Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Outback Christmas

As it is Christmas, I felt it was time for a reworking of the traditional nativity story, replacing the three wise men with three wise kangaroos, including two outback teenagers from Alice Springs as guardian angels, and replacing the donkey with a much snazzier and faster mode of transport, a VW Minibus, with Eriba Puck caravan tagging along as a mobile manger.

The model itself is a Schuco 1:43, and it's a beautifully made model. Though it's a bit too hard
to photograph, inside the little caravan there's a breakfast table and bench seats, plus kitchen
benchtops and a stove. Lovely attention to detail that is maintained in the Minibus, too.

And here's wishing everyone who ever reads, or at least accidentally stumbles across, my very quiet little diecast car and bike model blog a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Successful young man and his Valiant AP6

It's the mid 1960s, a smart young Australian man, already making a success of himself in business, has just bought his first status symbol, a brand new AP6 Valiant Regal , the top of the line model back then. On his arm is his gorgeous girlfriend, while out on the street the other boys are either watching jealously, or pretending not to notice.

As soon as I saw this photo of a 1960s milk bar in Australia I knew it was almost perfect for
my Valiant Regal diorama. If you want to be picky, you can see that the news posters are
of the moon mission of 1969, not 1965, but fortunately I'm not that picky. The model used
here is a 1:43 Trax model of the AP6, and it's very nicely made indeed.

I have a soft spot for Valiants, not because I've ever owned one, but because there's a nickname for these cars which involves the suburb where I live in Sydney. Valiants in Sydney have earned the extra name of 'Marrickville Mercedes', because these were the status symbol cars bought and driven by migrants who had made a success of themselves in their new home, Australia. Marrickville is the migrant suburb par excellence in Sydney. Even though it is slowly gentrifying now, alas, it's still home to lots and lots of Greeks, Italians, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Africans, Turks, Lebanese, Indians and Sri Lankans, Indonesians and many many other cultures. Everyone seems to get along with each other pretty peacefully and happily too.

There are still plenty of Marrickville Mercs getting around, being driven very slowly by Old Greek men. Their grandsons are waiting patiently for Pop to drop off the peg, so they can get their hands on that mint condition Valiant. Can't blame them really.

So a diecast collection for this Marrickville boy just wouldn't be complete without a couple of Marrickville Mercs in the garage.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Long-distance Corvettes

Well, long time no blog! I've been busy. I've been busy driving. Four thousand miles in fact, and so it's time to report in on how our 57 Corvette went on its long road haul, and to show you a few photos along the way. Before I show the map, here's the steed itself.

Pictured in its home town, with fairly well-known landmarks in the background, the Corvette was ready to soak up some US hospitality, burn lots of US tar, and bask in stacks of US sunshine.

And here's the map. The wriggly blue bits are the road miles. After a short stay in Hawaii we started our road trip in that den of iniquity, Las Vegas, then headed east, stopping along the way at Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Lubbock, San Angelo, Austin, Galveston, Lafayette, Natchez, New Orleans, Montgomery, Macon, Savannah, Charleston, then, finally, Atlanta. At this stage we abandoned the car trip, jumped on a train to New York. Then we flew to San Francisco, then flew home to Sydney. Eight weeks, lots of miles, and here's some holiday snaps taken along the way.

Hilo, Hawaii, on the 'Big Island', where those very active volcanoes are.

Red Rock Canyon, not far west of Las Vegas. It was cool that day, only 97°F.

Getting our kicks on Route 66, somewhere between Flagstaff, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Where else but Santa Fe, New Mexico, where adobe-style is compulsory, you hear me!

Trying to make our mind up about which road to take down in the 'Hill Country' of Texas, in the town of Mason, where everything is very German. Nice bratwurst, potato salad and sauerkraut around here.

Natchez, Mississippi, with a riverboat on the mighty river itself in the background.

The French Quarter of New Orleans, party town.

It's a lot quieter on the banks of the Alabama River in Montgomery, Alabama.

And the surf was as flat as a tack the day we visited Tybee Island, on the Atlantic Coast, just east of Savannah, Georgia.

Who would have thunk that you'd get snow in New York in October, but we did.

Here's the Corvette parked outside Yankee Stadium in the snow, real snow, in October.
And here's the Corvette overlooking those steep, steep hills of San Francisco.

Finally, an amazing postscript to the whole long-distance Corvette story. This is the 1:43 model I wanted to take with me across the United States, a lovely bronzey-golden Corgi-Matchbox 56 model Corvette, which I bought on eBay in March 2011. It never turned up, not in April, May, June or July. I figured it was lost forever. As we were leaving on our trip in early September, I bought the cheap little 
57 Corvette which features in all our photos, as a substitute. It's not anywhere near as nice as this Corgi one, but it did its job wonderfully well. And then, a week or so after I arrived home in Sydney in early November, the 'missing' Corgi Corvette magically appeared in the mail.  The box wasn't that damaged, and nothing seemed amiss with the way it was addressed. It had just gone on its own long-distance journey for all those months, from March to November, then decided to show up when I got home.

