Spitty Spitty Bang Bang

With apologies to the Disney corporation and Dick Van Dyke…

I couldn’t help myself when I saw the personal plate on the Triumph at the Hyde Park Motor Show on Monday. It is a free vintage, veteran, and whatever show to celebrate Labour Day. I much prefer the old vehicles to watching political marches.

The Spitfires were the cheaper line of sports cars from Triumph during the time when the TR4, 5, and 6 were made and seem to have been around in various forms from 1962 to 1980 – the green machine seen here is one of the last incarnations – the Spitfire 1500.

I was privileged to drive a Spit 1 in 1964 when we first lived for a few months in Australia. I think my dad was having a mechanical moment when he set out to buy a sports car from the Sunday Times newspaper. We saw a procession of MG’s – TC , TF, MGA, etc. but they were either too expensive or too chatty to consider. The Triumph must have hit the spot for him and I was delighted to get to run it. I’d just got my license and in retrospect I’m surprised at my parents’ calm attitude to a 17-year-old with a sports car. I never raced or rolled it, however, and in the end went back to North America safely.

Years later, in memory of my father, I wanted to buy another little sports car and dived into the Sunday Times again. There were fewer to choose from in 1983, but me and my Mother went out to see a number that were on offer. What a series of revelations…

Note: In the interim, my wife had once bought a brand-new MGB roadster in 1971, and had the fun of driving it for a year. She was not a sports car person but it looked beautiful to her. She had the very best of it, as it did not falter during her ownership…but I got to look carefully at the design and construction of it, and to ponder about the old technology and philosophy that MG loved…

Anyway, back to searching for a used Spitfire – or a used Austin Healey, MG, TR etc. The owners who presented their cars were mostly honest people. They all explained what repairs and restorations had been done to what they were trying to sell. Some had log books, and some had loose-leaf binders of mechanic’s invoices and parts receipts. A number of them had detailed reports from firms that had fabricated new floor pans, wheel arches, and body panels and welded them together. The accumulated histories of the various cars was probably intended to re-assure. It actually horrified. Both me and Mum agreed that buying a used sports car for nostalgia was nothing more than buying expense and trouble…

But I could not help getting a pang when I saw how nice the Spitfire 1500 looked. The colour is defiantly green, which I like, and apart from the side graphics – an affectation of the time – the rest is a delight. I should imagine that it would work, like God, in mysterious ways, and possibly perform wonders – The old Spit 1 certainly had  a multitude of things going on with the body panels whenever it went over the railway crossing. But for a drive on a warm evening after sunset, nothing could be more delightful.


Bless You, Driver…

No idea. I have absolutely no idea. The radiator cap ornament seems to be someone who looks like a saint or priest. But I can’t find any trace through Google of a St. Darracq, or a town of the name. I can find the Wikipedia history of the car company, but no idea who the front-man is. Any help from the readers would be appreciated.

The car itself was sitting in the shade at Hyde Park and is as neat a little roadster as anyone could want. The history of it is the usual – multiple owners and restoration periodically. Sort of like the Gabor sisters. The sign says that it has been a part of the local old-car scene since at least 1958, but of course it is much older than that – 1909. I’m curious and kind of impressed that it has right-hand-drive…perhaps it was made for the British market. or perhaps the French motorists of the period had not settled upon which side to drive.

Is it driveable? Well, it drove there. Will it drive home? Yes, but I’d suggest not after dark. the headlamps and tail lamp are extremely historic and not likely to help on Perth’s dusk roads. I’ll bet there is some sort of police requirement that restricts this car to motoring an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. Also it is probably not allowed to exceed 300 Kph in the metro area.

As usual, the details make the viewing memorable, from the coil spring riders on the rear leaves ( I suspect they are shock absorbers of some sort, or at least dampeners. ) to the lubricator box on the dashboard. The front suspension was also an elegant thing with the deeply curved steering arm. Note the lubricating pot on the king pin.

Lastly the radiateur…who else signs their cooling system?

