Friday, 9 April 2021

responsable de style

Via the always interesting Things Magazine, we are directed towards an appreciation and celebration of the life and work of the recently departed French engineer and automobile creator Robert Opron (81932), head of the design department at Citroรซn since 1964 and then working with Renault in 1975—headhunted to develop an ultra-compact city car concept before transferring to Fiat and Piaggio a decade later. Custom coachbuilt Citroรซn Presidentials were commissioned for Queen Elizabeth’s state visit in 1971 as well as this clever CX camera car for the BBC were Opron’s doing and his whole line of models were visionary and iconic whilst working with the major French and Italian manufacturers. Opron’s most innovative and unconstrained design was for the smaller Fiat spin-off Simca with his first foray in 1958 in the bubble-topped, roving UFO called the Fulgur—Latin for lightening. Responding to an industry challenge to create a vehicle for the 1980s, this two-wheeled, gyroscopically-balanced concept (“idea”) car was to be—though not in the demonstration car—was to be guided by radar, voice-controlled and atomically-powered. More from the obituary at the link above.

Friday, 26 March 2021

la pista automobilistica

Completed in 1923, this historical aerial photograph of the Lingotto building in Turin once housed the automotive factory of Fiat, with raw materials uniquely loaded on the ground floor and the assembly line moving up a helix of five storeys for completion with finished models emerging on a rooftop test track. Production of cars was eventually mothballed in 1982 but Renzo Piano redesigned the complex, preserving its character and race track—seen in the original 1969 heist movie The Italian Job—as a corporate headquarters and multipurpose centre with a hotel and convention space.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

sancta francesca romana

Made patron of automobile drivers (see also) in 1925 by Pope Pius XI due to anecdote that her guardian angel lit her path before her while she travelled, Saint Frances of Rome (*1384) was a caregiver and mystic who excelled as an organiser of charitable services and founded a community of oblates, a mendicant order who lives with the general population and not cloistered, uniquely without religious vows and is venerated on this day, on the occasion of her death in 1440. Living at the time of the Western Schism and wars between rival popes and anti-popes, Francis felt it incumbent on her to use her station and wealth to provide succour and aid to the suffering amidst the collapse of a social safety net and sought to recruit the company of like-minded individuals.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021


street legal: these stunning automobile illustration are from a 1930 Soviet children’s book by Vladimir Tabi—via Present /&/ Correct 

conferment ceremony: Finnish PhD students receive a Doctoral Sword and Hat on graduation 

a coney island of the mind: Beat Poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti passes away, aged 101 

train ร  grande vitesse: Roman roads of Gaul presented in the style TGV routes across France, Belgium and Switzerland—see previously  

epilogue: French electronic music duo Daft Punk disband after twenty-eight years  

usps: design proposals for the next generation US mail truck

Saturday, 20 February 2021

¼ tonne, 4x4

Covering a publicity stunt on this day in 1941 with the general purpose vehicle descending the steps of the US Capitol, the Washington Daily News called the Willys Overland Army Truck as a “Jeep” for the first time in print. Whether the name came from Popeye’s “jungle pet” Eugene the Jeep, the initialism GP from general purpose above or from some other etymology, the name stuck and the automobile manufacturer used it in promotional material and popularised it in the public imagination.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

here we come on the run with a burger in a bun

We enjoyed very much this appreciation of the Cabazon dinosaur ensemble, a novelty roadside attraction two decades in the making created by theme park artist and sculptor Claude Bell (of Knox Berry Farm fame) off the freeway near Palm Springs to draw diners to his nearby restaurant, the Wheel Inn (1958 - 2013). The Brontosaurus, Dinny the Dinosaur, and Mister Rex are made of out of salvaged, reclaimed road construction materials and since the restaurant’s closure, have been host, in a surprising turn, to a gift shop and a museum devoted to doctrine of creationism (inside of Dinny—the Tyrannosaur formerly had a slide in his tail but has been since filled with concrete due to safety concerns)—selling dinosaur related souvenirs with the rather shrill caveat that the “fossil record does not support evolution” (see also) and espousing young Earth beliefs, that place Adam and Eve among the dinosaurs about six millennia ago. Exhibits run counter to a frieze that Bell painted along the internal passage way that portray a scientific point of view and timeline that includes Cro-Magnon, Java Man and Neanderthals. More from Pasa Bon! at the link up top.


the lady and the dale: a con-artist and the “car of the future”  

the lovers, the dreamers and me: after a five-year hiatus Snarkmarket makes a return to analyse and discuss two songs from The Muppet Movie—via Kottke and RSS reader 

tennesee tuxedo as a school-marmish cereal cop: children’s animated breakfast commercials often touted dark, authoritarian narratives  

i don’t want to be carrot man but i am carrot man: a delightful vintage guide on making costumes 

act-out: one hundred eighty-five German stage, television and film stars stage mass coming-out in support for greater representation and gender diversity in roles, via Super Punch 

like a small boat on the ocean sending big waves into motion: Trump’s legal defence wraps up a bizarre, specious rebuttal  

the witch of kings cross: a dramatization of the persecution that a sorceress and healer faced in 1950s Australia—via Strange Company’s Weekend Link Dump

