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.

 

Dashboard

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 Free Ride

I am not sure how much of my life has been a free ride. It is not a subject that I go much into, though I am sure that there are people who would wish me to do so, and to feel guilty for it. Not going to happen – I have real things to feel guilty for and I reserve my remorse for them.

But back to the freebie. Was my childhood a free existence? Well, I got fed, clothed, housed, and educated for free. And well, I might add. Part of it was my parents’ doing, part of it was state or provincial government. I guess you could say it was ultimately all upon my parents and their tax dollars. And I started to paid it back 30 years later with the birth of my daughter.

I got to live in a free democracy, and that was likely the parents and grandparents again – through their selection of a good place to live and vigorous defence of it. And now we live in Australia and it is also a good and free place.

I got a free car when I was 18, but this was also a free car I paid for with high school work and abstinence from guns, drugs, girls, alcohol, and all other cars until that point. Then I was adjudged sufficiently stable to be trusted with a four-cylinder Renault. The car lasted me 7 years and was sold away when I got married. It did not survive the second owner’s poor driving skills, but my marriage is still going strong 45 years later. I regret selling the car but would not exchange it for the wife…

Note: the wife sold her new MGB at the same time to go overseas with me. We BOTH regret not putting it up on blocks and waiting until we came back from England in less than a year…

My daughter also got a free car from me when she was 18, and it served her well for 20 years. It is parked as a blockship in the car port of my studio.

Free employment? Not a bit of it. I bought every bit of equipment for my surgery – and had to pay cash for it as I was a new practitioner. I used it for over 30 years and got value  – some of my old student gear is in my hobby workshop organising tools and making scale models. I’m STILL getting value from a clinical cabinet bought in 1968!

Free house? well, actually yes – two of them. Our family had enough money for my parents to build their own little dream home and hand the old one they owned to me and the wife. Then that little dream home passed to me with their passing and became The Little Studio. It will go to my daughter, along with the family home we built in the 80’s. I think this is only right – I’m certainly getting my fun out of it all.

Free car now? Hah. Nothing about a car is free anymore. The best that can be done is to choose something that is the least size and cost that will actually accomplish what you need to do and then keep the running costs down. Driving at or under the speed limit is a good start.

Free food? Well, we could grow our own, except we don’t want to. But we have certainly discovered that you can eat cheaper at home than out at the restaurants. By a factor of 5x to 10x.

Free electricity? The roof is covered in panels and I daresay they do throw back electricity to the grid that is taken off our consumption, but it seems to have been an encouragement to leave lights and fans on and I think it all works out even in the end.

Free water? Free sewage removal? Free rates? You might as well ask for Free Willy.

 

Pre-Chewed For Your Convenience

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I find myself lingering more these days at car shows near the rat rods and rat customs. They were an initial shock, but that has worn off and I am starting to appreciate the genre a little more. Some still jangle the nerves, but mostly they’re all right.

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I suppose a rat is really a sort of mathematical equation – the sort of problem that seems to be too hard to solve in conventional terms but yields if you are prepared to ignore a few of the decimal points. The decision to take this road must have to be made early in the piece before starting too much in the way of restoration and rebuilding…and then the energy that you might have spent trying to smooth the last wrinkle out of the sheet metal can be turned to entirely different purposes,

I have noticed that there are several parallel lines of development in the rat – it is not all just one tub of rust:

 

a. The patina patootie. This is a car that has  lost enough of the original paint that the builder is going to have to engage in a desperate festival of filler, undercoat, and expensive top coats….or…just stop rust on the bare bits and seal the rest and hope that it passes. Some original factory colours are suitable for it – some just look manky. If nothing, it can be a long-term stop-gap before a more extensive redesign.

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b. The barn find. Make of that what you will. Some of the genuine barn finds are wonderful, and some are just very sad. I have yet to see a new car barned deliberately but I daresay someone will do it eventually. I hope my fillings can stand the tooth grinding…

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c. The organic rat. This is a rat that is genuinely made of whatever was in the shop at the time. If it looks a little rough and the parts do not really seem to match to a design, it doesn’t matter. It rolls and trying to make the assorted bits fit keeps the builder out of the pubs.

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d. The OTT. Here there is no end of material to work with and it is generally stuck together pretty well – well enough to pass the pits, anyway. But sometimes it seems as though the pudding has been over-egged. There are skulls, bones, German helmets, bullets, rats, and brazing-rod spiders webs nearly everywhere. A Munster’s coach from Mandogalup, if you will. Fun to look at but somewhat déclassé.

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e. The inadvertent rat. It all started out as a project that was going to have candy apple paint, drawer-pull grill ornaments, and white roll-and-tuck upholstery but it never seemed to happen.

