The Golden Woodie Part 1

Every car show has a gem buried at its heart. These are sometimes flagged by the show organisers and sometimes you just have to find them for yourself. This year at the Perth hot rod show I found the golden woodie. It is for me a true evocation of a custom car.

Just a moment for two asides – if you go to the motoring bookshops you can find very nice illustrated books of the classic 1950’s and 60’s custom cars from North America. Lots of famous names – Barris, Winfield, etc. Sometimes there are colour photos of the cars, though at the time the colour processes were both expensive and rare…and we miss out of seeing some of the images. I like to think that there are 35mm Kodachrome and Kodachrome II slides out here in private collections that still do show the colours of the time accurately. Maybe not taken with all the skill of a pro magazine shooter, but first-rate records nevertheless. If anyone comes across old car photos of any kind they should never throw them out – someone will benefit from them right now.

But the second aside…well a couple of the books I have show some pretty extensive customising done in California in those eras but they are painfully blunt in showing what are some pretty awful design choices. I know, I know – each to their own taste…but if that is the case then some of the tastes evinced by home builders were pretty bizarre. And not just home builders – the big custom boys sometimes reached out for novelty far further than aesthetics could follow. It’s the same with music and clothing tastes of that time and the place – some cause nostalgia and some cause rectalgia.

But enough of the asides. They only serve to point up what I really want to say about this car; it is a truly delightful design and very well executed. I should have wished to see it displayed on a plinth in a compound of its own.

The sign board identified the original chassis as a 1946 Ford Sportsman. It’s been chopped, sectioned, re-engined, and re-suspended. I’ll let you read the sign yourself. And thank you to Valmae and Peter for summarising it at the show – it makes it all the more enjoyable if you know what the bits are.

Okay – wooden bodies – particularly New Guinea Rose Wood ones – are not all that common in the car parks around Bull Creek. Probably just as well, considering what the local drivers can do with the doors of their Toyota 4WD’s. I can only imagine that it must take some rather special maintenance even in the country to keep up the smooth shine. Full marks as well, for the colour paint decision – the rosewood with varnish wants delicate treatment in the metal areas to keep it looking elegant – this Aztec Gold cum bronze is perfect.

Likewise, the temptation to stripe, scallop, flame, or fade is one that every hot rod or custom builder must face. Some give in to siren song of the colourful side and throw decoration at every panel that will hold paint. It’ll work in some cases, but in others they risk losing sight of the lines in the conflicting paint patterns. This car is perfect for the flowing scallop that you see here – indeed square fender Fords of the period nearly always look good with straight scallops. It just seems to echo with our memories of those custom car magazines of the 50’s…I mean the good ones.

Whoops. Is that the time? I’ll have to show you the details tomorrow…

 

 

Buying The Dream

Going to a car show is a little like being a psychiatrist; you see crazy people hear a lot about their dreams. Or, perhaps that should be changed – you see a lot of dreams and hear about crazy people. Sometimes there are couches involved.

Whichever approach you take to it, a car show is also a commercial affair – even in the simplest open park affairs there will be someone selling something. Insurance, ice lollies, or Isotto – Fraschinis. Or in the case of hot rod shows; spare parts, wheels, black tee shirts, and paint jobs. And also, apparently, the hot rods themselves. And I don’t mean just the owners who have put a cardboard sign of whatever price ONO on their half-finished project – the WA hot rod show had some pretty complete items for sale.

The sellers that caught my eye were a commercial firm of automobile retailers who maintain showroom premises in  two suburbs. One of the showrooms is not too far from my home and has been an auto site since before 1964. It used to sell Morris, Austin, and Wolseley – then Saab and Volvo – and now is given over to exotic cars from all sorts of makers. I don’t know if there is a new-car agency in it or not, but considering the nature of the vehicles it offers, it hardly matters. This is all enthusiast big-money stuff.

