I see automotive treasures everywhere. Recently it was in a pile of rubbish. While I try not to spend too much time inspecting piles of garbage lying in the street, a flash of red caught my attention the other day, and I saw a poor broken toy car peeking up at me. Even if it was in a few pieces, I decided to take it home and see if I could put it back together. It's not that I really needed a busted plastic car, but it reminded me of a similar toy I had as a kid, and I figured it deserved a photo shoot as a send off before it headed to that recycle bin in the sky.
The roof and windows had been broken out, but were still with the car. One wheel was missing, but I didn't feel like spending too much time sifting through trash to find it. When I got it home I did my best to reassemble the little car. It appeared, according to the licence plate, to be modelled after a Mercedes 450 SLC coupe from the 1970's, which was a strange choice for a Police car model. This was especially odd when you notice that it carried a 'Highway Patrol' sticker, and a US-style light-bar on the top. I can maybe believe a Mercedes might have been used in Germany as a Police car, but probably not a 450 SLC coupe, and definitely not the US!
I was able to more or less get the black windows back in place and set the roof back on to be able to grab a few pictures. The toy clearly was on its last legs (wheels?), and had chased its last robber down the highway. Even if it was clearly a fairly cheap plastic car, it DID have a few neat details, like the headlights and taillights, the licence plates, and the 'chromed' grille and bumpers. Someone had obviously closely studied the Mercedes coupe before designing this child's toy.
At first glance I assumed the car was remote-controlled, but when I turned it over and saw the bottom, I realised that it was a simple 'bump and go' type toy. The central wheels drove the car forward, and when it hit something, it would tend to spin around and take off in another direction. Not really a high-tech toy, even for the 80's, but I remember having a similar type car, and got a kick out of watching it go in all directions.
With the switch in the 'OFF' position and the batteries missing from the holder, 'Police Force 99' wasn't going to be doing any more chasing of bad guys. Still, it was fun to think back to the cool car toys I had as a kid, and the fun that this one must have provided a little boy or girl in the neighbourhood. I don't know if this type of simple toy is still popular today, or if most kids instead spend their time with computer and video games. Do your children like this sort of electric car, or the remote controlled versions, or are they already relegated to the past?
It's not like I needed any confirmation, but a love of cars runs in the family. A few months back one of my aunts sent me an old faded picture of her, my father, and their three other siblings in a fantastic old classic car. The roadster belonged to my uncle David, seated behind the wheel. Even in the grainy photo he looks rather proud of his car. My father Byron is sitting beside him, with the youngest, Debbie, on the right fender, and Joan and Judy smiling on the left fender.
Apparently there was a handwritten inscription on the back of the photo that read "David's Old Star". I assumed that this meant that it was his pride and joy, but my aunt thought it was actually the name of the car. Turns out she was right; the car was a 'Star' model from the 1920s. The picture was taken sometime towards the end of the 1950s, so in a way this car was already retro when it was photographed in front of my grandparents house all those years ago.
I did a quick search of the 'Star' name, and discovered that it was built by Durant from 1922 to 1928. It's hard to know much about this old car, except that I'm sure it was well loved. I have a sneaking suspicion that my uncle didn't always obey the posted speed limits, and there's a good chance that more than one attempt at pushing the 'old Star' to the limits was performed. I'd be curious to know what stabs at 'tuning' had occurred under the hood. Knowing my uncle, it's hard to believe that SOMETHING wasn't tinkered with. It wouldn't be David's car if there wasn't a choice piece of wood in there somewhere!
In this photo it would seem that everyone is dressed in their Sunday best. Debbie looks especially lovely in her blue dress, Joan and Judy are sporting pretty hairdos, and I doubt my father ever wore a suit jacket except on a Sunday. Maybe this was after church, and the five kids were off for a drive around the countryside. They could have packed a picnic lunch and headed out to 'Tiny Falls'. Or maybe David was heading to college, and everyone was seeing him off. Had he just purchased the car, or was it a last picture before he sold it? That's what's so wonderful about old photos: they tell a story, but you don't know which one. They really tell a lifetime of stories.
