Late in the afternoon it began to rain, hard. I was spent after eight hours on my feet photographing the cars at the 2013 Mecum Spring Classic, but I didn’t want to walk a quarter of a mile in a downpour to get to my car. So I made one more pass through the giant West Pavilion to see if I had overlooked anything.
I had. I was so focused on the cars that I didn’t really see everyone else looking at them. So I got my camera back out and began to photograph people.
The joint was crawling with men middle-aged and older. The women and younger men I saw either came with a car-crazy man, or worked for Mecum or for the fairgrounds.
We dreamed of cars like these when we were young. I overheard many of these men telling tall tales about the car they owned, or a car like the one before them that a friend owned, or the car they settled for because they could afford it.
You’d think that these cars would make us all feel young and lighthearted again, yet so many brows were furrowed and lips were pursed or downturned. Encounters with valuable cars like these are rare, and when they do happen it’s usually at a distance in a museum. Yet here we were, so close to these cars we could reach right out and touch them.
Not that we should touch them, of course. They belong to other people and represent very large investments. Still, I saw men casually resting against these cars. A few even opened doors, and I saw one man get in a car and sit behind the wheel! I wanted to tell them all off. They had no business unless they owned the car or were bidding on it.
Those hoping to buy hung their bidder numbers off their necks with lanyards. They had deep pockets in common; these cars start at about $20,000, many go for more than $100,000, and a few go for upwards of a million dollars. Many of the bidders were gregarious and spoke to me about the cars we looked at, while others moved silently about the cars, lost deep in thought.
But most of us just came to see what we could see. The Mecum Spring Classic focuses on muscle cars from the ’60s and early ’70s, but it a real smorgasbord. The abundant variety of cars seemed endless.
I have always thought this was the coolest tail light ever. Maybe it’s because two were attached to the 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 my dad owned when I was a very small boy. I got to spend a lot of time contemplating them. The neighbor kids’ dads had their Fairlanes and Catalinas and Satellites and Le Sabres, cool cars the lot. But none of them had tail lights as futuristic and brash as those on the ’66 Ford.
I can spot a ’66 Ford tail light from a football field away – or, as in this case, from across a giant room crowded with cars. This is the ’66 Ford to which this light is attached.
You have to be older than about 40, I think, to remember a time when the big automakers produced several models based on the same body. The full-sized ’66 Ford hosted a panoply of two- and four-door cars. Those cars came with many different model names: Custom, Custom 500, Galaxie 500, Galaxie 500/XL, and LTD, in increasing levels of trim and convenience from basic transportation at one end to near-luxury at the other. Two station wagons even rode on this platform and shared much of the styling: the Country Sedan and the Country Squire.
This car is a Custom 500. It offers a few creature comforts over the bare-bones Custom, but its cabin is still pretty austere.
There isn’t even a radio in this dashboard. The driver will have to be entertained only by the sound of this car’s engine. Now, ’66 Fords were advertised as being as quiet as a Rolls-Royce. But this Custom 500′s engine bay is stuffed with a giant 427-cubic-inch V8 that generates 345 horsepower unmodified (and I’ll bet this one is souped up). That’s a hell of a lot of engine, and I’m quite sure it can make a serious racket.
That 427 is a Johnny-come-lately in this automobile, which left the factory with a smaller, but still plenty potent, 275-horsepower, 390-cubic-inch V8. Even that engine is probably fairly unusual for a Custom 500, which was marketed to people who wanted the room of a full-sized car but at budget prices. That’s why the interior is so Spartan – and why these cars were much more commonly equipped with a 6-cylinder engine. But if you squint, you can see a little plaque under the speedometer that reads “Certified Calibration.” Especially in the days before speed radar, the police needed to know for sure how fast they were going when they were tailing a speeder, and a certified speedometer made that possible. You only see that badge on cars equipped for police duty. And to enable catching the bad guys, police cars always came with potent 8-cylinder engines and heavy-duty suspensions.
This Custom 500 appears to have been equipped for police duty except for one detail: its four-speed manual transmission. Cop cars are automatics – when you’re in hot pursuit, you don’t want to mess with shifting manually! A private citizen ordered this car. It says so on the copy of the bill of sale posted in the window.
