The Loss Of The Little Car

Look at the history of motor vehicles in the 20th century – there has been a steady movement away from the little cars that started it all. Everything has gotten bigger, faster, heavier, and more expensive. And I’m not talking about the luxury end of the market or the specialist vehicles – I mean the average run-about for the average person. Either the people are getting less average or the numbers have crept up.

Of course safety will be cited – and the increased speeds on the roads – and the congestion…but these factors are all intertwined – one producing the other – and larger vehicles only exacerbate the problem. They give the drivers feelings of entitlement, power, and arrogance – if there is any tendency on their part to this in the first place, it is exaggerated to a toxic level in the big sedan or SUV.

The small end of the market is perfectly adequate for most urban and suburban travel, and surprisingly good for country work as well. The VW beetles of fond memory ( grown sleek and large and overpriced once their design was altered…) went everywhere and did everything. So did their Variant cousins and the T vans. Before them the small Austins, Morrises, Vauxhalls, Hillmans, etc were all we needed and pretty well all we wanted.

We want them back again. The intervening automotive engineering and computer revolution would make them better than ever, and if the makers could be convinced to produce a really basic vehicle that would last, a lot of people would see the light.

I’m encouraged by the Fiat 500C and the small Suzukis. The tiny Nissans are not as good, but the Daihatsus could make a comeback and be welcome – as long as the designers could be convinced not to overload them with features.

Simplicity is what we crave when we sit down to tea – a knife, a fork and a spoon is all we need. Same thing with a car.

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The Verge Collection

Do you have them in your country? In your suburb? The semi-annual opportunity to haul out all the old items that have given up the ghost, or the new ones that you are ashamed of, and let the council haul it all away. Ours is this week and I have created a large little pile.

They specify only good junk – no batteries, paint, or munitions. No old asbestos fences. You are not allowed to throw bodies on the pile. I grumble at this sort of prissiness on the part of the council – in the good old days garbage men would take anything.

But, if you want to lose the old computers, exercise bicycles, Tupperware lids, and floor lamps, you have to comply. You’re not allowed to crowd the verge until the week of the pickup, either.

Fortunately, in addition to the official trucks there is also a veritable army of private scavengers who tour the streets with vans and utes and sift through the piles before the council gets the good stuff. It’s probably illegal, but no-one cares. As long as they observe the unwritten rule of leaving the pile neat when they go, most householders are more than happy to see the stuff vanish as soon as possible. It makes more verge room for the next shift of trash.

I noted today that we lost the garden tubs and the cordless telephone but gained a broken scooter and several coathangers. I cannot for the life of me think why people would add to the pile in the night, but then they might have too much loot on their rickshaw and have to off-load the extra. I once had a prowler leave an untouched IKEA glass shelf that fit my IKEA bookcases – a definite win.

They only do hard goods twice a year, and green waste ditto to a different roster. It is in lieu of giving everyone a tip card and letting them dump their own junk. I think they could up the frequency and people might be tempted to wind back the consumerism a bit. Tough on the exercise machine market and the broken office chair trade, but good for the environment.

Buying The Dream

Going to a car show is a little like being a psychiatrist; you see crazy people hear a lot about their dreams. Or, perhaps that should be changed – you see a lot of dreams and hear about crazy people. Sometimes there are couches involved.

Whichever approach you take to it, a car show is also a commercial affair – even in the simplest open park affairs there will be someone selling something. Insurance, ice lollies, or Isotto – Fraschinis. Or in the case of hot rod shows; spare parts, wheels, black tee shirts, and paint jobs. And also, apparently, the hot rods themselves. And I don’t mean just the owners who have put a cardboard sign of whatever price ONO on their half-finished project – the WA hot rod show had some pretty complete items for sale.

The sellers that caught my eye were a commercial firm of automobile retailers who maintain showroom premises in  two suburbs. One of the showrooms is not too far from my home and has been an auto site since before 1964. It used to sell Morris, Austin, and Wolseley – then Saab and Volvo – and now is given over to exotic cars from all sorts of makers. I don’t know if there is a new-car agency in it or not, but considering the nature of the vehicles it offers, it hardly matters. This is all enthusiast big-money stuff.

