Featured Post

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Roadside Attraction: Night in the City by Wayne Jiang

One afternoon early in this century, I was working on a project in San Jose's Rose Garden district, and wandered off to visit a local art center.  There I encountered an artist named Wayne Jiang, and an exhibit called "Night Paintings."  There were views of the city at night, evocatively rendered glimpses of moonlit bungalows with interiors lit only by the ghostly glow of television...

And views of the city's forgotten corners, like this freeway underpass reflecting the yellow orange glow of sodium vapor lights. 

There were shifted perspectives, too, like the scene below, in which the viewer surveys the street from some hidden elevated prospect, and the dark shapes of the foreground rooftops make a negative space as strong as the jagged strip of facades reflecting the pale yellow street light. 

Perched above a sleeping neighborhood, the viewer may be struck by the negative space first. The lurking shapes are rendered flat by darkness, and the areas of light form stark, simple geometries. These paintings exert a power beyond any limits imposed by their dimensions.  Most are quite small; "Nocturnal Rhapsody #2", shown below, is 8" x 10".

Image Credits + Notes:

All images are subject to the copyright of Wayne Jiang.  
Mr. Jiang's latest work is displayed in great scope and detail at his website, waynejiang.com. The Manna Gallery in Oakland, California will feature a solo show of Wayne Jiang's work in April, 2018. Information on dates and times is available at mannagallery.com.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Etceterini Files Part 14----Enrico Nardi and His Cars: Present at the Creation

Engineer Enrico Nardi went to work for Lancia in 1929 at age 22, starting in the truck division and eventually working directly for Vincenzo Lancia and racing some of the company's cars. Moonlighting in 1932, Nardi created a small racer powered by a motorcycle engine with partner Augusto Monaco. His racing efforts attracted the attention of Enzo Ferrari in 1937, the year Nardi left Lancia.  After Ferrari left Alfa Romeo In 1939, he asked Nardi to work on developing the chassis for two cars to be entered in the 1940 Mille Miglia. These were the Auto Avio Construzioni Type 815s. Engine troubles sidelined these not-quite-Ferraris during the race, and then World War II shifted the attention of their makers, and all of Europe, to more urgent concerns. But after the war, Nardi partnered with Renato Danese and resumed building bespoke racers, at first building two more cars based upon the chassis design and aluminum engine blocks of that 815, a pushrod straight eight using two cylinder heads from Fiat's inline fours. Two competition spiders were built, one a 1.5 liter and one a 2.0 liter. These cars seem to have disappeared, but a couple of specimens survived of a tiny handful of competition spiders powered by the Alfa Romeo 6C-2500 engine. The cycle-fendered body design of these cars resembled the earliest Abarth race cars, as well as the earliest road racers which Enzo Ferrari built under his own name.

In addition to those cycle-fendered torpedoes, Nardi and partner Danese also built at least one luxury cabriolet based on the 6C-2500 during this period; the ornate grille and hood ornament contrast with the more restrained envelope body, which is credited to Bertone. 

By 1952, Nardi was again collaborating with Lancia, this time directly with Gianni Lancia on a Formula 2 project which correctly predicted the form of racing cars a decade hence. This intriguing Nardi Lancia F2 began with a 2 liter variant of the Aurelia V6 and mounted it behind the driver, just ahead of the Lancia transaxle.  Rear brakes were inboard, while the team experimented with outboard discs in front.  This project was abandoned before it could bear fruit, and Lancia stayed committed to the front engine with rear transaxle format for its coming sports racers and the D50 Formula 1 car which appeared in 1954*. But it's tantalizing to speculate about what might have happened if this car had been the subject of the development Lancia lavished on their D Series.  A mid-engined Cooper won the F1 Championship seven years later and repeated in 1960.  In 1961 it was the turn of a mid-engined Ferrari, powered by a Dino V6...

During this same period, Nardi built a small series of coupes and spiders using the French Panhard air-cooled twin.  The most fetching body styles were designed and built by Frua, some with wire wheels and some with Panhard discs, often with a center-mounted fog light.

Also at this time, Nardi began to branch out into accessory production to supplement the small number of cars then being sold. These included the famous Nardi wood and alloy steering wheel which first appeared on a Touring-bodied Pegaso in 1952, and floor shift conversion kits for the Lancia Aurelia as well as the Peugeot.  Perhaps as a result of the latter initiative, Frua built the artfully contoured, perfectly proportioned Nardi coupe shown below with Peugeot 203 power in 1953.  This design has its counterparts in contemporary Frua bodies on Maserati and Ermini* chassis.

