Sour Grapes Plates

The personalised number plate business in Western Australia is booming – closely followed by a number of people who decry it. For every citizen who is prepared to pay the state government $ 535 to $ 685 for their own lettering on the plates – there is another internet poster who thinks it is foolish and believes that it is their mission life to scoff.

Well, I like scoffing as much as the next anonymous Facebook writer, but in this case I think the detractors are in the wrong – for a number of reasons:

  1. The decision to buy a personal plate is not forced upon any motorist. They are free to take whatever the dealer places on their car at a lower cost.
  2. The wording of the plate must pass some official scrutiny and the rules that govern it are fairly spelled out. No profanity, no incitement, etc. A plate doesn’t appear without permission.
  3. The money raised from the plate sales presumably goes into general coffers – and thence to public works, like roads, schools, and hospitals. More money than standard plates, hence more contribution to state welfare.
  4. The plates are distinctive. This is both a good and bad thing for the driver – they are more likely to be remembered and spotted than if they have standard plate. if they behave with care and distinction on the road this means we can praise them and if not, they can be easily identified.
  5. The are sometimes amusing to read – sometimes puzzling -and sometimes a prudent warning about the mind set of the driver. This can be very useful when the motorist is an hoon or idiot – you can avoid them.
  6. They are a harmless amusement. Hard to find harmlessness these days as everyone is uptight about everything, but a Mini car with ” The Moocher ” on it is a pretty cheerful sight.
  7. All too often we are a number -a Centrelink number, a bank number, an ABN number. Or just a series of passwords and PIN numbers. We often lose our names to everyone else. How nice to have a distinctive plate that we choose.
  8. A personal-plated car is more likely to be cherished, maintained, and driven carefully by the owner.
  9.  A personal plate on a Mercedes, Volvo, Lexus, or BMW that features a number of “8”s on it is as good an identifier as a roundel would be on an Air Force plane. Sort of an IFF signal, but in this case an IFW. If you know what to look for you know to give it a wide berth in car parks.
  10.  For my part I would like to see a return of the old-fashioned yellow ” L ” plate and red ” P ” plate fixed at a standard height on a standard position – the bumper bar or the grill of the car. The practice of plastering something behind a windscreen or rear window that cannot be seen other road users defeats the entire purpose of the warning.

I would also like to see similar plates for us elderly drivers – perhaps a red/yellow striped plate that warns others that we are going to drive more slowly and cautiously.

Le Blue Streak – Hyde Park – Part Two

I have a passion for blue French cars – my first vehicle was a blue Renault – but do not think I have encountered this Delage before today. It would have stood out sharply in my mind. As it is I was delighted with it.

From the radiator cap that doubles as a thermometer en francais…

 to the rather intriguing ” oleometre ” … ( I suspect the red segments of the cross open up to white as the oil pressure rises in the engine )…

to the extremely discrete speedometer and tachometer…

this is a triumph of Gallic style over substance. Or rather of French thinking which can be done after a long lunch in the shade. I recognize the laterality of it all from some of the ideas found on my Renault.

The back seat is positively decadent, if you can persuade anyone into it with you. I tried and the case comes up Monday.

I intend to plead diminished responsibility on account of the colour of the car and the polished metal bonnet. I shall tender a photograph of the capped crank coupling in front of the engine and the friction shock absorbers to prove that I was lead astray.

 

Random Fandom

If you are playing to an audience you generally want to see their reaction. I can only think this to be the case when I see some of the vanity license plates on the road. The owners who have paid a stiff price for these plates want an audience to applaud them as they drive by.

But everyone is busy with the steering wheel and gear lever…or at least with their mobile phones and stubbies of beer – there are no hands free to clap. And so few people toot their horns or flash their lights. It must eventually be a source of the deepest frustration for the performers.

Tuesday’s random was a large SUV with I  AM  AD as the plate. Either someone is named Adam or someone runs an advertising agency. Either would be valid.

Some plates are fun. THE MOOCHER on a Mini is a clever cultural joke. PAYD 4 is another. KILLER or DV8 are not – they are a tin revelation of what is behind the wheel. Rather like an E plate* that someone paid $ 400 for but is in no hurry to lose.

I plan to ask for the heading image when I buy my gold-plated Maserati.

 

*  Our local Plate’O Shame that marks the convicted drunk driver who has been able to cozen a magistrate into special dispensation from becoming a pedestrian for a year.

 

Bright Sunday Morning

With a new lens and a car show to go to, I had a good reason to get up on Sunday morning. It was a local affair, wanting no more than a 10-minute drive and a $ 5 bill to get in the gate. The exhibitors were there because they love showing off their cars and the spectators were there because they love looking at them…and that means that there was a good vibe all round. Most car shows have this, but the Curtin FM show has more than most.

It would have been a tough thing to schedule as there was a competing Show And Shine at the big drag-race complex fifteen miles away. Some car owners might have been hard pressed to select which one to show at…and the spectators would have had to make a one-or-the-other decision. The Curtin show has good food vans, however, so I chose it.

