Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fun in Antibes

When the sun is shining cabriolets come into their own, and pictured here in Antibes on the French Riviera, two young men about town in their charming Panhard Dyna Juniors are taking some lovely young ladies for a spin around the waterfront.

As always, these model cars are 1:43 scale. The yellow one is made by Bizarre, from resin,
and the red one is a traditional metal diecast model made by the Spanish firm, IXO. There aren't
that many times when I bother to buy the same model car in two colours, but I do have a soft
spot for Panhard Dyna Juniors. I just love their cuteness, and also the way they managed
to offer drivers all the pleasures of a soft-top car without asking a fortune to buy one. As the
You Tube video below points out, the cabriolet Dyna cost less than the sedan.

I told a friend recently about how cheap the various Panhard models have been to buy, and fairly accurately he observed that perhaps that's because almost no-one outside France, and under 55 years of age, has heard of them. And so I hope to set the record straight, to some small degree, with this posting.

Panhard had something in common with Citroen, who eventually took them over. Both were marvellously innovative car-making companies which were not afraid to be different. (Vive la France!). Panhard, unfortunately, went broke being innovative, while it took a couple of decades longer before Citroen, too wobbled down onto its financial knees. Fortunately, Citroen managed to survive and they still produce excellent cars, while Panhard, alas, only lives on thanks to the efforts of the enthusiasts who restore and maintain the great old ones from times gone by.

And so onto our video, which includes (at 4.44) some Panhard Dyna Junior content, but either side of that moment there's a good little history of Post-War Panhards, and especiallya good look at the Dyna, which is mechanically very similar to the Dyna Junior Cabriolet. A mere 850cc flat twin engine produced a lot of pleasure for its owners, it seems. The Panhard enthusiasts are also worth the price of admission as well.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

John Deere Lunchbreak

Driving across New Mexico and Texas, you'll occasionally see billboards like this one, offering you a free 72oz (four and a half pound) steak... provided you can eat it all in one sitting. On our driving holiday there last year, we passed up on that kind offer of enough food to kill you, but I did bring home a memento of that wonderful 4000 mile trip across the US: this 1950 Chevrolet 3100 Pickup, in John Deere livery.

To tell the truth, I'm neither a Chev man nor a major Pickup fan, but I do like diecast cars
and this was almost the only diecast vehicle of any kind that I saw in a shop anywhere
along my 4000 mile journey. So I snapped it up as soon as I saw it. Besides, it was just
10 bucks, I love green and yellow anyway, and I wanted a diecast souvenir! I've been
told by collectors a lot more knowledgeable than me that there are hundreds of different
diecast things sold in John Deere livery, so they're not exactly rare or valuable.
Now that it's safely back home here in Sydney, Australia, I like it for itself. It's a risky business
putting opening and closing doors on a cheap 1:43 diecast model, but the maker has pulled it
off quite respectably. The whitewall tyres are tizzy, but I like them nevertheless.
Even the underside is not too shabby, either, with a genuine spare
tyre and wheel, plus the outlines of the drivetrain and engine
to be enjoyed as well – and that's a lot more detail than you usually
see in even the medium priced 1:43 scale models. So, for my
ten bucks I am now a loyal John Deere fan!
The scarcity of diecast model shops in the US is such a shame. We're blessed in Sydney to have at least three good ones that I know of, and there really is not much better fun for a diecast fan than wandering into a shop full of models and temptations and spending an hour or so deciding (or at least dreaming about) what to get next.

And so where did I score my cheap diecast souvenir? In a hamburger joint, but not just any old one. It's in the old town area in Albuquerque New Mexico, the Romero Street Grill. They also happen to make the best hamburger I ate in eight weeks and 4000 miles in the US – ask for the green chile cheeseburger (with a John Deere pickup on the side). The link I posted to it is a review which is only so-so about the place, but if you're ever in Albuquerque, give them a try.

