or is it okay to have a rusty ride?

The real questions are...

1. What harm does it do to keep a vehicle's appearance "original"? 

2. If someone puts an old car or truck back on the road but doesn't paint it, is that worse or better than just leaving it off the road? 

3. Is a truck like Toddzilla's the same as a "rat rod"? 

4. Who cares what someone else does with their stuff?

5. What would an alternative be for enthusiasts on a budget?


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Shakes, Cones, and Salvation: Mister Softee's Role in Civil Defense

Imagine that its summer, 1959 in a major U.S. city. Let's call it Anytown, USA. Its a sweltering 96 degrees and the asphalt feels like its sticking to your shoes. Mom won't let you back in the house because "its summer, and you need to go out and play with the other kids". You're tired of playing Wiffle Ball. You're sunburned and sweat is running down your neck like a faucet. You just can't bear another second of this awful heat wave...and then echoing off of the buildings you hear the familiar jingle of the Mister Softee ice cream truck.

Like every other kid, you quickly run home to BEG your Mother for a few cents for the ice cream man and quickly chase after him before his truck turns the corner and heads to the next block. Once you flag him down, you get your vanilla soft serve cone with sprinkles...and all is right with the world. Wiffle Ball can resume in 5 minutes. Batter up!

The ice cream truck has offered a sweet summer escape for millions of kids of all ages around the world for over 80 years. It doesn't matter what era you live in or what your age is, frozen desserts are a popular commodity and probably always will be. Here in the U.S. the three big names include Good Humor, Jack N' Jill, and of course Mister Softee. The Mister Softee company traces its roots back to  West Philly and 1954. Two brothers named William and James Conway started the company with a Chevrolet panel van, a generator, and a soft serve machine. They sold shakes, cones, and sundaes all over Philadelphia and quickly made a name for themselves. Within two years the Conways branched out, ordered a fleet of trucks and spread across the East Coast. By 1958, franchises grew across the states. A British vehicle fleet manager visited the U.S. in 1957 and liked what he saw in Mister Softee, so he worked out a franchise deal and by 1959 the Mister Softee trucks became a familiar sight in West London and Kent, England. Even today, the company manages to turn a tidy profit by supplying a hungry public with the sweets they crave curbside from Chicago to China! 

During their heyday in 1959, Mister Softee ordered 800 ice cream trucks from the Boyertown Body Works in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. This company was located some 56 miles from the birthplace of Mister Softee himself, and was known for their long-standing tradition of quality workmanship dating back to 1872. The demands of the fleet business required a vehicle that was sturdy and dependable, but easy on the pocket book. A Ford truck would certainly meet those demands.

Boyertown Body Works Factory, 1956. Photo Credit:

Boyertown Body Brochure Cover, 1959

Boyertown Truck Bodies Brochure, 1959
The order for the Mister Softee ice cream trucks specified that they be built on a 1-ton Ford commercial truck chassis, and utilize their heavy duty 262 cubic inch inline six cylinder engine. The trucks would eventually be fitted with a stainless counter, functional sink with potable water, a generator, and soft serve / freezer machine. The mobile kitchen would be able to serve several hundred people with fresh food without having to replenish supplies back at headquarters. It was this capability that made the Mister Softee appealing to Civil Defense coordinators during the cold war era. Mister Softee, it appears, would soon roll up his sleeves and help make America safer.

From the Southern Missourian, August 6th, 1961.
If the Russians attacked us in the late 1950's and early 1960's, your chocolate malt would simply have to wait until after the H-bomb. You see, many franchise owners pledged their vehicle's use during an emergency as part of the Civil Defense effort.  Franchise owners like Raymond Volkerding, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri told the local paper that he'd press his kitchen on wheels into service if needed. What's more neighborly than that? You have fresh water storage, electricity for cooking, and refrigeration to keep food and beverages safe from spoilage. All of this plus a loudspeaker to address the public. As it turns out, the Boyertown-built trucks were more versatile than originally thought.

You can spot the Civil Defense logo affixed to the side of the Mister Softee truck in this collection of vintage television advertisements. It appears at :48 into this clip.

Why the heck am I yammering on about all of this stuff? Sarah and I came across a very unrestored example of a Boyertown-built 1958 Ford commercial truck in its original Mister Softee color scheme this summer at the McClean County Antique Automobile Club car show. Besides the fact that we dig old cars and trucks, this thing spoke volumes about the time period it came from. The artwork, the remains of a Civil Defense logo, the simple saying on the back warning motorists to "watch for our children", not just anyone's kids, but "ours". Here's a few shots of this time capsule as it appears today.

The Civil Defense logo appears on both sides of the truck.

The Civil Defense Logo as it Originally Appeared.

