The World-Travelled Hobby

Coventry, England…New York, USA…Perth, Australia. Well you don’t get ’em much further apart than that – and you don’t get a tale of resurrection in many other hobbies than that of vintage cars.

Oh, there are a lot of restoration services for antiques – businesses that rebuild cellos, escritoires, and clean oil paintings…but few actually go to the extent that car restorers do to get the objects of their affection back to new. The only other example I can think of is the aeroplane restorers and they have an even more difficult task as their end result needs to defy death and gravity as well as time.

Well, the best thing I can do for the Jaguar XK 120 Fixed Head coupe story is to show the sign that the owner placed in front of it. Judge for yourself the dedication of a Western Australian who not only repaired what was left over in California over two decades ago, but converted it expertly to right-hand drive. The only saving grace would have been the fact that there were many more of the XK120’s made as RHD originally that the parts would have been available…but I’ll bet they were pricey.

Beautiful lines, of course, but as they are so reminiscent of the luxury cars of the 1930’s you have to wonder if the designers’ minds had been set in this before the war and they could not retune themselves after. I think some of the construction methods were also in the same category but this might also have been to do with the British unions’ control of manufacturing and trades.

I was most impressed with the security taken to keep the wheel covers in place. Actually, I’d love to see wheel covers return to modern styles and don’t know why they have not. Perhaps the age of elegance has passed.

 

Pull Up A Plymouth And Sit Down…

The recent Hyde Park holiday show turned up something I have never seen before in one of the intriguing details of a 50’s motor car.

The car is a 1955 Plymouth station sedan – apparent from the licence plate though in this case it may have been imported to Australia a year later. They were like that – you can never tell whether a car style that you knew in North America is really the same year here. I have my suspicions that the major makers whacked out all the panels they could in their own model year and by the time this was finished they shipped the worn dies to whoever would pay for them…Australian divisions might have been glad to get them or might have taken them on sufferance – but that is a speculation I’ll leave for the crusty old motorfarts.

In any case, this Plymouth’s appearance matches Google images of the US production year pretty well. The outside is nice, but a bit staid. It has plenty of hauling space in the back. And it has a surprise on the dashboard.

No, not the fact that it’s RHD – at that time a car couldn’t get a licence for LHD unless it was restricted to one of the American communications bases – as soon as it came down to the metro area it had to have a conversion within a specified number of months. It might have been factory, but it might also have been a factory kit sent out and installed here.

The surprise for me is the transmission selection lever sprouting beside the wheel column. I’d seen them on column and I’d seen the push-buttons of the later Chrysler products in Canada and here. It’s an automatic, so the driver won’t be grabbing at it as they steer along. But what a sensible way to do it! – and why did no-one else at the time get on the bandwagon and make the same design? It is an electro-mechanical control that would have been easy to transpose to the other side of the car with just one special moulded panel. And the dash has a centre panel and two symmetrical side panels so that makes it better.

Well, ergonomics are like that, and Chrysler may have put some sort of patent fence around the idea in the US. I think I’ve seen dash shifts on some French cars, but not as straightforward as this. Almost as much fun as a four on the floor.

 

 

 

B, C, Or E?

I am undecided as to which of the mid-series Holden cars I like best – the FB, FC or FE. They were the products of GM-H between 1956 here in Australia but sometimes went for several years – hence we tend to refer to them by the two letters rather than a model year. This practice was also adopted by the Ford and Chrysler when they named their cars. Australians are good at remembering these codes.

Aside: The ones who are really good at this are the train enthusiasts. They have a three-letter code for most rolling stock on the different rail systems in the country. It makes reading a model railway magazine somewhat of a chore, though, and probably has contributed to the popularity of North American layouts with their colourful – and named – freight cars.

 Back to the Holdens. Overseas readers might be forgiven for thinking that the FB was the first of the line, followed by the FC and then the FE. And wonder what happened to and FD. Uh uh. This is Australia, remember…the FE was the first, then the FC, then the FB. Then, wouldn’t you just know it, the EK, and then the EJ and then the EH…Aww stop it, before I fall off the seat…

 Now you would expect the next model after that to be in the ED or EC line, wouldn’t you? Nope -the HD, then the HR, then the HK. Then I lost any sort of interest…

 But here is the red and white ’58 FC at the Curtin Car Show. 2 seats for 4 people. 6 cylinder engine, fair-sized boot. Enough chrome on the front and back to please anyone and doors that can defend themselves in a Leeming car park. ( I miss that kind of door…). A two-tone paint job that looks good. And you get an AM wireless. What more could you want?

 

Blue Shoe

This single-spinner shoebox Ford seen in the car park of the Rosehill Racecourse during the afternoon of this year’s NSW Hot Rod Show attracted me immediately – 49-53 Fords always do, no matter how they are presented. They are the first car I ever saw that I wanted to own entirely upon their external looks. Many others have come along in the meantime, but I still love the shoebox…and a few of its overseas copies.

