A Jaundiced View Of A Cadillac

dscf4405Don’t be put off by the title of this post – I am not at all unhappy with the Cadillac custom car I saw at Gillam Drive in 2016 – the ” jaundiced ” in the title refers to something else.

I came across the car in one of the side lots that they open up for the morning – car worker’s workshops and parking areas that are put to use for extra display space. This is getting bigger each year and the inclusion of these extra areas is a real service to the owners and the viewers. Bigger IS better.

Well, I was doing the line looking for new metal and I kept seeing this frontispiece parked there – and it kept bugging me. I could recognise some of the lines but there was something so strange that I just could not put my finger on. So I started to look at it carefully.

dscf4411Cadillac, certainly. The only other things that big are aircraft carriers and they don’t generally paint them yellow. But what year? What model?

dscf4407I am guessing ’72-’74 and the Eldorado plate… But the characteristic grill work , sidelights, and headlights have all been altered remarkably. And the extended fins at the rear are pure California Kustomland. And the windscreen and rear glass…the stock ones are  broad curves instead of being the split slits you see here.

dscf4414The dash also makes me think of the 1957-59 series, with some considerable thinning of the opulence of the period. I think it might have used the instruments of the time but be comprised of other parts of other cars to fit with that split screen. I’m left guessing.

At this point I hope the owner can write into the answers section column with some of the details – I think it would make a fascinating story.

Remember the ” jaundiced ” bit? Well I am convinced that the Fujifilm X-trans sensor has a problem when it encounters extremely saturated paint colours out in the field – particularly on a bright sunny day. It has blown out the yellow on the bonnet of the car until it almost looks like a pearlescent beige. I assure the readers that the car overall had a smooth and consistent mild butter yellow rather like the image of the tail quarter. The rendering fault is in the camera – not the car.

The Political Holden

dscf4368If you have had enough of politics after the American election you can skip this post, but it really isn’t too bad – no Trumps or Clintons will be used.

The title was suggested by this car’s licence plate. Seen at Gillam Drive, and at other car venues around Perth, it represents one of the slightly up-market models of native design that Holden produced last century. In this case it has been further boosted by what I suspect may be a lot more engine. Or at least a lot more horsepower.

dscf4373The year looks to be about 1968 – perhaps this is the HK model. It is unlikely to have had a similar model in North America or anywhere – this body style is Australian. The locals will immediately recognise it and, if they are not Ford tragics or Chrysler fiends, will acknowledge that it was a fine staple car for the period. It had as many suspension and steering quirks as any medium sedan in those days and the usual level of interior vinyl/bench/ column shift that similar models from the other two big makers. They were bigger than their Japanese counterparts, cruder in some respects, but much more long-lived and long-legged. You can get parts, panels, and publications for them, so that they are a viable option for both customisers and restorationists.

dscf4371If you are determined to increase the power available in the engine there are also packs that will turn the local 3 litre engine into a competent performer. Not all of them require you to use a can opener on the bonnet or put a cluster of instruments onto the fascia. Or out by the windscreen wipers, for that matter. If you do it is style. The cars themselves had a great deal of style just stock – they were, after all, the up-market version of the Holden Special of the time.

dscf4372Politics? Well, here in Australia our state heads of government are known as Premiers. We also have Governors, but they don’t – they are a leftover from colonial days. There is Prime Minister in Canberra and if we are lucky, that is where he stays. But the use of a state title is prestigious so GMH chose Premier. Later one, Holden also brought in the Statesman and the Commodore before reverting to the workaday world of the Crewman, Drover, and Jackaroo.

I am never sure whether the names of cars actually stimulate purchase – whether the idea of status sells cars. I’m pretty sure you can get the opposite when you name them ” Cedric ”  or ” Lloyd “. Fine cars as far as that goes but as far as that goes, they went. And I have never seen one rodded back into existence…

Two More Family Hot Rods

dscf4384Readers of this column will remember seeing some of the junior rodders of the future in Melbourne attending the Victorian Hot Rod Show with their fathers. Likewise one small chap who was taking advantage of a push-start at the West Australian Hot Rod and Street Machine Show this last year. Well here are two more mini-vehicles from the 2016 Gillam Drive day.

These kids are troopers – Gillam Drive is hot. Their fathers are also to be commended for providing reliable propulsion in the heat. I’ll bet that they started to regret the idea about halfway down the strip…But if you start, you have to finish. Returning home without the kids when you very distinctly took them out the front door at the start of the day is bound to be noticed…

The pink custom is pretty much complete, and I would point out the inclusion of lakes pipes down the side. Plus the furry upholstery and the spectacle windscreen – there are show cars on the circuit with far less style.

dscf4436The open-wheel rod is a work in progress – as so many hot rods have been throughout the world. The frame with the dropped and drilled axle and the smooth bare bodywork show that there is a very high level of skill in the builder. But the bare engine compartment’s the fascinating thing. Whatever is going to be put in there?

