Yesterday in part 1 of this article, I related how in many ways I neglected to grow up. I certainly never outgrew my occasional childhood hobby of photographing old cars I saw parked on the street. I have absolutely no regrets about that and if I did, it would be that I didn’t take more photos!
Here is the second part of the “best of” pics taken while visiting my grandparents in sunny Stuart, Florida in the 80’s and early 90’s, with a few later ones thrown in, too.
The 1970 Cadillac Eldorado looks like it’s been sitting in its parking spot since the Apollo era, but is no less ready and eager for its owner to jump in and blast off to the beach or Kennedy Space Center (a great place my grandparents took me once)! Like a Saturn V rocket, a 70 Eldo is a good case study in immovable object meeting irresistible force.
Here’s a good twofer. A 1972 Dodge Polara, while not exactly rare in 1986, was considered by me at least to be a legit curbside classic because even by that time they were seldom scene. It was light maroon, with a white vinyl top and highback seats in a color I don’t remember. Unlike virtually every other passenger car in my photos, the owner chose blackwall tires. Or more likely had the whitewalls turned in.
The 1977 Cadillac Sedan De Ville is a fine example from the inaugural year of the downsized Caddys. I recall this as a white car with white top and I again don’t remember the interior. Hopefully it’s a fine 70’s velour, the better to hold up to the Florida sun. Cadillacs were actually not very common in my grandparents’ condo complex or nearby ones.
Out in the surrounding business district, I found a handsome 1964 Buick LeSabre. Like the 66 Pontiac, 65 Mustang, and 65-66 Corvair in yesterdays’ part 1, you might think it’s somebody’s secondary or hobby car.
A peek into the interior, though, finds a well-used ashtray and general condition suggesting a daily driver.
I was impressed enough by this car to take a rare interior photo. I distinctly remember thinking something along the lines of, “Now that’s a dashboard!” and with an open window I could get a good pic. Nowadays, I shoot a minimum of 10 photos of any curbside classic I find. In pre-digital camera days, I was a lot more stingy and took one or maybe two photos and hoped they turned out ok. My true regret is that I mostly just shot the photos from wherever I came across the car, usually from behind. Some, like this car, might not have allowed for it, but I wish I had made more effort to shoot the fronts of cars or find the most interesting and complimenting angles.
Well, here’s one I at least attempted to find a good angle on! With the wheels turned to the left, this would naturally be the best angle, but the plants blocking the back third of the car would be unacceptable to me today. I messed up what would otherwise be a decent photo of a very cool car!
A 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible was already considered a classic car and this one seems to be in pretty good original condition, looking sweet in black with a white top and seats and Super Stock wheels, shod with whitewalls, of course.
Here’s another that I was smitten enough with to take two photos. I was always drawn to the most beastly and broughamy cars, like a 1977-78 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. Like I said, Cadillacs were not as common as one might expect in this retirement community. Being parked in the shopping center across the street, it may have come from further away, because I would have noticed if it lived in our condos. It was in pretty fine condition, which was not too surprising for a 13-14 year old Caddy.
The rear shot somehow looks even more comely. They just don’t make cars with those kind of hips and curves any more, and hadn’t for a while even then!
I mainly include this photo because the background cars are such a representative mix of vehicles that were common then. There’s an early Taurus, what I think is an early 80’s Datsun, a classy late model W126 Mercedes S-class, a Ford County Squire wagon and one of those once-ubiquitous conversion vans, among others.
I was attracted to this 1977 Pontiac Catalina because my grandparents’ car at the time was the same year and model, except not red and not a coupe. Being a red coupe made all the difference! I always liked this roofline, which Pontiac’s B-body coupes shared with the Buick LeSabre. I will fall for a full-size two-door car every time!
Another thing I’ll fall for every time is a wagon! I’ve always been about the longroofs, which were not a common choice among the retirees in Stuart. The 1990 Buick Estate Wagon was practically brand new at the time, but still had old car charm since by the final year of this generation, it was completely obsolete and out of style in the best possible sense of the words. The car was absolutely resplendent and belonged to a new resident who my grandparents in their late 70’s described as a “young guy”, being about 60. I thought that was really funny at the time, but not so much now, being closer to 60 than I like to think about.
