It’s been a while since I’ve chimed in at MFL. Work obligations got the better of me, but now I’m back and I’d finally like to put forth the first installment on a series of underrated cars – magnificent machines that won’t (necessarily) break the bank, and hold their own with the best in terms of style, performance, or at least my opinion. The idea with this series is to put forward vehicles that are often overlooked for any variety of reasons, be it ubiquity, long held prejudice, or just generally passed over for one reason or another, but are actually some truly great cars. It’s called Cars You Need To Love. For the first installment I’ve chosen my personal favourite in the category of wrongly maligned and ignored autos. So without further ado, allow me to (re)present….
The Ferrari Mondial
The Ferrari Mondial was introduced as a coupe in 1980, replacing the “Dino” 308GT/4 as the new 2+2 GT car in the line-up. The GT/4, a truly great car in it’s own right, was a bit of an odd bird for Ferrari. It was one of two Ferrari’s, along with the 206/246 GT series, that didn’t technically start out as Ferrari’s. They were built under the Dino marquee as more affordable, user friendly machines to broaden Ferrari’s consumer base throughout the late 60’s and 70’s. When the 246 series ceased production in 1974, the 4 seater 308 GT/4 was the sole “Dino” left on the market. But that didn’t last long. By 1976, the 308GT/4 had been re-branded as a Ferrari. Turns out that consumers all knew they were buying a Ferrari, and that was part of the issue. The cars were made by Ferrari and the engines said Ferrari, so it seems consumers felt the badges on the car should say Ferrari as well, and that anything less was a bit of a disappointment. Sales reflected that thinking, at least in the USA. I know Dino owners who’ve spent many hours over the years explaining to everyone from first dates to fellow car nuts that their Dino’s were in fact Ferrari’s (now an accepted fact). Additionally, the 308 GT/4 was a blip in Ferrari’s more or less strict allegiance to design house Pininfarina, with the job of the GT/4 having been given to competing house Bertone. Bertone delivered a wedge shaped car totally devoid of the rolling elegant curves that typified Pininfarina’s designs, and that also had Ferrari fans squawking at the time. When the time came for a successor to the 308 GT/4, the job went to Pininfarina.
A young man checking out a Dino 308 GT/4 in the 70’s ^
So it was that the Mondial appeared in 1980. The reaction was, to say the least, mixed. Pininfarina delivered a car that had some of the curves restored, but not all. The car lacked the arched roof and fenders of other Ferrari’s of the time. It also integrated the “cheese grater” air intake scoops on the side of the car, which were very 80’s to say the least. Additionally, being a mid-engined 4 seater, the car was elongated on the rear end, or perhaps shorter on the front end, creating an odd sense of proportional aesthetics that divided opinion. But in truth, all Ferrari’s with 4 seats have an uphill battle to climb. It seems to be the general consensus that Ferrari’s are NOT meant to be family friendly cars, but rather lean and mean 2 seaters that look sexy and go fast. At the time, Ferrari was offering the 308 GTB or GTS and the Berlinetta Boxer, two cars that certainly felt like they fell into that camp, as well as the stately 400i, a powerful but decidedly plush gentleman’s V12 2+2 touring car. The Mondial sort of fell in between the two camps, and people weren’t sure how to respond to it. Do we treat it as a really sporty GT or a sports car with a backseat? To further muddy the waters, some of the magazines got “not quite ready for prime time” cars to test drive. This resulted in some unflattering reviews that have stuck with the Mondial to this day. That’s a fair amount of baggage, so let’s unpack it…
Even though summer still beats down on us, a surf movie may seem an odd choice for a serious film recommendation, but that’s how I’m offering it to you. Aside from Bruce Brown’s “Endless Summer” and perhaps one or two other exceptions, most surf movies can not fairly be called movies at all. They are more accurately known as “videos” – a collection of impressive surfing snippets set to some popular music of the day, without much in the way of structure, designed more to trigger memories of one’s own surf sessions or inspire one to new heights, all while steadfastly promoting a brand by unapologetically hyping the surfers who are sponsored by that brand. If you’re a surfer, they’re really fun to watch but never go beyond the fun one can find these days by watching a succession of surfing clips on Youtube. They don’t transcend themselves. They’re not movies. The one exception to this rule however, is Billabong’s Pump!.
Pump!, produced by surf clothing company Billabong and directed by famed surf movie director Jack McCoy, was released in 1990. On its surface, Pump! essentially sticks to the same model as other surf flicks of the 80’s, with college/alternative rock playing over the surf clips and not much else of anything to drive the film form start to finish. What elevates Pump! to feature movie level however, is the subtext within these otherwise ordinary choices.
