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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Pinup For Pinups

Pinup photography has certainly taken off in the last decade here in Perth – I suppose to some extent it has paralleled the growth of the burlesque scene. Perhaps it draws from this as much as it compliments it.

There are a number of fixed studios that cater to the pinup lens as well as a bevy of talented out workers. When they get together with the burlesque artists to run workshops and photo shoots there is a chance for ladies to try a form of visual fantasy that can be utterly charming.

I noted one such a collaboration between a photographer that I worked with in the Camera Electronic shop – Jennifer Villalobos – and one of the award-winning burlesque artists – Miss Lady Lace. Jen handed me one of their flyers for upcoming workshops in 2018 that will set the students in kitchens, tropical settings, at high tea, and in a giant martini glass.. Not all on the same day, I hasten to add…

I wish them all the success in the world – I’ve seen the results from Jen and Miss Lace and they are everything that modern pinup should be. Apparently the prices for the workshops are also pretty darn reasonable.

This sort of thing is very encouraging for the art – far more so than the ” contests ” that circulated a few years ago from the eastern states. They seemed to be ventures designed to harvest money from hopefuls, and I talked to a number of ladies who became quite disillusioned with them. The simple local pinup workshop is a far happier and more straightforward thing. If it whets the appetite of the artist, they can go on to bigger and better things.

My pinups in the Little Studio are also fun – no big martini glasses, but I can do a pretty good line in hot rods…

The Little World – You Never Know What You Never Knew

Earlier in the year I joined a Facebook group that deals with my favourite hobby – die-cast toy cars and photography. The fact that finding it was completely by accident ( and a Facebook algorithm ) shows me just how much we miss in life. Even if we are alert, we are rarely alert enough.

Of course this would all have been par for the course in the pre-internet days. We functioned with hobby magazines from the newsagent or drug store, the occasional book  found buried in the public library, and the personal contact of the hobby club or the hobby shop.

If you lived in an out-of-the-way portion of the world ( we’re so isolated that the Black Plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century is just now starting here. You’ll need a note from your doctor…) you got to see the latest hobby supplies about four years after everyone else and if it was a short-lived craze you probably only saw reports of it in overseas magazines. The magazines had a greater impact than the internet now as they were frequently the only source of information. You’d be surprised how many people built marvellous models from the flimsiest plans.

And also what primitive materials were utilised. Wood, metal, early plastics, paper…they were all good stuff and they still are, but back in the 60’s people didn’t realise that they were crude and just went ahead and built masterpieces with leftovers. And they fastened them together with a wide variety of glues and adhesives that worked only fitfully. Epoxies were here, but they were very slow curing. Acetate cements were the go, and no sign of cyanoacrylates. Lots of model boats were made with powder and resin glues in an effort to make them waterproof. And lots of them came apart in the water.

Were we less happy with our early scratchbuilds? No – and we were perfectly delighted with plastic kits that would seem laughable now. The eye of the Little World builder is an adjustable one and can see past surface flaws to find the inner beauty of a model.

It would be nice to think that we can still muster up this sort of vision now.

The Little World – You Can Buy It In Any Size But The One You Need

Here – pick a card from the blue deck. Any card. Now turn it over. What does it say?

1/72?

Okay, that’s your scale. Now pick a card from the red deck and turn it over. It says…?

Portuguese torpedo bomber?

Okay, that’s what you need to buy from the hobby shop. Here is a large pile of money and a stopwatch. You have five hours to go to every hobby shop in town to buy a 1/72 Portuguese torpedo bomber – either in kit form or as a die-cast. If you do you get to keep the pile of money and if you fail we take all the tyres off your car and burn them in your back yard. Ready? Go.

This is the best game. The desperate modeller heads out the front door at a dead run and drives to the nearest hobby shop. They have 1/35 scale torpedo bombers. The next one is five miles away and they have 1/48 scale kits. The third store is across town on the freeway and they have a special on Portuguese torpedo bombers this week. All at half price and all at 1/32 scale…

It’s a big town and there are lots of stores and the five hours tick slowly away as the candidate rushes to each one. He is assured of success at the four-hour, 55 minute mark when he reaches the last one in the outer suburb that advertises itself as ” Portuguese Torpedo Bombers R Us ” and has the 1/72 signal beaming onto the clouds above the parking lot. Bursting into the doors he is confronted by the man who says:

” Oh you’re too late. We sent them back to the wholesaler yesterday. There was no call for them…”

I don’t know about you, but I like a nice tyre fire in the back yard on these summer nights. That, and the sobbing of the modeller, seems to be a home comfort.

