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4 entries from June 2011


Where is he gay today?  National Car Parks Brewer Street Garage, WC1

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait
Master Right and I did a stupid thing.  We actually drove into the center of London, which, for verisimillitude, we shall refer to as the centre of London. 

Stupid for many reasons, but mostly because you need to park the car when you get there.  A berth in one of the capital's classier garages reflects the price of the real estate on which it sits.  Guards change as regularly as at Buck House down the road, and with almost as much ceremony.  Bespoke services cater to a gentleman's every motoring need.  The lodgings ain't cheap, but that keeps out the riff-raff, dunnit? 

Thus we found ourselves rubbing elbows with the aristocracy, or at least, denting their doors. 

Since Munich is no stranger to classy sheet metal, we could overlook the Maserati Quattroporte and row of Aston Martins.  What first caught my eye was a rare Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe; the cryptic message on the number plate suggests a chap named Ken wants to sell it for a mere 25 pence. 

But glance to the left, and we see another Phantom. A vastly more expensive one, it seems.

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait
No matter how well-heeled the neighbourhood, I didn't expect to see a car which, when last sold, fetched almost two point three million dollars.

I was blown away.  Could it be the famous "Psychedelic Rolls", once owned by John Lennon?  If you've read previous posts, you'll know that I've written about this car already, along with the other limousines the legally-blind Lennon used while his Beatle pals drove sports cars.

Psychedelic, of course, is a misonomer.  A gypsy wagon, which Lennon had comissioned for his son Julian's 4th birthday, inspired the design on the coachwork. 

Lennon took delivery on June 3, 1965.  It came finished in matte black, including rims and chrome, anticipating the current fad for matte paint on cars by at least half a century.  Thus kitted out, the car made its most famous public appearance: taking the Fab Four to see the Queen to collect their MBEs, the first honour on the road to their eventual  Knighthoods.  Well, for three of them, anyway.

Lennon soon grew bored with the Evil Empire look, and in 1967 ordered new livery.  It shocked many.  Little old ladies would attack it with their umbrellas in the street, cursing it as blasphemy against all that Britain held dear.



Lorne Hammond's official history of the car tells its subsequent story:

In 1977 John and Yoko needed a tax break and donated the car to a branch of the Smithsonian , plucking a hefty $225,000 off their taxable income.  The Smithsonian seldom showed it—they couldn't afford the insurance—and put it up for auction in 1985.  Christies expected to fetch little more than the original sum for which the Lennons wrote it off.   The car surprised everyone by pulling in a hefty $2,299,000, a world record at the time.

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait
The purchaser was a museum sort, too.  He was Canadian businessman Jim Pattison, whose conglomerate had just acquired Ripley's Entertainment, proprietiors of the famous Believe It Or Not museums.

We noticed a discreet sign touting the Ripley's branch in nearby Piccadilly.  So this incredibly valuable car was sitting in a public car park?  Believe it...or not!

Not!  I put it to you, your Honour, that this car is a forgery!

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait

An excellent forgery, but a forgery nonetheless.  Like all counterfeiters, they forgot a single detail.  The number plate. 

If you grew up a Lesney kid, you'll know that British numberplates started out in a simple alphanumeric sequence: ABC 123.  When those ran out, they reversed the order: 123 ABC.  With both of those options exhausted, the Ministry of Transport had no choice but to add an extra digit.  For the year 1963, all cars registered wore an "A" in the final column.  1964 cars sported a "B", and so on.

The plate on this car clearly reads DVB 341B, which marks it as a 1964 model.  According to Dr. Hammond, Lennon's 1965 Phantom sported the chronologically correct numberplate FJB 111C.  Mr. Pattison gave the real thing to the Royal British Columbia Museum, where it can be seen until the end of this month.  This car, clearly, is a cheap publicity trick!   Bravo.  I work in advertising, so I am in favour of that sort of thing.

The car seems to be following us.  At the Mensing Gallery in the Altstadt we sawthis work painted by (if memory serves) German artist Paul Thierry.   Funny, I always thought Brian Epstein was the fifth Beatle.

