The World-Travelled Hobby

Coventry, England…New York, USA…Perth, Australia. Well you don’t get ’em much further apart than that – and you don’t get a tale of resurrection in many other hobbies than that of vintage cars.

Oh, there are a lot of restoration services for antiques – businesses that rebuild cellos, escritoires, and clean oil paintings…but few actually go to the extent that car restorers do to get the objects of their affection back to new. The only other example I can think of is the aeroplane restorers and they have an even more difficult task as their end result needs to defy death and gravity as well as time.

Well, the best thing I can do for the Jaguar XK 120 Fixed Head coupe story is to show the sign that the owner placed in front of it. Judge for yourself the dedication of a Western Australian who not only repaired what was left over in California over two decades ago, but converted it expertly to right-hand drive. The only saving grace would have been the fact that there were many more of the XK120’s made as RHD originally that the parts would have been available…but I’ll bet they were pricey.

Beautiful lines, of course, but as they are so reminiscent of the luxury cars of the 1930’s you have to wonder if the designers’ minds had been set in this before the war and they could not retune themselves after. I think some of the construction methods were also in the same category but this might also have been to do with the British unions’ control of manufacturing and trades.

I was most impressed with the security taken to keep the wheel covers in place. Actually, I’d love to see wheel covers return to modern styles and don’t know why they have not. Perhaps the age of elegance has passed.

 

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I often wonder whether the Ford Motor Company realised just what good fortune they had when they named some of their motor cars ” Victoria “. It seems to be a name that was added when the Model A was born in 1927, thought there may have been a style of coach body made earlier in the horse-drawn days that was similar. Given the immense prestige of the British queen, Victoria, in the 19th and early 20th century there must be literally thousands of product and places that bear the name.

Such as the state of Victoria…the one sandwiched between New South Wales and South Australia. Perpetual rival of NSW…so much so that the federal capital had to be placed in a special administrative territory between the two states…more or less out in the boonies. ( A good place for it, as it keeps the pollies away from the rest of us for much of the time. )

But away from this, the name ” Victoria” applied to sedans made by Ford – such as these seen at the recent VHRS in Melbourne – must have sold cars to Victorian buyers by appealing to that deep-seated home instinct.

Even if they do not admit it, the pull of a locale name always boosts the popularity of a song or product. And in this case the consonance between place, royal association, and the word for winning would have been worth millions to the car company.

Other makers have tried it too – Austin tried to foist a terrible car on us by calling it a ” Tasman “. Holden stacked on Monaro, and there have been others. No-one has had the nerve to try ” Adelaide ” or ” Mount Isa ” but there were probably moments in the board rooms when the danger was clear. I am hoping for the Renault ” Manangatang ” some day, but the company has stopped returning my phone calls.

Red and Green – Port and Starboard

Or in this case – Avant 1 and Avanti 2.

I never expected to see a Studebaker Avanti in Australia – it was such a rare car in North America in my youth that I only saw one of them in Canada. Of course far more were made – you can google up the statistics of production for yourself – and there were always Avanti model cars in 1:25th kit form. It was the sort of thing that attracted the scale model market…even if the full-size customers shied away.

Studebaker was always pretty advanced – from their Raymond Loewy designs to their Lark compact cars and then on to the Avanti. Though I sometimes wonder if the high point of the company was war-time truck production for the US Army. In any case, the Avanti was one of their last hoorahs before they closed the plant. it would appear that it was really only a two-year project.

But what a project. Four seater, fibreglass body, Lark chassis. Unique body style and pretty good performance – many records at Bonneville.

And here’s two of them down under – one converted to RHD and one left in the original configuration. The LHD Model 1 has the advantage of matching the bonnet scoop moulding to the driver’s console. The green Model 2 has to make it serve as a style statement.

I’m afraid that not everyone is as impressed with the styling as I am – one of the female spectators at the 2018 VHRS thought it was the ugliest car on show. I wondered if she could see it for what it was. And I wonder if she could have accepted ” The Pickle ” better if it had an Italian or European name attached to it. The rear elevation is surprisingly reminiscent of some Alfa or BMW lines.

In the end I hope the owners of the Model 1 and Model 2 are going to be proud of their unique cars. They will never be worried about the bodies rusting out. Or being stuck behind five identical cars on the freeway.

I’ll Have The Green One, Thank You

Well, it was that time of year – the Australia Day weekend and the Victorian Hot Rod Show was on at the Exhibition Buildings again. I approached it with some trepidation…

Not because of the Australia Day parade and the visit to the NGV or any of the good things that had happened on the day – because the RACV had cut short their annual car show on the 26th and I was afraid that when I visited the VHRS the next day it would be as sad a disappointment. As it turned out, I had nothing to fear.

This fine Holden EK visited the open section at the front of the building. This year then committee decided to send the bulk of the front visitor’s cars to the rear of the building , which left a little more room at the front for yet more cars. A good idea – more cars increases the chances of seeing something special.

American readers can see Chevrolet…or at least General Motors influence in the styling, though they will recognise that it is an Australian body and a little smaller than the cars they were used to. Still a good big hefty vehicle for the late 50’s and early 60’s and made doubly attractive by being a station sedan.