I’m not qualified to talk about big money, as I do not have any. Very few of the people I know personally do either, though I have met some people through my former employment that might. Or then again they might not…I remember meeting a high-roller and high-spender in the 1970’s that proved to be financially and morally hollow. Best not to go back to those memories nor speculate about current people.

But I can sort of wonder about who the customer for the yellow Chevrolet pickup that you see in this post will be. It was a noticeable feature of the Xoticar display, and for good reason; it was darn near perfect. Maybe it was entirely perfect – I did not get to see it driven in or out. But from the look of the finish I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

The pictures and the sales board tell you as much as anyone could about the car, but the real questions remain unanswered. Who built it? How much did they sell it to Xoticar for? What can they tell us about the bits inside that make it go? Why did they sell it to Xoticar?

More. Who is the target customer?  Are there target customers for turn-key rods and customs as much as there are turn-key customers for sports cars and any standard vehicles? Speaking as a turn-key driver of a small daily-driver hatchback I can see where that is a perfectly valid model for normal transport, but I always associated rods and customs with people who built their own.

More, still – I associate rods and customs with people who design their own as well as build them. Tastes can be as variable as the wind, and the idea of buying someone else’s taste – or dream – seems strange. What if they did not do it the way you wanted? Would you have the courage to break it down again and build it differently? Or would that be like overpainting a picture in an art gallery?

And who has $ 94,888.00 dollars to play cheque book hot rodder? I’m a bit cynical about the 888 in the price because I live next door to Leeming and Winthrop, and the doors of my hatchback show it…but have my neighbours taken to rodding?

Will we see a flurry of moon disks and lakes pipes on the BMW and Mercedes? I tremble to think.

Will We See British Cars Again?

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Great Britain is set to consider their trade and political ties with the European Economic Community in a referendum or plebiscite in a short while. We have been tossing the question back and forth in our house about what they might get or give, grab or grieve over once the voting is done.

No great political wisdom here and no idea whether the British imagine that they can crank-start the Commonwealth/Empire again. I privately doubt it – the UK ended the thing as an economic cartel in 1973 and they have been out of the political empire game since 1964. The former members use the Commonwealth as an excuse to have their own Olympics in the interim of the real Olympics with the added advantage that they don’t have to try to beat the Russians or Americans at anything. But they all stopped trading in a cosy fashion as soon as China got enough economic power and the Arabs started to blackmail the rest of the world with oil and madmen.

We sat here gloomily trying to think of something that Britain could make and export that would put them on the top of an empire again and the only things we came out with were Eccles cakes and Changing the Guard. Or they could rent out the Royal Navy and RAF as regional thugs to various crucial states or small rulers. ” A Gunboat In Every Harbour ” seems a good slogan. The BAOR probably isn’t O the R any more these days and doesn’t really want to be, but they could still infest Africa or South America for a fee.

One thing I do hope for if the British decide to keep calm and carry on, is the revival of the large British car industry for small cars. Disregarding the current Mini, which is nice but really a BMW design, and the splendid excesses of Jaguar, Rolls, and Daimler, I really want to see the return of the workaday small sedan, hatch, shooting brake, or van. Particularly the van. Or the little two-seater sports car. And I want them to return in simple form – not bedizened with all the plastic must-haves of the Asian car. I’m a flat cap and rubber floor mat driver.

British cars still appeal to people who remember the older days. We would still buy them if offered. Look at what the British motorcycle industry can do with their classic marques – they sell all they can make. Time to try it with four wheels.

Grim , Grey, and Grimy

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Merrie Englande. The Old Dart. Blighty. The Old Country. Mother England. Pommieland.

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If you have gotten to thinking that England is all meadows and Cornish beaches and GWR railway autocrat gliding through the fields…we present the other view. Courtesy of the WA Model Railway Exhibition. The Lord Street Depot.

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I can only guess at the location but the time period seems to be the late 50’s to early 60’s. The British Railways logo on the side of the locos gives that away, plus the lorries and vans fit the era. The grime is timeless. I cannot say whether the real English rails scene was as dark as this but I am willing to take the word of the layout builders.