Psychedelic Rolls Portrait

The Wolf on Wheels

Our favourite dog

On Sundays, the park near our place is Hound Central.   Everyone walks his dog.  You can spot the regulars, and I think they've even worked out the whole Alpha-Dog pack hierarchy issue.

Our favourite dog doesn't play that game.  Rita introduced herself one day, when we were sitting on a park bench feeling a bit blue.  She walked up, and simply laid her head against Master Right's shin, as if she's known him forever.

Not quite sure of how she came to get around in this National Lampoon album-cover contraption.  Her owner told me a long story in German I couldn't quite follow; it seems they tried several solutions until they lit on this one.  "This dog loves life so much," said her mistress, "that we had to help her enjoy it to the full."

We haven't seen Rita around for a while.  I'm not one to get sentimental over pets, but I hope she's OK.  Anyone clocked a pooch on wheels around the Maximilliansanlagen lately?

Number 49

7049_Unimog_RMatchbox cars were my drug of choice. 

I would beg my mother to abandon her ironing board—an easy sell— so I could turn it into a miniature autopia.  The board's cloth surface maintained just the right amount of friction; a car could glide smoothly, but stay put when parked.  A hard surface like a table top argued noisily with a toy car, especially if equipped with those newfangled Superfast wheels. 

Speed vs. Accuracy

My childhood pals and I rarely raced our cars.   To send one scooting across a floor, or down a track, meant the whole thing would be over in an instant.

On a smooth surface, a toy might travel twenty feet in a second.  At a scale of 1:60, that's like a real car reaching 800 miles an hour— four times the speed of Formula One.  A beguiling thought, but pretty boring in real life.  If you've watched F1 from trackside, you'll know that the spectator sees but a split second of noisy blur.

We got down to eye level with these cars. They had to move accurately, and with grace. As we drove them down the lanes and highways of our bedrooms, they would pick up a fair clip, but we enjoyed the drive.  We shifted imaginary gears.  The little car bodies rolled in the right direction as we took corners.   

Many of the pre-Superfast cars came equipped with steerable wheels.  You tilted the car body in the direction you wanted the wheels to turn.  This pissed us off.   Body roll goes opposite to the direction of travel.  You don't have to study Newton to know that.

My room may have been a mess.  My shoes scuffed, and untied.  I ate like an animal.  But my Matchbox cars were tucked neatly in their carrying cases, often in the original cardboard box.  In a childhood full of chaos, these tiny machines reperesented order.  Thoughtfulness.  Peace.

Take your mind off thinking. 

Robert Pirsig makes some shrewd observations about mankind and machines in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.   He feels that mechanical work can give an "inner peace of mind".   Lincoln_logs_building_sets It involves an understanding of the physical world around you, its potential and limits, and becomes almost a form of meditation.

So does building things.  American children of a certain age will recall Lincoln Logs.  The toy seemed simple; you stack bars of stained wood atop one another in order to build primitive cabins, barns and forts. 

But a young mind had to deal with a number of  issues.  How do the logs interlock?  Which pieces stacked on which to form a triangle?  How many logs, of what type, did I need to build a particular structure?  For a four year-old, it demanded complex spatial reasoning and a good deal of patience. 

Did I actually play with the cabin, farm or fort afterwards?  No.  That wasn't the point.  I basked in satisfaction.   I was the master of something.  At least one bit of this kid's world was under his control.

Country rocker Skid Roper treasured his toys, too.  In a simple ode, he asks his mother what happened to my Lincoln Logs?  Right now, he needs their help.  He has difficult stuff to think about.  Maybe emotional stuff.  This simple task will occupy his head, so his heart can think, in its own way.

For me, the song rings true, even if Mojo Nixon spoils it with his stupid harmonies in the last verse.

What happened to my Matchbox cars?   To the best of my knowledge, they rest safe in the closet of my brother and sister-in-law's spare room.  I left them, well over a decade ago, for my nephew to enjoy.   I rather hoped he would treasure them as much as I did. 