The guy who sold me the 'missing' Corvette had kindly refunded my money after about three months of waiting, so I got in contact with him to refund his refund and pay for it all over again. He sells a lot of cars via eBay, and this golden 56 Corvette is indeed a record-setter in its own right as far as his experience goes.

And so now I have two record-setting, long-distance 1:43 scale Corvettes in my diecast cabinet: the road version, and the post-office version.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Golden Fleece

When a commercial brand is all around you, it's hard to imagine it ever disappearing completely. But it happens often and here in Australia it happened to Golden Fleece Petrol. Once upon a time there were Golden Fleece Service Stations everywhere, and now there are none. In fact they disappeared many years ago, in the 1980s.

What got me thinking about Golden Fleece, with their yellow merino sheep logo, is the 1:43 scale diecast FB Holden ute that I bought recently. It's a nice quality model made by Australian outfit Trax, and so I thought it'd be the perfect subject for my next diorama.

The best photo of the era I could find was this one, of the Golden Fleece Service Station in
the Sydney suburb of Auburn. The original pic was black and white, so I have colourised it
prior to adding not only the yellow ute, but also the red and white FB Holden of the same
vintage (a cheap little 1:64 scale model I found in a railway modeller's shop). The mother
and child, and the old guy in the overalls are also ring-ins, to add a bit more to the scene.

A nice detail on the Golden Fleece utility is that it is marked as "Production Distribution, HC Sleigh Limited", and HC Sleigh was the company which started Golden Fleece petrol back in 1913. While Golden Fleece petrol hasn't been sold for ages (Caltex took them over in 1981) you can still occasionally see some Golden Fleece signage here and there, especially in the older, quieter country towns.

To Australians of my vintage this is a familiar symbol seen everywhere, and apparently the
golden rams that used to sit on the top of every Golden Fleece petrol bowser are now quite
collectable. You can see two of them in the diorama above.
As for the Holden FBs themselves, my dad owned one, but it suffered by comparison in my eyes, because it was the car which replaced our Mark V Jaguar, and the humble Holden was definitely not a patch on the Jag. Mind you, it was cheaper to run and more reliable and more suited to Dad's income level than the Jag, but to kids like me the Holden just wasn't cool. Nevertheless I have a little residue of affection for them after all these years, because they were a fundamentally good family car, and Holden sold thousands and thousands of them, and they hardly ever let their owners down.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On the banking at Monza

Those wonderful banked corners at the old Monza circuit are a classic case of "it seemed like a good idea at the time" but as things turned out they weren't such a brilliant idea after all. Nevertheless, in their short glory days through the 1950s, when they were built, they provided a venue not only for some memorable Grands Prix, but also a fair bit of speed record setting, and that's what I'm planning on celebrating with several dioramas I have made.

The scene is 1956, and the red car is the Bertone-bodied Fiat Abarth 750 streamliner; the
silver and yellow car is the Bertone Fiat Abarth 500 streamliner. These things would set
records in their capacity class for the hour, six-hour, 24-hour, 48-hour, etc and also the
5000km and 10, 000km marks. These must have been colossally gruelling drives for
the teams involved, and a testament to how well they built the engines and chassis.
Both the models in this diorama are 1:43 scale, made by Metro.
Moving on to 1956, and the yellow streamliner whizzing around on the Monza banking is
a Pinifarina-bodied Fiat Abarth 500. A bit later on in this posting I have another photo of
this little record-setter sitting in the pits, so you can have a closer look. Like the models
above, this is also a 1:43 by Metro.
Moving on to 1961 and the Pininfarina Abarth has taken on an entirely different shape again.
Here it is glimpsed through the trees, flying around on the banking. This model is a bit nicer
close up than the Metros, heavier in the hand, too, a 1:43 by Solido.
So let's have close-up look at some of these cars. First the Bertone-bodied cars from 1956.

I've parked these models in front of a suitably ancient garage, but as far as I know this
garage is nowhere near Monza.

And now for something completely different from me, not a diorama done in Photoshop, but instead a genuine black and white photo of the real car from the era, colourised by me in Photoshop instead. As my only reference for colours is my little scale model, please accept my apologies for any errors in the choice of colours.

The wonderful thing about this photo is that it's real. My wife is a graphic designer with a
great eye for how a photo should look (her timely advice has rescued a couple of my dioramas
from disaster), and so when she walked into my study and saw me colourising this photo,
she immediately thought it was another diorama and said "you've got the proportions on
the driver all wrong, he looks too big." And so I was very glad to tell my art director that the
proportions are in fact absolutely perfect. These cars were tiny!
And so, to finish off this celebration of Monza and its banking, and the wonderful Abarth-powered streamliners which set records galore there in the 1950s and early 60s, let's have a look at the banking itself, and then let Fangio take us for a spin around there in an Alfa. First, the banking.