I hesitate to tell the builder what to do. I can imagine a (very) small block Chevy in there or a confection of a Hemi. I can understand if it were to be a fabricated shell covering an electric drive – but how glorious if it could be a working ic engine…

Whatever the decision, I am going to keep my eyes peeled over the next few years for this car and the drivers. And the dad who built it. I just gotta see how it is finished and I would be delighted to be able to take studio pictures of it too.*

Stay tuned.

* Oh if there is any justice in the world, he should take it to the police pits when it is done and ask for a very small plate…and please tell me when it happens so that I can be there with the camera.


Colourless And Shiftless

dscf4460No, this isn’t a post about my relatives – this is a tribute to STEEL 32 at Gillam Drive. An artistic presentation.

In case that sounds pretentious, I have to admit that it is actually inadvertent art – the hot sun on the shining surfaces of this bare-metal rod made for such glare that the only way I could rescue the files was to convert them to monochrome. The car had a little colour, but not too much more, and the black and white rendering serves to show the raw power.

Before I launch out on it, I have to say that I do not disrespect plastic bodies for cars. I remember the Studebaker Avanti, a number of racing cars, and the Lightburn Zeta. They were glorious. And a number of glass-fibre bodies are made for cars from the hot rod era – indeed sometimes it seems that every second ’32 or “T” is a glass-fibre shell over some sort of steel tube-and-strap reinforcing cage. I’ve stopped looking into the unfinished ones for fear of what I might see.

dscf4463All that said, I do love to see a steel body. I never lean over then and bonk them with my knuckles – I respect the rights of the builder too much for that – but I like the feeling that I could do so without cracking the surface gel. And they sound better.

If they are subject to rust, well that is an honest chemical reaction after all. It can be dealt with – after all, what do you think they invented lead and Stanley files for? It beats ugly little cracks and bits flapping as you drive. And they can be left, as STEEL 32 has been, uncoloured and just protected with a clear finish. You get a sense of authenticity that can sometimes be missing in a completely finished car.

dscf4461I’d also like to record my agreement with the builder’s decision to leave the fenders and the bumpers out there fending and bumping. It means that it is a real car that deals with real travel on the road – not just a decorated cake on a trailer.

dscf4462As for the shiftless part of the title…well that is a bit of an exaggeration – every car has some sort of shifter in there somewhere and if you look at the steering column of STEEL 32 you’ll see the column lever and indicator on top. It is a far more elegant decision than some of the giant floor sticks with skulls on the top. The choice contributes a great deal to the clean minimalist tub interior and it is a pleasure to see that it has not been overstuffed with stereos, air conditioners, and kewpie-doll dispensers.


PS: The engine is the famous Ford Hemi – named after Henry Ford’s half-son…Only a few of the 1932 model had it at the time. Pleased to see that they found one in good condition…

She Blows Cap’n! Thar She Blows!


‘Tis the Great White Whale of Gillam Drive*!

Actually, as it happens, ’tis only one of the great white whales of Gillam Drive…and Whiteman Park, and Hyde Park. In fact, there are schools of them all over the metropolitan area and they broach the surface at specialist car shows all the time. Some of them are baleen and some are toothed but they are all large and rounded.

The 1930’s and 40’s were the best years for them. There was enough space on the world’s roads to move and they expanded accordingly. Longer, wider, higher, and closer to the road. with wider and wider tyres. The engines got bigger and more powerful and the interiors similarly expanded in volume. Passengers could sort of sink into bench seats and there was no problem fitting three fat arses side by side in the front and the back.


Those cavernous interior spaces were also invitation for more activities than just driving. The advent of the drive-in movie, lover’s parking spot, and no-name trailer court contributed to a great deal of social interaction. We’ve seen the film noir movies of the time and read the dime novels from the drug store and are a full bottle on the subject. Mind you, the only personal experience of this was restricted to sleeping sideways on the back seat of a ’49 Buick…when you are 3 years old it is a luxury suite.

The big white cetacean has not disappeared from the roads even today. People who have seen the KIA Carnival or the Honda Odyssey will know what I mean. I do not decry them, though I would not have enough cargo to fill one. They are magnificent vehicles in a wide channel. Anyone who has ever steered The NIMITZ through the Panama Canal should have no trouble parking one in a two-car garage.


The other thing that impresses one about this style of car is the ride. They are big and heavy and the response to steering and suspension is bound to be ponderous. No fun on a driveway in Darlington but perfect for the wide spaces of WA’s outback – the action is damped and the thing must just glide. Of course the older vehicles may not have provision for air conditioning beyond rolling the windows down, but then that is what palm-leaf fans and sweat is for after all. At least on this Chevrolet Fleetmaster there is a wireless and stubby holders fitted so even if it is hot you have something to do.