But these matters are deeply personal, and he chose his own contemplative toy: Star Wars Lego.  He even named the family dog Yoda, after his second-favourite Star Wars character.  Darth Vader would have sounded odd for a dog.

Metal, in the flesh

Of course, to a modern kid, the collection amounts to little more than an historical relic.  But what history!

Mathbox gave kids like me a window on the glamourous world of mid-century European motoring: Ferrari, Lambourghini, Iso Grifo, Pinnafarina, Mercedes ambulances, Land Rover fire trucks, sedans called saloons and trailers called caravans.

When they watch Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, many Americans of my age get the joke about Ford Prefect thanks to Matchbox.

Living in Europe, one stumbles across a real version of these cars from time to time.  They almost always cause a double take—like when you see a celeb on the street.  Often, they don't look anything like you imagined them

Take the Lotus Europa (#5).  Given the shape of its micro-clone, I thought a Europa must be some kind of delivery van (especially since the toy version had a towbar) rather than the sexiest of low-slung, mid-engined cars.  Lotus only made 9000 Europas, but the Matchbox version sold in the millions.

The biggest shock came from my first glimpse of a classic Unimog (#49).   This was a bit of a dullard in my collection.  Interesting enough, but with the bright red and not-quite-sky-blue paintjob, it fell into the stocking stuffer category, rather than making it onto Santa's list.

The real thing packs a whallop.  I want this truck.  I want to ford streams.  I want to climb hills sideways.  I want to bowl over saplings as I make my way through a forest.  I want to ride this truck like a horse.  A real physical, gut reaction.

Unimog 2a
Quite a contrast to the feeling of calm, order and purpose I got its miniature counterpart.  A real Unimog is kinda sexy.  Even with the gooby bit on the front that lets park rangers pick up Otto bins.

An emotional lesson

Maybe that's part of growing up.  We learn to integrate the physical, the intellectual, the emotional. 

When I get in a car today, so many things cross my mind and heart.  The order and precision of the dials.  The slightly different engine note when the tank is full of 102 octane, rather than 95.  And from time to time, the feeling of mastery when you take over the gears and spin some higher revs than, perhaps, is prudent.

Those little cars affected me profoundly.  Today, I find it odd to  think that many use the word "mechanical" to mean "soul-less".  

My apartment, from time to time, may still be a mess.  My shoes are still scuffed, and often untied.  When nobody's looking, I still eat like an animal.  And the great big grown-up automobile I drive still feels a bit like the tiny cars I piloted across the ironing board.  My car a haven of peace and order, but at the same time, a source of incredible physical sensations and excitement.

Judging by the concept car below, the people who are designing the next Number 49 get it.  Hard to park, but awesome for parkour.  I might not buy one, but I'd sure as hell like to take it out for a spin.


All photos link to source.  Special hat-tip to the Matchbox Wiki and mrdiecastman for several hours of reminiscing pleasure

Ordnung ist das halbe Leben

IPhone 123
Only cross with the green light.  Set an example to the children.

IPhone 085
We allow careful self-service

IPhone 112
ATTENTION: Only PARK within the dotted lines. Report to the office.

IPhone 094
Please pay the parking fee directly before your exit!  You are granted 15 minutes abstention after the payment sequence before your mandate expires.  For technical reasons, after the discharge of this fifteen minute abstention, a new parking event begins with a renewed apportionment of the minimum charge. Please conduct supplementary payments at the automatic payment machines.

IPhone 103
At the cashier, please re-count your retrieved money immediately!

Later claims can not be made restrospectively!

IPhone 106
Please request a receipt!  Issuance of receipts after the fact is not possible.
(And besides, we're closed.)

IPhone 084
To trespass on this
(securely fenced and diligently patrolled) building site is FORBIDDEN!!!

IPhone 132

IPhone 119
Please sort the empty bottles in an orderly fashion!!

IPhone 116

IPhone 135