Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Obligatory Vintage "Cats-driving-a-car" Picture

Obligatory "Cats-driving-a-car" picture. I finally broke down under the pressure of the internet and posted this 1940's shot of felines in a Ford...

Monday, April 29, 2013

One-Offs #3: The LaFrance Maltese Cross Hood Mascot

In this continuing feature series on the strange and rare, we'll take a look at a super-cool hood ornament, one that  would make any hot-blooded hot-rodder drool with desire. No, it's not a bust of Marilyn Monroe perched above your grille, but definitely the next best thing...
The LaFrance Maltese Cross Mascot.

In the 1960's, the Maltese Cross was a very prominent symbol in the custom rod world. Besides being the traditional symbol of firefighters, it also evoked Deutschland for these builders in a rebellious way; it was sort of the Confederate flag of the "Rheinlander Rodders".
 Much of it's popularity had to do with the German heritage of some top-notch hot rod designers and parts companies, like Big Daddy Ed Roth , Schneider Cams and others.

1964 Car Craft Magazine, January.

Vintage Big Daddy Ed Roth ad

From Speed Age magazine, January 1959

The hood ornament is a super-rarity. I haven't seen another pop up for sale, and I'm kinda regretting selling mine. They were solid cast, heavy, with enamel red fill. It was about 6 inches long, and had just enough curve in the base to hang triumphantly in front of your rig, splitting the air with the proud fire-fighting emblem leading the way.

Plus, if you really wanted to go all out, you stuck this matching dash in your cockpit, a vintage LaFrance Firetruck gauge panel...

Big Daddy would have been proud!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hot Rod Kid Artist From The 1950's

As someone who has had thousands of vintage car magazines pass through his hands, one of the neat unexpected surprises while thumbing through them is discovering what was not originally part of the magazine.

 I find index cards with notes, receipts, clippings, and once in awhile, I find some kid's dream hot rod, drawn back in the day, inspired by the magazine in front of him. 
Here's a couple...

I like the way this guy thinks. Classic 1932 Ford style, with a Duvall windshield. Or maybe it's a 27, since he seems to have an affinity for the early grille. The mismatched flipper caps on the coupe back wheels versus the front steelies is a bold touch!

Then there's this solo effort...

Again, this guy digs his custom-look windshields. This is a chopped down stock-look, maybe hinting that this is a "coupester", or top-removed, coupe-turned-roadster. He seems to have love for the double-pot carb set-up, also. The square inset is something I've puzzled over, and I still don't know what the color-cues refer to. Chances are it was his "real" homework that he should have been paying attention to.

 I look on these as mini-time capsules, missives from a distant day when a high-schooler was sitting in the back of biology class, his notebook hidden by an upturned text book, scratching away on the cheap paper at his real dream; not to memorize the stupid elements table, but to be out on the back-country road, outside of town where the local cops don't patrol, listening to the quick blub-blub-blub of his flattie-powered Model A coupester as the late afternoon gives way to cricket chirps and the soft cooling breeze of the early Summer evening...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

One-Offs #2: The Harley Davidson Skulls Police Special Speedometer Face

This is a fun one. I know that here have to be more out there, but I've still just seen this one.
It's a 1970's era Trick Custom face for the Harley Davidson Motorcycle. 

It has the Police Special text, Harley-Davidson, and awesome "I don't give a f*%& about my speed" skulls instead of MPH numbers. This fits on a Stewart Warner speedometer, and I would run this evil face on my Harley as is, scratches and all.

This particular guy sold on Ebay for just under $200, as I recall. I wanted it bad, since it's compatible with the Stewart Warner set-up, but not 200 dollars bad.

What's interesting, and aggravating as well, is that this was previously on Etsy (seriously). I don't know how much it sold for there, but the guy who bought it turned it pretty quick. Here's the Etsy photo...

As you can tell, it has the same wear pattern and scratches as the Ebay one. The seller said he pulled it off his 1976 Shovelhead. 

I've said it about other rarities, and I'll say it again about this one: it would be cool to see this guy re-popped and available again; I'd be first in line.

