Can You Afford To Own A Chevrolet?

Or put another way – If they try to sell you a Plymouth can you Dodge the question?

No good Nash-ing your teeth over it either…

How odd that as we pull away from the curb into the twenty-first century in Australia, we should do so in the Toyota, Subaru, Daihatsu, Nissan, Suzuki, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Fuso vehicles. Or, if we have been successfully greedy, in Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Lancia cars.

We should be hard pressed to do the same in a Humber, Standard, Triumph, Rover, Hillman, Austin, or Vauxhall.

And yet today I will go to a car show that glories in Ford, Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Willys, Cadillac, Mercury, and Chrysler. And they will be spectacular and bright…or rotten and rusty…but will reflect the best of a car builder’s skill. Very few of them will be oriental or continental. What do the hot rodders and custom car builders know that the rest of us have forgotten?

Can we be reminded by an industry that needs to stop repeating what Europe and Asia say? Can we still build what we need, for ourselves, where we live? I hope so.



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…



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.

Saturday Night At the Nightline


Britons and Europeans…and in a few days those will be two separate classifications…have been sadly deprived all their  lives. Oh, I don’t mean the missing out on milk and orange juice and bombing each other flat every twenty years – that is a legitimate part of their culture and heritage and they enjoy a bit of decimation now and then. Does ’em good. No, I mean they have never had drive-in movies.

Oh, they can go on about the Odeon and the Palais and the Cine d’ Whatever, but girls, unless you have sat on the tailgate of a Holden panel van in the hot darkness swatting mosquitos and your boyfriend you have not lived. I know – was one of the boyfriends and I remember the swatting.

Canada, the US, Australia, and I presume South Africa and New Zealand were all sensible and adjourned the motion picture theatre out into the night at an early stage. In canvas seats that cut the circulation off at your knees or stuffed five abreast in the back of an Oldsmobile, we all saw Ben Hur, or High Noon, or The Road Runner and loved it. The snacks from the snack bar were greasy, sugary, salty, and watered-down all at once and we loved them too. Half of our heart disease and diabetes started at the Snack Bar.

Half of our children started in the back row. I hasten to add this is something I heard from someone who heard it from someone else. I never owned a panel van or ute in those days. But Renault 10 seats were surprisingly comfortable…


Here’s two takes on toy drive-ins – the small N scale one at the Model Railway Exhibition used a cell phone screen to stream the actual movies of the day and there was sound as well – bigger sound than the cell phone could make. I suspect a Bluetooth speaker. Please note the delinquent sneaking in over the fence. And the sin bins parked with their tails to the screen at the back.I believe the maker of this diorama has lived a chequered youth…


The 1:18th scale drives is a project in progress. It was an experiment early in the Hot Rod Honeys series and shows the crude effects of plastic mannequins. In time it will be redone in black and white with real people and with a forced perspective – I have more cars in smaller scales to go down the front. The screen shot is from an actual movie made by the Goldfische Studios; ” Tarzan And the Bird Of Paradise “.


And here’s a toast – in watery orangeade – to the motorised cinemas of the past. We still have one in Perth and it is still fun to go and swat.


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.

The Big White Buick

Gillam X100 2013 94

I can’t think what might have kept me from writing about this Buick in the two years since I saw it at Gillam Drive – perhaps there were just so many more things pressing – well before Gillam is upon us again at the end of the month, here is the Buick.

Whiteman 2014 10

Note – white is a notoriously difficult thing to depict in photos as it is so close to the point where the digital sensor blows out to a blank that you can sometimes miss valuable detail. There is a tendency to underplay it and sometimes you can end up with muddy tones or a false colour from the sky. Editing programs help, as does shooting on a RAW program, but there are still going to be compromises somewhere. Witness the more detailed information available from the pictures taken in the shade on an overcast day at Whiteman Park.

Gillam X100 2013 96

Well, anyway, the 1938 Buick is something of an epitome of Art Deco streamline style. It has all the characteristics of the period – flowing streamlined contours, speed lines, chrome trim, and wide whitewall tyres. It sits surprisingly high off the ground – as a post vintage car it has none of the lowered speed characteristics of the hot rod or custom cars and the driver can safely take country roads, railways crossings, and speed humps in the suburban streets with confidence. Nothing will be wrenched off.

Whiteman 2014 11

Buicks in North America were always seen as the middle-upper vehicle in the General Motors range – just below Cadillac in luxury but well above the Chevrolet, Pontiac, or Oldsmobile. Bankers drove Buicks, as did factory managers and engineers. Ladies who entertained drove Buicks. Here in Australia it was probably much the same – possibly even a step up the ladder . If they were rural vehicles it would have been the rich graziers.

Gillam X100 2013 95

Their interior appointments were much in the North American streamline style – metal dashes with chrome trim – no teakwood for Buick. No old wooden wheels – that is modern acrylic moulding in pearl finish. The large speaker grill suggests a factory radio installation. Note the rear suicide door – though GM would have never countenanced calling it that. Tragic accident that we don’t talk about door, perhaps…

Altogether a most suitable vehicle for people of substance.




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.



Let Me Show You My Insides



No, really – come back! I’ve just been to the Hot Rod And Street Machine Spectacular and the crowds weren’t too bad. A few minutes hacking away in front of the Oldsmobiles with a machete and you could get an unobstructed view of the whole car.



I’ve compiled a little visual game for you – I want you to match the exterior to the interior for the following cars. They are as different as they can be, and actually express their genre very well. If some of them look like the ruins of Berlin from the air, you have to understand that this is a valid form of the hot rodding art. It doesn’t reflect any less dedication and indeed I suspect that in some cases it does not reflect any less expense. There is some very costly patina out there.