The Blue ( Thunder ) Bird Of Happiness

A visitor – a welcome visitor – to the 2018 Victorian Hot Rod Show was this imported 1955 Ford Thunderbird. It would have been equally at home inside the hall, but by being in the car park it meant we could get much closer to see the details. And all for free.

You can think what you will and say what you might about the way that the Thunderbird evolved over the years – how it got bigger, and lower, and heavier, and ultimately indistinguishable from the sedans that took over the personal car market. And how Ford tried to wind back the clock when they restarted production to match two-seater modern cars…But you cannot deny the impact and the style of the first models.

They were never sports cars…nor were Corvettes or Studebaker Hawks. They were personal luxury cars for a market where the average Joe or Jane might just be able to afford one – and to do so while they were young enough to appreciate it. They had a big enough engine and adequate suspension and reasonable brakes, and the rest was just style and salesmanship…and quite frankly that was a reasonable answer to what people wanted.

The Europeans who decried the style or the weight or the handling fell into two classes; those who had enough old-family money to buy faster, better handling cars with astronomic price tags, and those who had enough money to buy an Austin A40 but were jealous of the Yanks. Their children and grandchildren are still echoing their shrill sentiments now, but paying 10x the price tags for modern sedans tricked out with spoilers and LED lights to do the same thing that the Thunderbird drivers did; cruise the beach strips on warm nights. They might cruise more expensively but they don’t cruise in better style.

Note the wire wheels. They are real and simultaneously unnecessary  and cool. Likewise the chrome bumpers…though I might say that the chrome and over-riders probably does a 200% better job of actually protecting the bodywork than the plastic parts of today. I note any number of dangling things on the freeway every time I drive into town – either the plastic pans are not attached very well or the people who snag and smash them cannot afford to have them ripped off and replaced. That’s not surprising considering the price of spare parts.

Note also the porthole. This is one of the last cars to have one and actually get away with the style. It is design folly, of course, but we wouldn’t be without it on a T Bird. The bird is also one of the few cars past the 1930’s that has made a wheel arch cover look good.

You might bemoan the standard look of the tail light assembly as well – it’s the style of the Fordsedan cars of their time – but remember that Ford was a reasonable-price manufacturer and any use of standard parts would have made good sense. You never had to complain about not seeing a Ford tail light when it lit up.

Is the interior luxurious enough for you…in a spartan sort of way? There is much less of the sculpturing of the dash area that you see on other North American maker’s cars, while still not retreating to the woodwork and flat panels of the European marques. It’s not padded – so you can expect to bounce your head off that dash if you stop quick.

The seat, however is pure romance, and I am willing to bet a number of them got started on those T Bird benches. Washable vinyl, too…I think the cup holder’s a later addition but the radio and the heater controls look pretty standard for the period. Is that a tape deck? Does it have Conelrad? Do you know what Conelrad was? And look at the wheel – ribbed for your pleasure.

Finally…consider the statement that the paint job makes in these days of grey and black. This is a car for people who want to have fun and colour. Truly Happy Days.

The Plates

I used to be scandalised by things on a regular basis. I’m talking about pre-social media days…when there was less scandal to cope with, and you could get right down to it on individual cases and do a thorough job of indignity. In the last 5 years this passion for outrage has dissipated. I can still spark up at people being bad mannered to no purpose, but I rarely react to inanimate objects.

Just as well – the special plate craze has flourished in Perth over the last 20 years and there can be some pretty extreme ones. But I’m happy to say that the examples I found at this year’s WA Hot Rod Show were charming, silly, or just plain fun. No more comment – just a few views of the name badges of the cars.


The Cut Lunch And The Water Bag

I am getting to be three things in my old age; smarter, cheaper, and more determined. It does not prevent me from being taken advantage of in the first place, but it does prevent a repeat performance. Next week I am going to test myself out in all three characteristics.

It is to be the occasion of the annual big hot rod show at the Claremont showgrounds. A weekend affair, I will go on both days to see different things and to take different photos. I am delighted to be a guest of another car photographer who is a regular shooter for the car clubs…he invites me and it means a free entry at the door. I will also take advantage of the free public transport card that allows a senior to travel on bus and train. Since the photography can be done with the Fujifilm X cameras, there is no film or paper cost either. So far, so good, so cheap!

