Old Cars, Photography

Sleepless among classic cars

I dragged my butt to the Mecum Spring Classic muscle-car auction this year. I normally go excited and energized, but this year I’d had an unexpected, serious case of insomnia the night before. I got no sleep whatsoever before I had to get up and drive my kids across town so they could get to school on time. I drove from there to Margaret’s, as she was going along to see the cars with me this year. I slept hard on her couch for an hour and a half, but then sleep eluded me again.

Insomnia and I go way back. When it visits, I just go with it. I read, or watch TV, or clean, or surf the Net. I usually get drowsy enough to sleep within a few hours. If I don’t, I go about my day as best I can. And so even on next to no sleep, we drove on down to the fairgrounds to take in the cars. I was groggy and dizzy and headachy all day, but I still managed to have some fun.

Even though the Mecum is primarily a muscle-car auction, many other kinds of old cars are on hand. I go to see those cars, actually. Every year, I see cars I’ve read about, or seen in photos, but have never seen in person. This year, that car was this 1927 Hupmobile.

1927 Hupmobile

I’ve seen plenty of Ramblers, though; they weren’t uncommon when I was a boy. I find this ’60 Rambler Super’s angular lines strangely alluring.

1960 Rambler Super

I love Ford trucks of this body style. My grandpa had one when I was very small. This one’s from 1967.

1967 Ford F100

Also from 1967, here’s a screaming red Pontiac Bonneville convertible. This car is about 18 feet long. You could park my Ford Focus on its hood, I’m sure.

1967 Pontiac Bonneville

VW Buses were pretty common during my 1970s kidhood, but the pickups on that chassis were not. So I was glad to see this ’70 Transporter.

1970 Volkswagen Transporter II

I love station wagons. There can’t be many ’72 Buick Sport Wagons left. Modern car design tends to push the rear wheels way out to the back of the vehicle, so it’s odd to see so much overhang behind the rear wheels of this Buick.

1972 Buick Sport Wagon

Margaret was taken with this ’72 Fiat 500. We both towered over it.

1972 Fiat 500

This is the first car we saw at the auction, a ’73 Chevy Impala two-door hardtop. It seems strange today, but in those days, full-sized cars came with many different roofs: hardtop (no pillar behind the front door) and pillared, four-door and two-door. And Chevy had two two-door rooflines. This one was the sportier of the two, and was called the Sports Roof. This one looks factory fresh, down to those awesome wheel covers that were typical of the period. Dad had a ’71 Impala with this roof. It was the most unreliable car we owned.

1973 Chevrolet Impala

I’m sharing this one just because it’s so over the top: a ’74 Ford Ranchero Squire, in double brown with a brown interior. This enormous vehicle was considered mid-sized in its time.

1974 Ford Ranchero Squire

A study in opposites: this 1976 Citroen CX. This car is cram-packed with engineering innovation, including a hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension and variable-assist power steering. US auto regulations prohibited such things then, so Citroen couldn’t legally sell them here. But they were very popular in Europe, being made from 1974 to 1991.

1976 Citroen CX

We stayed but a few hours. I normally stay all day, but finally I couldn’t hold out anymore. A nap was in my immediate future. Mercifully, blissfully, I slept through the night that night.

I’ll share my favorite car from the auction in an upcoming post.


I go to the Mecum every year. Here are posts from past years: here and here and here and here and here and here.

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Photography

Cross at Corner Only

Cross at Corner OnlyHand-painted street signs like this one were very common in South Bend during my 1970s kidhood there. I remember the school-zone signs in my neighborhood as being hand painted, for example. I took it for granted until I moved away and found that other cities didn’t do it that way.

I’m sure that increasing standards for sign reflectivity at night forced South Bend to move away from hand-painted signs. But some still lurk about, like this one in front of the Century Center downtown. I took this in 2009 with my Kodak EasyShare Z730. You’ll know you’re looking at one of South Bend’s hand-painted signs when you see brush marks in faded paint.

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Vintage Television

Vintage TV: The Twilight Zone

My kids don’t like The Twilight Zone.

twilight_zone_titleDuring my 1970s kidhood, this show was one of my favorite gems of syndicated television. I loved to come across it, especially late at night, and enjoy its tales of science fiction and fantasy, of warped human nature, and of dystopia.

What I didn’t understand was that when the show originally aired, from 1959 to 1964, reason was king. People seriously and earnestly sought surety. They believed in absolutes; they deferred to authority. There was a sense that you could truly understand the world, and that there had to be a rational explanation for everything.

