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’

Classic Sports Car - - Contents -

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.

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