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…

 

 

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

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I remember riding in one of these VW Country Buggies in the late 1960’s when one of the people staying at the university college I attended decided that he was going to be all bush and banjos and beard. He attracted a very pretty young blonde of the expensive hippy sort and careered around the town with the open top in all weathers. I do not believe he came any closer to the bush than the last hamburger joint at the edge of town but that is not the point – he had the little blonde.

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At this time in Australia the Land Rovers were one of the few 4WD available – apart from s/h Jeeps and leftover ex-NATO Austin Champs imported through a local dealer. The idea I suppose was to sell such obviously rural transport to the obviously rural Australians and the importers probably thought to make a fortune. I have not seen a Champ for decades and I suspect that most of the farmers were smarter than that in the first place – they bought Toyotas and Nissan patrols and any number of tray-tops and left the leftovers to the car club enthusiasts.

VW 201532Well, BMC though that they could get in on the game with the Mini Moke and VW tried this thing out. I cannot tell you whether it ever had any European ancestry in the Bundeswehr or anyplace else – you might think it from the boxy lines of it but I suspect it was just a cobble-up by the local factory.

They are never seen nowadays, while Land Rovers and Mokes of the period are still occasionally on the roads. It is just as well – who would want to do a nose-to-tail commute on the freeway in this much iron oxide?

A Plea From The Car Photographers To The Clubs

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When you are planning your next car show, could you please park them a little further apart?

We are thrilled to bits that you will be bringing your vintage-veteran-hot rod-street car-sports car-truck-bus-tank to the park-stadium-exhibition hall-mudflat behind the asbestos works. We don’t mind paying at the door-gate-edge of the car park for the privilege of seeing your prize machines and we want to make great pictures of them.

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We promise not to stand on the running boards like the punters do, and poke the dashboards like the punters do, and scratch the duco like the punters do. We will be respectful.

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We will be utterly patient as the tag-teams of lurching punters slowly walk in front of the cars and progressively block the view…never allowing a clear sight of the edges of the cars. We are trained to stand still in one spot until the exact quarter of a second when the mob clears. We are frequently consulted by still hunters and snipers about how to remain motionless. Ninjas envy us.

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But we need a helping hand. If the cars are parked too close together we won’t be able to do them justice. We’ll have to use extremely short focal length lenses and the cars will look distorted as hell. Of course if they are Italian supercars no-one will be able to tell, but the regular British and French sedans will look odd and it will be a dead giveaway.

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Likewise, if you park them with their back to the sun, most of the exposures will look too dark – we’ll end up trying to light the front of the car with a reflector or a fill flash and it will look most unnatural. Again the Flopatelli Snazolla III Supraeformaggio won’t suffer too badly, unless it is the open Monza version with the folding wings. And they look bad in ANY light.

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We do appreciate the trust and kindness the drivers show by leaving the passenger’s side window down – the interior shots will be so much better – but if you can’t manage that, it’ll be all right anyway. We can boost the shutter speed to 1/180 second, stop down to f:16, and fire a fill flash up at the headliner from the quarter window position while the camera looks in through the side. It’ll be a little dirty but not too bad. If you leave empty beer cans and dirty novels on the front seat that is your affair.

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In exchange for these small changes we promise to take good pictures of the way your cars look. We will photoshop out the rust holes – unless you are driving a rat rod, in which case we will photoshop more in for free. We will draw a discreet curtain over the state of the interior floor.

 

 

Fresh Off The Plane

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So there I was, stepping freshly off the tarmac at Sydney’s mascot airport in 1964 with my parents and the cabbie pulled up and asked where we wanted to go – for some reason the company bringing us down to Australia booked us into a hotel in King’s Cross and so away we went – on the wrong side of the road.

