Why Is There A Goat?

Why indeed?

The question arose on the back court of the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne this year as I was photographing this Dodge. The questioner was a woman who was photographing all the cars at the hot rod show….always a pleasant activity. She was as burdened down with extraneous photo gear – extra cameras, tripod, and lenses as I was free of them. I used my travelling Fujifilm camera with my travelling lens and…well…traveled…

She was genuinely puzzled by the ram on the bonnet. A surprise, because she had a North American accent and the look of a person who covers a lot of motor shows. I didn’t feel it my place to enlighten her, but left as I heard her buttonhole other people over the question.

As it turned out this time., this was one of the very few occasions when there would be a preserved Dodge on display – the RAC show in the park had very few cars on display – God knows why. I am glad that I got to see this one where it was, as the visitors to the VHRS are respectful of the vehicles on display – they don’t climb and smudge over them.

Isn’t it magnificent? The Dodge may not have carried the prestige of the Lincoln or Cadillac, but then again how much better did it penetrate the Australian market at the time. And how many more do we have to see at the end of the day.

I just wish that the makers of modern cars could take a style hint from the 30’s and bring back solid duo-colours. And bonnet mascots. Surely there is a place for meerkats or penguins or something…I wonder how she would have done with a meerkat?

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A Desireable Property

Going to car shows is sometimes an exercise in patience – waiting until the car you want to photograph is free of strolling gawkers or until a glacier whizzes by…either one…and sometimes an exercise in tasteful criticism. Not that you are allowed to voice it – even the worst cars are there because someone thinks they are the best cars, and gentlemanly behaviour prohibits you from suggesting otherwise. But it is rare that I can go to a show and see a car that I would like to drive.

It’s not that I am mega ambitious – I drive a little green Suzuki Swift all day, and am perfectly satisfied with it. I can look at exotic vehicles all day and not raise a sweat or anything else. But occasionally I do get the wannas. This Dodge has excited the feeling.

It is a simple pre-war coupe with a rumble seat. Still in LHD form. As stock as they come, if you disregard the metallic blue paint finish. The interior has all the characteristics of the era – deco dash instruments, painted finish, and long gearstick. I see an air conditioner there, which bespeaks a larger engine, perhaps. But the whole suggests the best sort of daily driver.

I was also charmed and enlightened to see the handle on the rear part of he cabin. Now I finally know how they secured the rumble seat in a closed position. A daunting place to ride but I’ll bet there would still be takers wherever you went.

Again – if they made them look like this now, we would buy them in a second.

A New Departure For Collectors

Diecast car collectors in Australia who wish to depict the local car scene are not all that well served. Oh, there are expensive exotic cars from Biante and Classic Carlectables of the street rod and motor racing kind, but the number of average driver daily vehicles in the large scale is quite small. The prices are high, of course because there is no economy of scale. I rather despaired of making up a modern Australian section of the collection…until I went to the car show today.

It was some sort of charity show with an eclectic mixture of sports, rod, classic, and all-too-recent beaters. I enjoyed it once it was found, and didn’t think my $ 5 badly spent – because it opened my eyes to the idea of a wider net for modern Australian collecting. You see, I can do what the car owners are doing in ever larger numbers – importing overseas cars to become local prides and joys.

Hitherto I shunned the idea as it seemed counter to my goal of making a real little world. Now the real big world is changing and I can use this to branch out. Look at some of the North american iron that people actually have here – as well as some of the European stuff.

I still have hopes that someone will get in a supply of 1:18th scale modern oriental cars that are not Japanese drift specials or Winthrop wankwagons. I want workaday wheels and industrial vehicles on my roads – so many of them are on the full-size street.

The Rod Lesser Travelled…

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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.

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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…


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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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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A Question Of Tastes, Bud

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We often use the word taste to do more than eat. We use it to see, hear, and purchase things. We use it to elevate ourselves and depress others. We use it to express moral outrage when we cannot think what else to do. And we use it to design motor cars.