Did any of the people in the photo guess that they would one day have a total of 14 kids between them? Or 17 grandkids? That they would spend countless summers at the seaside together? Or inflict a whole generation of their children with an unnerving love of bad jokes and wordplay, the legendary 'Tom Swifties' that start innocently enough but build until everyone is doubled-over in laughter? I doubt it. It was probably a moment like any other, when the kids were told to stand still and smile for the camera, and in a flash the moment was gone.
I always knew that my uncle was a big car fan. He and my father would spend hours discussing all sorts of things, but the old cars they had owned and the trips they had taken were always common themes. As you can imagine, I was very happy to see this photo, and be reminded that this love of cars runs in my veins. It was also great to see my aunts, uncle, and father all together in this photo. In this day in age when we have countless photos of everyday events, a peek into the past like this is a real treasure. I can just imagine right after this photo was taken, hearing the clankety old 4-banger fire up and David's 'Old Star' putt-putting off down the street...
When I'm at home in Canada, or in France where I lived for years, I rarely encounter a vehicle I don't recognize. That's not to say I know every model or year, but I usually have a pretty good idea what make a car is at least. When travelling, however, I frequently encounter vehicles I have not seen before and sometimes haven't even heard of. A quick scan around the vehicle to locate a logo or nametag is therefore necessary to learn the model name.
During a recent trip to Laos one car had me stumped though. A small white sedan from the late 1970's or early 1980's looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't be sure. Most of the older cars in Laos were Toyotas, but it didn't look exactly like the other Toyota models I had already seen. There were a few older Nissans around, or even older Datsuns, but how to be sure? Was it even Japanese? It it reminded me a bit of a Gemini I had seen (and technically purchased!) in Indonesia, but I hadn't seen any other Holdens in Laos...
I wandered around the car, but there were no badges in the typical locations (on the grille, trunk lid, or fenders), or even on the steering wheel. It looked like I wasn't going to find out, so I grabbed a few photos and got ready to wander off. Thankfully my travel companion had a sharper eye then me, and told me to check out the front left mudflap. There, in white letters, was the name 'Toyota'.
My first guess was right. It was a pretty battered example of the Corona model, a car I had photographed on several previous occasions, again in Indonesia:
It's always a pleasure as a car fan to learn about old models I don't know, so I hope I continue to discover these 'gems' during future travels. They don't have to be beautiful to catch my attention, as this ratty old Toyota proves, they just have to be different!
The Jurassic Park films may have been set and largely filmed in Costa Rica, but the South Eastern Asian country of Laos could just as easily have been the backdrop for the dino-flicks. While riding around the countryside on scooters last month, my travel partner and I both commented that we half expected Velociraptors and T-Rexs to jump out at us from the jungle. The overall terrain was quite flat, but hills and mountains jutted up almost out of nowhere.
Thankfully no dinosaurs did appear, as I'm not sure we would have outrun much on our 125cc scooters, especially on the rough, rutted, muddy roads and paths that wound their way through the countryside. In the nearby city of Luang Prabang I stumbled across a much more capable dinosaur getaway vehicle, however. It was a beautiful cream-coloured 4x4. The rugged, topless off-road truck looked like it was built for mad dashes across the fields and through the jungle.
The big knobby tires, high ground clearance, and spare gas can all hinted at the 4x4s off-road capabilities. There were jump seats in the back, making rescuing stragglers possible, and the windshield was designed to fold forward in case there was a fallen tree to duck under. It was easy to picture myself tearing through the jungle with the hot breath of a hungry dinosaur on my neck...
There were no logos or names on the 4x4, but it looked something like a classic Land Rover or Land Cruiser. Turns out it was a GAZ-69, built between 1953 and 1972 in the Soviet Union. The cream paint and saddle brown seats looked fantastic together, and the crowning touch was a straw hat sitting on the gearshift. It's as if it was begging for me to jump in, prop the hat on my head, fire up the engine, and tear off on a life-or-death race against a cranky dinosaur.
In the end my getaway vehicle stayed parked. No dino-mergency presented itself, and even if it had, the keys weren't in the ignition. I've never hot-wired a vehicle, and it isn't with an imminent risk of dinosaur attack that I should try to learn. Still, if someday in the future you find yourself in a Jurassic-style setting and feel the ground shake behind you, hope and pray that such a perfect escape vehicle is waiting patiently for you!
Welcome! My name is Paul, and I am an old-fashioned, low-pressure, low-buck car fan with lots of automotive stories to tell!