The 1960s de­liv­ered a colourful cos­mic wake-up call to the Shaky Isles

New Zealand Classic Car - - Editorial - Word and im­ages: Ger­ard Richards

Some­where just past the mid ’60s, some­thing came out of nowhere. There we were, sail­ing along in­no­cently, young boys in the midst of drab post-1950s con­ser­vatism. One minute, ev­ery­thing seemed locked in that grey, colour­less state-house Farmer’s Trad­ing Com­pany fash­ion-clone formula (un­less you were lucky enough to own a two-tone Holden sedan, as we were, yee ha!), then, like a bolt from the blue, the hur­ri­cane of the 1960s youth cul­ture ex­ploded in our own back­yard! It was a break­ing out of the strait­jacket of the old re­pres­sive post-war world, and, with all the new, groovy fads, it was pretty in­tox­i­cat­ing.

Gone from the popularity stakes were Sun­day church and an af­ter­noon with the grand­par­ents, hav­ing end­less cups of tea and scones with the vicar, or at­tend­ing the church pic­nic and bi­ble class (de­spite what it may sound like, I don’t have any beef against re­li­gion). Pi­ano lessons, the pre­vi­ous so­cial Mecca of the tennis club, even that old in­sti­tu­tion, the Boy Scouts — none of it looked flash com­pared with the on­slaught of the new wave of ‘self­ex­pres­sion’ cul­ture that broke upon us in the late ’60s.

Ac­tu­ally, to be bru­tally hon­est, it wasn’t quite like an ex­plo­sion; it was more a slow dawn­ing of a shift of power and the ar­rival of the im­pact of youth de­mands for change.

There were plenty of sign­posts around scream­ing that the old or­der was un­der siege. One of the most agree­able ex­pres­sions of this was when dress hems raced up­wards, to fi­nally reach the length of that won­der­ful mini skirt, a fash­ion which fast-tracked so many boys into hy­per­ven­ti­la­tion! The move out of gym frocks and into biki­nis had a sim­i­lar ef­fect.

Ev­ery­thing was chang­ing, and it was pretty ex­cit­ing for my group of testos­terone-charged young pre­tenders. The revo­lu­tion was fir­ing on all fronts, not just in fash­ion, mu­sic, movies, and hippy ‘ free love’ sce­nar­ios. New life­style pur­suits like surfing and skate­board­ing were cap­ti­vat­ing youth with their free forms of ex­pres­sion, draw­ing them away from tra­di­tional sports, and things were chang­ing in other ar­eas, too.

Wild elec­tric-painted wheels blow us away

Part of that same groundswell, hot rod­ding, car cus­tomiz­ing, and mo­tor rac­ing — all are­nas of fas­ci­na­tion for me — be­came bolder and more ex­cit­ing. Loud, colourful paint­work and wild sign­writ­ing were emerg­ing. I was gob­s­macked by the elec­tri­cally gar­ish, hyp­notic beauty of the new wave of ‘ in­yer-face’ metalflake and Day- Glo paints ap­pear­ing on the odd street cars cruis­ing the North Shore beach cir­cuit in the late ’60s.

They stood out like bea­cons, these early 1960s mildly cus­tom­ized Hold­ens, Ford Ze­phyrs, and other Amer­i­can fare. They ap­peared to rep­re­sent the dan­ger­ous edge of supreme deca­dence to us young wor­ship­pers. We’d see them parked up at the seafront, with a glam­orous lady in a skin-hug­ging sweater top and stovepipe trousers pressed up against her rebel-with­out-acause bloke on the driver’s side — our imag­i­na­tions ran riot over what might be hap­pen­ing in­side that fur-dice­draped vene­tian-blind-rear-win­dowed pas­sion pit.

All it took to set your­self up as a chick mag­net back then was a set of widened steel wheels; a nois­ier ex­haust; and, if you were very se­ri­ous, a slightly warmer cam and dual carbs — along with that al­limpor­tant cos­metic makeover!

