Five Favorites…Because, "It's Spring Again!"

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Daddy only lets me out when it's warm outside! Photo by Randy Stern

A spring day means a lot to all of us.

It means April showers bringing May flowers. It also means pollen, mosquitoes, tornadoes, hurricanes and jorts. Nonetheless, nature’s reset button completes the cycle of life for plants, animals and the rest of us.

Spring is also a sign that your prized car is coming out of storage. The one car that is either is a constant garage project or a show star with more awards than a Westminster Kennel Club champion.

It is a ritual for those of us in the Northern Climes (well, not exclusively, but I hear this all the time here in Minnesota and Wisconsin) to store the special car in a climate-controlled space to be protected from the winter (or lack thereof, in some years). This is our baby. One without the benefit of all-wheel-drive, traction control, winter tire fitting and all the things we need to survive a Dr. Zhivago-esque winter.

What if I had such a car? What if I had the money for one, including the time for a project and the budget for a storage space? What if I had a Ram 1500 Laramie Limited crew cab hitched with a one-car trailer – what would I put on that trailer?

Hypothetically, this calls for a Five Favorites post! Five spring-to-fall vehicles that live in some storage space for the winter. A splendid idea!

And, my Five are…

1981-82 FIAT 2000 SPIDER: Body by PIninfarina, classic Fiat engine, two seats and a three-speed automatic gearbox…no, seriously. I could get a later Alfa Romeo Spider with a slushbox, but why? The Fiat is more straightforward and rare. It also embodies a classic brio that could either elicit exuberant love or haughty disdain. The Fiat is chosen because it actually fits me – unlike a Miata, a BMW Z3 or an Alfa. It is also rather comfortable, despite the firm ride and a few quirks in its driving dynamics. My only modifications would be a set of touring tires – Pirelli, preferably – and a detachable face audio system with SiriusXM on board. If I wanted a proper roadster that challenges normality and my driving abilities – the Fiat, hands down.

1970-72 DATSUN 510: At a time when we bashed the Japanese for making inferior products, one vehicle changed everyone's minds. The Bluebird came across the Pacific with a willing 1.6litre overhead camshaft motor that turned this demure compact sedan into a track day sensation. The engine revved like no other from the Land of the Rising Sun. By 1970, its reputation was cemented. My classic 510 would be connected to a solid three-speed automatic – preferably a two-door, but a four-door would do. I could leave it "stock," but a set of old school rims, grippy Bridgestone Potenzas and some suspension work would at least give the 510 some cred amongst the classic hooners. The detachable face audio system with SiriusXM on board would not…or, would it? The 510 is a rolling history lesson for anyone owning a Mazdaspeed3, Subaru WRX or Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart. All of these sporty compacts began at the point of the Datsun 510.

1973-74 BMW 2002: Along the same lines as the 510, the Bimmer provides a counterpoint to the standard issue sports sedan. Only available in a two-door, the 2002 is perfect with its revvy engine, sorted suspension, oodles of room and classic BMW design. A three-speed automatic is the only requirement, but a 2002 could be easily upgraded with a detachable face audio system with SiriusXM on board. Touring tires would be a nice modern touch for such a BMW classic – Continentals, Pirellis or Michelins would work here. Despite many BMWs that have been spawned from this mighty little monster, the 2002 still turn heads. It is a pure Bavarian machine that needs to be enjoyed with blue skies above and clear tarmac ahead. No one can go wrong with an original – the 2002 is an original that hold true in today’s world of Efficient Dynamics and M Sport packages.

1974-80 MERCEDES-BENZ W116 S-CLASS: Some may argue that the W116 would do well in winter. I'd rather not risk the destruction of a classic and favorite Mercedes in the midst of a blzzard on an unplowed road. The S-Class was made to be savored over every mile. It is a luxury car, true, but one with dynamic abilities that absolutely changed the flagship game in its time. For me, a proper S-Class has to have fuel injection. I won't get into whether I'd prefer the inline six or the V8, or the seats are lavished with MB-Tex or leather, or rather which Becker radio it is equipped with – a W116 must be driven as a bridge between history and modernity. I heard through the grapevine that Becker has originally-styled radios for the S-C lass that includes modern amenities, such as SiriusXM and an auxiliary jack. If it doesn't…it's pretty hard to deviate from the original. You simply do not do that. Another proper W116 tip is to make sure the original wheels – either steel ones with covers or alloys – are also original (or Mercedes-supplied replacements). Tires are a different story – I'd put on Michelin or Continental touring tires for a modern feel. The point to an S-Class is retaining the classic feeling of the original, not destroying it by distasteful embellishments. A Mercedes must embody a higher standard – at all times.

1964…AMERICAN CAR: A classic born around the same time as yours truly, built in the nation of my birth and embodying what any 48 year-old automobile would exude as a "classic." While most of the popular 1964 model year vehicles had been run through the classic car market and customized until there's nothing left to tweak, it has to take something special to drive around during the non-winter months. I have plenty to choose from ranging from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler compacts to big luxury yachts. A Ford Falcon Futura hardtop sounds nice. So does a Buick Skylark – at the time grown to midsize status. Lincoln Continentals retained most of their graceful looks dating back to 1961. There’s really no shame in running a Chrysler New Yorker hardtop or a Rambler Ambassador. The only requirement for any of these 1964 models is originality. Rust buckets and modified models need not apply. It has to be as original as possible, even restored to ensure a life well into this Millennium. Being drivable helps – especially to original specifications (though fed by unleaded fuel and shod with radial tires). The point of owning a 48 year-old car is to honor its heritage, not leverage it as an investment play.

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