Ford – Thinking Outside The Box

dscf5073My time at car shows – whether the subjects are  hot rods, vintage, or modern vehicles, is spent looking out for four things:

a. New displays – cars that I’ve never seen before.

b. Excellent displays – really well-done exhibits.

c. Odd-balls. Items that you really never expect to see.

d. The coffee van*.

Note that I do not specifically respond to over-the-top builds or show car designs. I am unmoved by the famous award-winning 5-years-in-the-making fibreglass confection sitting on a bed of angel hair and LED lighting. I spent a childhood building AMT models of Ed ” Big Daddy” Roth show cars and I am unimpressed by plexiglass bubbles.

But I do like a good design that someone has recognised and revitalised – like the mid-50’s Ford station sedans. These, like their cousins the utes, were initially intended as a semi-working semi-family vehicle and had more practicality in their makeup than many of their contemporaries ( Fight that one out amongst yourselves…)

mel2014-372Here are examples from Victoria and Western Australia – the yellow and white Customline is from the VHRS 2014 show while the light green and white is from this year’s Big Al’s Poker Run in WA. They illustrate the advantage that the hot rodder or custom builder has over their restorative cousins.

mel2014-370First the Victorian car. Ignore the fact that it is plopped down in the middle of the Exhibition Building in a Hot Rod Show – it is really a restored post-vintage car. Or a  pre-veteran, post-vintage, retro-themed, olden-tymes car. Whatever the damned committees have invented as a category for it…it is a well-maintained reminder of the mid 1950’s in Australia. Whatever it is, it has less hair and more good manners than Barry Humphreys…but then so does  a wheelbarrow full of dirty socks.

In any case, it is a car that has to tread a very strict line. It must be not only good and old, but good as well as old. The owner is under the eagle ( vulture? ) eye of the restorationists of Victoria and if he deviates from the Ford canon by one word – one wrong bolt or fabric – the whole congregation will cry out with a howl. Automotive apostasy is probably punishable by death or worse.

dscf5074The rodder, on the other hand, can look at the thing with a fresh eye. If the wheels would look better as billet mags, he is free to try them on without risking a blast from heaven. If the panels would look better with fewer advertising badges, he is free to prise them off and plaz up the holes…provided he is painting later. If the interior is in need of a lot of serious love and he doesn’t fancy grey factory corduroy cloth, he is free to make the thing look elegant. And he is free to attach a set of rather cool aerodynamic roof racks to the top in coordinated colour. He gets plaudits not hisses, because his viewers are men and women of art, rather than fanatics.

Of course, it also means that occasionally there will be something untoward appearing on the show floor. Not all hot rod designers are gifted with the eye for a line, even if they are masters at actual physical construction. Every now and then a complex construction is undertaken to reshape a car body – or the frame and running gear – and the result looks wrong. It may also be extremely sturdy, well-built, true, and functional. While looking …well…wrong. The best that can be done is to concentrate the eye on the workmanship and praise the engineering skill. Whilst trying not to stare.

We have all done it. Overcooked a cake, over egged a pudding, over drawn a picture. As long as we are not designing airliners, no real harm is done. And who knows – whatever we have done may become a barn find in the future for someone else…

*  Found it.dscf5148


Classic 60’s Cruisers From Australia


Whenever you use the phrase “cruiser ” for a car you conjure up a whole raft of images from different people. Some see it as a description for giant California convertibles on Hollywood Boulevard. Others  think of Grand Touring cars in Europe…trying to grand tour through rotten little streets. Today’s cars are cruisers in the Australian sense – they were capable of long-distance travel with useful loads – in one case loads of people and the other loads of gear.

6 years of development separates the station sedan – the Holden EJ of 1962 – from the ute – the Holden HK of 1968. Surprisingly, there is probably not a lot of difference in the engine that drives them or the drive train connected to it – Holden made its changes sensibly over a long period of time. These are vehicles that never had to battle modern legislators and computers, either. They work because they work and there is room in their engine bays to work on them to keep them working.

The station sedan, or wagon if you insist, was equally seen in the city or the country, and was the mainstay of the yearly holidays down south or up north. You could pack the whole family in and still have enough space in the back for the camping gear and suitcases. That long roof and sturdy gutters were also host to no end of very long roof racks and the carrying capacity rose as the petrol milage fell. It was the days before aerodynamics was invented – there was just air. Not air conditioning, you understand – just air. It leaked into the driver’s side window until you fitted moulded perspex shields to the window. Then you overheated.


The ute hauled only two or three people in the front, but as many as you could stack in the back. This is no longer allowed because certain communities in our northwest had horrific accidents with overloaded utes – the practise now attracts a hefty fine. Not that they pay any attention to that, I daresay, but down here we have to obey it. But you can still put the dog back there if you tie his lead to the side of the car.

A ute is a dangerous thing to own if people find out about it. All of a sudden the owner becomes a public haulage contractor ( unpaid ) and has to invent excuses to avoid being called on to move house or haul chook manure for his mates.

Note I cannot guarantee that the blue HK is genuinely used by a speed shop. These days people paint lots of artistic statements on the sides of their rods and you don’t know it they’re real or not. I kinda think the Florida beach patrol I saw a few years ago was made up , and I’m equally uncertain about the Mad Max interceptors. Perhaps it’s only forbidden to put on the local police markings. If this is the case I’ll definitely consider RCMP badges for my next 1949 Mercury…

The joy of Holden in the land of the Holden is not the fact that it is totally reliable and never breaks down. Far from it… It is the fact that there are a lot of parts out there for them. And some of the cars only have electricity in them that does sensible things…and they’re easier to work on.