Paul d’Orléans

BONHAMS ‘PRESERVING THE AUTOMOBILE’

Bonhams auctions are singing the Oily Rag tune at the Simeone Foundation just outside Philadelphia on October 8, 2012.  With 63 unrestored cars (and a single Sears motorcycle!) coming under the hammer, anyone looking for an ‘as found’ project should give the catalog a good look.

The 1932 Aston Martin LeMans 'barn find'…

The Simeone Museum, site of the Auction, is an impressive collection of racing cars from the turn of the Century to the 1980s, most of which are in original, unrestored condition.  Mr. Simeone is well known as an advocate for many years of a ‘don’t restore’ policy, which has at times aroused controversy and even derision in the magpie world of megabucks collector race cars.  He is to be saluted for his steadfast adherence to his principles, a keeper of the flame of originality, and his museum is truly a must see if you’re in Philly.  I visited the museum in 2011; for photos from The Vintagent, click here.

From a Simeone Museum tour in 2011

The Bonhams lineup fits well with the Simeone philosophy, and the cars range from as-new looking Ferraris, to a barn-find 1932 Aston Martin LeMans, an Isotta Fraschini 20s limousine, a Ford Model T with Raceabout Speedster body , to  Cadillacs and a Thunderbird ‘Thelma and Louise’ convertible.  All gloriously original. Plus of course, Bonhams usual massive array of automobilia and spares, some for the very cars on sale. Check it out here.

From the Simeone Museum; a lovely unrestored Alfa 1750

- Paul d’Orléans

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THOUGHTS ON ‘OILY RAG’ PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Effects of chemistry and light which cannot be duplicated – or predicted – are part of the charm of 'obsolete' photo processes

Note; this article originally appeared in an abbreviated form in Men’s File magazine.

Mo-Ti, a tool-handy Chinese philosopher espousing universal love, constructed the first pinhole camera obscura around 400 BC, naming it the ‘locked treasure room’ (soding sang bao shu). Aristotle and Euclid also played with light in boxes, but it took another fifteen hundred years for Persian scientist Alhazen to accurately describe the geometries and properties of light, in 1021.  Eight hundred years later, an inveterate French tinkerer fabulously self-named Nicéphore Niepce, managed to fix an image from a lensed camera obscura onto paper. After ruining that first print in 1822 (while attempting its duplication), by 1825 he had his ‘heliograph’ sorted, with only 8 hours exposure time required per image.  Capturing the souls of people had to wait until after Niepce died, when his business partner Louis Daguerre perfected one of their experimental processes, using fumes of iodine and bromine on polished silver, with exposure reduced to seconds.  Humbly-named, Daguerreotypes were the first commercially successful photographic process, and exploded in popularity.  You can still make a Daguerreotype today, with a little low-tech equipment and a few very toxic chemicals; the resultant image is elusive – the surface is a mirror, with only ‘whites’ captured on the light-altered silver, the ‘darks’ supplied by reflections of the viewer’s clothing, and shadows.  Of all photographic processes, a Daguerreotype requires viewer participation; the magic mirror only works with an audience.

Sculptor Jeff Decker just outside Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park

Frederick Scott Archer rendered polished silver plates ‘obsolete’ in the 1850s by suspending silver nitrate in a sticky liquid (collodion, the first ‘plastic’), which was poured over a glass or metal plate, exposed to light, and fixed by salts.  ‘Wet Plate’ photography became the new standard, producing very fine images, the only disadvantage being collodion’s need to remain wet while in process – if the plate dried, no image – thus photos were taken near a darkroom for immediate development, or mobile darkrooms hauled to sites of interest, like Civil War battlefields, where cannonballs and bodies were typically re-arranged for proper effect.  You can still make a Wet Plate photo today, with a few chemicals and a box camera; as the silver nitrate solution is sensitive only to the blue end of the spectrum (much of it invisible Ultraviolet), the resultant image is unpredictable – we literally cannot see what will be captured.  Thus Wet Plate sees something we cannot, which is its mystery, and its charm, especially in portraiture, where natural variations of skin pigmentation enhanced by UV add ‘character’, much loved by men, and dreaded by women.

Philanthropist and eugenicist George Eastman perfected a method of fixing silver nitrates into a flexible, if flammable, nitrocellulose film, and sold a cheap box camera to hold that film in rolls, and by the 1890s his Kodaks had rendered every other type of photography obsolete. Eastman’s invention was the standard for 100 years, until digital cameras appeared in the 1990s, and film became obsolete. You can still take photos with film; it has beautiful qualities – Polaroids too. Each successive iteration of photography, from those first, day-long sun engravings on bitumen-coated stone slabs in the 1820s, thru the latest variable-focus light field cameras (coming shortly to your nearest cheapo electronics megastore), renders the previous method completely obsolete; this is Progress.  No?

