A Very Slightly Grand Tour – Part One

We have all read of the Grand Tour – the coming-of-age tradition for those of the wealthy classes from Western Europe in the 18th and 19th century. France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and then back again over several months. Sometimes it extended to years if side trips could be made to the Ottoman empire or to eastern Europe. Tourists came back with a wealth of art, impressions, and diseases.

Of course it can all be done very much more rapidly these days, and from anywhere in the world. A quick whisk through all the capitals is no more than a Eurail pass away, and you can cram several cathedrals and palazzi in a day – with time to spare for the bar and the duty-free on the way home. If I wish to meet foreigners and hear the exotic patois of their languages I need not leave the comfort of my own city – they’ve come here these days. A smart-card bus ticket and a day will let me see Europe, Asia, Africa, and parts of South America all spread out over Perth.

But where can I go to tour grandly? If not in culture, and not in pure distance travelled, I think the southwest of my own state is a very good place to start.

It is possible, by dint of grind and caffeine, to use the modern freeway and highway system to circle the southwest from Perth to Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough, Augusta, Walpole, Albany, then back to Perth in a day. You won’t get to see all the sights and you won’t have fun, but you can do it. But if you add a few days to experience all the stops the tension goes and the fun seeps back in. Food, drink, trinkets, art, scenery, yokels, it’s all there. And I am looking very hard at adding another factor to the equation: theatre…the theatre of living history.

It won’t be public theatre – so much of the best living history is played to an audience of the actors alone. It won’t be dramatic theatre – because the WA southwest is not the cockpit of anything. But if it can be done right, it may prove to be as delightful an experience as anything that 18th century Europe could throw up. More plans to come…

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I Want To Feel Better – Hand Me A Hammer

In the merdestorm that is the current Australian political climate, I have found myself wishing to see less and less of the opinions of my social media acquaintances, and more and more of logical and pleasant subjects. Thus I turned to a series of pictures taken at this year’s Sydney Hot Rod Show. It may be rusty, but we all need iron in our diet to some extent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They can also be said to pay you off for years before – in the sense that if there was some aspect of car building that you had always taken for granted or only vaguely understood, the cat of seeing it pounded out in front of you also tends to pound it into your brain. The chopping of the top on this Chevy is exactly a case in point for me. I say – for me – because you might have realised the difficulties and understood the procedures long before this. I’m just grateful that I got to see these chaps working.

Who are they? I do not know – it would not have been polite to interrupt. Do they know what they are doing? Look at the pictures – they are doing it. It was obvious from the straightforward way they went about measuring the thing with a steel tape and then bending and clamping that they knew precisely how to move that metal and exactly where to relieve it. It was staggering to see the condition of the car and to realise that one day it will re-emerge from destitution into a thing of beauty.

The shapers at the English wheel were good to watch but not quite as exotic for me – I have a friend who has an extensive metal-working workshop and forge and I’ve seen he and others using these machines to make plate armour pieces. They are not car enthusiasts as such, and they have lives too busy to become such, but I’ll bet that if the armour and blacksmith boys had to repair their own car bodies they could make as good a job of it as the professional panel beaters.

Of course they would not be able to help themselves somewhere along the way. Enthusiasm would surface and eventually one of them would be driving a Peugeot with pauldrons…

Doesn’t Matter If It Is A Front Porsche Or A Back Porsche…

It’ll still be grey…

That’s an old Canadian joke, and I’m qualified to tell it. In North America there are three colours for the front or back porch of a private dwelling; unpainted  ( and weathering badly…), grey, or salmon pink.

The unpainted ones are seen in the hillbilly states where money is tight and in the New England states where there is more money but the people are tight. They are also traditional in the maritime provinces and out in the bush in B.C. Doukhobors take it further and never paint anything else on the house – it means they blend into the landscape better when the Mounties come searching.

The grey ones painted with a special mixture that consists of any paint in the garage that has not entirely dried out and is contained in a tin that can be prised open. All the blacks, whites, greys, and lesser colours are poured into a tub and mixed up – this gets slathered over the porch. Sometimes it is glossy and sometimes it is matte, and if you don’t get it all done in one day you risk getting both finishes at the same time. No-one ever cleans and saves their brushes after a porch job – it is generally considered hygienic enough to throw them in the nearest bushes.

The salmon pink is also a mixture made from all the brightly coloured tins that have been left over after painting bathtubs, soap box racers, and Finnish houses. It is distinctive and memorable, and no-one ever really thinks it is going to turn out that shade. Not even the salmon. Note that one car maker actually made a car – a small Hyundai sedan – in this exact shade, and they made them deliberately…at least I think it was deliberate. I can say I have seen them about 10 years ago here in Perth. Short-lived, unfortunately.

