Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all. I hope 2013 is a great year for you.

Last year I did a Christmas-themed diorama, and so this is
the second year in a row, and when you have anything done
two years in a row, that's a tradition! Here's hoping Santa
brings you whatever you want, even if it's only peace on Earth.

What's Santa doing in a Citroen DS19 ute? Well, Santa has had to cut costs, like everyone else, and so he foolishly privatised sleigh maintenance, and ever since then he's had nothing but breakdowns, always at peak periods, like Christmas.

And so from time to time he has to use his reliable, comfortable and very stylish personal transport – the rig he drives the other 364 days of the year – and that's this Citroen ute. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hot lap at the Nurburgring

For a while, a few years ago now, I was a Gran Turismo devotee on Playstation, and of all the wonderful tracks that GT3 and GT4 had to offer, the Nordschleife at Nurburgring was where I went just to relax, if I had half an hour to spare. My car of choice for just a couple of quick laps of the Nurburgring was a BMW M3. Fabulous balance, deceptive speed, forgiving and fast, the M3 Beemer has it all.

And so recently when I spotted a BMW CSL in a genuine bricks-and-mortar model car shop in Sydney (Model Cars Too, in Clarence Street in Sydney city) I immediately knew which diorama that quick older-generation Beemer was going to star in. And so, ladies and gentlemen, start your engines, we are going for a quick lap of the Nordschleife at the Nurburgring in our Beemer.

This BMW 3.0L CSL is a 1:43 model by Spark. In the
background is a BMW 2002 Turbo, a Kyosho model in 1:64.
I used to run wide just after this corner in GT4 if I wasn't careful.

Bringing up the rear here is another Kyosho 1:64, a Porsche.

The famous carousel had to be included, of course!

And finally, what posting of a hot lap at the Ring would be complete without a real hot lap at the Ring? Here, a BMW M3 CSL tags along with a Porsche GT3. The first 15 seconds or so look a bit dark, but then the rest is perfectly bright, and somehow to me the feeling in this vid is just 'right', just how I remember those laps in the Beemer, in GT4. Fortunately there was very little traffic about that day, too, so sit back and enjoy one of the greatest modern cars circulating quickly around the greatest track.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Motoring along the Route Bleue

That small band of regular readers of my little diecast blog will know that I like to create dioramas using Photoshop, but I also like the more traditional 3-D dioramas as well. The sad fact is that I don't really have much skill at building things with my hands, and so I have resorted to buying some pre-made 3D dioramas, all in the fabulous 'Route Bleue' series made by Altaya. I have bought nine of them so far, and as I am rapidly running out of places to put them in my study, I think that's it... well unless I see something just irresistible.

So here's the Route Bleue show and tell.

Citroen Dyane 'Flowers' model, stopping lakeside at Annecy,
looking suspiciously like they are both lost and on holidays.
Citroen Type H van in Roanne selling an ice-cream to a little boy.
It's the people and the setting, as well as the cars, which draw
me to any diorama. I can't resist food vans of any sort....

Mercedes 280SL, with startlet perched on the bonnet, posing
for photos at the Cannes film festival.
Every time I see Mercedes sports car of this vintage I always
think of my sister Helen. It was her dream Lotto-win car and
sadly for her, she never won Lotto and hasn't owned a Merc.
Family of picknickers in a Renault Ondine at Aix-en-Provence.
Bread, butter, cheese, fruit, cakes, Thermos of coffee. Happy days.

Fisherman and his pooch stop in their Citroen Mehari to
dangle the line for a while, at L'Yonne.
A beekeeper driving a Morris Minivan stops to tend a hive
by a lavender field at Digne.

My one 'modded' diorama, of a Panhard Dyna stopping off
at Le Meridionale Cafe for refreshments. My 'mod' is that the
Route Bleue original car is a dull grey Dyna, and I thought
my lemon yellow Dyna (by Sunstar) looked a lot better than
the original scene, which was a bit brab and colourless.
Nice car, boring diorama! This is a Salmson S4E stopped by
the seaside at La Moyenne Corniche. Viewed side-on, you
can't see any people, as it's two oldies sitting on a bench and
a small kid walking by. The car and the pretty background
photo of the ocean make up for these deficiencies.