The current owner plans to restore it to functional condition and serve frozen goodies at car shows in central  Illinois near old Route 66. Not a bad second life for an old workhorse, eh?

That's the strange tale of the American Mister Softee truck in the Cold War era. Being a Gen-X'er, I admire this relic from a time of neighborly responsibility and civic duty. The past seems like a time when people took things seriously, even selling ice cream. It was deeper than just frozen was a sense of community. Could you imagine a business owner willing to lend his or her equipment, time and fuel to the government today to help the public stay alive during an emergency? Maybe. Maybe not.

Is all of this worth writing a book about? Not really. Is it worthy of a blog post? Perhaps. All this talk about ice cream and the end of  the world makes me want a hot fudge sundae. I think I even hear the ice cream jingle outside. Who's got any change?


Learn more about Boyertown Body Works
Learn more about Mister Softee
Learn more about Civil Defense Supplies

Friday, August 16, 2013

Making a Cameo

Between 1955 and 1958 the Chevrolet Cameo Carrier model 3124 was a low-production pickup truck suited for the buyer that needed truck hauling capability, but wanted the elegance of a well-equipped full-sized sedan. In an era of dolled-up hardtops and an option sheet a few miles long, the Cameo fit right into the "have it your way" philosophy that was evolving at General Motors. Today, we've grown accustomed to seeing Silverados and F-150's with leather seats and pricey 'platinum' trim levels. Back in the mid 1950's a decked-out pickup was something that few buyers were interested in, so when one comes along today its a treat!

Side profile of the 1955 Cameo. Compare to the truck below.

Your typical 1955 3100 series truck. Note the stepside bed, smaller rear window, and lack of chrome.

The Cameo models, and their GMC Suburban Carrier cousins, were a beautiful mix of form and function with their special bed sides fabricated out of Owens-Corning fiberglass (similar to the 2 year-old Corvette), which made the bed and cab appear flush with one another. This eliminated the occasionally awkward side appearance of the traditional stepside beds. As a result the truck's profile was clean and elegant. Their contrasting inner box panels, patterned interiors made with breathable fabrics were combined with full wheel covers, chrome wrap-around rear bumpers and elongated tail lamps to make the Cameo stand out in a crowd. But this was more than just a pretty truck!

The Cameos sat atop a similar frame as their 3100 series 1/2 ton kin, but featured a shorter wheelbase & longer leaf springs for a smoother ride. Subtle differences on the interior also set these trucks apart from the other truck models, and it was clear when you opened the door that you were entering something different.

While mostly unchanged throughout its model run, the 1957 and 1958 Cameos received a Corvette-inspired cove on the bed side, painted with a contrasting color to match the inner box & interior panels.1958 was the final year for the Cameo, and by then buyers could choose from a stepside or fleetside bed.

This summer I've had the pleasure to take in a few Cameos at various shows. One of which was restored and currently owned by fellow VCCA members Roger and Mary James of Minnesota. This 1955 model features a 235 "Stovebolt Six" and was impeccably restored to factory specs. Just take a gander, and see for yourself.

You can tell that a lot of time and care was taken to make that Chevrolet one of the nicest in the country. I wish ours looked like that! Hats off to Roger and Mary James for another quality restoration of a milestone Chevy. The next sighting was another '55 Cameo at the 2013 AACA Grand National Meet, and this one was also nicely restored. Here's Dad checking out the "Thriftmaster" engine.

Two in one summer...that's pretty good odds considering that they built And two weeks ago, I came across something I've never seen before. An unrestored Cameo. This '57 was finished in "Tropical Turquoise" and originally came with a V8, but has been modified somewhat with a Buick steering column and floor shifter. I didn't get to talk to the owner, but I'd be curious to see where it came from and what had been done to it. With only 2,244 of these trucks built that year, it would be worth some bread restored, or in any condition.

Note the new-for-'57 cove panel.

Remember the GMC cousin, called the Suburban Carrier? Yeah, there's one of those around Illinois, too. This well-restored model features an optional 347 Pontiac-based V8 and Hydramatic transmission. We saw this at the Illinois Railway Museum's "Vintage Transport Extravaganza" recently. Its the only one I've ever seen, and likely will ever see up close.

I don't think I'll see another Cameo or Suburban Carrier this season, but you never know what the Midwest has to offer. Sometimes these things have a habit of being discovered. It just so happens that a 1958 Cameo is being auctioned off soon as part of the Lambrecht Auction in Pierce, Nebraska after languishing in an old dealership for the last 55 years. Talk about rare, this final year offering only saw 1,405 units, so this baby needs a good home and a bubbly sponge bath.

If you've spotted an endangered Cameo in the wild, share some pics and tell me about it.