These vehicles are enthusiast’s cars seen in Sydney and Perth at car shows – though there are certainly a number of Porsche vehicles on the road at any one time – including a somewhat unexplained SUV with curves named after a variety of pepper. My contact with the marque has been very fleeting – an associate of my late father owned a bathtub Porsche in 1966 and there were some occasions when it was repaired enough to go on the main roads. I believe it had prestige value at the time, though the real value may have lain in the pile of receipts from the mechanics. I remember he had the rubber shock mounts between the body and chassis replaced at one stage of the game and the cost equalled the price of my new Renault sedan.

Have I ever wanted to own or drive one? Not really. I do covet the Audi TT and I would love an early 1960’s Volkswagen Beetle in perfect condition, but the sporty Porsche has never rung my bells. I remember James Dean.

 

 

The Highway Or My Way

I live near a highway. Not an interstate or intercity one – one that just feeds along a metro corridor from the airport and rail freight terminals to the seaport – servicing suburbs rich and poor along the way. There is a little commercial activity in one suburb where it grazes an industrial area but very little else for its length – it is even hard to get petrol along the Leach Highway.

It is, however, easy to get stuck.

Stuck behind container trucks feeding from rail to seaport and back again. 2:00 PM is tag-a-truck hour and you can spend the best part of 90 minutes getting from one end to the other. Best is not really the word you are looking for, but WordPress doesn’t want me to use the appropriate ones.

Stuck in lines of tradesmen early in the morning and late in the afternoon. They are patient and kindly drivers, in the same way that fulminate of mercury is a docile chemical.

Stuck in equally long lines of Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar, Lexus, and similar expensive sedans as the managerial suburbs of Leeming and Winthrop empty and fill. As soon as the stream dwindles, the managerial spouses take over in the 4WD SUV versions of the luxury sedans. If anything, they are even more arrogant, entitled, and impatient. I put it down to the MSG and the designer sunglasses…

Stuck at road works. ” Expect Delay ” is an odd phrase – it does not promise anything good, but it wants you to be patient so that you can be annoyed slowly and carefully. I am retired, and rarely have to be anywhere quickly – but what must the effect of ” Expect Delay ” be for the managerial suburbanites…

Stuck at the road junctions. If, worse luck, the firm that you wish to deal with has a shop on the other side of a divider strip, you must travel to the next intersection, go round a block, re-enter the road from the other way, and hopefully catch a break in the traffic. It can be 10 minutes waiting to cross the three lanes of solid vehicles and then another 10 after your shopping trip to get back onto the highway.

We were once promised a diminution of the truck traffic – but that faded at the last state election. The problem is set to become worse in the next 5 years, and there may come a time when I have to give up dealing with the other side of the highway. It will become a land of fable and I will restrict myself to my own little village.

That’s what a motor car will do for you – confine you to your own home…

Park Between The Mercedes And The BMW

I am a pragmatic man. I used to be pragmanual, but I got tired of downshifting and double de-clutching. Particularly when it was a question of one argument or another in the middle of winter and you had to put on tyre chains.

But back to the pragmatism. I have long realised that the neighbourhood I live in has a high percentage of emigrants as residents. I am one of them. Many others are people of my own age who have come to Australia on business visas, and have the requisite skills and abilities to succeed. They also have the requisite finances…this is something that the Australian government makes sure of before they arrive.

In their native lands a great deal is attached socially to the possession of wealth. Part of this possession is the ownership of motor cars. In some places the price of even a small car is astronomical, and the more expensive cars proportionally more. It is a real staus symbol.

Not so here in Australia, unless the car is indeed expensive. Thus, to carry over their status here, they purchase large and expensive cars – Mercedes, Audis, BMW’s etc. Unfortunately there may be a disparity between the wealth necessary to purchase this status and the ability to drive it. Or to put it in crude terms, they drive like newbies.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. A careful learner or cautious probationary driver can be as safe as anyone else on the road – perhaps more so if they are not inclined to be entitled or domineering.

On the road unfortunately also includes in the carpark; next to other people, and dodging down small lanes to get into the parking spots. Many things can be taught by feel – reading, sex, and a pot-throwing come to mind. It would appear that parking may also be one of the skills.

I have learned not to park next to maroon Nissans, old Commodores, and Chery cars. The problem is not the cars – it is the drivers. I do not think that they mean to be savage and  destructive, but it comes upon them unbidden. I shudder to think what they could do with a Kenworth and a wet road…

I’ve learned to slot in between the Mercedes and the BMW. The owners may be arrogant and entitled, but they are also protective of their own door edges, and that protects me. Short of bolting a length of 5-inch channel iron on the outside of the Suzuki ( And don’t think that I haven’t considered it…) This is the only way to protect the paint.

