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…



You Pays Your Money And You Takes Our Choice…

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I alluded in a previous post to the effect of seeing Australian cars on the roads for the first time in 1964. It may have given the impression that I was shocked and horrified, but that wasn’t exactly the case. Bewildered, maybe – and that was because I was seeing makes and marques that were entirely foreign to western Canada. I was also seeing the benign effect of Western Australian weather – no snow and ice on roads meant no salt slush and much less rusting out. Stuff lasted longer here. It probably was kept in commission far longer than in North America by the fact that people at the time did not have the disposable income to change cars regularly.

The first shock for anyone from Canada or the US was seeing cars drive on the left hand side of the road. Your initial reaction as a passenger was to cringe as the taxicab from the airport swung out into traffic and headed up the wrong side of the highway! But soon you got to looking at the passing vehicles and noted that there are only a few that could be recognised – and these few were the compact cars from Ford and Chrysler. That and the Land Rovers. Everything else was exotic – even if you had prepared yourself with a 1960 Observer’s Book of Automobiles.

Eventually you could see that there were basically three big sellers in sedan cars, and these had echoes in station wagons ( ” Station Sedans ” here ) and what we used to class as ranch wagons ( ‘ Utes ” here ). If you held your breath and crossed one eye you could see two  of them as transplants from North America, but the third  – from General Motors – had GM flavour  but a local design. They were what families of 3 or 4 travelled in – middle-class vehicles for everyday use.

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Ford took the Falcon design from North America and modified it for Australia, building the bodies in Victoria. When they were shipped to Western Australia they were sent as partially completed cars and railed into an assembly plant at Fremantle. Nice factory, but the cars were left in Leighton marshalling yards next to the beach to get as much salt sea spray blown over them in the afternoons as they could stand. The result was rather like winter in Alberta as the bodies had integral rust. Didn’t bother the taxi industry which took them over in thousands.


Chrysler sold the Valiant cars from ’62 onward. They were made in South Australia and marketed as a slightly better thing than the Ford or GM product. Bit more tone, donchaknow? We had one of the ’64 models and formed our own opinion of the tone of the car when we discovered it did not have demisters in a climate that had mist or a heater in a climate that had cold. It did have two big vents the size of bread boxes that opened under the dash onto the legs of the passengers to allow them to judge what the outside temperature was. Fortunately they had door flaps that could be wired shut. South Australian design…

The GM product was a local design that had elements of GM styling in it but a smaller size than cars in North America. Call it a 4 passenger sedan. Produced again in Victoria, it also had the option of a luxury model, a ute, and a station sedan. I had a friend who derided them as overweight and stodgy, but I have noted over the years that the various cars he espoused at the time have vanished entirely, while the Holdens of the period still appear in the rod, custom, and restoration hobbies and still chug along quite happily. Time has a way of making value judgements.

Of course there were lots of other sedans available then that are gone now – the British motor trade was strong and even the French had local assembly plants for their cars that turned out a darn nice product. It must be noted that we have assembly plants in nearby countries like Thailand and Korea that also turn out darn nice products, and the driving public agree with them. I leave you with a BMC device of the time that also had many followers.

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More Lessons Than I Wanted To learn


Have you ever been in a situation where you thought that you were in complete control and you weren’t?

Or bought something that was going to be just the thing, and it wasn’t?

Taught you a lesson, didn’t it? Ot tried to teach you a lesson, if only you would be receptive to it…

I frequent hobby shops. Not to the pathological point – I stop short of licking the boxes. But I have been a habitué of these places since I was a little kid. I have been happy, sad, and puzzled in turn when I looked at what was on offer…and like all modellers I now kick myself for:

A. Buying some things.

B. Not buying some other things.

A is the case when the box art of a model airplane or train or car is so seductive as to cause your brain to momentarily tear loose from its rubber mountings and flail around inside the skull. You wilfully disregard all the warning signs; sealed box, serif lettering on all the descriptions ( sign of a maker who does not speak English as a native tongue and will not spend the money for a decent English-speaking graphic artist ), and a smell from the plastic that vaguely reminds you of kimchee.

You go ahead and give the hobby shop man enough money to take the kit home ( another bad sign is when he and his assistant give each other high fives when you walk out the door…) and fantasise about how great it is going to be. You will be happy right up until you open the box and take out the parts.

Nothing fits? Nothing looks right? Parts missing  ( and an address in Guan Zhao province to write to for redress…)? Instructions written in Chinglese? Parts that look like nothing ever seen on the planet? Welcome to the Workshop Of Regret. You will pass many hours here and your soul will be burned clean…

B is when you saw this weird model kit of a 1961 Chrysler Valiant in a dump bin at the Hudson’s Bay Company toy department that no-one would ever buy because it was see-through metal-flake plastic. And bought it because it looked like it would work. But it didn’t, so you threw it away. Not knowing that it was the only ’61 Valiant kit on the planet and would never surface again…and NOW you need one. Ditto all the unsalable Oriental plastic shit that was dumped on the shelves of country general and drug stores in the 60’s and 70’s that made up into really sad stock cars with decals…but that we now need desperately. hey don’t even have it in Japan and I looked specifically for it.

I have to stop now. I’m overcome. Overcome with grief for not getting more of the horrible stuff when it was fresh horrible stuff…and for spending my Christmas present money of current re-issues of horrible stuff. It is sort of styrene penance. You build and suffer, suffer and build. Presumably learning the lessons…

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.

