Dashboard

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…

 

 

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The Edsels From Mandurah

 

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I do love a car show. No matter where you go there always seem to be new vehicles on display. And by the very nature of the thing, their owners want you to take notice of them. Oh I met one very odd lady at the Big Al’s show who forbid me to take pictures of her Ford pickup truck – a ban I promptly ignored – but by and large they love having photos taken of the cars.

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Edsels are not that common in Western Australia – I’ve seen two of them at Big Al’s on separate occasions – the red and white seen in the background here is one of them – and now two more at the Whiteman Park show. All of them have been preserved/restored well with little evidence of any hot rodding or customisation. I think the seat covers and valve stem trim on the white vehicle seen here is the wildest that they have gotten. And I can’t say I blame the owners, either – they have something in their hands that stands out from the motoring pack without adding extra accessories.

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Here in Australia we have also had cars that have been treated like Edsels – in my youth the Lightburn Zeta, the Goggomobile, and the Hillman Imp come to mind. They were small and cheap and horrible. I am thrilled to be able to say that the Imp was on my short list for my first car. Eeeek. I came thaaaaaat close to stepping into one…

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Okay, all that aside, and at a comfortable interval – over 50 years – since the ex/implosion of the publicity campaigns for the Edsel, we can look at the actual vehicles. Remember that you are seeing a late 50’s American product and the styling is going to have all the signatures of the time. Apart from the suggestive oval grill work, there are flattened fins on long rear decks, hefty, heavy chrome bumpers, and cavernous boots. In the case of the two-door there is a very large side window space once the glass is down and in both instances there are solid doors.

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Folks, these are features I would love to have in a car right now. I can’t get them because they don’t make them on things I can afford. In some respects I am worse served by modern design over that of 57 years ago. Of course, when I fill my little car up with petrol and buzzle about for a week on one tank, I am validating a number of those design decisions…but not when I try to take four people for a ride with a holiday’s worth of luggage.

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Is it better built than a new Bentley? No. Was it better built than a ’59 Bentley? No. Could more people afford to buy it than could afford Bentleys? You know the answer to that one. I know at least four Western Australians who have opted for the Detroit iron…

 

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.

Get Outa Here! Slowly…

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Aha. I have just realised that there is a good way to overcome some of the disadvantage that pertains to car shows -the thing that I complained about in a previous column; the overcrowding of the display lines. I’m not a greedy person – I don’t want it all for myself or all to myself …but I do wish for a clean view of it. Now I think I have it.

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Normally I leave most events early. Whether it is a professional society dinner, wedding reception, or siege – it is always better not to be there at the end. I have applied this principle to car shows as well – leaving before the show winds up. Not that I would have to do any of the cleaning – I just take pictures and pixels are easy to sweep up – but I should only be in the way as people started pouring kerosene and match heads into their superchargers and tried to get the engines to turn over. Plus I am worried by robust language and I reckon some of the owners would be utilising it as they kicked the cows…

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As luck would have it, the Brockman Port To Whiteman Park Run show wound up while I was there. They gave tannoy instructions to the drivers and waved them off through the gate of the grounds onto a main street. This naturally slowed the stream as they fed into traffic, and in turn presented a nice slow cavalcade to view. Sun position was good, focusing was easy, and the only problem was the occasional intrusion of a fat arse in cargo shorts and a fluoro vest who stepped into the line of sight. There is probably always one at every car show and it might well be him every time…

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I noted a similar opportunity last year at the end of the Australia Day car show in Melbourne. There were a number of roads exiting the main park and moving down them was slow for the drivers of the veteran and vintage cars. All the better for the photographer. In the future I am going to bide my time – perhaps even go a little later in the day – and mark well the exit roads and possible vantage points. I’ll still try to get close-up detail for cars as well as lurching crowds will permit but the best clear shot will be as they drive away.

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Photographer’s note – tempting as it is to use a tripod for this, I still think a hand-held camera and a fill flash will be best. I’ll be using the pre-focus manual method with everything set as the cars approach a fixed point. It’s always a little experimental as to when to release the shutter when you are using an electronic view finder – there is a time lag in any camera. If you have set the speed, aperture, and manual focus, however, you can sight along the top of the camera housing and fire it instantly when the vehicle comes to your pre-selected point. This also works with 17 pounder anti-tank guns but it is more difficult to use them unnoticed – at least with the Fujifilm cameras you can turn the shutter noise off.

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Technical note: These images were taken using the new Fujifilm X-T10 and the 27mm f:2.8 pancake lens. What a sweetie of a combination – light and fast. Perfect for touristing it without weight or bulk. Next best will be the new 35mm f:2 when it is released in Australia.

A Plea From The Car Photographers To The Clubs

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When you are planning your next car show, could you please park them a little further apart?