*Note: Possibly this is the Great Cream Whale of Gillam Drive. Mmmmmm…Creamed Whale. Bet Nigella Lawson is reaching for a pan right now…

The Fine Fins Of 59


The prize tailfin on American cars has often been thought to have been on the ’58 Cadillac Eldorado – see the picture of Penelope Pinze in the desert – but I disagree.


I shall leave aside the sheet metal freak that was attached to the rear deck of the Plymouth Roadrunner. It is tall, but definitely a bolt-on item and not in the spirit of the 50’s or 60’s. It may, or may not, have contributed to stability at the rear end of this muscle car, but it was not a part of the original sheet metal design for the sedan body.


For my money the champion tail fin or stabilizer was sported by the 1960 Plymouth line – all the way from the Belvedere to the Fury there were two magnificent fins cutting the air. The junction of the front of the bonnet and the grille may have had an uncertain style to it but the flanks of the beast were all that could be asked for.


Here in Australia I see that 1959 brought a sort of peak of style as well, but in a bit more hesitant way. See the rear quarters of this 1959 Chrysler at Gillam Drive. They feature tail fins piled upon tail fins piled upon tail fins – surely a combination that deserves some respect. The angles of the side trim have been carefully set to divide the broad white into two manageable sectors. The black roof is stylish, but on Gillam Drive in summer style comes at a price – the price of comfort. It is the only concession that this driver need make – the rest of the vehicle is superb.


I hope Tony has some success with his sale – a custom car as nicely presented as this one deserves to be treated well. It would have been the pride and joy of a well-to-do person here in 1959, and not too common on the road. Plenty of power in the engine if the owner  wished to tow a caravan…one thinks of the long winding southwest roads in those days and what it must have been like to be stuck behind an Easter caravan on Caves Road…This is what you might have seen  – minus the Coromal…


Please note one more period piece in the rear window. Not as common as they once were, but authentic nevertheless…



Detroit 56


The paint job and licence plate of this car at Gillam Drive this year set up a train of surprising echoes in my memory – ’56 was one of those years.

It was the year my dad set a world record. It was the year he cheated death. It was the year I got beaten at school. It was the year his business failed. It was the year we saw Detroit.

The world record was for the deepest fresh-water dredging operation. The fact that it was nearly impossible to do led to the business failure. The fact that my father decided to leave his former employment and pursue it meant that he was not aboard a Trans Canada Airlines DC – 6 when it hit the side of a mountain in British Columbia – his successor in that job was…


The school beating was from the principal, for the crime of talking in line. It was the only instance of corporal punishment in all my cschool career, though I was beaten up many times on the playground. The officious unfairness of it still rankles, though it pales into insignificance compared to the sort of abuse Australian high school teachers in the 1960’s regularly got away with.


The Detroit visit – after the business failure – was as part of a relocation to Montreal for new employment. We went on a guided tour of parts of the Ford Motor Company plant and were shown rolling mills, casting shops, and assembly lines. I could not admire the rolling mills enough. Detroit was , indeed, Motor City.


Okay – the other memory evoked by the ’56 Chevy you see here involved the colour. That is a scheme favoured in the mid-50’s for many things…and it was the exact shade of pink*and black that our bathroom was. I often think that it influenced us here at home when we chose the tiles for the bathroom and laundry, though we stuck to pink alone and avoided black. If I were to rebuild I think I would bring the black back…


Please note the details: the custom tail-lights and fin extensions, the pinstriping and graphics, The extremely neat – very stock – interior, and the six-cylinder engine. Proof that not all cool customs need to have enormous V-8’s sandwiched into their engine bays and that effective rodding does not need to chrome everything in sight or poke pipes out through the bonnet.


Many thanks to the owner for opening the passenger’s side door for a clear interior shot. This is always a welcome thing for a reporter.

* Mamie Eisenhower liked pink, and it was therefore fashionable.


A Personal View Of Gillam Drive


Ahh…Gillam Drive. That annual three hours of sweaty torture that we love to undergo. Armadale at its kindest ( Note for overseas readers: ” Armadale’s Finest ” is also phrase in Perth’s vocabulary but that is dark humour…). Gillam Drive makes up for that as it is fun, safe, and exciting. That’s the thing about the rodding scene – it is all three things rolled up in one.


Well, this year there were two or three…or more…appearances by cars that are not generally considered to be hot rods or customs. ( May we shelve the word ” Kustom ” at this point? It has always seemed an artificial sort of thing like ” kewl ” or ” far out “. Let’s just push it behind the shed and get on. Let’s face it – if ” Rod And Custom ” was good enough for the 20th century it is good enough for the 21st.)

