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.


My favorite car at this year’s Mecum auction was a pale yellow 1950 Hudson Commodore convertible. I photographed it extensively on Kodak Plus-X Pan film with my Nikon F2AS and my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens.

Traditional cars of that time placed the body and passenger compartment atop a frame, and to enter them you had to step up. The Hudson’s passenger compartment sat much lower because it was placed between the frame rails. It created a feeling of stepping down as you entered, and led to these cars being called the step-down Hudsons. This design also lowered the car’s center of gravity, helping these Hudsons to be very stable and to handle exceptionally. You can read a wonderfully thorough history of the step-down Hudsons here.

Click any of these photos to see them larger and to scroll through this entire gallery. Using relatively slow Plus-X (rated at ISO 125) in the light available under a tent on a gray day, I kept my f/2 lens wide open for all of these shots. That led to a very narrow in-focus patch for all of these photographs.

I have always loved the step-down Hudsons. When I was in middle school, I used to write dreadful short stories, in longhand, on notebook paper. I don’t mind at all that none of them survive. The only one I remember involved a main character who drove a 1950 Hudson sedan. I wanted my main character to be quirky and fiercely independent, and I figured that driving a 30-year-old (at the time) sedan from an independent automaker would symbolize his personality well.

What I didn’t know then was that Hudson’s standard six-cylinder engine, which this car has, was considered quite powerful, moreso than the eight-cylinder engines from Buick and Chrysler, with which Hudson’s cars competed in price.

My favorite car from last year’s auction was a 1966 Ford Custom 500.

Old cars, Photography

1950 Hudson Commodore

Old cars, Photography

If it weren’t for all the disposable income car collectors have, I’d never see old cars like these

The Mecum Spring Classic vintage car auction comes to the Indiana State Fairgrounds for six days every May, and I always take a day off work to go see the cars. This year, my day was a little disappointing. That’s not to say it was a bad day, just that it wasn’t the pure bliss I’ve experienced in the past. Normally, exhaustion sends me home after eight or nine hours and I haven’t seen all the cars yet. But this year, I’d seen everything within four hours. I can’t tell whether there were fewer cars available this year, or whether the rainy week meant that the cars normally parked in the sun were stored where I couldn’t find them. And I didn’t see very many kinds of cars this year that I hadn’t seen at auctions past. Perhaps after this many years I’ve seen it all!

There were still enough cars to fill five buildings of up to 100,000 square feet each, and I still shot more than 500 photographs of them. Here are my favorite cars from my day at the auction.

1931 Cadillac V12 a

1931 Cadillac V12. The older I get, the more I appreciate the classical design of early automobiles. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have given a car like this two seconds of my time, and I certainly wouldn’t want to own something like this, but now I appreciate every line.

1935 Buick Victoria replica c

1935 Buick Victoria. I looked for outside cars during a break in the rain and found only a few, including this beauty. The tag in the window says that this is a replica, which perplexes me as this doesn’t seem like the kind of car one would fake. I think Buick had some of the most beautiful cars of the 1930s.

1936 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 85 Limousine c

1936 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 85 Limousine. Another V12-powered Caddy, this car’s sheer audacity impresses me.

1940 Pontiac Special Coupe

1940 Pontiac coupe. I’m drawn to this body every time I see one. GM produced Chevys, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, and Buicks with this basic body, and it’s just a winner of a design. I’d like this one more if it didn’t have those dreadful non-stock wheels, though.

1950 Hudson Commodore a

1950 Hudson Commodore. This is my favorite car from the auction. I just adore the step-down Hudsons and the Mecum has yet to not have at least one. I like the sedan body best – it looks like the car a mafia don would drive to a massacre. But this convertible cheered me up considerably. I spent a lot of time photographing it in black-and-white with my Nikon F2. I haven’t had that film processed yet, but if those photos turn out I’ll share them in a future post.

1960 Ford Starliner a

1960 Ford Starliner. I really like the ’60 Ford’s design. It was such a departure from the stodgy Fords of the several years before and after it. And the Starliner’s sleek fastback roof was an elegant topper to the sculpted body. This roof was made primarily for its aerodynamic qualities, which gave Ford an edge in stock-car racing.

1964 Studebaker GT Hawk a

1964 Studebaker GT Hawk. Being from South Bend, it’s easy for me to put a Studebaker on my favorites list. I’ve never seen a green one before and I think the color befits the car. And Brooks Stevens worked wonders modernizing a body that went all the way back to 1953. But 1964 was the GT Hawk’s last year, as that’s when Studebaker ceased South Bend operations.

1967 Ford Galaxie 500 b

1967 Ford Galaxie 500. Dad’s a Ford man and drove a ’66 Galaxie 500 when I was born. I’ve always liked the fastback slope of this car’s roof over the squared-off ’66, although I liked the ’66 just fine. I like that this ’67 is unrestored and wears a typical paint color from its era. I respect historic automobile preservation.

1975 Pontiac LeMans a

1975 Pontiac LeMans. I remember when this body was introduced for 1973. Even though I was just five years old, I knew it was a bloated and ungainly turkey. What had happened to GM’s styling leadership of the 1950s and 1960s? I’m reluctant to say that the style has grown on me – perhaps I lingered over this car out of morbid curiosity. This one is all original and carries less than 3,000 miles on the clock. You would not believe the uneven seams and wide body-panel gaps on this thing. Fit and finish on American cars was famously awful during the 1970s.

Old cars

It’s classic-car week at Down the Road!

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.

Wide shot from the Mecum Spring Classic

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.

Wide shot from the Mecum Spring Classic

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.

Wide shot from the Mecum Spring Classic

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.


Past posts from the Mecum:
2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.