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.


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 Next One Over On The Model Car Sunday


Every entrant into a contest has to take the chance that they might be an also-ran. In the case of artistic works they might be the canvas that is hung around the corner from the broom closet – in the case of models they might be the ones next door to the Big Production.

The result is that while they might not suffer ignominy, they never really achieve notice, either. Thus the model cars you see in this post. They featured in the last Super Model Car Sunday but may not have gotten the attention they deserved. You just needed to look at them in the proper light…

A. Here are two smaller model cars – Heading and this one – they look like 1/4 mile dirt track sprint cars, but they are not made to the common 1:24 scale – these are closer to 1:32 scale.


The parts of the cars that would be chromed plastic in a 1:24 or 1:25 kit from a major manufacturer are not – they are silver-painted plastic. The tyres look like they are plastic halves glued together. The style is sort of Chunky Monkey. What could they be?

I’m betting Aurora kits from the 60’s. Might be wrong, but if it is not kits, it is parts. I recognise the look – I used to build them myself when better kits were not available. I never really realised how good they actually were. I think if they have included chrome parts and rubber tyres we would have lapped them up.

B. The Kit With Chrome But No Headlights. These kits were generally sold in the second-line stores in Canada – stores out in the bush towns or in places that did not have enough trade to stock AMT, Monogram, or Revell. The sort of kit that might have sat in a five and dime store in Drayton Valley or Wetaskwin for years before it moved. The sort of kit that was made in Hong Kong before that was a good thing.


In this case it is a Studebaker Lark – another gauge of the unimportance of the kit – no-one in the big makers would have thought to provide this sort of pedestrian model…and if they did acquire a cold for it they would have added trees full of junk customising parts and a crass decal sheet in an effort to turn a profit.

Well, fortunately, Western Australia has a lot of country towns with second-grade stores and if you are lucky you can come across this sort of kit. Disregard the chrome headlights – if you are keen you can drill them out and put in clear lenses.Ditto the stop lights. Also disregard the fact that the basic kit is very, very plain. Celebrate it for the fact that is IS a Studebaker and you have found one and no-one else that you know probably ever will. Build away.

C. The Chevy with its top on sideways…Well, not everything can go completely right. You might get the metallic blue paint on safely and you might get the trim painted neatly, but if someone puts your model out on the display table and doesn’t realise that the top is separate from the body…or worse – actually cracks it off themselves – you can end up with the Frank Sinatra Look. Hat skewed to one side.


The moral is to glue the thing on with something that has a little sway and give. I recommend the Canadian Weldbond PVA glue as likely to grip but not obtrude.

D. Help me out here. I suspect it is a Nash, but past that I am flailing. Is it a kit? Is it a toy car from Woolworths? Is it a resin casting? Who thought of the green? Did it have chrome on it once? Is it something that the owner bought at a pop-up junk stall in the centre of the local shopping mall? I’ve gotten some no-name minor-player diecasts there and been very grateful for them. If they are cheap enough you can experiment and butcher them with no qualms.


Okay. No-one get mad if I have singled out your pride and joy. They are ALL unique and valuable models…and you have them and no-one else does. Even if you were overlooked at the SMCS, I noticed you and applaud your efforts. Surprise me more next year, please.

The Plastic Bumper Club – Or The Personal Car Club

WA Rod Show 2014 200

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.

Smooth Operator


Did you have a a tin toy car when you were a child? It you were a child last month, probably not…but if you can remember the 50’s without thinking of Henry Winkler and Happy Hays, you likely did. They were a large feature of the Christmas toy catalogues in Western Canada and I’ll bet they were in Australia too.


Pressed from thin sheet steel and decorated with bright lithograph stamping, they clacked and rattled their way along many a bare floor propelled by clockwork or friction wheel mechanisms. The fancy ones were made to represent Cadillacs or Space cars and the humble one were made in the shape of this 1949 Nash Airflyte. That’s because it was an easy shape to press out of the tinplate. Sometimes the tinplate really was old tins – you could disassemble a tin toy and discover labels from vegetables or fish inside.


Well, there are not going to be any beans or peas on the inside of this Nash’s steel – because it was designed to look that way for commercial and technical reasons.Nash took on board the lessons of pre-war and wartime aerodynamics and figured that the buying public had noticed them as well. They decided to tuck as much of the disturbing bits behind smooth streamlining  – even to the extent of encasing the front wheels of the cars nearly as much s the rear ones. Successful or not, it was the sort of distinct look that set the cars apart from the rest of the American market. Of course people who look may see Porsche styling there as well as that of Kaiser, and Tatra, but Nash had enough other features to claim their own place.


For instance – fully reclining rear seats that made for in-car bedding. They were big enough for adults as well as children. Power steering – powered front disc brakes, front torsion bar suspension. Overstuffed seats.


