Sunday, February 15, 2015

The understated Lincoln Capri

This 1953 Lincoln Capri has lost the "Dagmar" bumper guards and quarter-panel protrusions that were among its few original adornments. All photos by
   Cadillacs outnumber Lincolns by a big margin in Cuba, which is no surprise. In the 1950s, GM's luxury division consistently outsold its Ford Motor Co. counterpart (and easily outpaced Chrysler's Imperial brand and faltering Packard as well).
   But you will occasionally come across a fine Lincoln, especially in Havana. That's where the team from spotted this 1953 Lincoln Capri convertible, not far from the Hotel Presidente on Calle G. (Interestingly, Havana is also home to a Hotel Lincoln and a Hotel Capri – the latter built by U.S. mobsters who could well have been chauffeured about in Lincolns or Cadillacs.)
   The Capri was Lincoln's top model from 1952 to '54, with a new ball-joint front suspension, recirculating-ball power steering and a hearty 317.5-cubic-inch V-8.

Does it still have its original overhead-valve V-8 engine with four-barrel Holley carburetor?
   Understated styling – and a close resemblance to Ford's lower-priced Mercury sedans – didn't help the big Lincoln in the sales wars with the flashier Cadillac. But it earned a name as a solid and fast car by dominating Mexico's famous open road race, the Carrera Panamericana.
   This Capri, tomato-red paint nicely set off by its wide-whites, is one of 2,372 convertibles made that year.

Stretched fenders suggest Continental Kit was a factory accessory, not an add-on.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Bright as an egg yolk

Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia: German engineering, Italian design, and on this Cuban example,
 a British-themed l
icence surround.
   IT TAKES courage – even in Cuba – to paint your ride chrome yellow. Few cars look their best in this colour, taxi cabs and pizza delivery vehicles notwithstanding.
   But for a select number of well-designed machines – think Iso Grifo or Ferrari 250 SWB – the result can be eye-poppingly wonderful. See me, it says, and acknowledge my beauty.
VW made the Karmann-Ghia from 1955 until 1974. Post-1959 models
had higher headlights and larger grille openings.
  You won't find an Iso or Ferrari parked under a Cuban palm tree – I don't think – but you might come across this Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia Coupe. It has a few scars and patches, but wears its bright-as-egg-yolk hue like a royal mantle.
   Headlamp placement reveals this as a "low-light" Karmann-Ghia, assembled between 1955 and 1959 at coachbuilder Karmann's plant in Osnabrück, Germany.

Steering wheel, seats are non-original.
   With the buzzy flat-four engine and swing-arm rear suspension of its Beetle sister model, the Karmann-Ghia was never a true sports car. But with styling by Carrozzeria Ghia (perhaps only Italian designs can truly be yellow), it looked as sweet as anything on the road.
   Still does.

More than 480,000 coupes and convertibles were produced at factories in Germany and Brazil.
   See another Cuban Karmann-Ghia and read about the rather unlikely contribution of famed Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner at CubanClassics.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A higher calibre of motorbike

ZiD Voskhod was the 'luxury alternative' to the smaller Minsk M1A.
   GUNS and motorcycles have similar requirements – spare design, quality materials, precise assembly – so it follows that the manufacturer of one might also be drawn to produce the other.
   A famous example of this is the Birmingham Small Arms Co., formed in the mid 19th century to make military rifles and later expanding to bicycles, motorcycles, even cars. Its BSA Motorcycles subsidiary would become the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s, issuing handsome models like the Thunderbolt and Gold Star.
   Russia has two versions of BSA. First to arrive was IZh, an offshoot of the mighty Izhevsky foundries in a region east of Moscow that has been making weapons since the time of Tsar Alexander I.

   IZh's first bikes, produced in modest numbers in the 1920s, were large-displacement twins. They were followed in the 1930s by models based on the small-displacement German DKW E-300, and after the Second World War by a 350-cc single-cylinder bike built from DKW tooling removed from Germany by the Soviets as reparations. 
Old bike, new mirrors.
  The other brand is ZiD, for Zavod Iniemi Degtyarev, or Degtyarev plant, a division of a machine-gun manufacturer in the city of Kovrov. In 1946, ZiD began assembling its first bike, the 125-cc K-55. Yet again, the K-55 was a Russian version of a DKW model, the time the famous (and much copied) RT 125.
   The ZiD seen here is the Voskhod, or Sunrise, a 175-cc twin with dual pipes and five-speed gearbox introduced in 1957. The Voskhod remained in production until the 1980s, at least – this Cuban example could be of 1970s vintage.
  Michele Cuoccio of the Autosoviet website reports that Soviet citizens had only a limited choice of motorcycle models, and the Voskhod was viewed as the "luxury alternative" to the smaller Minsk M1A, a version of the (you guessed it) DKW RT 125.
   BSA collapsed in the 1970s, unable to compete with the well-designed and reliable motorcycles flooding in from Japan. But IZh and ZiD, now held by separate conglomerates after much reorganization following the Soviet collapse, continue to build bikes, according to their websites.
   IZh's offerings look unchanged from the 1980s. All with 350-cc twin-cylinder engines, they include some dowdy looking street bikes, a "chopper class" model with raked frame and teardrop-shaped gas tank and several three-wheel cargo bikes.
 Still, IZh did display an edgy "concept" bike with electric and gas power in 2012, so there could be more life left in a manufacturer said to have built more than 11 million motorcycles over its history.
   ZiD's site shows a large selection of scooters, motorcycles, cargo bikes and even a collapsible snowmobile you can apparently carry in the trunk of your car (every Canadian should have one). Unlike IZh, most of ZiD's designs are modern. Some are licensed from China's Lifan Industry Group.
   Oh, and both companies will also sell you guns.

Displacement: 175 cc.

Voskhod is Russian for Sunrise.