Imperial Purple

I have reported some years ago about another purple car seen frequently at car shows. It is still making an appearance – I saw it just a month ago at the WA Hot Rod Show and it had the familiar ” For Sale ” sticker on it. At least it is a reliable vehicle – if not an immediate seller.

The car in today’s post did not have a ” For Sale ” sticker that I could see. I daresay it might in the future – kit cars like this are as salable as any hot rod or restored vehicle and if they possess the coveted license plate they can be driven as much as the owner dares.

The driver of this car might need a bit of daring, as it really does have an engine under that long bonnet- a large one. The styling of the engine compartment has been taken a bit from that of a big Mercedes of the 30’s, and they probably had in-line engines. Hence the bonnet line has had to be widened a little to fit the V-shaped engine. And there has been some imaginative and busy shoe-horning to get the exhaust manifold to approximate that of the Mercedes. I have no idea how functional the side pipes are, but I volunteer someone else to put their lips on them to see if they get hot.

The wider engine bay may also mean that the interior tub space is a little wider. The dash seems quite rectangular in shape – probably because the cowl is too. In any case, it is wooden in there, with what look to be 70’s North American appointments. At least there would be power enough under that bonnet for the A/C. I wonder what the top and side sealing arrangements are to contain the cool or warm air?

 The suspension is a straightforward adaptation of a modern unit, which is wise given the stresses the engine on one side and the tyres on the other would generate. I rather like the horn.

Altogether, I do admire it. I was a little taken aback by the tubular nature of the front bumper with the orange plastic ends…but I daresay a few weeks consultation and work with a good hot rod shop and chromer would change that.

I wonder…were Mercedes ever painted this colour? Perhaps for the playboys of the period they were.

 

 

 

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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 Question Of Race

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I went to a wonderful museum last year and wandered at will amongst the cars  – they had apparently been collected by a local mining magnate and were stored in a country town about an hour out of Perth. The collection was an eclectic one, and I was unable to fathom why some of the items were of interest to the owner. But I got in cheaply on a seniors ticket and looked my fill.

The most puzzling of the cars were the racers – mainly because they were such a mixed bag and there wasn’t clear story of how they fitted into the story of local car racing. I puzzled out a few things for myself, but have probably gotten it wrong.

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This imposing beauty may well be a replica of something that raced elsewhere in the world. I think it a 1904 Samson Napier from the sign but the condition of it seems too perfect. The really impressive part is the use of the copper tubing to form both an engine compartment and a cooling radiator. No seat belts or windscreen seem to make the position of the mechanic more perilous that need be as he is denied even the comfort of the steering wheel to hang on to.

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Smaller, lighter, weirder…this yellow boat tail seems to have a motor-cycle engine partially buried in the front of the chassis. The front axle has the same sort of steering action that we used to see in billy carts or soap-box racers – albeit with a vertical spring to rest on.

The final drive is also a thing of interest – is it really going to go forward with just a rubber vee belt and two pulleys? Not with that particular belt, I imagine…

And the single light at the front…acetylene, one supposes, and certainly an elegant little brass accessory. But it argues that this mechanical confection was let loose on the open road after dark. A midnight apparition.

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Now we’re getting somewhere…but unfortunately we never did. This special is the partially – built remainder of a project that was to have been the salvation of a young man of good family. Alas, it did not succeed.

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Here is a racer! I am assuming an Offenhauser under that bonnet and mag wheels and all the trimmings that made American speedway racing great in the 40’s and 50’s. I am at a loss as to how it got here or exactly what tier of racing it competed in over there. Was it an Indianapolis car?

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Here is an Australian car of the 50’s and 60’s. Home made but to a quasi-continental style for circuit racing in the eastern states. It almost echoes a Mercdes style, though the engine is likely to be American or Australian.

I wish I knew more. On another visit I will get more information. Please note that there are wilder birds seen at other Perth exhibitions from the early days of motor sport in the state. Few of them ever look good, but they do attract the eye.

 

 

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.

The Tinycar

 

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At the other end of the spectrum from the Western Suburbs Wank Wagon is the kleinwagen. The Kei. The tiny car that nimbly dodges from side to side – avoiding road taxes, petrol pumps, and occasionally potholes. They have been a feature of motoring in many crowded countries for a long time.

Australia has had a few in its time – we saw the baby Austins, tiny Subarus, Lightburn Zetas and the Goggomobile. There have been Renaults, Citroens, Minis, and Hillman Minxes too but these are just a little bit bigger than the ones to which I refer. Set your mind on the Old Fiat Bambino as the top of the size and work way down.