The bumpers have to take their own chances…

Shoe Two – The Ford That Makes Me Nervous

I get it. I really do. I was puzzled at first but I’ve seen enough now to say that I do get it. But it makes me nervous.

The rat thing. The Baxter Basics movement in the hot rod world that thinks it remembers what rodding was like in the late 1940’s and wants to suggest that it is bad to the bone. And who am I to say they are not…?

 I am a spectator – a photographer and gawker at the hot rod shows. I can be amazed and amused and no harm comes of either experience. The rodding enthusiasts and custom builders are marvellous artists as far as I am concerned and I applaud nearly all I see. I know that I could never display a hundredth part of the car-building skills that they show.

But I am also not a police motor vehicle inspector or a patrolman on the roads. And the fact that I admire the rodders and ratters counts for nothing, if one of these officials takes a dislike to a car or driver.

I’m not accusing the police of bad behaviour. They may be executing their duty in a perfect manner. But sometimes there are temptations placed in front of them that would be nearly impossible to resist. It must be a very finely run thing for them to look at a vehicle on the road and make a snap decision about whether it should be driven over the pits…or into one.

The artistry of the rat is a very strange mixture of dilapidation and deliberate provocation. Some of the local cars in this style seem to be works of low-brow art – so much so that you wonder if they have not been made as a parody of themselves. Others, like this NSW shoebox Ford – have a genuine air about them. The authenticity is the thing that would trigger the vehicle squad…and I would be afraid that if they ever started in on this car they might not let it escape their clutches.

 Like every car, it is a work in progress – heck, my standard suburban sedan is that, as is every car on the road. But mine would be less likely to get a sticker on the windscreen as it does not advertise itself.

Well, I hope it all comes out well in the end. If there is a gleaming 16 cylinder Hispano-Suiza engine and a racing car chassis under the Ford skin, all might still be well at the Vehicle Inspection Centre. I didn’t see under the bonnet, so, like the US Navy and nuclear bombs, I can neither confirm nor deny. Let’s just hope the NSW cops do not fiddle with the fuse.

All At Sea In The Car Park

I am a car expert. I can tell, after a hour’s careful observation, the difference between a 1973 Chevrolet Impala and a 2002 Hyundai Getz. No problemos. I can sort out Hupmobiles from Mattel Barbie cars. It’s a gift…

But when I encounter the out-of-the-ordinary car that has been rescued from the restoration fiends and made into a proper street rod I can flounder badly. Such was the case with this car in the car park of the 2017 NSW hot rod show. I knew it was gold, I knew it was good, and I knew it was locked up and impossible to steal ( don’t ask…) but I was in trouble as to what sort it was, and how much what I was seeing had departed from the original.

I know it was metal, because when you hit all the various panels with a ball-peen hammer they made a ” Doing ” sound. Not the windscreen. That was more of a crunchy noise, but we won’t dwell on it.

I was pretty sure that the mirror-polished engine compartment panels weren’t stock…unless the owner was the King of Sweden. Also the Mr. Horsepower logo on the side. Few cars of the period rolled out of the factory with a woodpecker. But I fell into a revery when it came to the shape of the fenders – they were distinctive and complex, and not the sort of thing that you generally see in ads in Street Rodder magazine machined out of aluminium. They looked suspiciously real – if enlarged a bit for the wider tyres.

Likewise the three rivets on the front to the windscreen posts. This sort of detail is not the kind of thing that rodders add to a car – they are generally grinding everything that they can off flat. These rivets argue that they are an original feature of the car…and they also suggest that if you did grind them off the windscreen would fall into your lap.

The roof worried me, frankly. There are three longitudinal strakes up there and the last time I saw a car with this feature was my old 1966 Renault 10. I haven’t seen that car since 1972, and anyone could have gotten hold of it. I was trying to picture this gold one in a two-tone blue to see if it was just a re-paint but decided in the end that it wasn’t.

Nothing else helped at all. I looked carefully at all the external lines, trying to imagine whether they had been altered or were a faithful reproduction of the original car. The dash and steering wheel were no help. No help in identifying it, I mean. I’m sure they are very useful for turning and that.

In the end I had to give up. I’d gone from the front of the grill to the back of the rear panel and the only thing back there was some pinstripes, tail lights, a square bumper and a paint job that said 28 ESSEX, so the whole thing was a mystery. Unless I can see the DMV records I’ll have no idea what brand of car it is.