Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Countach Poster


Newly-single Dads with wet bars, stock brokers with studio apartments, and 12 year old boys. Those were the kind of folks that plastered posters of the Lamborghini Countach on their walls. I'm sorry if I've already offended some of you, but you'll have to agree that the most popular supercar of the 1980's was not only grotesque automotive icon, but an ugly interior design icon as well. I'd venture to guess that 75% of U.S. households had a Countach poster hung somewhere between 1980 and 1992. You know the posters I'm talking about: Red LP5000S cars with the doors up, black ones with simulated fog, yellow ones with a bikini-clad woman laying >ahem< provocatively on it. Don't sweat it, I won't post any of those here because this is a family-friendly blog ...and 1980's women are gross.


While I can remember seeing LOTS of these posters in friends bedrooms and in garages and used car dealerships, its the one in my friend's family room that I remember the most. Todd's Dad, who used to randomly show up with used Porsche 928's from time to time, bought and framed said Countach / naked lady poster and hung it in the family room of their home. This family room was really just a big man cave since he was divorced and didn't care about aesthetics, hence the large poster with the blonde woman and the Italian supercar front and center. Even as a 10 year-old I thought "That's pretty tacky". I was much more interested in Camaro Iroc-Z's and Corvette ZR-1's rather than Italian sportscars that I'd never see. (For the record, I also was also really interested in Jolt cola and Nintendo games.)

Back to the Countach. Why was this car ripe for the glossy 16" x 20" picking? Because its doors opened funny.



You see, the Countach, just like the Mercedes 300SL "Gullwing" and the DeLorean DMC12 were hailed as major milestone cars that married fashionable design with automotive function. Bertone designed the Countach and its crisp angular lines. It debuted in 1974 and looked pretty much the same when production ended in 1990. A wide body stance and a sweet V-12 helped make it a performer. Driver and passenger doors that opened up instead of out also made them unique. Lamborghini stuck with the theme even after the Countach, including models like the Diablo, Murcielago, and Aventador. Mercedes also recently did a retro gullwing door thingy with their SLS touring cars. Good for them. If you ask this guy, doors that open up are gimmicky. If you want to impress people, make a car that you can see out of, that doesn't cost $200,000 and that reasonable people can afford. Put that on a poster and then you'll really have something.

That came out a little strong. I guess the Countach was an OK car. And yeah, what cool kid or middle-aged bachelor wouldn't want a V-12 supercar on their family room wall? Maybe I thought the Lambo was tacky and not that great of a car. Or maybe after all these years I'm jealous that my friend Todd's Dad had a rocking poster of a sweet car on his wall, and I had a foldout auto show poster of an S-10 4x4 auto show taped to mine.


-D

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Amusement




Last time we were back home visiting my folks I snagged an old photo scrapbook from the closet that contained a bunch of old pictures of the Northern Illinois Region of the Vintage Chevrolet Club region that my Dad started in 1988. I've wanted to scan the old photos before they deteriorated in an effort to preserve some of the places the club had been in the 25 years its existed. I guess you'd call it my winter project.

While thumbing through the album I also came across a few photos of my brother Kyle & I from June of 1989 at the newly-created Disney MGM Studios theme park. The two of us pasty Midwestern kids spent several days seeing the sights with Grandma and Grandpa Scott. Actually, we spent most of June and July down in Orlando with our grandparents that summer because my folks were selling their house, moving into a new one that wasn't quite finished, and our younger brother Gordon was close to arriving. A few less ankle biters in the way while you're going through some major life changes is always a good idea...and as a result we got to spend time in sunny Florida at Grandma & Grandpa's! That meant good food, a huge pool, and unlimited passes to all Disney theme parks since Grandpa worked for Disney. It was a charmed life we led.

While Disney MGM was a new park and had lots of buzz around it in the summer of 1989, it wasn't the Magic Kingdom. There was no Thunder Mountain Railroad, no Grand Prix Raceway, and definitely no Pirates of the Caribbean. What Kyle & I expected was a boring theme park with nothing to offer our Nintendo-stimulated pre-adolescent brains. Once we passed through the gates our assumptions were proven wrong.

This image sums it up.

