Category Archives: photography

Bel Air ’56

Recently I featured a detail shot from the front of a rough 1957 Chevy Bel Air, an icon of American motoring. Today the feature is on the tail end of the 1956 Bel Air in much better shape.

The 1956 edition of Chevrolet cars is sometimes overlooked – classic ‘middle child’ syndrome. The 1955 was a complete departure from previous Chevs. The 1957 was more ornate in design, and many argue it’s the prettiest of the 3 years. The 1956… well, some see it as less special, a warmed over 55 holding place until the 57 arrived.

That’s really not true, as we’ll see in an upcoming book review. The 1956 actually incorporated a number of upgrades and revisions over the 1955 car. Styling-wise the 1956 is distinct from its siblings, longer and some say cleaner. On distinctive feature was these one-year-only taillights, a bullet style that resembled those from Oldsmobile and predates the exaggerated 1959 Cadillac bullets.

This car was shot in Syracuse at the Nationals in 2014. I used my Nikon D3200, 18-55 Nikkor zoom lens, set at ƒ/9.0, shutter speed of 1/250 second and ISO 100. Compareed to the original (below) it can be seen there was a good amount of processing the image, which was done in Topaz Adjust, to warm up the colour as well as reveal the details of the image.

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Reflection II

Buick has always been among the more luxurious car marques, second only to Cadillac in terms of prestige in GM’s hierarchy, and some would say the equal of other makes such as Lincoln and Chrysler.

But there was also a performance bent to Buick, and in the mid-1960s, the tri-shield brand created the Skylark Gran Sport, equipped with the famous 401 Nailhead. The Skylark GS was the equivalent of Pontiac’s GTO and Chevy’s Chevelle SS, an intermediate coupe with a big motor under the hood. But, being a Buick, the GS was more upscale, better equipped, and of course, more costly. It became known to some as ‘The Banker’s Hot Rod‘.

By the late 1960s, the musclecar wars had really heated up. Buick offered the GS as a separate model, with a 340 (later 350), a new (non-Nailhead) 400, and eventually a 455. In 1970, they went full-tilt with the ultimate GS – the GSX, complete with a rear wing, chin spoiler, Rally wheels, Positraction, sport mirrors and hood-mounted tach, and available in Apollo White or Saturn Yellow with wide black stripes. Also available, was the Stage 1 engine package – including re-worked heads, a more aggressive cam, and some other goodies which boosted horsepower from a 350 rating to 360. Hemmings Muscle Machines noted that ‘the contemporary motoring press, specifically Motor Trend, which tested a Stage 1 to a 13.38-second ET at 105.50 MPH (January 1970), was quick to quip that the factory rating was “some kind of understatement of the year.” ‘

I found this GS Stage 1 car at the Syracuse Nationals in 2014. The glossy black paint on this car was great for not only helping the simple, somewhat elegant GS badge stand out, but also for catching the reflection of the surrounding at the show. I shot it with my Nikon D3200, Nikkor 18-55 lens, at ƒ/5.0, 1/100 second exposure and an ISO of 100. As usual, the file was cropped in Photoshop and Topaz Adjust was used to help bring up some of the colour. The original shot is below.

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Reflection I
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Rotten and Forgotten

Not long after I’d shot 7:16, a good friend tipped me off to a derelict old car near his house, not far from where I’d lived about 5 years earlier. He said it has been there pretty much when he’d bought his house, and hadn’t moved in probably 35 years. It was in an industrial area — actually on Industry Street — just parked in front of a building. Sure enough, I grabbed a camera one sunny day and headed to my old neighbourhood and there it was… a late 1970s Ford LTD Landau.

The LTD nameplate debuted as the top trim level for the full-size Galaxie line in 1965, touted as quieter than a Rolls-Royce. In 1974, the Galaxie name was retired, and LTD remained with 3 trim levels — LTD, LTD Brougham and LTD Landau, the latter added in 1975. As the top Ford, the Landau offered the buyer many luxury appointments, and was powered by a choice of Ford’s 351, 400 or 460 cubic inch engines, all backed by the smooth Cruise-O-Matic transmission. This LTD Landau is from model years 1975-78, the final years before the downsized Panther platform debuted.

The decay on this car was obvious. Certainly it seemed my friend was right, the car had been sitting a long time. The Ontario license plate would seem to be correct for a mid-1970s issue date. I took quite a few shots, and decided I liked the detail of the front end best. The combination of the rusted bumper, the rusted hole through the hood, and the way the plastic grille no longer had any hint of its chrome plating, all spoke to how neglected this old boat was.

The featured image was shot with the Nikon D3200, 18-55mm Nikkor zoom, at ƒ/9.0, 1/640 second exposure using ISO 100, and processed using Topaz Adjust, and then a border added in Photoshop. The original shot is included below. Also included is a full 3/4 front shot of the car as it sat then. It’s a while since I’ve been by Industry St., but it may still be there today.