This sticker in another window ominously warns you to roll up the windows if you’re going to drive faster than 120 miles per hour. Yikes.
You might lose a hubcap or two at 120 mph. Lower-trim-level cars like the Custom 500 got simple hubcaps like this one that covered only the hub and not the whole wheel. I’m pretty sure styled wheels weren’t available anywhere across the full-sized Ford line.
Many styling details, such as this grille and these headlights, were shared across the entire full-sized Ford line. Roofs varied across the line, though, and at a distance were the easiest way to tell which model you were looking at. You couldn’t get a Custom or Custom 500 as a hardtop – when you roll down all the windows in a hardtop, you see no pillar behind the front doors to block the view. The two-door hardtop roof line on Galaxies and LTDs was sweeping and elegant, compared to the conservative roof on this Custom 500. LTDs sported a round badge behind the rear side windows, and sometimes offered vinyl trim on the roofs.
I have many great memories of my dad’s ’66 Galaxie 500, which absolutely influenced me as I picked this ’66 Custom 500 as my favorite car at the 2013 Mecum Spring Classic.
Of the photos I took last week at the Mecum Spring Classic, I like these best. I do love to move in close with my camera to find interesting details.
1970 Plymouth Road Runner. I’ve seen dozens of Road Runners at various Mecums, but had never looked at the steering wheel hub before.
1919 Ford Model T. These are the pedals of a Model T, which drives differently from any other car you’ve ever seen. The pedals are C for clutch, R for reverse, and B for brake – go here to learn more about it.
1963 Chevrolet Corvette. I find myself going to the same details over and over. Tail lights are a frequent subject.
1958 Plymouth Fury. I took more photos of rooflines this year than before, however. I like this simple curve.
1961 Ford Galaxie Starliner. I think this similar curve works better on this car.
1968 Dodge Charger RT. This has become almost an obligatory photo as I take it every year. I never tire of this car’s ultra-wide C pillar.
1968 Chevrolet El Camino. This was among the first photos I took during my visit, while the day was still new and the light was still a little golden.
1967 Chevrolet Impala SS. Cars are stored all over the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and lighting conditions vary widely. This room offers particularly challenging light, except near the windows.
1957 Pontiac Star Chief Safari. Sometimes a dramatic angle, shot casually, really works.
1957 Ford Ranch Wagon. More early-morning sunshine across this car’s wide flank.
1955 Ford Sunliner. I like headlights. Ooh, look, my legs make a cameo appearance in this car’s bumper.
1954 Buick Skylark convertible. The trunklid was up, and at just the right angle I was able to make the letters line up with the hood way at the other end of the car.
1953 Buick Skylark convertible. A riff on a fat-toothed chrome grille.
1951 Chevrolet station wagon. Ok, so this shot isn’t all that close. But I like the light falling on this car’s nose, and I’ve grown partial to this face.
1948 Oldsmobile. Another headlight. Its simple lines are appealing, and repeat in the tiny turn signal light below it.
1937 Ford. I spent a lot of time admiring this car, which was probably my second favorite of the day. I’ll share my first favorite tomorrow.
I go to the Mecum auction every May hoping to see cars I’ve never seen in person before, great examples of some cars I’ve known and loved for years, and some rare and unusual cars. I was not disappointed this year. Here are some of my favorites from my day at the auction.
1949 Hudson Commodore 8 convertible. The four-door sedan is actually my favorite body style of all the step-down Hudsons – I think they look mean, like something a mafia don would drive to a massacre. But I wouldn’t turn down this convertible.
1938 Chrysler Royal. This car has real presence. The more I see cars from the 1930s, the more I appreciate their style. Until just a few years ago, I never bothered to look at cars from before World War II. I credit my several visits to the Mecum auction, which has let me experience several great prewar cars up close, for helping me see their beauty.
1959 International Harvester Metro. These delivery vans, which were designed by Raymond Loewy, were made from 1938 to 1975. Yet I’ve never seen one before. How have they escaped my notice?