One of the best ways to appreciate the banking is to look at it from the underside. It's steep!
And now, courtesy of a Pirelli tyre ad on You Tube, Fangio at Monza in an Alfa.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cord 810 Phaeton

One constant problem I've encountered when trying to create my little photographic dioramas of my diecast models is finding suitable backgrounds in colour. With this diorama I'm moving into a new era. I've taught myself to colourise an old black and white photo, and use this as the background.

(I really should credit the wonderful photo library where I found this black and white image, and many others that I plan to use. It's Shorpy's  a place where you can click and watch amazingly high quality, beautiful old photos of realistic, ordinary life from yesteryear, for hours on end. It's well worth many visits.)

Here, I've parked a Cord 810 Phaeton from 1936 in front of a filling station from that era.
The original photo lacked people, and so I borrowed two old chaps chatting in the doorway
of a produce store, and slotted them in. And then in the car I wanted a pretty girl from
the 1930s, and there was none prettier than Jean Harlow. For the record, the Cord is
a 1:43 model by IXO, and it's such a well-known classic that I don't really need to say
much about it, other than I have never seen one in the 'flesh'. I'd like to!

Instead, what I thought I'd finish with is a little tribute to the girl in the car, Jean Harlow. I only knew her name, and that she was a big star back then. What I didn't know is that she died at the tender age of 26, of kidney failure, when she was one of the biggest stars in the world. This was back in the 1930s, a time before antibiotics were freely available, and she simply became ill during filming (it seems the girl played and partied hard, for sure), she was misdiagnosed, the treatment was wrong, and she died within a few days. And so here's to you, Jean Harlow.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Overtaking manoeuvres

As a car-loving kid growing up in the 60s there was nothing better to me, not anything better, than an E-type Jaguar. And the really cool thing about E-type Jags back then is that occasionally I'd see one on the streets, and they actually looked better and sounded better in the flesh, too. At the time I knew off by heart all of its vital statistics, and that top speed of 148mph was burned into my brain. Nothing else came close, and nothing that purred like the Jag went half as fast. Even the souped-up cars that roared and thundered didn't get anywhere near 148mph, and that made the Jag even more wonderful to me. So fast, so smooth, such a great-looking body, and it managed to make all that speed and power without the unholy racket made by all those souped-up V8s and sixes that the poor boys owned.

At the time I had heard of (well, read about) Cobras, both AC Cobras and Carroll Shelby's cars, but they weren't on my streets, and they didn't look as classy as the Jag in the magazines, either. But there is one statistic that I really should have paid more attention to back then. The 7.0 litre (427 cubic inch) Mk III Cobra (1965-1967) had a top speed of 164mph in the 'road' version, and the competition model went even faster (185mph).

And so, as I have the E-Type Jag and the Cobra sitting side-by-side in my diecast cabinet, I thought the only fair thing to do with a diorama of these two is to have the Cobra overtaking the Jag, somewhere out in the countryside where the roads are straight and the policemen are down the road in a cafe, having lunch.

I imagine that while doing 148mph the Jag cabin, with the windows up, might be a more
comfy, quieter spot to be. But all your senses would be tingling if you're in the Cobra roaring
by with another 16mph up your sleeve to wave 'bye-bye' with. For the record, the Jaguar model
is 1:43 by Kyosho, and the Cobra 427 is an old one in nice condition, made by Solido.
So, to finish off this posting, let's go for a ride in the AC Cobra. This You Tube video was done in New Zealand, with the Cobra rather effortlessly following a RSV Aprilia along a winding road, while negotiating a fair bit of traffic at times. It sounds nice!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bopping at the Diner

It's a bit of a no-brainer to decide on a diorama theme with some model cars. Take this 1956 Ford Thunderbird, a nice 1:43 model made by Franklin Mint. It just screams American Diners to me, whether you're from TV culture and thinking of Happy Days, or movie culture and thinking of American Graffiti.

And so I deep-etched a still of Livvie Newton-John and John Travolta doing their thing
from Grease, popped it into the foreground with the T-bird in the middle. To add an element of
unfolding drama I decided that we needed some trouble brewing from the nicely dressed
biker in background, standing behind his Vincent Black Shadow (a 1:24 model by IXO).

The Brando shot really caught my eye, because he's in his garb from 'The Wild One' but the bike he is sitting on isn't usually one that you think of being part of the Wild One. Here's the original shot.

Look in the bottom centre of the photo and Marlon, aka Johnny, is sitting on a Moto Guzzi,
the Italian marque which I own. It looks like an old 50s Guzzi, too, maybe even a Falcone,
a beautiful old 500cc single that every Moto Guzzi owner probably dreams of at least riding
once, or better still, having in his/her lottery-winning garage full of bikes and cars.