Finally, to finish off this very Texan, country-style posting, here's the only song I know about John Deere, 'The John Deere Tractor Song', sung by the guy who wrote it, the legendary Don Walser, the rolling stone from Texas.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sir Jack at Monaco, 1959

It will come as no surprise to discover that my Aussie childhood racing hero in the 1960s was Jack Brabham, now Sir Jack. World Champion in 1959 and 1960, Jack then did what no-one else had ever done: in 1966 he again became World Drivers Champion, but this time he did it in a car he designed and built himself (with due credit of course to the real designer, Ron Tauranac, and the real engine builder, Phil Irving, of Vincent fame). As well as already owning a Trax model of the 1966 BT19 Brabham car, I've recently acquired a model of his 1959 car, a Cooper Climax, and to celebrate the purchase I thought I'd do something a bit different in the way of a Photoshopped diorama. Here goes...

Here's Jack hurtling into a corner at Monaco in the Cooper, in a scene re-created using a
Brumm 1:43 model of the Cooper.

And here's the original photo on which my diorama is based – it's a wonderful study of
concentration and speed. Now, I know my diorama is not a patch on this great original
shot, but it was fun trying to re-create a true action shot using a diecast model.

The Brumm model is a nice thing, and they've captured the butch, aggressive body shape
well. With its engine behind the driver and in front of the back axle, the Cooper set down
the basic layout of Formula One cars that hasn't changed for over 50 years. It's an historic
car that probably doesn't get as much kudos as it deserves. For the record, Jack wasn't the first
to win in a Cooper. In the previous year, 1958, Stirling Moss had won the Argentine GP in a

Cooper, and after that Maurice Trintingnant won 58 Monaco in a Cooper. In fact Jack
Brabham had signalled the changing of the guard even earlier on, coming sixth at Monaco
in a Formula 2 Cooper in 1957. When he won in 1959, no-one was surprised!

Jack winning at Monaco in 1959 was a very big thing for Australian motor sport. It was the season opener, so everyone was watching, and Jack became the first Australian to win a Formula One race, coming home with the lap record for good measure. From that moment on, I was a fan, even if I was only six years old then! 

And so, to finish things off, let's hop in with Sir Stirling Moss for a few laps in a 1959 Cooper...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Holiday season snacks

Let's face it, far too many people eat too much crap all the time, but even the most conscientious people eat a bit of junk food during the holiday season. Here in Australia, with the festivities taking place in the middle of summer, the temptations to eat ice-creams, hot dogs, burgers, chips and other threats to Western Civilisation are just about everywhere – at home, at the beach, out on the street – we're surrounded by it. And so I thought I'd do a little diorama celebrating World Junk Food Day, whenever and wherever it occurs.

The models used here are, on the left, a 1:76 railway scale model from Oxford Diecast, of
Bob's Hot Dogs (with a suitable bunch of healthy young people about to be led astray).
On the right is a 1:43 Premium Classixxs model of a Gino's Gelato sidecar outfit, powered
by a Zundapp Bella 204 scooter.
Now, I've always been a bit of a scooter fan – owned one a one stage and have ridden many, and so there was always going to be room for scooters in my diecast cabinets. As soon as I saw my first diecast scooter with a sidecar attached I decided they were what I wanted to buy, and so far I have managed to accumulate three of them.

On the left is the Zundapp Bella Gelato seller, from Premium Classixxs. In the foreground
is an old Matchbox Lambretta, in play-worn but OK condition. I got quite a shock when I
ventured onto eBay to find one of these. In mint condition, in an original box, they can fetch
over $200. My price range is more around the $20-$30 mark, and so the trick is to buy one
that is a bit knocked about, not in its box, but still looks good from three feet away.
I finally found this one for about $30, and it's great. In the background, at the right, is a
dreadfully botched job (by me) of assembling and painting a 1:43 white metal kit of a Vespa
with a Swallow sidecar. If you're not familiar with the Swallow name, go look up the
history of Jaguar cars and you'll find they started out in life (in the 20s & 30s) as
coachbuilders, and one of their lines was sidecars for motorcycles.

Finally, an action shot of me on a Vespa PX 200E, back in the 1980s. This isn't the scooter
I owned – I had a Honda Lead 125 for several months – but I loved riding Vespas when
I got the chance. They reminded me of the big twin BMW bikes of the times: very very
solidly built, with clunky gearboxes, quirky but basically sound handling once you learned
to ride it right, a grunty engine and a comfy seat. 
There's a whole fascinating history behind Vespas which I guess I can make
the subject of a posting here one day, but right now that's it from me. I think I have a bit more junk food to eat. It is the holiday season after all!