That's Kyle in the orange & blue striped shirt and I'm in the red & white one facing the old Chevy poster. The entire park (minus the other pasty Midwesterners) was a trip back in time. There were palm trees, old Art-Deco themed buildings, replicas of 1932 Chevrolet advertisement billboards, and OLD CARS parked everywhere as if we somehow were transported back to Hollywood Boulevard during the golden years. We were in awe of the sight.

Both my brother and I were into old 'things' for as long as I can remember. Kyle liked old WWII planes especially. For us, the ability to admire and actually touch old cars in a setting that looked like it came out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a dream come true. We loved that film when it came out, and Disney MGM studios was like walking around in "Toon Town" with thousands of colorful and loud creatures running amok on the city streets. Years later would I learn how close to Eddie Valiant and Roger we actually came

Kyle with a 1936 DeSoto Taxi

The DeSoto taxi cab that Kyle took a liking to actually was used in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit during one of the downtown driving scenes. Probably the one where Benny the Cab tries to lose the weasels chasing him, Eddie and everyone's favorite female cartoon, Jessica Rabbit around the crowded L.A. streets. A few blocks away, there was the replica of a mid-1940's service station, complete with  gas pumps and even a shiney Buick Super convertible waiting for a few gallons of Sky Chief.

A '47 Buick Ragtop and a Couple of Scott Boys at the Service Station.

Tucked inside the garage area of the service station sat a dusty blue Plymouth. To us in 1989 it was a neat old coupe on a service lift that we probably weren't allowed to be near...but we managed to get close enough for a photo op at least. Grandma snapped a picture, and we took in the sights of the service station scene. Another neat old car in the garage that looked ready to get an oil change and lube. If you look at the fender, you can even see old red shop rags as if Manny the mechanic just stepped out to lunch.

Looking back, the 10-year-old kids thought it was a neat old car, but from today's standpoint, I now believe this car to be one of Eddie Valiant's 1939 Plymouth coupes used in the production of Roger Rabbit.



The Plymouth above was the same year, the same body style, the same exact color, and even sported the same unique sealed-beam conversion on its headlights as Eddie Valiant's car did. And yet there it was, from the big screen to something tangible in real life.  

Eddie's Plymouth Leaving the R.K. Maroon Studios


Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) with the coupe in the background.
Kyle & I watched our VHS copy of Who Framed Roger Rabbit some...oh...roughly 4,000 times after we picked it up from the video store in Antioch. Bob Hoskins, the British actor who played the character Eddie Valiant in the film, had a cartoony Dick Tracy quality to him that appealed to us both. The character was a private detective down on his luck, and had a rough go of it in Hollywood. Roger made life even harder for this guy. And it was clear by the homely Plymouth coupe that Eddie made no money. Eddie managed to be good at his job, however. The Plymouth was the car he used to make the traumatic trip through the Mullholland Tunnel and back to Toon Town in an effort to stay on the trail of a killer. A killer cartoon character, that is. 

The Plymouth speeding towards Toon Town
Roger later steals the Plymouth and completely destroys it due to his inability to drive. The next time we see it on the silver screen, its had its top sheared off and fenders beat up. The poor coupe emerges from the Toon Town tunnel by performing a reverse 180 and skreeches to a halt while a shower of sparks shoot out from underneath. (Its 1 hour, 17 minutes, and 38 seconds into the film in case you're bored sometime). Kyle and I rewound this clip frequently and laughed every time.

Clearly, rabbits should not drive.
 From what I can tell, there were four Plymouths used for during the filming of Roger Rabbit. Joe Sherlock's 1939 Plymouth page has a few images of the movie cars sitting on the MGM Florida back lot in 2000. I also recall seeing those three coupes, including the one that Roger "customized" during a back lot studio tour in the early 1990's. The coupe Kyle & I came across in the garage may have actually been one of the nicer cars they used for exterior shots and close-ups. Just a hunch I have.

Most folks today would call Who Framed Roger Rabbit a kid's movie, and it was marketed as such. It also happened to be a great lead-in for Kyle & I to walk into MGM studios during the summer of 1989. We got to see what some of us think "old Hollywood" was like, play around with old cars, and see our favorite private eye's set of wheels. Who could argue with a summer vacation like that?
-D