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1936 Ford

This 1936 Ford hot rod was yet another car shot at the 2016 Fleetwood Country Cruize-In. This would be considered more of an ‘old school’ rod, as the engine used is a Ford flathead, as opposed to one of the more modern 1950s OHV engines. As Autoweek noted…

“hot rodders loved this relatively simple engine. Hundreds of manufacturers offered speed equipment for flatheads. Bored and stroked, with wilder camshafts and multiple carburetors, hot flatheads ruled street and strip until the mid-’50s, even holding their own against bigger, heavier Cadillac and Chrysler overhead-valve designs”


With the engine compartment open, the red flathead drew you to the car. The flathead engine was introduced in 1932 and offered consumers V8 power but at an affordable price. The first version was 221 cubic inches and is identified by it’s 21 studs that hold the head to the block. This version, however, would be the later 24-stud model, introduced in 1939 for the Mercury line (and factory-installed in Ford beginning in 1946). The chrome nuts on the studs is a popular hot-rod style, as is the aftermarket Offenhauser heads. These finned-aluminum heads helped performance in different ways, not the least of which was the fins which allowed for slightly better cooling to alleviate the flatty’s notorious penchant for overheating. Of course, the chromed air cleaner assembly and ignition coil are also popular ‘bright parts’, and keen viewers will notice the addition of a modern electric fan ahead of the radiator to further aid cooling.

The Ford itself featured a piano-like mirror finish in black, with pinstripes in red to match those heads and engine.

As with all photos taken that day at Fleetwood, this was shot with my Nikon D3200, and my 18-55mm lens. The settings were ƒ4.5, 1/80 sec exposure and ISO 400. Topaz Adjust was instrumental in the post-processing to bring up the details in this image. The original shot is below.

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Rough 1957 Chev

One of the iconic American classic is the 1957 Chevy. Known as one of the ‘shoebox’ or ‘Tri-Five’ Chevies (along with the 1955 and 1956 models), it is among the most recognized and popular cars ever. General Motors introduced the new longer, lower and wider models in 1955, and when Chevrolet offered the new 265 cubic inch V8 (in addition to the old stovebolt 6 cylinder engine) in its handsome cars, it scored an instant hit. Chevrolet sold 1,775,952 of their full-size line (models 150, 210 and Bel Air) in the first year, followed by 1,623,376 for 1956. For 1957, Chevy sold a total 1,555,316 cars that year for well over 4,000,000 cars over 3 years (numbers taken from here). The old 6 engine was still the base offering, but the small block V8 was now 283 cubes, and the hottest ticket was the optional fuel injection which made 283 horsepower – 1 for each cubic inch!

This particular coupe was found in the hotel parking lot when I attended the 2014 Syracuse Nationals car show. Clad in primer and showing a number of scars from age, it fit in with a number of other rat rods and ‘unfinished’ cars that showed up. The crest has been shaved from the front of the hood, and much of the chrome on the grille and headlight bezels is rough, but the hood windsplit ornaments looked pretty fresh, and the 3 trim ‘D’s on the fender show this to be a top of the line Bel Air.

I shot this car with my Fuji FinePix S1500, which has a fixed lens. The settings were ƒ/5.0, 1/300 second shutter speed using ISO 64. It was an overcast evening, so there wasn’t much in the way of the normal June evening sunset. The original image capture is below, and you can see how using adjustments in Topaz Adjust really helped to bring out the details in the paint and chrome that the camera seemed not to show at first. The cracks and runs in the paint, the amount of pitting in the chrome, even the uneven quality of the primer is revealed in post processing.

1937 Dodge

The final 1930s Dodge I was able to shoot over the years was this 1937 Dodge hot rod. It was actually shot a few yards away from the 1931 and 1934 Dodges, at the 2015 Fleetwood Country Cruize In.

Compare the 1937 ornament to the previous years. It’s easy to see how much more streamlined the ram has become. The ridges in the horns are gone, everything from the head to the forelegs through the body has been stylized. This is much more ‘ornamental’ rather than a realistic portrayal of a charging ram. Notice also how the figure seems to lean further forward – there is more movement through the body by comparison.

We can also see the refinement in the Dodge Brothers logo. The wings are now yellow to match the center crest, and the overall shape is refined slightly.

The 1930s were a time of great transition in automotive design. The ability to create more complex curves in metal allowed manufacturers to design more aerodynamic profiles. Cars were becoming less square and upright, fenders were incorporated into the car’s body as they become wider and lower. In every way, automotive design was being modernized, including mascots such as the Dodge ram.

This photo was shot with a Nikon D3200, 18-55 mm lens at 24mm, set to ƒ/6.3, 1/160 sec shutter and ISO 100. Editing was done in Photoshop and Topaz Adjust. The original image is below.

1934 Dodge

Today I’m posting the third of the Dodge ram hood ornaments I have managed to photograph over the years. I had previously posted the 1931 Dodge and the 1936 Dodge, which are also shown here.

As you may notice, the 1934 version of the hood ornament is very similar to the 1931 version, almost identical. The updated design consists of changes from the old upright, nickel=plate radiator shell with slats to a rounded, painted sheet metal grille housing, and a fine mesh vee-shaped grille. That grille design would evolve dramatically in just 2 years to 1936’s 3-piece design with varying vertical bars.

