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…



Hot Rod Heinies

dscf5142Wait a minute. That didn’t quite come out the way I meant it.

dscf5113Oh well, at least it sounds better than Kustom Krauts.

It’s all because we just don’t see all that many German cars that have been taken through the hot rod or custom car mill. But there is no reason why not.

Well actually there is, the older Volkswagens are becoming thin on the ground, the middle-aged Volkswagens are pieces of junk ( I owned one… ) and the new Volkswagens are immutably locked into computers – either honestly or dishonestly, depending upon who programmed them at the factory. And the BMW, Audi, and Mercedes cars are generally too expensive to fool around with. Add to that the fact that they have attracted a sort of unhealthy idol-worship amongst the well-to-do…and they are just not available for the car enthusiast to rod or customise.

dscf5144Here are two exceptions, however. The first one is the VW with the football knees. Or at least I think that is the problem – the rear wheels seem to have deviated ever so slightly from the vertical. It might be a trick of the light, but I don’t think so. I do hope the driver has some way of rectifying it as driving past a Goodyear, Bridgestone, or Beaurepaires shop would probably set up a series of screams from the staff.

dscf5145The windscreen adjustment is nice, however…if a little impractical in the face of dust, insects, and rain.

dscf5112The Mercedes seems to have been subjected to the sort of bonnet work that we see on the drag strip or in the more extreme of the street race cars. I was surprised to see the grill work lift up with the front of the bonnet, but Google images show that happening to other 1971 280 SE cars as well, so I guess it is stock. The blowers are a good idea if you want to make a street sleeper out of it but the fact that they poke pipes up through the bonnet is a bit of a give-away.

dscf5115I think the rear venetians are a nice period touch – do we all remember them from the late 60’s… and the cushions and stuffed animals on the rear window sill? They were a trophy of love in many cases, as well as a practical aid to accomplishing  it.

dscf5114And are the rear wheels of the Mercedes suffering a bit of the Volkswagens or is that just imagination?


The Plastic Bumper Club – Or The Personal Car Club

WA Rod Show 2014 200

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.

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

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I remember riding in one of these VW Country Buggies in the late 1960’s when one of the people staying at the university college I attended decided that he was going to be all bush and banjos and beard. He attracted a very pretty young blonde of the expensive hippy sort and careered around the town with the open top in all weathers. I do not believe he came any closer to the bush than the last hamburger joint at the edge of town but that is not the point – he had the little blonde.

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At this time in Australia the Land Rovers were one of the few 4WD available – apart from s/h Jeeps and leftover ex-NATO Austin Champs imported through a local dealer. The idea I suppose was to sell such obviously rural transport to the obviously rural Australians and the importers probably thought to make a fortune. I have not seen a Champ for decades and I suspect that most of the farmers were smarter than that in the first place – they bought Toyotas and Nissan patrols and any number of tray-tops and left the leftovers to the car club enthusiasts.

VW 201532Well, BMC though that they could get in on the game with the Mini Moke and VW tried this thing out. I cannot tell you whether it ever had any European ancestry in the Bundeswehr or anyplace else – you might think it from the boxy lines of it but I suspect it was just a cobble-up by the local factory.

They are never seen nowadays, while Land Rovers and Mokes of the period are still occasionally on the roads. It is just as well – who would want to do a nose-to-tail commute on the freeway in this much iron oxide?

Rare Birds


VW 201567

These VW open-back utes or Type 2 pickups are pretty rare out on the roads in Western Australia. While we never had the punitive taxes on light trucks that the USA used to keep these off their roads, they do not seem to have been anywhere near as common as the microbuses or vans of the same vintage.

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This is a shame because they are the archetype of something that is common today – the crew-cab traytop. For anyone who needed to take people as well as goods to a job, this must have seemed a very good proposition.

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I am a little taken aback with the three-door configuration but at least it allowed the passengers in the back to exit on the curb-side here in Australia. There appears to have been quite a bit of leg room back there as well, so no-one had to suffer. The high nature of the tray space is the legacy of the motor compartment design but for a lot of goods this would not have been a problem. Indeed it might have been a back saver as no stooping would be involved. At least there is a useful depth of panel around the tray floor and the fact that it had three-way loading could only have been good. Look at the side panel latches, though…

VW 201537

Full marks to the designer, however, for realising that the side and end panels would have to butt onto something when they folded down and then provided the rubber stoppers for it. These would have been awesome haulers in the day – and those of us that have to move long lengths of things wish we had this opportunity today.

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A VW meeting would seem to have an aesthetic all its own…



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Well, what would YOU call a person who takes an enthusiastic interest in VW Beetle sedans? There’s probably something in Latin that would do it more elegantly but you don’t get near as much attention when you shout it out in the pub.

VW 201527

These Beetles at the car club Sunday attracted the Spectator’s wayward glance for a number of reasons – by the way, I have omitted the Herbie-painted one…I don’t go all that much for movie-related cars. These all had just a few standouts:

VW 201528

The black and white V DUBBED has what I suspect is the most body work – I can’t tell how much of the car is original and how much is a body kit. I could be wrong and will stand corrected if John Harney knows more solid information, but in any case the modifications have slicked up the Beetle amazingly. I should be cautious with the minimal front nerf bars but then one should be cautious poking the nose of the car into anything. Helluva coffee machine under that back lid, but he wasn’t ready to serve  while I was there…

VW 201529

The liver-coloured Beetle with the cloth top also excites my interest, if only to know whether it was originally a sedan. The wheels look sturdy enough to tow artillery with.

