How do you capture the essence of a city or town? What makes a particular place hum, sing and buzz? Is it the people? The culture? The architecture? Food? It is, of course, all of these things. And more. For us at CarAdvice, it is, unsurprisingly, also the cars.
We are privileged to travel around the world for our job, visiting cities, countries and far-flung corners we might otherwise never see in our lives. And apart from experiencing so many different cultures, one of the things that stands out for us is the sheer diversity of automotive culture around the world. In essence, the cars people own.
CarAdvice's Tony Crawford has always had a keen eye for the unusual, and a recent trip to Austin, Texas again afforded one of CA's illustrious founders the opportunity to indulge in a bit of carspotting.
A brief bit of history; Austin is the capital of Texas and has always been a bit of an oddity in that oh-so-frontier state. Progressive and fiercely independent, the self-styled 'Live Musical Capital of the World' has adopted the unofficial slogan 'Keep Austin Weird'. To outsiders and for those with an ear for music and an eye for art and cinema, Austin is perhaps best known for South by Southwest, an annual music, film and interactive media festival, which attracts visitors and artists from all over the world.
Austin also played host to Tony recently and snap-happy-Crawford, as we call him in the CA office (okay, not really) was only too happy to snap a few shots of some Austin automotive oddities.
1950 GMC FC101 pick-up
No-one does pick-up trucks quite like the Yanks. And this little General Motors Company beauty, with original patina, was casually parked in downtown Austin when it caught Tony's eye.
Powered by 228ci (3.7-litre) inline six with 96hp (71kW), the GMC was distinguished from its Chevrolet 3100 stablemate – with which it shared a platform – by a different grille design and a more powerful engine (the Chev was powered by a 216.5ci (3.5-litre) straight six pumping out 67kW) .
This particular example, officially the deluxe-cab model, featured a five-window design which adopted a three-piece rear window that wrapped around the roof and forward to the door. As well as making for a lighter cabin ambience, the curved windows also aided with rearward visibility.
Interestingly, despite being much rarer than the Chev 3100 of the same vintage, the GMC FC101 is worth only about two-thirds of the price on the collectable market. Still, pristine, fully restored examples can sell for around US$60,000 today. We'll take ours with original patina though, thanks.
Land Rover Series III Stage One V8
Who doesn't love a classic Landy, that venerable workhorse strutting its stuff off- and on-road for decades. And it seems the denizens of Austin (well okay, at least one) is smitten by the tough-as-nails off-roader.
This Stage One example, still resplendent with its original British rego plate (it's peeking out just behind the spare), was powered by the same 3.5-litre petrol V8 as found in the Range Rover of the day, albeit detuned to just 68kW (the Rangey had 100kW to play with). The Stage One also scored the Range Rover's LT95 gearbox and was the only Land Rover Series III available with permanent four-wheel drive.
The V8-powered Stage One was typically only available in the long-wheelbase (109-inch) as seen here, although 24 examples were produced on the short-wheelbase platform. Ultra rare then, for those Series III aficionados out there.
Incidentally, 'Stage One' refers to the first stage of the British Government's financial investment in the company in an effort to improve Land Rover and Range Rover products.
1980 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
It looks a bit forlorn, parked up in the weeds and grass with black plastic haphazardly thrown over the top. Not much protection there. But in its prime, the Firebird was a lusted after muscle car, thanks largely to its starring role in the 1977 hit movie, Smokey and the Bandit, starring Burt Reynolds and Sally Field.
That movie star car featured a 400ci (6.6-litre) V8 pumping out 148kW and 441Nm. Except it didn't. The movie star Firebird was actually four 1976 cars, facelifted to look like the new-for-1977 model. All four cars were heavily damaged during the making of the movie, with one car destroyed filming the spectacular 'jumping over the dismantled bridge' scene.
By 1980, however, American muscle cars became victims of ever-tightening emissions controls and Pontiac was forced to decrease engine displacement of the Firebird. Two engine choices were available in 1980, either a turbocharged 4.8-litre V8 as standard or buyers could option a slightly larger naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre. We're not sure which engine lurks under the long bonnet of this sad looking 1980 example but seeing any old muscle car in a state like this, brings a tear to the eye.
Incidentally, Pontiac was so pleased with the Firebird's starring role in the movie, it gifted Reynolds a brand new car as a thank you. Reynolds held on to that car for most of his life, finally placing it up for auction – along with a swag of his other movie memorabilia – in 2014. Expected to fetch around US$80,000, the Firebird finally fell under the hammer for a cool US$450,000!
1990 Cadillac Brougham Executive Limousine
Yeah, it's tacky.
It's worth noting, just as such vehicles are converted in Australia, American-made stretch limos are made by third-party coach builders, one of the oldest and best being Armbruster Stageway.
While we don't know the exact provenance of this parked up Caddy, or even if this an Armbruster conversion, what we do know is it started its life as a 1990 Cadillac Brougham with a 5.7-litre Chevy engine under that long, black, helipad of a bonnet.
Typically, around 60-inches (152cm) were added between the front and rear doors while interior features included a bar, separate radio and entertainment system to the front, either a solid divider or a glass divider to ensure those important people in the back didn't have to see or talk to the driver up front, and ambient lighting. Classy.
This example, parked in an unkempt yard in the suburbs of Austin, has seen better days. The 'Dream' bling adorning the vertical grille is complemented 'nicely' by the gold treatment on the front bumper bar. Let's hope the owner's dreams haven't been totally crushed and that one day, this once-stately limo can receive some much-needed love and resume its life ferrying VIPs or, more likely, teenage party-goers, around the streets of Austin.