Publisher Buzz Kanter and his hot Harley JDH; Burns, Oregon

But the notion of Progress is itself obsolete; we are inundated by a growing pile of ‘improved’ stuff, and question its contribution to our quality of life; is our 20 megapixel iPhone camera making us happy?  Old photo techniques require a bit of skill, time, and practice, all qualities our elders from Confucius to Ben Franklin have told us develop our souls.  Likewise for old vehicles; we love a vintage motorcycle partly because it needs us, and rewards our effort with an almost Buddhist experience; simply enjoying the ride, having let go the expectation of being fastest or best.  Same with an old car, or hand tools, or words written on paper, all consigned to the scrap bin by the New, yet, when the ceaseless chatter of Capital’s media is brushed aside, all these things are perfectly reasonable options for using as their makers intended.  Because they require our attention, they cannot be taken for granted, and because you have ignored the demands of Capital on your process of choice, you have ceased for that moment to be a credit card automaton, and have become more human, understanding better the enormous range of choices within your grasp; the experience of such freedoms may yet become a habit.  For what is a man, if not the agent of his own destiny?

This is perhaps the first Wet Plate/collodion photograph of a moving motorcycle, taken outside Burns, Oregon, with a 1960s era Speed Graphic 4"x5" camera; as the ASA of silvered collodion is about '1' (as opposed to 100-400ASA typical of roll film), exposure tend to be 1 second in full sun. That's a long time to catch something moving without a massive flash array…but I'll keep experimenting. It's possible!

- Text; Paul d’Orléans.  Photos; Paul d’Orléans and Susan McLaughlin

 

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CANNONBALL REPAIRS…

Claudio is the lone Italian entrant on his lovely Sunbeam Model 5

A day off in Sturgis, South Dakota was a welcome opportunity to take care of mechanical issues, and it seemed every bike was in some state of disassembly today, but a remarkable number of them were back together by evening.

Buck celebrated his 21st birthday, while I celebrated my 50th; milestones, and a similar choice of venues. Buck is riding a BSA

Public interest in the Cannonball Rally is high, and a downtown lineup this afternoon drew hundreds of local admirers of old machinery.

One of the armada of BMWs competing this year; this is an R11 with pressed steel frame and 750cc sidevalve engine

The Team Oily Rag/Vintagent Velocette KTT took a day and a half of solid workshop duty to be sorted, but she sounds fantastic again, and I’m excited to hit the road tomorrow towards Yellowstone National Park.  Further Westward!

Doug Wothke is a serious world motorcycle traveler, and rode his Indian 101 Scout from Alabama solo, and has no support crew or even hotel reservations…

Excelsior-Henderson 4 undertaking repairs…

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CANNONBALL: OUT OF THE FLATLANDS

Bradford Wilmarth won the first Cannonball on his 1913 Excelsior, and is one of three riding the same machine this year. He's also in the lead, with the oldest bike with a perfect mileage and timing score.

Yesterday (Thursday Sep 13) mysterious lumps appeared on the formerly golden and flat horizon of Minnesota; we had finally reached the Black Hills of South Dakota, home of Wall Drug, Mt Rushmore, and Sturgis, legendary Midwestern mecca of Bikerdom.  The Motorcycle Cannonball has a ‘day off’ in Sturgis, mostly because there are excellent machining facilities here, and they are needed my many, including myself.

Famous indeed. I do believe Joe is in second place on his J series Harley Davidson

An 8 hour session on lathes, grinders, and presses means my Velocette will be back in action today (Friday), fingers crossed, after major mechanical mayhem early on.  I wasn’t alone working in Lonnie Isam Sr’s shop ‘Competition Distributing’, which specializes in parts for vintage Harleys (and I mean vintage – there are lots of belt drive and early J series bikes being assembled, as well as a lovely Ace four, and two half-scale Cyclone engines!).

Looking every inch the square-jawed fireman he is, Tom is also in the top 10 riders in the points game, also aboard a J series Harley

Not riding for 5 days meant Team Oily Rag/Vintagent had time to take more collodion/wet plate tintypes of the riders, recording their remarkably heroic visages for posterity, and likely a book in the future.  They’re unlike any other photos you’ll see of this media-saturated event.  The extra time also meant an in-depth visit with John Parham of the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, whose collection of motorcycle ephemera is exceptional…and in which I’ve found previously unpublished material on the early days of Harley Davidson, Indian, and the Board Track era.  I’ve been pestered by publishers to write a Board Track book, and now I might just have the original imagery to do so…

John Parham of the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa. John founded J&P Enterprises, the legendary mail-order motorcycle accessories business. It allowed him to build up an amazing collection of bikes and memorabilia, and build a museum for his retirement.