The Nardi 750 competition spider shown below was bodied by Rocco Motto in 1954. The body design, with hood and deck surfaces peaking well below the fender arches, is predictive of sports racers that would appear half a decade hence. It seems to have no echo in the bodies Motto was building for Siata during the same period, nor in subsequent Nardis...

Certainly not in the radical, twin-torpedo Bisiluro which architect Carlo Mollino sketched and Nardi built for the 1955 Le Mans.  This project, with driver in the right hull and engine and driveline in the left, is detailed in our post for May 7, 2017 entitled "Architect-Designed Cars."

Also in 1955, the Nardi Blue Ray 1 appeared.  Styled by Giovanni Michelotti and powered by a modified Lancia Aurelia V6, the wildly futuristic Vignale coachwork showcased Nardi accessories and performance equipment.

It was followed in 1958 by the more restrained, elegant Blue Ray 2*, also using an Aurelia drivetrain under Vignale bodywork. Michelotti also used this front end treatment with oval grille enclosing the headlights on a one-off Lotus Eleven around the same time. 

By 1958, however, Nardi's small-scale automotive production, like that of Abarth, derived from modifying the Fiat 600 chassis and engine introduced in 1956. This led to a number of delicately-proportioned, glassy 750 coupes styled by Michelotti and built by Vignale, often with small detail variations from one car to the next.  With the exception of the one-off, Plymouth-powered Silver Ray coupe from 1962, these rear-engined coupes seemed to signal the last act in Nardi's career as a car builder.

Today, far more car enthusiasts are familiar with those wood-rimmed, alloy-spoked steering wheels with Nardi's signature on them than with the cars they once steered.  And those drivers lucky enough to sit behind a Nardi wheel can reflect on an engineer who was never afraid to try an unconventional idea.  Enrico Nardi died in 1966.

The Lancia D-Series competition cars are outlined in our post for 10-8-16 entitled "Prancing Elephants: Lancia's D-Series in the Heroic Days of Road Racing."  The Frua-bodied Ermini coupe is featured in "The Etceterini Files Part 1: Ermini" from 12-7-15.  And the Nardi Lancia Blue Ray 2 is featured (in color) in "One of One: A Brief History of Singular Cars" from 9-7-15.

Photo Credits:

Top:  pinterest.com
2nd:  IMCDb.org
3rd:   Lancia Motor Club
4th:   panhard-racing-team.fr
5th:   autopuzzles.com
6th:   Reader correspondence, coachbuild.com
7th:   pinterest.com
8th thru 11th:  vignale.org
12th: nardi-personal.com
Bottom:  the author

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Roadside Attraction: John Register's Abandoned Diners and Sleepy Motels

The story of painter John Register seems a perfect parable of America in 1972, a year when the buttoned-down ethos of Madison Avenue still coexisted uneasily, half a decade after the Summer of Love, with a West Coast vision of freedom and open-ended possibility. Register, then 33 and working at a high-pressure New York advertising agency, stood up in the middle of a presentation and said, "Excuse me, I have to go to the dentist."  Instead of making that dental visit, he drove his wife Catherine and their daughter, 2 sons, 2 cats and the family dog westward in a '66 Volvo wagon all the way to LA.  There he learned to surf and began his career as a painter. He also raced a Porsche on weekends.  Along that westward route and thereafter, he collected and distilled corner-of-the-eye impressions of an America that most people never quite notice, like the reflective stillness of this empty diner.

He photographed, sketched, refined and painted these images until he captured something like the soul of abandoned and overlooked space.  The vacancy of this motel on Route 66 offers itself to the enveloping night, and seems to hint at other, and possibly bigger, voids to fill...

Like the motel, this bus station waits for visitors, a solitary outpost under the vastness of the western sky.  

In "Wasteland Hotel" below, the emptiness seems to blow in from the vast landscape just outside the doors, and you can almost feel the wind driving those billowing clouds across the blue dome of the sky.

Register has been compared to Edward Hopper, who had a similar interest in overlooked parts of the American scene, including its gas stations and motels.  As in Hopper's street scenes, "Last of the Old City" shows a keen interest in depicting sunlight falling on the mute faces of buildings in the city. And there is a stillness in these street scenes that recalls Hopper...
Another possible echo of Hopper's paintings is Register's treatment of the human figure. On the rare occasions when people show up inside his diners, or outdoors as at the beach scene below, they are often isolated and looking away from the viewer...

As with much great music and film, there was often the sense in this work that there was more to discover, just beyond the edges of the performance.  John Register knew that he had a hereditary kidney ailment, and this may have colored his sense of urgency in making that westward journey, and in recording these scenes.  He continued to paint after recovering from two kidney transplants in the 1980s, and died in 1996 at 57.  

