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.

A Plea From The Car Photographers To The Clubs

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When you are planning your next car show, could you please park them a little further apart?

We are thrilled to bits that you will be bringing your vintage-veteran-hot rod-street car-sports car-truck-bus-tank to the park-stadium-exhibition hall-mudflat behind the asbestos works. We don’t mind paying at the door-gate-edge of the car park for the privilege of seeing your prize machines and we want to make great pictures of them.

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We promise not to stand on the running boards like the punters do, and poke the dashboards like the punters do, and scratch the duco like the punters do. We will be respectful.

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We will be utterly patient as the tag-teams of lurching punters slowly walk in front of the cars and progressively block the view…never allowing a clear sight of the edges of the cars. We are trained to stand still in one spot until the exact quarter of a second when the mob clears. We are frequently consulted by still hunters and snipers about how to remain motionless. Ninjas envy us.

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But we need a helping hand. If the cars are parked too close together we won’t be able to do them justice. We’ll have to use extremely short focal length lenses and the cars will look distorted as hell. Of course if they are Italian supercars no-one will be able to tell, but the regular British and French sedans will look odd and it will be a dead giveaway.

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Likewise, if you park them with their back to the sun, most of the exposures will look too dark – we’ll end up trying to light the front of the car with a reflector or a fill flash and it will look most unnatural. Again the Flopatelli Snazolla III Supraeformaggio won’t suffer too badly, unless it is the open Monza version with the folding wings. And they look bad in ANY light.

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We do appreciate the trust and kindness the drivers show by leaving the passenger’s side window down – the interior shots will be so much better – but if you can’t manage that, it’ll be all right anyway. We can boost the shutter speed to 1/180 second, stop down to f:16, and fire a fill flash up at the headliner from the quarter window position while the camera looks in through the side. It’ll be a little dirty but not too bad. If you leave empty beer cans and dirty novels on the front seat that is your affair.

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In exchange for these small changes we promise to take good pictures of the way your cars look. We will photoshop out the rust holes – unless you are driving a rat rod, in which case we will photoshop more in for free. We will draw a discreet curtain over the state of the interior floor.

 

 

Getting Less For Your Money and Loving It

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It is difficult to sell the idea of minimal living isn some markets – and particularly for some products. This is borne home to me each day in our camera shop and even more on the roads as I drive to work and home again.

I am surprised at this – as I am a a fan of the Bauhaus designs and the minimalist styles of the great Scandinavian furniture designers. Not, I hasten to add, the IKEA people – the more artistic of their forebears.

I can appreciate the house styles of the 50’s and 60’s – and some of the motor car designs of the times. and I wish fervently that they could be preserved for our own use.

Consider – I purchased a small French motor car in 1966. It had a small 1100 cc engine, four wheel independent suspension, 4 wheel disc brakes, and the best seats in any car I have ever driven. More was not needed – more would have been excessive. It had rubber floor mats, a small AM radio, and no air conditioning. I’ll grant you the comfort of the last named in today’s world, but the other two can stand. None of us need 16 channels of pumping bass to go to the shops nor do we need unborn-Persian kitten wool deep shag carpet or leather seats . Not if we live in the real world.

Nor do we need to go 150 km/hr, even if we are rushing to our mistresses in Margaret River – mistresses can wait. We do not need to rush to them in 20 tonne SUV concoctions – there are paved roads all the way. We do not need metallic gold/bronze black $ 4000 paint jobs either – plain light colours will do the trick and not need two surgeons and the Master of the Royal Academy to retouch stone chips.

A light on the front in the daytime may make us safer, but it need only by one light – not an LED sneer or cartoon eyeballs glaring at the rest of the world.

Spoiler? Generally it does – leave it off. Large exhausts? With 1100-1600 cc you don’t need  the tailpipe of a MiG 23.

You can suit yourself if you put a stick family on the rear window – they are cheap enough and harmless enough – even if they do raise the ire of the judgemental. Likewise “Save The Whatever ” stickers. Save away. As long as the stickers are not obscuring forward vision you can make your self as visible and risible as you like. Even the Bundy stickers have a purpose – they enable the cops to see who to target in the pub car park.

In short. Drive less, drive smaller, drive cheaper, drive slower and drive quieter. Drive more carefully, and drive better for it.

 

 

A Blog A’Borning

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Yesterday I spent some time with a friend preparing him for the adventure of blogging. He had thought of it for a while and was set to publish as part of a workplace effort – and the powers that be at the workplace decided not to go ahead with it – leaving him with a fair bit to say but no platform from which to do it.

WordPress to the rescue! I have, as you know, two WordPress blogs going at the present time. They gravitate to different subjects and reader pools, but sometimes cross over. The readers are frequently people who blog themselves and I have been interested to see contributors from France, USA, and other places with their own topics. Most are valuable reading – only a few are simple commercial hype.

Well , My friend Dan is not going to be commercial – any more than I am. I think he will write for the pure pleasure of pleasing the reader – and also to educate them. Quite what the education will be remains to be seen, but the title of the blog is promising:

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He showed me where the title stems from and how appropriate it is for him. I left him at teatime busily planning the first post so I would recommend that readers of this blog occasionally Google up The Hired Goon and see if his is established yet. I intend to follow his writings ( while trying to sell him a digital camera for his illustrations ) whenever they appear. I’ve advised him to link to FB to get a few readers to begin with.

You’ll be surprised – for a hired goon he is very well-read. And not just the back of cornflakes packets.

More On The Plate Than Would Meet The Eye

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Here in Western Australia we use metal number plates on the front and rear of our motor vehicles. They are separate things bolted onto the front bumper or the rear surface of the boot. On trucks they may depend from the bumper bar or down near the tail lights.

Up until a few years back they were 5 or 6-figure things with a code word at the front and three numbers – my first car was USS-861. Country registrations had a distinctive abbreviation for the town or shire and then sometimes quite a small number – there were some areas that were sparsely populated.

Then they ran through the sequences  – I remember a licence that started XDX and then three numbers. All very logical. Eventually they ran out of numbers and stated to put other numbers at the front of the plate – my car now is 1DKP-728.

All of which leads me to the puzzlement of looking at a new class of licence plate – the Eurostyle plate. This seems to be a longer rectangle with WA at the front and the rest strung out in patches like a German plate. They are seen on a number of cars, but chiefly Audis, Mercedes, and BMW’s. I believe they are quite expensive to purchase, and the money goes into consolidated revenue for the state, and we mustn’t grumble about that…but…what a load of cobblers.

I can see the vanity plates with nicknames or smartass slogans – my daughter has one that commemorates a schoolyard taunt and she loves it. She paid for it…into consolidated revenue…and it does no harm. I can see the Asian 888 plates as they tickle their superstitions and again they pay into consolidated revenue. I can see the football team plates and the shire plates and the WWF and sailing club and RFDS plates – they are either showing loyalty or interest. But Europlates?

This ain’t Europe, any more than it is North America. Why try to suggest that you are a European on the road? Nothing especially to be proud of if you are. You might be a migrant or descendant of migrants who made good with your German car but no need to pretend that you are driving it in Dusseldorf if you are actually doing it in Dianella. In any case your attitude on the road will generally be evident long before the writing on the plate becomes legible…

Note: a few Poms tried to get the idea past the cops of having their number plate painted on the nose of their E-Type Jaguars but it never took off – they all eventually reverted to regular plates.