Saturday, November 28, 2009

Crossover Ancestor - 1975 Ford Ranchero 500

1975 Ford Ranchero - copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009


Since this post has proven to be quite popular, and I know I have some British readers, I was wondering, do you have a term for a vehicle that's a car in front and a lorry in the back? With an open bed, I mean, not like the Mini Clubman>

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I find car-truck hybrids to be intriguing vehicles. I have always been puzzled by even their limited popularity.

It seems like almost every manufacturer has tried selling one of these mutant machines at some point, no matter how impractical or how bizarre the bodywork needed to stretch around a car front and a pickup bed. These cars are the automotive equivalent of a mullet haircut, but the party’s out in front, work in the back.

1975 Ford Ranchero 02 - copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

You could see them as the predecessor to the SUV in that they bridge the gap between a material hauler and a people hauler, and are poorly suited for either task.

1975 Ford Ranchero - front end - copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

But because this Ranchero was built on a car chassis, if it were built today it would be categorized as a “crossover”. Strangely, it took more than two decades for the open pickup bed to get a roof.

When this Ranchero was built, pretty much the only people who drove pick-up trucks were people who needed to actually haul stuff. Farmers, trades people, lumber jacks.

So, why would anyone buy a car that looks like a pickup truck but isn’t robust enough to pull a big trailer or haul a ton of manure? As you can see from the silhouette of this Ranchero, they did not buy it for its vast cabin. And the bed, being open, is not really even suitable for the groceries.

1975 Ford Ranchero - hoodline - copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

1975 Ford Ranchero - hoodline closer - copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

1975 Ford Ranchero - roof pillar - copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

My theory was always that the buyers of Rancheros and El Caminos were strictly trying to make a statement. I have just never been sure what it was.

I did not have the opportunity to visit with the driver of this pristine example, with its classic Crager S/S wheels. However, I’m guessing from the fact that I came across it dripping with morning dew after it had spent the night beside the sand volleyball court outside a large tavern near Rock Island, IL, that its owner might have had surfboards in mind. It’s all I can think of.

1975 Ford Ranchero - rear quarterpanel - copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

Despite the Ranchero’s long history (1957-1979,) built on the Fairlane, Falcon, Torino and finally the Thunderbird platforms, with a total of a half a million or so delivered, the Ranchero lived in a tiny patch of the shadow cast by its true truck cousin, the ever-massively-popular Ford 100 Series pickup, which has so far been the choice for over 32,000,000 Ford buyers. Who actually needed to haul stuff.

1975 Ford Ranchero - bed - copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

All words and images copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pete Turner - car wash sign

BP car wash sign - copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

(Click the image for a larger view - large file)

This blog's about “cars” but it’s also about photography and the esthetics of the craft (art). Sometimes.

I took this picture at a BP gas station (but you knew that) where I stopped along Rte. 2 in Western Illinois. It really doesn’t matter where it is, because it could have been taken anywhere.

When I was coming up as a photographer, one of the sensations in the relatively new and disrespected field of color photography was a guy named Pete Turner. If you are into fine art photography, you know Turner. I really like his work.

One of his most famous images is of a trash can on a beach. It was recently featured on the cover of a very expensive new magazine about fine art photography called simply “Color”. You can see it here. (Actually, Turner frequently photographed car/truck-related scenes...)

When my father-in-law brought me the “Color” magazine, I managed to dial up this image from the very slow memory chip I call my brain, and looked it up on the hard drive of my PC.

As a photographer, you will notice the saturated, flat color and the subtle shadow across the rough block texture, the color difference between the direct and reflected sunlight, the reflections on the blue surface, the composition that cuts off the objects in the lower left of the frame, and the seam in the sign that bisects the letter “s”, which is what I originally noticed.

As an observer of the world around you, you may also notice the weathering of the adhesive letters that textures the marketing message of the graphic. Can a car wash keep my car from aging?

(And isn't that post in the corner in Shell colors?)

Classic gas station design has always relied on flat, smooth areas of brand colors against white. The ceramic coated metal plates that used to sheath the buildings are long gone, but the style has proven its effectiveness.

Anyway, I like the picture.

All words and images copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pink Packard

Pink Packard copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Featured Image! Click this image for a full-size view. (Very large file)

I took the side roads to Doc’s place the other day, jumping off the freeway and onto Illinois Route 2 that runs along the bank of the Rock River.

Between Oregon and Castle Rock State Park, I came across a small cluster of abandoned buildings surrounded by a field of decaying cars and a few farm tractors (which I am learning to appreciate). I almost drove right past, as most of the cars had become nearly absorbed into the landscape.