Here are two motor cars seen at two separate car shows. Both in good condition, both perfectly functional, and both surprisingly expensive…that is the one unifying factor with collector’s cars. They are both dearly loved by their owners so in most important aspects the debating platform starts out completely level.

Then it tilts badly – and it tilts because of the prejudices, bigotry, elitism, nationalism, and desire for gain that is “taste”. For all we know there may be politics and religion mixed in there somewhere.

 

The finned wonder is a Dodge Coronet, the green and grey car is one you’ve seen before on this weblog – a Jaguar. They are exact contemporaries and at the time their companies shared no commercial or artistic connection. It seems evident that the designers had little connection with each other, either.

 

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This is the norm for commercial firms that existed before the Second World War, but in retrospect seems a little unusual for two nations that had shared two major wars and a flow back and forth of technology in the interval between 1941 and 1959. You might consider that in each case the designers had gone through at least three major body phases to arrive at the 1959 model but had taken vastly different routes.

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Also consider that they designed for vastly different customers in terms of income, social status, dwelling place, and general road structure. The two sides of the Atlantic might have had similar roads to ride in the cities, but once the North Americans got out past the suburbs they were travelling much a different highway than the Britons – motorways notwithstanding.

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Yet I still hear, as I did in Melbourne at the Hot Rod Show, the snort and haw of the automotive Colonel Blimps when they encounter a sedan like the Dodge Coronet. They deride it for ” bad taste ” while remaining perfectly silent about cars like the Jaguar. Were they honest to the entire question, they would really have to compare that Dodge to the small Austins and other humbler devices available in Great Britain and her former colonies ( Ahhaw, ahhaw, ahhaw, what?)  at the time and I am afraid in many cases the comparison would not be upon favourable terms. Think smaller, pokier, nastier, more cheaply constructed, but more expensive to purchase upon relative terms…and always coated with a durable layer of class-consciousness.

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But that is not what taste is about. Salty, sweet, finned, or with a wooden dashboard, taste is about an internal assessment that can have little to do with actual external circumstances. Perhaps the best that the North American car enthusiast can hope for is that English gentlemen will remember it’s considered well mannered to chew with the mouth closed and perhaps this would also apply to taste as well…

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The Plastic Bumper Club – Or The Personal Car Club

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I have recently been going to car shows that referred to themselves as ” Chrome Bumper ” shows. This was to limit the entries to a certain section of the history of automobiles. That was after narrowing it down further by era and time and type and nationality and degree of reworking and…and…and a great many fun things would have been excluded.

The cars that did show were fine – and presumably fitted into slots that the organisers set up. I had a good time. I got some good shots and some new weblog posts for the column. But I couldn’t help think about a different approach.

Of course this is nothing new. You can have a car show for British cars, Italian cars, VW cars, Veteran cars, etc and the very name sets out the criteria. You can ask for classic cars and the question becomes a wider one – and one that I suspect is driven by money and prestige as much as enthusiasm. You can ask for new cars. But I am thinking that you could have a great show asking for Personal Cars.

Cars that have been taken past the factory fit-out to to become something special to their owners. Driving cars, as opposed to show trailer queens. Cars from any nation and any era that have been endeared to their drivers with something extra. It might be a fully chopped, slammed, sectioned, shaved, and pink fuzzy diced ’49 Mercury. It might be a fuzzy diced Nissan S Cargo. It might be a classic Roller or a classic baby Austin with rebuilt everything. All it needs is to show the hand of man – or woman – after it rolls out of the factory and it is a Personal Car. Paint jobs count big-time. Interiors count big time. Full undercar ricer lighting counts big time. No-one gets excluded because of the bumper or rego sticker or country of origin.

Big show. Fun show. Lotsa food trucks. Shannons making a mint on insurance and the tee shirt guys throwing ’em off the racks. Pinhead striping a silver Audi TT with pink flames. The Forged girls on 15″ high heels. All kinds of a good time being had by all.