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…





I first encountered a tonneau cover on a Triumph TR3 sports car in 1959. I was never so impressed with anything in my life, though at this juncture I can’t really say why. After all, it was just a rubberized canvas cover that fit over the cockpit. The driver used to unzip his side and fold it down behind his seat but leave the other part attached.

Literature dealing with the idea said that this would reduce buffeting in the airstream of an open car and retain the heat from the heater. You could also hide your luggage under it from the sun and prying eyes. I just thought it looked cool.

It turns out that the name is derived from the French word for cask or barrel and that it was associated with a style of automobile body in the early days. Some of the open rear passenger compartments have a barrel-like appearance and indeed some are even accessed from the rear of the vehicle rather than the sides. When not in use a tonneau cover kept the seats free of dust. The body style is high and imposing and must have been quite a fun place to ride along rutted early roads. Sort of like a bouncy castle.

Nowadays the name is most frequently used to describe the cloth cover for a ute body. These are actually pretty cool in themselves if they are stretched out over two bow frames across the bed. I used to sleep under mine on the occasional country trip and it was as waterproof as you needed. The attachment with bungee cordloops over buttons was a little naff, but it lasted for the life of the ute.


This tonneau seen at Gillam Drive uses punch buttons to secure the perimeter of the cloth. It is as shapely as needs be, though the area it encloses is quite large. It’s a lonely sort of accessory, though, as it just underlines to the driver that they don’t have someone in the front seat to talk to. Maybe that isn’t as cool as it used to be.

The Big Pink Bird


No, it’s not a rude gesture.


Here are two large pink birds from a few years ago in Melbourne. The occasion was a visit to the Victorian Hot Rod Show but these enthusiasts were down at the Federation Square museum on Flinders Street the next day having a display all their own.


The pure sports car enthusiasts will sniff and the continental touring car trendies will snort, but unless you are an ear nose and throat surgeon you need not listen to them; Ford Thunderbirds are an entire class of car to themselves. They started out as the American personal car, then almost made a competition with the Chevrolet Corvette as a sporting car, and then went on their own way as a luxury cruiser.


As with all creatures they got bigger and wider and heavier as time went on – but modern redesign stepped in eventually and toned it down. Unfortunately a revival of the marque failed after about 4 years and the name is currently shelved.


I can only hope that it will return.

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.

Get Outa Here! Slowly…


Aha. I have just realised that there is a good way to overcome some of the disadvantage that pertains to car shows -the thing that I complained about in a previous column; the overcrowding of the display lines. I’m not a greedy person – I don’t want it all for myself or all to myself …but I do wish for a clean view of it. Now I think I have it.


Normally I leave most events early. Whether it is a professional society dinner, wedding reception, or siege – it is always better not to be there at the end. I have applied this principle to car shows as well – leaving before the show winds up. Not that I would have to do any of the cleaning – I just take pictures and pixels are easy to sweep up – but I should only be in the way as people started pouring kerosene and match heads into their superchargers and tried to get the engines to turn over. Plus I am worried by robust language and I reckon some of the owners would be utilising it as they kicked the cows…


As luck would have it, the Brockman Port To Whiteman Park Run show wound up while I was there. They gave tannoy instructions to the drivers and waved them off through the gate of the grounds onto a main street. This naturally slowed the stream as they fed into traffic, and in turn presented a nice slow cavalcade to view. Sun position was good, focusing was easy, and the only problem was the occasional intrusion of a fat arse in cargo shorts and a fluoro vest who stepped into the line of sight. There is probably always one at every car show and it might well be him every time…


I noted a similar opportunity last year at the end of the Australia Day car show in Melbourne. There were a number of roads exiting the main park and moving down them was slow for the drivers of the veteran and vintage cars. All the better for the photographer. In the future I am going to bide my time – perhaps even go a little later in the day – and mark well the exit roads and possible vantage points. I’ll still try to get close-up detail for cars as well as lurching crowds will permit but the best clear shot will be as they drive away.


Photographer’s note – tempting as it is to use a tripod for this, I still think a hand-held camera and a fill flash will be best. I’ll be using the pre-focus manual method with everything set as the cars approach a fixed point. It’s always a little experimental as to when to release the shutter when you are using an electronic view finder – there is a time lag in any camera. If you have set the speed, aperture, and manual focus, however, you can sight along the top of the camera housing and fire it instantly when the vehicle comes to your pre-selected point. This also works with 17 pounder anti-tank guns but it is more difficult to use them unnoticed – at least with the Fujifilm cameras you can turn the shutter noise off.


Technical note: These images were taken using the new Fujifilm X-T10 and the 27mm f:2.8 pancake lens. What a sweetie of a combination – light and fast. Perfect for touristing it without weight or bulk. Next best will be the new 35mm f:2 when it is released in Australia.

Four Eyes


There is a shop here along the Albany Highway in the Perth metropolitan area that sells spectacles – I am not sure if they are optometrists, opticians, or just a fashion store. They have a sign out the front of the shop with their name listed as “For Eyes” and the figure 4 worked into the logo. It is a reference to the term ” four eyes ” – a perjorative used against people who wear eyeglasses. I encountered it in the stupider rural sections of Canada when I was a child and because I had to wear eyeglasses since I was 8 years old, I found it offensive.

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I still do. And I am left amazed that the owners of the shop – clever optometrists and aspiring business people that we assume them to be – would not realise that they are insulting the very clientele they wish to court. The people who have need of them do not need to be sneered at. Have they bought into a franchise that demands that name? Is Gosnells the rural Canada of Perth? Are they just arseholes?

