Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Oldsmobile 88

Take a look at the image above. It is the rear fender, or wing as we Brits call them of a late 1940's or early 1950's Oldsmobile 88. Notice the blade of chrome atop the rear, marked with the number '88'

The legend 'Futuramic' still displays a clue as to how this once proud car was intended to appear when introduced, bold, futuristic, ahead of the pack. The stainless steel bright work has dulled over the years, the bright paintwork at first faded, then wore clean through by the abrasive combination of wind, weather, and time.

Now if we transport ourselves back to 1950 and meet the 'average Joe', a middle aged fella for whom this car was to become his brand new factory fresh pride and joy...and here it is.

It all started when that old pre-war car old Joe had owned for some years really began to look a little tired and dated, and just at this time - why General Motors were pushing out some amazingly good looking new vehicles, the ad's even featured in his regular magazine delivered each week.

Well it's one thing to look at the pictures in a magazine but Joe can't help wonder how these cars actually look in the metal?
Joe quite likes the new styling, and the 'Futuramic' name tag promises such advances on his old car, he sits quietly imagining sitting behind the wheel of a shining factory fresh example. looking out to his driveway he pictures himself carefully polishing his new car on some sunny Sunday morning.

A week or so passes and old Joe still can't quite make his mind up. After all his old car still runs reliably enough, it's just that the kids seem to have friends who's parents own some of the new model Buicks and Chevrolets and new cars have never been better or so they say.

Then one day Bob down at the office brings in a Brochure he picked up while passing the showroom, and there on the desk, for the first time in glorious full colour are the stylish lines of the new Oldmobile 88!

During the rest of that day Joe kept thumbing through that brochure, he liked the sound of the Hydra-Matic drive featuring 'whirlaway', and oh boy how the family would love the smooth power and comfortable ride these new cars offered!

He decided to take a look in the showroom on the way home from the office. Joe convinced himself that the family finances were holding up well, and after all since he returned from his military service five years ago he had driven that same beat up old car.

As he opened the door and walked into the local brightly lit showroom, the smell of new paint and upholstery was overwhelming..."These new Oldsmobiles even smelled good" he thought.
Joe looked around, dazzled at the array of styles and colours, with each one looking better than the last until, there she was, looking exactly as he had imagined - the 'Futuramic'.

The colour choices were fresh and exiting, and from every angle this car looked to be a winner!
instinctively Joe wanted to touch the car, he wanted to stroke it, to feel his hand glide along those curves. As he thought about colour choice he walked around the stationary vehicle, crouching here and there to check out the lines, his hand swept along the lustrous chrome tail fin, fingers culminating at the number '88'. "What a beauty" he thought!

That evening Joe enthused to his wife and kids about the possibility of owning one of these new futuristic cars, how silky smooth the ride had been on the test drive, and what power there was from that 8 cylinder motor!

He quite liked the rag-top version he said casually, which raised cheers from the kids and a knowing glance from his wife, because she knew that his heart was set. It wasn't long after that night when the families new Oldsmobile sat outside Joe's house, glinting and gleaming in the warm sunshine.

Now back we must come, back to 2008.

All of that happened over half a century ago, Joe died in 1982 at the age of 79, the kids, once so proud of their sparkling new '88' had grown up and left the household a long time since, in fact it was back in '73 just after Mom died.

And the Old's? Well it passed through three or four more owners, each one taking a little less care of her than before, until she was finally parked out in the back lot of an old garage where she waited for someone to restore her to roadworthiness.

That 'someone' never came, which brings us right back to where we began. The fin that Joe swept his hand along so many years ago in the showroom is still there, that exiting word 'Futuramic' still emblazons the flanks, but that future is now the past... and she awaits the scrap metal dealer... "China needs all the metal it can get" says the truck driver as he attaches the chain to tow her away.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The perfect gift.

Imagine you are told that someone has left you a present, it's outside, and waiting to be unwrapped. Well, for many that would raise expectations of a new car perhaps?...but wait!

This is after all the blog devoted to the old and rusty so what better present than the 1950 Packard shown in the photo' above? OK I'll answer that question... TWO of them!

Some guys get all the luck!

For those that would like to see how these old Packards looked back in their heyday, here's a few photo's of a 1950 super Eight model. Old and rusty is nice to see, but I would definitely sell my granny for this one!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Waiting for rescue.

