Behind the White Wheel

Behind the White Wheel

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Le Temps de Vivre"

As every month, I bought my favorite magazine “Auto Retro”. What attracted me most in this issue was the editorial written by Xavier Audiau. He described in a beautiful way a major reason why classic cars owners love their cars and took me back to my childhood years as I saw myself in my father’s 1983 Honda Accord going from Beirut to Rabieh (yes that was one hell of a trip back then) or from Rabieh to Koura or even from Montreal to Toronto or to NYC in the 1989 dark blue Ford Taurus!
Does anyone remember those endless trips? What did you use to do? Sing? Look at the odometer’s reading from behind your dad’s shoulders? Fight with your brothers or sisters?
I used to do all these things, while my father was driving and my mum either giving us biscuits or pushing us to sing maybe one of the famous Sound of Music’s songs…
Dear readers, here’s Audiau’s editorial as he wrote it, in French. I decided not to translate it since his way of writing contributed in my opinion to its beauty.

“C’était il y a longtemps…A une époque où l’on voyageait encore en automobile. L’orsqu’on arrivait à destination, chez des amis ou bien dans la famille, on observait un rituel obligatoire: on refaisait verbalement le voyage en arrière avec moult details. Tout y passait, le nom des villages traversés, les détours, la lente caravane impossible à doubler, les bonbons à la menthe en attendant l’heure du déjeuner, les points cadeau offerts à la station-service, le poste radio diffusant les chansons de Brel et les concertos de Paganini, l’épouse qui ne saura jamais lire une carte…Il existait alors une loi naturelle de la puissance: Il était normal de se ranger quand une DS ou une Mercedes mettait son clignotant. Point d’orgue du récit, on avouait avec fierté sa “moyenne” et l’on attendait le verdict comme une note de bonne conduite devant une bière ou une limonade. Mon père roulait vite. Comme tous les papas. C’était écrit blanc sur noir sur le (très optimiste) compteur: 160 maxi! Il fut un temps où la vitesse était un signe de maîtrise du volant et du sens des responsabilités.
Aujourd’hui, on se déplace. A peine parti, on connait déjà son heure d’arrivée. On règle la clim’ au degrée près, le GPS indique la route et les conditions de circulation en temps réel. Avec ce sentiment d’être constamment traqué par une paire de jumelles…Alors, on tue le temps avec les écouteurs d’un lecteur MP3, les enfants regardent une vidéo ou ne décrochent plus de leur console de jeux. On ne roule plus ensembles mais seuls, côte à côte. Au terme d’un voyage au bout de l’enfer, personne n’oserait plus claironner une “moyenne” sans risquer un regard réprobateur ou le doigt pointé. C’était il y a longtemps…Je pensais à tout ça l’autre matin dans un bouchon. Voilà pourquoi aussi je serai toujours un farouche défenseur de l’automobile ancienne. Car paradoxalement, meme si l’on roulait “vite”, on avait encore le sens de l’essentiel: On prenait le temps de vivre…”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Young Classics Around Us

One of the most common scenes in Beirut is streets packed with cars, mini vans, and trucks of all sorts…new cars and “more mature” ones share the large and tight roads of Beirut honking, smoldering, and trying to get to their destination in the everlasting traffic jam!
As years pass by, new cars replace older ones! Just like human beings when a generation comes after the other!! When I walk across Beirut streets, I mainly notice old fleets of cars, young classics, a term Mercedes-Benz created to describe its cars made after 1960.
For Mercedes-Benz, young classics are cars that “one doesn’t have to be an expert to recognize. They are cars that were part of daily life, and became a landmark of our culture, cars that enlivened the streets and inspired generations. These cars are a part of history that can still be found on the roads today”.
For me, these cars are not just Mercedes-Benz! They are Peugeot, Renault, Ford Taunus, Chevrolet, Honda Accord and Civic, BMW, Opel, VW Beetle, Mini Cooper, Saab, etc… They are cars I grew up seeing around and cars I still spot today. They are moving “landmarks” and indeed “part of our culture” or at least my culture. Would you imagine a cab - “a service” in our Lebanese dialect - that is of a brand other than a Mercedes-Benz W114/115 or W123, for instance? Would you imagine a nun driving a car other than a Peugeot 504 or 505?

Are these cars worth saving? As a classic-car lover and restorer, I would at least buy and restore one of each model (models I like naturally). I would definitely restore a Mercedes-Benz 190 fintail, a Mercedes-Benz 200 or 230.4 (W114/115), a Mercedes-Benz W123, a Peugeot 404 and 504, a Renault 5 early models, a BMW 2002, a 1960 VW Beetle or Karmann Ghia and an Opel Rekord of 1980 (since my father used to own one back in the 80s)
Buying and restoring these cars is relatively easy and cheap since the parts are still widely available. Also, once restored, these cars can be easily used during weekends and even on a daily basis.

Dear reader which car would you think of buying? The answer depends on what you’re looking for… are you looking for the car your father used to own when you were a kid? Are you looking for a car that you dreamt of owning when you were at school? Or are you looking for a car that would reflect your style?

The sky is the limit!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The truth about Bakelite…

Many might find this article out of context but I’ve been “harassing” my friends with bakelite for at least the past 7 years! So I decided to give bakelite a tribute in this post! A final one…therefore dear friends, bare to read one last article about bakelite…

I first discovered bakelite when I bought my car in 1995. The dashboard consists of many pieces all made of bakelite. Visually bakelite looks like hard brown plastic…however; if we touch it we can easily know that it’s not usual plastic!
What is bakelite then?
Bakelite is a type of plastic material that was invented by the Belgian Leo Beakeland (1863 - 1944) in 1907, in his laboratory in the US. It was the first synthetic plastic. Bakelite became a very popular trade name, just as popular as Hoover or Kleenex. It was used in thousands of products like cars, radios, electricity products, and so on.

In 1927, the patent on the bakelite production ended; hence the world witnessed the spread of the use of bakelite as it was cheaper than wood and steel! Bakelite took many forms, shapes, rendering various different designs. For example, Art Deco influenced many Bakelite products. Besides, the great depression in the 1930s, spread further the use of bakelite as it was cheaper than other products (wood and steel, as mentioned earlier) - Bakelite seems to have been specially "conceived for” the depression.
Many people thought that the design of products would make them more attractive in addition, of course, to their affordable price.
Bakelite was highly used in cars especially popular ones; my 1961 Mercedes-Benz 180, for instance, contains a significant amount of bakelite!! Actually, the entire dashboard, windows surrounds, and the fuse box are made of bakelite.

With time, bakelite becomes dull thus less shiny… My car faced this problem, I was however able to restore its original semi-glossy brown appearance by following Jeff Miller’s method. In fact, Miller suggested that dull bakelite should be cleaned with water then with clean cotton; one should apply a very thin layer of petroleum jelly before polishing the whole thing with another clean dry tissue. The results I got were amazing. This process should be repeated every 9 months (or less) depending on the location of the part made of bakelite.

Now I’m done with bakelite, I promise not to mention it again in this blog!
I want to thank my friends, especially Kamal, Georges and Ziad for storing with care the bakelite windows surrounds before shipping them to Beirut. Thanks to you these parts are “happily” mounted in their designated place in my 1961 Mercedes-Benz 180 now!! I would also like to thank Zina for still storing (hope so) a big bakelite piece in her home in Montreal…