Before Cadillac Were Too Much To Swallow

I do not wish to be disloyal to the Cadillac motor car company or to the greater entity that is General Motors…but Cadillac has been too much for too long. Too big, to heavy, too much over the top in style and construction. This is not surprising, as it was promoted and eventually realised as the most expensive of the GM cars – a vehicle that would capture the imagination and the money of the rich and famous. It’s been outdone in this lately by the excessive offerings of Europe, but for a great deal of time it was the North American Rolls Royce – the one that the newly rich could actually get their hands on.

Wasn’t always so, and this delightful Cadillac Eight attests. There was a time when it was well-crafted motoring but could still be seen to be a normal design. Around the time of the First World War – 1915 –  this was their first 8-cylinder engine. Note the L-head design and the delightful priming ports for the cylinders. This sort of engine has been reliable for a very long time – enthusiasts have discovered examples that have not been fired up for 60 years and have gotten them running in short order.

The car is a tourer, obviously, and the sign at the front said that the body is an authentic example sourced from Boise, Idaho. Of course it shows a very great deal of attention to the upholstery and fitments but the casual onlooker might be surprised at what might seem sparseness in a Cadillac dash.

Thank goodness the restorers have opted for authenticity rather than modern convenience. Others are sometimes not so fastidious.

 

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Small, Blue, And Triangular…

And French, to boot. How much more mysterious could you get?

The Amilcar seen here at Hyde Park this year is the closest thing I could find on the day to my all-time favourite motor car – the Samson of M. Hulot. It has a little more style that the Samson, and this could be a problem for me as I have no style whatsoever, but for a car as lovely as this I would be prepared to wash, shave, and dress.

It is hard for a person with a limited grasp of the French language to read literature of the period – the 1920’s – and understand all the nuances of the country. I depend upon English translations and these can sometimes be a view filtered through glass coloured by any number of biases. But one does not need to be a master of literature to appreciate an object of the period – whether it be art, furniture, architecture, or mechanics. Thus the Amilcar acts simultaneously as a vigorous stimulant and delightful object of art.

And it is an adventure. Who could set out for any destination in this little roadster without experiencing a thrill of discovery – of danger, of wind, and dust, and velocity. Rain, too, though there is some provision for protection on the port quarter of the boat tail. Neither the driver nor the passenger will be in comfort, but neither will they care – they are racing against the clock to Monte Carlo, or Rheims, or the local IGA. And the Polly Farmer Tunnel at 80 Kph must be as good as a ride at Disneyland!

I’m rarely jealous of others’ motor cars. The troubles and expenses that they are faced with are a barrier to me – but I would be prepared to face them if there were a little mechanical delight like this as the reward.

But one thing puzzles…the blue triangle. I cannot find any sensible reference to it in a Google search. Perhaps readers can enlighten me.

 

Addendum: The Leatherworking Reverand has supplied an answer – apparently the blue triangle is an indicator panel required under CAMS rules to indicate where the battery of the car is located – for vintage motor racing. Thank you, Reverand.

Bless You, Driver…

No idea. I have absolutely no idea. The radiator cap ornament seems to be someone who looks like a saint or priest. But I can’t find any trace through Google of a St. Darracq, or a town of the name. I can find the Wikipedia history of the car company, but no idea who the front-man is. Any help from the readers would be appreciated.

The car itself was sitting in the shade at Hyde Park and is as neat a little roadster as anyone could want. The history of it is the usual – multiple owners and restoration periodically. Sort of like the Gabor sisters. The sign says that it has been a part of the local old-car scene since at least 1958, but of course it is much older than that – 1909. I’m curious and kind of impressed that it has right-hand-drive…perhaps it was made for the British market. or perhaps the French motorists of the period had not settled upon which side to drive.

Is it driveable? Well, it drove there. Will it drive home? Yes, but I’d suggest not after dark. the headlamps and tail lamp are extremely historic and not likely to help on Perth’s dusk roads. I’ll bet there is some sort of police requirement that restricts this car to motoring an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. Also it is probably not allowed to exceed 300 Kph in the metro area.

As usual, the details make the viewing memorable, from the coil spring riders on the rear leaves ( I suspect they are shock absorbers of some sort, or at least dampeners. ) to the lubricator box on the dashboard. The front suspension was also an elegant thing with the deeply curved steering arm. Note the lubricating pot on the king pin.

Lastly the radiateur…who else signs their cooling system?

Mors The Pity…

I regularly review my car show pictures from one year to the next to discover who has been seen before and who can be reported. The yellow Mors car seen here in 2018 first came to my attention in 2014 and was photographed with a Fujifilm X-E2. At the time I was learning how to fill in harsh Western Australian shadows in noonday sun and tended to over flash everything.

