Can You Afford To Own A Chevrolet?

Or put another way – If they try to sell you a Plymouth can you Dodge the question?

No good Nash-ing your teeth over it either…

How odd that as we pull away from the curb into the twenty-first century in Australia, we should do so in the Toyota, Subaru, Daihatsu, Nissan, Suzuki, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Fuso vehicles. Or, if we have been successfully greedy, in Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Lancia cars.

We should be hard pressed to do the same in a Humber, Standard, Triumph, Rover, Hillman, Austin, or Vauxhall.

And yet today I will go to a car show that glories in Ford, Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Willys, Cadillac, Mercury, and Chrysler. And they will be spectacular and bright…or rotten and rusty…but will reflect the best of a car builder’s skill. Very few of them will be oriental or continental. What do the hot rodders and custom car builders know that the rest of us have forgotten?

Can we be reminded by an industry that needs to stop repeating what Europe and Asia say? Can we still build what we need, for ourselves, where we live? I hope so.



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 Wonderful Woodie

I must confess an affection for the woodie body style in a motor car. I have never owned one, but I find them fascinating whenever encountered – they just seem so ‘practical’ in their styling and construction. Whilst being clearly illogical in engineering terms.

Or to put it another way – we can all see what the construction of a table or chair is – what a wardrobe is made like, or how a staircase is slotted together. The woodie car style is much the same – a wooden casing attached to the rolling chassis of a car much like a wooden carriage might be plonked down onto the flatbed of a railway wagon. The doors are wooden doors like the doors of our houses. The framework that supports the body panels is external to the panel – like the timbers of a bridge. The hardware and fitments are closer to furniture than coachmaking. and the finish is polished and varnished wood. The furniture analogy could not be stronger.

But the reason they are what they are has always been a bit of a puzzle. Were they THAT much cheaper to make in the 1930’s than metal bodies? Or was it a style thing to suggest something else. What did it suggest? Rural austerity? Cowboy adventure? Country-club exclusivity? Who knows…

The part that intrigues me these days is how a woodie gets past the pits. We have ever-increasing laws written by engineers and bureaucrats that demand more and more in motor cars – all ostensibly in the interests of safety. Sometimes I wonder if the safety that is being promulgated is being applied to the employment prospects of the engineers and departmental pencil pushers…but then I always was a cynic.

The business of wood seems to be the place where they fall down. I know it forms part of the shell framework of many vintage and veteran cars – and they get by on the great grandfather clauses of motoring laws. It has featured in a notorious case of the sale of an unsafe car here in Perth – the rusted framework had been packed with wooden beams to get the thing sold and had then broken over a railway line. I suspect that when we see woodies now in either hot rod or stock versions, that there has been a subtle reversal of this construction; there may be metal struts under wooden covers.

Whichever, I was greatly cheered to see the woodie at the recent Curtin FM Car Show near Curtin University. I cannot imagine that the woodwork is anything but fresh and new, but I take it that it was patterned after the original design. It looks glorious and probably just as practical as a metal body would be. I’d be curious to see the differential in weight between the two forms of construction.


Welcome To Victoria

No this isn’t a travelogue about a state in Australia – it’s a post celebrating a milestone for me – the first time I have seen a Ford Victoria car of the 1930’s.

Don’t put me down as weird – it has been a missing link in my motoring interest since I was a teenager – all because of the AMT model kit company. It was introduced in the early 1960’s as the next car in their Ford series past the 1932 3-in-1 Coupe and became the rage of the age for a year or so. The body was rarely built in the stock form – indeed neither were the Model T nor the ’32 Coupe – as we teenagers had more desire for model hot rods than model history. It was a golden age of interest for model building, even though the resources were limited. We made the most of them.

But the body style of the Victoria was still a mystery. I’d seen innumerable roadsters and coupes, and also a fair number of sedans. Here’s one of the sedan styles seen years ago at Whiteman Park.

It may be that the Victoria style did not have quite enough practicality for most people – if they were going to pop for a closed car, they wanted four doors to get into it. The two  doors of the Victoria are followed by solid side and a slightly abbreviated rear seat area – and as you can see from the rear view, no piercing into the slope of the back body to make a boot or rumble. The closest thing I can liken it to is the later business coupe.

Of course one could always cope with the haulage requirements at the time with a trunk attached to a rack. It looks crude, it is crude, and it is entirely real. I wonder how many of them ended up on the highway downstream from a set of bumps in the road. Perhaps not too many, as these were still 4 – cylinder cars.

