Curbside Classics: Javelins, Hornets, and Imperials – Car Spotting On A Familiar Fall Color Drive In My First Car

Unless gray sunless skies and the great Polaris/Ski Doo debate elevate your pulse, October is the last Michigan month until May to offer any real hope of a good time outdoors that doesn’t involve a pair of skis and a hot beverage.  Unfortunately, October of this year has practiced under the direct tutelage of its direct successor and enveloped the state in clouds and a constant threat of rain.  Needless to say, the residents of the Great Lake State must get out while we still can, and at least the temperatures have supported fall color drives.  On our annual trip to the Huron National Forest, there were four-wheeled sights to see in addition to the usual fabulous vistas.

In a past discussion of color drives, I examined the history of the Au Sable River and surrounding forest land.  Luckily, the Huron National Forest is less than an hour and a half’s drive from my front door, so it’s a fine alternative to the much more crowded and distant Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

Aside from a slightly damp Sunday wedding at Iargo Springs, human traffic was light for this time of year, probably a result of the aforementioned dampness.  Although our trip this year was mostly dry, we did encounter a few patches of rain.

I typically refrain from driving my old cars in the rain, but I didn’t mind this time; after all, this year marks my 28th of driving this ’65 Mustang, a car that was roadworthy enough by the time I was in high school to cover the first of the 85,000 miles I’ve driven it in the ensuing years.  This car and I used to go everywhere together, but now that it’s a little nicer and I have a much larger collection, we only roll up about a thousand miles a year.  No matter – this trip made me a little nostalgic for the old days when my car ownership experience was slightly less hectic and I didn’t let a little precipitation affect my plans.

This view is therefore among my most familiar – there’s not too much in life that’s better than the view over the long hood of an early Mustang.

Well, maybe car spotting is a little better.  Our route this year followed I-75 north to US-23, past a detour to M-65, and onto River Road on forest land.  This Javelin was for sale along US-23, and it is a beauty.  It’s a ’68, the first of the Javelins, and what makes it so appealing, aside from its beautiful turquoise paint color, is the fact that it’s a six-cylinder car with a column-mounted automatic.

Normally, the six cylinder/automatic combination would make it far less desirable, but it’s so weird for a “ponycar” to be optioned this way that I must chalk it up to some Rambler dealer’s confusion at having a “sporty” car on the lot, or maybe it was the buyer who ordered it this way.  A reputation can last forever, and everybody knows that Ramblers had a reputation, at least if you ask almost any baby boomer that I’ve ever talked to.  If your life doesn’t encompass the time period in which this Javelin was built, your biases might not extend to AMC products, making this Javelin a great find.

Now it’s time for some good news/bad news.  First, it’s already sold, and I took these pictures a week ago.  Second, it was priced at $9500, which seems eminently reasonable considering that everyone in the world is currently asking unreasonable prices for anything that could be remotely labeled a commodity.  Finally, I didn’t buy it, and its being sold removes any remaining urge to do so.

Sitting nearby was this not-quite-as-cool mid-’70s Hornet, which isn’t and wasn’t listed for sale on the proprietor’s Facebook page.  Since it didn’t whip up my thinning hair nearly as much as the Javelin did, I took fewer pictures.

Needless to say, the Hornet looked like a great car for an AMC person or any fan of quirky cars from the heady decade in which I was born.  Just on the other side of the sign sat a Cutlass convertible and a ’69-’72 Pontiac Grand Prix, but for some reason they didn’t call out to me that day like the AMCs did.

As Bobby Bland might have said, “further on up the road” was a small fenced-in salvage yard with this neat ’59 Imperial hardtop sitting just inside.  Although I prefer the ’57 and ’58 models for their huge gauge pods, the ’59 is very similar and is propelled by the new-for-1959 413 wedge engine.

There’s no evidence that the Imperial was for sale, and it may be too far gone for any kind of cost-effective restoration, but it’s still a lovely reminder of those frightening and hopeful late-1950s years of Cold War optimism.  It may not be as recognizable as its most direct competitor, the ’59 Cadillac, and it only may be more tasteful by comparison, but I love it.

The nostalgia I felt driving my first car on a gloomy weekend was a bit silly because my basic interests have changed less than they have for many healthy, functional adults.  When I was a kid, I asked my parents to stop at every nature trail and every neat car on the side of the road, and I spent much of my free time in the garage or with my nose in a book somewhere.  Now, I stop for a lot of nature trails and a lot of cars on the side of the road, in addition to spending much of my free time in the garage or with my nose in a book somewhere.  Oh sure, YouTube and the internet exist now, so I also watch too many videos on auto repair, vintage rallies, and art history along with spending too much time on marque forums.  Such is the life of this long-time car guy.

But I still wonder if I should have bought that Javelin.