VW 201511

VW 201513

Speaking of wheels, I could not help also noticing the dark metallic grey five-spokers on the lowered grey Beetle. Very fetching, but a little reminiscent of a sports car. The lowering of the car is also a little surprising – I remember that the high stance and uncluttered underbody of the Beetles in the 1960’s was one of the critical points that lead the Calgary Power company to choose the car for its engineers out in rural Alberta on dam sites and other construction projects. It could straddle down bush trails where other sedans sumped out.

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VW 201516

Finally, I was taken by the abstract pinstriping on the white Beetle just beside the edge of the bonnet…until I realised that it was the evidence of panel beating rather than custom painting.


The Far Patio


VW 20151

People with patios are fortunate – they have a space to go and sit in the warmer weather that is not inside the house. They can take a folding chair and a bottle of lemonade and a book and just sit there in raggedy shorts and a blue singlet and no-one makes them do anything. Except the insects – they keep the party lively. The sad thing is that people have a short span of appreciation and eventually get sick of seeing the clothesline and shed when they look up from the paperback. That is why Volkswagen vans were invented.

VW 201526

That and Australian tourists who want to do the UK and Europe but have heard bad things about backpackers hostels – they hire VW camper vans from a ring of firms just outside London and head for Glastonbury and Oktoberfest. Yes, I can see you nodding your heads out there…

VW 201556

Well, we all have that urge sometime. And the VW vans for some reason have racked up more trips through wet fields in France than Heinz Guderian ever did. Once experienced, they are never forgotten, and the sight of laminex-veneered particle board and tiny stainless steel sinks can induce awful flashbacks in middle aged Australians.

VW 201560

These examples at the VW Car Club Show are just a tiny selection of a vast army of voitures de camping. You can find all the comforts of home in them, but not in the same van. Oh, I’ll amend that – the big flashy modern silver one does indeed have everything that opens and shuts and the chap showing it was delighted to take people on tours of the living area. It would certainly be as comfortable as living in a Japanese capsule hotel for a couple of months and I’ll bet it in a high wind it handles nearly as well as the hotel.

VW 201559

The smaller and older ones give away a little in elegant finish ( though I do like the yellow curtains ) but not in functionality. The grey-blue splitty with the full length roof rack probably has a gas blacksmith’s forge and a wine cellar somewhere in the fold-outs. One could camp out in it comfortably until the warrants ran out and if you loaded the rack with all your supplies you could subsist for even longer. With a quiet beach to park by and a source of running water there would be little need to ever return.

VW 201557

See? All you have to do is get close to VW vans and you start to get a desire to run away to a desert isle. Or if you are a gourmand, a dessert aisle…


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.

A Plea From The Car Photographers To The Clubs


When you are planning your next car show, could you please park them a little further apart?

We are thrilled to bits that you will be bringing your vintage-veteran-hot rod-street car-sports car-truck-bus-tank to the park-stadium-exhibition hall-mudflat behind the asbestos works. We don’t mind paying at the door-gate-edge of the car park for the privilege of seeing your prize machines and we want to make great pictures of them.

mel2014 642

We promise not to stand on the running boards like the punters do, and poke the dashboards like the punters do, and scratch the duco like the punters do. We will be respectful.


We will be utterly patient as the tag-teams of lurching punters slowly walk in front of the cars and progressively block the view…never allowing a clear sight of the edges of the cars. We are trained to stand still in one spot until the exact quarter of a second when the mob clears. We are frequently consulted by still hunters and snipers about how to remain motionless. Ninjas envy us.

Italian 99

But we need a helping hand. If the cars are parked too close together we won’t be able to do them justice. We’ll have to use extremely short focal length lenses and the cars will look distorted as hell. Of course if they are Italian supercars no-one will be able to tell, but the regular British and French sedans will look odd and it will be a dead giveaway.

Oakover Winery 2015 78

Likewise, if you park them with their back to the sun, most of the exposures will look too dark – we’ll end up trying to light the front of the car with a reflector or a fill flash and it will look most unnatural. Again the Flopatelli Snazolla III Supraeformaggio won’t suffer too badly, unless it is the open Monza version with the folding wings. And they look bad in ANY light.


We do appreciate the trust and kindness the drivers show by leaving the passenger’s side window down – the interior shots will be so much better – but if you can’t manage that, it’ll be all right anyway. We can boost the shutter speed to 1/180 second, stop down to f:16, and fire a fill flash up at the headliner from the quarter window position while the camera looks in through the side. It’ll be a little dirty but not too bad. If you leave empty beer cans and dirty novels on the front seat that is your affair.

Gillam Drive 2014 255

In exchange for these small changes we promise to take good pictures of the way your cars look. We will photoshop out the rust holes – unless you are driving a rat rod, in which case we will photoshop more in for free. We will draw a discreet curtain over the state of the interior floor.