Film Photography, Old Cars

Kodak Plus-X and the Carmel Artomobilia

I had two SLRs slung over my shoulders at the 2017 Carmel Artomobilia last month: my Pentax ME with wonderful Fujifilm Superia 100 inside, and my Pentax Spotmatic F with my last roll of Kodak Plus-X.


On this day, with this lens (55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar), the Plus-X returned blacks you could just fall into.


And the grays and whites came out creamy.

Hurst Olds

I wished briefly that I had screwed in my 35mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar. The thick crowds made it difficult, at best, to back up far enough to get entire cars in the frame. The 35/3.5 would have made me back up a lot less.


But I’ve been exploring the 55/1.8’s considerable charms lately, and in retrospect am not disappointed I left it on the camera. It performed well, and it’s seldom a real problem to focus on an old car’s details.


Growing up in the 1970s as I did, when half or more of the cars on the road were from GM, it was easy to take their dominance for granted. Looking back, it’s clear just how good their designs were. How daring it was in 1970 that the second-generation Camaro and Firebird had no distinct rear passenger windows! The shape of this window opening is just smashing.

Flying lady

Packard’s Flying Lady hood ornaments are a favorite subject. I shoot them whenever I come across them at a car show.

Ol' propeller nose

This is the famous front end of the Studebaker I photographed from the rear here. The girl walking away was a happy coincidence as I framed this shot, so I made sure to include her.


The Citroën DS is funky from every angle and in every detail. Just check out how these headlights don’t both point forward. This is a later DS; earlier ones had uncovered headlights.


Plenty of American muscle was on display at the Artomobilia. I’m partial to the Mopars of the era for their no-nonsense styling.


Avantis were made in my hometown, South Bend. They were Studebakers at first, but after Studebaker shuttered a new company formed to keep Avanti production going. They used leftover Studebaker engines at first but eventually had to turn to Chevy to provide powerplants. Post-Studebaker Avantis were given the “Avanti II” name, probably for rights reasons.

Avanti II

As the show began to wrap up and the crowds thinned, I was able to get a few wider shots of the event and its cars.

Vette 2

It wasn’t all classics at the Artomobilia. Several owners of newer hi-po Ford Mustangs lined up their cars for inspection.

Hoods up

Here’s hoping I can find time for more car shows. I do love to photograph cars and I think I’ve become pretty good at it. They’re certainly the subject with which I am most confident.

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Prepped for auction

Prepped for auction
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax
Kodak T-Max 400

Old Cars, Photography
Old Cars

Up close and personal with vintage automobiles

My favorite thing to do at the Mecum Spring Classic vintage-car auction is move in close to the cars’ details with my camera. At the Mecum, you can get close enough to the cars to touch them! (But please don’t; they don’t belong to you.) If I were to see these cars in museums, they’d be well behind velvet ropes and out of range from my macro lens.

1950 Hudson Commodore h

1950 Hudson Commodore. Meet the hood ornament of my favorite car at this year’s auction. When photographing chrome straight on, you always make a cameo appearance in the photograph. Can you spot me?

1949 Hudson Commodore j

1949 Hudson Commodore. A step-down Hudson from the previous year was on hand, too. It was every bit as nice as the ’50 I claim as my favorite; I just liked the ’50 in yellow better than the ’49 in pewter.

1956 Studebaker Commander e

1956 Studebaker Commander. The strong typography on this car’s decklid drew me right in.

1966 Plymouth Belvedere f

1966 Plymouth Belvedere. I am amused by the stuff automakers used to tack onto cars – things that could easily be broken off, like this period Plymouth logo.

1964 Studebaker GT Hawk e

1964 Studebaker GT Hawk. Studebaker’s last logo was startlingly modern, and still looks good today, even in hood-ornament form.

1969 Dodge Charger 500 SE c

1969 Dodge Charger 500 SE. I always thought these fuel-filler doors were wicked cool. The current Dodge Challenger has a fuel-filler door that evokes this design.

1965 Ford Falcon Futura e

1965 Ford Falcon Futura. I really enjoy the badging on vintage automobiles, all chromy and colorful. Futura was the top trim line on Ford’s compact Falcon.

1950 Buick Roadmaster f

1950 Buick Roadmaster. Dynaflow was Buick’s first automatic transmission. It was engineered for smoothness, I hear, but at the cost of power. That earned this tranny the nickname, “Dynaslush.”

1935 Buick Victoria replica b

1935 Buick Victoria. I am amused by how many hood ornaments on 1930s cars feature stretching women.

1965 Volkswagen Bus h

1965 Volkswagen Bus. Ok, so this isn’t a close shot. But I enjoy this perspective on the 21-window experience.

1956 Ford F100 c

1956 Ford F100. Finally, this badge from a Ford truck. Lightning and gears, baby, that’s what trucks are all about. Seriously, I just like the colors in this one.

Want to see more old-car photographic goodness? Click here and scroll on through!

Old Cars

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

People watching at the Mecum Spring Classic

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.

People at the Mecum auction

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.

People at the Mecum auction

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.

People at the Mecum auction

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.

People at the Mecum auction

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.

People at the Mecum auction

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.

People at the Mecum auction
Old Cars, Photographs

1966 Ford Custom 500

1966 Ford Custom 500 o

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.

1966 Ford Custom 500 l

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.

1966 Ford Custom 500 r

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.

1966 Ford Custom 500 q

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.

1966 Ford Custom 500 x

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.

1966 Ford Custom 500 b

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.

1966 Ford Custom 500 f

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.

1966 Ford Custom 500 c

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.