A frequent premise of The Twilight Zone episodes was the search for a rational explanation to events that made no rational sense. Characters were thought to have cracked, to have lost their marbles, when they spoke of experiences that they could not explain logically.

But that kind of modernist thinking had all but ended by the 1970s. I didn’t know it, of course; what small boy is aware of society changing around him? But in those days, the generation entering adulthood felt that things didn’t have to make sense, that there might not be any absolutes, and that a universal, objective means of judging things as right or true might not exist. The postmodern age had dawned.

I found these shows to be delightful because I understood both sides, although only viscerally. I grew up around adults, largely of my grandparents’ generation, who clung to those old modes of thinking – and I watched their children thumb their nose at it all. My grandparents loved The Twilight Zone as I did. But I think our experience with the show differed sharply. I imagine that sometimes it frightened them, because it challenged what they knew to be right and solid. In contrast, the shows excited me, because I wanted to believe that such alternate realities could exist.

But for my children, who have never known anyone from my grandparents’ generation, for whom the postmodern transition has always been complete, The Twilight Zone’s protagonists are buffoons trapped in a too-narrow reality. My kids can’t relate to them. They take as a given that things happen that can’t be explained. It’s reflected in the shows they enjoy watching: The Walking Dead, Supernatural, Doctor Who.They accept as given that their world is full of unfathomable mysteries. They embrace it. The Twilight Zone points to a time when the world was a puzzle that could be solved. It is too different, and it just can’t reach them.

See everything I’ve written in this occasional series about vintage television here.

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Personal, Stories Told

Summer’s denouement

This post on another blog I follow reminded me of this piece I wrote in 2008. The photos are from my first roll of film, shot in August of 1976, of the children I wrote about here. It seems appropriate to re-run this on Labor Day; you’ll see why as you read it.

During my 1970s kidhood when school started after Labor Day as God intended, my mid-August birthday always meant summer was beginning to end. By then, the afternoon sun was at its hottest and most intense, the annual August dry spell began to toughen and dry spring’s tender greenery, and the street lights switched on earlier to send everyone inside for long quiet evenings with our families and our TVs.

Colleen and David

Colleen and David

The dozens of children all up and down Rabbit Hill, as our parents nicknamed our prolific neighborhood, always sensed these changes and we all began to squeeze in as much play as we could before time ran out. One fellow down the street, thinking he was Mickey Rooney in Babes in Armsalways organized and directed an end-of-summer show, an extravaganza that nobody would come and watch because everybody was in it. I would push to reach the new tree-climbing heights my brother and his best friend had mastered weeks before, heightening their schadenfreude when I would inevitably fall, land on my back, have the wind knocked out of me, and make that loud but hilarious sucking noise that only sounds like death is imminent. Somebody would connive their mother into have a big running-through-the-sprinkler get together at which gallons of Kool-Aid were served. Several kids sold lemonade or toys at a family garage sale to raise money for Jerry’s Kids. The chubby fellow who lived where the street curved sang his slightly naughty rhymes more often (“In 1944/My father went to the war/He stepped on the gas/And blew out his ass/In 1944!”) hoping to squeeze out another laugh. And then came the telethon, which was on almost everybody’s TV, and we all knew it was over.

Darin

Darin

Sure, we could still play war in full army gear in the wide easement behind the houses, ride our bikes and Big Wheels up and down the hill making siren sounds as if we were a horde of ambulances and police cars (imagine 20 children doing this on your street!), play endless Red Rover in the freckled girl’s front yard, and watch the four-year-old girl next door eat sand with a spoon (oh, if her mom only knew) the day after school started too. We simply lost most of our enthusiasm. It was time to button ourselves back down and return to school-day routines.

Meredith and Dawn

Meredith and Dawn

Rabbit Hill conditioned me well; I still recognize and lament the signs of summer’s end. My kids are back in school (since a few days after my birthday, what nonsense). The telethon has come and gone, although Jerry Lewis isn’t welcome there anymore. The grass hasn’t grown much in weeks because of the annual dry spell. My air conditioner has been off more days than it’s been on; it was even too chilly the other morning to drive to work with the window down. I’ve crammed as much outside time as I can into these days to enjoy their freedom, but the end is in sight. Shorts will soon give way to long pants and short sleeves will give way to long sleeves. I’ll be in a windbreaker with a rake in my hands, collecting my trees’ considerable deposits. The snow will fly and I’ll be hunkered down at home. I still feel restricted, buttoned down, in fall and winter.

Dawn

A different Dawn

Here’s hoping for a long, warm Indian summer first!