But this car and the afternoon I saw it have pointed out something I did not realise – the fact that satin or matt paint can be a difficult thing to photograph. Until now, I thought that this sort of finish made car shooting easier, but now I see that this is not the case.

This will not be accurate in scientific terms, but the satin auto finish is suspended somewhere between shiny and dull paint. Apparently there are 5 different grades between flat and glossy. How they do it is a mystery, but I’m betting on some form of particle or filler in the fluid that makes up the paint along with the pigment particle. The look is unmistakable when done well.

It also needs to be completely done – you’ll note the doors on this Ford seem to have a structure showing – that may be because it is not yet the final paint coat. More rubbing down, more coats.

The car itself is a work in progress, as evinced by the rear bumper and the multicoloured nature of the interior. It is perfectly in order for the builder to drive it to the show and park it out in the car park – we are grateful to him for doing so to show us how the car is progressing. New enthusiasts who only see finished show cars may be discouraged when they return home and see their base car nowhere near the show condition – it’s good for them to see how others are managing the tasks.

I am pleased to be able to record the neat and unobtrusive nature of the tail-light treatment. I’ve seen some surprising ideas bolted and leaded into custom cars in the past , and even if they are marvellous jobs of work, some of them have not been good looking. This use of the classic shoebox design is fine. Likewise the decision to clean up, but leave undisturbed, the classic front end. No drawer-pull grilles needed here.

The stop light? Well, that is a matter of taste – like the Tiki shift lever. Both are certainly period-correct, but…

Okay – back to the paint. As a photographer of car shows, I am equipped with a good mirror-less camera and large flash. I expose for the general scene and then throw fill light into grilles, interiors, or shaded portions as needed. The overhead lights and/or sky will always be a factor in any scheme, and the way the car reacts to them will make a great deal of difference to whether the lines of the car are well seen. Show shooting for the visitor during open hours is entirely different from work done after all the crowds have gone home. You don’t get to do lighting set-ups or multiple pops. It is all in one and frequently the window of opportunity is about 3 seconds! It’s like press shooting.

Note in the featured image how the sky light glares out the line of the fender and bonnet. On a gloss finish that would be a brighter specular highlight, but very much narrower. Surprisingly , it would be less obtrusive and one might almost PS it out. Not here – the specular highlight is a diffuse patch that you just have to put up with. And it seems in some cases to delineate the panel contour more than a gloss would do.

Looks like there might have to be a lot more experimentation with these finishes in the future – I like ’em but they are a menace.

 

The Naked Mexican

In case you are looking for girls, they are on the next page.

This one is about the Chevrolet coupe that I discovered in the car park at the Rosehill Racecourse during the 2107 NSW Hot Rod Show. It is a prime example of the advice never to leave too early and always look everywhere. It is the last car on my camera roll and I would not have missed it for a thousand Pesos.

Chopped, of course. Lowered, indeed. Shaved, but badly. This is a traditional custom/rod of the old Southern Californian border type. It rides low but does not do it by jacking the front suspension up. It is a bad man’s car, and knows it…

The decision to leave the scars and marks that this car has earned is deliberate – it is coated with something that preserves the metal…mostly…but lets us see the muscle underneath. The fading and graphics on the top are done because it is artistic. The boot lid is done because it is important to let people know with whom they are dealing.

There are no badges. This Chevrolet does not need esteenking badges…

Are you surprised at the interior? Do not be. It will become something different as time goes on. Do not expect knitted seatcovers, however – this is not that kind of car.

Is the radiator leaking? Is that water under the front grille?

No, it is blood. You would be wise not to notice it in future.

 

 

The SUV Without The S

The 1950’s were serious times for serious people. Not for them the fun-loving carefree attitudes of today. People were committed to work and only bought vehicles that were totally practical and sensibly engineered…

Yeah. Right. How many model car collections contain Thunderbirds, Corvettes, Jaguars, and MG sports cars? Painted in drab serviceable colours for everyday haulage…

As a contrast I present the Chevrolet or GMC Suburban of 1950. Like the Renault Juvenal and any number of English vans, it actually is the forerunner of the modern SUV – but no-one deceived themselves that it had anything to do with sport.

Filling the back seats with your own children might have been considered a sport, but the families who did probably considered that to be a form of work as well…In any case the vehicle could haul people, groceries, and products about as well as a modern SUV but with far less comfort or pretension. And for that reason I would love to own one.

If the front end looks like a GMC pickup truck of the period it is because that is what it is – the bodywork further back becomes a large station wagon with only two side doors and two rear doors – and a lot of shuffling and wingeing to get all the people into all the seats. A modern vehicle does that very much better – the slide-door vans being the best of all. It is amazing that it took the designers all the time it did to fasten upon that idea as the best solution.