1958 Studebaker Golden Hawk. Here’s where I give a big shout out to the hometown this car and I have in common, South Bend, Indiana!
1958 Plymouth Fury. I love all of the Forward Look Chryslers. They look fresh and crisp even today. Ford and GM’s 1958 styling was generally awkward and heavy-handed, making Chryslers look even better. This Fury is original and unrestored.
1958 Mercury Commuter. See what I mean? This ’58 is overwrought, especially compared to that sleek Plymouth. But I’m a big fan of station wagons, and this big hauler is as tricked out as they come.
Also, I really dig this shade of blue. I lingered for a long time over this Mercury, taking in its details.
1963 Chevrolet Impala wagon. But I think that if I were classic-wagon shopping, I’d rather have this one. GM styling was really starting to soar in the early 1960s, and even their fairly utilitarian automobiles were crisply good looking.
1967 Chevrolet Impala SS. The ’67 and ’68 big Chevy hardtop coupe is my favorite body of all time. I just love the way this car looks.
1963 Chevrolet Corvette. I’m not a big Corvette fan but I’ve always liked these split-rear-window ’63s. I’m sure driving a car with a thick post blocking the rear view was less than a picnic. Chevy fitted a full-width window starting in 1964. It was certainly more practical, but it didn’t look as good.
1971 Dodge Demon GSS. I’m not a huge muscle-car fan. I do appreciate them for what they are, but I’m more partial to everyday cars that have been saved or restored. But when it comes to muscle cars, my heart goes right for the Mopars. The Dodge Demon shared a body with the better-known Plymouth Duster. A Dodge dealer in Chicago, Grand-Spaulding Dodge, was known for further souping up hot Dodge muscle cars. This Demon GSS is one of them, sporting triple carburetors and other hi-po goodies.
1970 Chevrolet Camaro. What makes this Camaro special is that it’s the first ’70 built. I like firsts. I like this body style, at least in its earlier years before Chevy slathered it in plastic bolt-on boy-racer bits that turned this clean design into a cartoon.
On Thursday, I’ll share tons of photos of my most favorite car from the auction.
I almost didn’t make it to this year’s Mecum Spring Classic muscle-car auction. We were in crisis mode at work, cleaning up the mess after a software deployment went wrong. Thursday was to be my day among the cars, but we were still troubleshooting at work, so I put it off. Fortunately, we found the underlying problems Thursday afternoon. My team told me they had it under control and urged me to go on Friday.
I’m so glad I did. Mind you, I may have driven my team crazy by checking in every hour or so over instant messenger. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t relieved that their excellent skills allowed me one of my happiest days of the year!
I normally write a post or two sharing some photos from the auction, but this year I’m going wall to wall all week, with posts and photos every day through Friday. Then on Saturday I’ll share more from the auction over at Curbside Classic. If you’re not into cars, come back Monday when regular programming resumes.
It’s hard to believe the sheer number of cars at each year’s Mecum Spring Classic. This year, over 2,000 cars rolled by the auctioneer. While they wait their turn, and even after they are sold, they have to wait somewhere. So they fill five or six large buildings at the Fairgrounds, and even sit in the parking lots outside.
I took all of these photos in the 147,000-square-foot West Pavilion. As you can see, this enormous space is filled with cars. It takes me several hours to walk through just this building. I spent the entire day at the Mecum and I don’t think I saw all the available cars.
The Mecum Spring Classic focuses on muscle cars. There are so many Camaro Z28s, Boss Mustangs, Hemi Cudas, et al., that it’s overwhelming. But I’m not here to see them. I come every year searching for true classics, or the oddballs, or cars I’ve only ever seen in photographs.
I also bring two digital cameras with spare batteries. My twin Canons, the PowerShot S95 and the PowerShot S80, are highly competent point-and-shoots that slip easily into the big pockets of my cargo shorts. This year I took 700 photos. I’ll share more of them all week.
I’m sure it’s the old disk jockey in me, but I just have to share new music that really moves me. I don’t remember now how I stumbled upon this video, but I had to hear it only once before I started scouring YouTube for more from this band.