We are thrilled to bits that you will be bringing your vintage-veteran-hot rod-street car-sports car-truck-bus-tank to the park-stadium-exhibition hall-mudflat behind the asbestos works. We don’t mind paying at the door-gate-edge of the car park for the privilege of seeing your prize machines and we want to make great pictures of them.

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We promise not to stand on the running boards like the punters do, and poke the dashboards like the punters do, and scratch the duco like the punters do. We will be respectful.

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We will be utterly patient as the tag-teams of lurching punters slowly walk in front of the cars and progressively block the view…never allowing a clear sight of the edges of the cars. We are trained to stand still in one spot until the exact quarter of a second when the mob clears. We are frequently consulted by still hunters and snipers about how to remain motionless. Ninjas envy us.

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But we need a helping hand. If the cars are parked too close together we won’t be able to do them justice. We’ll have to use extremely short focal length lenses and the cars will look distorted as hell. Of course if they are Italian supercars no-one will be able to tell, but the regular British and French sedans will look odd and it will be a dead giveaway.

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Likewise, if you park them with their back to the sun, most of the exposures will look too dark – we’ll end up trying to light the front of the car with a reflector or a fill flash and it will look most unnatural. Again the Flopatelli Snazolla III Supraeformaggio won’t suffer too badly, unless it is the open Monza version with the folding wings. And they look bad in ANY light.

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We do appreciate the trust and kindness the drivers show by leaving the passenger’s side window down – the interior shots will be so much better – but if you can’t manage that, it’ll be all right anyway. We can boost the shutter speed to 1/180 second, stop down to f:16, and fire a fill flash up at the headliner from the quarter window position while the camera looks in through the side. It’ll be a little dirty but not too bad. If you leave empty beer cans and dirty novels on the front seat that is your affair.

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In exchange for these small changes we promise to take good pictures of the way your cars look. We will photoshop out the rust holes – unless you are driving a rat rod, in which case we will photoshop more in for free. We will draw a discreet curtain over the state of the interior floor.

 

 

Driving A Laughing Stock – The Courage Of The Edsel Owner

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Let me say at the outset of this blog that I am on the side of the owner of the Edsel – and of the P-76 – and of the owner of every other motor vehicle that has become the butt of jokes – jokes that can sometimes be at the expense of truth and rational thought.

You’ll have seen an Edsel on this blog a few years ago – one was exhibited at Big Al’s in 2012 with the rather unkind license plate of “LEMON”. That accords with common legend, but then again so does the idea of the unicorn or the mermaid. Or the British constitution, for that matter…perhaps it is time to consider it again.

The Edsel cars were a new venture of the Ford Motor Company in the late 1950’s – as much to put out new design as to break free from the then-current model lineup. The name commemorated the son of the original Henry Ford – you can read the family history that included the relationship between him and his father but be prepared to cry or curse as you do. Suffice it to say, the use of the name might have been a fine gesture in other times and in other circumstances.

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The Edsels came out with a very great deal of fanfare, and as much advertising as a major manufacturer could produce. Much was made of their styling, and this concentrated around the oval grill placed in the center of their front end. I think that every car and mechanic magazine I read in 1958 harped on this. They touted it as a return to the grillwork of the 30’s. Other weirder publications likened it to a vagina, but I was 10 years old at the time and I never read those publications…

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It was over hyped on all levels before the introduction, but proved nothing more than a restyled Ford or Mercury body in the end. A few mechanical footles, but nothing really bad or really good – just the style, the advertising, and the eventual souring and smart-assery of the press. The day of the compact had just about arrived and the day of the square sedan ( even with a vagina and a Madison-avenue campaign ) was just about over…

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So – here’s the Edsel Ranger at Big Al’s 2015. It has enough style to attract/repel anyone. I find myself admiring the reverse-flip of the side sculpture as it goes from concave along most of the car then pops out into a convex form in time to frame the tail-light. These tail lights hold no more horror for me than those of a ’62 Chevy and the belt line trim is very reminiscent of the Studebaker Larks of the time. I know Ford was wedded to round tail lights for a long time, but I would have popped for long teardrops on that chrome base.

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I shall leave the roof pillar line to devotees of 50’s Ford to praise – it seems awkward to me. Likewise the detail of the front bezels seems to have one more wrinkle than necessary – but that is just me being fussy. The basic nose design is almost a BMW of the 60’s…almost.

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I think the choice of the hubcaps and beauty ring on this Ranger is quite attractive, but viewers would be advised to Google up original pictures to see what they rolled out of the factory with.

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I am delighted to see this car – and I should wish the owner well with it, despite history. Ownerships shows an independence of spirit, and if that can be maintained in the face of the sort of foolish commonality of talk, so much the better.