As I was poring over the beauty, two other enthusiasts came up and started a conversation between themselves – in which they speculated about the brassy little cylinders on the right rear running board. I took the liberty of studying this as they spoke and discovered that it is a patent air pump for inflating tyres. I believe that they connected it to an off-take from the exhaust and the pressure then acted as a second-stage pump for air into flat tyres. They seem to have had a lot of flats in the early stages of motoring. I’ve had less than half a dozen in 51 years as a driver – perhaps the tyres are improved or perhaps I drive more cautiously.

In any case, this is great – it has finally showed me the well-proportioned beauty of this body style. I think I prefer it to a standard 4-door sedan. This car in particular was a symphony of style with the two-tone body, black fenderwork, and buff wheels. Modern car painters could take a lesson here.

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 Little World – Mockup

Every project worth doing is worth failing miserably at and spoiling the materials. Said no modeller ever…

I have had my share of failing miserably and spoiling, thank you, and I need not do it anymore to feel humble. I prefer to succeed now, and will take every little advantage I can to do it.

One of the recent dodges has been to use the computer and image-altering programs to mock-up future projects, This lets me see whether what I thought was a good idea will prove to be so in the end. The planning still needs a lot of thought to see if the mechanical part is possible, but the end appearance tells me whether to go ahead.

There are several images taken of 1:18 scale die-cast cars. They are fine models in their original colours, but inappropriate for what I am trying to do – and now that I know that paint can be stripped and replaced, it is a matter of planning new liveries.

a. The Ford Model T delivery car was bought from a stand at the VHRS show a few years ago. They floggged it for $ 40 due to the promotional nature of the paint job and graphics. I knew there was potential.

The PMG ( Postmaster General’s Department ) van is in a museum here in Oz. Bless them, someone recorded it and put the image on the net. If I disregard the LHD nature of it, I can repaint it and put on decals for a pretty good local model. The computer mockup is crude, but lets me get a feel for it.

B. The 1932 Ford three-window coupe is probably a Motor Max product. It was a kindly gift from a friend but the makers only got so far in their quest for accuracy. I found a real ’32 that is similar…and have decided that if I repaint the fenders and the radiator shell, I can get close enough for jazz. If the wheels came off more easily, I would make the spokes cream, but as I don’t want to risk breaking them, they will have to stay silver.

Would it be better looking altered? I think so.

The image altering program on my iMac is the simple Photoshop Elements 14. The skills to select sections and then either dump or overwrite their texture and colour were simple to learn. The lettering is internal to the program, as is the shading. Each mockup took less than 20 minutes.

The real benefit of this idea is not in what in what you do, but in what you do not do. I have conducted the same sort of exercise for other models and for real cars and ended up after a half-hour concluding that the final product looked bad. I could junk the file without having an expensive real-life disaster on my hands. Living and learning we all do, but it is better when it is for free.

Welcome To The Diecast Collectors

If you read my little note in the Diecast Collector’s Forum and have just tried out this weblog column – welcome. The administrator of the DCF was very kind in letting me put that little piece of advertising for this and my other column – Dr. Stein’s Photographic Establishment. I won’t impose further on him by repeating the advert but if you find some value in what I write, please tell other hobbyists to come here.

As you know I do scale model photography of my diecast collection – you’ve seen some of the results in the past few months. The DCF is a wonderful discovery for me as I thought I was alone in the way I pursue the hobby. It is greatly heartening to discover that people from all over the world also put time and effort into model photography. Of course they all have different tastes as far as the models they collect, but that is what makes the hobby go so well.

In the archives of this column are a number of essays dealing with my first discoveries in the techniques – I collected them under the ” Hot Rod Honeys ” banner – you’ll find a whole series of them scattered over the years. I don’t think the internet ever loses anything so if you want to see what got me going, it is all there somewhere. I am a little frightened to review it all as it is probably riddled with spelling and grammatical errors – plus the photos have been a developing process (…not a pun…) and some of the early efforts look crude now.

Still – it is all fun. I just repainted a Model T delivery van today that you’ll eventually see, and the Model A Ford got an authentic 1930’s Kodak sign tying it to Australia…and eventually tying it to one of my new Australian dioramas.

So please keep reading. If you are a keen photographer the other column is at:

You’ll find diecasts over there too, but a lot more photographic topics.