Watching The HINDENBURG

Our new kitchen is getting built. The team doing it is at the stage of screwing cabinets together. But to get to this point, they have had to hammer, saw, and chisel the old kitchen out.

It is not the sort of thing that you want to see happening. I’ve done my share of demolition, but it was always on someone else’s property or anatomy, and there¬†was a certain degree of dispassion about it. Not when it is your house…

So far only a few surprises, and most of them pleasant. Only a couple of delays, and they can be side-stepped. I am closeted in the computer room trying not to hear what is going on, and failing. I am pleased that I cannot offer any actual physical assistance that would be helpful, as it prevents me from giving the other sort.

We dine out, not in, for the next few days.

The Big World – Playing With 1:1 Model Cars

I am going to go out on a limb with this column today. I have no idea whether I have correctly understood something and am going to make either an honest report of it or a complete mess. If the former, I am eligible for the Pulitzer Prize – if the latter, it is a sure ticket to talk-back radio stardom…

I mentioned the Toyotas On The Quay event that I attended and the number of what appeared to be racing cars displayed there. I was delighted to see them and thought that they were very well presented. Of course, an open air car event is a lot less sophisticated than an annual show at the Convention Centre, but there is this about it: the vehicles got there under their own steam – legally – and will make their way home again at the end of the day. This proves that they are real devices and not just the products of some dreamer’s imagination…as some show cars on the hot rod circuit seem to be.

Ignore my note of cynicism there, folks, because I do like the show cars as well…but there is more authenticity in a daily driver than a trailer queen.

Or is there?

I asked myself this when I looked carefully at a number of the ” race cars ” that were displayed. I’m quite unfamiliar with most motor sports – I can recognise the Indianapolis 500 cars from the 1950’s and I know the difference between a rail dragster and a Caterpillar tractor, but after that is all gets to be hazy. But I did look rather carefully at some of the racers and decided that I might be seeing model cars. Big model cars.

Take our featured image – the Toyota in the Castrol colours. Is it really the car that Didier and Denis piloted to an overall whatever place in the Rootyabouti Rally. Or is it a clever reconstruction of that car based upon a local Toyota – a 1:1 full-scale model, in fact? Made with loving care by enthusiasts who should be admired for their skill and artistry?

I like to think that this is the case. I should be equally impressed if one of the people who restore older vintage cars were to make General Montgomery’s staff car or Barney Oldfield’s racer. It is an entirely new level of enthusiasm, and should be encouraged with deliberate recognition.

If I’m wrong in this assessment, I am sure the local car fans will put me right.

Note: if you are a restorer or maker of racing cars…and drive with a standard WA licence plate, I’ll bet you are pulled over and grilled every time you venture on the roads.

Playing With The Old Toys

The old Toyotas, that is.

Perth was awash in motor car shows yesterday: The Italian car show at Gloucester Park, The All Ford Day at Bassendean Oval, and the Toyotas At The Quay at Elizabeth Quay. As I am entitled to free public transport and Elizabeth Quay is right on the train line, I opted for that one. The fact that the show itself was also free appealed to my frugal nature.

We often neglect the Asian motor cars in automotive events – in some cases with a disdain that amounts to mechanical racism. But at an event that celebrates all the Toyotas, that could hardly be the case. And for Western Australians it points up a fact that we sometimes forget: a lot of us have owned and driven Toyotas in the past and a lot of us drive them now. My wife has been most successful with them, passing from Corollas to an Avalon and now to a new Aurion. I spent a few years in a ’73 Corolla myself and have a fond memory of it. In fact, if I had replaced the head on it in ’85 instead of trading it in, I would probably be motoring in it now.

Not in comfort, mind. It was pre-A/C days, and a do love the A/C in my present Suzuki.

But the show today was proof positive that the Toyota has a solid place in Australian motoring history. That so few of them have been rodded or customised is made up for in some part by the fact that there are any number that are rally and race cars. I can’t get all that enthusiastic about that aspect of them, but I appreciate the fact that others do.

Here are a few of the brighter items at the Quay today: