Housecars discovered…

With quite a few of our blogs, we stumble upon an interesting vehicle online, then we do a bit of ‘digging around’ and start to discover an interesting story which develops into a post…

In this case we saw a picture of this really cool RV or ‘housecar’ which was up for sale in the States.1941BrooksStevensWesterFlyer_01_1000-700x449do.php This is a 1941 Ford Western Flyer which has been restored and customised by the famed hotrod customizer Howdy Ledbetter. A bit more research revealed that the original vehicle although very rotten was one of the original Western Flyer or Clipper vehicles designed by Clifford Brooks Stevens. Now as a designer I’m rather embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about this renowned product designer… but now I do.

Brooks StevensBrooks Stevens (1911-1995) was one of the most successful and prolific American industrial designers in the pre and post-World War II era. His firm Brooks Stevens Industrial Design produced concepts and visions for everything from coffee pots and kitchenware who helped form the Industrial Designers Society of America. After studying Architecture at University, he formed the company in Milwaukee in 1934.

In 1936 he designed this amazing Zephyr Land Yacht, tractor and trailer for Millionaire playboy Bill Plankinton. Plankinton, whose family ran a very successful packing company, wanted to pursue cross-country travel in style. His brief was to have a tractor-trailer combination of superior design and personal comfort. The tractor would serve as the living quarters for the driver and valet, the trailer would sleep nine comfortably, and include a shower bath, kitchen facilities and the latest in radio equipment. Plans for both the tractor and trailer were filed at the Patent office in 1936.Land Yacht colour land-yacht


pat1 pat2While the Land Yacht was on a test run they had stopped at a friends for Cocktails (as you do!) and were approached by the Western Printing Company, their president wanted a mobile showroom/office. Brooks Stevens came up with the ‘Western Clipper’ –  It was be under 20 feet to facilitate parking in towns and cities, had a top speed of 85mph and did 15mpg.outsideoutside2WF-3cab cab2 WF-inside2inside

WF-insideWF-inside3WF-inside4Brooks Stevens went onto design variants on the original clipper including a display vehicle for Johnsons’ Wax for the 1939/40 New York World Fair. It was planned to use it for research trips to countries such as Brazil and was fitted with bunks and running water. It is reported that on the way to the fair it was stopped in Fifth Avenue for being a banned commercial vehicle, their response was “it’s not a truck but a Housecar” and were allowed to continue. When they reached the fair a live broadcast was made from the vehicle.WF-filmclipper1Another version was designed for traveller and pilot Winfield Cambell of the Cambell Baking Company, who used it for travelling. This version had a much more slanted nose and may well be the version that was found and became the Ledbetter customised version.WF-1 WF-4StevensClipper
WF-5Plans were at least drawn up for a longer version but little is known of this or other variants. During WW2 some of the clippers and the Land Yacht were converted and used for Army recruitment, medical needs and as a mobile blood bank.drawingplan-longCampbellvan

The ‘Western Clippers’ influence was seen later in Brooks Stevens career when in 1948 he designed the Skytop Hiawatha trains which had a glass observation lounge.trainFollowing on from a previous blog on promotional vehicles, Brooks Stevens also designed the famous Oscar Mayer ‘Wienermobile’.


There appears to be lots of gaps in the History of the Brooks Stevens ‘Housecars’, surprising given that the company is still in existence and that the company is well documented in American museums especially the Milwaukee Art Museum. It would appear that as well as the Ledbetter customised version there is at least one more surviving in a private collection which was part of an exhibition ‘The American Road’ at the Harley Davidson Museum, Milwaukee this summer.WF museum-1 WF museum2It wasn’t just Brooks Stevens who were producing this type of vehicle, we came across a couple of other interesting similar examples…

The Hunt House Car
Hollywood cinematographer Roy Hunt had to spend weeks away on location and so between 1935-1945 he built a series of ‘Housecars’. Initially he added a bed, folding table and 110 volt generator to a Willys sedan delivery but in 1937 he bought a 1937 Ford truck chassis and, borrowing some aircraft techniques, designed a smooth fuselage body with a hatch-like flush door and a streamlined shape. It was the first RV to have a working shower. He eventually put it into production, making about 50 examples over a ten year period. One remains in existence and was restored by David Woodworth of Tehachapi, California and today is in the RV/MH Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame in Elkhart.1937-hunt-house-car-1

Chris Craft
Chris Craft, boat makers in San Francisco also made a prototype Housecar in 1937, they hoped to go into production but a lack of materials during the war years put a stop to their plans. The only prototype, registered as a Plymouth Housecar was found in 1968 and used as an office before being restored in 1999 by Custom Painter Art Himsl. Finished in 2010 it is known as the Himsl Zeppelin Roadliner.CC-2
CC-3frame1937 Chris Craft Moterhome. chris craft new Chris-craft restored1937 Chris Craft Moterhome.So there we are, one little picture has led to quite a lot of information. I love some of these vehicles, they are almost like a ‘grown-up’ Mario’, I wonder what the next inspirational find will be – watch this space!


Fabulous Goodwood frocks…

OK I know this blog is predominately about cars but just this once I’m going to write about a frock… It is car connected as it’s this years Goodwood Revival ‘Mario frock’ and I promise there will be lots of pictures of Mario.

Last year I decided to print my own Mario fabric and make a vintage style dress to go with the car, it was so successful I decided to create another one for the 2014 Revival, the idea being that if I do another one next year, I’ll have a unique and personal frock for each day of the Revival. PrintDSC06091

After some thought I went down the ‘postcard’ route, that sort of ‘wish you were here’ tropical style 50’s design but with a bit of a twist as the postcards would all feature Mario. The first idea was to take pictures of Mario in front of landmarks in the area, sort of ‘Paris, Rome, Madrid’ but replace them with Bognor, Selsey and Pagham but it was difficult to find good locations so the idea evolved into landmarks at Goodwood, the places we drive to as part of the GRTC taxi fleet.

We went down to Goodwood on a fairly sunny Sunday and spent the afternoon driving round the estate taking pictures of Mario at the Circuit, Race Course, Hotel, Kennels etc and this formed the basis of the design. Below are some of the original photos, some of which didn’t make it on to the material design.

DSC03682 DSC03688 DSC03694 DSC03703 DSC03738 DSC03750 DSC03769 DSC03779 DSC03784 DSC03790 DSC03796 DSC03800 DSC03807I took the images into Photoshop and using some filters to give them a more 50’s illustrative style the pictures were mixed in with palm trees, postmarks and typography on a Mario lime/yellow background. Luckily I’m a graphic/web designer in my daily life and so the fabric design was quite straightforward for me. To produce the final fabric, I use a brilliant company in America called Spoonflower, you upload your designs, use their software to sort out the repeat and then they print the fabric digitally onto your chosen fabric.Postcard - earls court Postcard - entrance Postcard - pit straightHeaderLogo_NEW Layout 1 spoonflower-page

I wasn’t very organised this year and ran out of time to get a sample printed, so I had to bite the bullet and go ahead and order the whole 7 yards required. An anxious few weeks went by, before the package arrived and I knew that the colours had printed correctly. Using reprinted vintage Vogue patterns as a base, I made a dress and matching jacket which was finished just in time, not helped by the assistance of our young cat Birkin (named after Sir ‘Tim’ Birkin – we already have an older cat called Bentley).IMG_1230IMG_0549 IMG_0561

The dress was a great success, I wore the 2013 model on the Friday and the new one on Saturday and Sunday but with different accessories, it’s amazing how people don’t notice the print at first and then are amazed that it is the car they are riding in!

DSC06234 DSC06271DSC06279 DSC06325 DSC06729I really enjoyed designing the fabric and have been wondering if there is any market for producing custom made ‘team’ shirts for historic racers using images of their cars?

Now I just have to come up with another new design for the 2015 model.

A quick sprint round the Goodwood Revival…

Believe it or not we were so busy at the taxi rank this year that I didn’t get to see a single car on track! Hopefully that will be remedied for future years but for 2014 we just managed to get away for an hour or so each day, just enough time to have a quick look round the paddocks and infield.

