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I often wonder whether the Ford Motor Company realised just what good fortune they had when they named some of their motor cars ” Victoria “. It seems to be a name that was added when the Model A was born in 1927, thought there may have been a style of coach body made earlier in the horse-drawn days that was similar. Given the immense prestige of the British queen, Victoria, in the 19th and early 20th century there must be literally thousands of product and places that bear the name.

Such as the state of Victoria…the one sandwiched between New South Wales and South Australia. Perpetual rival of NSW…so much so that the federal capital had to be placed in a special administrative territory between the two states…more or less out in the boonies. ( A good place for it, as it keeps the pollies away from the rest of us for much of the time. )

But away from this, the name ” Victoria” applied to sedans made by Ford – such as these seen at the recent VHRS in Melbourne – must have sold cars to Victorian buyers by appealing to that deep-seated home instinct.

Even if they do not admit it, the pull of a locale name always boosts the popularity of a song or product. And in this case the consonance between place, royal association, and the word for winning would have been worth millions to the car company.

Other makers have tried it too – Austin tried to foist a terrible car on us by calling it a ” Tasman “. Holden stacked on Monaro, and there have been others. No-one has had the nerve to try ” Adelaide ” or ” Mount Isa ” but there were probably moments in the board rooms when the danger was clear. I am hoping for the Renault ” Manangatang ” some day, but the company has stopped returning my phone calls.


Jail Bar Is Not The Same As Jail Bait

If you are old enough to know the difference between the two terms, you are old enough to appreciate the red Ford pickup truck at the VHRS show. If you have no idea, I believe there is a Pokemon hatching around the corner and you’ll want to take your iPhone and chase it…

Okay, now that the adults are alone, here’s a new addition to the car collection. Melbourne 2018. As sweet a Ford as any inside the Exhibition Buildings but parked out in the free section. But, as the appearance is so close to the stock 1940’s look, you’ll have to examine it carefully to see whether this is a hot rod or a not rod.

Look at the trim work. Seems to be all there. Including the rubber edging between front panels.

Look at the interior. The interior. The interior…Oh, for crying out loud, stop looking at the girl. You’re supposed to be older than that. No sign of an air conditioner or Bluetooth connection. A column shift…but is that column really Ford…?

Wheels. Okay, there’s four and they touch the ground. Very funny….but is that rear tyre diameter really stock? Or is it bigger and fatter? Is the ground stance really what a farmer in 1946 needed to get over the local rail lines? Or has it been lowered…?

Now the tail gate has to be stock. It’s obvious that this truck was used to haul manure and other nitrogenous wastes and that an adequate ventilation was needed – hence the Ford-standard louvred tailgate to vent off the chicken gas. Simple logic, really.

But here’s the dodgy bit, that makes me think the owner of this truck has been fiddling with the specs. The front end. The ” Drive Safely ” flying horse is a later addition…because Henry Ford never endorsed anyone else’s logo in his life. The club permit plate gives the game away. You don’t get them in Victoria unless you need them, and I suspect that somewhere on this wonderful pickup, the owner has substituted a modern part for a historic one. You only have to do this once, and you need to go over the pits, fill out the forms, fall on your knees in front of the departmental mechanic, and pay the required fee into general revenue. In short…

This is a hot rod. A resto-rod, if you will…a mild rod rather than a wild one, but fully entitled to sit proudly in the VHRS car park. If I had a million dollars and a million hours it could sit in my car port.



The Blue ( Thunder ) Bird Of Happiness

A visitor – a welcome visitor – to the 2018 Victorian Hot Rod Show was this imported 1955 Ford Thunderbird. It would have been equally at home inside the hall, but by being in the car park it meant we could get much closer to see the details. And all for free.

You can think what you will and say what you might about the way that the Thunderbird evolved over the years – how it got bigger, and lower, and heavier, and ultimately indistinguishable from the sedans that took over the personal car market. And how Ford tried to wind back the clock when they restarted production to match two-seater modern cars…But you cannot deny the impact and the style of the first models.

They were never sports cars…nor were Corvettes or Studebaker Hawks. They were personal luxury cars for a market where the average Joe or Jane might just be able to afford one – and to do so while they were young enough to appreciate it. They had a big enough engine and adequate suspension and reasonable brakes, and the rest was just style and salesmanship…and quite frankly that was a reasonable answer to what people wanted.