But this pink Packard was pretty hard to miss.

Pink Packard 02 copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Pink Packard 03 copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

There were a number of Packards, a Studebaker and a Kaiser, as well as some other vehicles I could not name for the life of me. They seemed to be way too small to be American. And there was one Renault from about the mid-seventies.

Pink Packard 04 copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

I found myself wondering about the person who had assembled this unique collection of automobiles, and how they came to be left here to be consumed by the lichens, moss and prairie vegetation and trees.

All words and images copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chrome Landscape – 1959 Dodge Coronet

Chrome Landscape - 1959 Dodge Coronet - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

NEW FEATURE! Click image for a full-size view. (Very large file)

This monstrous car was just kind of sulking, looking to me literally like a fish out of water in the parking lot of my favorite coffee shop.

Its designers intended it to look like a space ship, and in its time perhaps many people saw it that way.

In 1959, of course, American product design was heavily influenced by imaginative, if completely uninformed, expressions of aerodynamics, which look so quaint to us as people from the future.
Eventually, we would understand that the organic shapes of birds and fish are optimized for movement through flowing air or water as opposed to space.

You see lots of photos of these massive chrome elements that were stylish then, exactly because they seem amusingly ironic to eyes that have seen the Stealth fighter and the Millennium Falcon. Usually, photographers will accentuate the extravagant lines or the bulbous outgrowths of cars of the Fifties.

I used this picture to explore the terrain of the grill of this old Coronet. I wanted to look in front of the reflections in the paint and chrome; I wanted to see their surfaces.

I twisted the colors around and now it reminds me of the images from the Mars rovers.

Wonder what it will look like to people from the future.

-- ADDED 5:48 PM --

Ok, I had a little time on my hands and this idea rolling around in my head. I grabbed a NASA image of a Marscape, and overlayed it on my image.

What if Dodges really were spaceships?

This would make a great illustration for something!

Martian Chrome - 1959 Dodge Coronet overlayed with Marscape - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

All words and images copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The PACURA - Dan the Packer Man

PACURA - hood ornament - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

I met Dan (“The Packer Man”) from Oconomowoc in a parking lot yesterday. It made my day.

Sunday, the day before we met, the Green Bay Packers had managed to present the 7-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers with their first win of the season in a spectacular display of self-destruction. In spite of this, the sun was shining up in its heaven, which always surprises Packer fans on the morning after a loss.

It’s not terribly unusual to see cars (or even houses) that have gotten the Packer treatment, but Dan’s car carries Packer d├ęcor to an exceptional level of detail.

PACURA - flag waving - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

It’s a 1989 Acura Integra, (note the license plate) which was red from the factory, but now carries a paint scheme that replicates perfectly his favorite team’s helmets.

The helmets in the rear window carry all of the numbers retired by the Packers team over their long history.

The hood ornament, which I absolutely love, is actually a trophy for a Punt, Pass and Kick contest from 1974, which Dan bought at a yard sale. He removed the metal figure, painted it Packer colors and bolted it to the hood. I love the way he is leaning forward into the wind, arms at his side.

PACURA - license plate - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Dan told me that he only recently repainted the hood ornament’s jersey number to 12. (Some people here have had a very hard time letting go of #4. Others apparently gave Dan a hard time after Bret went over to the Vikings.)

Dan says driving the PACURA is a real kick because of the reaction he gets everywhere he goes. People get so excited about the PACURA that they pass him and then slow back down just to give him a smile and a thumbs up. When was the last time that happened to you on the freeway?

PACURA - interior - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Dan confided that after he decked out the car, his wife swore she would never be seen in it. He thinks she thought it would be embarrassing. “That’s YOUR car”, she told him.

When Dan finally convinced her to go out for a spin in the PACURA, (must have been after a big win) she couldn’t believe the honks, smiles, waves, and genuine expressions of appreciation the car draws from so many people. Now, she wants to drive it to work because it puts her in such a good mood!

PACURA - back seat - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

As I was thanking Dan for being such a good sport, I finally noticed his Packers watch. Dan confessed that he wasn’t wearing his Packers rings today because he was “traveling incognito… I’m laying low after that game yesterday.”

OK, Dan.

Dan and his PACURA - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

All words and images copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Snakeskin Faux - 1975 Mustang II Cobra

Mustang II Cobra - front left corner - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

It is well-established to readers that I am a Ford guy. I won’t repeat the details, but folks from southeastern Michigan (and lots of other people) are born into families that pass along strong loyalties to one of the (former) “Big Three” U.S. car companies. My family is Ford.