Last, definitely not least, my absolute favourite. Protesting
farmers dump a load of melons from their Peugeot 203 Pickup
onto the middle of the road, stopping the traffic.

Lovely attention to detail, those dumped, broken melons.

No to price rises! Love it...
The final thing to say about these Route Bleue dioramas by Altaya is that they are both plentiful and not very expensive. On eBay I've been paying anywhere between $10 and $25 for each one, with postage costs to Australia varying from $10 to $20 on top. On average each is costing about $30-$35 in my hand.

And they are plentiful, there's no shortage of them, so they're not exactly 'collectable' in the sense of being rare or valuable. I like that 'ordinary and common' thing about them. I'm not interested in 'capitalist collecting' – doing it to make a buck. I plan to keep every model I ever buy just because I like them – and I really do love these charming French dioramas by Altaya.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Circus Life

While I have been to several book launches in my time I've never been the one to actually get up in front of a crowd and help launch a book. But tonight I was on the other side of the podium, stepping in very happily to say a few words about a wonderful new book written by a friend of mine. Here it is, and what follows is, yes, a little promo for my friend Don's great book, but there's also a nice little story to start with of Don's book solving a diecast model mystery for me. 

The full title is "Circus Life: Australian
Motorcycle Racers in Europe in the 1950s".
Written by Australia's best motorcycle racing
journalist, Don Cox, it's a reference book
of coffee-table book proportions (480 pages,
33cm high, 25cm wide, 5cm thick). It's awesome.
I've worked with Don in the past and have
edited many of his stories, hence our connection.
This book hopefully will end up in libraries,
as well as in many homes. It's much more than
a motorcycle racing history book, it is social
history which documents this era superbly.
Now, before I launch into showing you a few favourite pages from the book, I thought I'd start with the way Don's book solved a little diecast model mystery for me.
This is a 1:24 scale model made by Starline of the 350cc
Moto Guzzi 'Bialbero' which won the World Championship
in the 350 class in 1953-54-55-56-57. I have figured out
that the strange word 'Bialbero' merely means 'twin cam' but
the remaining mystery for me was 'whose bike was it?'.
I know that an Australian, Keith Campbell, won the 1957
World Championship on a Guzzi 350 but I've never found
a photo of him on a Guzzi 350cc bike numbered 72.

Here's the Guzzi with Don's book,
and on page 465 is this photo below.

This is another Australian, Ken Kavanagh, winning the 1956
Isle of Man 350cc TT on the #72 Guzzi 350. At last I know!
And so at the book launch I mentioned this mystery then gave Don this model as a little memento of the book's launch (oh, and I have another Starline model of the #72 Guzzi ordered and on its way, to replace the one I gave to Don).

I'll give you the details on how to order the book, should you be interested, at the end of this posting, but in the meantime I've photographed some of the pages (hence the rough look of a few of them) to give you an idea of the amazing extent of Don's research and coverage of this era.

This isn't just motorcycling history, it's social history as well. Don is truly encyclopedic in his knowledge of motorcycle racing, always very accurate and detailed, but in this book he has excelled himself by telling the stories of the lifestyles of the racers, all Aussies abroad living in buses, vans or whatever they could manage that night. It's also the story of the wives, the girlfriends, the border crossings, the promoters, the wild nights and, unfortunately far too many young lives lost on dangerous circuits. On with the show...  

I'll only show you one or two motorcycle racing photos, which
do make up the majority of the photos in the book, of course.
This is a wonderful double-page spread showing Australian
Bob Brown riding to a win in East Germany.

The behind-the-scenes photos are pure treasure, and there's
lots of them. Allan Burt and Bob Brown's converted bus
took them all around Europe to race meetings.

The flying kangaroo on Jack Findlay and Kevin King's
Austin van told everyone where they were from.

The book's designer, Alan McArthur has used
 period posters at full page size, and they are
a delight. This is Czechoslovakia, 1957.

A brace of Manx Nortons, a very handsome sight.

While most of the photos are black and white, there's a good
smattering of colour shots too. This is Australian Roger Barker
pushing off to start at the 1957 Isle of Man TT. I'm sure that
vivid colour scheme was the only one in the race!