It's often said that the British are obsessed with the weather, and although that's perhaps a cliche, it doesn't mean that it isn't true!

I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog that I am always amazed at the condition of some of the abandoned vehicles often found 'in situ' in warmer countries. There they have lain for several decades, exposed to all types of weather from the summers searing heat, to howling winds and frozen winters, with anything in between.

Here in the UK my fellow countrymen would smile at the idea of a British classic enduring the 'searing heat' of summer, simply because there is no searing heat (and quite often no summer!)
Winters are also much milder, which means a general climate tends somewhere between a dull grey day which is threatening to rain, and a brighter blustery day just having rained!

The point to all this meteorological talk is that should an old vehicle be left in the British climate for long it will rapidly disintegrate, which is why finds in the U.S. are so often fascinating!

The sheer size of America makes it likely that these old vehicles are parked on a road less travelled than would be the case in the UK, which may address the other thing that always occurs to me when seeing abandoned examples such as the one above which is "Why doesn't someone save it?"

The Chevrolet below has obviously been forgotten by a previous owner, it was last on the road in 1960 and has endured a further 48 years of weather and neglect. The fascinating part for me is that it looks as if it could be restored even after such almighty neglect. The body panels and doors look to be in pretty good shape, and in today's world of the acid dip bath or bead blasting techniques the rust could be removed.
I realise that it might not be 'cost effective' to restore such a thing, but one day we might all wish that more of these old dinosaurs had been preserved.

A similar British classic having endured 48 years outdoors would be little more than a brown stain in the grass!...with perhaps a rear axle remaining to identify the remains!

Most British classics are now found in barns and garages across the land where they have lain undisturbed for years, the modicum of protection provided by the garage protecting them from vandalism.
For me the one thing better than coming across a save-able old vehicle like the examples above, is that unique moment when a long time closed door on a disused garage or barn is opened, and blinking through the darkness appears a hint of chrome, and a pair of headlights!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Today's stunning image is of an abandoned Austin A40 Somerset.

One of several old cars that I have owned in the past, the Austin Somerset was big, comfortable and roomy. Made between 1952 - 1954 and powered by an economical 1200cc engine, the Somerset remains one of my favourite old cars!

Click to see see more pictures from this series here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Rust - art!!

Or..... "How can rust be so appealing"?

Is this a Norwegian landscape perhaps?


Abstract composition with padlock!

Cityscape in rust!

I'd prefer to rescue this old Citroen 2cv than leave it to crumble, but does have a certain charm of it's own exactly as it appears here!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

More beautiful decay!

Most people think of tarnished metal, rotten wood, and flaking paint as something to be remedied and restored. I do too, in the case of an old vehicle there can be no greater satisfaction than bringing a once derelict machine back to life.

My concept of Beauty in decay simply means that before the restoration begins, quite often the vehicle has weathered and changed by a combination of time and neglect to become something else... it becomes art!

Many of the older cars and trucks were made of considerably thicker steel than today, and while standing out in all weathers would take it's toll on the paint and metal, the fantastic sweeping curves of the old 40's/50's styling, combined with what seems to be a refusal to crumble to dust means that these old jalopies simply manage to evolve into a textured canvas.

The patina on these old fella's wouldn't look amiss on canvas in an art gallery, and yet they are created randomly from nature, like fingerprints no two models will ever corrode the same thus making a unique and beautiful pattern of time worn paint and rust!

Once tuned in the eye will begin to detect instances of the beauty to be found in decay, In the end you will begin to see art in the most unlikely of places!

Now tell me the work below couldn't be hung in an expensive gallery? Keep looking at those old or abandoned vehicles, and pretty soon you will begin to find works of art too!

These examples were taken from a chap going by the name of Shadowplay
See more of his work by clicking on the name.

Finally, a Merry Christmas to anyone that might be reading these ramblings! I'll end with a suitably festive photo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Vintage car Ad's.

We often hear the phrase 'Golden age' bandied about when referring to some by gone halcyon days.

Memories, often tinged with those rose tinted spectacles, recall to mind a better time, a time when things were done differently.
There is the 'Golden age of steam' for railway fans, the 'Golden age of Cinema' for film buffs, and for me there was also a 'Golden age' of advertising.