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In their countries of origin they were the stopgap measure that many industries undertook to get something moving after the RAF  and USAAF stopped it – generally by flattening the factories. They needed transport and export and they couldn’t wait until their countries were forgiven – also probably didn’t want to start up the heavy machinery until the trembler switches on the unexploded ordnance had rusted over. The governments of the countries assisted by allowing tax rebates for tiny cars, hiking the taxes on petrol and lubricants ( until the switches rusted over…) and losing some of the incriminating papers for the owners of the factories.

They got basic transport. We got basic amusement. Who could be so heartless as to view a BMW Isetta, an NSU Prinz, or the dear little non-machine gun Messerschmitt without a tear of sentiment. Of course sometimes the lump in the throat was bile as the driver tried to navigate normal Australian traffic from a point of view roughly at the exhaust pipe of all the other cars but that could happen anywhere.

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The prime  interior characteristic of the Tinycar was the feeling that you were in a telephone booth. And not a particularly sturdy one at that. The wheels were thin, the seats were thin, and the barrier between you and the traffic whizzing by was thin. The only large thing about the Tinycar was, surprisingly, the driver. Quite a few people who bought them were people who also buy large dinners. Sometimes it was fun to see what actually got out of the car, though that sense of fun could pale when they invited you to go for a ride somewhere and you realised that it was going to be inside a pale blue Tupperware container at 30 miles an hour.

The other thing that was common was the noise. All the little motors – none of them ever over 660cc – were valiant workers but never silent about it. They were the mechanical equivalent of Don Knotts in a nervous mood. Sometimes they got you going reasonably fast but your ears rang for a week.

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Will we see them again, now that the Smartcar from Mercedes has been taken of the market? Yes we will, but probably not in Australia on anything other than a club license or a mantlepiece. There are too many build laws here and too many bureaucrats to allow the sort of freedom to experiment that the Tinycar provided. I wish  had one – I would take it out driving at 2:30 AM when no-one was on the roads. I’d rack it up to 60 Km/h and scare myself to death.

 

A Small Amount Of Prejudice

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I really should be ashamed of myself – prejudice being one of the sins that we most condemn in modern society. Mind you, some societies that exist in modern times celebrate prejudice and would see me as correct…Well, bless or curse as you wish – I am guilty.

I have never driven a Mini. I have seen them here in Perth since 1965 and have yet to set my bottom in one of the seats – except for a brief trial in the Ilich Motors showroom on Canning Highway in 1966. Put it down to about 4 minutes worth of seat time. In those 4 minutes I conceived a lifelong dislike for the car.

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And isn’t that a foolish thing to do! I love little cars – the kleinwagens of the auto world get all my attention – indeed I own a small sedan right now and would not trade it for a BMW or Mercedes. But not Minis.

The 4 minutes were spent while shopping for my first car. I saw a vast variety of vehicles that were better and worse than the Mini – Hillmans, Isuzus, Renaults, FIATs,VWs, and Cortinas all were carefully studied and dissected. Even the Lightburn Zeta was inspected…but the Mini never made it to the 5 minute mark. Why?

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Wasn’t the sporty nature of the car or the reputation it had – that was a plus in my mind in those silly days. Wasn’t the size of it – I quite like the small cars. Wasn’t the square shape or the retro styling ( Was anything retro in those days? ). Certainly it wasn’t the price because they were quite cheap.

It was the interior appointments. The sort of appointments that reminded you of…well, of an appointment in a proctology clinic. Comfortless and plain. The instruments, such as they were, were set in a central cluster and required you to look down and away from the road to see them. And you weren’t rewarded with any luxury when you did. They looked like something the Italians would have rejected. The thought that they were connected somewhere to British electricity was another sobering thought. I had seen British electricity in Land Rovers in Canada and heard the Master Mechanic of a large construction firm discuss what he thought of the designers. He was a man with definite words…

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The clincher was when I turned my head and looked sideways at the headliner as it crossed the B pillar of the car – near the seat belt bracket. The head liner had not even been tucked into itself around the edge – just left to quietly fray away on the painted metal. Remembering the finish on everything else, save the Zeta, I gently climbed out of the seat and slid out the showroom door.

Please note that this was the old Minis. The newer ones may have improved. There were many cars from BMC in the intervening years and right now BMW seems to have revived the Mini name with a car that has many of the same external design clues as the original. Perhaps it is time to go look inside again. Dear old Ilich is gone but there must be other enterprising car lots.

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.