CC Photography: Curbside Classics of 1991–Freezing Time in a Rectangle

1957 Buick Century

 

In the late 1980s/early 1990s, I started noticing that my beloved cars of the ’50s were becoming evermore rare.  So I began a project of photographing surviving examples that I would find not at car shows, but in the “real world”–on the street, in parking lots and driveways, in seedy industrial areas, in the woods–truly in the spirit of “Curbside Classic”.  Some of them were still being used as “daily drivers”!  And I was working primarily in that wonderful photographic medium–Kodachrome!

1955 Packard

 

Being a Curbside Classic photographer in those days was not as easy as it is now.  You had to use a bulky camera and real film.  You had to focus, set aperture and shutter speed, point and click, shoot 24 or 36 exposures, send the film to be developed and wait for the results.

I took a college course in graphic design. One of the things we learned was how to use computers to put lettering on slides. I made this up so that if Time magazine called, I’d be ready!  So if you and I went out photographing cars together, this is what I looked like at the time.

 

It would have never occurred to me in 1991 that one day there would be this thing called “The Internet” which would allow you to write articles and post photographs for the whole world to see!  I’ve had all these pictures sitting in my closet for over 30 years now doing no one any good, so I thought it would be a fine idea to share them with you here.

Facel-Vegas

 

Most of these were taken in 1991, although a few are a little older, maybe a few newer.  Many of the slides were stamped “91” by the processor.  If an image is a color print, I put a (P) in the caption.  Otherwise, it’s a Kodachrome color slide.  Locations include areas in and around Morristown, Denville, Dover, Boonton, and Millburn New Jersey.  So what we’re getting is a kind of cross-section of cars of the 1950s that one would still find in this geographical area.  Sad to say, most of the cars in this collection probably no longer exist, and this may be the only lasting record of them.  And while photographing old cars was (and is) mostly a solitary endeavor, I met a lot of interesting people along the way, and I treasure those memories and friendships as well:

High school days:  History teacher, Mr. Shoemaker, checking out my 1962 Mercury Comet.

 

Robert Vogelsang behind the wheel of his 1958 Lincoln Continental convertible, which I photographed for a magazine article on 1958-60 Lincolns.  (1980s photo)

 

Me (left) reuniting Daniel Seidel with his grandfather’s 1958 Cadillac, which Seidel hadn’t seen since the late 1980s.  (2017)

 

Car enthusiast and ’59 Corvette owner Don Succardi (from the “old neighborhood”) checking out my recently acquired 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne. (2018)

 

Jackie Braun from Braun’s Automotive, who has always been a source of encouragement.

 

William A. “Bill” Ketch (1943-2022) of Dover, who helped me find old cars to photograph.

 

 

So here the photos I have, taken over 30 years ago, presented in no particular order (except for ease of uploading):

1959 Cadillac (P)

 

1960 Edsel “Starliner”

 

Verner-Cadby Ford–still in business today!

 

1958 Cadillac (P)

 

1959 Chevrolet Bel Air (P)

 

1960s Mercedes S-class, Clinton NJ (P)

 

 

1958 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88

 

1950s Ford truck

 

1953 (or ’54?) Plymouth

 

Toy pedal car on top of Mustang

 

1959 Edsel

 

Cadillac and Pontiac

 

1958 Pontiac Star Chief

 

1958 Buick Century

 

1958 Oldmobile 98

 

1956 Pontiac

 

1959 Mercury Monterey

 

Early ’50s Buicks

 

Late ’30s (?) Ford

 

Girl at a diner. (To give you a little break from the cars)

 

“Old Car Day” in Millburn

 

1951 Studebaker at K-Mart (P)

 

1956 Packard Caribbean and 1954 Lincoln

 

Divco delivery truck

 

1959 Dodge, Long Valley NJ, 1986. (P)

 

1960 Lincoln Continental Mark V at a gas station in Mount Freedom, 1989.  (P)  This car was painted Sapphire blue, which you can’t see because the photos are black & white. If someone wants to color it in Sapphire, that would really be cool!

 

Dodge Challenger and 1958 Buick Special

 

 

1959 Plymouth Savoy (P)

 

Bunch of cars stuffed behind a body shop on Route 46.

