Blue Shoe

This single-spinner shoebox Ford seen in the car park of the Rosehill Racecourse during the afternoon of this year’s NSW Hot Rod Show attracted me immediately – 49-53 Fords always do, no matter how they are presented. They are the first car I ever saw that I wanted to own entirely upon their external looks. Many others have come along in the meantime, but I still love the shoebox…and a few of its overseas copies.

But this car and the afternoon I saw it have pointed out something I did not realise – the fact that satin or matt paint can be a difficult thing to photograph. Until now, I thought that this sort of finish made car shooting easier, but now I see that this is not the case.

This will not be accurate in scientific terms, but the satin auto finish is suspended somewhere between shiny and dull paint. Apparently there are 5 different grades between flat and glossy. How they do it is a mystery, but I’m betting on some form of particle or filler in the fluid that makes up the paint along with the pigment particle. The look is unmistakable when done well.

It also needs to be completely done – you’ll note the doors on this Ford seem to have a structure showing – that may be because it is not yet the final paint coat. More rubbing down, more coats.

The car itself is a work in progress, as evinced by the rear bumper and the multicoloured nature of the interior. It is perfectly in order for the builder to drive it to the show and park it out in the car park – we are grateful to him for doing so to show us how the car is progressing. New enthusiasts who only see finished show cars may be discouraged when they return home and see their base car nowhere near the show condition – it’s good for them to see how others are managing the tasks.

I am pleased to be able to record the neat and unobtrusive nature of the tail-light treatment. I’ve seen some surprising ideas bolted and leaded into custom cars in the past , and even if they are marvellous jobs of work, some of them have not been good looking. This use of the classic shoebox design is fine. Likewise the decision to clean up, but leave undisturbed, the classic front end. No drawer-pull grilles needed here.

The stop light? Well, that is a matter of taste – like the Tiki shift lever. Both are certainly period-correct, but…

Okay – back to the paint. As a photographer of car shows, I am equipped with a good mirror-less camera and large flash. I expose for the general scene and then throw fill light into grilles, interiors, or shaded portions as needed. The overhead lights and/or sky will always be a factor in any scheme, and the way the car reacts to them will make a great deal of difference to whether the lines of the car are well seen. Show shooting for the visitor during open hours is entirely different from work done after all the crowds have gone home. You don’t get to do lighting set-ups or multiple pops. It is all in one and frequently the window of opportunity is about 3 seconds! It’s like press shooting.

Note in the featured image how the sky light glares out the line of the fender and bonnet. On a gloss finish that would be a brighter specular highlight, but very much narrower. Surprisingly , it would be less obtrusive and one might almost PS it out. Not here – the specular highlight is a diffuse patch that you just have to put up with. And it seems in some cases to delineate the panel contour more than a gloss would do.

Looks like there might have to be a lot more experimentation with these finishes in the future – I like ’em but they are a menace.

 

It’s Been A Golden Week

I often think that really good museums, art galleries, and car shows should have a premium service that rents out little three-legged travelling stools so that patrons could prop themselves up in front of the exhibit, painting, or car and just sit there looking at the details. It would make the experience one of quality rather that quantity. And we could block up the aisles so no-one else got a look-in.

I was a good visitor to the Perth Hot Rod Show. I obeyed the rules. I did not touch any of the cars, girls, or other photographers. I stayed outside the honour barriers. I stood aside to let other people see the cars. But I did want to climb all over this one…

Let’s get the featured image out of the way to start with. The sensible decision to paint the bumpers rather than re-chrome them is one that a lot of people take these days and I applaud it. I think it can really improve the looks of some of the cars, and I am surprised that it has taken so long in the custom car world to come up with it. And the use of quad headlights is also brilliant here – the Ford of the period was, like all cars, a two light design. This worked fine when Fords were narrower, but by the time they got to this year – 1946 – the sheer width of the nose made the lights look paltry and their chrome bezel did not help either. They were not alone in this, of course – look at what a Chrysler of the time looked like…

Not bad, as such, but a little wide and lonely out there. The Toyota headlights helped fill the Ford in nicely.

But the show stopper is the wooden grill teeth. In another vehicle they would have been an affectation. In this one they are pure art.

The wooden theme has also surfaced in some of the other trim. Note the doors and the surround coaming of the back seat. I am terribly sorry not to be able to show you the dash, but the honour barrier prevented me from going round there and seeing how far the wooden theme had been taken inside.

I have no idea what sort of maintenance schedule will be necessary to preserve the New Guinea Rosewood of the body. Perhaps modern varnishes like Estapol will keep it fine – the Western Australian sunshine can take the life out of most woods in a very short period of time. Let us hope that this car continues to gleam for decades to come.

