1963 Ford Galaxie 500

When I go to the Mecum Spring Classic every May, I always take my digital camera and a pocketful of extra batteries — I take upwards of a thousand digital photos there every year. But I usually take a film camera along too, loaded with black-and-white film. This year, I used my film camera to move in close and study styling details. Iconic details, like this tail light on a 1963 Ford Galaxie.

1970 Chevrolet Camaro

And the tail lights on this 1970 Chevy Camaro. Chevy’s round tail lights were always the height of cool, whether on a Camaro or a Malibu or an Impala.


I also have a thing for headlights. Their design is clean and pleasing on this 1965 Porsche 356C.

1956 Lincoln Continental

And who doesn’t love the delightful, delicate binnacle on this 1956 Continental?

1967 Pontiac Bonneville

Pontiac’s front-end treatment on its 1967 full-sizers took a different tack, dropping the then de rigueur round lenses into dramatic, sculpted pockets.

Ford headlight

And for 1939, Ford placed its headlights in an upside-down teardrop shape.

V8 Ford

Staying with that ’39 Ford for a minute, the prow promises V8 power.

Plymouth 8

But that Ford V8 badge whispers where this V8 badge from a 1955 Plymouth boasts at top volume.

Forward Look

I’m pretty sure I snapped this Forward Look badge on the flank of that same 1955 Plymouth. What a great design.


Badging remains a favorite subject for my camera lens. I make a cameo appearance in this photo of a 1960 Pontiac Catalina.


Bold serifed letters in the hub of this 1966 Ford Mustang say that this car means business.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette

Sometimes I step back a little bit to take in more of a car, without capturing it all. I wanted to study the lines of this 1963 Corvette from this angle.

1964 Chevrolet Corvette

Right next to it was this 1966 (I think) Corvette, with its one-piece backlight. I’m partial to the split window for looks, but I’m sure that if I drove one of these I’d prefer this car for its better rear visibility.


The light played deliciously off this 1960 Rambler’s snout, and my camera captured it beautifully.

Pentax ME

Here’s the camera I used to shoot all of these photos: my circa-1977 Pentax ME. I used a 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax lens with Kodak T-Max 400 film – a fast lens with fast film because I was shooting primarily inside in available light, and needed all the light-gathering ability I could get. The pictured, slower f/2 lens would have made some of these shots a lot harder to get, if they were possible at all.

People sometimes ask me how to get started in film photography, and I always tell them to pick up a Pentax SLR body and a SMC Pentax lens on eBay. You can pick up a kit like that right now for well under $100, and if you’re patient you can snag one for under $50. They’re unsung bargains – try pricing classic Nikon film SLRs and you’ll see what I mean. And the Pentax lenses are first rate.

A version of this post also appeared on Curbside Classic, an old-car blog, a couple weeks ago.


17 responses to “Classic cars on black-and-white film”

  1. Gerald Avatar

    These are really nice, abstract and graphic, which is something b/w does particularly well.

    I’m also a huge advocate of the 70’s classic Pentax cameras. If I had to manage with just one 35mm camera, I’d probably pick my Pentax KM. I’d miss my Nikon F90 / 35mm f/2 combination for when I’m in ‘photojournalism mode’, but other than that I’d be happy to do all my 35mm photography with a Pentax.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much Gerald! I have always loved cars, and thanks to this auction have had a ton of practice photographing them. I have really learned to see these details and I am very often pleased by my work here. It’s a nice feeling.

      I’m with you: if I had to shed all of my cameras but one K-mount Pentax I’d miss my gear but get great photographs until the day I die. I really love the ME for easy aperture-priority shooting, but I have a KM as well and it’s a great camera.

      By the way, Pentax made a 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens… :-)

  2. Carole Grey Avatar
    Carole Grey

    Wow! Super black & whites!
    What a great Mustang steering wheel with matching round dials!
    Always enjoy your car photos.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! There were lots of fun details on these old cars to zero in on.

  3. Shaun Nelson Avatar

    I like to visit car shows with film too. It’s funny, I do about the same type of images. I’m never satisfied getting an entire car in a shot, so I focus and compose on the shapes and details. Great images! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m with you, I think getting up close to the details is the most interesting. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Super photos Jim and a great camera.I love Pentax too. The camera body’s can be had for not many $’s but
    its the f1.4 lens that fetch a premium especially here in the UK. I have the f1.7 version.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I did invest in that f/1.4 lens. I don’t remember exactly what I paid for it, but it was the most I’ve ever paid for any camera gear anywhere at any time. But I had a real use for that lens, as I’m the unofficial photographer at church and we tend to hold events in our dim basement. So ISO 800 film and that f/1.4 lens and I can shoot available light down there!

  5. Dawn Avatar

    Do you process your own film? I learned to do it years ago but have long ago forgotten how.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I do not. I want to, but time is not a thing I have in abundance. I spend more time blogging than I have to give it already. Maybe when both of my kids are done with high school. Just one more to go, two more years.

  6. joecrafted Avatar

    Wonderful shots, I think B&W (esp film with it’s latitude and dynamic range) is great for these kinds of design studies. I have probably shot too many ‘overview’ car shots, but have been getting closer and closer. I have a similar shot as the 38 Ford grille. I use a Yashica with a Pentax SMC 50/1.4 as well. The Yashica has an excellent metal Copal shutter, but the light meter is toast. I use a handheld meter with most of my film shooting anyway.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Do you have a converter so your Yashica can take K-mount lenses? I guess that’s a dumb question; of course you do. I just didn’t know they existed. Isn’t that 50/1.4 sweet?

      1. joecrafted Avatar

        Actually I use the M42 version of the Pentax SMC lens (Yashica is native M42 mount). Excellent lens, which I actually got for free, along with a Spotmatic in need of repair. I have sort of standardized on M42 bodies/lens for my 35mm film shooting. Very inexpensive, excellent optics, often very rugged bodies.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Aha! I have three SMC Takumars here and I agree, they’re great.

  7. nick Avatar

    Great shots!
    Thanks for showing them.
    Jim, taking your films to be processed and picking them up will shurely take more than the five minutes it takes to develope them?
    Ask your lab if they will push process. That Tmax film will do very good at ISO1600 and still good even at ISO3200.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I am sure that I could get to the point where it takes 5 minutes to develop my film, but there is learning curve before I get there. But the bigger hedge is the scanning. I’ve scanned scads of negatives and I just can’t get a speedy workflow down.

      I do get frustrated sending off b/w film and waiting 2 weeks to get the scans back, though.

      1. nick Avatar

        go ahead:

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