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As with most of these things it is as well to separate out the failed restoration from the failed custom rod and to be kind to them…they are only failures now but that does not mean to say that they cannot succeed in the future. Likewise you would need to look carefully at some Asian cars to see whether they are trying to rat or not. It is hard to rat with lighted wheel wells and multiple spoilers. Very hard to rat with WRX’s and Nismo stickers and extremely hard to rat with Mercedes and 888-888 license plates. Not if your father catches you…

As a side note, I remember the Asian Student cars of the 1960’s as compared to the ones they drive now. I should be interested to see what they might make of a Renault 4 or a Skoda Octavia of the period. Or a Standard…One thing, the chaps in my 1967 class were, to a man, ratty drivers.

 

 

Saturday Night At the Nightline

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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…

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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…

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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 “.

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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.

 

FOR SALE….Or Not, As The Case May Be

DSCF6267A copyMy 1:18 scale coral and white Nash Metropolitan is not for sale.

My picture of the model is not for sale – though I might be persuaded if you really want one.

What is for sale is the business of taking pictures of 1:18 scale green Renault 4’s…specifically pictures of other people’s items for other people. Let me explain.

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Here is an average eBay picture of a 1:18 scale Solido Renault 4 car for sale. It is out of the box but could just as easily be a pristine item kept carefully away from small children and UV light in a non-smoking house that practiced vegan principals and voted solid Democrat. But the advantages or otherwise of these circumstances is entirely lost to the viewer – the picture is terrible. The viewer is not likely to become a buyer based on this illustration. And buyers are what makes eBay go round.

The temptation for anyone selling on small markets to take their own pictures is nearly unbeatable. With a digital Sony pocket camera every Mom is a photographer and if she is selling embroidery or junk jewellery or whatever, she is likely propping her wares up on the dining room table and shooting away – as our toy car seller did. The question is whether she is shooting the products or her foot.

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This second green Renault 4  ( I’ll let you into a secret…it is the same model…) is taken on a professional product table with correct illumination – softbox and underlight – and shows the model to the best advantage. it is colour-correct, focused, framed well, and sized right. It calls to the browser and makes him or her want to own the car. Which they can’t because I’m not selling it, but you get the drift.

Here’s my pitch – and for the overseas readers the pitch is futile…but for Perth readers it is entirely relevant – Dick Stein’s Little Studio does this sort of illustration for web, eBay, and publication work every day of the week. It is the foundation of good social media shots and shows shop products to their best advantage. People who like the look of things that they see…buy the things that are shown.

The rates are reasonable – in fact they are darn cheap. The turn-around time for shooting and preparing is blazingly fast because the work is done on the product table – not with endless hours of computer work. The studio is central to the southern suburbs and can tacked lots of different sized objects, fabrics, and whatever. Foodstuffs are no problem and delicate items are safe. I can collect, illustrate, and return, or come out to premises with a portable setup to do much the same thing for larger items.

So if you’re selling mermaid tails or jewellery, or your own collection, or your artwork…call me on 0424 367 050 and we’ll talk.

I can also do posters and advertising material for your bellydance, glamour, cabaret, costuming, or other entertainment needs. I don’t do freebies anymore for this because I’ve been bit before, but my commercial rates are very reasonable. And if you are small enough to fit on the product table you can have a lovely under lighting…

Not Your Average Ten – Alconi

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I am a fan of the Renault R 10. I owned one – it was my first car. 4-wheel independent suspension, 4wheel disc brakes, fabulously comfortable seats, and four doors. Good luggage boot in front, rear engine, and enough Gallic styling quirks to pickle a goose. Its one fault seemed to be an underpowered 1100cc engine. Flat chat was 90 MPH and you had to work up to that for miles. It made for some exciting times circling the city block, I can tell you.

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I can also tell you I was delighted to see this yellow R10 at the Whiteman park show. It was entirely new to me, but piercingly familiar…and I had to google like mad at home to see what it actually is.

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It’s from South Africa…sorry, that’s South Efrica…and it is the Alconi. It was made as a variant to provide a faster and more sporty Renault for the country. They apparently did it as kits of go-faster manifolds and exhausts , and added other touches. I see a different set of dash instruments, upholstery, and a grab bar on the left pillar. Quite different wheels and tyres as well, though these may be local Australian additions. And the distinctive Alconi badge. Very much an Abarth-style venture, but on a smaller scale.

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I noted the improvement in the driving position with the metal-spoke racing wheel, but the same old Renault gear shift lever and insipid shift knob. I changed mine for a big chrome one with a Renault badge set inside it as soon as I could get to a motor accessory catalog – and got surprisingly good with what other people thought of as a very sloppy gear box. I was a precise person in those days .

 

The Plastic Bumper Club – Or The Personal Car Club

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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 Tinycar

 

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At the other end of the spectrum from the Western Suburbs Wank Wagon is the kleinwagen. The Kei. The tiny car that nimbly dodges from side to side – avoiding road taxes, petrol pumps, and occasionally potholes. They have been a feature of motoring in many crowded countries for a long time.