It all seemed im­pos­si­bly cool to our im­pres­sion­able eyes, and, I have to say, that deep-lustre metalflake paint had a lot to an­swer for. OK, so the cur­va­ceous babes dec­o­rat­ing the scene had, I will ad­mit, stirred sig­nif­i­cant chem­i­cal re­ac­tions as well.

Se­duced by metal­lic blue heaven — Red Daw­son’s Shelby Mus­tang

The seis­mic mo­ment when the drug of wild metal­lic paint and bold sign­writ­ing seized us with a vice-like ad­dic­tion was the day we first sighted Red Daw­son’s elec­tric blue Shelby Mus­tang racer in the pits at Pukekohe, circa Jan­uary ’69, for the New Zealand Grand Prix meet. The earth moved for us — al­most lit­er­ally — as the daz­zling aura of this car cast ev­ery­thing we’d known pre­vi­ously into the shad­ows like so many face­less nonen­ti­ties. Low, lean, mean, and mus­cu­lar look­ing, that Mus­tang drew us like a mag­net, its stun­ning, rich, en­tranc­ing deep blue, sparkling metal­lic paint off­set by huge yel­low-and-gold num­bers em­bla­zoned on the doors. It looked like 160-pluskilo­me­tres-per-hour just sit­ting still in the pad­dock.

Noth­ing was ever quite the same again, and we em­braced the new or­der of lurid colours, de­signs, and art­work with a se­ri­ous vengeance — well, as much as 13- or 14-year-old boys could.

Red was our hero, and his im­pos­si­bly sexy Mus­tang set the land­mark of a new fron­tier for us. Its out­ra­geous — for the times — dé­cor seemed to stick the fin­ger to the old or­der of so­cial bland­ness and con­for­mity.

Day-glo high per­for­mance ar­rives on home turf

The flood­gates of change hadn’t ex­actly been thrown open in the re­mote back­wa­ter of Ki­wi­land yet. How­ever, by the late 1960s, there was grow­ing ev­i­dence that the new un­re­strained art forms, mu­sic, and styles were be­ing hun­grily devoured by a large chunk of the young and not so young pop­u­la­tion who wanted to es­cape the re­pres­sive cloak of the hang­over from English Vic­to­rian val­ues that was still oth­er­wise be­ing se­ri­ously clung to.

On home turf, the im­age and pur­pose of the au­to­mo­bile changed, as it grew to re­flect the new youth cul­ture’s de­sires and grow­ing spend­ing power. The ar­rival of cars like the Holden Monaro, To­rana XU-1, Fal­con GT, and Valiant Charger came to em­body all the bold new de­sign and art forms, as they emerged with an ex­plo­sion of colours. Re­mem­ber the heart-pal­pi­tat­ing ex­cite­ment when you first laid eyes on a bright-yel­low 1968 5.4-litre 327 Monaro GTS four-speed man­ual — with the black rac­ing stripes? What a gas! It seemed like some­thing from outer space and kind of put ev­ery­thing else on the road at the time into the sec­ond di­vi­sion.

Day- Glo paint like Strike Me Pink or Ca­nary Yel­low was the norm, and when com­bined with ‘go-faster’ stripes and per­for­mance badg­ing, it all proved pretty se­duc­tive to us young lads in the street or at the race track.

The mus­cle car thing ig­nited a de­sire deep in­side me for these raw un­tamed ma­chines, in all their gaudy ra­di­ance. It took me 20 years to get my hands on one from the clas­sic era — a 1970 Holden To­rana GTR XU-1 — but it was worth the wait.

‘High per­for­mance’ be­came the buzz­word, par­tic­u­larly in the late ’60s and early ’70s, even for most of the util­i­tar­ian car mak­ers. Man­u­fac­tur­ers would pro­vide a model with var­i­ous ex­tras; up­rated en­gine and han­dling; and, of course, the cos­metic pack­age to at­tract the youth buyer. Cars like Viva GTS, Avenger GTS, and Cortina GTS were among the many of­fer­ings.