No idea what is under the bonnet, but I would be willing to bet it is a clean example of the standard engine of the time – an upright 6. The good looks of the outside of the car practically guarantee that the owner will have done as nice a job in the engine bay. I note that the styling touches have been kept to the conservative side – wheel trims and removal of badges being the most I can see…though I do note that there seems to be an effective air conditioner and some extra sound in the interior. And did EK’s have a floor shift…?

Well, anyway, we come to the paint job. Faced with the long, long roof line of a station sedan, the designer did the very best thing that he could – striped it all the way, and then put in tasteful internal scallops in some of the panels.

I am particularly impressed with the use of the silver striping down the middle. Was he influenced by the design motif that Pontiac had on many of their cars?

One question…with a car as nice as this, why wasn’t it inside in the show section? Would it have made some of the other owners feel jealous? I know I’d swap my dog and horse for it…

 

They Went Datto Way

A few year’s back I attended a pin-up car show day at the Ascot racecourse here in Perth. The pin-up girls were intriguing and the retro stalls obviously had their devotees…I resisted the temptation to take home a number of items. But the best part for me was the unusual line of cars that attended.

You’ve seen some of them before in this column – the shoebox Ford sedan and the two-tone Jaguar saloon come to mind. The three-toned Valiant Safari with the hessian door liners was a highpoint for me – but I also got a thrill from this Datsun 240 GL. I suspect it is mid-70’s…not old enough to be antique but still with the design characteristics of another era.

I can’t say if the interior is a cleaner and leaner one than today’s designs, but it looks more spacious  to me. Less wrap-around light show about it. Dear old cassette tape deck and a AM radio – it was all we needed in the day and I suspect it is all we need now…but don’t try to argue that one out with the Bluetooth boys. Those of you who have never seen car seats before may wish to pay special attention to these – they are styled to make anything you wear look good.

Likewise the vinyl top. I hope that it stays in good condition – some vinyls were prone to leakage and rusting underneath or cracking under harsh Western Australian conditions – the grey looks good with the green bodywork.

Notice the painted wheels – there was a period of time there between the hubcap era and the alloy spoke era that saw a transition with small centre caps . They could look lonely inside a big wheel and the really cheap ones made of black plastic were a real stylistic turn-off.

On final thing to observe – the side spear is actually useful for defending the doors – unlike many modern sedans that have heavy moulding on the side contours but leave the panels open to every careless parker in a shopping centre. Full marks to this Datsun for just enough to do the job.

 

The Stylish First That We Never Remember

The silver Toyota Corona seen in today’s column is about 1966-68 vintage, I should say. I recognise it from my first days of car-shopping – it was one of the marques that made it through to my final selection panel in 1966. It did not take the prize – that went to the Renault 10 – but I’ve been considering it in retrospect for years. I think it might have been the better car.

No, I’ll qualify that. The better car in a pedestrian sense. I don’t mean better for running over pedestrians – I mean a car without any spikes of engineering brilliance to carry it through mundane build quality. A car that was excellent without being extraordinary. As it is, over the years I have come to appreciate that more than the four-wheel disc brakes and independent suspension of the Renault.

The Toyota Corona was the first, however , that we saw here with the slope-back grille configuration. This is ubiquitous nowadays, but in the 60’s all grilles tucked under rather than protruded at the bottom. In the interim since 1966 the designers have had to pursue more aerodynamic configurations, but back then this was unique. It nearly sold me on the style.

The off-put was the sort of little thing that customers often obsess about; in the engine bay a number of the actuators and brackets were finished in raw cadmium plating…and it looked cheap. It wasn’t, of course, and probably held up better than painted parts. But such is the perception of an uneducated buyer.

My friend, Dave Walter, bought a new ’68 Corona and hotted it up as hard as he could. There were speedy engine parts and rally seatbelts and spotlights…and it was never raced or rolled anyway. But that is what you did when you were 19 years old. I indulged in stick-on racing stripes and a chrome gear stick knob. I had style over substance…

I Want To Feel Better – Hand Me A Hammer

In the merdestorm that is the current Australian political climate, I have found myself wishing to see less and less of the opinions of my social media acquaintances, and more and more of logical and pleasant subjects. Thus I turned to a series of pictures taken at this year’s Sydney Hot Rod Show. It may be rusty, but we all need iron in our diet to some extent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They can also be said to pay you off for years before – in the sense that if there was some aspect of car building that you had always taken for granted or only vaguely understood, the cat of seeing it pounded out in front of you also tends to pound it into your brain. The chopping of the top on this Chevy is exactly a case in point for me. I say – for me – because you might have realised the difficulties and understood the procedures long before this. I’m just grateful that I got to see these chaps working.

Who are they? I do not know – it would not have been polite to interrupt. Do they know what they are doing? Look at the pictures – they are doing it. It was obvious from the straightforward way they went about measuring the thing with a steel tape and then bending and clamping that they knew precisely how to move that metal and exactly where to relieve it. It was staggering to see the condition of the car and to realise that one day it will re-emerge from destitution into a thing of beauty.

The shapers at the English wheel were good to watch but not quite as exotic for me – I have a friend who has an extensive metal-working workshop and forge and I’ve seen he and others using these machines to make plate armour pieces. They are not car enthusiasts as such, and they have lives too busy to become such, but I’ll bet that if the armour and blacksmith boys had to repair their own car bodies they could make as good a job of it as the professional panel beaters.

Of course they would not be able to help themselves somewhere along the way. Enthusiasm would surface and eventually one of them would be driving a Peugeot with pauldrons…