Doane Yawger: With many cars, the beauty is in details

June 11, 2010 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the saying goes, and there are many things in the automotive realm that enthrall this longtime car "beholder."

Cars are the amalgamation of many thousands of parts, and there are many pieces that stand out and deserve second and subsequent looks.

In the grocery store parking lot several weeks ago, the light was shining directly on the taillight of our sport-utility vehicle, enough so that I wondered if the lights were on or the brakes were stuck.

It was none of the above, just the right angle to show off the light's brilliance.

Taillights have always been a thing of wonderment for me, going back 60 or more years. It must be the internal faceting or prisms that make these lights reflective.

To me, they are literally jewels that sparkle equally in the midday sun or the middle of the night.

I'm not sure what to think of the modern LED lights you see now on some cars and many trucks, but they are eye-catching -- and that's the point of a taillight.

Take time to study a taillight up close and you'll discover the many twists and turns it will take before your eyes. It's like staring into a showcase of rubies at a jewelry store.

My personal favorites are the 1940s Chevy taillights, followed by mid-1950s Packards, 1959 Cadillac "bullet" taillights and countless others.

The bigger, the better is generally true, but the smaller ones have their charms, too.

Street rods and customs often have "blue dot" taillights that cast a blue-purplish hue when illuminated at night, and they are very cool as well.

Many of today's collector cars showcase breathtaking paint jobs with dazzling colors.

At a recent car show, I couldn't help but notice a 1932 Ford roadster with a miles-deep purple hue.

That's no exaggeration on the miles-deep reference -- wispy white clouds above were clearly shown in that paint finish, something I hadn't noticed before.

Paint is the coating that can make or break a car's countenance. Paints with metal-flake sparkles embedded in the finish always stand out. Sometimes the "ghost flames" hidden underneath the gloss make a dazzling statement.

Of course, one of my all-time favorites has to be the "flip-flop" color-shifting paints that were so popular a few years ago.

It's mesmerizing to walk around a car and see its colors morph from green to blue, gold and purple, depending upon the angle. These paints are expensive and rarely seen, but always stand out.

The old cars we dig so much usually came with chromed hood ornaments. These decorations took many forms, from greyhounds to airplanes, mythical gods, young maidens, birds and cormorants.

My favorite has to be the Indian chiefs seen on early 1950s Pontiac Chieftain models. The heads of these Indians were yellow plastic that was illuminated, or shined when the sun shone on them or the lights were on.

This is certainly not an all-inclusive list of automotive beauties, just a hint of what's out there to enjoy. Another attention-grabber has to be wooden station wagons from the 1920s through the 1960s.

The woods used on these "woodies" and the finishes they wear also are dazzling.

Take time to gaze inside up at the roofs of these woodies. The ribbed planking and cross-bracing show their charms, too. Skilled artisans also are able to duplicate wooden finishes on metal trim pieces, and some of these are true works of art.

Some pickup trucks also feature fairly exotic planking in their beds. This is definitely a scenic element compared to the textured coating or scraped paint you see in most trucks.

Hubcaps or rims sometimes can be a thing of beauty, especially the distinctive ones seen on earlier models. The rounded "dog-dish" chrome hubcaps found on late-1930s Plymouths certainly are attention-getters.

When they are clean and shiny, you can see your reflection in them.

Around 1952, I remember a neighbor's old Plymouth four-door sedan. A couple of times through the mud puddles and the hubcaps appeared drab and featureless. After a bath, these wheelcovers stood out, demanding you check them out.

We've barely scratched the surface as far as things of automotive beauty. There's another saying about "taking time to sniff the flowers." That's certainly true, but I like to gaze at many beautiful adornments that make old cars so special.

Doane Yawger is a retired reporter and editor with the Sun-Star who can be reached at dsyawger@sbcglobal.net.

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