Curbside Outtakes: Maybe You Can Go Back

Two blue convertibles
A few weeks ago, I went up to my original hometown to do some long-overdue maintenance and a few repairs on the house I grew up in, which is still in our family as a rental. As expected, I had to take a quick trip to the hardware store for some stuff, but within a few blocks there was roadwork and I was forced to take a detour. But what a fortuitous detour, as within a block I was greeted by this pair of domestic convertibles.  And both blue.

As I’ve written about before, I grew up in Berkeley, California, a hotbed of “import” cars long before Japanese cars became common in the US. My parents’ first car was a Hillman, and most of our friends and neighbors had imports, ranging from Borgwards to Mercedes Fintails to Morris Minors. Nevertheless, the streets were still mostly populated by domestics then. And, today I was going to find a few of those, all dating from the years I lived there, from birth to age 21 (except for this Sebring which I included in the photo as it made an interesting pairing, and one other possible outlier, pictured later).

Back on the main route after the detour, and what do I see but another flashback to the sixties. Is that an original Plymouth color? I wasn’t a huge fan of these almost 60 years ago, but I think they’ve aged well and the trim lines look good now. In my opinion, better than the pudgy replacement, which has now been outlived by its retro-revival version in Challenger form.

Wait! What’s this?! Just a block further up is another car from my previous life, albeit updated with a modern rooftop tent. And no Dinoc-mobile, this is a mundane Country Sedan. Unlike the Barracuda, this one did look pretty large sitting there Curbside. And less colorful.

Check out the sticker on the rear spoiler. The Grand Cherokee in front of the Ford highlights how proportions have changed.

Back at the house, ready to leave as my repairs were done and my pickup bed was full of yard waste for the dump, I checked the mirrors and paused to let a B Body wagon pass. Sorry for the bad windshield photo, but this fourth vintage sighting made me realize I was on to something here and I was a bit slow to grab my phone. Now admittedly this Pontiac (correction: Oldsmobile) may strictly be newer than 1978, when I left Berkeley, but as a model launched in 1977, which I first read about in Popular Mechanics at the Berkeley Public Library, it brings back strong memories of my hometown. These were of course popular cars, but by the late seventies the prevalence of full-sized American cars, even if downsized, was on the wane here. At the time, even the Police Department, which had gone mid-size with Plymouth Satellites in the late sixties, had recently switched to Nova’s.

A few blocks further down the street heading to the long freeway drive home, and here’s a vehicle from my birth year.  It was rare to see cars much older than 10-15 years old in the sixties, and Tri-5’s were already popular with the hot rod set, but these weren’t uncommon on the roads in town. I remember riding in at least two, my 5th grade teacher’s brown four door ‘55 or ‘56, and a family friend’s black and white ‘56 convertible. And here was one sitting at the curb, stock-looking, old enough for Medicare.

But that wasn’t the last throwback to my youth. Less than half a mile away sat this also stock-looking Ranchero. The precursor, in this compact Falcon-based form, to the new Maverick pickup. But with a longer bed and shorter cab, as pickups were in those days. And, 10″ shorter than the new small Ford trucklet.

The irony of seeing these American CC’s that day was that there were very few late model domestic cars to be seen, other than full-size pickups, and a handful of Focus and Cruze, and some small crossovers. Oh, with one exception: Tesla. Lots of Tesla’s, and many were Model S which suggests that Berkeley is A) high income now in a way it wasn’t 50 years ago, and B) many of these owners were early adopters, pre-Model 3/Y/X. And, unusual for Berkeley, no imported CC’s caught my eye; no RWD Corolla’s, or Fintails, let alone Borgwards or Hillmans. I noticed just one older Volvo, a newer 240 which doesn’t really seem old to me, and I don’t think I saw a single air-cooled VW. So from that perspective, the automotive landscape in my hometown was hugely changed. So a big “Thank You” to the owners of these American cars for taking me back to my youth.