The Loss Of The Little Car

Look at the history of motor vehicles in the 20th century – there has been a steady movement away from the little cars that started it all. Everything has gotten bigger, faster, heavier, and more expensive. And I’m not talking about the luxury end of the market or the specialist vehicles – I mean the average run-about for the average person. Either the people are getting less average or the numbers have crept up.

Of course safety will be cited – and the increased speeds on the roads – and the congestion…but these factors are all intertwined – one producing the other – and larger vehicles only exacerbate the problem. They give the drivers feelings of entitlement, power, and arrogance – if there is any tendency on their part to this in the first place, it is exaggerated to a toxic level in the big sedan or SUV.

The small end of the market is perfectly adequate for most urban and suburban travel, and surprisingly good for country work as well. The VW beetles of fond memory ( grown sleek and large and overpriced once their design was altered…) went everywhere and did everything. So did their Variant cousins and the T vans. Before them the small Austins, Morrises, Vauxhalls, Hillmans, etc were all we needed and pretty well all we wanted.

We want them back again. The intervening automotive engineering and computer revolution would make them better than ever, and if the makers could be convinced to produce a really basic vehicle that would last, a lot of people would see the light.

I’m encouraged by the Fiat 500C and the small Suzukis. The tiny Nissans are not as good, but the Daihatsus could make a comeback and be welcome – as long as the designers could be convinced not to overload them with features.

Simplicity is what we crave when we sit down to tea – a knife, a fork and a spoon is all we need. Same thing with a car.

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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.

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.

 

The New Paint Job

dscf5104Hot rod and custom car builders are more courageous than the average mundane motorist. They dream more and dare more.

This is seen in all the rat rods, street racer machines, hot rods, low-riders, and show cars. Every one of these is the labour of both a great deal of love and a great deal of money. And also a great deal of a patience dealing with the licencing authorities. As soon as any of the car enthusiasts thinks up the most modest of modifications – fitting a fighter plane engine to a family sedan for instance – they have to commence a round of grovelling negotiations with the joy-spoiling jobsworths at the vehicle department.

But one good thing that can be done is a coat of paint. As long as the re-spray is a simple modification of the original scheme, the official nay-sayers do not bother to take an interest. Perhaps even they have their limits…

dscf0397So that would likely explain the new coat of paint on UHN-661. It’s a Morris 1500 from the 70′ that was seen in the Big Al’s Poker Run of 2016 in the red and black scheme. The bonnet then had a wrap on it simulating a carbon fibre panel. A particularly specific look.

dscf5105Well, time has changed, and a year later has brough forth a retro look to the Morris – a metalflake paint job in dark bronze. It is a fascinating finish, and as an older car enthusiast, I must say I prefer it to the carbon fibre look. As with all show-car finishes, it has a real depth to it – not least because the actual metal flakes need more support medium to remain suspended in the finish.

dscf0400Now rodding a British-built car is unusual – I counted less than half a dozen on the field last Saturday. This is odd in a country that was sustained by the British car industry for longer and to a greater extent than that of the North American manufacturers. One would logically expect there to be more left-overs from the era that could be made into hot rods. It is unusual to see – as unusual as the use of Japanese cars for the same purposes. Even rarer are continental cars turned to the hot rod or custom side – any cars still extant are generally refurbished as veteran or vintage types.

dscf0399I hope that UHN-661 continues to be remade as the time goes on. I see she now has lakes pipes, though I have no idea whether they are connected to the exhaust or, for that matter, to a lake…Well, they look cool, nevertheless.

 

A Poke In The Eye With A Javelin

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Jowett were an English motor car firm that had their factory near Bradford, in Yorkshire. Bradford is currently famous for containing the Kodak Museum of Photography and a great many residents of non-Anglo-Saxon ancestry. I can vouch for the excellent quality of the museum and their local curry restaurants, having visited both a few years ago. Goodness Gracious me…

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But back to the Jowett car seen at the Whiteman Park Motor Show. It immediately attracted my attention as it looked so much like a Peugeot sedan of similar vintage – the Peugeot 203. I don’t suppose they were drawn by the same people, but I cannot help feeling that the designers may have done lunch…Whatever, it is the sort of shape that immediately appeals to me – rounded and streamlined with few freaks on the body contours as they flow backwards to the rear. It is the sort of shape that says late 40’s  – the sort of shape that Morris used for their 1000 cars. But done here with more flair than Morris.

Well the car does have some oddities. They were not seen as such when it was designed, but they do seem so now. The suicide front-opening doors are the main example. They’ve been a feature of many designs, and are no more dangerous than the rear-opening ones, in most instances. The clever catch-phrase has damned them, of course, but then we’ll see that with politics for the next four years anyway…

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I am particularly impressed with the body line that makes the boot space of the car. It is a four-seater, which in 1950’s British terms meant four people who have been eating wartime rations for the last decade. They could be expected to occupy less space than four Americans of the same era.  When they went on holiday to Sewagepans-on-the-Sea their luggage would occupy less space as well. The Javelin designer calculated that requirement exactly – there is enough volume to carry socks, sandals, buckets, spades, and knotted handkerchiefs. No need for bars of soap…

The interior is also very well done. It has been designed to look like expensive wood without actually having to be such. It has space and good proportion. There is no silly parcel shelf under the dash to restrict the knees. This is a car interior in which parking at lover’s lane would prove rewarding. Don’t ask me for more details.