We arrive at Goodwood on Thursday and try to get there in time to see a bit of the Revival cricket match, it took us longer to pack up then expected but we managed to catch the last few overs. The cricket is a nice relaxed afternoon and heralds a good weekend with many of the drivers competing and with the audience already in their period clothes, it really sets the scene. The car park is normally pretty awesome too, the drivers briefing happens after the match so there is a pretty varied selection of vehicles on display, including Mario of course!DSC06018 DSC06019 DSC06020 DSC06021 DSC06025 DSC06027 Amanda Stretton caused quite a stir playing in a rather short white dress. After the match there is a fly past by the Spitfire, it’s always dramatic but this year the passes were so low the wings seemed to be skimming the pitch. The crowd were suitably appreciative including this chap in a rather splendid ERA knitted tank top.

DSC06041 DSC06042

Friday was very busy in the new taxi rank and it wasn’t until the afternoon that I threw a bit of a girly ‘hissy fit’ and popped to the ‘shops’ for a quick break. The Canberra and Hunter flew over and the Spitfire, Mustang, Hurricane and ME109 Messerschmitt, a beautiful sight against the blue sky. Sir Stirling Moss was signing copies of a new book, it was good to see him looking well. I couldn’t miss a trip to Tesco’s, the 60’s repro store selling Double Diamond amongst other things and a glamorous trio of ‘checkout girls’ were singing to the crowd. This years theme around the entrance was Brighton Pier to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the mod/rocker altercations that took place in many British seaside towns during the summer of 1964. British actor Phil Daniels, who starred in the film Quadrophenia led a procession of about 100 period scooters around the track to mark the start of the Meeting on Friday morning. There were lots of seaside attractions dotted about to set the scene including my new friend Dermot (and Fynn) the Donkeys who seemed totally immune to all the noise going on around them.

DSC06115 DSC06118 DSC06110DSC06126 DSC06131 DSC06132 DSC06133 DSC06138
Saturday morning saw a collection of vintage cars outside the hotel. We had been particularly keen to see the two Lancasters – the British and Canadian – flying and so arranged a short break to get over to the airfield and the Freddy March Spirit of Aviation to get a good view. They were due at 11.30 and it was very atmospheric as the band started playing the Dam Busters theme but nothing happened, unknown to us there had been a technical issue with one of the planes and they weren’t coming. It was very disappointing as we had a good view and had to make do with the other ‘warbirds’ doing an extra demonstration.DSC06141DSC06144DSC06167DSC06175DSC06179DSC06187We had a quick walk through the outer paddocks on the way back and spotted James Martin, had a chat with Rae Davis who had his traditional bar set up in the paddock, making them one of the most popular teams, and had a quick photo call with President Obama at Stonehenge!DSC06198DSC06199DSC06212DSC06217In the early evening while on Taxi duty, driving through the park, I heard a roar in the sky and managed to stop and watch the Lancasters which had been repaired and made a late appearance, they were a fabulous sight and at least I did get to see them.DSC06239DSC06242DSC06243DSC06250DSC06251Sunday and the last day came round so quickly, with another short break we popped over to the GRRC enclosure to find out about the 73rd Members Meeting and actually saw a car on track – on the TV!DSC06359Having just restored Cynthia we were very interested in the ‘Bike Shop’ and managed to buy Cynthia a present of some new hand grips. The garage set was also impressive and we managed to pop into Earls Court to see the Facel Vega which James works on which was one of the display cars. The four door Maserati had to be the ugliest car of the weekend.DSC06362DSC06365DSC06369DSC06370DSC06379DSC06380We walked through the main paddock and bumped into James’ pram… bought by his father second hand from a Mayfair nanny in 1964, it was used by James, his brother and sister and is now on loan to friends of ours. James also got to relive his childhood by sitting in a Maserati 250F, he had one – well a smaller version – when he was three!DSC06381DSC06384DSC06391DSC06393IMG_4891DSC06394DSC06398 - Version 2So that was our quick pictorial view of the Revival, the rest of the weekend was spent in the taxi’s driving around the estate. There were lots of other things I would have liked to have seen but that is the pay off for being part of the GRTC. It’s fun but there does need to be a bit more of a balance so we get a bit more time to see the event and hopefully that will be addressed before next year.