Still, this is the sort of hauler that would haul in places that the car of the time would stall. I do remember them as rural school buses or construction job people haulers. I’m willing to be that they probably had their seats stripped out and became many more things before the decade was over. I’m undecided about the paint job on this Mira model, but I’m glad I have it and its companion panel van.

That’s a traffic signal box at the corner of High Road and Herald Avenue…

Ford – Thinking Outside The Box

dscf5073My time at car shows – whether the subjects are  hot rods, vintage, or modern vehicles, is spent looking out for four things:

a. New displays – cars that I’ve never seen before.

b. Excellent displays – really well-done exhibits.

c. Odd-balls. Items that you really never expect to see.

d. The coffee van*.

Note that I do not specifically respond to over-the-top builds or show car designs. I am unmoved by the famous award-winning 5-years-in-the-making fibreglass confection sitting on a bed of angel hair and LED lighting. I spent a childhood building AMT models of Ed ” Big Daddy” Roth show cars and I am unimpressed by plexiglass bubbles.

But I do like a good design that someone has recognised and revitalised – like the mid-50’s Ford station sedans. These, like their cousins the utes, were initially intended as a semi-working semi-family vehicle and had more practicality in their makeup than many of their contemporaries ( Fight that one out amongst yourselves…)

mel2014-372Here are examples from Victoria and Western Australia – the yellow and white Customline is from the VHRS 2014 show while the light green and white is from this year’s Big Al’s Poker Run in WA. They illustrate the advantage that the hot rodder or custom builder has over their restorative cousins.

mel2014-370First the Victorian car. Ignore the fact that it is plopped down in the middle of the Exhibition Building in a Hot Rod Show – it is really a restored post-vintage car. Or a  pre-veteran, post-vintage, retro-themed, olden-tymes car. Whatever the damned committees have invented as a category for it…it is a well-maintained reminder of the mid 1950’s in Australia. Whatever it is, it has less hair and more good manners than Barry Humphreys…but then so does  a wheelbarrow full of dirty socks.

In any case, it is a car that has to tread a very strict line. It must be not only good and old, but good as well as old. The owner is under the eagle ( vulture? ) eye of the restorationists of Victoria and if he deviates from the Ford canon by one word – one wrong bolt or fabric – the whole congregation will cry out with a howl. Automotive apostasy is probably punishable by death or worse.

dscf5074The rodder, on the other hand, can look at the thing with a fresh eye. If the wheels would look better as billet mags, he is free to try them on without risking a blast from heaven. If the panels would look better with fewer advertising badges, he is free to prise them off and plaz up the holes…provided he is painting later. If the interior is in need of a lot of serious love and he doesn’t fancy grey factory corduroy cloth, he is free to make the thing look elegant. And he is free to attach a set of rather cool aerodynamic roof racks to the top in coordinated colour. He gets plaudits not hisses, because his viewers are men and women of art, rather than fanatics.

Of course, it also means that occasionally there will be something untoward appearing on the show floor. Not all hot rod designers are gifted with the eye for a line, even if they are masters at actual physical construction. Every now and then a complex construction is undertaken to reshape a car body – or the frame and running gear – and the result looks wrong. It may also be extremely sturdy, well-built, true, and functional. While looking …well…wrong. The best that can be done is to concentrate the eye on the workmanship and praise the engineering skill. Whilst trying not to stare.

We have all done it. Overcooked a cake, over egged a pudding, over drawn a picture. As long as we are not designing airliners, no real harm is done. And who knows – whatever we have done may become a barn find in the future for someone else…

*  Found it.dscf5148

 

Hot Rod Heinies

dscf5142Wait a minute. That didn’t quite come out the way I meant it.

dscf5113Oh well, at least it sounds better than Kustom Krauts.

It’s all because we just don’t see all that many German cars that have been taken through the hot rod or custom car mill. But there is no reason why not.

Well actually there is, the older Volkswagens are becoming thin on the ground, the middle-aged Volkswagens are pieces of junk ( I owned one… ) and the new Volkswagens are immutably locked into computers – either honestly or dishonestly, depending upon who programmed them at the factory. And the BMW, Audi, and Mercedes cars are generally too expensive to fool around with. Add to that the fact that they have attracted a sort of unhealthy idol-worship amongst the well-to-do…and they are just not available for the car enthusiast to rod or customise.

dscf5144Here are two exceptions, however. The first one is the VW with the football knees. Or at least I think that is the problem – the rear wheels seem to have deviated ever so slightly from the vertical. It might be a trick of the light, but I don’t think so. I do hope the driver has some way of rectifying it as driving past a Goodyear, Bridgestone, or Beaurepaires shop would probably set up a series of screams from the staff.