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Well, sphincters aside, this post is not about them. It is about 1958. Actually it is about 1:15 but I really meant the year. The Year Detroit Saw Double.

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I daresay Ford and GM had spies in each other’s camps and figured out that ’58 was the year that the other guys were going to replace the two headlamps on the front of their car designs with four. So they did the same. Chrysler did too, and a few of the other manufacturers followed suit – perhaps at the behest of their own designers but more likely as a result of their sales department pointing out that a new trend was starting.

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It must have been glorious news for Delco or whoever made the lamps for the cars – double the sales in one fell swoop. It probably put a heavier electrical strain on the systems so they got more sales for re-designed wiring looms and components. And the public got just what they had not clamoured for.


If that sounds cynical, you’re welcome. I remember the streets and highways of the time – the city ones were mostly illuminated by yellow tungsten bulbs out in the suburbs and new mercury vapour lights starting to be strung up in city centers. There were no sodium lamps. The place was slowly getting more illumination, not less. Yet , what was perfectly adequate on the front end of a sedan in 1957 was only half as good in 1958? We rarely ran into people in 1957…and we apologised for it immediately after, eh?



Country trips were largely in the dark – the provincial or state authorities put reflectors on signposts on the sides of some highways and some even had rudimentary cats-eyes in the center line. It was only here that the four-lamp system might have been better, if all four lamps were shining at the same time and there were no opposing cars in the other lanes to require you to dim yours. Even for the open stretches i can recall some cars that switched off two of the four lamps when you hit the high beams. God help the Buick drivers with the complex little “Magic Eye” devices protruding from the dash that were supposed to decide when to dim the lights based upon light hitting them. If you did not set the sensitivity right the damn things were flashing up and down all night until they burned out.


One thing, and one thing only saved the idea – if you lost one lamp on a side from a stone, you at least had another that could do something. You might not have any control over what it actually did but then that was also true of the Canadian government at the time.*

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* And those times have returned, eh?


Personal Car – The Mighty Metropolitan

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When you think of motor cars you generally think of car doors. Some have two, some have four, and some have five. And some have none – like the Goggomobile Dart. But we are concerned with the Nash Metropolitan here. A bottle of raging horsepower with supercharged torque that could twist the top off a rice pudding if you tilt the bowl…

The Metro was an import for Nash from Austin of England. It must have seemed a good idea at the time – get British industry up and running again and give the American market a convenient town runabout that everyone would want. Except everyone didn’t want them and some people made a point of not wanting them big time. The fact that they were a sub0compact before there was anything else to compete and that they were marketed as a second car…and marketed specifically to women…may have made a stick for American Motors’ back. Niche marketing needs to be good if it is to work – ie. The T Bird.

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Well, the Metro was apparently better than people might have expected and did not get panned by the big reviewers. They made 95,000 of them eventually in a run of eight years. A lot still exist – I’ve seen two of them here in Western Australia and there may be more. The odd thing is every time I see one it is for sale…

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I’d buy if I had a garage, a set of tools, and the skills necessary to hunt down rare parts and maintain vintage iron. They are no smaller than a Baby Austin and miles more stylish. If one could bear to do it, a Metro might make a great custom car – though from the styling it would probably end up looking like something the Jetsons would drive – or a 1950’s kitchen appliance. The nice thing about Metropolitans is they are two-tone and for the most part the colour scheme has been pasteled to match the white. Here’s a turquoise/white and I have a coral/white in my 1:18 toy car collection. I plan to shoot a sexy 50’s housewife for the matchup to the model car.

Personal Car – A New Series


Ford did it. Or rather, Ford said it – in 1955.

They introduced the Ford Thunderbird two-seater motor car to try to recapture some of the market from the British and European sports cars and the Chevrolet Corvette. The first T Birds were not sports cars in the true sense, any more than the Corvette was. But they were desirable vehicles never the less and deserved a name. The manufacturer’s had long since cycled through words like “roadster”, “convertible’, “speedster”, and “coupe” and they had taken on meanings of their own. In the case of the Thunderbird something new was needed – Deerborn came up with “personal car” and advertised it as that.

Well, it took the imagination, as the Mustang did a generation later, and Ford profited mightily because of it. In both cases the original lithe design eventually bagged, sagged, and dragged into gross parodies, but the phrase is just as good as it was – indeed it can be used now for all sorts of things.

“Personal Car” is a broad category, and I intend to celebrate as many corners of it as I can explore. As a working definition I ntend to regard any vehicle that has been modified – however slightly – to the whim or the taste of the owner as a “personal car”. This means it will act as a lens to let us see something of the mind of the driver. We can approve or not – but we still look.

And so I show the first of the personal cars – in this case a Ford Thunderbird seen at the recent Father’s Day Hot Rod show in Fremantle. The owner has elected to keep it pretty standard as far as external presentation. Unfortunately the format of the show grounds didn’t let us see into the interior to see if the car had fuzzy dice on the dashboard or cruising lights – we must just use our imaginations.

The colour scheme looks authentic – indeed I think I recall a hit of the 50’s that featured a black and white T Bird as the heart’s desire of the The Delicates – they were going to drive up and down the boulevard ” happy as we can be “. They were less than complimentary about the motor as they used the refrain ” Putt Putt Putt…” Presumably FoMoCo forgave them for the gaffe in exchange for the publicity.

Want to cruise? This is the car. Nothing that goes down the road under a hard top these days makes you look as cool as this. The 888 Winthrop and Leeming cowboys will fade away into the background. Likewise the Subarude WRX pests. This is a car that has existed longer than they have been eating solid food, and shows them where it all came from. And where they can go.


That’s personal. The best kind of personal.