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.



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 Silver Blob




This is not a ghost story. The car that you see in this column really exists.

I went to the Brockman  Port-To-Whiteman Park run not really expecting to see much new – after all I had been to a number of vintage and veteran shows in the last couple of years and how many more new old cars could there be out there? Well, as Mr. Charles Berry and the senior citizens of Louisiana once said. ” It goes to show you never can tell…”.


My venerable $ 1.25 1963 issue of The Observer’s Book Of Automobiles lists only one entry for the Tatra motor car company. It is a 2-603 Saloon. But the address given for the makers is a gem; Narodni Podnik, Kiprivnice, Czechoslovakia. You can almost smell the sausages and boiled cabbage in that one.


The car I found in the Fremantle park has been in Australia long enough to lose the odour – but it has a charm all its own. I must confess that I like egg-shaped vehicles – The VW beetle, the Audi TT, the various Citroen and Nissan small micro-cars. This Tatra is the essence of ovoid style – so much so that I hope it has rewarded it’s owners over the years with wonderful fuel economy as it slipped through the atmosphere.


The shape almost looks like a tin-toy stamping from the 1930’s – and I feel certain that the basic design of this is well pre-war. You almost look to see a wind-up key protruding from somewhere*. The owner’s notes mentioned that few of them came out to Australia and this may be one of only two extant. It is in good, but not pristine condition – there is a little cracking and lifting on the body at the LHS near the air intake. Nothing that a little TLC body work could not straighten out.


Auto enthusiasts with a styling eye can see other cars in there – the MkII Jaguar saloons – the bathtub Porsches. Something from Buckminster Fuller, perhaps, though Bucky never had that much actual style to hang round his good ideas.


The interior is in good shape, and suggests a mixture of luxury and utilitarianism that is uniquely Mittel-Europ. The front doors are suicide and look bigger than they prove to be – the front side window is tiny. The back door in contrast is big – and if this is a car that is intended to transport people who are ushered into the back seat and then ushered out again ( Party officials and political prisoners…) then this disparity makes sense. Please note that it still exists in some Skoda designs to this day – but I cannot guess why. Perhaps the Bohemians are just resigned to the fact that their back-seat passengers have big bottoms. It’s the beer and sausage…


The engine is apparently a flat four, but the compartment wasn’t open to see. There are air scoops and air dumps so I presume it is a finned air-cooled device.

The one other visitor who pored over it for ages ( As I tried to get a clean shot, drat the woman…) asked in despair where they could possibly put the petrol – there were no filler hatches visible. I explained to her that the cars were filled with gazolin in Prague before they were sent out to Australia and when it ran out the were to be sent back for more. After that she left me alone and went and looked at other cars. Of course my readers will know the truth – the bonnet of the car is the boot of the car and there is likely to be tank of gazolin or pils under there.

As they say in Bohemia” Sgüzc at arn Tahatcz ! ” And I think we can all agree with that.

  • I would put a removable plastic wind-up key on it but then I am that sort of a person…