Looking at today's ad's selling anything between new cars to a jar of coffee one can't help notice the superficiality of it all. The slick modern car ad's with their CGI special effects are designed to entertain, (they need to capture a nano second of the ever dwindling attention span modern consumers possess) just long enough to persuade them to buy.
Who can also remember the dreadful old coffee ad' that was more like a romantic soap opera?...will they?...won't they?...Zzzzzzz

I set myself to try and determine if, in the case of Automobile advertising there was a 'Golden age' and if so when was that, and why?
Firstly I set out to quantify what it was about those old ad's that attracted me, and that became immediately apparent - they were works of art!
As in many areas of commerce, with the uptake of modern technology comes 'progress', and the older, obsolete technology thus replaced fades away and eventually all but dies.
We can see this today in trades such as signwriting or film photography for to name a couple, when was the last time that you saw a traditional signwriter with mahlstick and brush? "it's all computers these days innit mate?"

From a commercial standpoint, anything that takes less time to do is obviously more profitable, and a photograph is infinitely less expensive than an illustration, so it makes good business sense to use the latest options available...your competitors certainly will!

So I have set my own personal 'Golden age' of Auto advertising as the period from around 1930 to 1970, and the reasons for this I'll give here.
To begin with the picture at the head of this post which advertises Gulf petroleum. As you can see this is a painting which today would be acceptable on its own as a work of art depicting of early motoring, the advertising content of the painting is very subtle with just the pump head to plug the product.
This particular image is actually from 1914, but as very few people owned cars at that time and therefore ad's were rather specialised this is why I chose the starting date for my golden age to be a little later.

In the 19thC it became clear that the advertisers greatest weapon was the illustrator, the Victorians used artists, even famous ones such as Millais to advertise their wares, and with photography in it's infancy the colour and 'realism' needed to portray goods in a favourable light was still the task of these illustrators.
Even well into the 1950's when the Oldsmobile ad above was made, illustrators still provided the cover artwork for many vehicles. I believe this ads a charm to the brochure that a mere photo wouldn't have managed to do, I remember reading and collecting old magazines and brochures of the '40's and 50's which were full of such images!

As time moved along and photography began to creep into the auto-ad' there came a new type of advertisement - the airbrushed photo. These seem to be the curious transitional phase between the pure illustration of the 1940's and the exclusively photographic ads of the 1970's.

Anyone who remembers the old 'Practical Motorist' magazine of the 1950's will remember the cover illustrations that were a perfect example of this type of artwork, which was essentially a photograph which was then 'painted over' to give the look of an illustration!

Some manufacturers used a style of brochure that contained both illustration and photography, as this 1960 Dodge line-up shows.

Just look at the lines of that tail! Some may say brash, but certainly bold styling typified the late 50's and early 60's designs. How sad it is to think of these cars today, rotting away in some rural junkyard.

Here in Britain our vehicles were less outlandish, but the ad's for them tended to contain an element of practicality or humour. As I mentioned in an earlier post 1950s Britain was a time of austerity, of make do and mend practicality, and this was reflected in the motor ad's.
A selling point might be the MPG figure, and the ability to carry 'four adults in comfort' rather than the amount of chrome the vehicle wore.

In the '60's that theme of practicality also coincided with an increase in women drivers as the nation took to wheels, giving rise to ads specifically emphasising the sort of car that the ad men felt displayed properties attractive to women, such as being simple to drive and of course ease of parking... I leave the inference of those requirements to you dear reader!

With the coming of the 1970's photography had all but replaced those charmingly rendered illustrations for automotive advertising and I have only included them here not for their artwork, but more for the humour.
My 'Golden age' of auto ads conclude with this decade as the one that finally ended the use of the illustrator as the preferred choice for adverts and brochures. Photography was cheaper, but they at least still supported the photographic content with humour, (a humour that in some cases would perhaps not be found acceptable today) and we are in my opinion poorer for the loss of that.

I'm sure that there will be those that may conclude the use of such 'sexist' humour in advertising is better left in the un-PC 1970's, personally I don't entirely agree.
While not wishing to cause deliberate offence, I do miss the fact that we aren't able to gently poke fun any more without someone deciding that it's wrong to do so.
Today, and sadly an industry seems to have arisen dedicated to 'taking offence', and as a result printed Auto advertising has become either dull and factual, or aimed at the ridiculously aspirational.