Photo credits:

Images subject to copyright by the Estate of John Register and reproduced at following web sites.
Top: pinterest.com
2nd, 4th & 5th from top:  artnet.com
3rd from top:  extraordinart.wordpress.com
Bottom:  askart.com

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lost Cause Lancias: New Stratos and Old Hyena

Recently I heard there were plans for a revived Lancia Stratos, a car that dominated the World Rally Championship (and the dreams of many car enthusiasts) in the 70s.  The original Stratos* is shown in Stradale (street) version  below...

...and here as a pre-production prototype in phosphorescent orange.  Kind of noticeable, isn't it?

The New Stratos is the product of ex-Pininfarina staffer Michael Stroschek's program.  His goal was to produce a modern interpretation of Marcello Gandini's original design, built by the great coachbuilding house of Bertone in enough copies (492) to qualify it for the World Rally Championship, which the car won in 1974, '75 and '76.  The new car echoes the old one's proportions, wedge profile and windshield wrapping into the side windows, originally said to be inspired by a racing helmet.  The project began in 2008, and the plan was to offer the new car with a Ferrari V8 engine.

The new car follows studies and full-scale mockups made at Pininfarina. Sadly, Bertone, maker of the original bodies, ceased operations in 2014.  Even more sadly, Ferrari, which became independent of Fiat (and thus disassociated from Lancia) by way of a stock offering in 2016, declined to provide engines for the new car.  So anyone wanting a New Stratos will need to supply around $617,000 as well as a Ferrari 430 Scuderia donor car to Brose GmbH, Mr. Stoschek's firm. It would be an understatement to say that this arrangement may impede supply of the New Stratos, as well as demand for it. One of the bittersweet aspects of getting old is that eventually nearly everything that happens reminds you of something you've seen already, and the New Stratos story reminds this writer of the Lancia Hyena saga from over a quarter century ago. It was 1992, and it feels like yesterday...

Back then, the all-wheel drive Lancia Delta Integrale was doing a good job of reviving Lancia's fortunes in rally competition and in showroom sales.  But it was a boxy sedan, and Dutch car dealer Paul Koot had the ideal that a lighter, 2-seater version of the chassis could make inroads into Porsche territory.  The rounded Zagato prototype, reminiscent of Zagato's early 1960s designs, made its debut at the 1992 Brussels auto show.  The initial plan was to build a series of 500 Lancia Delta Hyena coupes, though Zagato had production capacity for only 75.  This became a moot point when Fiat refused to sell chassis to Koot, meaning that to produce the cars, he had to buy complete Lancia Delta Integrale sedans, remove the bodies and then get Zagato's team to work their magic.  The result was a much higher cost per car than planned, and only 25 completed cars. This is, coincidentally, now the number of cars that Mr. Stroschek envisages building...

History has repeated itself in other ways.  The original Stratos HF prototype was tested with a Lancia Fulvia V4 and even a Beta (Fiat-based) inline 4 before Enzo Ferrari finally agreed to release copies of his Dino V6 for the project.  Perhaps he had a short memory; Juan Manuel Fangio had won a World Championship in 1956 with Lancia D50s (re-badged as "Lancia Ferraris") donated to Ferrari by the then-bankrupt Lancia team*.  Today, while Fiat Chrysler restricts Lancia offerings to a single "high fashion city car" based on Fiat underpinnings, and invests big money in making separate makes out of Ram (Dodge trucks) and SRT (Chrysler performance cars), a restored classic Lancia Aurelia Spider will set you back close to $2 million at auction, and a good original Stratos will take upwards of $600,000. Corporate auto industry execs talk about "heritage", but they frequently throw away hallowed institutions as if they were used Kleenex (think MG and now Lancia). Meanwhile, in England, Lister Bell offers kits to build your own Stratos replica, with dimensions and chassis layout closely approximating the original, and V6 engines sourced from the Alfa Romeo 166, though they allow that installation of various Italian V8s will also be entertained. They can even be persuaded to build you one if you lack space or tools, or are somewhat ham-handed, like me.  Quoted costs are vastly less than the probable bill for a New Stratos. It appears that when more affordable Lancias are built, the British will build them...

Further  notes on the Lancia HF rally cars appear in this blog in "Hi-Fi: Racing Red Elephants" from October 3, 2016.  The D Series Lancia race cars are discussed in "Prancing Elephants: Lancia's D Series in the Heroic Days of Road Racing", from October 8, 2016.

