Mick Walsh From the cockpit
‘These days, seeing any classic battling city traffic is heroic and the sight of the Corvair arriving at our meeting made me smile’
Bwho elgium has a great tradition of comic illustration, most famously with the Tintin work of Hergé, and Jean Graton,
drew the Michel Vaillant series. Two of my favourite illustrators are from Belgium, Ever Meulen (his real name is Eddy Vermeulen) and Patrick Van der Stricht, and on a recent trip to Brussels I finally met them.
These days, seeing any classic battling with modern city traffic is heroic and uplifting, and the sight of Eddy’s timewarp 1960 Chevrolet Corvair arriving at our meeting in the Cinquantenaire Park made me smile. This is his second Corvair, the first a sedan built under licence in Belgium. “I drove it for 12 years, but after selling I missed it so much I had to buy another,” he enthused. “Two years ago I discovered this one on ebay in Missouri. It was Seafoam Green, my favourite colour, had just 22,000 miles and three owners, including a lady in St Louis from new to 1994. She seemed to use it just to drive to church. I grew up on the coast, and colourful American cars were a regular feature of the streets.”
Vermeulen loved drawing and comics from an early age. “I was crazy about Michel Vaillant; Spa and Le Mans seemed so remote and exotic, but Jean Graton vividly captured all our racing fantasies,” recalled Eddy, who drew his first racing strip in 1961 featuring the Grand Prix ‘Sharknose’ Ferraris. His talent developed and prestigious assignments over the years have included The New Yorker magazine covers and Roxy Music tour posters.
Eddy and Patrick share a love of American cars, which led to their first contact. Van der Stricht’s fascination goes back to his first visits to the Brussels Motor Show as a boy, so it’s appropriate that we all met at Autoworld, inside the magnificent Palais Mondial, where the shows were held until 1958. “I pestered my parents every year to take me and in 1954 I was spellbound by the surprise sight of two Muntz Jets with a Jaguar importer,” said Patrick. “From that day I had to own one. Three were imported to Belgium and years later I discovered the trio under covers in the basement of the Shell building. I tried to buy one but they disappeared.”
While studying as an architect, he bought his first car, a 1949 Packard Six: “My parents were horrified when it arrived home because it looked like something from a scrapyard. But I fixed it with my twin brother. The car still survives in Holland and I’d love to buy it back.”
Many American car adventures followed, including a three-month road trip across the US in a ’68 Buick and a Dodge truck in 1979: “It was a good time to travel because the scrapyards were still full of interesting cars. I dreamed of living in America and I loved New Mexico, but I missed my friends and the food back home.”
His lifelong desire to own a Muntz never faded, and in 1974 a French dealer showed him a photo of one that had turned up in Portugal: “It took two months before he called me back saying the car was now in Paris. We bought it and my brother and I drove it home to Brussels through a dramatic storm, but thankfully the car came with a hardtop. It felt like a tank and wasn’t very comfortable but I still own it. I love the styling.”
Van der Stricht has enjoyed drawing cars since childhood. In 1961, two of his fantasy designs were selected for the Michel Vaillant comic series, and between his architecture work he has produced a fantastic range of event posters, record covers and exhibition designs.
Walking around Autoworld, we played my favourite museum game: choosing the cars we’d most like to take home. Both, not surprisingly, nominated American cars, with Vermeulen selecting a wonderfully original 1934 Oldsmobile F34 Coupe – painted green, of course. For Van der Stricht it was his all-time dream car, a 1937 Cord 812. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the duo driving these on my next visit.