The big bugbear of Western Australian shows is the sun – it shines on a professional basis here and in partnership with a big blue sky it can dominate any outdoor picture. This time I wanted to try shooting with a bare rig – one camera, one lens, no fill flash – to see if it was a viable option for other interstate shows. By and large I think it succeeded and the post-processing power of Lightroom CC saved most of the shadow detail. Cloudier skies could only improve it as autumn and  winter advance.

The freedom of carrying a small retro camera while dressed in unobtrusive old-guy clothes is wonderful. No-one bothers you – if you are a street shooter who can look down into the LCD screen instead of up, I don’t even think that they even see you. it is the best thing to a cloak of invisibility. I don’t even think you have to cover the camera over with tape or fake nameplates to disguise it – no-one cares a hoot.

If you also have a cup of coffee in your left hand no-one will actually see you triggering the shutter. Fujifilm cameras can be set to shut off all shutter sounds and in bright sunshine you don’t need the AF-assist light. Just point and shoot.

Note that the camera coped with the white cars – this has been improved internally from what it was several years ago – or perhaps the post-processing program is better. In any case this will be the camera and lens of choice for future away-day shooting.

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.

 

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.

 

The Grand Touring Extra Luxury Sports Model Dumptruck

With the wire wheels and the leopard upholstery.

With the possible exception of the Zaporogets, I cannot think of one car maker who has not introduced some sort of luxury or sporty model into the range of their standard motor cars. They might have started out with the most basic pots and pans carrier in an effort to capture the rutabaga farmer market in Riga, but eventually there will be a variant of it that has fat tyres and a fat price. I often wonder whether this is to match the head of he prospective client.

I must be fair – I did get to drive a sports car for a few months when I was 17 – a Mk1 Triumph Spitfire. It was all that spit and fire could be when combined and as I did not run it into a tree I am satisfied. I should not like to try my luck again at my age because I remember what you had to do to get into the Spitty seats.

But why ” sporty cars “? I understand that some people like to be enthusiasts and drive racing cars on tracks. They are catered for with the modern day equivalents of the old Mk1. And their money is needed to keep the industry alive.  They supply constant transfusions to repair shops and accessory dealers. There are sports for these cars to do and places to do it. Well and good.

But the spoiler-equipped sedan in the right hand lane of the freeway that tries to go 120 in a 100 zone ( Monday )? Or drag races from every set of lights on Leach Highway…neatly shutting down the container trucks ( Tuesday)? Or the full-house new $ 15,000 Jaguar sedan in the local IGA car park with the 80 year-old driver trying to get from his zimmer frame into the driver’s seat? ( Wednesday) Has sanity gone the way of the leaf spring?

Perhaps I should look on the bright side. At least when I park my little car next to one of the low sporty types in the car park, I can see over it as I back out. The SUV, van, and traytop don’t let me do that.

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:

Doesn’t Matter If It Is A Front Porsche Or A Back Porsche…

It’ll still be grey…

That’s an old Canadian joke, and I’m qualified to tell it. In North America there are three colours for the front or back porch of a private dwelling; unpainted  ( and weathering badly…), grey, or salmon pink.

The unpainted ones are seen in the hillbilly states where money is tight and in the New England states where there is more money but the people are tight. They are also traditional in the maritime provinces and out in the bush in B.C. Doukhobors take it further and never paint anything else on the house – it means they blend into the landscape better when the Mounties come searching.

The grey ones painted with a special mixture that consists of any paint in the garage that has not entirely dried out and is contained in a tin that can be prised open. All the blacks, whites, greys, and lesser colours are poured into a tub and mixed up – this gets slathered over the porch. Sometimes it is glossy and sometimes it is matte, and if you don’t get it all done in one day you risk getting both finishes at the same time. No-one ever cleans and saves their brushes after a porch job – it is generally considered hygienic enough to throw them in the nearest bushes.

The salmon pink is also a mixture made from all the brightly coloured tins that have been left over after painting bathtubs, soap box racers, and Finnish houses. It is distinctive and memorable, and no-one ever really thinks it is going to turn out that shade. Not even the salmon. Note that one car maker actually made a car – a small Hyundai sedan – in this exact shade, and they made them deliberately…at least I think it was deliberate. I can say I have seen them about 10 years ago here in Perth. Short-lived, unfortunately.

These vehicles are enthusiast’s cars seen in Sydney and Perth at car shows – though there are certainly a number of Porsche vehicles on the road at any one time – including a somewhat unexplained SUV with curves named after a variety of pepper. My contact with the marque has been very fleeting – an associate of my late father owned a bathtub Porsche in 1966 and there were some occasions when it was repaired enough to go on the main roads. I believe it had prestige value at the time, though the real value may have lain in the pile of receipts from the mechanics. I remember he had the rubber shock mounts between the body and chassis replaced at one stage of the game and the cost equalled the price of my new Renault sedan.

Have I ever wanted to own or drive one? Not really. I do covet the Audi TT and I would love an early 1960’s Volkswagen Beetle in perfect condition, but the sporty Porsche has never rung my bells. I remember James Dean.