Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The catalogue of dreams

Women are on an eternal quest to find the answer how to keep their youth. New hairdos, fashion that is far too young for them, cosmetic surgery, Botox treatments. We men do not need that. The older we get, the more interesting we are of course. Plus, we are easier satisfied. We just buy our youth back by ordering the things we liked when we were young. And we are content.

Granted, why women are on a continuous fight against the effects of gravity and facial erosion is understandable. But, let’s face it, appearance is only skin deep – pun intended. So, we men do not care. There’s no use anyway. When the days we look as young gods are over, we simply shift our interests back to the days we were young. And we can now do this thanks to the joys of internet.

As a young boy I spent many hours flipping the pages and looking at the photos and ads of a special book. My father, working as the accountant of an Opel dealership, one day came home with a car catalogue, the 1965 Swiss Automobil Revue. 462 pages, filled with colourful ads, photos of new cars and concept models, and an alphabetical listing of the world’s car companies and their products. There was a problem though. Being just seven or eight years young, I could not read German or French, the two main Swiss languages used in the catalogue. That did not stop me trying to read it, because German can sometimes be somewhat like Dutch. And, when the technical data mention that a car has a “Hochgeschwindigkeit 120 km”, my young investigative mind was intelligent enough to figure out that it was referring to the maximum speed. And my father always joked that the French “gamme des modelles” meant that the cars were ‘gammel’, Dutch for awful quality, but I did not buy that.

That catalogue was somehow my outlook on the world. Young people today will have a hard time understanding how people lived with only a few TV channels, a newspaper and library books, but that’s how we lived in the 1960s. It was surely defining my automotive education. I saw cars from far away countries like Japan – Toyota and Datsun still had to make their entry on the Dutch market and only Isuzu was selling cars here. I saw ads promoting a nice looking Prince Gloria, and only recently I learned that this company was absorbed by Nissan/Datsun just a few years later. The photos in the catalogue sometimes put me on the wrong foot altogether, and it took years until the internet could give more information. Like that fascinating big Japanese SUV, the Cony 360. Only one photo, without any people, did not tell me anything about its size, but I was convinced it was as large as a Kaiser Jeep Wagoneer. When I Googled the Cony 360 ten years ago my illusion fell to pieces. Not a SUV, but a tiny so called Kei van, with the engine under the front seat. Kei car: those quessential Japanese mini cars of strictly limited size and displacement for tax reasons.

General Motors 1964 concept cars, the GM-X and the Firebird IV.
The following page showed my favorite Runabout concept.

There were far more of course. The Egyptian Ramses, that suspiciously looked like a NSU Prinz with a different front – and that was just what it was. My first acquaintance with names like OSI, Abarth, Checker and Bertone. Numerous cars to be discovered over and over again. But 462 pages not binded, but glued, suffer over the years, and suffer hard. Pages let go, the catalogue gradually fell to several pieces, and moved up to the attic to be parked on a pile of Donald Duck and Flintstone comic books. And the times I looked at it got scarce. But no matter that, I was devastated when one day I could not find it anymore. The most obvious had happened. Weeks before my Mom decided to clear out the attic of any unnecessary junk. And the poor catalogue was labelled as such by her. Catalogue gone, but the memories always remained.

The Rambler ad I liked so much as a kid.

You might wonder how this relates to my introduction. I’ll tell you. We men do not need a new appearance to rejuvenate ourselves. Maybe we are less complicated then women. Or just more primitive. We buy our old toys back on eBay. Matchbox cars. Faller slot car system tracks. Model car kits. And we feel young when we have them in our hands again. But I did not know what the content of that package was that a friend gave me for my birthday a few years ago. I can not describe my feelings when I removed the wrapping and before my eyes unfolded the 1965 Automobil Revue. Mint, unused. Bought at the publisher in Switzerland, that was still was in business and surprisingly still had ‘new’ copies of its catalogues on the shelves. When I turned the pages I was swallowed by a whirlpool of emotions and memories. I was that young kid again, sitting on the coach, during fall break with the rain against the window pane, looking through these pages. When I looked at the photos and the ads, it felt like I had this catalogue in my hands only a few weeks ago. But it were 35 years. The beautiful Rambler ad with three colour photos, the impressive 1965 Pontiacs, the Triumph advertising with the baby blue Spitfire and white TR4, the OSI concept roadster based on a Fiat, the 1964 General Motors Futurama concepts. I was young again. I was happy.