This is my Starline 1:24 model of the Falcone. The tank decal is in the right spot for the
Brando photo, and the rear mudguard looks mostly right, too. Sure, the tank is chromed
and the pillion seat isn't there, but there were many different Falcones made. Who would
have thought there was a Guzzi Falcone there on set to be pictured with Brando?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Farmer's market day

When I started enthusiatically collecting diecast model cars, never did I imagine that I'd develop an interest in things like the Renault 4, complete with cages filled with ducks, geese and chickens, pictured here. But that's tangents for you. They kind of spin off from the main wheel, don't they?

This diorama is just an attempt to put the poultry farmer's pickup in some kind of context.
In the background is a three-wheeled Piaggio Ape, complete with pig and bale of hay.
The Ape is a 1:32 model by Hachette, while the Renault is 1:43 by Universal Hobbies, but
the important feature of the Renault is that it's a hand-made modification by a chap
named Daniel Lardon, from whom I have bought two other equally charming models, of
a Peugeot J7 'Friterie' hot chip van, and a Citroen Type H van converted into a mobile
vegetable and fruit seller's van. You can see the dioramas I have done of them here.
While most of my car models are conventional cars (if you can call things like Duesenbergs, Ferraris, Delages, Abarths, Gordinis etc etc 'conventional' cars), I love the daggy, ordinary charm of Mr Lardon's modifications, which you can see at his eBay store here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


There are several people I know whose first name is not their christened first name. My dad was one. First name Robert, everyone called him Neil, which was his middle name. The driver of the car below was called, on the the day he was born, Ian Geoghegan, but to everyone who watched him drive very fast he was Pete. Not sure why that is so, but while trying to find out I came across this great obituary of the man who died in 2003. He was the first to win five touring car championships, a feat he achieved in the 1960s, mostly behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang.

However, in this photoshopped diorama set in the early 1970s, he's behind the wheel of a
Chrysler Valiant Charger RTE49. This 1:43 model is by Trax. Touring Car racing has long
been dominated by Ford and Holden in Australia, but the Valiants not only did respectably
well against their foes, they managed one feat that race wins don't guarantee: they became
a much-sought-after cult car. Aussie car buffs love a nice Charger. They're a good looking car.
Now, I wouldn't pretend to know all that much about Chargers in the technical way. Reading about them in Wikipedia taught me a stack I didn't know, but Valiants in general are still a daily event for me. They haven't made or sold them here for 30 years now, but there are still a few about. However, the Sydney nickname for the Valiant was always a "Marrickville Mercedes" due to the migrant community's love of Valiants, and Marrickville is about as migrant as a Sydney suburb gets (which is why I like living here). Marrickville is still a Valiant hot spot. There's a guy down the street with a nice V8 Valiant Regal, the one with the vinyl roof. There's a couple of old mint Valiants driven by even older Greek men at 20mph. I am sure their grandsons are waiting patiently for old pop to drop off the peg, so they can have his Valiant. And there is even quite a nice old Charger running around here too, and its owner doesn't drive it slowly, either. Good on him!


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Angle parking in New Zealand

I've just realised that angle parking is a great way to include multiple cars in a diorama, and so for what promises to be the first of several angle-parked dioramas, I went looking for a nice old pub. I started looking for Australian pubs, but when I chanced across this nice Kiwi pub that's in the North Island, especially with the 'Home of the Republic' slogan, that won me over. And so here we are, angle parking in New Zealand somewhere in the mid 1950s.

From left to right, the drivers of the FJ Holden (1:43 by AutoArt), Peugeot 203 (Solido) and
Series 1 Land Rover (Oxford) have all stopped to quench their thirst. Holdens and Land Rovers
would have been as common a sight in NZ as they were in Australia at the time, as both
sides of the Tasman Sea bought most of their cars from England and Australia. The Peugeots
were quite popular in Australia, thanks to their wins in long-distance rallies such as the
Redex. I'm not sure if they sold well in New Zealand or not in the 1950s, but they would
have been as perfect a choice for NZ as they proved to be in Australia.

For my previous diorama of the Citroen SM being driven at speed by a woman wearing a scarf, I attempted to redress the overly male bias in my choice of drivers, and for this one I have created a more diverse ethnic mix of drivers and bystanders, in the interests of social realism.
My wife and I visited the South Island of New Zealand a few years ago and loved the place, and so the North Island has always been high up on our list of places to visit next. If we do make it there, I am sure my wife will at some stage ask me 'why is it so important that we visit Whangamomona?' I just hope that I'll be able to angle park outside the pub when I get there.

Monday, May 2, 2011

70s style

When you think of those flared trousers, hairy sideburns, wide ties and dodgy wallpapers, the 1970s do not have the best reputation when it comes to fashion and style. Yet, when you look at these two sleek cars pictured below, this decade wasn't all bad taste. (Some might wonder whether the architecture of the 70s-designed Pompidou Centre in Paris, outside which these cars are parked, is the ultimate in 70s good taste or bad taste, but we have enough bland buildings in this world, and the Pompidou Centre certainly isn't guilty of being bland.) Nor are these cars.