dscf5145The windscreen adjustment is nice, however…if a little impractical in the face of dust, insects, and rain.

dscf5112The Mercedes seems to have been subjected to the sort of bonnet work that we see on the drag strip or in the more extreme of the street race cars. I was surprised to see the grill work lift up with the front of the bonnet, but Google images show that happening to other 1971 280 SE cars as well, so I guess it is stock. The blowers are a good idea if you want to make a street sleeper out of it but the fact that they poke pipes up through the bonnet is a bit of a give-away.

dscf5115I think the rear venetians are a nice period touch – do we all remember them from the late 60’s… and the cushions and stuffed animals on the rear window sill? They were a trophy of love in many cases, as well as a practical aid to accomplishing  it.

dscf5114And are the rear wheels of the Mercedes suffering a bit of the Volkswagens or is that just imagination?

 

The Fine Fins Of 59

_dsc7266a

The prize tailfin on American cars has often been thought to have been on the ’58 Cadillac Eldorado – see the picture of Penelope Pinze in the desert – but I disagree.

cottesloe-car-18

I shall leave aside the sheet metal freak that was attached to the rear deck of the Plymouth Roadrunner. It is tall, but definitely a bolt-on item and not in the spirit of the 50’s or 60’s. It may, or may not, have contributed to stability at the rear end of this muscle car, but it was not a part of the original sheet metal design for the sedan body.

plymouth

For my money the champion tail fin or stabilizer was sported by the 1960 Plymouth line – all the way from the Belvedere to the Fury there were two magnificent fins cutting the air. The junction of the front of the bonnet and the grille may have had an uncertain style to it but the flanks of the beast were all that could be asked for.

dscf4440

Here in Australia I see that 1959 brought a sort of peak of style as well, but in a bit more hesitant way. See the rear quarters of this 1959 Chrysler at Gillam Drive. They feature tail fins piled upon tail fins piled upon tail fins – surely a combination that deserves some respect. The angles of the side trim have been carefully set to divide the broad white into two manageable sectors. The black roof is stylish, but on Gillam Drive in summer style comes at a price – the price of comfort. It is the only concession that this driver need make – the rest of the vehicle is superb.

dscf4439

I hope Tony has some success with his sale – a custom car as nicely presented as this one deserves to be treated well. It would have been the pride and joy of a well-to-do person here in 1959, and not too common on the road. Plenty of power in the engine if the owner  wished to tow a caravan…one thinks of the long winding southwest roads in those days and what it must have been like to be stuck behind an Easter caravan on Caves Road…This is what you might have seen  – minus the Coromal…

dscf4442

Please note one more period piece in the rear window. Not as common as they once were, but authentic nevertheless…

dscf4441

 

Detroit 56

dscf4512

The paint job and licence plate of this car at Gillam Drive this year set up a train of surprising echoes in my memory – ’56 was one of those years.

It was the year my dad set a world record. It was the year he cheated death. It was the year I got beaten at school. It was the year his business failed. It was the year we saw Detroit.

The world record was for the deepest fresh-water dredging operation. The fact that it was nearly impossible to do led to the business failure. The fact that my father decided to leave his former employment and pursue it meant that he was not aboard a Trans Canada Airlines DC – 6 when it hit the side of a mountain in British Columbia – his successor in that job was…

dscf4506

The school beating was from the principal, for the crime of talking in line. It was the only instance of corporal punishment in all my cschool career, though I was beaten up many times on the playground. The officious unfairness of it still rankles, though it pales into insignificance compared to the sort of abuse Australian high school teachers in the 1960’s regularly got away with.

dscf4509

The Detroit visit – after the business failure – was as part of a relocation to Montreal for new employment. We went on a guided tour of parts of the Ford Motor Company plant and were shown rolling mills, casting shops, and assembly lines. I could not admire the rolling mills enough. Detroit was , indeed, Motor City.

dscf4507

Okay – the other memory evoked by the ’56 Chevy you see here involved the colour. That is a scheme favoured in the mid-50’s for many things…and it was the exact shade of pink*and black that our bathroom was. I often think that it influenced us here at home when we chose the tiles for the bathroom and laundry, though we stuck to pink alone and avoided black. If I were to rebuild I think I would bring the black back…

dscf4505

Please note the details: the custom tail-lights and fin extensions, the pinstriping and graphics, The extremely neat – very stock – interior, and the six-cylinder engine. Proof that not all cool customs need to have enormous V-8’s sandwiched into their engine bays and that effective rodding does not need to chrome everything in sight or poke pipes out through the bonnet.

dscf4510

Many thanks to the owner for opening the passenger’s side door for a clear interior shot. This is always a welcome thing for a reporter.
dscf4513

* Mamie Eisenhower liked pink, and it was therefore fashionable.