Where was I?

The cars. Right. I look at everything at a car show. I might bite my lip but I do see the cars. And here is the important point – they all have a right to be there. It doesn’t matter whether they are dodgy old ricketybits that have been trailered in to sag in the shade or red hot mechanical hormonal storms that sit there and seethe…they are all interesting and they are all valid artistic expressions.


The veteran cars that sit there and gasp are a canvas from the past – they are the cutting edge of a technology of fifty or a hundred years ago. Look carefully at them and you see some remarkable thinking from designers and mechanics who had no-one to tell them that they couldn’t do it that way. They were far luckier then as they did not have layers of jobsworth legal/engineering position fillers to stop them from thinking. They might have thought wrong but they did think.


 The sports cars were an expression of the desire to be fast and sexy in a world that was becoming slow and sexless. You are not generally allowed to walk down the street with your privy parts on display…but you can drive by in a Triumph Stag and suggest that you are a member of the swinging upper class. With a bit of luck you will attract a bird.


A one-off excessively modified-in-the-factory specialist sports/luxury/we have no idea what we are doing but look at the size of the tyres and engine oh dear god give us money sports car is also quite legitimate. If the owner of this De Tomaso had not rescued it we would never have had an idea that such a thing exists. It is magnificent in its own way. We wish it well, and welcome its appearance at any future event.


And here is the kicker. Gillam Drive has shown that it is not all just ’32 rods and HQ Holdens. It has opened its driveways to vehicles of all sorts. It points the way forward for the WA car scene. Automotive shows need not be exclusive, and would be far better for not being so. I admit that an entire all-encompassing  car show would probably not be possible…there are too many devices on wheels out there to get them all into one venue at one time. ( Unless it is Leach Highway at 2:00 on a hot Wednesday and then every car in the state is lined up along the stretch in front of Bull Creek Drive. I know. I try to get onto Leach Highway at Bull Creek Drive. Join me some Wednesday and I will teach you new words…).

Let’s mix and match, guys and gals. Lets have an eclectic car show with old, new, hot, cold, sport, staid, and everything in between. Let’s have a show where the rice rocket can sit side by side with the steamer – the rod with the rootmobile. If we get in the food trucks and the mobile cocktail bar it will all work out well.


Portholes To Adventure


One of the earliest memories I have of motor cars is of a deep green early 50’s two-door Buick that my parents bought in Canada. I was unaware of many aspects of it, but I was convinced of two things: the doors would deliberately slam and trap my fingers, and the portholes on the side of the bonnet were really exhaust stacks – like on a fighter plane. Nothing I have seen in the intervening years has convinced me otherwise. I never go near Buick doors and I never put my ear next to the portholes in case they fire it up.


Here’s a selection of them. Some are local in Western Australia and some are in Victoria. I think it is very cleaver of the owners to clean them up so well…you can hardly see any trace of exhaust smoke down the side of the cars.









Note that Buick could not decide whether they needed three portholes or four. It must have been a source of considerable argument in the Fisher Body works canteen at lunch time.

For students of mythology, Elektra was a vengeful daughter…hence her connection to Buick doors and fingers.



I first encountered a tonneau cover on a Triumph TR3 sports car in 1959. I was never so impressed with anything in my life, though at this juncture I can’t really say why. After all, it was just a rubberized canvas cover that fit over the cockpit. The driver used to unzip his side and fold it down behind his seat but leave the other part attached.

Literature dealing with the idea said that this would reduce buffeting in the airstream of an open car and retain the heat from the heater. You could also hide your luggage under it from the sun and prying eyes. I just thought it looked cool.

It turns out that the name is derived from the French word for cask or barrel and that it was associated with a style of automobile body in the early days. Some of the open rear passenger compartments have a barrel-like appearance and indeed some are even accessed from the rear of the vehicle rather than the sides. When not in use a tonneau cover kept the seats free of dust. The body style is high and imposing and must have been quite a fun place to ride along rutted early roads. Sort of like a bouncy castle.

Nowadays the name is most frequently used to describe the cloth cover for a ute body. These are actually pretty cool in themselves if they are stretched out over two bow frames across the bed. I used to sleep under mine on the occasional country trip and it was as waterproof as you needed. The attachment with bungee cordloops over buttons was a little naff, but it lasted for the life of the ute.


This tonneau seen at Gillam Drive uses punch buttons to secure the perimeter of the cloth. It is as shapely as needs be, though the area it encloses is quite large. It’s a lonely sort of accessory, though, as it just underlines to the driver that they don’t have someone in the front seat to talk to. Maybe that isn’t as cool as it used to be.