The Europeans who decried the style or the weight or the handling fell into two classes; those who had enough old-family money to buy faster, better handling cars with astronomic price tags, and those who had enough money to buy an Austin A40 but were jealous of the Yanks. Their children and grandchildren are still echoing their shrill sentiments now, but paying 10x the price tags for modern sedans tricked out with spoilers and LED lights to do the same thing that the Thunderbird drivers did; cruise the beach strips on warm nights. They might cruise more expensively but they don’t cruise in better style.

Note the wire wheels. They are real and simultaneously unnecessary  and cool. Likewise the chrome bumpers…though I might say that the chrome and over-riders probably does a 200% better job of actually protecting the bodywork than the plastic parts of today. I note any number of dangling things on the freeway every time I drive into town – either the plastic pans are not attached very well or the people who snag and smash them cannot afford to have them ripped off and replaced. That’s not surprising considering the price of spare parts.

Note also the porthole. This is one of the last cars to have one and actually get away with the style. It is design folly, of course, but we wouldn’t be without it on a T Bird. The bird is also one of the few cars past the 1930’s that has made a wheel arch cover look good.

You might bemoan the standard look of the tail light assembly as well – it’s the style of the Fordsedan cars of their time – but remember that Ford was a reasonable-price manufacturer and any use of standard parts would have made good sense. You never had to complain about not seeing a Ford tail light when it lit up.

Is the interior luxurious enough for you…in a spartan sort of way? There is much less of the sculpturing of the dash area that you see on other North American maker’s cars, while still not retreating to the woodwork and flat panels of the European marques. It’s not padded – so you can expect to bounce your head off that dash if you stop quick.

The seat, however is pure romance, and I am willing to bet a number of them got started on those T Bird benches. Washable vinyl, too…I think the cup holder’s a later addition but the radio and the heater controls look pretty standard for the period. Is that a tape deck? Does it have Conelrad? Do you know what Conelrad was? And look at the wheel – ribbed for your pleasure.

Finally…consider the statement that the paint job makes in these days of grey and black. This is a car for people who want to have fun and colour. Truly Happy Days.

Shoe Two – The Ford That Makes Me Nervous

I get it. I really do. I was puzzled at first but I’ve seen enough now to say that I do get it. But it makes me nervous.

The rat thing. The Baxter Basics movement in the hot rod world that thinks it remembers what rodding was like in the late 1940’s and wants to suggest that it is bad to the bone. And who am I to say they are not…?

 I am a spectator – a photographer and gawker at the hot rod shows. I can be amazed and amused and no harm comes of either experience. The rodding enthusiasts and custom builders are marvellous artists as far as I am concerned and I applaud nearly all I see. I know that I could never display a hundredth part of the car-building skills that they show.

But I am also not a police motor vehicle inspector or a patrolman on the roads. And the fact that I admire the rodders and ratters counts for nothing, if one of these officials takes a dislike to a car or driver.

I’m not accusing the police of bad behaviour. They may be executing their duty in a perfect manner. But sometimes there are temptations placed in front of them that would be nearly impossible to resist. It must be a very finely run thing for them to look at a vehicle on the road and make a snap decision about whether it should be driven over the pits…or into one.

The artistry of the rat is a very strange mixture of dilapidation and deliberate provocation. Some of the local cars in this style seem to be works of low-brow art – so much so that you wonder if they have not been made as a parody of themselves. Others, like this NSW shoebox Ford – have a genuine air about them. The authenticity is the thing that would trigger the vehicle squad…and I would be afraid that if they ever started in on this car they might not let it escape their clutches.

 Like every car, it is a work in progress – heck, my standard suburban sedan is that, as is every car on the road. But mine would be less likely to get a sticker on the windscreen as it does not advertise itself.

Well, I hope it all comes out well in the end. If there is a gleaming 16 cylinder Hispano-Suiza engine and a racing car chassis under the Ford skin, all might still be well at the Vehicle Inspection Centre. I didn’t see under the bonnet, so, like the US Navy and nuclear bombs, I can neither confirm nor deny. Let’s just hope the NSW cops do not fiddle with the fuse.

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.