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I think it is O scale, and this means the vehicles are 1:43 or 1:48. I admire the good sense of the builders in making sure they are lined and weathered to fit in with the theme. In particular the use of the thin black wash on the beige sedan (Morris? Austin? ) makes it real.

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Like a lot of British-themed layouts this one is a shunt back and forth yard with the occasional making up of trains and an arrival or departure to punctuate the day. Very much life as it was seen by the people who lived and worked in these areas – if they were not working on the trains and travelling to other places they did not envisage those other places. I know it is somewhat of a old saw to say that the European’s world was bounded by the walls of his town or his fields for a millennium but at least that makes the modelling of a railway scene a little easier and cheaper for them than the North American layout that tries to do a point-to-point over an entire basement.

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This layout had an amazing feature. I’m still not sure if what I saw was what I saw, but I think that the little red lorry shown in this photo was entirely free of any under-ground control. It traversed the length of the layout – up and down the roadway, and seemed free to steer from side to side. When it reached the loading dock at the bottom of the hill it stopped, reversed into the dock, and then eventually ground its way back up the hill into the Lord Street Depot yard. I think one chap was operating it with a 4 channel radio controller like they use for model aircraft, and I’ll bet the motor that drove it was one of the servo motors from an aero set broken out of its casing. The action of the little lorry was absolutely realistic and I found it to be the most attractive part of the scene. Full marks!

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Full marks to the designers of the large Lord Street Depot building as well – they incorporated just enough interior detail and bluish lighting to give the impression of a working building. Too many modellers fail to do this, even when the openings are small and the effort to detail the interior would be small. For my 1:18 scale automotive world dioramas I cannot afford to have bare interiors – they would give me away in a second. I do admit to deciding to leave some internal rooms unfurnished if they will never be seen from the outside, but showrooms and offices that open to a window must have some furnishings.

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One thing I do hope – that the operators of Lord Street Depot can occasionally be treated to a fresh passenger carriage in Blood and Custard passing through to liven up their day. Rust and grime can dull the soul.

 

 

 

 

Gratuitous Airplane Shots

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If you are a fan of virgins with wings…that don’t have hair under them…here are a few from Perth and other airports. No particular order – just civil aviation.

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For the fans of uncivil aviation…the model builders of military aircraft…there is less opportunity here to get meaningful photos as PEARCE AFB is home only to a training squadron and most of their flights are conducted far away from the city. If the RAAF takes bottles in for recycling and does car washes on Saturday they can save enough money for aviation fuel and stage a once a year fly past of about 8 trainers . It goes over the city twice and then home again and you never actually have your camera out in time – so I have to content myself with posting photos of the RAAF display team over Melbourne on Australia Day each year.

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Is There A Home For Old Winch Trucks?

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If there is, I hope our old GMC winch truck that we used in British Columbia in the 1960’s has found its way there and is quietly idling away in some shed. And I hope that someone has had time to slap on a new coat of vile turquoise paint on the cab and red lead on the boom and  bumpers.

I was moved to this sentiment by seeing some of the older commercial vehicles at Whiteman Park. I can’t say whether preservation or restoration of a large truck is harder or more costly than that of a fancy sports car or veteran sedan…but I suspect that finding the basic vehicle to start on might be harder. There would have been fewer medium and large trucks in a community than the smaller utes and cars, and the trucks would have had a harder working life of it.

As well, a lot of these might have been modified time and time again as successive owners acquired them and put them to different tasks. And a lot of chassis were supplied bare – to be outfitted by the owner for whatever purpose. I think the licensing of these sorts of things was laxer in the old days, particularly in the bush areas.

Still, there are dedicated enthusiasts and men who have direct knowledge of farming, timber work, cartage, and mining who remember their old workhorses fondly and who bring some of them back from disuse – and drive them to motor meets. I guess the expense of doing so, and the hard work driving these heavy vehicles, is paid back in the special status they enjoy.

So enough writing. Here’s the pics. If any of the old-truck chaps would like to invite me along as a passenger on their next pleasure outing, I will at least be able to take the heavy camera gear…

 

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