You never know what you're going to encounter on the street these days when it comes to old cars. It pays to keep your eyes open at all times.
Several surprises were in store for me when we recently stopped for lunch at a Turlock restaurant on Golden State Boulevard. Parked in front of the eatery was a 1956 Packard Clipper two-door hardtop. A few minutes later, a 1958 Plymouth four-door sedan settled in just in front of the Packard.
These vintage vehicles weren't part of some old car show; their owners had just stopped for a bite to eat.
That Packard was amazing, looking showroom new. It was a two-tone green, with big whitewall tires, full chromed hubcaps and dual exhaust.
The Packard had subdued (compared with Cadillacs) tailfins and "eyebrows" covering its headlights. The interior looked pristine and the exterior paint seemed perfect. It was the equivalent of a well-optioned Oldsmobile or Mercury hardtop, getting to the end of a line of Packards stretching back many decades.
About an hour later, the two elderly gentlemen riding in the Packard passed by; the old car just purred and seemed to glide effortlessly. The Packard is definitely a prize that would fit well in any collector's garage.
The Plymouth had white paint with a metallic gray top. It also sported wide whitewall tires and large chromed hubcaps and appeared in its Sunday best on a Saturday.
Years ago I might have scoffed at a frumpy four-door, but not anymore. Unlike the Packard, the Plymouth had very well-developed tailfins and a wide, gleaming grille.
Both cars just oozed personality compared with the nondescript autos and trucks passing by on the busy four-lane thoroughfare.
On the spur of the moment New Year's Day, I had a chance to ride to Coulterville and Mariposa in a 1955 Ford four-door sedan. It was a fun excursion of about four hours, and the old Ford never missed a beat.
The back seat was spacious and comfortable, and the car looked great.
That backcountry jaunt certainly gave the Ford a chance to stretch its legs, but it performed admirably on some steep grades and sharp curves. The heater worked just fine on a sunny but brisk day, and the suspension soaked up bumps we encountered. The small- displacement V-8 engine had no trouble climbing those hills.
Don't feel sorry for me or the car's owner; that was a fun ride that didn't give up anything to our modern rides.
The surprises just keep coming. I wasn't expecting to see a 1950s Nash Metropolitan hardtop pass by on a workday. The little two-seater also had a fancy paint job and scored plenty of style points with me.
To an old car buff, these rare sightings add an element of fun to everyday motoring, so bring them on.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.