As mentioned earlier, the wives, girlfriends, mechanics and
other travelling companions all feature many times and get
to tell their stories too. This is Gwen Bryan stopped by the
side of Lake Como in Italy, near the Moto Guzzi factory. Her
husband Keith Bryan had a lot of success, as his flash
transporter readily testifies.

Family snap: Dawn and Neil Johnson with baby Peter.

Glamour: this lovely lass is Bernadette
 Somerville, at Brno.

Margot Agostini looking elegant in the paddock.

The girls go shopping at Spa Francorchamps.

This book covers so much ground, but it's also very much
a serious history of a motorcycle racing era. It dwells not
just on the main heroes back then: it successfully covers
dozens of racers who tried their luck in Europe. Don has
included the sidecar racers, the New Zealanders who were
there as well, plus so many Australian riders that I have
to admit that I hadn't actually heard of some of them until
I started to read this detailed and authoritative history.
Should you be interested in getting a copy of 'Circus Life', here's the details on how to order it. For anyone with an interest in motorcycle racing history, especially we antipodeans, this is a book which you can proudly leave on the coffee table for others to admire and browse through.

To order, please email
and include your mailing address.

How to pay
Via Paypal. 
is the account name.

Or, directly to the 

Plimsoll Street Publishing account, 
BSB 032 298 account no. 348961. 
Please put your name in the description box. 

Or, send a cheque/money order to:

Plimsoll Street Publishing Pty Ltd, 
PO Box 356, Haberfield, NSW 2045. Australia.

Au$99 plus $8 post & handling for books in Australia, mailed from Sydney.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Taking to the skies

Here's a change of pace for this little diecast collector, and in both cases these planes came into my collection as a result of reading a great book.

This is the Westland Lysander, a remarkable plane whose exploits during
the Second World War won it countless admirers. No, it's not a fighter plane
nor a bomber or anything like that. I like to think of it as an early 'Stealth'
flying machine. What it excelled at was short take off and landing, and
where this was incredibly valuable was in ferrying men, women and
vital supplies to and from the French Resistance during World War Two.

The model itself is 1:72 by Corgi (formal name Westland Lysander MkIIIA (SD) – V9367, No 161 Squadron, February 1942). It's number 1355 in a limited run of 2010 models. The model also comes with a large, black torpedo-shaped container for carrying deliveries (the usual stuff for the French resistance – weapons, explosives, radios) which is slung under the plane, but as it does nothing for the plane's looks I have left that black lump in the box. The rear canopy (over the rear-facing machine-gunner) also comes off, but the gunner looked cold with it off.

And the book which inspired this little purchase was 'Resistance' by Matthew Cobb. Recommended!

The second plane which arrived in the mail just yesterday came via a much more conventional biography, that of pioneer Australian aviator Bert Hinkler, by Grantlee Kieza. Bert flew many different planes, but almost all of them are unavailable as already made diecast model planes, and in fact almost all of them aren't available as kits, either. But one is available as a kit, the Sopwith Camel, the World War One British fighter.

Ready-made 1:72 Sopwith Camels are not common but I did find this one
built from a kit and sold cheaply enough on eBay. It's a bit rough around
the edges but infinitely better than anything I could build. It depicts the
Sopwith Camel flown by Canadian fighter ace, Roy Brown.

Now, "who's Bert Hinkler?" I hear you ask. An Australian of German descent, he was an aviation-mad Aussie schoolboy when the Wright Brothers first flew, and by the age of 19 he (in 1911) had managed to build a glider which flew successfully several times. He started off as an airplane mechanic and stayed one for the next 7 years. He was in the UK when World War I started in August 1914, so he joined the fledgling airforce as a mechanic and gunner and spent the next three years doing that. By late 1917 he had made it to Leiutenant and finally became a pilot. His first combat aircraft, flown in combat over Italy in 1918, was this plane, the tricky-to-fly but quite effective Sopwith Camel. The combination of its stubby wings and big radial engine made it an unstable but highly manoeuvrable thing, but Hinkler thrived it in as a pilot.