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Growing up on Rabbit Hill
was all right. Read about it here.

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Photography

Captured: Foodliner

Foodliner

I remember a time, during my 1970s kidhood, when the IGA Foodliner was the official grocery store of the rural Midwest. Even through the 1980s, if you drove out of the city and into the cornfields, when you came upon a small town you’d almost certainly find a Foodliner.

In the intervening years many rural IGA stores have closed. The one in Burlington, Indiana, on the Michigan Road, was the only one left anywhere near me as far as I knew. It hung in there until a couple years ago, but it’s a Dollar General now. When I came upon this one as I passed through Morgantown, Indiana, recently, I stopped to photograph it. It’s hard telling when I’ll see another, and this is such a classic example. Nikon N60, AF Nikkor 28-80mm, expired Kodak Gold 200.

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Old Cars, Photography

Cars I’d only ever seen in pictures, which I now present to you…in pictures

When I was a car-crazy boy, I spent a large amount of my allowance on car magazines and books. My favorite book was the Encyclopedia of American Cars, an exhaustive look at virtually every automobile ever made on these shores. My copy was from the 1980s, but the publisher updated it periodically through the early 2000s. That same publisher issues six issues of Collectible Automobile magazine annually, and I’ve subscribed for nearly 20 years. I’m still car crazy! Then as now, I drool over photos of cars I can only dream of owning, and pore over their histories and manufacturing statistics.

And so every May when I go to the Mecum Spring Classic, a large classic-car auction held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, I hope to see some of the most exotic, rare, and unusual cars that I have only ever seen in photographs. Each year, I mark a few more cars off my list. Here are the cars I got to see in person for the first time at this year’s auction.

Stutz cars were made right here in Indianapolis, so you’d think I would have seen one by now. But this 1926 Stutz Model 695 was my first.

1926 Stutz Model 695

I’ve always really liked the 1949-1951 Fords. They’re pretty common and I’ve certainly seen plenty of them – but never a Crestliner coupe with its distinctive two-tone paint scheme. This Crestliner is from 1951.

1951 Ford Crestliner

Buick introduced its Skylark in 1953 to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary. During my 1970s kidhood, Skylarks were compact cars near the entry-level end of the Buick hierarchy. But the first Skylarks were premium automobiles that stickered north of $5,000, which is equivalent to about $43,000 today.

1953 Buick Skylark

Ford flirted with see-through roofs in 1954, producing such a car in both the Ford and Mercury lines. Both cars shared the same green acrylic roof panel. This is the Mercury version, which was called the Sun Valley.

1954 Mercury Sun Valley

Ford produced the Continental Mark II in 1956 as its own make – in other words, it wasn’t a Lincoln Continental, it was just a Continental. And it was ex-pen-sive at more than $10,000 – that’s more than $84,000 today. Unbelievably, Ford took a loss on each one! They sold fewer than 3,000 Mark IIs before pulling the plug in 1957, so it’s no wonder I’d never encountered one before.

1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II

The 1956 Packard Carribean couldn’t breathe the Mark II’s air, but it was still a plenty exclusive and expensive car. Fewer than 1,000 Carribeans were built in each of the model’s four years.

1956 Packard Carribean

I didn’t know that the Carribean’s seat cushions could be flipped. One side was cloth and the other leather.

1956 Packard Carribean

It may be hard to believe today, but all trucks came with “stepside” beds before 1955, when Chevrolet introduced its straight-sided Cameo Carrier. (This one’s from 1957.) Obviously, the look caught on.

1957 Chevrolet Cameo

When American Motors introduced the Rambler Marlin in 1965, it was trying for a sporty midsize car, something for the guy who really wanted a Mustang but needed a usable rear seat. Few liked the styling, however. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney drove one when he was in high school – no doubt because his father was running American Motors at the time.

1965 Rambler Marlin

Malcolm Bricklin may be best remembered for being the first to import Subarus into the United States, but he also produced a sports car of sorts in the 1970s. The Bricklin SV-1 had powered gullwing doors and a slew of safety equipment that made the car very heavy, and therefore quite slow.

1975 Bricklin SV1

John DeLorean also used gullwing doors in his sports car, the DMC-12, but you had to push them open yourself. It’s funny – I’d always looked forward to encountering my first DeLorean, but I was simply underwhelmed by this one. I think its 1980s styling, so daring in its day, seems mighty tame today.

1983 DeLorean DMC-12

Next time: My favorite photos from this year’s auction.

This was my fourth year at the auction.
See photos from the other years here, here, and here

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