Fashion In Spite Of The Designers

The heading image is a fantasy – at present. It is the result of a conversation with a friend about the dull colouration of modern motor cars and how much we wish there were more exciting options on the road.

I’m luckier than she is – my green Suzuki is pretty bright, and while it is not exclusive, it is a cheery cut above the grey and black suburban tanks that clog the freeways. My standard joke about the green machine is that it is bright enough to allow people to see me even if I do not see them. Here’s a hint – it ain’t a joke…

She’s got a small white sedan – but a sense of fashion and taste that comes of being a model and a dancer. Her Instagram selfies are always amazing confections and I think that she may be the salvation of many a dress shop in the town. So she thought up some ideas for the Yaris.

I took daylight shots of the car and started to imagine it in different garb. She asked for painted hub caps and roof, and then we went on to a bonnet decoration and colour on the side mirrors. There may also be a business logo on the rear window in time.

I suggested that vinyl wraps would be a good way to try this concept on the body panels – if the idea palled, the vinyl would allow a reversal or replacement without affecting the paintwork. Keeping the divisions to the panel lines aids in this. The hub caps are the simplest thing in the world to paint – any competent panel shop could have them done in a day, and I reckon I could do them myself as easily.

I’ve seen lots of cars that have been done as customs or hot rods, but few that are used as daily drivers – certainly few with interesting paintwork. I do hope that this project goes ahead to see whether some style can come to the street.

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Raising Your Sights And Aiming Lower

” Low-Brow” is such a wonderfully wrong term…and yet we hear it all the time in publishing, art, and entertainment. The people who use it are generally rather proud of it, and hope to make money by applying it to products, concepts, and events. Sometimes they succeed wonderfully.

The idle philosopher who contemplates it immediately realises that if there are ” Low-Brow ” things , there must be ” High-Brow ” ones as well. And presumably ” Middle-Brow “. It’s hard to say whether there are equivalencies or whether there are exclusive concepts in each division.

I’m tempted to say that there are, using the motor car as an example. And further – that there are genuine examples and fake ones – theatrical representations, if you will. And we are such weird and weak creatures that we all play along. Here are some examples:

 

a. Real low-brow. A Cadillac fallen upon hard times in a foreign land. The heart of darkness in white and rust. Let us hope for a resurrection one day.

b. Faux Low-brow. The overblown graphics of what might be popular culture.

c. Real High-Brow. The one-of-a-kind preserved exclusive car that once defined the social status of the owner…and for that matter still does.  A social strainer.

d.Faux High-Brow. Harmless – rather pretty, but susceptible to exposure and the scrutiny of judgemental people.

e. Real Middle-Brow. As average as a beige Dodge. Or in this case a beige Toyota. Honest, if plodding. A car that we might all resort to if we had to leave town surreptitiously. The modern Australian equivalent of the Nash Rambler in North America.

 

f. Faux-Middle-brow. An abandoned Musso in the airport car park. It is not healthy to run away from your troubles too much…

The Stylish First That We Never Remember

The silver Toyota Corona seen in today’s column is about 1966-68 vintage, I should say. I recognise it from my first days of car-shopping – it was one of the marques that made it through to my final selection panel in 1966. It did not take the prize – that went to the Renault 10 – but I’ve been considering it in retrospect for years. I think it might have been the better car.

No, I’ll qualify that. The better car in a pedestrian sense. I don’t mean better for running over pedestrians – I mean a car without any spikes of engineering brilliance to carry it through mundane build quality. A car that was excellent without being extraordinary. As it is, over the years I have come to appreciate that more than the four-wheel disc brakes and independent suspension of the Renault.

The Toyota Corona was the first, however , that we saw here with the slope-back grille configuration. This is ubiquitous nowadays, but in the 60’s all grilles tucked under rather than protruded at the bottom. In the interim since 1966 the designers have had to pursue more aerodynamic configurations, but back then this was unique. It nearly sold me on the style.

The off-put was the sort of little thing that customers often obsess about; in the engine bay a number of the actuators and brackets were finished in raw cadmium plating…and it looked cheap. It wasn’t, of course, and probably held up better than painted parts. But such is the perception of an uneducated buyer.

My friend, Dave Walter, bought a new ’68 Corona and hotted it up as hard as he could. There were speedy engine parts and rally seatbelts and spotlights…and it was never raced or rolled anyway. But that is what you did when you were 19 years old. I indulged in stick-on racing stripes and a chrome gear stick knob. I had style over substance…

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:

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…