After the war he set countless solo long-distance records, the pinnacle of his achievements being the first to fly solo from England to Australia (in 15 days, in 1928). He was also the first to flow solo from Brazil to Senegal in Africa, crossing the South Atlantic alone, non-stop. A national hero in Australia, he kept on flying in Europe and the US until he crashed and died over Italy while flying a Puss Moth, in 1933.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Photographing the whole collection

Over the last month or so I have been slowly chipping away at a little project of photographing all my model cars in a nicer way. It has been fun to do, time-consuming for sure, but now the project is complete, very satisfying indeed. And best of all it has been very inexpensive, which suits my budget. And so I thought I'd share a couple of tips on how I've done it (and show you the results of course), in the hope it helps you to photograph your own collection on a super-low budget.

Here's the cheap set-up. My little Ricoh digital camera is set
to take macro shots. I sit it on a pile of books to keep it steady.
If I need a higher angle shot, add more books! The lightbox
itself is just a plastic storage bin with a sheet of A3 paper
stuck down with stickytape. Total cost $8. The lightbox is
pointed at the window where the natural light streams in,
but the clear plastic sides let in a bit of valuable light, too.
Instead of paying a fortune in artificial lamps to light the shots, I have simply been waiting for the right, bright, time of day, when natural light streams into my study. The natural light here is at its best for a couple of hours in the afternoon, so on weekends and other times when I can find a bit of time to take a couple more shots, I've been banging off photos of my little model cars and bikes this way.

Now, the results vary using natural light, so I do use Photoshop to tidy up the dark bits, should they occur. Here's an stark (ie, really bad) example of what I mean about 'dark bits'.

This one went really badly – the usual results are a lot, lot
better than this – but this shows what I mean very clearly.
By using the 'Dodge' tool in Photoshop, with a big 200 pixel
brush, it takes about 10 seconds to get rid of the muddy
bits and come up with a clean, crisp result such as I now
have here with this very lovely Peugeot 404 Wagon.
By comparison, this photo of two Lancia Asturas hardly
needed any attention at all in Photoshop.

So, in dealing with natural light while photographing indoors (I turn off all other indoor lights when photographing, of course) the results can be a bit variable, and they are not as good as a studio set-up with the control of lighting available there. However, for my humble, amateur, collector purposes, they are fine and most importantly the cost is minimal.

I'm so happy with the results of the photography project that I have uploaded them all to Photobucket, and now at the end of this blog (below the diorama slideshow, and below the 'blogs I visit' lists) I have set up yet another slideshow filled with my whole diecast collection, a bit more than 300 photos in all. Let me know what you think!

Big tip: the slideshow here on the blog only shows a small selection, so simply click on the bit saying "view all": this will take you to Photobucket and my albums there, and in there click on the "view as slideshow" and you can then enjoy the whole show as a nice presentation.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Check out the slideshow

I've just spent the last half-hour figuring out how to set up a slideshow of all the dioramas I have done in Photoshop (96 so far, says Photobucket), starting with the relatively crude (or at least very simple) early ones, then slowly getting better as time has gone by, since I started back doing them back in late 2010.

The slideshow is at the bottom of the page, but to celebrate this minor improvement to the blog, here's my pick of the 10 dioramas which I am most pleased with, for one reason or another. They're in no particular order – picking the top 10 was hard enough!

Peugeot 403 at Phillip Island, 1960, my first 'action' shot.
Mythical arms summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 1969, with
Brezhnev and Nixon smiling for the cameras.

Citroen C4 World Rally Championship, Sebastien Loeb driving.

Holden FBs at a Golden Fleece Service Station in Sydney;
using my first colourised black and white background photo.

Jaguar Mark V, my old family car, at the cricket.

Citroen Type H Fruit and Vegetable van.

Fiat Abarth Record Car 1960, glimpsed through the trees
as it speeds around the banking at Monza.

Chrysler Valiant R series, with a Ford Falcon behind, in
a suburban fantasy about a new car owner's pride.

Borgward Traumwagen ('Dream Car') pictured in a scene
showing the future as it was imagined back in the 1950s.
Renault Floride and Peugeot 404 cabriolet somehwere on
the French Riviera.

So that's my top 10 so far. Hopefully the slideshow thing (see below this post) will work OK for you. I'd be interested to hear from you whether you agree with my top 10, or if something else appeals a bit more.

Big tip: the slideshow here on the blog only shows a small selection, so simply click on the bit saying "view all": this will take you to Photobucket and my albums there, and in there click on the "view as slideshow" and you can then enjoy the whole show as a nice presentation.