The only drawback of making tintypes is the lack of ‘motion’ shots, and landscapes.  Make no mistake, the heartland of America is a beautiful place, evoking the art of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, and I would have liked to explore every place we drove through…as I passed my 50th birthday in Spirit Lake, Iowa, I reflected on the -for me- exotic locale, a place I’d never been that was in some ways equally as foreign as the faraway countries I’ve lived in.  I’ll definitely come back.

Trying out a Brough Superior 680 from the NMM

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CANNONBALL ROLLING EVER ONWARD…

Doug Feinsod changes the engine on his Henderson 4-cyl…lucky he had a spare in a crate! The main bearings (3 in this case) were rumbling…

The Motorcycle Cannonball proceeds apace with mechanical carnage and great celebration.  In the first 3 days of the ride, nearly half the machines have had mechanical ‘issues’, and a few have missed whole days, or two, or three!  Yet their intrepid/mad riders do their best, as we’d all rather be riding than wrenching in a grassy field, parking lot, or borrowed workshop.  A few of the teams brought mobile machine shops, and are taking care of business on theirs, and a line of customers who needed a bit of help!

Team Oily Rag /Vintagent's Velocette KTT is an invited interloper to the halls of the Behemoth…

Sunday saw the gang rolling into a huge reception at the Harley Davidson museum, with thousands of bikers lined up on the capacious Milwaukee grass.  As the Team Oily Rag/Vintagent Velocette KTT is waiting for camshaft help, it gave Paul d’Orleans and Susan McLaughlin a chance to take some collodion/wet plate photographs, which are reproduced here  for ‘Oily Rag’ magazine.

Shiny Kimura's 1913 Indian, which gave a spot of the grumbles somewhere in Ohio…

Stay tuned for further development… and more bad puns…

Ah, a wee bit of girly shot/badass, with photographer Susan McLaughlin…

- Paul d’Orleans

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THE GYPSY LIFE

The search for a gypsy caravan had certain aesthetic parameters; originality and lack of restoration were the main ones, yet it still needed to be in a serviceable and usable condition. It was to be used as an exterior spare bedroom to our house, plus as an escape pod for anyone needing time alone.

After much searching and finding over-restored freshly painted vans, sold as perfect examples but in reality, over-restored horrors in garish fresh colours, a proper candidate was found. This 1920 gypsy bow top caravan had rust on the axles, slightly wonky wooden wheels in need of repair, and the faded glory of flaking paint and brittle wood. Inside, all was originality and atmosphere. Although the stove was missing a part, the pull-out bed walls and roof, spoke of a life in times gone by. They worked, the van rolled, now all that’s missing is a pony to pull it.

The vendor asked if I would like it repainted in the traditional colours and decorations….no thank you. Well how about repainting the wheels and pinstriping them? No thank you!  I really do like the look as it is, so please leave them alone.

It has clearly been in a gypsy family for a long time. Sometime in the past the traditional paint has been touched up and parts painted to keep the wood sound. Now it’s flaking and faded and therefore looks fabulous.

The one item that slightly sticks in my throat is that the canvas has HAD to be replaced on the bow top – it was a necessity that even I had to concede…the old canvas was rotten, full of holes and beyond repair. To keep the van in its ‘oily rag’ condition, water had to be stopped from getting into the interior. Therefore, new Bright Green british canvas was used. Not ideal because it’s really BRIGHT GREEN. The green canvas will fade down if I leave the caravan to the elements over the winter. Meanwhile we sit and marvel at the original beauty and craftsmanship of the thing, struggling to come to terms that once, this was home for a (possibly) quite large Gypsy family. With a bit of imagination, you can still hear the chatter and laughter of the children and the clucking of the hens…

- Adrian Cole

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MOTORCYCLE CANNONBALL: PRE-RIDE PREP

Team Oily Rag/Vintagent's entry, 'The Mule', ready for action

The 2nd Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run will begin Friday Sep 7 from Newburgh New York.  That’s the headline anyway; as participants, we’ve all been knee-deep in motorcycle prep for weeks…our ‘ride’ began long ago.  Anyone with a lick of sense about old vehicles understands what it means to ride 4000 miles in 17 days, on a machine which left the factory at least 82 years ago.  Not impossible, just demanding…and anything which goes wrong, and you can’t fix, means the end of your journey, so be a good Boy Scout, and be prepared.