This week I did it differently – I took a Fujifilm X-T10 camera with a short zoom lens and left the flash gun at home. I knew the camera would be capable of extreme resolution as it had performed well at the Sydney and Melbourne hot rod shows. But I was curious to see if the RAW files could be treated in the Lightroom computer program in such a way as to render the fill-flash unnecessary. Avoiding one big, heavy, piece of gear on a trip is a good thing, and not having to do mental arithmetic while shooting is another.

Well, it looks as though the business worked. I stoked the ISO up to 800, set an aperture of f:8 on the lens, and let the camera choose its own shutter speed. In the RAW files I increased the shadow detail and dialled down the highlights, but the essence of what I saw in the park has still come through. To be honest, I am happier with today’s tonal rendering than I was with 2014’s. And it was all so easy.

I am not adverse to easy…

Note: From the looks of the headlamp, this is a daytime Mors.

 

The Canvas Car

Well not exactly, though I will take a little time later in this column to tantalize you with a real canvas car…But right now I am thinking about cars as mobile canvases for artwork – the increasingly complex business of showing pictures on sheet metal.

Every hot rod car show I have attended in the last 4 years has had graphic cars – you’ll have seen some of them over that time here on the weblog column. Here are two examples from the 2107 WA Hot Rod Show just gone. They are representative of two motifs but there are many more that can be found.

a. The black Holden ute with Thor on the bonnet and sides. Thor would appear to be a character from either television or the cinema translated to a graphic on the black paint of the car. He is more than a cartoon here, as the screen version is more so – this is a live actor reproduced. Colourful, violent, and dramatic, he would appeal to many of the hot rod hobby and well as to a wide cross-section of the viewing audience.

b. The yellow Holden tray top. A nationalistic theme here, and a rural one, fully in keeping with the nature of the tray, if not of the vehicle. I mean, who could be so mean as to take something as beautiful as this car and slam it over railway crossings and down gravel roads, let alone out in a paddock. As far as loading cargo on the tray and/or unloading it by tilting it…well, would you use the Mona Lisa as a tea tray? Sacrilege.

I will make another post about some of the other artworks seen on cars, but these two are particularly noticeable because the car takes second place to the canvas. As with any art, no debate is possible about the goodness or badness of theme or concept – art is in the eye of the beholder.

But here is the real canvas car I promised…

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…

 

 

The Wonderful Woodie

I must confess an affection for the woodie body style in a motor car. I have never owned one, but I find them fascinating whenever encountered – they just seem so ‘practical’ in their styling and construction. Whilst being clearly illogical in engineering terms.

Or to put it another way – we can all see what the construction of a table or chair is – what a wardrobe is made like, or how a staircase is slotted together. The woodie car style is much the same – a wooden casing attached to the rolling chassis of a car much like a wooden carriage might be plonked down onto the flatbed of a railway wagon. The doors are wooden doors like the doors of our houses. The framework that supports the body panels is external to the panel – like the timbers of a bridge. The hardware and fitments are closer to furniture than coachmaking. and the finish is polished and varnished wood. The furniture analogy could not be stronger.

But the reason they are what they are has always been a bit of a puzzle. Were they THAT much cheaper to make in the 1930’s than metal bodies? Or was it a style thing to suggest something else. What did it suggest? Rural austerity? Cowboy adventure? Country-club exclusivity? Who knows…

The part that intrigues me these days is how a woodie gets past the pits. We have ever-increasing laws written by engineers and bureaucrats that demand more and more in motor cars – all ostensibly in the interests of safety. Sometimes I wonder if the safety that is being promulgated is being applied to the employment prospects of the engineers and departmental pencil pushers…but then I always was a cynic.

The business of wood seems to be the place where they fall down. I know it forms part of the shell framework of many vintage and veteran cars – and they get by on the great grandfather clauses of motoring laws. It has featured in a notorious case of the sale of an unsafe car here in Perth – the rusted framework had been packed with wooden beams to get the thing sold and had then broken over a railway line. I suspect that when we see woodies now in either hot rod or stock versions, that there has been a subtle reversal of this construction; there may be metal struts under wooden covers.

Whichever, I was greatly cheered to see the woodie at the recent Curtin FM Car Show near Curtin University. I cannot imagine that the woodwork is anything but fresh and new, but I take it that it was patterned after the original design. It looks glorious and probably just as practical as a metal body would be. I’d be curious to see the differential in weight between the two forms of construction.