The blue Citroen CX and the gold Citroen SM are still as beautiful as ever. If I could have my
pick of any of the long line of Citroens, delivered to me today as a brand-new vehicle for me
to own and live with day-to-day, I would love to be the owner of a CX. This Prestige model
would do me. I am sure the man on the bicycle in my little diorama agrees. By the way,
the CX model is 1:43 by Minichamps, and the SM is made by IXO.

If the factory was fresh out of brand new CXs but there was a gold SM going begging, I'd
have it! For this diorama of an SM at speed out on the highway, I thought I'd reverse my
inadvertent sexist bias and put a woman behind the wheel of a fast car. She's in a hurry!
Why would I have a CX instead of an SM? Am I mad? Well, I know I'd lose my licence quickly in an SM, and I do think a gold SM would be a cop-magnet, too. But I also feel that the SM is a bit of a one-off Citroen 'special', and so I prefer the CX as the ultimate development of the line of Citroens which started back in 1955 with the original DS. All along the way, through the 50s, 60s and into the 70s with the CX, Citroen had managed to make some very swift and comfortable open-road cars using surprisingly detuned, smallish 2.0 to 2.3 litre four-cylinder engines. It's one of the forgotten features of the great Citroens, Peugeots and Renaults of this era is that they won rallies and went fast on highways without relying on big, powerful engines to haul them along, as so many other marques from other countries did.

With the SM they slotted a powerful Maserati V6 into the place normally taken up by a smallish four, and no wonder the thing went so quickly. And no wonder the SM appeals even to people who normally don't get too excited about French cars. The SM had a bigger, sexier, more powerful engine than anything else slotted into a mainstream French car before then. I am sure it would be a thrill to drive.

But the old French car fan in me says the humble 2.3 litre four in the CX is actually something to be proud of, as much a part of the Citroen tradition as the hydro-pneumatic suspension and the comfy lounge-chair seats. I am sure a long drive in a new CX would be  comfortable and fast, both a thrill and a pleasure.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Citroen rally action

Ever since one motoring fool dared another similarly minded daredevil to race one another to somewhere far, far away, the French have been at the forefront of car rallying. The first ever car races held anywhere were, essentially, endurance rallies on dusty open roads. 

Since the end of the second world war the French, with their Citroens, Peugeots, Simcas, Renaults, Gordinis, Panhards and various backyard specials have always been competitive in rallying. Most of my diecast rally cars are from the 1950s and 60s, and most of these were very close to being bog-standard French sedans. 

Of course modern rally cars of the last few decades now wear lightweight bodies which conceal the fact that underneath their clothes they're million dollar special vehicles purpose-built for rally racing. They're nothing like their sedate, everyday equivalents, and so I'm not quite so interested in them and have only one modern-era rally car in my diecast cabinets – it's this one: Sebastien Loeb's Citroen C4.

For this latest 'action' diorama, using an IXO 1:43 model of the Loeb Car, I have figured out
how to add 'dust' to trail behind the car, just like the real ones do.

The reason for breaking out into the modern era is simple, folks. Parked outside my house is my own Citroen C4 in 1:1 size, and while I thought it would be a bit naff to have a little silver model of my own sensible and reliable 2009 model Citroen C4, a 1:43 diecast model of the multiple World Rally Championship winner was a very appealing notion indeed. My 1:1 car is never going to win any races, but it's won me. It's a 1.6 litre turbo diesel, and I love it (it's my first diesel). It's probably the best car I have ever owned. I love its incredibly grunty engine that demolishes hills with ease, and I love its unbelievably good fuel economy, which gives me 5 l/100km when doing 110 km/h highway driving, which works out at a touring fuel range of more than 1200km per tankful. It's a lovely, comfy two-person tourer, perfect for my wife and I.
But back to the rally-racing, diecast-collecting topic at hand: Sebastien Loeb and the Citroen C4. Seven World Rally Championships in a row from 2004-2010. Great driver, great team effort by Citroen. 
Of course I'm going to finish off this little posting with a You Tube video of the boy in action. I love in-car footage, and so we're off to Spain for an eight minute section that starts off very fast on the dirt and then plunges downhill, also quite quickly, on the tar.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fiat Abarth 1000 in action

I'm starting to get the hang of working in Photoshop to create dioramas of my models. Here's my latest attempt at a diorama using Photoshop. It's a Fiat Abarth 1000 in action.

The model itself is a Brumm 1:43 of the Fiat Abarth 1000 which Gustav Edelhof drove to a
class win at the 1967 Nurburgring 1000. It really looks like it means business!
The basics of creating an 'action' shot with a blurred background are as simple as finding an existing action shot with a blurred background, and replacing the original car with a photo of my model. My first action shot of the Peugeot 403 at Phillip Island is still the one I like the most, as the background is accurate – it is Phillip Island – and much more atmospheric, with the tell-tale whitecaps of Bass Strait in the background telling you immediately where you are. I don't have a clue where my little Abarth is hurtling around.