I’m not qualified to talk about big money, as I do not have any. Very few of the people I know personally do either, though I have met some people through my former employment that might. Or then again they might not…I remember meeting a high-roller and high-spender in the 1970’s that proved to be financially and morally hollow. Best not to go back to those memories nor speculate about current people.

But I can sort of wonder about who the customer for the yellow Chevrolet pickup that you see in this post will be. It was a noticeable feature of the Xoticar display, and for good reason; it was darn near perfect. Maybe it was entirely perfect – I did not get to see it driven in or out. But from the look of the finish I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

The pictures and the sales board tell you as much as anyone could about the car, but the real questions remain unanswered. Who built it? How much did they sell it to Xoticar for? What can they tell us about the bits inside that make it go? Why did they sell it to Xoticar?

More. Who is the target customer?  Are there target customers for turn-key rods and customs as much as there are turn-key customers for sports cars and any standard vehicles? Speaking as a turn-key driver of a small daily-driver hatchback I can see where that is a perfectly valid model for normal transport, but I always associated rods and customs with people who built their own.

More, still – I associate rods and customs with people who design their own as well as build them. Tastes can be as variable as the wind, and the idea of buying someone else’s taste – or dream – seems strange. What if they did not do it the way you wanted? Would you have the courage to break it down again and build it differently? Or would that be like overpainting a picture in an art gallery?

And who has $ 94,888.00 dollars to play cheque book hot rodder? I’m a bit cynical about the 888 in the price because I live next door to Leeming and Winthrop, and the doors of my hatchback show it…but have my neighbours taken to rodding?

Will we see a flurry of moon disks and lakes pipes on the BMW and Mercedes? I tremble to think.

The Mercury That Wasn’t

Ever since the late 1940’s the Mercury sedan or coupe has been a constant subject for the custom car enthusiast. From extremely mild to extremely wild, the Merc has been chopped, channeled, frenched, rolled, tucked, decked slammed and ratted everywhere. So much so, that when you see a body that is sleek and low but has a domed appearance in every direction, you instinctively think that it is a Mercury.

I saw this one at the NSW rod show last month…and I was wrong.

I had not looked at the notice board beside the car, but was just admiring the full-on traditional lead sled style…when I noticed that the characteristic Mercury step in the side line was missing. Thinking that this must have been a hell of a job to cut out and fill in…and why would you want to, anyway…I finally got the clue when I saw the shape of the grill area. Not a Mercury – a Hudson.

Equally fine heritage, equally cool old school style – but a lot fewer of them in the field. And as a right-hand conversion in Australia…even rarer.

Please take time to notice the smooth side skirt enclosing the rear wheels and the use of the chrome trim strip to unify the body. Also please note the frenched aerials and the bumper shrouds front and rear. There would have been a temptation in some customisers minds to get rid of the heavy chrome bumpers – or if it was the early 60’s in California to make up horrible bent-tube things and try to blend them into the pans. Thank goodness this builder did not give way to this. Big bumpers were a real part of the Hudson heritage and a look that deserved to be preserved.

Likewise, I am glad the builder decided to keep the Hudson hubcaps rather than just go with generic spinners or bars. Moons would have been traditional, but these are all the better for being so specific. And with those rear skirts, you only have to find two good ones…

As far as the interior and dash, I don’t think that you could find any European woodpile dashboard of the time…or even a modern swoop and splatter design – that could be as elegant and stylish as this Hudson. The two-tone is superb. I do note some modern ait conditioning vents, however.

This is no trailer queen, either – look at the panel near the accelerator – feet have been down there pushing that pedal, presumably to the metal. Let’s hope there were some floor mats, too.

 

 

Plain Jane…

When I was doing private study for photography…well, to make that a little clearer, when I was teaching myself photography by buying magazines and books and going to art galleries to look at photographs…I encountered some iconic images. We all did – Capa’s work, Steichen’s work, Brady’s work, etc, etc. They were all great and good, and wonderful to look at. Occasionally I found great work that was unpleasant to look at – Penn’ s immaculately rendered cigarette butts and rubbish comes to mind. A lot of the photography of the 70’s as well …and a lot of the horrible images were mine. Fortunately no-one ever saw them and if I can trust my rotten processing of the era, they may disappear.