One of 17 Henderson 4-cylinder machines, the second most popular Cannonball bike, after the Harley 'J' series

While my ’28/’33 Velocette hybrid KSS/KTT racer seems mechanically sound after a full rebuild (it certainly sounds healthy through that straight pipe…Loud), I hadn’t attended the necessary brake lights for the rally.  Team Vintagent / Oily Rag arrived a day early, in company with most of the rally, to sort out the last bits of prep…although I saw some serious rebuilding going on in one trailer – like how The Mule looked a week ago.  Yikes!

Bomber art graces the tank of this 1929 Harley J

After working a few hours on the Velo, the team was hungry, and Yelp provided the ‘best Peruvian food’ in Newburgh, which sounded Pisco-soury to me.  On mentioning our destination to one of the locals (a diminutive Santa Claus lookalike), he said no way would he venture to downtown Newburgh, ‘there are gangs down there.  It’s serious. Don’t go.’  And of course, downtown Newburgh looked just fine to me, and the Peruvian food was excellent.  Pisco sours for all!

All the way from Australia…team Wicker Basket!

 

Oh dear. One more day of wrench time left…

Shinya Kimura's 1913 Indian twin, which he rode on the first Cannonball, and had mechanical trouble. He's determined to finish this year

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AN ELEGANT PARISIAN OF A CERTAIN AGE…

An open door, a seat of crackled leather, a curvaceous windscreen, an open top, a sunny day…all invitations to motoring pleasure beyond description

I’m a nut for Facel Vegas, at least the big sedans with Chrysler Firepower Hemis installed…they’re the best combo of French style and a reliable, powerful Yank engine.  The very height of chic in the 1950s and 60s, big Facel’s – made in Paris! – were favorites of movie stars and the denizens of le demi monde.  Famous owners included  Pablo PicassoAva GardnerRingo StarrJoan FontaineStirling MossTony CurtisDean MartinFred AstaireMaurice Trintignant….and the list goes on.  Nobody wanted an old Facel 10 years ago, and prices languished (meaning, you could find one cheap!), but now shiny ones are selling for six figures.

The big Facel has an unmistakeable grille, all in pressed stainless steel. No rusty brightwork here…but the body? Well…

These photos recently surfaced of an original-paint Facel Vega FV-2 Convertible, the only one made in this model, of 11 total big Facel ragtops.  The very essence of faded glamour, her lipstick red leather interior beckons…

1950s heritage is hinted in the swelling boot, from a day when curves were appreciated…

The Facel Vega marque was created in 1954 by Jean Daninos; although FACEL had been in business making metal parts since 1939, a lucrative contract with Ford to build 54,000 Simca/Ford Cométes gave Daninos the impetus and capital to build a car of his own.  After the gorgeous, expensive, and powerful FV and HK models, using big American V8s, Facel Vega branched out to a smaller sports car, the Facellia, which used a disastrous Pont-á-Mousson engine, whose utter unreliability caused the downfall of this once spectacular marque by 1964.

Good for a burbling 120mph, the four-seat convertible just might outrun the rain.

- Paul d’Orléans

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OIL ON THE PEBBLES…

1928 Packard 443 Eight cylinder roadster in the Pre-War Preservation class at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

While the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance -and the universe of shows, auctions, parties, and racing which revolve around it- is best known for fastidious, better-than-new re-creations of exotic automobiles and motorcycles, a new and still small movement is creeping under le tapez rouge.  With small ‘preservation’ classes in most shows (often sponsored by FIVA), the nooks and corners of very expensive golf courses reveal a few gems which have escaped the clutches of the shine-mad magpies dominating the historic vehicle scene.

The term ‘restoration’ applies to no vehicle I saw at Pebble; no automobile was ‘restored’ to resemble ex-factory condition. To qualify for Concours admission, it seems a car or motorcycle must be magically re-imagined as some über version of themselves…perhaps the spiritual essence of perfection which manufacturers would have liked to provide customers, but which market realities prohibit. While admirable, such un-driven wheeled demi-gods are a breed apart, statements of the Possible, but not necessarily the Real…and certainly not the Useful.

1911 Pierce 4, the first American 4-cylinder motorcycle, at the Bonhams Quail Lodge sale

So, like good historians, we turn to what is indisputably ‘real’; examples which retain their maker’s finish, even when time and the elements have exacted their toll. And here’s the charming thing; amidst a blinding sea of reflective polish, the drab bird sings.  Given the appreciative smiles of admirers lingering with a gloriously rusty old Packard, Stutz, or Maserati, the edifice of Restoration At All Costs seems to be cracking at the big shows.  Collectors are getting the message that the Rare Vehicle isn’t the one which has been tarted up, but the one which hasn’t.