Photo credits:
1st, 2nd, 4th & 5th from top:  wikimedia
3rd from top:  Brose GmbH
Bottom:  listerbell.com

Sunday, February 11, 2018

You Can't Catch Me: The Elusive Flying Car

In "You Can't Catch Me", an early rock & roll road trip from Chuck Berry, he tells us about his new Airmobile with "powerful motor and hideaway wings."  When the highway patrol gives chase, Berry hits a button and those hideaway wings help him fly away.  By 1956, when Berry wrote the song, this idea had already been a staple theme on covers of science (and science fiction) magazines for well over twenty years...

After World War II, the increasing role of technology and a mood of expansive optimism encouraged Americans to think that flying cars were just around the corner.  In illustrator and satirist Bruce McCall's vision of this era's often zany trust in the trappings (and contraptions) of the early Jet Age, a hapless Henry J, the ill-fated compact car from Henry J. Kaiser's car company, is about to be launched over an unsuspecting neighborhood by something that looks suspiciously like the catapult on an aircraft carrier...

Argentinian illustrator Alejandro Burdisio has a vision of yesterday's futurism that is no less infused with humor than McCall's, but his images seem to show a later moment in that future. Rather than depict tidy suburban streets rendered with National Geographic colors, Burdisio shows us congested, smoggy cities whose skies are clogged with ordinary cars and trucks that just happen to fly.  He has a feel for the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne architecture of that period, with its possibly naive faith in the Machine Age, that rivals the faithfulness of detail shown in McCall's pioneering book of retro-futurism, Zany Afternoons...

The artist who produced the ad below seems to have never entertained any of McCall's qualms about safety, or Burdisio's questions about air traffic control for all that airborne rolling stock. Instead, the artist presents a safe, clean world of personal flying saucers recharged by power from America's electric power industry. The family dog is a cheery touch, as is the midcentury modern house with its own saucer waiting in the driveway below...

Starting in 1949, an inventor named Moulton Taylor actually attempted to make the flying car a reality, and progressed to the point of building prototypes that actually flew.  A Lycoming engine drove a pusher propeller of Taylor's Aerocar in flight, and the front wheels when operating on the road...

Taylor configured folding wings that were towed behind the Aerocar on the road, and the transition from car to aircraft was alleged to take no more than five minutes.  The Aerocar's light weight (1,500 lb. empty, 2,100 lb. gross) made for a maximum 110 mph air speed, while road-going travel was limited to 60 mph.  Perhaps the tall stance and small wheels would have discouraged sudden directional changes on the ground...

Four Type I Aerocars were built from 1949 to 1960.  A non-roadable Aerocar II was built in 1966. One of the flying Aerocars was sold to television actor Bob Cummings, and it appeared in his TV series. Moulton Taylor attempted to get financing for production of the Aerocar through aerospace firm LTV Corporation for production of the Aerocar in series, and this would have required a minimum order of 500 units.  As Taylor was only able to attract about 250 prospective buyers, production ended after the Aerocar III prototype...

That single Aerocar III is now on view at Seattle's Museum of Flight.  The body design is tilted more towards "flyable car" than "roadable plane".  The outrigger wheels of Aerocar I have been tucked under a compact, rounded envelope body that looks, especially at the front, for all the world like a chubby Jaguar E-Type.  This is perhaps a reminder that by the time the Aerocar adventure ended, rising costs of private aviation meant that people who could afford planes could also afford to leave them at the airport, and drive home...in a Jaguar or Porsche.

*Footnotes:  For our series on jet-themed cars and cars powered by actual jet turbines, you could begin with "Jet Cars, Real & Not So Real" from 5/21/16, have a look at "Jet Cars Part 2: Chrysler Turbine Car" from 5/21/16, and finish with "Jet Cars Part 3: Chrysler Turbine Epilogue" from 5/25/16.  For some notes on jet styling themes, there's "Jets vs. Sharks: Pinin Farina Cadillacs" from 5/15/16.

Bibliography and sources:  Bruce McCall's Zany Afternoons, published in 1982 by Knopf, is a foundational work of futurist nostalgia, and is recommended for anyone even marginally interested in the Machine Age or the past or afternoons. Alejandro Burdisio's digital illustrations are on view at facebook.com/alejandroburdisio and at illusion.scene360.com.

Photo Credits

Top:  Illustrated World Magazine, reproduced on pinterest.uk
2nd:  Bruce McCall, reproduced on TED.com
3rd:  Alejandro Burdisio, reproduced on crossconnect.com
4th:  America's Independent Electric Light and Power Companies
5th:  pinterest.uk
6th:  atomictoasters.com
Bottom:  wikimedia