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.