All this is a preamble to say that there are good subjects and bad subjects, as well as the treatment of them. I have had the great good fortune to be introduced to a very good subject during these last ten years – Jane Hebiton Tassell. Here are some of the images that have been generated.

I say generated, because they are all studio shots. Some in the film era, some in the digital, they all bear three stamps; Elinchrom lighting, my imagination, and the skill of a lovely model. Actually, I must be candid – a lot of them are the imagination of the model. I started out thinking that I had all the ideas but I soon discovered that Jane had ones that were better.

That’s the advantage for photographers of getting the help of a professional model. They have control of their body and features and the theatrical skill to portray what they are asked. And a great deal of humour and patience.

I am grateful.

Heavy Duty Macaroon Carrier

Australia is viewed by the rest of the world as a rugged country. Not, perhaps in Sydney during Mardi Gras, but for the most part we are seen as croc wrestlers and outback types. Most of us accept this for what it is hype – and just go about our daily lives mowing lawns and doing overtime at the bottle shop. I do mine on the buying side of the counter…

But for the car manufacturers, the myth and legend must have had a strong appeal. We have seen, in my lifetime on the road, such bizarrities as fake Kubelwagens, corgi-like Jeep copies, and a Japanese 4WD that only drove on 2 of those W’s and was so narrow it would fall over in a breeze.

The car in this report is the BMC Mini Moke. Originally designed as a military vehicle along the likes of a Jeep, it had nether the ground clearance nor the drive train to succeed. It might have made an admirable deck tug for British aircraft carriers when they had them, but the thought of it going through eastern European mud is hilarious. I think it would bottom out on a snail.

nevertheless, It could be made and sold in great quantities to the colonies as a utility vehicle. As long as you did not have to cross a railway track at speed, it was admirable.

This example seems to have been modified with dual rear axles – to what purpose I cannot say. The drive is still in the front, clawing along like a Mini Minor. The owner has done a wonderful job of it and I envy him the tray space back there. If this is a vehicle that travels over tarmacs at the airports with tools and parts in the back housings, it is perfectly suited. I cannot tell you what might be in the flat drawers, but spanners, postage stamps, or macaroons come to mind.

The office in the front is immaculate, and you have to admire the wood-rimmed wheel. It looks a fun car to drive in fine weather. I’ll bet it has returned every bit of enjoyment that the owner anticipated when he bought it – and I’ll bet he could sell it for the same price right now.

 

A Desireable Property

Going to car shows is sometimes an exercise in patience – waiting until the car you want to photograph is free of strolling gawkers or until a glacier whizzes by…either one…and sometimes an exercise in tasteful criticism. Not that you are allowed to voice it – even the worst cars are there because someone thinks they are the best cars, and gentlemanly behaviour prohibits you from suggesting otherwise. But it is rare that I can go to a show and see a car that I would like to drive.

It’s not that I am mega ambitious – I drive a little green Suzuki Swift all day, and am perfectly satisfied with it. I can look at exotic vehicles all day and not raise a sweat or anything else. But occasionally I do get the wannas. This Dodge has excited the feeling.

It is a simple pre-war coupe with a rumble seat. Still in LHD form. As stock as they come, if you disregard the metallic blue paint finish. The interior has all the characteristics of the era – deco dash instruments, painted finish, and long gearstick. I see an air conditioner there, which bespeaks a larger engine, perhaps. But the whole suggests the best sort of daily driver.

I was also charmed and enlightened to see the handle on the rear part of he cabin. Now I finally know how they secured the rumble seat in a closed position. A daunting place to ride but I’ll bet there would still be takers wherever you went.

Again – if they made them look like this now, we would buy them in a second.

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.