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The seats are very well done. Applause for the choice of fawn leatherette. It is perfect.

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I can’t tell you much about the engine. I note that the radiator is a fair way back in the engine bay, and this suggests a small engine, but then it might have been a powerful little thing and moved the car along at a sporty pace. I know that if I were invited to drive it I should leap at the chance. It is a consummately elegant little design.

 

 

Will We See British Cars Again?

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Great Britain is set to consider their trade and political ties with the European Economic Community in a referendum or plebiscite in a short while. We have been tossing the question back and forth in our house about what they might get or give, grab or grieve over once the voting is done.

No great political wisdom here and no idea whether the British imagine that they can crank-start the Commonwealth/Empire again. I privately doubt it – the UK ended the thing as an economic cartel in 1973 and they have been out of the political empire game since 1964. The former members use the Commonwealth as an excuse to have their own Olympics in the interim of the real Olympics with the added advantage that they don’t have to try to beat the Russians or Americans at anything. But they all stopped trading in a cosy fashion as soon as China got enough economic power and the Arabs started to blackmail the rest of the world with oil and madmen.

We sat here gloomily trying to think of something that Britain could make and export that would put them on the top of an empire again and the only things we came out with were Eccles cakes and Changing the Guard. Or they could rent out the Royal Navy and RAF as regional thugs to various crucial states or small rulers. ” A Gunboat In Every Harbour ” seems a good slogan. The BAOR probably isn’t O the R any more these days and doesn’t really want to be, but they could still infest Africa or South America for a fee.

One thing I do hope for if the British decide to keep calm and carry on, is the revival of the large British car industry for small cars. Disregarding the current Mini, which is nice but really a BMW design, and the splendid excesses of Jaguar, Rolls, and Daimler, I really want to see the return of the workaday small sedan, hatch, shooting brake, or van. Particularly the van. Or the little two-seater sports car. And I want them to return in simple form – not bedizened with all the plastic must-haves of the Asian car. I’m a flat cap and rubber floor mat driver.

British cars still appeal to people who remember the older days. We would still buy them if offered. Look at what the British motorcycle industry can do with their classic marques – they sell all they can make. Time to try it with four wheels.

Grim , Grey, and Grimy

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Merrie Englande. The Old Dart. Blighty. The Old Country. Mother England. Pommieland.

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If you have gotten to thinking that England is all meadows and Cornish beaches and GWR railway autocrat gliding through the fields…we present the other view. Courtesy of the WA Model Railway Exhibition. The Lord Street Depot.

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I can only guess at the location but the time period seems to be the late 50’s to early 60’s. The British Railways logo on the side of the locos gives that away, plus the lorries and vans fit the era. The grime is timeless. I cannot say whether the real English rails scene was as dark as this but I am willing to take the word of the layout builders.

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I think it is O scale, and this means the vehicles are 1:43 or 1:48. I admire the good sense of the builders in making sure they are lined and weathered to fit in with the theme. In particular the use of the thin black wash on the beige sedan (Morris? Austin? ) makes it real.

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Like a lot of British-themed layouts this one is a shunt back and forth yard with the occasional making up of trains and an arrival or departure to punctuate the day. Very much life as it was seen by the people who lived and worked in these areas – if they were not working on the trains and travelling to other places they did not envisage those other places. I know it is somewhat of a old saw to say that the European’s world was bounded by the walls of his town or his fields for a millennium but at least that makes the modelling of a railway scene a little easier and cheaper for them than the North American layout that tries to do a point-to-point over an entire basement.

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This layout had an amazing feature. I’m still not sure if what I saw was what I saw, but I think that the little red lorry shown in this photo was entirely free of any under-ground control. It traversed the length of the layout – up and down the roadway, and seemed free to steer from side to side. When it reached the loading dock at the bottom of the hill it stopped, reversed into the dock, and then eventually ground its way back up the hill into the Lord Street Depot yard. I think one chap was operating it with a 4 channel radio controller like they use for model aircraft, and I’ll bet the motor that drove it was one of the servo motors from an aero set broken out of its casing. The action of the little lorry was absolutely realistic and I found it to be the most attractive part of the scene. Full marks!

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Full marks to the designers of the large Lord Street Depot building as well – they incorporated just enough interior detail and bluish lighting to give the impression of a working building. Too many modellers fail to do this, even when the openings are small and the effort to detail the interior would be small. For my 1:18 scale automotive world dioramas I cannot afford to have bare interiors – they would give me away in a second. I do admit to deciding to leave some internal rooms unfurnished if they will never be seen from the outside, but showrooms and offices that open to a window must have some furnishings.

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One thing I do hope – that the operators of Lord Street Depot can occasionally be treated to a fresh passenger carriage in Blood and Custard passing through to liven up their day. Rust and grime can dull the soul.