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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Before Cadillac Were Too Much To Swallow

I do not wish to be disloyal to the Cadillac motor car company or to the greater entity that is General Motors…but Cadillac has been too much for too long. Too big, to heavy, too much over the top in style and construction. This is not surprising, as it was promoted and eventually realised as the most expensive of the GM cars – a vehicle that would capture the imagination and the money of the rich and famous. It’s been outdone in this lately by the excessive offerings of Europe, but for a great deal of time it was the North American Rolls Royce – the one that the newly rich could actually get their hands on.

Wasn’t always so, and this delightful Cadillac Eight attests. There was a time when it was well-crafted motoring but could still be seen to be a normal design. Around the time of the First World War – 1915 –  this was their first 8-cylinder engine. Note the L-head design and the delightful priming ports for the cylinders. This sort of engine has been reliable for a very long time – enthusiasts have discovered examples that have not been fired up for 60 years and have gotten them running in short order.

The car is a tourer, obviously, and the sign at the front said that the body is an authentic example sourced from Boise, Idaho. Of course it shows a very great deal of attention to the upholstery and fitments but the casual onlooker might be surprised at what might seem sparseness in a Cadillac dash.

Thank goodness the restorers have opted for authenticity rather than modern convenience. Others are sometimes not so fastidious.

 

Small, Blue, And Triangular…

And French, to boot. How much more mysterious could you get?

The Amilcar seen here at Hyde Park this year is the closest thing I could find on the day to my all-time favourite motor car – the Samson of M. Hulot. It has a little more style that the Samson, and this could be a problem for me as I have no style whatsoever, but for a car as lovely as this I would be prepared to wash, shave, and dress.

It is hard for a person with a limited grasp of the French language to read literature of the period – the 1920’s – and understand all the nuances of the country. I depend upon English translations and these can sometimes be a view filtered through glass coloured by any number of biases. But one does not need to be a master of literature to appreciate an object of the period – whether it be art, furniture, architecture, or mechanics. Thus the Amilcar acts simultaneously as a vigorous stimulant and delightful object of art.

And it is an adventure. Who could set out for any destination in this little roadster without experiencing a thrill of discovery – of danger, of wind, and dust, and velocity. Rain, too, though there is some provision for protection on the port quarter of the boat tail. Neither the driver nor the passenger will be in comfort, but neither will they care – they are racing against the clock to Monte Carlo, or Rheims, or the local IGA. And the Polly Farmer Tunnel at 80 Kph must be as good as a ride at Disneyland!

I’m rarely jealous of others’ motor cars. The troubles and expenses that they are faced with are a barrier to me – but I would be prepared to face them if there were a little mechanical delight like this as the reward.

But one thing puzzles…the blue triangle. I cannot find any sensible reference to it in a Google search. Perhaps readers can enlighten me.

 

Addendum: The Leatherworking Reverand has supplied an answer – apparently the blue triangle is an indicator panel required under CAMS rules to indicate where the battery of the car is located – for vintage motor racing. Thank you, Reverand.

The Last Half Century On The Road

It is always a shock to the system to realise how old you are. I don’t mean when you are very young – a little kid knows exactly how old they are because they count the time in months and years. They have a great deal more time between the events of their lives – the birthdays, Christmases, and school years – and they feel it acutely.

As a retired coot, I feel it as well, but the sense of disconnection is not present. I go from one year to the next with hardly a blink. I went to a post-Christmas barbeque with three friends…two of whom I had not seen since last Boxing Day, and I could still recall the conversations around the table 2 or three years prior to that on similar occasions.

All this as lead-up to the speculation that I have been driving steadily in a private capacity for over half a century . I started at 17, I’m 69 now. I hope to be competent and licensed for driving for at least another decade, as I have places I want to go and people I want to see. I agree that I will need to stop driving some day, but hope to have gotten all the dirty deeds done by then.

Note that currently I am allowed to use public transport in my home city free of charge on account of age. I’m close to a bus route, and it is close to the train system. I’ve been exploring the use of these facilities in the last two years and am pleased with the efficiency. If you keep out of rush hours and off the lines that run to horrible suburbs it really is pleasant.