However, this little action dio has a 'first' to its name. I've just figured out how to blur the wheels in Photoshop, to enhance the action feeling. I only started on using Photoshop last December, and the learning curve since then has been both interesting, sometimes exciting, and always steep.

I won't pretend that I know a lot about all the Abarths, beyond saying Carlo Abarth is to Italian tuning as Amedee Gordini is to French tuning, and both gentlemen are legends. I have half a dozen Gordinis in my diecast cabinets so far, I'm catching up with four Abarths now, and so the race is on!

Friday, April 22, 2011

In love with Karmann Ghias

Our photographer was on holidays with his girlfriend at the Gasthof Adler in Germany when he did a double-take as he recognised two celebrity guests arrive in a sleek 1960s Karmann Ghia. Could that be Angela Merkel and Michael Schumacher, away for a discreet, um... weekend together? No, apparently they're just Karman Ghia enthusiasts off to a gathering of the Karmann Ghia Fan Club, where Michael is a guest speaker. Michael had promised the Chancellor a quick drive down the country lanes with him would be the perfect way to get there.

Well, that's their story, but you can tell from the expressions on their faces that Michael
and Angela have been having a lot of fun in a beautiful old classic car.
What a wonderful looking car they are, too. I have to confess though that my real love of Karmann Ghias is to see them parked somewhere. Somehow when the engine starts and you hear that too-familiar flat-four Vee-Dub sound, some of the magic disappears. Nevertheless, they are a beautiful car. This model is a 1:43 by Minichamps. When I saw it, at first I thought "no, not olive-green, I want a yellow one" (not sure why). And now I really like the olive green, because it's a bit unusual, and it's the only olive-green car in all of my diecast cabinets. It's a soft colour that complements the soft, rounded lines nicely.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Duesenberg SSJ at the Roxy Theatre

What lucky chaps some of those films stars are. Lots of money, stacks of girls and nice, fast cars. Back in the 1930s two leading men in particular lucked out with the cars (I just presume they did well with the money and the gals), as each was the proud owner of this car, the Duesenberg SSJ, built in 1933. Given that only two of these cars were ever made, they were lucky boys indeed.

For my little diorama where else but a 1930s movie theatre. Now, don't trust this shot for
historical accuracy. Not sure where the theatre is exactly, it just looks right. And I know for
a fact that the movie posters are from different years, too. But if you're not fussy about
years and only give points for decades, then I'll get away with it. The model car is a 1:43
production by IXO, who have a lovely series of cars from this era in their range.
This is the 1930s version of a car which looked like it was going fast, when standing still. When underway, it lived up to its looks and went fast. It had a hell of an engine for its time. It was a twin cam 6.9 litre straight eight, with four valves per cylinder, and a supercharger bolted on as well. It made 400hp at 5000rpm and was reputedly good for 135-140mph, a brave adventure on the skinny cross-ply tyres of the era. As this SSJ is also the 'short wheelbase' version of an even larger car, you'd wonder about its stability at peak speeds. I suspect our very valuable movie-star owners never bothered to find out.

It was a supercar of its time, for sure, and like the supercars of today it was horribly expensive and only owned by squillionaires and movie stars. I love the way it looks and have models of several ridiculously expensive cars from this era, purely because I love the way they look. So, to finish off this little celebration of what fun it is to be a movie star, here's a little video from You Tube about Duesenbergs.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Minis at Bathurst 1966

Most of the cars I collect are 1:43 scale, and all the Photoshopped dioramas I have made so far have used 1:43 scale cars, but this time I'm using a tiddler to set up this posting. It's a 1:87 model of the second-placed Mini Cooper S at the 1966 Bathurst race (called the Gallaher 500 that year, after a forgotten and forgettable brand of cigarettes).

Number 17 was the second-placed car driven by Australians Fred Gibson and Bill Stanley.
The winning car (number 13) was driven by Rauno Altonen and Bob Holden. For my
diorama of them racing across the mountain I have used the "17" from the front car
to create a mythical number 7 Mini, but there was no number 7 Mini in the race, if the truth
be told. This 1:87 model is made by a German company, Bubmobil. I have several
other 1:87 cars made by them, including the three Ford GT40s which came 1-2-3 in
the 1966 Le Mans 24-Hour race, so one of these days I guess I'll do another
1:87 scale Photoshop diorama of a race scene.
1966 was an amazing result for the Mini Cooper S, winning the first NINE places in the race. For my diorama I wanted to capture that memory of seeing Minis in line, just racing each other all day. Here's an old shot from the race itself which tells the same story, even better.