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I did not take note of what sort of a cab it was but I did scope out all the other cars on the road as we went into town. And what a weird lot they were. Holdens, Falcons, Valiants, Morris’s, Standards, Vauxhalls, Datsuns, Volkswagens, Hillmans…the parade of dumpy little cars went on and on, relieved occasionally by a Ford Galaxie or Fairlane or a Humber Super Snipe. the trucks were worse, or better, depending on your bias. I was dismayed and thrilled to see some of them.

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Now 50 years later I can look back with nostalgia to that first right-hand-drive glimpse of motoring outside North America. What I once saw as Noddy cars are now normal size – and the norm in my town seems to be vans, tray-top utes, or varying sizes of SUV’s. I greet a dear old FJ or Austin A40 with tears of joy – they seem so neat and self possessed amongst the aggressive black and silver money wagons. The drivers now are the self reliant type as well…they have to be since the spare parts market has gotten so expensive. I recognise the type.

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It’s not rodding as we know it, but it is good for the soul. Of course there are rivalries amongst the owners – there would be in any society – and some of the old cars are not gems. they never were. But they are a link to a more cheerful time.

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Note: Nostalgia is best indulged in during spring and autumn between the hours of 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM and not when there is any sign of rain or rush-hour traffic. Old cars are prone to be difficult to drive in bad weather and heavy traffic and cold is never a good thing.

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Middle Management Motors – Where The Better People Shop

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It is really dreadful these days – I mean I was just saying the Sir George when he put the Armstrong Siddeley in for a tune-up – I mean you can’t be sure who you are dealing with these days. You get these Wogs and Americans and who knows what buying expensive motors. The French were bad enough but you see Chinamen driving on the roads now. And it’s not just them – the Scots have all become shop stewards and labour organisers and they all insist on having a car. I think we did ourselves no favours in that last war…

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At least you can still count on some manufacturers to maintain standards. Rover have always made a good vehicle and priced it above the reach of these parvenus. It may not be fast, and it may not be stylish, but it is solid. None of that Yankee rubbish. Look at the sensible engine compartment on this one. One carburetor is all any Christian needs and if there is not enough room to pack an air cleaner under the bonnet, you just bend the intake manifold  round in a circle. And as far as these fancy windscreen-washer tanks – well the glass bottle was good enough in 1925 and it is good enough now.Look at how easy it is to get at the Lucas spark plugs – why an Englishman would be proud to change those several times in a journey, just for the honour of it.

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The red Rover is pure style. You can’t get that sort of grill work anywhere outside of Solihull. Indeed the grillwork fields surrounding Birmingham are world famous for this sort of thing. Oh, I remember the workmen coming back at the end of a long day with the sun dying in the West and the sheaves of grills strapped to their sturdy backs. You cannot beat the English yeoman, unless you are his squire or employer and then, of course you are allowed to beat him.

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But the prize of the lot is the Armstrong Siddeley. This is the sort of car that has made Britain’s consultant surgeons famous. This and a reputation for drinking, fornicating, and high-handed treatment of operating-room staff. And so they should – the nurses enjoy a bit of slap and tickle with their work and if the consultant is not going to degrade them, well who is? After all, there are only so many Pathologists in the medical system and they cannot be expected to be spread too thin.

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Now the A/S has the kind of upholstery that decimates cattle herds and the kind of dashboard that ruins rain forests, but you must look under the bonnet to see the real English workmanship.

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Every one of those cylinders is round, and hand polished. None of that Vee-engine nonsense. Those cylinders are in line like frightened little boarders at a public school and you can whip them as much as you like. And we know how much you like whipping.

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Mind you, we mustn’t neglect the other side of the Atlantic. Here is a 1951 Buick that would well suit a Soho entrepreneur or Fleet Street Senior Editor. A little flash in some resects with the Yankee chrome and all, but big and solid and capable of floating down to Dorset or over to France for a weekend in Paris. No need to dodge out of the way of small sedans, either – crush them under the wheels and get on with it.

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Middle Management Motors- We know our place, we know your place, and we’ll make sure everyone else does.