Pull Up A Plymouth And Sit Down…

The recent Hyde Park holiday show turned up something I have never seen before in one of the intriguing details of a 50’s motor car.

The car is a 1955 Plymouth station sedan – apparent from the licence plate though in this case it may have been imported to Australia a year later. They were like that – you can never tell whether a car style that you knew in North America is really the same year here. I have my suspicions that the major makers whacked out all the panels they could in their own model year and by the time this was finished they shipped the worn dies to whoever would pay for them…Australian divisions might have been glad to get them or might have taken them on sufferance – but that is a speculation I’ll leave for the crusty old motorfarts.

In any case, this Plymouth’s appearance matches Google images of the US production year pretty well. The outside is nice, but a bit staid. It has plenty of hauling space in the back. And it has a surprise on the dashboard.

No, not the fact that it’s RHD – at that time a car couldn’t get a licence for LHD unless it was restricted to one of the American communications bases – as soon as it came down to the metro area it had to have a conversion within a specified number of months. It might have been factory, but it might also have been a factory kit sent out and installed here.

The surprise for me is the transmission selection lever sprouting beside the wheel column. I’d seen them on column and I’d seen the push-buttons of the later Chrysler products in Canada and here. It’s an automatic, so the driver won’t be grabbing at it as they steer along. But what a sensible way to do it! – and why did no-one else at the time get on the bandwagon and make the same design? It is an electro-mechanical control that would have been easy to transpose to the other side of the car with just one special moulded panel. And the dash has a centre panel and two symmetrical side panels so that makes it better.

Well, ergonomics are like that, and Chrysler may have put some sort of patent fence around the idea in the US. I think I’ve seen dash shifts on some French cars, but not as straightforward as this. Almost as much fun as a four on the floor.




It’s Been A Golden Week

I often think that really good museums, art galleries, and car shows should have a premium service that rents out little three-legged travelling stools so that patrons could prop themselves up in front of the exhibit, painting, or car and just sit there looking at the details. It would make the experience one of quality rather that quantity. And we could block up the aisles so no-one else got a look-in.

I was a good visitor to the Perth Hot Rod Show. I obeyed the rules. I did not touch any of the cars, girls, or other photographers. I stayed outside the honour barriers. I stood aside to let other people see the cars. But I did want to climb all over this one…

Let’s get the featured image out of the way to start with. The sensible decision to paint the bumpers rather than re-chrome them is one that a lot of people take these days and I applaud it. I think it can really improve the looks of some of the cars, and I am surprised that it has taken so long in the custom car world to come up with it. And the use of quad headlights is also brilliant here – the Ford of the period was, like all cars, a two light design. This worked fine when Fords were narrower, but by the time they got to this year – 1946 – the sheer width of the nose made the lights look paltry and their chrome bezel did not help either. They were not alone in this, of course – look at what a Chrysler of the time looked like…

Not bad, as such, but a little wide and lonely out there. The Toyota headlights helped fill the Ford in nicely.

But the show stopper is the wooden grill teeth. In another vehicle they would have been an affectation. In this one they are pure art.

The wooden theme has also surfaced in some of the other trim. Note the doors and the surround coaming of the back seat. I am terribly sorry not to be able to show you the dash, but the honour barrier prevented me from going round there and seeing how far the wooden theme had been taken inside.

I have no idea what sort of maintenance schedule will be necessary to preserve the New Guinea Rosewood of the body. Perhaps modern varnishes like Estapol will keep it fine – the Western Australian sunshine can take the life out of most woods in a very short period of time. Let us hope that this car continues to gleam for decades to come.


Every time I open the WordPress site I get a dashboard that lets me control the weblog. Every time I get into my little Suzuki I sit behind a dashboard that lets me control the car. It is a comfortable place to be in both cases and I can see the wisdom in naming the set of electronic quizzes and sliders that we operate for sites and computers the same as the automobile – we are nearly all familiar with one somehow.

Well, leave the weblog and the computer aside and follow along to a couple of car shows as I look at the dashboards. I find them a fascinating insight into the minds of both the designers and of the society they serve.

DSCF0114The first dashboards literally dashed the mud aside as buggies and wagons followed horses. I’ll bet that the horses were not fooled – they could think of ways of spattering the people behind them anyway. But the dashboard of the wagon might only need to have a footrest, and no other controls. This leaked onto the first horseless carriages – they have few things happening in front there either, though they start to add pedals and switches to deal with braking and transmissions. Sometimes with the acceleration of the engine, though in many of the old cars this was still happening around the steering wheel.

