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.
Good old Berekley. Always an outlier and happily so as I do love the place and the variety. Although it did take about a year after arriving from a more conservative SDSU in 1977 to a Cal grad school that September. It didn’t take long and I can say the grad school class, from around the country, would pretty much say the same thing especially when combined with San Francisco across the bridge. Alameda is very much the same, a throwback also, with a wide variety of older cars scattered about.
For those who don’t know the layout. Foreground of Oakland right, Emeryville at foot of Bay Bridge, and Berkeley the rest with Cal at the bottom. Stadium at the V between the hills and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs nestled in the valley. Circa 1978.
September 1977 … that was right around the time I bought my Alfetta Berlina, but kept my Vega GT. Perhaps the only person in the world to have such a pairing. But that’s Berkeley, unconventional in every way. Though today, in addition to Tesla, the BMW X5 and Range Rovers seem disproportionately popular for a place that used to “Think Small” automotively.
The Galaxie convertible for me please. Funny, as I recover from surgery and binge on childhood reruns, I think just yesterday I saw Whitney Blake (Hazel sitcom) alight from one of these! My love of vintage 1960s gems like this must be from those happy years. It appears you had eye candy at nearly every turn of your fortuitous detour. Thanks for posting. Cheers!
Wow, what a bonanza! To see a Ford convertible like the one up top in something other than Rangoon Red or Wimbledon White (which they all seem to have been repainted when restored) is something.
On the Barracuda, I think you meant to say “colors” with an s. Neither one of those shades looks quite right to me, but resprays are a crapshoot with many shops these days when trying to match old colors.
That 56 Chevy, just wow. That looks like just the kind of car a little old lady in a small midwestern town would have been driving around 1976 or so.
Very nice spottings! Berkeley is a place I’ve never been to but it’s famous enough that I still have a few impressions of it: college town, very expensive, very blue. In fact, I’ve never been north of the LA area in California. Your pictures portray the town as surprisingly lush in vegetation and charming in homestock. I do picture all of California being rich in rust free CC’s, and your finds bear that out.
That 63 Ford is worthy of its own article. Love it! The 56 Chevy looks like it gets daily driver use, which is awesome. The B-body wagon looks like an Oldsmobile to me. Great photos!
Thanks, I corrected the description of the wagon. Berkeley is bordered on one side by open space and on another by the Bay. To the north and south it’s built out to the city limits of adjoining cities, so other the occasional tear down and rebuild, sometimes single family but more often high density housing, the city was built out decades ago, and most of the housing (and trees) are as they were when I was growing up. Most neighborhood homes date from the 1900’s (or earlier) to 1940’s with tiny garages and short driveways, so most cars are parked curbside. The Galaxie was on a twisting narrow street with barely enough room for me to squeeze through in my Tacoma … hence it’s parked slightly up on the sidewalk.
The Country Sedan reminds me of a similar-vintage Country Squire (w/ wood!) that lives near me. I talked to the owner one day, and he uses it as his daily driver driving to work and hauling his two kids around with it. He told me he made a bunch of improvements (brakes, cooling system, etc.), plus he put bigger wheels/tires on it, but otherwise it’s original. Looks like this one you found sees similarly regular use.
The ’56 Chevy is just like the one I used to drive sometimes for a very old couple that hired me to do some domestic work around their house, including making beds and such!
They couldn’t drive anymore, so sometimes I drove him on errands around town, dropping off Xmas presents and such. It had the V8 and PG. I was pleasantly surprised at how solid and tight it felt for what was an 18 year old car. It also scooted right along. That’s when I really came to appreciate these cars for how good they were.
Brings back memories, from my days as a student in the 80’s. Trying to be a geography nerd and identify the streets. The ’72 Ford wagon looks like it’s on Derby Street to Piedmont Avenue, between the Claremont Hotel and the UC campus. Trying to figure if the Barracuda is on Tunnel Road…
Nope, wrong side of town. They’re all on the Northside; the wagon and the ‘Cuda were both on The Arlington, but still in Berkeley below Kensington. (opposite sides of the street).
Great pics and finds! That Country Squire with the rooftop tent fascinates me. I wonder what that looks like with the tent set up.
A fantastic collection and reflections on your time in Berkeley. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Borgward in person, though the truth is probably closer to the fact that I probably didn’t recognize it if I did.
I may be in the minority, but I find the second generation Barracuda fastback the best looking B’cuda by far.
Nice cars…my Father had several Ford Wagons, including a Country Sedan, of that vintage. He owned many imports though always as 2nd cars, we always had a “family” domestic car, but he’d driven a VW Beetle when he was in Germany in the army around 1950 (guess they were assigned them rather than Jeeps), he had a rusty ’59 that got totalled by neighbor boy, and replaced it with a new ’68 Renault R10…wasn’t until 1980 that he went back to domestics for his 2nd car and in fact never went back to imports; he wasn’t a trend follower, he bought what he wanted (even if he’d decide it in less than a day, thinking at breakfast he needed something and having bought it before dinner…much more impulsive buyer than I am).
Apologies to Thomas Wolfe…we moved around so much that I have to go back to my Grandparent’s house for consistency…he was in the military (before I was born) but that’s not why we moved so much; right out of college with a chemistry degree in 1956 he started working for Sylvania on semiconductors and though he worked for many different companies (hence all of our moves) his job was basically the same until he retired. He actually had an interview probably back in 1961 where we drove up to the bay area, but I never asked him where, which I regret, could have been Fairchild or some such place; at the time he was working at Hoffman Electronics in El Monte where he did some of the solar cells that went up in Explorer 6…but that was his first and only job working on solar cells, wouldn’t even have them installed on the roof of any home he was to own…he loved his job but was never sentimental about it once it was done, he had great fun doing it but that was the extent of it for him. Instead, we moved back east to Pittsburgh (can you imagine doing that in 1961?…he might have been more of a trend bucker than a trend setter) where he worked for Westinghouse Semiconductor for a few years until moving on yet again.
So…for us we go back and look at the homes we used to live in…pretty hard now, since most of them are on the east coast and we now live in central Texas, but we’ve been back to see them at one time or another…the hardest for us was two in Los Angeles area, where we only lived 2 years…one rental and also the first home he ever bought, but we really have no connection to the area anymore; but I took my parents on a vacation trip there (really a vacation, probably last trip that didn’t involve relatives other than ourselves) in 2005; my Mother in particular hadn’t been back in 44 years, and actually got invited inside to look at the house they owned (my Father and I didn’t want to further intrude and tried to look inconspicuous though we were gawking around the neighborhood we hadn’t seen since then, though both of us had been on business trips at various times but never looked for the houses). Of course it isn’t the same…some of the people actually still live there but most have moved on partly because many of the town’s we’ve lived in seem to attract transients like my Father; pretty much we have to go back to his hometown to find many people who’ve lived pretty much in the same area for a substantial amount of time. I was floored one time when I went to a bar with my Grandfather and Father and not only did the people there know my Grandfather (no surprise since he lived nearby) but also my Father, who hadn’t lived in the town for 35 years or more.