This shot pinched from Google Images is only captioned with the name of Rauno Altonen, the
race winner and the guy in front. Several Mini Cooper S driving rally aces from Europe came
out for the Bathurst race, inlcuding Rauno Altonen, Timo Makinen and Paddy Hopkirk.

Speaking of Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Makinen, here's a quick little video of them doing some very fancy Mini driving on a skidpan somewhere in New Zealand. Great little cars, super skilful drivers.

FInally, if you have a serious amount of spare time on your hands, here's a link to a 56-minute documentary on the first seven years of the famous Bathurst race, including footage from Phillip Island in 60-63, where the great race originated, and about which I blogged quite recently in this posting on the Peugeot 403. The second half of the video has footage of the 1964-66 Bathurst races, and the roughness, narrowness and dangerousness of the track is just amazing to behold. Here's the linky to that doco.  

As the doco says at one stage, the track was so rough and dodgy in places that the bigger, heavier cars tended to break. At Bathurst that was my memory of it, watching it on TV as a young schoolboy. It was often the case that the bigger American Studebakers would lead the race for the first hour, then the retirements would start (but this didn't stop me loving those Studebaker Larks, some of which were used as police pursuit cars here in the 60s). 

But by lunchtime it was all about the Minis circulating at speed, way out in front, almost connected to each other like a quick little freight train.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hatchback origins

I've owned real 1:1 size hatchbacks for many years, because they're the perfect choice for our little two-person family of my wife and I, living here in Sydney's inner-city suburbs. Hatches are compact enough to squeeze into small parking spaces, they can be re-configured to carry home plants and hardware when I need to, and they can handle the highways for touring holidays with just the two of us to haul from A to B. Oh, and they're economical, fun to drive and I've always liked the way they look, come to think of it. Right now I'm driving a Citroen C4 1.6 litre turbo-diesel and it's probably the best car I have owned, but my other hatchbacks, including reliable but boring Mazdas, have also served me well.

In my diecast cabinet, however, there are precious few hatchback cars. Just not sexy enough, I guess. But the two hatches I do have are often cited as being either the 'first' hatchback, or the 'first successful' hatchback, or some other term suggesting an important little milestone in mass four-wheeled transport. Let me start with my idea of the 'first successful' hatchback, and we'll work back from there.

Before I started researching which car the historians think was the first hatchback, this is the
car which owned that title, in my mind at least. The Renault 16. It was certainly a successful
hatch. European Car of the Year in 1966 (it was launched in 65) the 16 was a sales success,
with 1,845,959 made by the time its model run ended 15 years later, in 1980. I've always thought
of this car as the 'first hatch' because it set the basic format which so many hatches made by
other companies followed: front engine, front wheel drive, sloping rear hatch door hinged
at the roofline, rear seats which fold down to make a flat floor for carrying bulky items.
By the way, this 1:43 model is by Minichamps, and it took a long time to find a 1:43 model
of a Renault 16 anywhere. For my Photoshopped diorama I have pictured it at a backwoods
service station here in Australia, a suitable spot for this very good touring car of the 1960s.
The trouble is that the historians say there were several earlier claimants to the 'first hatchback' title. The Citroen Traction Avant Commerciale of 1938 had a big hatch-style rear opening, hinged at the top. But it was a commercial vehicle, and hardly launched a trend. Add to that other claimants with hinged rear doors, such as the Aston Martin DB2/4, the Austin A40 Countryman of 1958, a Holden variant back in 1948, a De Soto from the US, and the Autobianchi Priumula of 1964 (plus some others) and suddenly the Renault 16 looks like it's well down the queue, but to my mind it's still the first successful hatch, because the complete package is what sold like hotcakes, and which so many other manufacturers copied. And so the Renault 16 can at least claim to be the first car which got the hatchback concept right, so right that everyone else copied it.

Now, there's another car older than the Renault 16 which is often labelled as the 'first hatchback' and I'm comfortable with this choice, as it meets my criterion of being a sales success. It's the Renault 4.

There's a scene in the TV cartoon show 'The Simpsons' in which Lisa Simpson is thumbing
through a magazine called 'Non-Threatening Boys' and that's what this car seems to be like,
a 'non-threatening car'. A friendly face at the front which would not look out of place in one of
Enid Blyton's Noddy books, and a roomy, practical, versatile and economical vehicle behind.
The mighty little Renault R4, so successful that they made over 8 million of them in a model
run which stretched from 1961 through to 1992. Its rear door was top-hinged, the pattern of
the classic hatch, but it seems to me to be more a small wagon, maybe because its rear
end was almost vertical, and not the classic modern sloping back end of the Renault 16.
This 1:43 model of the Renault 4 by Edicola is pictured out in the countryside, where
it was as equally at home as it was in the world's cities and suburbs.