Sunday, 17 January 2021


Via the always excellent Things Magazine (with several other utopian visions to explore and debate in this instalment), we learn about Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe (*1900 – †1996), town planner, landscape developer and architecture and his 1959 project Motopia, which despite its automobile-centric name, really was dedicated to the prevention of sprawl and spill-over and the preservation of green spaces where no car or lorry could encroach—see also. Instead what Jellicoe envisioned was a grid of mixed-used residential towers connected by elevated jetways, whose intersections were all roundabouts following the roofline of the blocks with the option to spiral down to one’s home or office, leaving the land below pristine and even wild. Though never realised according to plan, districts like Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower were informed by Jellicoe’s design. Much more at the links above.

Monday, 19 October 2020

i’ll take the high road and you’ll take the low road

Though never looking forward to my long workweek commute—which is less frequent in these times and am able to telework (oder Home Office) most days one big consolation is a stretch of road I take over the mountains from outside of Bischofsheim to Fladungen along state road 2288, the HochrhรถnstraรŸe, crossing the highlands and connecting two regions as well as a conduit to manage traffic through the UNESCO-recognised nature reserve. Opened to vehicular traffic with fanfare on this day in 1958—construction began in the early 1930s but delayed during the war and only much later was the gravel path asphalted, this twenty-five kilometre scenic route could well be the highlight of any journey but it is especially nice to see just before coming home.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

rules of the road

Via Strange Company’s Weekend Link Dump, our attention is turned toward traffic planning and the evolution of the parking lot as a cultural and ethnographic study, guided and informed largely through the direction of businessman and civil engineer William Phelps Eno (*1858 – †1945).
Despite (and perhaps because) never learning to drive himself, Eno was an early champion for traffic control and regulation—mostly non-existent before his pioneering proposals for London, Paris and New York, and helped to move street signs, cross-walks, one-way streets, roundabouts and traffic islands into mainstream adoption.  Framing regulations, like right-of-way and priority Eno also helped frame the language: to rank was to line up vehicles one behind another aligned with the kerb—what we’d called parallel-parking—whereas to park, was to stand (left for “dead” as opposed to a “live” vehicle continuously occupied by its driver and prepared to move it for the accommodation of others) one’s car at an angle to the street. These new rules quickly revealed the need for dedicated parking lots and streets were becoming more congested and less navigable due to vehicles left unattended. Municipalities attempted to restrict the rank and file to “live” automobiles only but this became unenforceable as ownership increased beyond those whom would or could engage a chauffeur or valet and instead began allocating spaces for off-street parking.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

906 turbo

The always interesting Nag on the Lake directs our attention to a beast of a sedan in this custom six-wheeler constructed by designer and company engineer Leif Mellberg.
Completed in 1984, it was fully equipped with a video screen, a sixteen-speaker stereo system, a police band monitor and refrigerator whose colossal scale recalls these airport stretch limousines, through this model never went into production and became a mobile advertisement for Mellberg’s side business refurbishing Saabs.

Monday, 7 September 2020


Passing away in her adopted home of Sweden on this day in 1990 (*1901), accomplished automobile racer Clara Eleonore “Clรคrenore” Stinnes, accompanied by film-maker Carl-Alex Sรถderstrรถm and a two-person engineering crew, became the first person (see this counter-claim) to circumnavigate the globe by car. In just over two years, Stinnes crossed the start/finish line in Berlin on 24 June 1929, having completed a journey of over forty-seven thousand kilometres—with the aid of ferries—crossing frozen Lake Baikal, the Gobi, transversing the Andres and through Central America to the US and Canada and finding herself in many spots with no navigable roads to speak of. The event, with a prize of a hundred-thousand Reichsmarks, was sponsored by Adler, Aral and Bosch, titans of the German automotive industry.  After the round-the-world journey, Stinnes and Sรถderstrรถm wed and spent many happy years together on their farm in southern Sweden.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

galleria stradale del san gottardo

Holding the title of world’s longest road tunnel for two decades before being overtaken by the Lรฆrdalstunnelen in Vestland, the Gotthard Road Tunnel between the cantons of Ticino and Uri, linking the highlands to southern Switzerland beneath the namesake massif opened to traffic on this day in 1980.
After taking more than a decade to construct and given the high monetary cost and the nineteen fatalities of workers, the public balked at the fact there was no supplemental toll for it (the tunnel being covered by the mandatory vignettes for use of Swiss motorways), sighing that “The Italians built it, the Germans use it and the Swiss pay for it.” The inaugural vehicle was a school bus.