Baron’s, an au­to­mo­bile com­pany of the time, had rapidly caught on that the hum­ble mo­tor car was now a state­ment of the buyer’s per­son­al­ity, so it quickly be­gan to of­fer a vast range of per­for­mance and leisure op­tions to meet di­verse de­mands. Man­u­fac­tur­ers had clearly worked this out, too — just wit­ness, for ex­am­ple, the growth of the styl­ized panel vans in Aus­tralia from Holden, Ford, and Chrysler in the early to mid ’ 70s.

Boy­hood ad­ven­tures in the psy­che­delic colour ex­plo­sion

All these changes we watched from the side­lines; we were cap­ti­vated but too young to play an ac­tive part — in a hot set of wheels, that is; there was plenty of ac­tion for 12- to 13-year-olds who had com­pet­i­tive in­stincts. We had our bikes and the new revo­lu­tion in colour and parts, so had plenty of neat stuff with which to cus­tom­ize our steeds.

Ape-hanger han­dle­bars and ba­nana seats were just the start. There were speedos (not the Aussie swim­ming togs …), horns, chrome mir­rors, head­lights with dy­namos, etc. — you could take it as far as you wanted, or your bud­get al­lowed, and some did. In our early years at high school, the bike-park­ing racks were the place to hang out and ad­mire your mate’s hard­ware. It was a show­case, and there were sev­eral fine ex­am­ples of metalflake cool. I still re­mem­ber Michael Lynch’s iri­des­cent blue beast, with ape hang­ers and a sparkling blue ba­nana seat, plus three­speed Sturmey-archer gears and a speedo — it was ab­so­lutely state of the art!

Un­for­tu­nately, my Raleigh had hardly any of this ex­otic equip­ment, and no one was drool­ing over its cus­tom straight han­dle­bars and ex­tra front hand­brake plus head­light.

Slot cars and plas­tic model kits were mega pop­u­lar back then, and the crew I hung out with was into it big time. It was the high wa­ter­mark of the slot-car craze in the late ’60s and early ’ 70s, and we timed our run to per­fec­tion. With a huge ar­ray of slot­car kits avail­able, a vi­brant lo­cal in­dus­try man­u­fac­tur­ing af­ter­mar­ket cus­tom parts, plus many com­mer­cial race­ways around the coun­try, this was the golden era of slot rac­ing.

Mod­i­fy­ing and dec­o­rat­ing your lat­est racer was a prime mo­ti­va­tion in life dur­ing these hal­cyon years. And yes, the school work did suf­fer. Pre­sen­ta­tion was crit­i­cal, as every­one was try­ing to get one up on the rest with their daz­zling metalflake/day-Glo colour schemes. Hon­our was al­ways at stake when it came to rac­ing for our cov­eted cham­pi­onship, and you had to be a ‘ hot thumb’ to see off the com­pe­ti­tion.

Any­one re­mem­ber Pit Stop Race­ways, above the old Re­gent Theatre on Queen Street, cen­tral Auck­land? This place was the epit­ome of cool, with its sub­dued light­ing, three big six-lane tracks, evoca­tive mo­tor rac­ing paint­ings and pic­tures on the walls, and the ul­ti­mate slot cars on dis­play in flood-lit glass cases at the counter. Our mis­spent youth was played out in this en­tranc­ing shad­ow­land at ev­ery pos­si­ble op­por­tu­nity dur­ing school hol­i­days. We raced away our hard-earned pocket money and news­pa­per-de­liv­ery funds dur­ing those golden years of 1970 to 1972.

Groovy poster art

The ’60s art revo­lu­tion and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia hot rod cul­ture was also mak­ing its pres­ence felt on the lo­cal scene — via the wild psy­che­delic de­signs of posters, mag­a­zines, and stick­ers — or ‘trans­fers’ as they were known then. A lot of this orig­i­nated from the strangelook­ing goa­tee-bearded Cal­i­for­nian rad­i­cal hot rod builder Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth, who was also a car­toon artist. He in­vented a weird hot rod–fiend char­ac­ter called ‘Rat Fink’, who was never up to any good. This launched an ex­tremely evoca­tive style of wild, lurid hot rod and drag-rac­ing litho art that was mostly man­i­fested in posters, T-shirts, and comic strips.