Note also that there were subtle changes in the Dodge Brothers winged logo, as the 1934 version incorporates more yellow and a slightly refined shape (in addition to matching the contours of the grille), but not yet as ‘modern’ as the 1936 version.

The 1934 Dodge was shot at the 2015 Fleetwood Country Cruize In, using my Nikon D3200 and 18-55mm lens. The lens was at 34mm, ƒ/8.0, 1/250 second shutter and using ISO 100. The original (below) was quite subdued in terms of colour and detail, so post-processing was done predominantly in Topaz Adjust. This allowed me to show off more detail in the chromed ornament as well as exposed the dazzling flecks in the dark green paint.

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1931 Dodge

I recently posted about a hot-rodded 1936 Dodge, focused mostly on the ram hood ornament. Hood ornaments were often a large part of a manufacturer’s identity. One can think not only of the Dodge ram, but also the Mack Truck bulldog, or Jaguar’s leaping cat, or the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy. While the mascots themselves may have remained consistent to the brand, that is not to say that at least some of these miniature sculptures went unchanged over the years. In fact, many received frequent redesigns. The Dodge ram seems to be one that was updated often.

I apologize for the fact that I didn’t post these in a proper chronologic order (poor planning on my part). It seems the ram mascot came about some time after the Dodge brothers had died, and under the ownership of Chrysler, some time in the 1920s. Our example here is the 1931 Dodge car. As you see, the ornament is mounted on what was originally a nickel-plated radiator shell, with a large base. The ram itself is fairly detailed (though badly pitted due to age). The ridges of the horns, the separation of the horns from the neck, the forelegs tucked in front, are all noticeable. There’s a sort of realism to the design, an attempt to faithfully reproduce a ram.

Compare this to the 1936 car, and it seems apparent that auto design was becoming much more aerodynamic. The radiator shell had now evolved into a 3-piece grille, integrated into a rounder design of the car overall. The ram sits on a much smaller base. The ornament itself has been smoothed a little, with deeper, but shorter and fewer horn ridges, the horns tucked closed to the neck, and the forelegs reduced in size.

The previously posted 1936 Dodge.

Note too the Dodge Brothers winged logo. Comparing the 1931 version to the 1936, we definitely see the influence of streamlining and aerodynamics at play. The wings are less feathered and more what you’d see in an air service insignia.

This is the type of thing that got me interested in cars as a kid. I used to notice the differences in design, how elements of the car’s shape and details would be refined (or wouldn’t in some cases) from year to year. It caught my interest enough to start looking for images of cars and reading about different makes and models. Of course, for many people, those minute details are too subtle to warrant more than a passing nod, but for some car people, these things can spark hours of discussion.

I found this 1931 Dodge at a show I have mentioned many times, the 2015 Fleetwood Country Cruize In. I actually found 2 other Dodges at the same show, which I will feature in upcoming posts. I shot this with the same Nikon D3200, 15-55mm lens set at 52mm, ƒ/10, 1/400 sec shutter and ISO100. As you’ll see by the original below, the shot came out quite dark, and required quite of bit of adjustment in Photoshop and Topaz Adjust to bring up the green grass reflection in the shiny radiator shell.

1936 Dodge

I found this hot rodded 1936 Dodge at the 2014 Syracuse Nationals. Interestingly, Dodge used the ram as a hood ornament on it’s cars for many years, although now we know Ram is used exclusively on FCA’s truck line. The ram became something of a theme for me as I encountered other vintage Dodge cars and noticed how the styling of the ornament changed year to year.

In addition to the ram, I was drawn by the monochrome paint treatment on the formerly chrome grille, as well as the old-school look pinstripe work.

Shot with the Nikon D3200 and Nikkor 18-55 lens, I used ƒ/10, 1/400 shutter and ISO 100. The original image is below.

1969 Plymouth Satellite wagon

The station wagon is a rare thing nowadays. In the new car ranks, the SUV has rendered the wagon almost obsolete. But even at classic car shows, it’s not easy to find these longroofed cars that once populated driveways all over the continent.

A major reason why wagons have disappeared is that they got used up. Prior to the musclecar investment craze of the 1980s, few people thought about preserving any car, let alone something as mundane as a station wagon. The family car was meant to be used, and they were. Shopping trips, ferrying kids back and forth, the family’s cross-country drive to Walley World, most of these miles were racked up in a station wagon, with it’s ample seating and cargo space. And when the odometer had turned enough miles, it was almost a guarantee that wagon’s next stop was the scrapper.

But, once again, at a car show as large as the Fleetwood Country Cruize In, there’s always a chance you’ll find something somewhat rare. So it was in June 2016 when I found this 1969 Plymouth Satellite wagon perched above the walkway I’d stopped to rest on. It was complete, and bore the look of a survivor. If you look closely, you can see the paint has its share of chips and the ‘Satellite’ badge is missing its ‘te’. Back in the day, it was likely an average family taxi, nothing too fancy or flashy. The black steel rims with trim rings give it a little bit of a sleeper hot rod look now.

Once again shot with my Nikon D3200, 18-55 Nikon lens, at ƒ/5.6, 1/125 sec exposure and ISO 160. There is some image manipulation done in Photoshop and Topaz Adjust. The original image is below.