In 1992, my grandparents moved from Stuart to Vero Beach (along with my great aunt and uncle) to get into Vista Plantation, a “life care” community. This was a place where you pay a set monthly fee which covers your rent in a regular apartment (or a duplex if you’re really well-to-do), dinners in a large group dining room and any level of care you may come to need in the future, be it assisted living or a full-on nursing home. It was a good move, as they ended up using all the services (except my great aunt who died suddenly in her late 90’s while still in her regular apartment). That’s my grandfather for you, always planning ahead and taking care of business.
Vista Plantation was majorly lacking in any vistas of cool old cars like one saw in Stuart. A lot of residents didn’t even have cars and those that did tended to have newer models. At least they had carports! This 1985 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser is one of the only neat older cars I ever found in their development. It was a real cream puff and very similar to one I owned at the time.
This is more typical of what one found at Vista Plantation: a 2002 Ford Crown Victoria, the official retirement vehicle of Florida. I liked this one because it was the LX Sport model, which came with features like slightly more power, lower rear axle ratio, upgraded suspension and bucket seats. I believe it was made from 2002-2006, in relatively small numbers.
Not old, but certainly neat, was a 1994 Buick Estate Wagon that was only a few years old at the time, but naturally caught my eye. Like I said, always about the wagons. This one I knew at the time was a 94 because the dual exhaust pegs it as an LT1 powered model, a significant power bump for the wagon’s last few years. The wheels and side view mirrors make it not a 95 or 96. I’m way too much of a wagon nerd.
Back in Stuart, the old cars abounded, like a surprisingly cherry 22 year old 1969 Ford Custom 2 door sedan resting off the beaten path in a nearby neighborhood. I dig the dog dish hubcaps!
If you like dog dishes, the next three should really satisfy. The oldest cars one would find in the condo complexes tended to be Mopars. I’m not sure if that’s because they were so durable, or because they best reflected the Depression-era values of the most frugal retirees. This 1971 Dodge Dart looks like it could have kept on serving its thrifty owner and looking good for many more years.
It’s hard to tell what all the background cars are, but they are very typical retiree choices circa 1989. One thing I remember thinking was that being in the condos was kind of like stepping back in time. The cars may have been largely late model, but they were all cars (no pickups, minivans, etc), all American and mostly rear wheel drive, like a parking lot would have been in decades past. I can ID a late 80’s Town Car, an early 80’s LeSabre, an mid 80’s Fox LTD, probably a late 70’s Caprice and possibly an 80ish New Yorker. Can anybody clarify more?
Another charming Mopar compact, in sporty coupe form this time. Boy that is a seriously concave backlight on the 1973 Dodge Dart! My centering was pretty poor here, but at least I got some of a new Olds 88 in the pic.
Rounding out the dog dish specials was a 1972 Ford Ranch Wagon. There was no way I wasn’t going to shoot this one, being almost 20 years old and a wagon. I also liked the dog dishes, then as now. Something so admirably unpretentious and businesslike about them.
Finally, we have one of my favorite vehicles and least favorite photographs. I was crazy about Jeeps at that age, so this 74-77 Jeep Wagoneer pushed my buttons big time. It was in excellent condition and I even managed to photograph it from the front, but I couldn’t have stepped a few feet to the left and gotten the tree out of the way?! I even have a second photo and it has two trees blocking it!
If you recall from yesterday, my grandparents’ condo forbade any type of truck, so this Jeep would have been verboten there. Apparently the neighboring complex where I found this didn’t have the same rule. I will say, though, that as cool as this Jeep is, it would be hard to think of a place on earth where one would have less need for four wheel drive than Stuart, Florida.
In the way of regrets, I’ll say one regret I have is not making more of a hobby of photographing cars like this back then. I pretty much only did it in Florida. At home, I didn’t make a habit of carrying a camera so when I did see a cool car, it was only captured in my mind. I didn’t run across enough old cars to go on camera excursions and I didn’t have the foresight to photograph newer cars that I thought were cool. Oh well, at least I have these. I hope you enjoyed them.
Bonus Photo: You’re still here? If you’ve made it this far and still haven’t got enough, I’ll toss you this bone. I wasn’t going to include it because it’s not a very good photo. However, this 1980-81 Turbo (I think) Trans Am is kind of cool because it is the only car I ever found in the retirement complexes that was the least bit sporty or muscular.