The Five Colour Chrysler Cruiser


Often the most amazing things pass us by and it takes decades before we appreciate what we saw at first hand. This Chrysler Valiant Safari wagon that appeared at the Vintage Retro Markets Show and Shine is a prime example of this.

Australia often got cars that had been developed elsewhere for other climes and other purposes. Sometimes these were wildly inappropriate – like the European minicars of the 50’s – and sometimes they were exactly what the Doctor ordered.


Here in Perth we depended upon the Fremantle Doctor to make us better in the afternoons. When we needed treatment in other areas we packed the Esky and the cossie and the snags and headed for the coast north or south. For those of you in North America or South Canada who are currently bewildered I can only refer you to Wiki and hope that one of the locals has been writing for it. Note: despite Paul Hogan’s advertisements, no Australian has every thrown a shrimp on a barbie…Actually most of us would throw Paul on a barbie…

Okay. This is a car that was mostly designed in South Canada but then was redrawn in South Australia for the local market. it is a station sedan of the cruiser class. Originally a more expensive thing to buy than the GM or Ford equivalent, but only by dint of advertising and size, it took a generation of Australians back out to the beach or beached them in the outback, and did it with style. Not a lot of comfort, mind, but when you wanted to make an impression on the suburb with your new car this was the one to do it with. The engines actually were quite powerful and the bodies were generous. The trim could be a bit iffy but then we learned not to expect all that much from South Australia. It was the water, you see….


Well, crank on 40 to 50 years and what was big and wide is still big and wide and the modern car driver who might be accustomed to bedding down in a bucket seat is confronted with a space as big as the Nullarbor plain. Bench seats that invite trouble, particularly if you are young and randy. ( They also invite trouble if you are old and arthritic but we won’t go into that.). A genuine column shift. No instruments to speak of and the ones you do get are unspeakable. And the kind of style and grace that only space and classic lines can deliver.



This Safari is owned by someone. I have no idea whom, but I can tell they are as cool as it gets. How do I now?

  1. Hessian bag upholstery. With seat webbing door liners. Beat that trendsters. Puts your red sneakers and top knot in the bin, doesn’t it?
  2. 5 colour paint job. And four of them are directly off an Automasters sign. One is the bit left over from the original. AND THEY ALL WORK.
  3. Fender fill panels. Fender fill with louvers. No-one does fender fill unless they are what it is all about.
  4. Whiteys, stock hubs, and lowered just enough.
  5. Top colour white – this is Australia, and we know how to do summer. We do it every damned year. But the top colour comes down off the turret to the top body line. This means the turret looks lower, cleaner, and sleeker.
  6. Blinds. Venetians, to all the rest. The internal speed line of Australia. Art deco in the rear cargo bay.
  7. The trim strip is coming. That side chrome strip is coming back, as soon as the owner gets a good chrome plater to do it. That’s what the line of holes is for. Patience.
  8. No need to change the window winder. It is blocky, but authentic. Still, if you win a little at Lotto and get an electric one…

Some cars are city cars. Some are country cars. Some are everyday cars. This Safari is 5:00 on a Friday afternoon flying down the coast road to Dunsborough with the sun starting to slant in from the west and the temperature dropping. There’s an Esky full of tinnies and the meat tray you won at the pub raffle in the back. Your mates are up ahead of you and they’ll have the barbie ready when you rock up. And the local wireless station starts playing the Beachboys.

Who knows what the rest of the world is doing? Who cares?


The Easter Menace

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Everyone in Australia who has ever travelled by road somewhere out in the country before, during, or after a public holiday will have had a Caravan Experience. Either they have been towing a caravan, have been stuck behind someone towing a caravan, or have come across a caravan that has become detached from its car and rolled down a mountain and is resting upside down in the rocks. It is only the comforting thought of the latter that makes the two former circumstances bearable.

The traditional towing vehicle for an Australian caravan in the 20th century has been either an underpowered Valiant Regal sedan or an underpowered Toyota Crown sedan. They were required by law to have security chains, bolt-on eternal mirrors, and a small bald, sweaty man in a sports shirt. They were restricted by law to about 8 Km per hour under the normal traffic speed everywhere and were required to ignore layovers in roads that had no passing lanes. An annual prize was awarded by the RAC for the longest tail of cars between Perth and Margaret River. This has been spoiled these days by the increased power available to towing vehicles and the completion of the Perth-Bunbury freeway. Passing is all too common.

The drivers are still bald and sweaty but nowadays they wear feed caps and large training shoes. And the men are even worse…

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Okay, that’s the history of the other caravans, but this is a bird of a different feather at Gillam Road in 2104. The tow vehicle has enough power for the task and the caravan has enough style for the wind stream. There is a sense of style about the retro ‘van though I see the owner has opted for an air conditioner in place of gas bottles on the tow tongue. Very wise for summer travel in Western Australia. Also a sense of safety with the two hefty and good-condition spare tyres at the rear. Too often we have seen people head out over bad roads with bad tyres and then heard them bewailing a bad experience…

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Turquoise blue ’41 Chevy? Lovely. Blue ‘van as well? Good choice. White top? Helps the A/C for a parked caravan. Curtains? Style.