In this, the old vehicle world lags decades behind the antique furniture and art worlds, where the market draws a sharp line between the Original and the Questionable, primarily by doubling or trebling the sale price.  Only a fool would re-finish a late 18th Century Louis XV credenza; why has this message not got through to the ‘car people’?

Lovely c.1968 Iso Grifo GL with a layer of dust, and current registration. Bodywork by Giotto Bizzarini, commissioned by Renzo Rivolta, every one of the Corvette engines used was dismantled and 'blueprinted' to give 400+hp…

Motorcycle collectors, in this regard, are well in advance of their four-wheel kin, and values of ‘original paint’ bikes are well above an identical, restored version, for several reasons.  First is the historic truth of an original machine, but a second, more sinister trend is pushing prices of well-documented yet rusty Centenarians through the roof; it’s very easy to install replica parts on a shiny machine, and not much more difficult to make an entirely new one.  While few outright crooks pass these off as the genuine article, passage of such machines through successive hands is like the game of ‘telephone’; the message changes in every iteration, and eventually, like the Velveteen Rabbit, the simulacra becomes Real.  As a result, a shiny old motorcycle is utterly untrustworthy, an object of suspicion and not celebration, guilty until proved innocent of fraud.

This is an area in which the Car and Motorbike worlds diverge; a Bugatti Type 35 built up from only an original gearbox, or nothing at all in the case of a Pur Sang replica, will still fetch 8 figures, whereas no replica ‘teens Henderson 4-cylinder or Indian Board Track Racer is considered anything but office sculpture by collectors, and rarely breaks $45,000 – not a great profit for the replicators, while the Real Things are deep in six-figure territory, and climbing.

1961 Aston Martin DB4 series IV Touring Coupé, with a bit of rust on its wires, but otherwise in fantastic shape, in the Post-War Preservation class at Pebble

There may yet be a day in Pebble’s future where genuine, original condition machines numerically balance the shiny, questionable re-creations on the golf course lawn; at the moment, they’re about 1/8th of the total.  The mere fact of their inclusion is a positive sign.  I predict the future of car collecting to be increasingly split; rising values for excellent original paint vehicles – eventually exceeding their shiny brethren, as it should be – with a still-strong market for shiny, ego boosting dream machines, perfect for deep-pocket magpies.

- Paul d’Orléans

1933 Riley 1.3l Lincock Coupe at the Bonhams Quail Lodge sale

'Red' Fred Johansen's 1960 Maserati 3500 GT which he spotted languishing in a neighbor's carport, and begged for years to buy it…which eventually worked. Now he rallies the car frequently.

1928 Indian Scout factory hillclimber at the MidAmerica Auctions tent, looking ready to kick up dirt all over again

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THE MOON AND THE SLEDGEHAMMER

Peter Page and his oversize, steam-engine spanners

‘The Moon and The Sledgehammer’, an independent film made in 1970, has achieved near cult status amongst an unlikely pairing of steam and movie buffs.

Created by the talented film maker Philip Trevelyan this is a documentary about the Page family of East Sussex, England. The elderly father, two sons and two daughters live in a cottage in the middle of a wood. They have no electricity and no running water. They are as far as can be, self-sufficient – except they don’t recognise the term; for them this is the only life they know.

Mr. Page greets the morning birds…

Peter and Jim are the two sons of the colourful Mr.Page. They are intuitive engineers who take on any project set before them, from re-tubing a steam engine boiler to grinding a crankshaft, to pouring and scraping bearings. They use machine tools of considerable size and antiquity which are scattered throughout the woods, protected by corrugated iron roofs and driven by antediluvian stationary engines. Their levels of skill and craftsmanship are outstanding.

The sisters, Nancy and Kath are talented seamstresses, they keep house, and look after the poultry. They have strong and independent characters. They smoke continuously!

Nancy Page at her pump organ…

Mr.Page senior is nominally ‘in charge’. The movie centres upon the relationships between him and the siblings, and rather proves that ‘in charge’ is probably the wrong description. It is a remarkable film documenting a remarkably eccentric family. There are moments of poignancy, humour and profundity. Theirs is a mode of living few of us will ever be vouchsafed a glimpse of…I urge you to take this opportunity to see the film, for their way of life and habitation is sadly no more. Most of the cast have moved on to their rewards.

A website dedicated to the Page family, this movie, its making and its makers is to be found at http://www.themoonandthesledgehammer.com/

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