Saturday, September 4, 2010

Frank's Cars

Frank Barnard is the President of Almost Everything Autobody & Aene Automotive Corp. You may have already seen some of his cars on this blog (his 1964 Thunderbird has appear a few times during restoration & then at auto shows.) Frank has owned and driven some amazing cars. This is an occasional series that tracks his automotive history.

Disclaimer: Many of the photos in this series of posts are taken off the web. Sadly, we can't find many or in some cases any pictures of Frank's actual cars. So we've collected photos that look most like the cars he owned including, to the extent possible, correct colors & options. Thanks to the folks that posted these photos. If anyone objects to my use of them, please let us know and we will remove them.

2) 1973 Citroen SM (Maserati):
I was in college now. The MG had died, yet again, for whatever the week's electrical or mechanical gremlin happened to be (I'd replaced the entire wiring harness twice and rebuilt the engine after it seized.) One of my best friends, David Lehrer, was ferrying me around to look at used Hondas which, he was sure, would be a far better fit for me and my pizza delivering livelyhood. I was uninspired and a little depressed so to cheer myself up I suggested that we investigate a shop down an alleyway in Walnut Creek, California that sported a very unusual (for the USA) Citroen sign. And there, amidst a Series III Maserati Quattroporte and a Citroen CX Palais, under a lumpy tarp, sat the remants of a mighty Citroen SM, minus its Maserati V6 and parts of its interior. The shop owner, a very kind but harried Irisman named O'Sullivan, explained that the owner of the vehicle had embarked on a mechanical restoration of the car 2 years ago and had run out of steam. A brand new, factory engine sat in a crate waiting for installation and all of the parts for the car were there but everything needed to be put together. The shop owner suggested that if I made the car owner a reasonable offer of just six thousand dollars (in 1985), it could probably be mine. The engine alone was worth that. I didn't have anything near that much--I couldn't even afford to put my MG back on the road. So I offered the owner $2500 that I didn't have. To my amazement, he said $3500 and I think we settled on $3000. I robbed the college fund that my parents had set-up for me and several months later, with the help of a great Algerian mechanic, I had a fully functional Citroen SM with a brand new 3.0L Maserati engine. It was my daily driver for the next 4 years. It took me and my friends on road trips to Ensenada, Mexico in the summer and Lake Tahoe, California in the winter. Considering that it was a true exotic, it was pretty reliable. But eventually it started overheating regularly and the electrical system developed a problem that discharged brand new batteries. It was time for a Honda to use when the MG and Citroen were waiting for repairs.

3) 1988 Mazda RX7 GTU:
And so I went to the Honda dealer, checkbook in my pocket, to buy a brand new CRX. I couldn't get a sales person to look at me at Oakland Honda and when I finally asked one what it took to buy a CRX. He told me it wasn't possible. The waiting list lasted months. So I went a few blocks away and test drove what I was sure was too expensive for me (are you detecting a pattern here.) I wasn't in love with the shape of the RX7 but it was purposeful and in GTU guise it had some sex appeal. And my god, it handled better than anything I'd ever been in (and may still be my best handling car to date.) It was on sale. I drove it home. I fell in love. But it's 1.2L Wankle engine never had the grunt of the MG's 3.0L straight 6 or the Maserati 3.0 V6. I could out manuever my buddy Kobi in his Mitsubishi Eclipse AWD Turbo but he could always out accelerate me. So the obvious answer was to get an RX7 with more horsepower.

4) 1987 Mazda RX7 Turbo II:
Not. This was a mistake. I hated this car. It is the only car I owned for less than a year. I thought I would get used to the color. I didn't. I thought I would learn how to manage the horrendous turbo lag that allowed Ford Pintos and AMC Gremlins to pull away from me at stop lights. I didn't. I thought I could manage the onslaught of power when the turbo finally kicked-in. I couldn't. I bought this particular RX7 Turbo because it was more powerful and linear than so many of the other RX7 Turbo's I'd driven. I came to find that the reason for any low-end punch on this car was a huge turbo leak that relieved back pressure. It allowed the car to accelerate faster from a stop but created a huge dead spot in the torque curve and robbed it of power at the top end. A couple thousand dollars later, my turbo was fixed and my car was just as slow out of the gate as every other RX7 Turbo. But it certainly was not a slow car. . . at 2100 RPM all hell broke loose. . . usually on winding roads and freeway cloverleafs. About halfway through a turn, the turbo would wind-up and there would be a sudden, terrific rush of power. The back tires would break free and the car would try to spin you into the oblivion of a retaining wall or the opposite lane of traffic or a cliff. I sold it after 8 months, happy to be alive to see it go. I should never have sold the divinely balanced GTU version.

5) 1992 Subaru SVX
This was a great car. I miss it. Big (3.3L), strong, fast, horizontally opposed engine. Sophisticated all wheel drive. Giorgetto Giugiaro designed it to be a halo car for Subaru. The rear end was a but clunky but still exotic and the rest of the car was pure sex. The interior was sleak, luxurious and very modern. I loved the ultrasuede upholstery, the hidden control panels and the best climate control adjuster I've ever used. The top of the car seemed to be entirely made of glass and the side windows were set inside the larger windows of the door, like the Lamborghini Countach's and Maclaren F1's. The front headlights were in the thinnest slits of lenses. No one knew what this thing was. Mine was pearl white with a black roof and trunk lid. It was fast, silent and seemed to defy the laws of physics when I accelerated very hard into turns. Sadly, Subaru only sold them as automatics and my heart continued to yearn for a stick.

6) 1995 BMW M3

7) 1988 BMW 540i/6 speed

8) 2000 BMW 528iT

9) 1964 Ford Thunderbird

10) 2006 Maserati Quattroporte

11) 1995 Infiniti Q45t

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