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…

A Poke In The Eye With A Javelin


Jowett were an English motor car firm that had their factory near Bradford, in Yorkshire. Bradford is currently famous for containing the Kodak Museum of Photography and a great many residents of non-Anglo-Saxon ancestry. I can vouch for the excellent quality of the museum and their local curry restaurants, having visited both a few years ago. Goodness Gracious me…


But back to the Jowett car seen at the Whiteman Park Motor Show. It immediately attracted my attention as it looked so much like a Peugeot sedan of similar vintage – the Peugeot 203. I don’t suppose they were drawn by the same people, but I cannot help feeling that the designers may have done lunch…Whatever, it is the sort of shape that immediately appeals to me – rounded and streamlined with few freaks on the body contours as they flow backwards to the rear. It is the sort of shape that says late 40’s  – the sort of shape that Morris used for their 1000 cars. But done here with more flair than Morris.

Well the car does have some oddities. They were not seen as such when it was designed, but they do seem so now. The suicide front-opening doors are the main example. They’ve been a feature of many designs, and are no more dangerous than the rear-opening ones, in most instances. The clever catch-phrase has damned them, of course, but then we’ll see that with politics for the next four years anyway…


I am particularly impressed with the body line that makes the boot space of the car. It is a four-seater, which in 1950’s British terms meant four people who have been eating wartime rations for the last decade. They could be expected to occupy less space than four Americans of the same era.  When they went on holiday to Sewagepans-on-the-Sea their luggage would occupy less space as well. The Javelin designer calculated that requirement exactly – there is enough volume to carry socks, sandals, buckets, spades, and knotted handkerchiefs. No need for bars of soap…

The interior is also very well done. It has been designed to look like expensive wood without actually having to be such. It has space and good proportion. There is no silly parcel shelf under the dash to restrict the knees. This is a car interior in which parking at lover’s lane would prove rewarding. Don’t ask me for more details.


The seats are very well done. Applause for the choice of fawn leatherette. It is perfect.


I can’t tell you much about the engine. I note that the radiator is a fair way back in the engine bay, and this suggests a small engine, but then it might have been a powerful little thing and moved the car along at a sporty pace. I know that if I were invited to drive it I should leap at the chance. It is a consummately elegant little design.



It’s All True – What They Say About Australia


Particularly if they are talking about old Australian racing cars.

Once you pass the three-mile limit out of Southhampton, Le Havre, or Los Angeles and head for the Southern Hemisphere you are allowed to take off some of your pre-conceptions and store them in your luggage. You will not need them for the sea voyage and no-one on shore in Australia or New Zealand wants to handle them. Just dress comfortably and be prepared to see it all.


Thus the car in this post. The obvious clues say it is from Northam in Western Australia and it has been on the old Caversham motor race circuit in the Swan Valley. It was once a Chevrolet, and may still be, for all we can tell. It is blue. There are four wheels contacting the ground and two more available on the sides. Beyond this you must make your own judgements.


I think it is a special built on the chassis of a 30’s Chevrolet. I can’t guess whether it once had a coupe, sedan, or ute body, but all that has remained of the housings are the radiator shell, cowl and bonnet. Perhaps the builder found it in this bare condition and then let the imagination loose on it.


The design owes much to imagination – and to the shapes of 1930’s sedans, 1920’s speedsters. and 1910’s aircraft. I should not be surprised to see those two ring-shaped cowling at the rear surmounted by Lewis gun rings. They would make a wonderful accessory for Saturday night in downtown Northam.


I cannot praise the builder enough for the use of canvas over wood formers to make the boat-tail body. The workmanship is superb and the design is bizarre in the best possible way. The canvas mud-guards held in place by cord and stays add the final touch – nautical I should say. I would not be surprised to see the vehicle fitted with red and green navigation lights and a steam siren.


Was it an old-time racer? Is it a fantasy of old time racing? Is it a Steampunk family excursion car? Is there too much spare time down on the old farm? I cannot say – but I am glad that I got to see this sort of thing. It is the art of the amateur mechanic at its best. Australia has people like this all over the place – suburbs as well as country – and it is to the credit of the country that they can think outside the box every day.


Le Romantisme de la Bugatti


The modern car enthusiasts who feed on superlatives produced by the motoring press and  video clip industry love the Bugatti Veyron. It goes ever faster in their programs – and as they are the ones telling you what that speed is, and you have no chance to see one in action whilst timing it, they can really make it go as fast as ever they want. If there is liquor involved as they sit at the computer keyboard it can be very fast indeed.





It is rather like the French railways – the SNCF – they have a penchant ( French word for disreputable habit…) for holding record-breaking electric locomotive races through the centre of France between Paris, Lyon, Orleans, and Marseille. It is presumably quieter than doing the same thing with racing cars, and when they drag a train after them you can get something to drink in the bar/buffet. Of course the exercise is pointless – there are Frenchmen on either end of the journey so you are not really escaping from them in either direction. But it is good for national pride.



Well, there were once Bugatti cars that did not go at 600Km/hr for the amusement. They did motor fast, and they did motor well, but it was with more common sense. They motored Gallicly, if that is a word. With style. With a logical shape that was made to be shapely. With visible engineering in odd shapes ( French, remember…) and rivets, and blue paint. Medium blue paint, of a particular shade. A paint that Monét would have approved of. A paint that Would have spoken to Van Gogh…in his good ear.


Witness, if you please, the full size reality, the full size unreality, the virtual reality, and the tiny reality. Bon Chance!

The Ring Of Confidence?


Some experiences defy description. They can only be reported.