Sometimes pipes and gauges were added to cope with fuels, or water, or oil. There might even be electrical gauges if the driver needed to know what was going to fail next…

Gradually the gauges took on more significance and prominence. People might not have needed to know how fast they were going early on because they were not going fast at all. When they sped up, someone wanted them to slow down, and quantified that – speed limits were evolved and drivers needed to know how quickly the vehicle was moving. The speedometer appeared. Followed by the speed trap and the fine.

Technical brother to the speedometer was the tachometer – how many revolutions per minute the engine was making. The driver could use the information to decide when to shift gears, if the screaming of the transmission or the passengers did not supply the signal. Old timers probably paid more attention to this one and regulated themselves in their district on hills and turns they knew by watching their revs.

People needed to know how much petrol or other fuel was in the tank and for a long time the only way they could determine this was a dipstick in the tank. That or a glass gauge with a tube in it somewhere near the tank. Or sticking their tongue in the tank. It was a long time before a reliable petrol gauge appeared on the dashboard…and I am waiting any week for one to show on mine…A guess is as good as a mile in many cases and that is how far you’ll be walking when you ignore the little floppy needle.

Oil? All engines and many navies needed it, but the original measure was a dipstick on the crankcase for when you had it and a grinding clank when you didn’t. The idea of putting an oil gauge on the dash to worry the driver came along pretty quickly but it was generally done by means of a tube from where the oil pressure was to the gauge in the dash where the needle swung over. The inevitable vibration and fatigue fracture would send the hot oil somewhere unpleasant. It was quite a while before they thought of a sensor and electrical reporter for this.

Electricity, coming or going, is invisible. You only ever hear it when you are holding a spark plug lead and the block and some comedian cranks the engine over. Then it makes a noise like bad words. For some time the designers did not really know what to measure as far as electricity went and there were few sensible gauges. Eventually they settled on a little bobbing needle that went one way when you were using it up and the other way when you were making more. You could even measure the battery to see how much electricity was in there but it was always a blasted lie.

Most other measurements and reports were only commentary. Various makers decide to tell you or not, depending upon the market and whether they thought you wanted to know or would understand the message.

Will post later…must dash…



The Little World – Sad Economic News – The Chinese Are Getting Enough To Eat

dscf2393An article in the latest issue of THE DIECAST MAGAZINE by the chief executive of a die-cast model car maker is disturbing. The chap has laid out the history of die-cast vehicles from the 1980’s to the present day and has accurately traced the rise and fall of the average model car.

He’s pointed out the economic fact that the Chinese model making workers are getting better off nd expecting more pay in the future. The heyday of cheap labour from the PRC is over as the population starts to benefit from their own productivity. The western buyers who got a great model for $ 70 will be paying 4 x that amount in a few years time. It will mean that fewer prototypes are modelled.

There will be museum-quality stuff made always, and the rich can have marvellous new toys, but the small modeller will be left with repaints of previous issues. The collecting hobby may well stagnate.

I’m saddened by this. I’ll cope by changing what I collect and photograph to match what is made, and in some respects this will be a good challenge. I am already making a modern prototype diorama and will look at other slices of auto life in my own country to illustrate. Enough to do for my time, I am sure.

But here’s hoping…not for economic downturn or despair in China…but for renewed interest in reasonable quality scale cars for reasonable prices.

I, for one, am more than happy to sacrifice opening bonnets and boots and sometimes opening doors to allow a particular model to be successful. I have an Australian XP Falcon made like that and it is all I need. I would be happy with plastic resin cars, provided they are models that no-one else does and can be detailed enough. And I would dearly love some of the licensing restrictions to be taken off MOPAR and British cars.


Colourless And Shiftless

dscf4460No, this isn’t a post about my relatives – this is a tribute to STEEL 32 at Gillam Drive. An artistic presentation.

In case that sounds pretentious, I have to admit that it is actually inadvertent art – the hot sun on the shining surfaces of this bare-metal rod made for such glare that the only way I could rescue the files was to convert them to monochrome. The car had a little colour, but not too much more, and the black and white rendering serves to show the raw power.

Before I launch out on it, I have to say that I do not disrespect plastic bodies for cars. I remember the Studebaker Avanti, a number of racing cars, and the Lightburn Zeta. They were glorious. And a number of glass-fibre bodies are made for cars from the hot rod era – indeed sometimes it seems that every second ’32 or “T” is a glass-fibre shell over some sort of steel tube-and-strap reinforcing cage. I’ve stopped looking into the unfinished ones for fear of what I might see.

dscf4463All that said, I do love to see a steel body. I never lean over then and bonk them with my knuckles – I respect the rights of the builder too much for that – but I like the feeling that I could do so without cracking the surface gel. And they sound better.

