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!