Soon, lo­cal ver­sions be­gan to ap­pear, fea­tur­ing home-turf ma­chin­ery such as Monaros, Fal­con GTS, and even Ford Capris. Us­ing sil­hou­ette style and three-colour lurid litho, they were printed on small presses and fea­tured overblown en­gines and huge tyres, with flames and smoke belch­ing ev­ery­where. A print like this was just about the most hip thing you could want to em­bla­zon your bed­room wall with in the early ’70s.

The day we stum­bled across a young dude run­ning a small litho press in an up­stairs com­mer­cial build­ing in our lo­cal stamp­ing ground, Mairangi Bay on the North Shore, Auck­land, was on a par with dis­cov­er­ing that the sex god­dess of the time, Raquel Welch, might be in­ter­ested in tak­ing a skinny dip with us at the lo­cal iso­lated swim­ming hole … He was do­ing all this magic hot rod, rock ’n’ roll

stuff, and we bought up when funds al­lowed. Of course, none of it has sur­vived, and I’d prob­a­bly pass on the lat­est it­er­a­tion of Raquel to get my hands on some of these orig­i­nals again.

Michael J Nidd was, and still is, a won­der­ful lo­cal artist, whose Day-glo im­ages of the ul­ti­mate hard­ware of the lo­cal mo­tor rac­ing scene of circa 1969 to 1974 re­main some of the best pieces of daz­zling mo­tor rac­ing art I’ve seen any­where. His work ap­peared in mo­tor rac­ing mags of the pe­riod, but it was the poster art that was to die for. These were com­mer­cially off­set printed for a while and were sub­lime, but the copies I had of the Fa­hey PDL Mus­tang and Mcrae GM1 were both ca­su­al­ties of time. Some of these colour im­ages ap­peared in the Michael J Nidd and Terry Mar­shall book­let Tas­man ’ 72: An In­sight.

Mem­o­ries of the ’60s and ’70s colour ex­trav­a­ganza

All these colourful art forms were burst­ing out of the wood­work on all sides. They were part of the re­ac­tion to the years of grey, grim hard­ship lin­ger­ing fol­low­ing the 1930s De­pres­sion and into the war years and the post-war en­trench­ment, which fi­nally re­leased all this amaz­ing long-re­pressed en­ergy and creativ­ity in the sec­ond half of the 1960s and early ’70s. It was an amaz­ing time of ex­plo­ration and self­ex­pres­sion in all its forms. Well, OK, maybe not ev­ery­thing was to­tally groovy; the drug thing did get slightly out of hand, the Viet­nam War was a dis­as­ter, and racial, and fe­male in­equal­ity was a se­ri­ous prob­lem that ben­e­fited from greater pub­lic­ity dur­ing this era.

That 1960s ‘revo­lu­tion’ was the cat­a­lyst for much of the change in the decades to come. It was just un­for­tu­nate that, in the later years, com­mer­cial ex­ploita­tion tainted some of its aura.

I still have clear mem­o­ries of some of the best ex­am­ples on the automotive front. Red’s Pony Ex­press was re­ally a cos­mic awak­en­ing for the per­for­mance-car crowd, newly aware that ‘in yer face’ was pretty sen­sa­tional. The hot rod crew, which al­ready had a slightly shady and re­bel­lious rep­u­ta­tion — at least to the con­ser­va­tive pub­lic — well knew the im­pact of paint­work de­signed to shock.

In­spired by the Daw­son car, my mate Johnny Ri­ley trans­formed his white ’66 Shelby race Mus­tang with deep-lustre metal­lic green paint and the bold num­ber 222 run­ning the length of the doors. Overnight, this ma­chine — which had al­ready been pretty sharp — be­came a favourite with the crowds. Its stun­ning ap­pear­ance matched the hard-charg­ing at­ti­tude dis­played by folk-hero driver Big John, as did his some­times wild de­par­tures from the hot mix into the scenery. He seemed more in­ter­ested in putting on a good show for the crowd than win­ning races, and this re­ally seemed to em­body the spirit of the times. The fans loved him for it, as he was pri­mar­ily an en­ter­tainer. The least of his con­cerns seemed to be dam­ag­ing his ex­pen­sive equip­ment dur­ing en­coun­ters with the solid ob­jects he ran into on his off-track ex­cur­sions.