I leave my last old car ad as an indication of how in today's society, not only have we lost the style, romance, and often beauty of the illustrators art, but how society itself has been changed.

Could you imagine advertising a car using the terms 'Gay' and 'well endowed' today as Chrysler did in the 1950's?.... hmmm...wonder if it would sell?

Monday, December 22, 2008

When old meets new.

Sometimes working with new technology can be a little daunting, I remember the first time that I ever sat before a computer keyboard how impossibly new it all seemed!

Being a 'traditional' Artist, in that I still work in oils on canvas (a process that has seen several centuries of use) I look upon the emerging type of computer generated, or digital art with a mixture of some bemusement and not a little awe.
Some of the better exponents of this art can produce images that are astoundingly good, and more and more they are applying this 21st Century technology to recreate early 20th century images!

The image above is one such example, it's a work in progress done - not by me I might add, but by someone far more adept in the use of computer digital art sofware. The vehicle represented is an Austin Seven Ulster, and the other photos in this series can be found by clicking on the link.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New York 1945

From London in the 50/60's to New York 1945.

Take a look at those wonderful old cars...truly 'Jellymould jalopies!' While the daily hustle and bustle of the people of new York goes on all around, the sturdy old vehicles battle through the icy winter streets.
Each time I come across a photograph of a long abandoned car of the '40's I wonder how it looked back in it's day, and to what kind of use was it put?

Well here's the answer, for many they were working vehicles, Taxis and delivery trucks are nose to tail while parked at the side walk are the private vehicles of the shoppers, or possibly the shop owners?
The one that stands out for me is the very clean car parked on the right hand side, obviously that car has been garaged overnight and looks pretty well looked after....I wonder if it survived?

Friday, December 19, 2008

London 1960

Just an interesting old colour picture that I came across, entitled 'London in 1960'.

How many of those old vehicles still survive I wonder? Perhaps none at all, but London was certainly more colourful and picturesque then, than it is today!
As you can see most of the stuff on the road is of pre-war design , I would suspect the photo was actually a little earlier, perhaps even early to mid 1950's.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A time of optimism.

I mentioned in an earlier post how the 1960's became a pivotal time in our history.
From a nation enduring the post war gloom of the 1940's, through to the austerity of the 1950's, Britain seemed to be on the brink of something new.

Many of us Brits watched with envy as our counterparts in the United States celebrated the post war era by developing ever more outlandish yet beautiful cars.
Chrome, power steering, automatic folding roofs, radios, heaters, air conditioning and more were fitted to a host of '50's U.S. models, while we Brits made do with re-introduced 1930's designs, or even more basic '50's designs! (we didn't even have side window winders on some models!)

For the working man during this period, steady employment meant that he could trade in his motorcycle and sidecar and become for the first time ever a car owner! The choice was limited, but the number of cars on the road gradually increased.

Then in the late 50's - BAM! American styling influences hit the Uk, through the grey and grimy streets of our industrial towns came sightings of huge (to us) flash, cars in the most outrageous colours!
At the end of the 1950's, credit became easier to obtain and the impact was amazing. Streets now glittered with brash new vehicles, now we too had style and fins and chrome were all the rage, gone were the black, greys and greens of the pre 60's car liveries.

One of the most radical British Automotive designs of the 1950's was undoubtedly the PA Cresta.
With its transatlantic styling and plush six seater cabin the Cresta could waft along on just a pur of the big six cylinder engine.
I can just imagine the 'Harrumphs' uttered by the old boys in their gentlemans clubs, as they shuddered at the thought of such ostentation!

The painting above is of a 1959 PA Vauxhall Cresta, the car was bright pink....unheard of by jove!
I painted a pink one with a white roof as this was identical to the car that my uncle owned back in '65, I still remember vividly riding in it one night and being too small to see out of the windscreen!

For Britain, cars like this heralded a new era, one of optimism. No more 'make do and mend' for us, now the age of consumerism had dawned.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow, ice, and the automobile.

It's the age old problem, snow and ice are not conducive to the long life of an Automobile!