The Golden Woodie – Part 2

I do not pretend to understand engines. With the possible exception of the .049 Cox Thimble Drome model airplane engine – and that impressed me with its ability to bite into my fingers. But all the rest are intricate mysteries. People ask me why I include pictures of engine compartments in my reports if I don’t know what I am seeing – I do it for those who do.

Other people are more knowledgeable – This 350 Chevrolet seems to have been neatly fitted into a place that once held a considerably smaller Ford flathead engine and presumably moves the car along at quite a bit faster pace. I salute the skill that does this. My complements to the chef who also decided to do it without cutting horrid holes in the bonnet and poking industrial machinery through them. Perhaps the owners of this wonderful custom car have passed the stage of wanting to have things look like an Ed Roth cartoon.

How much shoe-horning was required? Well the show sign said they sectioned the bonnet and reshaped the fenders so there must have been some squeaky moments. I have a 1:18th scale die-cast model of a 1948 Ford Woody so I will go look at it to see if I can see where the cutting took place. I can’t see a bad line anywhere here.

Likewise, I am going to have to consult a 1:18 model of the Ford convertible of the time to see if I can pick out how the shape of the boot lid was done. I can’t say whether the body is a readaptation of the original or a new construction but if the car comes back onto the Perth display scene and we can get closer to it past the honour barrier, I will examine it closely.

Note the wheels. perfectly chosen combination of modern spoke design relieved and highlighted by the repeat of body colour and the period-correct effect of wide whitewalls and substantial tyres. Some stylists might have been tempted to put in thin rims and strip rubber tyres, but I am glad to see they did not do this here. The Ford tragics in the crowd might have looked askance at the Chevy bow ties in the hubcaps, but then it has a Chevrolet engine after all. And all the bow ties were lined up for smooth appearance.

 

 

The Golden Woodie Part 1

Every car show has a gem buried at its heart. These are sometimes flagged by the show organisers and sometimes you just have to find them for yourself. This year at the Perth hot rod show I found the golden woodie. It is for me a true evocation of a custom car.

Just a moment for two asides – if you go to the motoring bookshops you can find very nice illustrated books of the classic 1950’s and 60’s custom cars from North America. Lots of famous names – Barris, Winfield, etc. Sometimes there are colour photos of the cars, though at the time the colour processes were both expensive and rare…and we miss out of seeing some of the images. I like to think that there are 35mm Kodachrome and Kodachrome II slides out here in private collections that still do show the colours of the time accurately. Maybe not taken with all the skill of a pro magazine shooter, but first-rate records nevertheless. If anyone comes across old car photos of any kind they should never throw them out – someone will benefit from them right now.

But the second aside…well a couple of the books I have show some pretty extensive customising done in California in those eras but they are painfully blunt in showing what are some pretty awful design choices. I know, I know – each to their own taste…but if that is the case then some of the tastes evinced by home builders were pretty bizarre. And not just home builders – the big custom boys sometimes reached out for novelty far further than aesthetics could follow. It’s the same with music and clothing tastes of that time and the place – some cause nostalgia and some cause rectalgia.

But enough of the asides. They only serve to point up what I really want to say about this car; it is a truly delightful design and very well executed. I should have wished to see it displayed on a plinth in a compound of its own.

The sign board identified the original chassis as a 1946 Ford Sportsman. It’s been chopped, sectioned, re-engined, and re-suspended. I’ll let you read the sign yourself. And thank you to Valmae and Peter for summarising it at the show – it makes it all the more enjoyable if you know what the bits are.

Okay – wooden bodies – particularly New Guinea Rose Wood ones – are not all that common in the car parks around Bull Creek. Probably just as well, considering what the local drivers can do with the doors of their Toyota 4WD’s. I can only imagine that it must take some rather special maintenance even in the country to keep up the smooth shine. Full marks as well, for the colour paint decision – the rosewood with varnish wants delicate treatment in the metal areas to keep it looking elegant – this Aztec Gold cum bronze is perfect.

Likewise, the temptation to stripe, scallop, flame, or fade is one that every hot rod or custom builder must face. Some give in to siren song of the colourful side and throw decoration at every panel that will hold paint. It’ll work in some cases, but in others they risk losing sight of the lines in the conflicting paint patterns. This car is perfect for the flowing scallop that you see here – indeed square fender Fords of the period nearly always look good with straight scallops. It just seems to echo with our memories of those custom car magazines of the 50’s…I mean the good ones.

