Vintage Photos: Carspotting In Florida 1985-1991, Part 1

1960 Ford Thunderbird; Stuart, Florida 1991


In some ways, I’ve never grown up. I still occasionally like to play Galaga, ride my bike, watch TV shows like The Dukes Of Hazzard, Leave It To Beaver or The Twilight Zone (common denominator: curbside classics), and eat a box of Mac & Cheese. One other thing I used to do as a kid was take pictures of old cars I saw parked. Boy, do I still do that!

My grandparents retired to Florida and I would go down in the summer by myself to spend a week or so there with them. I really enjoyed these times. We’d go to the beach, play shuffleboard (actually quite a fun game), go to amusement parks and other typical Florida pasttimes. Not such a typical Florida pasttime, I would take my grandfather’s old Raleigh bike and my camera and ride around the retirement complexes and other places nearby to look for old cars to shoot. A lot of the old folks tended to have old cars, so 10 or 20 plus year old rides were much more common than around our house.




I was no photographic prodigy. Many of my photos are not really usable here and will remain unseen, so these are the “best” of the bunch. Some are almost as interesting for the cars I inadvertently caught in the frame as for the subject car. Even the common cars of the time are mostly uncommon today.

Only at a place like Curbside Classic could I be confident that people would look at very amateur 30+ year old photos of old cars on the street and find them totally compelling. Quality not withstanding, hopefully you can all geek out here, where we understand and celebrate your psychoses.




Pontiac’s 65/66 full-sizers are some of my favorite cars of the era, which has been true pretty much ever since I was capable of having a favorite car of the era. I remember being excited when I found this 1966 Pontiac Bonneville convertible. Wish I would have got a photo from the front!




Like the 66 Bonneville, this 1965-66 Corvair Corsa was probably a garaged secondary/hobby car rather than a regular driver. I believe this was taken in a business parking lot. I always found the facelifted Corvairs to be really pretty cars. They combined some of Chevrolet’s best styling themes of the 60’s with the unique proportions of Chevy’s rear-engined, loveably dangerous oddball.




Another mid 60’s classic seen about town was a 1965 Ford Mustang fastback, which I remember being red. Though only about 20 years old, it was probably restored or at least refurbished. It’s hard to tell from the picture if it has a V8 emblem on the front fender, there’s possibly a smudge in about the right spot. A six cylinder fastback would be pretty noteworthy. Like virtually all the cars in my photos, it has whitewalls. What a different world, I think even the Ford Courier in the background has whitewalls! (at least the Mack dumptruck doesn’t)




This 1973 Eldorado convertible is definitely not a garage queen. It belonged to a resident at the Vista Pines 55+ condominiums in Stuart (Martin County, east coast north of W. Palm Beach) where my grandparents lived and where there were no garages or even carports. The retirees who drove this car clearly had a sense of style over and above most of their peers, judging by the much more typical cars in the background.




I was never a big photography enthusiast, though I wish now that I had been more. That was probably because my parents were into more sophisticated photography, so being a bit of a rebel, I was not. As an indication of their photo habits, there aren’t a lot of photos of me from my childhood seen around my parents’ home. That’s not because they didn’t take photos of me, but because all the photos were processed as slides and if one wanted to look at them, it would involve going through the many, many little blue dual-pod plastic boxes, setting up the handheld slide viewer (if it still works) or the slide projector (if it still works) and finding the photos.

I definitely remember this 1974 Buick Electra. I think it was actually non-metallic gray and in great condition for being over 10 years old. The lack of a vinyl roof looked good and was certainly a wise choice for sitting in the Florida sun. It was among the largest beasts found in the condo complex and as such, an object of some lust on my part. Yes, I was a strange kid, nurturing a particular affection for Buicks even then.




When the old 1963 Plymouth Fury still runs fine, why replace it just because it’s 22 years old? That trusty Mopar probably ran fine for the rest of its owner’s driving career, however long that was.

Not my actual camera, but very similar!


Many of my photos were taken with a 60’s vintage Yashica black and white 35mm camera. This was a hand-me-down from my parents and was the first camera I owned. It was, of course, a totally manual camera with every adjustment needing to be set by hand. The focus was tricky, because it wasn’t like most cameras where you twist the dial on the lens and the image goes from fuzzy to clear. The image always looked the same, but the center of the image was two parts that would align when the focus was set properly. So you would twist the dial to make the images line up as closely as possible then take your photo. I’m sure there is a technical name for this technology, maybe somebody can fill me in. (Thanks to Jeff Sun, it is a Split-image rangefinder) Needless to say, I had mine processed as prints not slides!




If you’re going to drive a hooptie, why not do it topless?  Unlike many newer convertibles from the 80’s and 90’s, a true classic convertible like the 1975 Oldsmobile Delta 88 didn’t have its roof removed by a specialty company after the fact or have a godawful tiny back seat to accommodate the retrofitted top mechanism or charge customers 50% more for the privilege of not having sheetmetal overhead. A ’75 88 has a huge backseat with no intrusion at all, not even doglegs, with the GM scissor-type top mechanism. The commodious truck space doesn’t take too much of a hit either. You can carry up to five of your seatbelted friends (lap belt only, thank you) to the beach in fine comfort.

A 1975 Oldsmobile Delta 88 was, and probably still is, one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get into a legitimate classic convertible. Olds sold 7,181 Delta 88 convertibles for 1975, which was about twice what they had been making in recent years. Word was out it was the last chance to get an Oldsmobile droptop. Chevy, Buick and Pontiac also sold more convertibles in 1975, but Olds posted the biggest increase. Really any 71-75 B-body convertible is relatively reasonable, just not as reasonable as they used to be, like say in 1991 when you could have bought one like the photo car for 2-3k.




Finally, I shot a car from the front! The 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass looks delightfully original. This car in this condition would be a pretty desirable commodity today. If the car still exists, there’s a good chance it’s a 442 clone somewhere. My scanner’s resolution is not perfect but I can see in the print that the Cutlass looks to have thin white stripe bias ply tires, which means they could be original tires, or at least likely no newer than the mid 70’s. Kinda scary! I really dig the old-lady-tricycle parked behind it.




A pretty 1983 Buick Electra was parked near my grandparents’ apartment, but it’s not quite a random curbside classic. This is my great uncle Gene’s car, which I described in my recent Buick Enclave article. I found this photo in a different group and it’s quite a bit better than the one I used for that article. Shortly after this visit, he would trade it in on a new 91 LeSabre.

That Ford van parked in the background would have to have been either a guest or a worker vehicle, because the condo association forbade any type of truck to be parked overnight. That included passenger vans, minivans and SUVs! The minivan proviso particularly engendered quite a bit of conflict between the association and residents whose kids drove the modern “trucks”. I don’t know at what point the condo association bowed to the inevitable, but it was sometime after this photo from 1991. I google streetviewed the complex recently, and while the buildings look unchanged, there are SUVs and minivans throughout. And no 1983 Buicks.

If you’ve actually read this far and somehow find yourself wishing for more, never fear. I will have a part two for you tomorrow.