 

Off Rutan Drive (formerly Hooey Street), Dover

 

1961 Mercury Meteor 600

 

Retired school bus

 

Early postwar Packard

 

1953 Mercury

 

1950 Oldsmobile

 

 

That’s a lot of cars!  But even so, there were a few cars I remember seeing in the 1980s that I wish I had taken photos of, but never got around to doing it.  These include:

–In Whippany, a 1959 Chevrolet Impala in solid blue.  Just talked to the former owner a year ago.  He’s about 90 years old now;  he got the car from his father.  He had to junk the Impala in the late ’80s because of underbody rust issues.

–A little-old-lady owned ’59 Impala sedan in Crown Sapphire and white (mint condition).  Was often seen at the Shop Rite in Millburn.  Another little old lady drove her ’60 Comet (in silver/gray) to Acme in Morris Plains.

–Hudson Jet, owned by someone who worked at the Morris County Library.  Only Hudson Jet I’ve ever seen.

–1958 Packard sedan in pale pink with the trunk smashed in.  It was parked behind the blue 1958 Oldsmobile near that repaired fence section.  It disappeared before I got to take pictures.

–1959 Ford Custom 300 2-door in black;  oldest car in my high school parking lot at the time.

–1959 Cadillac 4-door sedan in what I believe was Pinehurst Green (rarely seen in that color), at a funeral parlor in Morris Plains.  (Regular car, not a hearse).

–A 1962 Plymouth Savoy was owned by a family who emigrated from Egypt who lived on my street.  They didn’t keep it long.

–A childhood friend’s grandparents’ car–a 1961 Ford Galaxie in Garden Turquoise.

–A rusty, robin’s egg blue and white ’57 Chevy wagon;  it was driven back and forth from the house to the Presbyterian church in Cedar Knolls, that’s all.

–A Renault Caravelle which was hidden in a garage.  I only got to see it once when the family living there had a garage sale.

–Train station cars (regularly seen in the commuter parking lot, late 1980s):  a black 1960 Chevrolet in Morris Plains;  a light green 1959 Chrysler Windsor sedan in Maplewood, and, maybe the best one of all, a 1958 Chrysler Windsor 2-door hardtop in Spruce Green with a white top near the Short Hills station.  And that one was for sale!

Closest approximation I can find to the car in Short Hills. Except the car in question was Spruce Green, not blue; and it wasn’t a Dartline–it just had a single side strip front to back. I’ll always wonder what happened to that car.

 

Is this a “Curbside Classic”?

 

So there’s this red Mercury Topaz GS parked down the street from me.  I’m guessing it’s about a 1990 model, meaning it’s now 33 years old . . . the same age the “Classic ’50s” cars were in 1991 when I was enthusiastically photographing them.  This red Topaz really does stand out among all the recent model SUVs, CUVs, trucks, and compact sedans.  But does it generate the same kind of enthusiasm, admiration, and nostalgia that the 1950s/60s cars did (and still do)?   Is someone searching out and photographing late ’80s/early ’90s cars?

Apparently, yes–judging from some CC posts on more recent cars that I thought were nothing special when they were commonly seen.  See, here’s the thing that sort of bothered me a little.  At the time, I was the only person I knew of who was going around taking these Curbside Classic-type pictures.  Sure, some people took pictures at car shows, but that’s a whole different thing.  Like I was the only one who would venture into Newark to take pictures of historic buildings doomed by urban renewal.  It seemed that nobody else cared–even though there were four colleges in the city (one with an architecture department), plus lots of students, professors, and private citizens.  Just wasn’t on their radar.

The wonder of the Internet and websites like CC is that they bring together like-minded people and allows them to share their passions and creativity.

And I suppose if I live another 30 or 40 years, I will see the time when all the common, everyday vehicles that surround us presently will one day become nostalgic curiosities–when 99% of them are gone, replaced by . . . something we can’t possibly imagine.  So what we see during our lifetimes is but a tiny, narrow sliver of the infinite spectrum of history–but because we are such finite beings, it’s hard for us to see things from that cosmic perspective.

“If I . . . could save time . . . in a bottle . . .”