Whoops. Is that the time? I’ll have to show you the details tomorrow…

 

 

The Mercury That Wasn’t

Ever since the late 1940’s the Mercury sedan or coupe has been a constant subject for the custom car enthusiast. From extremely mild to extremely wild, the Merc has been chopped, channeled, frenched, rolled, tucked, decked slammed and ratted everywhere. So much so, that when you see a body that is sleek and low but has a domed appearance in every direction, you instinctively think that it is a Mercury.

I saw this one at the NSW rod show last month…and I was wrong.

I had not looked at the notice board beside the car, but was just admiring the full-on traditional lead sled style…when I noticed that the characteristic Mercury step in the side line was missing. Thinking that this must have been a hell of a job to cut out and fill in…and why would you want to, anyway…I finally got the clue when I saw the shape of the grill area. Not a Mercury – a Hudson.

Equally fine heritage, equally cool old school style – but a lot fewer of them in the field. And as a right-hand conversion in Australia…even rarer.

Please take time to notice the smooth side skirt enclosing the rear wheels and the use of the chrome trim strip to unify the body. Also please note the frenched aerials and the bumper shrouds front and rear. There would have been a temptation in some customisers minds to get rid of the heavy chrome bumpers – or if it was the early 60’s in California to make up horrible bent-tube things and try to blend them into the pans. Thank goodness this builder did not give way to this. Big bumpers were a real part of the Hudson heritage and a look that deserved to be preserved.

Likewise, I am glad the builder decided to keep the Hudson hubcaps rather than just go with generic spinners or bars. Moons would have been traditional, but these are all the better for being so specific. And with those rear skirts, you only have to find two good ones…

As far as the interior and dash, I don’t think that you could find any European woodpile dashboard of the time…or even a modern swoop and splatter design – that could be as elegant and stylish as this Hudson. The two-tone is superb. I do note some modern ait conditioning vents, however.

This is no trailer queen, either – look at the panel near the accelerator – feet have been down there pushing that pedal, presumably to the metal. Let’s hope there were some floor mats, too.

 

 

The 0691 Nedloh Sedan

My visit to the New South Wales hot rod show at Rosehill Raceway in Sydney a week or so ago was a complete success. The show is different from the VHRS one held on Australia Day and different again from the WA Street Rod spectacular that is later in the year. But every bit as charming…and with features that they other two do not have.

My attention was arrested immediately upon entering the lower pavilion floor when I saw this 1960 Holden. I must confess it took me a while to comprehend what I was seeing, and then I pored over it all over again to see the details of how it was done.

At this stage of the game I would invite my readers to Google up the standard 1960 Holden and see what all the fuss is about. Then sit and contemplate what sort of drinking session could have started the whole idea off. I cannot even imagine what was going through the builder’s mind.

Done well? Absolutely! A delight to drive? Well, that’s hard to say, but the value as a head-turner is incalculable. Unfortunately by now the owner has probably heard every joke and pun imaginable re. his custom and has come to dread the look that people get in their eye just before they come out with the tired witticisms. I shall leave him in peace.

I will say this much. I’ll bet the builder was tempted to reverse the side chrome accent strip and stars, but resisted it.

Flames In The Frame

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Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable, throw in undependable too.

But I’m undeniably mad over flames.

Not, you understand, to the extent that I run around setting fire to paddocks. I mean flames on hot rods. They are such a part of the look, the style, the culture – they reward nearly any car that sports them. And I hesitate to say that about a couple other aspects of the genre…but more on that in a future post.

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The first thing that drew me to this blue Chevrolet were the flames on the bonnet and fenders. Faded, lined, and accented, their warm tones complement the cool colour of the body perfectly. they break up what might otherwise be vast stretches of curved sheet metal and serve to introduce the car to the viewer as something more than just a restoration job.*

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At the same time, this builder has been conservative enough ( …conservative flames…) to leave them on the bonnet and fenders and not extend them to the entire surface of the car. This can be done and I can think of one Victorian Shoebox Ford that is renowned for it, but you have to know where a curve fits.

Note to self: Must enquire if we see more pre-war Chevrolet  cars here in Australia as rods or as restorations? Do they have as many in North America? Logic says yes, but are the figures distributed evenly? Are they tougher restorations than similar-era Fords?

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Well anyway, this is no trailer car – this one drives beautifully – that interior is everything that a man could want in a car, and the stylist has not fallen into the skull and decal trap. But that is another post…

  • Nothing wrong with a restoration – I also go to the Australia Day RACV car show in Melbourne and have a glorious time.