First you have the surfers themselves. The film features many members of the Billabong team circa 1990, but two emerge quickly and wordlessly as the films protagonists- Mark Occhilupo and Richie Collins. In 1990, Mark Occhilupo (known more commonly as Occy) was a bit of a mess. Just 5 years earlier he’d been one of the top ranked pro surfers on the planet, but in 1988 he gave in fully to the pressures of super-stardom and fell into a cycle of drug abuse and depression. Up until the late 90’s (when he staged a legendary comeback and finally became the world champion) his life was marked by excesses of all kinds, manifesting publicly in cycles of huge weight gains and losses, along with attempted comebacks and glimmers of glory followed quickly by his immediate disappearance again. Pump! catches him in his periods of top form during this time. While he may appear a bit off his top form physically in one or two scenes, his surfing is incredible. The only dialogue we hear in the entire movie is a voice-over leading into one segment where Occy, in his thick Aussie twang, briefly describes his loss of appetite for competition and newfound focus on free (non-competitive) surfing. Pump! catches Occy in limbo in more ways than one, and what may have been thought of (at least by Billabong) as a chance to present their fading star as still being the invincible hero of recent memory, was instead presented by McCoy as a man with incredible gifts who is in a game of chicken with fate. While his skill seems as untouchable as ever, his future does not.
Over the last few years I’ve found it interesting that while men’s hats (hats – not ballcaps) have made a bit of a comeback, there are still very few people who make or wear really exceptional ones. There are a ton of cheap, stingy brimmed fedoras and trilby’s out there, but none of them are really any good. Most are made in the spirit of the fashion world, ie- disposable 10 minutes from now, and cost way too much for what they are. This is in pretty stark contrast to men’s suits, where there are now many really good tailors making some pretty fantastic clothes. But hats, alas, remain a comparative wasteland. But in the midst of the tumbleweeds, one man in New York State is making really exceptional custom made hats on a daily basis. That man is Gary White.
Above: Hat by Gary White in “dark moss” beaver felt with 3 point diamond crown with a Homburg roll on the brim. Side view.
Mr. White runs “The Custom Hatter” from a small studio in Buffalo, NY. His shop is packed with tools of his trade that reach back 100 years or more. He has sought out and acquired vintage and antique wooden forms and machinery that allow him to create any authentic hat shape or style that you could dream up or find. I appreciate his work for two reasons. The first is his adherence to tradition and not falling into line with easy fads. The second is the craftsmanship and quality of the hats themselves. They’re made from very high quality felts pressed from one or more furs. The hat making process itself is carried out by Mr. White to the customers specific desires, although he offers guidance and advice if wanted. Using a rare old machine he blocks (shapes) the hat before going on to finish the crown shape with the correct form to match the customers desires, selected from a huge collection that Mr. White has acquired over the years. The final steps involve shaping and finishing the brim before hand sewing in the lining and putting on the ribbon. Basically Mr. White is providing the equivalent of Savile Row tailoring skills for the hat making industry. You can see an overview of his hat making process here.
Once in a while you are reminded of a great song. You put it on, and it blows you away, reminding you of how great music can actually be. It’s subjective, because we’ve all got our own lists of songs that light that fire in our hearts and bellies, but one at the top of my list is U-Mass, by The Pixies. The Pixies are still a great band, but in 1991, when they released their final studio album “Trompe le Monde” after a 5 year run together, they seemed somehow even better. The late 80’s and early 90’s were a weird and great time for music, a kind of last gasp before the “alternative” became the mainstream. Stalwarts of the dangerous and subversive fringe of rock & roll like Jane’s Addiction were calling it quits after beating their heads and hearts against the wall of society for half a decade, despite Lollapalooza having hit the amphitheaters and coming out a huge success, while Nirvana, Mudhoney, and seemingly everyone else in Seattle were taking the baton for a few more years of legitimate thrashing around before the whole thing blew up in a sad mess of sanitized, canned angst, a la Weezer and Bush. On MTV you were likely to see a Soundgarden video bracketed by C+C Music Factory on one end and Color Me Badd on the other. It was a confusing time. No wonder so many of us young guys wore nail polish.
Summer’s here and the sky is bright, so you really need some good shades. That being the case, I thought I’d share my two favourites with you – Persol’s model 649 and the Aviators made by Randolph Engineering. The two sets of glasses are very different but equally cool, and both will protect your eyes from the ravages of sun damage whilst making women want you and men want to be you!