Lake Street Dive is drummer Mike Calabrese, bassist Bridget Kearney, guitarist and trumpet player (trumpetitst?) Mike Olson, and vocalist Rachael Price. They became a band when they met at school in Boston a few years ago, and now they record and tour. They cover songs from a sweeping range of sources but always leave their fingerprints all over them. Yet I think they shine brightest on their original compositions. Here’s one.
Their sound reminds me of an old-school vocals-forward jazz quartet with strong pop sensibilities. And Rachael Price’s strong, deep vocal would be right at home on a Motown record. Here’s one more original song from them.
If Lake Street Dive’s sound is working for you as it does for me, there’s plenty more on YouTube where these came from.
Last week I lamented the loss of cheap, convenient color film processing and wondered whether I should learn to process my own film. It got me thinking about the one roll of film I processed myself, way back in 1984.
I was building my first camera collection by scouring garage sales and antique stores. I bought most cameras for a dollar or two; five dollars was my upper limit. I wanted to shoot with them, but film and processing were expensive. I had two or three dozen cameras then, but I had put film into only my Kodak Duaflex II and my Kodak Brownie Starmatic.
My Argus A-Four was my first and only 35mm camera, and I was eager to try it. A buddy of mine was taking a photography class in school, so he hooked me up with a roll of bulk-loaded film (probably Kodak Plus-X) and encouraged me to go to town. “When you’re done shooting,” he said, “we’ll go into the school darkroom and see how it all turned out.”
I had little money then. When I used up weeks’ worth of allowance to shoot one of my cameras, I wanted every shot to count. But this free film and processing let me really relax and experiment. That was a good thing, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing with f stops and shutter speeds. My buddy said, “Relax. f/8 and be there.”
Later in the darkroom, I discovered that processing film is tedious and unexciting. I enjoyed making a contact sheet from the developed negatives – but as the images emerged, I was disappointed that only a few of them turned out. The rest were badly over- or under-exposed.
I could not have imagined that almost thirty years later, modern technology would rescue most of these photographs. I used my film scanner to digitize them, and Photoshop Elements to cover my exposure sins.
This is where I went to high school. The building was torn down about 15 years ago. I remember not being able to back up enough to get the whole building in the frame, so I took three shots from left to right and figured I’d lay them in series for sort of a poor-man’s panorama. Unfortunately, I double-exposed one of the shots, nixing the idea. But this, the first shot in the series, was accidentally relatively well composed.
I also shot my elementary school, which was renovated and expanded a few years ago. Unfortunately, that project laid a driveway across the front of the building, which led to that great tree’s demise. That didn’t damage my warm feelings toward this building and my happy years as a student here.
This blue spruce stood in the corner of our yard until it died about 20 years ago. It was enormous! I couldn’t manage to squeeze it into one frame without backing up so far that half the neighborhood ended up in my shot, too. So I took three photos of sequence of it, and all of them were overexposed. But Photoshop Elements fixed the exposure and Autostitch made the three images one. This tree was a local landmark and I’m so glad to have this good photo of it now.
Standing in the doorway of my childhood bedroom, I opened the aperture wide and hoped for the best in this shot. That’s my brother’s bedroom there. The round mirror came from the 1899 Oliver Hotel in South Bend just before it was torn down in 1967. It has hung in that spot since 1976.
I even tried some night photography on a very late walk home from a school event. A city bus route ran along my street; this was probably the last run of the night. It’s heading southbound as it passes under a street light. I am proud of my 17-year-old self for trying this.
Here’s the same street during the day. This is my friend Karen and her car. She used to drive me home from school every day.
One last shot, this time a close crop of an otherwise throwaway shot in which I found a reflection of myself. I remember well the fussy shutter button on that Argus camera but not my dorky-looking technique for getting it to fire.
I am amused that I took all of these photos within walking distance of my childhood home. The high school stood at one end of our eight-block-long street, Erskine Blvd., and the elementary school stood around the corner from the other end. Every other photo comes from Erskine Blvd. itself. Such a small world I had in 1984.
See modern-day photos of
Erskine Boulevard here.