Australia has had a few in its time – we saw the baby Austins, tiny Subarus, Lightburn Zetas and the Goggomobile. There have been Renaults, Citroens, Minis, and Hillman Minxes too but these are just a little bit bigger than the ones to which I refer. Set your mind on the Old Fiat Bambino as the top of the size and work way down.

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In their countries of origin they were the stopgap measure that many industries undertook to get something moving after the RAF  and USAAF stopped it – generally by flattening the factories. They needed transport and export and they couldn’t wait until their countries were forgiven – also probably didn’t want to start up the heavy machinery until the trembler switches on the unexploded ordnance had rusted over. The governments of the countries assisted by allowing tax rebates for tiny cars, hiking the taxes on petrol and lubricants ( until the switches rusted over…) and losing some of the incriminating papers for the owners of the factories.

They got basic transport. We got basic amusement. Who could be so heartless as to view a BMW Isetta, an NSU Prinz, or the dear little non-machine gun Messerschmitt without a tear of sentiment. Of course sometimes the lump in the throat was bile as the driver tried to navigate normal Australian traffic from a point of view roughly at the exhaust pipe of all the other cars but that could happen anywhere.

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The prime  interior characteristic of the Tinycar was the feeling that you were in a telephone booth. And not a particularly sturdy one at that. The wheels were thin, the seats were thin, and the barrier between you and the traffic whizzing by was thin. The only large thing about the Tinycar was, surprisingly, the driver. Quite a few people who bought them were people who also buy large dinners. Sometimes it was fun to see what actually got out of the car, though that sense of fun could pale when they invited you to go for a ride somewhere and you realised that it was going to be inside a pale blue Tupperware container at 30 miles an hour.

The other thing that was common was the noise. All the little motors – none of them ever over 660cc – were valiant workers but never silent about it. They were the mechanical equivalent of Don Knotts in a nervous mood. Sometimes they got you going reasonably fast but your ears rang for a week.

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Will we see them again, now that the Smartcar from Mercedes has been taken of the market? Yes we will, but probably not in Australia on anything other than a club license or a mantlepiece. There are too many build laws here and too many bureaucrats to allow the sort of freedom to experiment that the Tinycar provided. I wish  had one – I would take it out driving at 2:30 AM when no-one was on the roads. I’d rack it up to 60 Km/h and scare myself to death.

 

A Small Amount Of Prejudice

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I really should be ashamed of myself – prejudice being one of the sins that we most condemn in modern society. Mind you, some societies that exist in modern times celebrate prejudice and would see me as correct…Well, bless or curse as you wish – I am guilty.

I have never driven a Mini. I have seen them here in Perth since 1965 and have yet to set my bottom in one of the seats – except for a brief trial in the Ilich Motors showroom on Canning Highway in 1966. Put it down to about 4 minutes worth of seat time. In those 4 minutes I conceived a lifelong dislike for the car.

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And isn’t that a foolish thing to do! I love little cars – the kleinwagens of the auto world get all my attention – indeed I own a small sedan right now and would not trade it for a BMW or Mercedes. But not Minis.

The 4 minutes were spent while shopping for my first car. I saw a vast variety of vehicles that were better and worse than the Mini – Hillmans, Isuzus, Renaults, FIATs,VWs, and Cortinas all were carefully studied and dissected. Even the Lightburn Zeta was inspected…but the Mini never made it to the 5 minute mark. Why?

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Wasn’t the sporty nature of the car or the reputation it had – that was a plus in my mind in those silly days. Wasn’t the size of it – I quite like the small cars. Wasn’t the square shape or the retro styling ( Was anything retro in those days? ). Certainly it wasn’t the price because they were quite cheap.

It was the interior appointments. The sort of appointments that reminded you of…well, of an appointment in a proctology clinic. Comfortless and plain. The instruments, such as they were, were set in a central cluster and required you to look down and away from the road to see them. And you weren’t rewarded with any luxury when you did. They looked like something the Italians would have rejected. The thought that they were connected somewhere to British electricity was another sobering thought. I had seen British electricity in Land Rovers in Canada and heard the Master Mechanic of a large construction firm discuss what he thought of the designers. He was a man with definite words…

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The clincher was when I turned my head and looked sideways at the headliner as it crossed the B pillar of the car – near the seat belt bracket. The head liner had not even been tucked into itself around the edge – just left to quietly fray away on the painted metal. Remembering the finish on everything else, save the Zeta, I gently climbed out of the seat and slid out the showroom door.

Please note that this was the old Minis. The newer ones may have improved. There were many cars from BMC in the intervening years and right now BMW seems to have revived the Mini name with a car that has many of the same external design clues as the original. Perhaps it is time to go look inside again. Dear old Ilich is gone but there must be other enterprising car lots.