One thing I am sure of is that the 'first successful hatchback' was definitely a Renault, and the unwinnable debate gets down to 'which one', and that's based on your own private definition of the word 'hatchback' (and this was a term which didn't really become common in our language until around 1970, by which time both the Renault 4 and 16 had probably sold a million or more of each). So, let's finish off with a little advertisement-style video of the car which most people say is the first successful hatch, the marvellous Renault 4.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Action at Phillip Island

The famous annual 1000km race at the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst, New South Wales, actually started life as a 500 mile race at Phillip Island, Victoria, in 1960. Pictured below is the car that won the C Class in the famous race's first two years, and came so close to being the outright winner in the very first year that some people still maintain that it did win the race (although the officials didn't agree). It is, of course, a Peugeot 403, and the C-class winning team in both years, 60-61, was Geoff Russell and Dave Anderson.

This model is a 1:43 scale model originally by Altaya, but modified by an Australian enthusiast. It's number 3 in a limited edition production of 10 of these models. It's one of my favourites for many reasons, one of which is the great story of the race win that almost was.

I'm quite excited about this photo, as it is the first of what I hope will be a series of action shots
using my little diecast models. I was looking at a photo of a real action shot with just one car
in it, and it occurred to me that in Photoshop I could substitute my model for the real car, and the
blurred background of the action shot would do all the heavy lifting in giving that sense of
speed. Add a driver (in this case a deep-etched Jack Brabham driving a Cooper Climax in 1959)
and the only unrealistic thing is that the car is left-hand-drive, while the real car would be
right-hand-drive. It just looks more dynamic to have the driver on the viewer's side of the car.
The race win that almost was? Yep. It's like this. Each of the classes in the race started separately, at 30 second intervals. At the end of the race's 167 laps, the first car home across the finish line was the Class D Vauxhall Cresta driven by John Roxburgh and Frank Coad, seemingly the outright winner to all and sundry. However, the C-class winning Peugeot 403 finished soon after, also on 167 laps (the only other car to complete 167 laps), and it seems in the confusion of the finish of this inaugural race, the 30-second gap between the classes was somewhat forgotten. The Peugeot team claimed they finished less than 30 seconds behind the Cresta, and should have been the outright winner, but they never got anywhere with that claim, and so the inaugural winner of the famous race is down in the history books as the Cresta.

The model pictured here is captioned by its maker as the 1961 C-class winning car, as Russell and Anderson won that class in both years. It's notable for its distinctive red stripes, which made it easy for pit crews to pick out the car from the pack as it went around the course. 

The Armstrong 500 was held at Phillip Island for one more year, in 1962, and after that it moved to Bathurst, still called the Armstrong 500 for the 1963, '64 and '65 races. in 1966 it changed its name to the Gallagher 500, named after a brand of cigarettes if I remember correctly. In that first Gallagher, Mini Cooper Ss came home first-to-ninth, a race I remember very well. Perhaps that might be my next action diorama, as I do have a '66 Bathurst-livery Mini Cooper S in the cabinet...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Peugeot 404 Fire Extinguisher

There was always going to be a Peugeot 404 Light Truck (better known as a Pickup) in my diecast cabinet, but the issue was 'which one?'. It could easily be a plain white one, as that was the colour of the one owned by a close mate of mine, and which I drove and rode in many times. But white ones weren't so plentiful, and so I decided that fate would decide which type of 404 Pickup would arrive first in the mail. And it turned out to be this one, a French 'Pompiers' (ie, Fire Brigade) 404, and so for my cheesy little Photoshop diorama, it just had to be parked outside a Pompiers Station.

This 1:43 model by Atlas is a bit on the rough side, with an ill-fitting windscreen, but I do like
the ladder and the benches for the lads to sit on, however precariously.
While researching the 404 Pickup for this blog I was struck by how many of the 2.0 litre diesel powered versions are still in good supply. Here in Australia all (or most of) the 404 Light Lorries (which is what they were called here, or Light Trucks) came with the 1.6 litre petrol engine, and you still see them running around town often enough. That important difference aside, this was (and in many places still is) a wonderful work vehicle. Even the plain Peugeot 404 sedans were tough, but the Pickups were even tougher. The Pickups aren't just a sedan with a different body. These things were beefed up Pugs. Tougher suspension and a hypoid drive diff to replace the sedan's worm drive diff. They still came with that excellent rack and pinion steering and they handled remarkably well for a workhorse, and weren't remotely bothered by heading off-road. 

As my usual mainstay, You Tube, has a paltry collection of boring 404 Pickup videos, I thought to finish off my posting on this great vehicle that I'd go and plunder Google Images for a sampling of the many uses of the Peugeot 404 Pickup.

Of course, Fire Brigade duties! Here's a real one, in camionette mode.
Off to the camel races somewhere in the Middle East.
Carrying light loads of timber fuel in one of the former French African colonies. Are the
owners puzzled by the unexplained engine overheating problem?

Community taxi somewhere in Mauretania.
If we ever had to go back to basics and could only
produce one work vehicle for the whole world to
carry their goods around in, this would be one of
the best choices you could possibly make.