Persol Model 649
Persol 649‘s probably need no introduction. The frames, made famous by the likes of Marcelllo Mastroianni and Steve McQueen on screen and in real life, epitomized the insouciant cool of the 60’s and early 70’s film culture. Mastroianni’s image was that of the dapper rake, McQueen’s the rough and tumble man’s man. Either way the 649 oozed cool. And they’ve still got it. The 649 is a bit sturdier than Persol’s 714 model, an essentially identical twin but for the fact that the 714’s fold up. McQueen was often photographed wearing 714’s as well, but in my experience the 649’s hold up a lot better to wear and tear as there are less fragile parts involved. Available in a number of sizes and colour combinations to suit every face, you can’t go wrong with a pair of 649’s.
Marcello Mastroianni wearing his iconic 649’s in “Divorce, Italian Style”
Mr. McQueen smiling away behind his 649’s
McQueen sporting his 714’s, foldable sibling to the 649
There is however, one pair of glasses that would make me switch out my beloved Persol 649’s, and that’s the Aviators from the guys over at Randolph Engineering.
Robert Deniro’s Travis Bickle wearing Randolph Engineering Aviators in “Taxi Driver”
Since the late 70’s Randolph Engineering have been supplying the US Armed Forces with Aviator glasses, and like most mil spec items, they’re tough as hell and look really cool. Easily recognizable as the glasses of choice for military pilots, they look great on us civilians as well. They’re much better built than the more commonly seen Ray Ban Aviators, and they also come with a lifetime warranty on all the solder joints (which are the parts that usually fail on these glasses). Randolph Engineering also offers a variety of sizes and lens colours to get the right fit and sun protection, respectively. In fact, on the company’s website you can essentially create your own custom combination to suit your needs perfectly. Also, because they were designed for pilots, most of their glasses can be ordered with bayonet style temples, that hug the side of your head instead of hooking over your ears. If you’re a motorcycle guy, or an ATV or dirt bike enthusiast this might be the way to go since you can easily whip them on and off without removing your helmet. Randolph Engineering Aviators beat all others in my opinion because they really adhere to the “devil in the details” philosophy from design stage straight through production. If well built is your thing, go with Randolph Engineering. Oh yeah, Don Draper wears them. And Travis Bickle. And Johnny Depp. And Robert Redford. And Brad Pitt, and…oh you get the idea.
Randolph Engineering Aviators with bayonet style temples
Robert Deniro and Jodie Foster strutting the Mean Streets in “Taxi Driver”
Mr. Depp in a pair of blue lens Aviators by Randolph Engineering
So there you go. Go forth and protect those optic nerves! You can find Persol and Randolph Engineering on Amazon. However, with Randolph Engineering I recommend buying directly from the company. They’re easy to deal with and have good customer service (they even answer the phone!), and doing it this way ensures you’ll get the pair that’s perfect for you.
Jack White has only himself to blame. I thought admitting I’ve got mixed feelings about Jack White’s latest record would be a good, or at least honest, way to start a review. Of course that blame I put on his shoulders assumes Jack White cares one fig about whether or not I’m conflicted about his newest album, “Lazaretto”, which I am, and which I’m certain he does not, but c’est la vie. Here I go anyway…
For a while now, I’ve been meaning to write a bit about specific artworks and artists I think highly of, and I thought I’d start this new series with my favourite artwork of all time, The Wilton Diptych. Only about 21 inches x 14.5 inches in size when opened for display, but radiant well beyond its size, the work is actually a folding “portable” altarpiece comprising 4 paintings in total. The two paintings on the inside make up one continuous picture (the “diptych” referred to in its title), while the final two paintings serve as decoration for the front and back “covers” of the work. Most likely painted at the end of the 14th century (circa 1395-1399), the work was created for King Richard II of England around the time he was about 11 years old.
Done in gold leaf and tempera on two oak panels, the diptych is an stellar example of pretty much every aspect of art-making. The draftsmanship, brushwork, craftwork with the gold, and execution of detail are all mind blowing. The inside panels depict a young King Richard being presented to The Virgin Mary and Child, surrounded by angels. On the left we see Richard kneeling, surrounded by his presenters John the Baptist, Edward the Confessor, and Edmund the Martyr (I admit I had to look him up). On the right hand side, we see the Virgin holding the Child in her hands as he appears to reach out to Richard, the two of them surrounded by angels. The outside panels show coats of Arms on one side, and a white hart (stag) on the other. This last panel is my personal favourite, The white stag (Richards symbol) sits on a field of black grass. He wears a collar of gold (actually just an unpainted negative space) that blends into the gold leaf background, as do the delicately painted horns on his head. After seeing every major museum in the world, this panel is still hands down my favourite.