But the trap for old players is at about 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon when you get a bit hungry and wander over to the fast-food stand. The pavilion that houses the show has a contracted caterer there who serves hamburgers, chips, and nachos…no-one else is permitted to do so. there may be a coffee stand up, the other end, but they are bit players, and the caterer is sited near the only bar in the venue.

Needless to say, they clean up with all the hot rodders and their kids wanting to eat at once. Their prices, like their name, suggest the charge of a wounded bull.

Well, this year there will be no more bull. I am going to take my own lunch in my camera bag and buy a beer in the bar. There are plenty of tables to sit down at, and so far in this country you can still make your own sandwiches without government interference. I wish it were possible to do this in pubs as well, but I guess there is a limit to how cheap they will let you be.

It’ll be interesting to see if the days can be as nice as the one spent at the NSW hot rod show a month ago. All I need is a half a dozen new cars to see and it is all worthwhile.

Two More Family Hot Rods

dscf4384Readers of this column will remember seeing some of the junior rodders of the future in Melbourne attending the Victorian Hot Rod Show with their fathers. Likewise one small chap who was taking advantage of a push-start at the West Australian Hot Rod and Street Machine Show this last year. Well here are two more mini-vehicles from the 2016 Gillam Drive day.

These kids are troopers – Gillam Drive is hot. Their fathers are also to be commended for providing reliable propulsion in the heat. I’ll bet that they started to regret the idea about halfway down the strip…But if you start, you have to finish. Returning home without the kids when you very distinctly took them out the front door at the start of the day is bound to be noticed…

The pink custom is pretty much complete, and I would point out the inclusion of lakes pipes down the side. Plus the furry upholstery and the spectacle windscreen – there are show cars on the circuit with far less style.

dscf4436The open-wheel rod is a work in progress – as so many hot rods have been throughout the world. The frame with the dropped and drilled axle and the smooth bare bodywork show that there is a very high level of skill in the builder. But the bare engine compartment’s the fascinating thing. Whatever is going to be put in there?

I hesitate to tell the builder what to do. I can imagine a (very) small block Chevy in there or a confection of a Hemi. I can understand if it were to be a fabricated shell covering an electric drive – but how glorious if it could be a working ic engine…

Whatever the decision, I am going to keep my eyes peeled over the next few years for this car and the drivers. And the dad who built it. I just gotta see how it is finished and I would be delighted to be able to take studio pictures of it too.*

Stay tuned.

* Oh if there is any justice in the world, he should take it to the police pits when it is done and ask for a very small plate…and please tell me when it happens so that I can be there with the camera.


Drawing All The Wrong Comparisons

dscf0900A visitor to car shows who sees the displays but does not share in the effort, time, and cost of the affair is really only getting part of the picture. Even if they are enthusiastic photographers themselves they can sometimes miss seeing everything in front of them – I have been a guilty of this as anyone.

mel2014-128Still, sometimes we see connections and similarities that others don’t consider…

dscf0903Here’s two cars putting four wheels and two seats on the road in ways that are surprisingly similar. Consider that both the ’55 Lotus and th ’32 Ford B have:

a. Two seats and a picnic basket space behind them.

b. Open access to wind, sun, rain, and bugs. The cloth top of the Ford peels back and the tonneau of the Lotus zips open.

c. Outboard wheels and tyres but with attached mud guards.

d. Headlamps in separate housings.

e. External suspension rods.

f. Big wheels and tyres on the back and little ones down the front. ( Which size do you choose for a spare…? )

g. Fully enclosed engine bay.

h. Steel wheels.

I. Minimal dashboard instrumentation.

j. No bumpers.

k. An engine that is optional – you can slot different makes in there.

mel2014-129Sooooo. What exactly is the difference between a kit sports car and a hot rod, again? Is it just the country of origin or the class of the owner? I’ll bet the police licensing bureau has a field day harassing either group of enthusiasts and I’ll bet the number of trips over the pits for additional fees to satisfy the jobsworths is about equal.

dscf0901What we need is more flame jobs on sports cars and more wood-rimmed steering wheels on hot rods…