I attended the Whiteman Park classic car show and looked at all the old cars. Amongst them was a preserved scout car – presumably used by a reconnaissance unit in the Australian Army some time ago. I am guessing WWII or later and possibly attached to a Western Australian command.


It was well-preserved and the exhibitors had left most of the hatches open so that we could see inside – that was kind. I was surprised at the angle at which the steering wheel was mounted – until I reflected that the driver was likely to be looking out through periscope visors on the battlefield and would be looking up. When you assume that position, your arms and hands naturally rise as well, and the angle of the wheel becomes natural.


I can tell you little more of the vehicle, other than to say that I assume the machine gun poking out of the turret is either completely de-activated or a solid metal replica welded in place.

Which leads me on to the other pictures. I believe the ring mounting seen erected here on a framework within the camouflage cloth is generally intended to be on thin-skinned vehicles. The elevating mechanism – counterweight springs and an arched frame – suggest that it is intended as close-in antiaircraft protection. That is a Browning M2 .50 cal machine gun in the mount. I would guess Korean War and later…


I am also going to guess that the gun is also a completely deactivated device – possibly from the local Army Museum, or perhaps from a group of enthusiasts who have gotten police permission to possess it. I expect that the ammunition displayed on the fee tray is also dummy and hollow. I assume, expect, and presume a lot, don’t I?


I’ve owned a lot of firearms – real operational ones – in my time. All with proper police licensing, I hasten to add. I’ve displayed them at public events. I’ve stood in front of crowds doing drill with muskets and rifles loaded and unloaded – blank charges. But I’ve never pointed the muzzle of the weapon at the crowd – particularly at small children and their mothers standing two yards in front of me…I’ve always assumed that it was dangerous, illegal, frightening, and unnecessarily damaging to the image of my club.


But then I did admit to assuming and presuming a lot, didn’t I?


Small And Round and Brown – Like A Japanese Consumer Law


Well, make that round and baby-poo brown, to be exact. And small and devoid of all pretension . We present the Nissan Be-1…

It is the answer to a question that is not often asked here in Western Australia – how to have a tiny car that only lasts two years and avoids road tax. The Japanese are the people who must necessarily deal with this and this is one of the ways that they cope.

As an aside, I have often asked why the Japanese run a system of road tax that punishes people for retaining cars past a certain date – and punishes them so severely with a financial burden that they comply by buying fresh cars every two years. I’ve been told that it is to prevent pollution, to make less traffic on the roads, and to make for greater safety – and I think this is a crock of sushi…t…

If a small car is well-built…and I can assure you Japanese small cars are well-built…it can last for 12-15 years. It pours out minimal pollution and this does not rise exponentially as the engine ages. The upholstery, body, and paint scheme do not emit pollution. Engines can be reconditioned and/or replaced and there you are – starting fresh again.


The number of cars on Japanese roads will be the same whether they are 1 year old or 10 years old. The roads dictate that number. And the other laws that prohibit ownership if you cannot provide adequate parking storage mean the same for a new car as for an old one.

And as far as safety, there are no new safety measures that occur annually – the cars that were adequate to travel earlier are adequate now – with the added advantage that the owner is going to be more familiar with the operation of the old vehicle than the new. Unless – of course, the new one operates the same way as the old one and then where is the improvement that was trumpeted…?

Okay, legal rant over, the Japanese do very nice very small cars – again to dodge petrol usage and road tax. This is one of the series Nissan did in the 1980’s that included such delights as the S-Cargo. This one has no chrome anywhere, body-colour wheels, sensible rubber bumpers, and a smooth aerodynamic shape.


It has a 987 cc engine to dodge tax, 3 speed auto transmission, seats 5 Japanese, 2 Australians, or 1 Samoan, and has an amazing amount of interior room. It came in white, yellow*, red, or blue and used very little fuel.

If they sold it today, I would buy one new.

Note about the Japanese car-change laws. I suspect that the major car manufacturers made sure the Diet passed them to ensure a busy domestic market. The only good effect of this is the availability of Japanese used cars for export. They are probably good value, as the owners in Japan are pretty frugal people who take care of their goods – until they are wrenched from them by the tax officials.

  • Apparently this car at Whiteman Park is Pumpkin Yellow. I think the pumpkin passed through the baby first.




Not Your Average Ten – Alconi


I am a fan of the Renault R 10. I owned one – it was my first car. 4-wheel independent suspension, 4wheel disc brakes, fabulously comfortable seats, and four doors. Good luggage boot in front, rear engine, and enough Gallic styling quirks to pickle a goose. Its one fault seemed to be an underpowered 1100cc engine. Flat chat was 90 MPH and you had to work up to that for miles. It made for some exciting times circling the city block, I can tell you.


I can also tell you I was delighted to see this yellow R10 at the Whiteman park show. It was entirely new to me, but piercingly familiar…and I had to google like mad at home to see what it actually is.


It’s from South Africa…sorry, that’s South Efrica…and it is the Alconi. It was made as a variant to provide a faster and more sporty Renault for the country. They apparently did it as kits of go-faster manifolds and exhausts , and added other touches. I see a different set of dash instruments, upholstery, and a grab bar on the left pillar. Quite different wheels and tyres as well, though these may be local Australian additions. And the distinctive Alconi badge. Very much an Abarth-style venture, but on a smaller scale.


I noted the improvement in the driving position with the metal-spoke racing wheel, but the same old Renault gear shift lever and insipid shift knob. I changed mine for a big chrome one with a Renault badge set inside it as soon as I could get to a motor accessory catalog – and got surprisingly good with what other people thought of as a very sloppy gear box. I was a precise person in those days .