When I first saw the Wilton Diptych, medieval art and religious art weren’t my default favourites, and I think that’s what really got me about this piece. Like all masterpieces, it’s so beautiful that it transcends any intent or ideology that went into making it, and even its own physical nature as an object, and becomes a completely self-defining thing. A sum much greater than the whole of its parts.
Another kind of cool thing about the Wilton Diptych is that nobody knows who painted it. People sometimes attribute it to “The Wilton Master”, but no one knows who that is. Based on it’s stylistic characteristics, it’s generally thought the artist was French, and that he perhaps had experience working with illuminated manuscripts, due to the intricacy of the detail and the gold work. Some people are also confused by the name, which has nothing to do with Richard the II. The Wilton Diptych gets it’s name from the Wilton House in Wiltshire (home to the Earls of Pembroke for centuries), where it spent a large portion of it’s life before being purchased by the National Gallery in 1929, but it’s history is much deeper than that. If you’d like to read about the panel in great detail, the best place to find all of the info is actually here on Wikipedia. And of course, you can still find this tiny masterpiece sitting deep inside the National Gallery in London, waiting for you to come and check it out. It’s worth a trip to London just to see it in person.
Roxy Music need no introduction, but here’s one anyway… Founded in 1971 and led by the inimitable Bryan Ferry, the band have been hugely influential on multiple genres of music spanning several generations. I mean really, how many groups or individual performers can you think of that were simultaneously influencing punk bands like the Sex Pistols and pop acts like Duran Duran? Their musical range and originality still influence artists 40 year later.
They put out several great records between 1972 and 1982, all but one of which featured album art made up of super-hot supermodels in various costumes, becoming a trademark feature of the band’s image. Individually they’re all pretty solid albums, but for my tastes the best overall Roxy Music album is actually “The Best of Roxy Music”, released in 2001. A lot of “best of” records seem to fall short, suffering from bad decision making or publishing copyright issues that seem to always leave one or two great songs off of the list. However, “The Best of Roxy Music” shines from start to finish. It is a great introduction to the band as well as a great go-to record for devoted fans. Check out the weird but genius, “Mother of Pearl” or the hard driving pop masterpiece, “Virginia Plain”. Or tune out the world and listen to the sugary sweet ballad, “Oh Yeah.” It’s all good stuff so you can’t go wrong. Get the album on iTunes, or on Amazon right here. Unfortunately this record isn’t available on vinyl, but write your Congressman and cross your fingers…you never know. And of course, if you really can’t bring yourself to buy a compilation record there’s also a great box set, including every studio album the band made. Happy listening!
Above from left: Mssrs. Jones, Watts, Jagger, Richards, and Wyman in Ireland, 1965.
One of my favourite film genres is music documentaries. They offer a fun insight into the bands, indulging us fans and giving us a glimpse of what went into a certain record or period of time in a band’s career. For me, one of the best music docs of all-time is “Charlie Is My Darling”. There have been a lot of documentary films made about The Rolling Stones over the years. From the seminal concert film “Gimme Shelter” to Robert Frank’s unreleased (but often bootlegged), down and dirty “Cocksucker Blues”, to the nearly unwatchable 2008 bloated disaster of a film by Martin Scorcese, “Shine A Light”. The Rolling Stones have had their magical career covered from every direction, but never so insightfully as in this not often seen film from 1965.
If the above image is what pops into your head when you hear “Boxing Day”, then Frazier wasn’t the only one who missed! Of course if you happen to be American, you’ve got a pretty good excuse. In spirit, Boxing Day is one of the nicer and more charitable days of the year, but it’s sadly disregarded here in the US. The exact origin of the term is unclear, but there are several related versions. The one I grew up with is that Boxing Day was named for the day when people in service would receive their Christmas boxes as well as the day off from their employers (having been working for those employers on Christmas Day, no doubt.) A related definition is that Boxing Day is the time to give out Christmas boxes to tradespeople, having spent Christmas day with your family. There are other versions related to charity boxes set out to collect for the poor on St. Stephen’s Day (also Dec. 26th.) Today a vast number of countries celebrate Boxing Day, or a close variation, such as St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland, or Second Christmas Day in The Netherlands.
Whatever its origins, Boxing Day has become a time to relax with family for one extra day after Christmas, prolonging the good cheer and encouraging an extra bit of relaxation before we all jump back into the fire. It’s a really nice sentiment that we all to often don’t see, giving a bit of extra time for family and friends to help us remember what counts most in life. So here’s to hoping that wherever you happen to be right now, you’re feeling warm and cozy whilst taking it easy with loved ones, courtesy of Boxing Day.