If they are subject to rust, well that is an honest chemical reaction after all. It can be dealt with – after all, what do you think they invented lead and Stanley files for? It beats ugly little cracks and bits flapping as you drive. And they can be left, as STEEL 32 has been, uncoloured and just protected with a clear finish. You get a sense of authenticity that can sometimes be missing in a completely finished car.

dscf4461I’d also like to record my agreement with the builder’s decision to leave the fenders and the bumpers out there fending and bumping. It means that it is a real car that deals with real travel on the road – not just a decorated cake on a trailer.

dscf4462As for the shiftless part of the title…well that is a bit of an exaggeration – every car has some sort of shifter in there somewhere and if you look at the steering column of STEEL 32 you’ll see the column lever and indicator on top. It is a far more elegant decision than some of the giant floor sticks with skulls on the top. The choice contributes a great deal to the clean minimalist tub interior and it is a pleasure to see that it has not been overstuffed with stereos, air conditioners, and kewpie-doll dispensers.


PS: The engine is the famous Ford Hemi – named after Henry Ford’s half-son…Only a few of the 1932 model had it at the time. Pleased to see that they found one in good condition…

The Rod Lesser Travelled…


At the hot rod shows I attend I can always count on seeing a Ford. I can also always count on seeing a Holden and a Chevrolet. If they are not cars that have been built here in Australia, they have been imported. Many they are, and many the variants that grace the show floor or the car park.


But after this, it can be somewhat of a free-for-all. Cars of all makes have been seen – Packard, Cadillac, Buick, Mercury… and the GMC and Studebaker…


But fewer MOPAR vehicles, and few indeed of the mid-50’s Dodge and Plymouth. Either there were fewer of them, or fewer have lasted. I am grateful when one turns up.


The Plymouth and Dodge cars you see here were in the Swan Valley or at Gillam Drive. Not overworked customs by any means – very close to standard Dodge or Plymouth sedans, with a great deal of preservation work done on them rather than chop abouts. It is difficult to say whether this is because the owners cannot see a radical design calling from inside the small bodies of the sedans or if it is just too hard to get parts and panels to contribute to the work.


I can imagine that they would have been a common set of vehicles in North America in those years – we drove a Dodge in ’66 and lots of our friends had other Plymouths before that. I do not recall seeing any custom MOPAR then, but that was in the Canadian bush and country towns – oddly enough I cannot remember seeing a Cranbrook in Cranbrook…


Never mind – here are three different cars with some interesting details. I am particularly pleased to see that their interiors have not been neglected. It is inside the car where the retro enthusiast can really start to feel the spirit of the times. All it need is some California Poppy and the smell of a Chicko Roll.







The Fine Fins Of 59


The prize tailfin on American cars has often been thought to have been on the ’58 Cadillac Eldorado – see the picture of Penelope Pinze in the desert – but I disagree.


I shall leave aside the sheet metal freak that was attached to the rear deck of the Plymouth Roadrunner. It is tall, but definitely a bolt-on item and not in the spirit of the 50’s or 60’s. It may, or may not, have contributed to stability at the rear end of this muscle car, but it was not a part of the original sheet metal design for the sedan body.


For my money the champion tail fin or stabilizer was sported by the 1960 Plymouth line – all the way from the Belvedere to the Fury there were two magnificent fins cutting the air. The junction of the front of the bonnet and the grille may have had an uncertain style to it but the flanks of the beast were all that could be asked for.


Here in Australia I see that 1959 brought a sort of peak of style as well, but in a bit more hesitant way. See the rear quarters of this 1959 Chrysler at Gillam Drive. They feature tail fins piled upon tail fins piled upon tail fins – surely a combination that deserves some respect. The angles of the side trim have been carefully set to divide the broad white into two manageable sectors. The black roof is stylish, but on Gillam Drive in summer style comes at a price – the price of comfort. It is the only concession that this driver need make – the rest of the vehicle is superb.


I hope Tony has some success with his sale – a custom car as nicely presented as this one deserves to be treated well. It would have been the pride and joy of a well-to-do person here in 1959, and not too common on the road. Plenty of power in the engine if the owner  wished to tow a caravan…one thinks of the long winding southwest roads in those days and what it must have been like to be stuck behind an Easter caravan on Caves Road…This is what you might have seen  – minus the Coromal…


Please note one more period piece in the rear window. Not as common as they once were, but authentic nevertheless…