This Mustang II Cobra (it might be 1975, ’76 or ’77 – I can’t tell) was warming itself on the pavement in front of an auto parts store in Waukesha, WI when I passed.

Mustang II Cobra - hood scoop and stripes - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

The Mustang, of course, holds an honored place not just in Ford history, but automotive history as well. Approaching its 10th birthday in 1973, the once trim if underpowered Mustang had bloated almost out of recognition, and true believers were not happy. All this weight required huge power, which was really no problem until the Israeli army invaded Egypt in that year and provoked what is commonly called the “Arab Oil Embargo”.

Actually responding very quickly, Ford scrapped plans for a slightly smaller next-generation of the Mustang and took another step down the product line to build the Mustang II on the humble Pinto platform. (The family resemblance is a bit too strong for some.)

Mustang II Cobra - front 3-4ths view - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

“Cobra” will forever be associated with the legendary racer Caroll Shelby, who happened to see Ford engines when he was hallucinating about a lightweight British sports car stuffed with American V8 power, and the Shelby Cobras materialized. These cars are genuine classics, with original Cobras now far outnumbered by plastic-bodied poseurs.

So a Cobra version of the Mustang II was an irresistible move for a natural marketing maven like Ford president Lee Iacocca, who was instrumental in the transformation of the original Mustang from the pedestrian Falcon model. So, we have the Mustang II Cobra edition.

In my opinion, this is one of the ugliest products Ford ever built, and like all American cars of the mid-seventies it was subject to the only available fuel-saving and pollution-reducing technology at that time; strangulation. Performance wise, with the V8 engine, the car was not really much worse than its competitors, but really not Cobra-like at all.

Mustang II Cobra - louvers everywhere - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

With all of the Cobra body pieces, including the non-functional hood scoop, unnecessary louvers and questionable aerodynamic add-ons the car looks like it was vacuum-formed out of plastic parts that were never really test fitted until they met up on the assembly line.

As much of a fan as I am of bad cars, I have to admit that as a Ford guy, this one is a little embarrassing.

I should point out that the Mustang II was actually a huge sales success and enjoys a very loyal (if somewhat defensive) following. If you want to have a ‘70’s flashback, check out this video of Charlie's Angel Farah Fawcett stalking the bad guys in this car.

(The video's long, but do stay through the 1:24 mark where Jill enters the driveway a little too fast for the front spoiler, then gets out of the Mustang and swings her hair first one way - then the other!)

All words and images (except the video) copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Tractor Boneyard - Jaeckle Brothers

Car-crazed friends; I hope you can enjoy the mechanical beauty of these... actual cars coming up...

Jaeckle Brothers implements Jefferson County WI - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

I spotted the Jaeckle property from perhaps a mile away. The low fall sun was lighting up a huge mass of rusty – somethings. They weren’t cars, I was disappointed to conclude, but of course I had to drive over and look.

FARMALL Tractor - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

I turned off the highway onto Jaeckle Rd., and crested the hill to see old farm implements laid out in rows that stretched down the road past the top of the next rise, perhaps a quarter of a mile away. There were all sorts of rigs for dragging behind tractors which I recognized, but don’t know the names of. Hundreds of each kind, not one of them looking to be in serviceable condition.

At the top of the next hill, I slowed to a stop.

Before me in a green valley was a scene that could be described as agricultural Armageddon. The carcasses of hundreds and hundreds of farm tractors lay dismembered, rusting away and sinking into the damp earth.

Farm tractor boneyard - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

An old tractor is a simple machine. The stalwart engine is both the heart and the backbone of the beast. The rest of the tractor is simply along for the ride. The frame, which serves only to hold the wheels and provide a perch for the driver, is attached to the back of the engine block. Bodywork is nothing more than some safety shields which also serve as a medium to hold the maker’s color of paint.

Many of the tractors on the Jaeckle Brothers land had their most critical bolts removed, letting them collapse onto the field, spilling their gears and shafts onto the damp, grassy ground. Their higher extremities glowed with paint and rust and bare metal caught in the cool sunlight.

Tractor Boneyard - rusty valvetrain - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

What interests me most about these machines are their human interfaces – seats, steering wheels, hand levers, pedals and instruments. Hundreds - thousands - of hours of contact with hands and feet had worn these simple controls to beautiful patina that spoke to me of the work and worry and joy of growing food from a piece of the ground.

Tractor Boneyard - steering wheel - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Tractor Boneyard - levers - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

The Jaeckle brothers, who have been on this particular piece of ground since 1921, pull these worn out machines apart and extract those parts that can still turn and lift - and transplant them into other tractors which still tug and pull at the fields of Jefferson County, Wisconsin.

Tractor Boneyard - seat - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

All words and images copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009