Thursday, 30 July 2020


Via the always interesting Pasa Bon! we are introduced to the French automaker Robert Hannoyer and his line of cycle-cars Reyonnah—the ananym, a special kind of anagram, of the entrepreneur’s surname, like Oprah’s Harpo Productions, MAPS (Mail Abuse Prevention Systems) as the antagonist of SPAM and gnip gnop for ping-pong, which had a chassis and carriage similar to other bubble cars. A signature feature of this model was its folding front wheels that enabled it to park in very tight spaces. Much more to explore at the links above.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

distinguishing signs of vehicles in international traffic

Aside from a brief period in the tumult of the 1980s when the Republic was coerced into an uneasy compact with other Polynesian nations formerly claimed under the domain of the United States and treated as a trust territory, receiving development assistance in exchange for hosting nuclear testing and forward operating bases, when national plates were issued since devolved again to the responsibility and oversight of the several states, each island and atoll group of Palau is free to design and determine the conventions of its vehicle registration system.
Varying highly by composition, remoteness and population, fourteen out of sixteen states have populations of under five hundred and there are a little over seven thousand cars and trucks registered and roadworthy. This sample from the state of Ngiwal (population 282) and features the coat-of-arms and the registry number—all of which begin with the prefix K79, first K for the native Kiuluul people and their reputation as gourmands, reportedly eating seven meals and nine soups daily, having originated from the stomach according to legend from a mythical figure known as the Insatiable Uab. A parable on sustainability, especially from an insular perspective threatened by sea-level rise, the creature with the prodigious appetite had to put down, dramatically exploding into the map of Palau after seeing the effects of his greed. There’s a gallery of plates to explore at the link above, in that same constellation and further afield as well, but none I think with quite such a developed narrative.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

moskvich xrl

Via the always engaging Things Magazine, we are introduced to one commission by the design genius Raymond Loewy (see previously) that failed to take the world by storm as so many of his other innovations and interventions had in the ะœะพัะบะฒะธั‡ Xะ ะ› (the model sequence standing for Experimental Raymond Loewy—see more about numbering conventions here), designed and engineered in 1974 as a flagship, global automobile for export markets to demonstrate Soviet talent in the field. Production problems condemned the concept car, however, and only models and mock-ups were ultimately produced.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

highways and horizons

For its forward-looking pavilion (see also) known as Futurama for New York’s 1939 World’s Fair, General Motors commissioned theatrical and industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, whom realising that means and aspirations of the middle-class were becoming commiserate with what the automotive industry could supply—this particular intersection commemorated with the interstate network of roadways and a unique flagship model in the Pontiac Ghost Car with a Plexiglas chassis, laying bear—at a glance—the hidden, in-built value—as stated in a press release. Afterward it was acquired by the Smithsonian and on display until the public found it tedious and antiquated rather than visionary, and which point it was deaccessioned and passed around various dealers as a promotional vehicle.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

jetway 707

Having a cameo in no less than All the President’s Men featuring Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and clocking in at an impressive eight-and-a-half metre length, via Things Magazine, we’re pleased to be acquainted with the wonderfully outlandish airport stretch limousine (produced from 1968 to 1970) from Oldsmobile and its subsidiary American Quality Coach designed to shuttle VIPs (seating twelve to fifteen) and their luggage from the terminal to the tarmac (see previously). Much more to explore at the links above.

Sunday, 24 May 2020


colours of the world: Crayola crayons launch a special pigment pack to capture the diverse skin tones of people around the world—since fortunately the vast majority is not this

farringdon folly: the real life landmarks that informed and inspired (see also) JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth

a typographical sirloin: visual mondegreens (see previously here and here) resulting from the keming—er, kerning of certain letter combinations

service ร  la franรงaise: the history and possible future of buffet-style dining (relatedly)

ultraflex: a futuristic Icelandic boogie band at the intersection of disco and Soviet-era calisthenics

where the rubber meets the road: tyre add-on device collects worn and shredded detritus before it goes into the environment

Monday, 27 April 2020


Though I think I’d prefer a jaunty tooting horn or a car that went a sardonic “vroom! vroom!,” we do rather like this blast-off sound effect to compliment one automobile manufacturers newest electric model to alert pedestrians (see also) to its activation and launch, since the engine runs quietly, and imprint the experience on the driver and passenger commissioned from film score composer Hans Zimmer, noted for integrating electronic music in with more traditional orchestral arrangements in movies like The Lion King, Inception, Gladiator and the Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. No news whether this start-up tone might not evolve into a fully-fledged soundtrack to accompany one’s whole drive or whether other car companies are seeking to establish their own signature, skeumorphic warning signals.