Woozy from the exhaust

34 Ford Woody
1934 Ford

My lifelong love of cars has been much more about automotive design than engineering or driving. I certainly appreciate a fast car or one that stays glued to a twisty road, but just looking at cars makes me plenty happy. And so when the Mecum Spring Classic came back to Indianapolis last week, I picked up a friend and we spent most of our Saturday there just taking it all in. Mecum may focus on muscle cars, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of non-muscle Detroit eye candy on display.

49 Olds
1949 Oldsmobile

And when I say plenty of cars, I mean plenty. Like I said when I wrote about last year’s event, the number of cars is simply overwhelming. More than 1,000 classic automobiles crossed the auction block during the event’s five days. They filled five buildings at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, including the Pepsi Coliseum, and more were lined up in rows outside. I wish I took a photograph showing the endless rows of cars to give you an idea of the sheer scale of this event. But this year I was better prepared. I skipped right over the endless GTOs, Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, et al., and went straight for the true classics and the more routine cars that did not often get spared a junkyard fate.

70 Plymouth Hemicuda 40 Ford Pickup 56 Lincoln Premiere
1970 Plymouth Barracuda, 1940 Ford pickup, 1956 Lincoln Premiere
36 Ford Woody
1936 Ford

There was a day when even the routine car had distinctive design touches. The smooth and rounded Ford Taurus may have looked radical when it came along in 1986, but it ushered in what I like to call the Anonymous Period of Automotive Design. Can you name one car made in the past ten years that everyday Americans could afford that is truly beautiful or distinctive? Yet if you lived at any time before about 1975, you can probably recall several stunning Fords or Pontiacs or Dodges. And those cars were significantly facelifted every year and redesigned entirely every three. Today, cars soldier on for five, seven, even ten years largely unchanged from year to year. The 2009 and 2010 Toyota Camry, for example differ from each other only in almost undetectable details.

66 Ford Galaxie 500 XL
1966 Ford Galaxie 500 XL

To me, details make automotive design. My fascination with cars started with the first one I rode in, my dad’s baby blue 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 coupe. I loved its roofline, its chiseled lines, and its large, squarish taillights. I used to look for others while riding in my dad’s. He always said a patient “Oh!” when I’d call them out. I also enjoyed keeping track of our neighbors’ cars, like Mrs. Johnson’s midnight blue 1968 Impala hardtop sedan, Mr. Dieu’s purple 1966 Mustang, Mrs. Gish’s gigantic white 1968 LeSabre hardtop sedan, and Mr. Batten’s bright red 1963 Galaxie hardtop coupe (which, his son was always proud to point out, “he ordered direct from the factory”). And then there was Mr. Roe, the car salesman, who drove home in a different car every week. He caused quite a stir among the neighborhood kids when he came home in a 1976 Gran Torino painted like the car on Starsky and Hutch.

49 Hudson Commodore 65 Olds 442
1949 Hudson Commodore, 1965 Oldsmobile 442
49 Mercury
1949 Mercury

Having grown up in an automotive family, Mr. Roe’s son appreciates cars as much as I do. That’s why I rang him up and asked him along. I figured we could commiserate on the sorry state of modern automotive design, and I was right. As we walked among the rows of cars, we both squatted frequently to photograph each car’s distinctive details. We remarked several times to each other about cars that delighted us, but we agreed that it was hard to choose a favorite.

64 Pontiac Catalina Safari
1964 Pontiac Catalina

I may have lingered longest over the station wagons, though. Pontiacs ruled in wagons at the auction, with a 1970 Catalina, 1964 Catalina, a 1956 Safari, and a 1956 Chieftain. And I really enjoyed a 1947 Cadillac limousine, a 1949 Oldsmobile fastback coupe, and a 1949 Hudson Commodore coupe. Of more modern cars, I dug several 1967 and 1968 Chevy Impalas, a 1965 Plymouth Satellite convertible, and a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with a Hemi and the shaker hood.

67 Chevy Impala 68 Dodge Coronet RT
1967 Chevrolet Impala, 1968 Dodge Charger R/T
47 Ford
1947 Ford

Even two guys who love cars eventually wear out. My feet hurt and my legs felt like spaghetti. And given that this was a working auction, with these old cars frequently being started and driven to the auction block, we both felt woozy from all the pre-emissions-standards exhaust. So with one whole building full of cars still unseen, we called it a day and headed for home. I walked funny for three days, my legs were so sore from all the squatting to take these photographs. But it sure was a satisfying day. I’ll be back next year.

Click through any of these photos to see it larger on Flickr.

Do you dig cars too? You might like my stories about cars I’ve known.


4 responses to “Woozy from the exhaust”

  1. vanilla Avatar

    Looking at old cars makes me happy, too. Designers understood things back in the day.
    The frontal view of the ’34 Ford grabbed me instantly. In 1946 my sister required an appendectomy. Dad’s ministerial salary wasn’t going to cover the bill. He bought an old ’34 Ford, gave her a valve and ring job in our shed outback, sold her for enough to cover his expenses and the medical bill. Mechanically speaking, I’d just have to stiff the doctor, or find another way.

    1. Jim Avatar

      There are few fenderlines as dramatic as the ’34 Ford. I admire your dad’s resourcefulness.

  2. Michael Roe Avatar

    Great photos, Jim!* And a great day. Thanks again for inviting me!

    *My favorite is the 1956 Lincoln Premiere

    1. Jim Avatar

      I was glad you could come along!

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