Shoe Two – The Ford That Makes Me Nervous

I get it. I really do. I was puzzled at first but I’ve seen enough now to say that I do get it. But it makes me nervous.

The rat thing. The Baxter Basics movement in the hot rod world that thinks it remembers what rodding was like in the late 1940’s and wants to suggest that it is bad to the bone. And who am I to say they are not…?

 I am a spectator – a photographer and gawker at the hot rod shows. I can be amazed and amused and no harm comes of either experience. The rodding enthusiasts and custom builders are marvellous artists as far as I am concerned and I applaud nearly all I see. I know that I could never display a hundredth part of the car-building skills that they show.

But I am also not a police motor vehicle inspector or a patrolman on the roads. And the fact that I admire the rodders and ratters counts for nothing, if one of these officials takes a dislike to a car or driver.

I’m not accusing the police of bad behaviour. They may be executing their duty in a perfect manner. But sometimes there are temptations placed in front of them that would be nearly impossible to resist. It must be a very finely run thing for them to look at a vehicle on the road and make a snap decision about whether it should be driven over the pits…or into one.

The artistry of the rat is a very strange mixture of dilapidation and deliberate provocation. Some of the local cars in this style seem to be works of low-brow art – so much so that you wonder if they have not been made as a parody of themselves. Others, like this NSW shoebox Ford – have a genuine air about them. The authenticity is the thing that would trigger the vehicle squad…and I would be afraid that if they ever started in on this car they might not let it escape their clutches.

 Like every car, it is a work in progress – heck, my standard suburban sedan is that, as is every car on the road. But mine would be less likely to get a sticker on the windscreen as it does not advertise itself.

Well, I hope it all comes out well in the end. If there is a gleaming 16 cylinder Hispano-Suiza engine and a racing car chassis under the Ford skin, all might still be well at the Vehicle Inspection Centre. I didn’t see under the bonnet, so, like the US Navy and nuclear bombs, I can neither confirm nor deny. Let’s just hope the NSW cops do not fiddle with the fuse.

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.

The Golden Woodie – Part 2

I do not pretend to understand engines. With the possible exception of the .049 Cox Thimble Drome model airplane engine – and that impressed me with its ability to bite into my fingers. But all the rest are intricate mysteries. People ask me why I include pictures of engine compartments in my reports if I don’t know what I am seeing – I do it for those who do.

Other people are more knowledgeable – This 350 Chevrolet seems to have been neatly fitted into a place that once held a considerably smaller Ford flathead engine and presumably moves the car along at quite a bit faster pace. I salute the skill that does this. My complements to the chef who also decided to do it without cutting horrid holes in the bonnet and poking industrial machinery through them. Perhaps the owners of this wonderful custom car have passed the stage of wanting to have things look like an Ed Roth cartoon.

How much shoe-horning was required? Well the show sign said they sectioned the bonnet and reshaped the fenders so there must have been some squeaky moments. I have a 1:18th scale die-cast model of a 1948 Ford Woody so I will go look at it to see if I can see where the cutting took place. I can’t see a bad line anywhere here.

Likewise, I am going to have to consult a 1:18 model of the Ford convertible of the time to see if I can pick out how the shape of the boot lid was done. I can’t say whether the body is a readaptation of the original or a new construction but if the car comes back onto the Perth display scene and we can get closer to it past the honour barrier, I will examine it closely.

Note the wheels. perfectly chosen combination of modern spoke design relieved and highlighted by the repeat of body colour and the period-correct effect of wide whitewalls and substantial tyres. Some stylists might have been tempted to put in thin rims and strip rubber tyres, but I am glad to see they did not do this here. The Ford tragics in the crowd might have looked askance at the Chevy bow ties in the hubcaps, but then it has a Chevrolet engine after all. And all the bow ties were lined up for smooth appearance.

 

 

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.

 

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…

 

 

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.