The Sleek 1949 - 1950 Nash "Uniscope" Gauge Pod Rocks My Dream Custom Interior

For a company that gave us the "upside-down bathtub" design in automotive engineering, and went out with a whimper before the 1960's, the Nash Automobile Company gave us some interesting quirks, and even a couple of creations of long-lasting impact.

One of the neatest was this short-lived experiment in gauge display design. Instead of an array of instruments splayed across the dash, Nash decided to bundle them together, wrap them in a flattened-oval pod, and stick the whole contraption on the steering column.

1950 Nash Uniscope Gauge Cluster

And so the "Uniscope" was born. 
Rarely do gauge panels or clusters get the big and detailed advertising treatment, but this one deserved it. There was this ad for women who, what with this being 1949, obviously needed tempering of their advanced technology fears...

And special instructions for everybody else as well, for the 1949, and then the 1950 versions...

They were made by Stewart Warner (of course), and originally set up on the 6 volt current. Probably the most confusing aspect of the sets is that they are similar, but still markedly different. They are usually (and haphazardly) identified interchangeably, so lets clear those differences up.

First off, the face color for the 1949 set is black.

The pod surrounding it is an olive-green. Also notice the number graphics; the 1949 model used double numbers.

The 1950 Nash set came with a light gold face.

The surround was black, and the mini gauges were darker in color, like a dark olive. They used single digits for MPH markers.

Now here's something I did for one of my sets. That 1949 black face is so striking, I went with it and re-painted the housing an inky black. Talk about sharp!

Beyond that, the pods themselves were a different shape. The 1949 was longer than the 1950 housing.

1949 Nash Pod

1950 Nash Pod

 They both sat on a "cradle", a long steel perch, and they both had similar wire loom openings underneath.

 And here's the real stickler, for those who have the idea of using this in a custom; that bracket that the pod rests in is very seldom sold with the pod. There's a gauge set on Ebay right now for $750 (ridiculous price, imo) that DOESN'T include the mounting bracket. Added to this obstacle is that the two years are not interchangeable, so you better have the right one.
 It's curious as to why you don't see the brackets more often. They weren't molded to the steering column, they were attached with two screws and fairly simple to remove.

 I've also seen jerry-rigged holders, like this...

 I'm not sure if that was a home-made dash mount, or some J.C. Whitney accessory. Somebody obviously wanted it perched on their dash pretty bad, and rigged it up.

But that shouldn't stop you from using what was definitely one of the sleekest dash set-ups to come down the pike. It was planted in various hot rods and show cars in the late-1950's and early-1960's, like this beauty from 1961 with chromed (!) dual pods...

From the 1961 Custom Cars Annual magazine

And this shot from the X-2000 Vortex Show Car ...

From "20 Top Customs", Hot Rod Technical Library, 1961
Here's the Charles Martz custom from 1952, with the cleanest dash possible...

Of all the things that Nash will be remembered for, this better be on the damned list. It was a bold and innovative endeavor, and it was one thing that put it in that pantheon of successful and creative car design risks. 

Sure, to some Philistines it looked like a flattened egg, but to me, looking at that inner-lit round cluster, I was transported away, imagining that I was peering into the casing of a B-17 fuel wing-tank, straddling my pilot's yoke as I cruised through the purple dark night on the highway....
If you ever one across one, grab it! They're like the Tiffany Eggs of car gauges; they only made so many, and it won't be long until the last one is gone for good. 
Hopefully into my cockpit.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Speed Mechanics Magazine 1953 - 1954 Covers

Some of the purest and most nostalgic hot rod cover art paintings were produced by Speed Mechanics Magazine in the early 1950's. Here's a few highlights that are personal favorites of mine...

Speed Mechanics Magazine, Premiere Issue #1, January 1953

Speed Mechanics Magazine, March, 1954
He's mooning over his "pin-up"; a new Corvette, while he polishes his 1932 Chevrolet. A Chevy man through-and-through!

Speed Mechanics Magazine, August, 1954
The detail is painstaking on the car. Notice the distorted "reflection" in the baby moon hubcaps, and the SHARP brand speed equipment heads.


Interestingly, that same striking cover of the first issue of Speed Mechanics was reproduced for another magazine, "How To Soup-Up Your Car!" that was published in the Fall of 1958.