Complexity is not a criterion either – some of the smoothest customs and rods have the least gauges. There may be other ways that driving information is presented to the operator – I’m thinking discrete idiot lights that are more carefully attuned than Detroit supplied. Perhaps some of the drivers can hear engine revs and clutch sounds accurately – I know that those of us who learned to drive in the late 50’s certainly could. We had no tachometers to peep at – just the feel of the clutch and the sound of the engine. And if you could double de-clutch an International truck down a long hill you were bidding fair to cope with just about everything else.



Is one seat better than another? You’ll know after a day in it. If you ever travelled the Nullarbor in the pre-sealed days you will have an acute appreciation of the upholsterer’s design skills. Either that or a bum that is so broken that it can predict the coming of wet weather…My vote for the best small car seats were the front set on the Renault 10 – pure overstuffed luxury. My vote for the worst was the 1966 VW beetle fronts – they created an chronic ache in the pelvis, not unlike that engendered by the federal treasurer.



Of course sometimes the interior designers were not so much designing as plotting – the inclusion of plush seats, velour, and sueded finishes was made in defiance of the fact that Americans, Canadians, and Australians eat things in their cars – things that spurt and drip. They drink liquids that spill. Any seat that can be soiled,will be, and some of them can be brought to a state that would gag a buzzard. Never mind the fake walnut trim or the chrome accents – if the seat itself looks like the wreck of the LEXINGTON no-one wants to sit on it. And just trying to be clever by making it brown plush ( ” That’ll disguise the Flake chocolate bar stains, Sam…) means nothing in a drive-thru world of mustard and mayonnaise.



Ah, but I am keeping you from your game – match them up and send the results to this blog. There is no prize but it will make you more observant when next out at the car shows.


Hints And Tips At the Car Show


Or – How To Have A Good Time At The Asylum.

1. Go early. Go before the mums and dads have been able to organise themselves and their children. This tip is brought to you by John Harney who should know because he is covered in car show scars.

2. Go with everything that you are going to need in one pack. Don’t go back out to the car because the business of finding out which entrance is out and which exit is in will tax the patience of the door staff.

3. You do not need all that much. Avoid taking the canvas deck chair and the pizza cooling trays.

4. Wear comfy clothes. It is a car show – no need to dress up. Dress down. You have NO idea how far down you could dress and get away with it. Make sure you and your shoes are good friends – not new acquaintances.

5. Bring money. I know you said you are not going to spend anything but I don’t believe you and you don’t believe you.

6. Don’t bring big money. You may persuade yourself to surrender it for a ’51 Mercury coupe that ” just needs to be finished off “. The phrase ” finish off ” also applies to bank accounts, marriages, and the owners of ’51 Mercury coupes. If you see the seller wiping sweat from their brow and giving everyone the high five you will know that you have made a bad decision.

7. Bring lunch in a back pack. Catering at car shows generates enough income to buy a house in Sydney or the affections of the federal treasurer. If you cannot make a sandwich for under $ 12 at home, you deserve to go hungry.

8. If you are taking pictures, you can use a flash, but be careful about using a tripod. Reserve it for places and times that have few other visitors – not that you are going to be an inconvenience to them, but the general public can be cow-like to an incredible degree. They have two gaits – stagger and lurch – and would fall into a fire if you let them.

9. The car show girls are going to have a long day of it. Be nice to them. They are attractive ladies and have dressed up to make the experience fun and glamorous for all. Plus if you annoy them they will kick you hard and some of those shoes have wicked heels.

10. Never tell an owner that his car is the ugliest vehicle that you have ever seen. If it is a show car he will be insanely angry at you. Worse, if it is a rat rod he will be delighted and follow you everywhere.

11. It might be, or it mightn’t be, but you are not licensed to bonk it with your fist to find out. If you can’t tell if it is fake, it is a damned good fake and deserves to be left alone. If in doubt watch it when they start it up for the drive-off.

12. Yes, those wheels really do cost that much. Makes your old rims look good. At least you own them.

13. Never pass up a chance to pee – this hint is brought to you by HM King George V. Really…

14. Rome was not built in a day and neither was anything else that rolled into the show. These vehicles are years of work for some. If you are jealous of them, consider what other things you did in the last 5 years. If is still seems like a good hobby, think what you want to do for the next 5 years. If it still seems a good idea, go buy yourself some books and start to plan…

15. Go look at the knuckles of the car builders and mechanics. Yes, yours will look like that in 5 years. For exactly the same reasons.

16. Don’t be put off by the false barriers people put up to define hot rods or street cars or customs – there is a vehicle somewhere that is just perfect for you. It might be as close as a shave job and coat of paint or as far away as a sand-cast engine block and a flat file, but there is one for you. If your car is gonna be simple, be glad – make it happen and drive it EVERYwhere and be happy. If your car is five years of cold garages and welding burns and trying to find the last part then be glad that the journey is hard – your car will be unique in the world. So little else in our lives approaches that. When you are driving it you will be THE man.

17. You can spend just as much for parts that are sort of right as you can for parts that are nearly right. And that is the same amount of money as parts that are exactly right. Wanna spend once, twice, or three times?

18. If she brings tea out to the shed on a cold night, buys you a steering box link, and lets you go to Knuckleup for the annual rod day, you are the luckiest man in the world. Don’t press your luck. Turn down the ’51 Mercury coupe.

19. If you DO buy that damned coupe, finish it well. And paint it in a colour she picks. And shut up about it.

20. If you try to get away with it by saying it is her car be warned that some day she will take you at your word.