Other cars that lit my fire in the late ’60s and early ’70s in­cluded the Ken Smith’s iri­des­cent blue Lo­tus 41, Max Pen­ning­ton’s metal­lic crim­son Twin Cam Es­cort aptly named ‘Wild­fire’, the gold Win­field-spon­sored Begg FM4 of David Ox­ton, and the Chev Ca­maro of Rod Cop­pins. But pos­si­bly the most rad­i­cally beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of semi psy­che­delic–styled Day-glo paint­work of this era was ex­hib­ited on the PDL cars, par­tic­u­larly the ’70 Boss Mus­tang in its fab­u­lous green and pink ver­sions when pi­loted by Gra­ham Baker, and the PDL Begg FM5 F5000 in sim­i­lar pink when run by Al­lan Mc­cully. Sim­ply strike-me-dead gor­geous.

This era of race cars pre­sented in ex­trav­a­gant sur­real paint­work as an art form seem­ingly ended with the ad­vent of greater com­mer­cial­ism. Of course, a grow­ing num­ber of en­tic­ingly beau­ti­ful, painted cus­tom­ized cars and hot rods trolled pub­lic roads around this time. But the times have changed, and what was once an art form and a new life­style that di­rectly re­flected the en­ergy and creativ­ity of a phoenix ris­ing from the ashes of mid20th-cen­tury re­pres­sion is, in more re­cent times, largely a com­mer­cial ex­ploita­tion of the in­tegrity of that spe­cial time.

I have an en­dur­ing love for the sign­posts of the 1960s new-wave cul­ture; posters, stick­ers, al­bum cov­ers, cloth­ing items, and mag­a­zines — I col­lect them all. They have a rich­ness in colour and de­sign that re­minds me what a won­der­ful time it truly was, when we rode that strange tor­pedo into the new fron­tier of ‘no lim­its’ — or so it seemed then …

Day-glo hot rod art­work from the ’70s (artist un­known)

Top left: Ford Ze­phyr Mk3 at 1971 Hot Rod Show, San­i­tar­ium card (pho­tog­ra­pher un­known) Above left: 1936 Ford Coupe Cus­tom, 1971 San­i­tar­ium card (pho­tog­ra­pher un­known)

Be­low: Clas­sic pin-up hot rod art by lo­cal Auck­land artist Jack Wil­son (2013)

Above: Groovy fash­ions of the late ’60s in-crowd gath­ered around a new Tri­umph (ad­vert April ’70)

Be­low left: Day-glo green PDL Mus­tang at Bay Park 1973, Gra­ham Baker driv­ing Be­low right: ’32 Ford V8 road­ster at Christchurch Au­torama Show, Jan­uary 1970

Clas­sic hot rod art from the early ’70s, copied by the au­thor in felt pen around 1973

Above: Leg­endary Michael J Nidd mo­tor rac­ing posters, ad­vert from 1972 Be­low: Michael J Nidd paint­ing of ’72 Tas­man Cham­pion Gra­ham Mcrae

John Ri­ley’s metal­lic green ’66 Shelby Mus­tang, Bay Park, 1971

Pink Day-glo E38 Chrysler Charger, 1971

The car that set Aus­trala­sia on fire, the 1968 327 Monaro pic from pe­riod ad­vert GTS Dave Mcdougall’s metal­lic blue Ford V8 Austin drag­ster, NZ Hot Rod photo by Doug Har­ris 1969

The writer and his stead: Day-glo yel­low 1970 Holden To­rana XU-1

Above: Red Daw­son, blue metal­lic Shelby Mus­tang, Gavin Evitt photo, Pukekohe 1969-70

Be­low: Tas­man72:anin­sight book­let, cover by Michael J Nidd Bot­tom: Cool wool and hot rod ad­vert from Newzealand­hotrod, April 1969

Pur­ple metal­lic ‘37 Chev Coupe of Kevin Greene, Gavin Evitt photo, NZ Hot Rod mag 1970

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