Different strategies are employed by the many local authorities to keep the roads ice free, but by far the worst in terms of the harm caused to old cars is the policy of laying down road salt! How many wonderful old vehicles have been reduced to scrap in a few short years by the rust bug largely cause by road salt corrosion!

I suppose the argument goes that if the roads weren't salted then there would be more accidents and possible loss of life, I accept that point but surely a less corrosive ice inhibitor could have been developed?

In the mid 20th Century, the Ford Anglia/Popular range (subject of the painting above) were sold as 'The cheapest car that money can buy'.
The pre-war design was simple, rugged, and reliable - no creature comforts here, even a sun visor was an optional extra!

Needless to say that in the post war austerity of Britain they sold in their thousands. I can remember a time when there seemed to be quite literally, one in every street. Motoring in those days must have been a much hardier experience to that of today, with no standard equipment such as heater, windscreen washers, or indicators, and a mere 6v electrical system to light the way, our fathers and grandfathers battled the freezing winters and 'pea soup-er' fogs of the day.

In the 1970's these old cars became a favourite of the Hot Rod crowd, with many being customised almost beyond recognition.
Such was the simplicity, and ruggedness of manufacture there are still surviving examples around, some of the most amazing survivors are those that have lain abandoned for many years and come to light needing little more than re commissioning to drive again!

In the painting above I have shown a typical 1950's Ford Anglia or Popular parked by the roadside. In Britain, the 1950's seemed to be the demarcation of the old world and the new, Victorian buildings and pre-war motor cars still served purposefully in the '50's, all that was to change in the brash new 1960's.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter arrives.

Over last couple of weeks or so here in the UK the temperatures have dropped hailing the onset of winter proper.

To continue my theme of 'Beautiful decay' I suppose that one could consider much of the changes around us to be a sort of decay when compared to warmer months, the trees have now lost their leaves, and the weather has become much less hospitable.

Looking out on a frosty morning with the sun rising a sort of lemon yellow, the rooftops glistening, and the shadows containing a strong blue tone, once again reminds me of the beauty that is revealed during wintertime.
The other morning I saw from my front window a spiders web, stretching from one garden bush to another, and frozen white it revealed structures that only our most complicated computers could design!

My painting for this week harks back to my previous post about the Citroen 2cv 'Ugly Duckling', here I have painted a 1960's AZ version with the front 'suicide' doors, and the double chevron grille (which was one of the most popular types).

Sitting next to an old French petrol pump, both have been considered obsolete for years and yet here combine with winter to bring a scene of colourful nostalgia!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The ugly duckling.

When does something ugly become beautiful? And how is that possible?

I've spoken before about my concept of 'Beautiful decay', whereby an object on the evidence of a casual glance would appear to be scrap, but on closer inspection, and seeing it in a different way it can actually become quite beautiful.

A case in point would be the Citroen 2cv. Made in France between 1948 and 1990 this car was as basic a concept as you could find, 'an Umbrella on wheels' is what the design brief called for and the designer Mr. Boulangier gave them exactly that!

This is a car that from any angle, even by the standards of 1948, was considered ugly. It was as spartan a vehicle as had ever been conceived, made from very thin steel, with canvas 'hammock' or deck chair like seats, and a cloth full length roof.
As a young man I thought these cars were hideously ugly, many's the time that I wondered just what it was that posessed anyone to buy one of those things! Of course they were cheap to buy and run, but to a young male the ownership of such a device would ensure that you remained a batchelor for some time to come!

More recently, as the numbers of these strange little cars began to dwindle on our roads, I came to see them as a quirky but cheap second car, or hobby car... and I bought one!
At that time back in the late '90's these cars were literally being given away, there was a standing joke among owners that you never have just the one as they seem to multiply!

The cars simplicity, ruggedness, fuel economy, and the ability to cruise flat out for hours on end without complaint won me over. Mechanically they don't come much simpler, and can be dismantled completely in a matter of hours with the minimal of tools, and are almost supernaturally reliable in any extreme of temperature.

I immediately appreciated the surprisingly good ride quality and comfort, superb brakes, and the way the entire roof rolls back in good weather is great!

So is it still ugly? Well, yes and no.
This is a car that is ugly to the unacquainted, but as familiarity grows, so does the respect for both the original design and the functional yet minimal form of its components. It's the automotive version of the Ugly Duckling, and only ownership then reveals its true beauty.