On the road, I have long passed the boy racer stage. I also seem to have passed the suburban tank and/or ute stage as well, though I do long for a good old station wagon sometimes. But that longing goes away when I pull up at the petrol pump – my hatchback is just perfect for city travel.

The really interesting thing I note is the disappearance of the need for intensive service and maintenance on the average little car. Mine’s 7 years old now, and bids fair to go another 7 if I am careful. The first five years only saw service for it at the dealer’s once a year. Even now, it is only every 6 months. The constant oil, grease, and fluid maintenance of the 50’s and 60’s cars is now sealed in. Even the battery just sits there for most of its long life and charges and discharges without asking for much.

I wish the laissez-faire attitude to design would come inside the modern car – particularly onto the instrument panel. My car has as much in the way of tits and clocks as I ever want to deal with, but I notice that newer and more prestigious vehicles owned by other members of the family are tricked out with video, LED, screens, sensors, and music players that frankly defy understanding. When I travel with them I keep fingers off the buttons and try to concentrate on the outside world.

I hope that we do not see further silliness on the roads like driverless car stunts and cameras snooping from every vehicle – and that we gain a little relief from the traffic congestion. I suppose my best way of aiding this is to use the bus and train or just stay home. Or take to doing my driving after midnight.

Spitty Spitty Bang Bang

With apologies to the Disney corporation and Dick Van Dyke…

I couldn’t help myself when I saw the personal plate on the Triumph at the Hyde Park Motor Show on Monday. It is a free vintage, veteran, and whatever show to celebrate Labour Day. I much prefer the old vehicles to watching political marches.

The Spitfires were the cheaper line of sports cars from Triumph during the time when the TR4, 5, and 6 were made and seem to have been around in various forms from 1962 to 1980 – the green machine seen here is one of the last incarnations – the Spitfire 1500.

I was privileged to drive a Spit 1 in 1964 when we first lived for a few months in Australia. I think my dad was having a mechanical moment when he set out to buy a sports car from the Sunday Times newspaper. We saw a procession of MG’s – TC , TF, MGA, etc. but they were either too expensive or too chatty to consider. The Triumph must have hit the spot for him and I was delighted to get to run it. I’d just got my license and in retrospect I’m surprised at my parents’ calm attitude to a 17-year-old with a sports car. I never raced or rolled it, however, and in the end went back to North America safely.

Years later, in memory of my father, I wanted to buy another little sports car and dived into the Sunday Times again. There were fewer to choose from in 1983, but me and my Mother went out to see a number that were on offer. What a series of revelations…

Note: In the interim, my wife had once bought a brand-new MGB roadster in 1971, and had the fun of driving it for a year. She was not a sports car person but it looked beautiful to her. She had the very best of it, as it did not falter during her ownership…but I got to look carefully at the design and construction of it, and to ponder about the old technology and philosophy that MG loved…

Anyway, back to searching for a used Spitfire – or a used Austin Healey, MG, TR etc. The owners who presented their cars were mostly honest people. They all explained what repairs and restorations had been done to what they were trying to sell. Some had log books, and some had loose-leaf binders of mechanic’s invoices and parts receipts. A number of them had detailed reports from firms that had fabricated new floor pans, wheel arches, and body panels and welded them together. The accumulated histories of the various cars was probably intended to re-assure. It actually horrified. Both me and Mum agreed that buying a used sports car for nostalgia was nothing more than buying expense and trouble…

But I could not help getting a pang when I saw how nice the Spitfire 1500 looked. The colour is defiantly green, which I like, and apart from the side graphics – an affectation of the time – the rest is a delight. I should imagine that it would work, like God, in mysterious ways, and possibly perform wonders – The old Spit 1 certainly had  a multitude of things going on with the body panels whenever it went over the railway crossing. But for a drive on a warm evening after sunset, nothing could be more delightful.

 

Mors The Pity…

I regularly review my car show pictures from one year to the next to discover who has been seen before and who can be reported. The yellow Mors car seen here in 2018 first came to my attention in 2014 and was photographed with a Fujifilm X-E2. At the time I was learning how to fill in harsh Western Australian shadows in noonday sun and tended to over flash everything.