And the type of styling that reminds you of a 1940’s movie serial – one of the ones with bad special effects and corny villains abut great streamlined city cars.


This example of the Nash is the only one I have seen in Western Australia and I am pleased to see that the owner has applied some personal car touches to it as well as preserved the basic features of the styling. The business of the chrome on 65-year-old cars is a vexing one. Just look at what happens to the hair on 65-year-old heads…The decision to smooth and paint some of the chrome is a very sensible one, in my opinion, and when it is done with  sense of taste it highlights the lines of the car. Some may see it as a sacrilege and some as a fad, but I think it is a valid Personal Car decision. I respect it.

One part of the restoration and customising of older cars that has always interested me is how the question of turn signal indicators is dealt with. Prior to coming to Australia I noticed in the middle 60’s that the only amber trafficator lenses were provided on European imports to mNorth america. All the domestic cars seemed to have white front indicators and not a few of them had a similar colour displayed at the rear – if there were trafficators at all.

I thought it a good idea to have lights that were different from the main illumination or the stop lights to signal change of direction and I’m glad to see the Nash has these fitted. The rear lights are VERY  custom affairs and I would like to see what they do when the lever is flicked. Good choice as a personal design feature.


One final note – the Nash seen from the side sometmes seems to have an inordinately long bonnet. But as soon as you step to the front quarter view it becomes magnificent.


How Does An Atheist Bless You?


Well, it’s not as silly a question as you might think. If an atheist does not imagine or believe in any deity but still wants to give out some sort of non-committal promise that you will be happier because they said so…they have no mechanism in place to project it from. They can’t really promise you kindness from the government because they know what the government is like – and they can’t promise you the fealty and love of other people because the other people might know what YOU are like.

About the best they can do is assure you that they hope you are not run over by a street car. And even this is difficult to promise in Melbourne.

Atheism is a tough row to hoe. All the work of being moral and no relaxation afterwards by killing your enemies in the name of superstition. You might get a chance to kill them in the name of economics or theory or a coloured rectangle of cloth on a pole, but like as not someone will write a book about it 50 years later and try to make you look bad.  It almost takes the fun out of explosions.

The other tough part is there are no feast days for atheism. And feasts involve food and drink. Oh, you can go to the local hotel and order a counter lunch and a couple of pints on Tom Paine’s birthday but no-one puts up a tree or makes presents or takes you into the broom closet for a cuddle because of it. ” Joyeaux No ” as a song has never made it to the charts.

Worst of all is there is no money to be made out of atheism. No cards, no gifts, no food, no booze, no sleigh rides in cold climates or slay rides in hot ones. No-one ever gives money to the No Salvation Needed Army. Even when their lassies are not blowing trombones and tambourines outside the pub.

I tell you, it’s enough to shake your faithlessness…



Get Outa Here! Slowly…


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.


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…


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…


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.


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.


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


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.

mel2014 642

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.


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.

Italian 99

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.

Oakover Winery 2015 78

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.


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.

Gillam Drive 2014 255

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.



Personal Car – The Mighty Metropolitan

Whiteman 2015 52

When you think of motor cars you generally think of car doors. Some have two, some have four, and some have five. And some have none – like the Goggomobile Dart. But we are concerned with the Nash Metropolitan here. A bottle of raging horsepower with supercharged torque that could twist the top off a rice pudding if you tilt the bowl…

The Metro was an import for Nash from Austin of England. It must have seemed a good idea at the time – get British industry up and running again and give the American market a convenient town runabout that everyone would want. Except everyone didn’t want them and some people made a point of not wanting them big time. The fact that they were a sub0compact before there was anything else to compete and that they were marketed as a second car…and marketed specifically to women…may have made a stick for American Motors’ back. Niche marketing needs to be good if it is to work – ie. The T Bird.

Whiteman 2015 51

Well, the Metro was apparently better than people might have expected and did not get panned by the big reviewers. They made 95,000 of them eventually in a run of eight years. A lot still exist – I’ve seen two of them here in Western Australia and there may be more. The odd thing is every time I see one it is for sale…

British 59

I’d buy if I had a garage, a set of tools, and the skills necessary to hunt down rare parts and maintain vintage iron. They are no smaller than a Baby Austin and miles more stylish. If one could bear to do it, a Metro might make a great custom car – though from the styling it would probably end up looking like something the Jetsons would drive – or a 1950’s kitchen appliance. The nice thing about Metropolitans is they are two-tone and for the most part the colour scheme has been pasteled to match the white. Here’s a turquoise/white and I have a coral/white in my 1:18 toy car collection. I plan to shoot a sexy 50’s housewife for the matchup to the model car.