How I spent (the day before) my 42nd Birthday. 10/4/05

My 1965 Jaguar E-type was picked to be photographed for the 2006 KZOK Classic Car Calendar, and the photo shoot was scheduled for October 4th. The shoot took most of the day to setup and perform, so I scheduled myself to have the car in Seattle the day before, and return home to Arlington the day after – which happens to be October 5th, my birthday. As anyone who owns old cars will attest, they don’t make them like they used to, they make them better. There is a reason they don’t have mechanics at every gas station anymore, cars are just another major appliance nowadays. They just work (most of the time.) Not so old cars. There is always something that requires attention. That said, the effort is more than worth it as these old cars have a style and presence that todays econo-boxes and glorified pickup/SUV/truck/wagons can NEVER match.

The Jaguar just went through a major engine rebuild and is still in the “break-in” period, so it has been off the road for the past year. I spent the weekend prior to the photo shoot attending to little things to make it roadworthy for the excursion. For example, I replaced the brake light switch. Unlike the 1960s when small brake lights were a testament to style, drivers today are too busy yakking on cell phones, sipping lattes, watching their on-board DVD systems, and radioing commands down from the bridge of their Exxon Valdez-sized SUVs to pay attention to small cars with miniscule brake lights in front of them. They depend on the presence of a single, high mounted LARGE RED LIGHT in front of their eyes to remember to brake. No such light exists on the early 60’s XKE. In fact it had no lights at all. While out for a run to the parts store a guy in a brand new Ford pickup backed into my Jaguar’s “bonnet”… so now my gorgeous car has a dent in it!


Above: What happens when drivers of big vehicles don’t look in their mirrors very carefully. Thankfully I saw him and was backing away as fast as I could! It could have been MUCH worse.

The icing on the cake is finding the car’s battery with 10 volts of charge the day before the trip to Seattle. I take it out of the car and run the trickle charger overnight before the trip.

The trip down was uneventful, but my eyes noted the Lucas Ammeter on the dashboard never wavering, which planted a seed of doubt in my mind. Monday passed at work, and I bedded down on my office couch, eager for morning and photographic glory.

The car started fine in the morning and I navigated my way from my office near Boeing Field north towards the photo studio on Queen Anne Hill. As I made my way through SoDo past the Starbuck’s building that seed of doubt burst forth into a sprout that was rapidly reaching full bloom. All my gauges started to waver and I knew that my car’s electrical system was about to die. A block before I was to ramp onto the Alaska Way Viaduct I made a quick right, and looped back south on 4th Avenue. I spotted a Big-O tire store and a Shell station. The car expired as I came even with the gas station and I coasted to a stop in front of a pump. I filled it up, pushed it into a parking space and walked across the street to buy a battery. I knew that the battery was not the problem, but it certainly would get me to the shoot if I bought a new one. Bought, installed, and I was on my way.

I arrive at the shoot a mere 10 minutes late.

The Art Director arrived shortly after me and had me park in the middle of the parking lot while he spent at least 20 minutes looking at the car from every possible angle to find the one he wanted.

After he picked the angle (passenger-side, 3/4 rear shot) I had to back the car into the studio. I scraped exhaust on the way in… and had to find some items (paving stones) to drive over to raise the car through the door. Took a few wiggles to place the car “just right”…

I used to work in the Advertising business, so it was like being teleported back in time. In fact I met this particular photographer 10 years ago. I was partly responsible for building the first large-scale digital photo studio in the Pacific Northwest back in 1992/3 for my former employer, The Bon Marche’s (now Macy’s) Advertising Dept. He toured it a couple of years later when his studio was considering going digital. Small world.

There was supposed to be a professional detailer crew there to prep the car. They didn’t show up so I grabbed some rags and did as good a cleanup job as I could. The car was pretty dirty from the rainy ride down from Arlington to Seattle.

The crew showed a lot of respect for the car. Anytime they needed anything done to the car, they had me do it. But once they started shooting, I stood back and stayed out of their way.

It took easily two hours to light the set and car just right. The light color with the dark interior made for a challenge. They bounced light off the wall and ceiling to light up the interior and pointed a spot light at the dash. A long black curtain just off camera to the right provided a nice “horizon” reflection in the car. They took a bunch of test shots along the way, and I ended up suggesting a couple of changes (changing the gearshift position and dropping the brake handle out of sight… it looked odd peeking up over the door.)

The car looked *great*… better than it ever has!

Oh... my...

That is a shot from the pro photog’s camera, a 22 megapixel Sinar. It isn’t a full-res shot (obviously) and I took the liberty of doing a quick photoshop retouch on it (removing the background bits mostly.)

My sole complaint about it is the exhaust/bumper position. Otherwise, it is stunning.

The model arrived late (they are always late) and then, once they had her hair and makeup done she had to leave(!)… (to go pick up her kid.) So we took a break for an early lunch. The photographer spent the rest of the break picking my brain about network configuration and web/FTP server setup. I was more than happy to help him out (especially if I could get some high-res copies of his work!)

Once shooting began it went really fast… maybe an hour’s worth of work. I just stood back and watched, trying to stay out of the way. The Art Director is in charge and the rest of us are just there to provide him with tools for the final product.

Here is a sample shot of how the final MIGHT look:

They shot at least 100 different poses/positions, so we won’t know until the calendar comes out in December.

Once done, we all whipped out our own cameras and took some pictures of ourselves with the car… The AD, Photog & me stood in with the model and her kid for a shot from the “big” cam. Here is why you rarely see me in FRONT of a camera:

The little girl was dying to climb in, so I let her sit in the car. Oddly enough she didn’t want to sit behind the wheel. Go figure.

Here are all my photos, complete with the occasional caption.

I shot without a flash so I wouldn’t mess up their work, so forgive the occasional… OK, FREQUENT… blurs.

Can’t want to see it in print. The only other car of interest (to me at least) among the Muscle and Custom Rods in the calendar will be a ’62 Maserati Sebring.

I drive back to my office, and stop at a NAPA a few blocks away to pick up a new alternator. I knew my problem was that my car was not properly charging the battery, so it had to be the alternator. Last year I replaced the original Lucas (aka “The Prince of Darkness”) alternator with a Hitachi, which is 85% cheaper, and supposedly more reliable. The only modifications required were swapping the pulley and fan, and wiring around the Lucas (PRINCE OF DARKNESS!) voltage regulator. NAPA didn’t have the part but would get it in tomorrow. Wednesday. The 5th. My 42nd Birthday.

I imagined a nice short day at work, followed by some analog therapy of fixing my car, and a nice drive home with the top down.