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.


Sheet Metal – The Stamp Of Success

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I have always been fascinated with photographs taken in the car production plants of the 1940’s to the 1960’s. They recall a visit I paid to the Ford plant in Michigan during a family trip in 1957. I had never seen steel ingots rolled and could have stopped to watch it all day. Likewise the big panel stamping machines. The sheer power involved in pressing out a steel sheet into a complex shape was deeply impressive. I found myself looking at all the steel sheet shapes that made up our family car and imagining how they were formed.

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This is not to take anything away from formed aluminium – I love to see it beaten out onto sports cars and airplanes – or of the various glue and fabric processes that eventually become glass fibre or carbon fibre shells. But think of the complex forming that eventually becomes a Chevy Fleetline like this one.

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The balloon saloon shape that seems to have been common in American cars of the late 40’s and early 50’s has always been laughed at by European car enthusiasts. They point to some classic Jaguar MkII  and then at a Desoto sedan and decry the latter. They sometimes forget that at the same time that the Desoto was produced the British industry was sticking faithfully to body, chassis, and engine designs of the 1930’s. And that the American cars were hauling working-class American families while their British counterparts were queuing for busses and taking second-class trains to the seaside. But enough of the politics of envy – have a look at what has fished up on the shores of Western Australia in 2013.

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Don’t be fooled by the preponderance of GM products in this report – Ford also sent a number of cars here to be assembled in local plants – we saw any number of Customlines at the same time that the Holden was forging ahead. These are not Holdens – these are American GM, but there are local products in evidence as well. Another report, perhaps.

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Of course these days here are any number of direct imports of older US cars in containers. They retain their left-hand drive in many cases, and somehow the local road laws have been adjusted to let them drive around. It must be a little disconcerting to be the driver of one of these as you really do not have the same view of the passing lane on our roads. You would get a pretty good look at the wheelie bins on the side of the road on bin night, but. It can’t be an easy drive in the case of some of those sedans – there is a fair set-back in the front seat at the best of times – perhaps they should fit some of those proximity alarms around the vehicle like they do on the back bumpers of BMW’s and you could navigate by beep rather than crunch.

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A Facile Star – The Facel Vega

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I bought a book in the Hudson’s Bay Company store in Calgary, Alberta in 1963 – ” The Observer’s Book Of Automobiles “. I studied it religiously – a little bemused by their descriptions of American cars that I could see on the road at the time, and totally uncomprehending of all the other continental or British makes. I was to learn on emigrating to Australia just how true it all was…

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One car that riveted my attention was the Facel-Vega. I couldn’t believe the 6.6 Litre size of the engine until I realised that it was a Chrysler V-8 – and I suspect it was a hemi at that. The styling was sleekly European and the whole thing seemed ultimately desireable.

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So it has turned out to be, at least for three lucky owners who exhibited at the Cottesloe Civic Centre. They all own 500HK coupés from the late fifties and early sixties. The greenhouse of the cars are a little different from the 1963 illustration in that they use wrap-around windscreens and softer roof lines – reminiscent of some of the GM cars of the time. I wonder if they are using moulded glass from the US? In any event they do have the characteristic stacked headlight arrangement of the later cars.

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There is a center grill and two side grills as intakes and enough chrome on the bumpers to set the look off. No bumper riders, I see. The tail lights are paired vertical insets into the top of the wings – I always wondered if they were a real design thought or just a hurried finish. There is a clever rocker panel finish to diminish the visual depth of the body.

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I do believe I would love to have one, though I doubt I could pay for it. I settled for a Sun Star 1:18th model of one and am looking for a suitable Continental Honey to pose with it. My recollection of the appearance of French actresses of the period is vivid, and I look forward to meeting someone who can act out these small scale fantasies. I am hoping for a blonde…