This week I did it differently – I took a Fujifilm X-T10 camera with a short zoom lens and left the flash gun at home. I knew the camera would be capable of extreme resolution as it had performed well at the Sydney and Melbourne hot rod shows. But I was curious to see if the RAW files could be treated in the Lightroom computer program in such a way as to render the fill-flash unnecessary. Avoiding one big, heavy, piece of gear on a trip is a good thing, and not having to do mental arithmetic while shooting is another.

Well, it looks as though the business worked. I stoked the ISO up to 800, set an aperture of f:8 on the lens, and let the camera choose its own shutter speed. In the RAW files I increased the shadow detail and dialled down the highlights, but the essence of what I saw in the park has still come through. To be honest, I am happier with today’s tonal rendering than I was with 2014’s. And it was all so easy.

I am not adverse to easy…

Note: From the looks of the headlamp, this is a daytime Mors.

 

The Virtual Infernal Device – Part Two

A note at the start of this column – never resort to laying virtual minefields by the criminal and deplorable act of making computer viruses or hacks or scams – whatever the current term for this sort of nuisance. It is illegal, immoral, and low. It may bring you to the attention of the law…or worse…other hackers and smart-arse teenagers.

No, the virtual mines that you need to lay are honest and decent objects. The best of them are bright, clean, shining examples of good fellowship and sound thinking. Given the proper target and an accurate fuse, these can detonate  wonderfully well.

Case 1.  You are a subscriber to the social media page ” F—book ” – and seem to have some hundreds of friends thereon. You might be scrapping to remember those faces if you meet in the street, but there they are every day at tea break on the computer screen.

In reality, you are connected to far more people by these contacts than you might think – for they all have further lines of communication that go out and connect to others – and what is written may be borne away or brought back from uncountable distances.

Not every contact on that great net is a smart one – nor are they all necessarily kind, polite, sane, honourable, and good-humoured. Your 200 contacts might be the salt of the earth but further out you find that they have mutated into salts of arsenic…

You may not want to mine your friends, but you can certainly reach further out to mine those marginal contacts. You can blow them up at a distance. The best way is to agree with them.

Now, everyone likes to be agreed with. If it can be accompanied by praise, so much the better. It feeds the ego and soothes the soul, even if the ego is swollen and the soul really needs a good scrub with a wire brush. If you are clever with your praise you can encourage the swelling so much that the victim explodes with hubris and rains down in social pieces.

Equally good is disagreement. If you make it just civil enough to stand up in front of a magistrate you need not resile – but every mild scorn you might show for the greatness of the not-quite-great ( or of the pretended virtue of the marginally virtuous…) is equivalent to a declaration of total war. They can be relied upon to detonate with rage and commit the most ghastly spelling and syntactical errors. And all in the plain view of their net of contacts.

Case 2.  Do you remember the great days of the sticker on the back of the car?  When the bumpers were chrome, I mean. They were a wonderful way for the occupant of the car to make fools of themselves at 60-80 Km per hour. Then the internet came and people could go onto the forums and ” F—book ” and be unpleasant or foolish without leaving home. It’s saved a lot of petrol, mind, but I rather miss the old days of seeing the hippie vans pour out of Fremantle coated in politics and faerie dust.

Well, those days need not be gone forever. If you have a computer connected to a cheap printer and you can get Avery sticky labels  from your local newsagent or office supply warehouse…you can travel back in time.

Whether you elect to travel back in your own car or via those of others is your choice. The idea is to make up a series of sticky labels with stirring slogans and display them on the rear of a vehicle. They can be political, derived from the current presidents, prime ministers, state premiers, etc or they can be religious, moral, or pop-cultural. It doesn’t take long to print up an ” Elect Hillary, Michelle, Oprah, and Pauline ” sticker in basic red, white, and blue and have it ready to clap on the back of a parked Mercedes. If you do it low down, it can be seen on the road by the following motorists but not readily by the driver. You won’t be there to see the rear-ender but then that’s the whole idea of minefields – you don’t want to be there when they go up.

Don’t be nasty with your stickers – there are enough nasty posters on the net trying to push their agendas. Be nice. Praise someone, even if it is only George Wallace or Idi Amin.