And to continue the theme, the cover of the May, 1959 issue of "How To Soup-Up Your Car!" was filched from the 1955, April edition of "Speed Mechanics"...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Last Gasp Of Bugatti: The 1952 Type 101

Ettore was dead. 
It was August 26th, 1947. His last words at the Molsheim Estate were, "You must keep the factory going."

Ettore Bugatti, 1932

His son and heir apparent, Jean, was dead. His artistic genius brother Rembrandt had been dead for thirty years. 
All that was left was the name, and the tattered flag of the Gauloises Blue race colors of the House of Bugatti flapping in the dying breeze. Would it be enough?

The Bugatti factory in Molsheim, France was hallowed ground to the automotive racing and design world. Here, in the mid-1930's, Jean had built on his father Ettore's legacy by creating the Atlantic Type 57 coupe, which exemplified the pinnacle of luxury and speed. 

Bugatti Type 57C Atlantic

Then in 1936, in the evening of August 11th, Jean got up from the dinner table, told the family that he'd return in fifteen minutes, went on to the closed-off test track in the Grand Prix-winning Type 57 Tank race car and with a sacrificial yank of the wheel, swerved to avoid a bicyclist and crashed headfirst into a tree.

Jean Bugatti

The crash site, August 11th, 1936

Ettore was inconsolable. He had forbid his children from racing professionally, and now in a cruel twist, the scion of the company was dead at the wheel on an empty track.
The War came. The Nazi's took away his factory. After the War, the French government confiscated it, and it took Ettore until 1947 to win it back through the courts. He returned in May and had to be carried into the estate, depleted and scarred from the effort of legal battles, and he passed away just three months later.

And so it was left to his son Roland (who had been there that hot Summer evening at the test road when Jean was killed) and his long time friend and confidant, Pierre Marco to keep the company going. Marco was a wizard at engineering, but the real magic trick was going to be conjuring the funds needed to keep the dilapidated factory viable.

It was in 1952 that Bugatti finally announced to their clientele and clubs that they were open for business again. Some hefty Government contracts plus the judicial settlement gave them just enough leeway to roll the dice, which they did. They came up with their triple-digit series premiere, Type 101.

From SPORTS CARS, Trend Book 1956

Bugatti Type 101

The Type 101 is an interesting car. It fits right in with the oeuvre of the Jaguar and Aston Martin sedan style of the time,  but it doesn't exceed them, and that's the problem. They even recycled their pre-war Type 57 drive-train which, while ahead of it's time in 1936, wasn't cutting edge progress for 1952. Not even a one-off Virgil Exner coach-body could excite the sophisticates.  

1952 Ghia Exner Bugatti Type 101

And if you are Bugatti, the King of the Luxury Car Makers, you can't just do as well as the others, you have to blow them away, like they did with the Atlantic coupe, or the Bugatti Royale. You will never sell as many Jaguar look-a-likes as Jaguar will sell of their own cars, so you are already beaten.

1952 Aston Martin DB2

Advertisement For The 1952 Jaguar Sedan

The response was overwhelmingly... tepid. They also showed a humdrum sports car concept, and even marshaled their resources for one last race car effort, the Type 251. 

Gifted-designer Giaocchino Colombo created the car with a radical cross-mounted engine that was vulnerable to fuel problems, and it was unveiled at the 1956 French Grand Prix at Reim. It mercifully conked out just a third of the way through the race, thus ending the dream of Bugatti's return to Formula One racing.
The company drew up plans for a new car, the Type 451 which was to be a V12 GT sports car, but it never materialized. The Bugatti factory was sold to Hispano Suiza in 1966.
In an ironic turn of events, a German company, VW, took hold of the rights to the Bugatti name. Germany was the feared rivals of the Bugatti team, with their proud fleet of Silver Arrows, and now they owned the legacy. But fittingly, the resurrected Bugatti became the bench mark of luxury and speed, setting the record for the fastest production car on Earth, as well as the most expensive. 

Just like Ettore would have wanted. 

"Ettore Bugatti n'est plus, mais Bugatti continue", goes the saying around Molsheim, "Ettore Bugatti is no more, but Bugatti continues!"