DETOURS March 2021:   Remembering Larry Baranovic  |   Cars & Coffee  |   Remembering John Blatchley

Remembering Larry Baranovic

The Illustrator that captured the Big Three cars before photographers took over...

by Wallace Wyss

Chrysler fans have been keeping him their secret, but now that Larry Baranovic has been gone eleven years it's becoming widely known what a master he was in commercial illustration especially for Chrysler cars from 1954 -'57. He died at the age of 90 and was still working at that age though the glory days of car illustration were more in the Fifties before photographers marginalized the artists. Larry not only did the cars but did the people and thus captured the good looking folks we all wanted to be - handsome men, maybe smoking a pipe... perky smiling ladies, modest, June Allyson y'might say.

He was memorable in lots of ways: He was a pianist, a raconteur, and an expert in the almost lost art today of airbrush painting technique. He started out as a car artist in the late 1940's but try as he might he couldn't make those slab sided Lincolns look good enough to attract buyers. It wasn't until he started on Chryslers he had the material to work with, especially the 300 "letter" models. 

Born Lawrence Baranovic in Donora Pennsylvania in 1920, he spent his last years in North Carolina. He died there, and reports are he had an active life and was just celebrating a new car. In his retirement he began to be contacted by sellers of automotive art and this spawned a new cadre of fans, buying his once commercial artwork decades after it was first painted. He eagerly jumped into this market and even though the financial rewards for his art weren't like the good old days (where he once earned $35,000 from Chrysler for doing one week's work for a brochure) it gave him new energy when he realized he had fans out there. Godspeed, Lawrence!


Cars & Coffee

the last vestige of motoring enthusiasm on this Continent?

by Wallace Wyss

I live in Southern California and, with over 10 million population in the greater Los Angeles area, there are a lot of car enthusiasts. But all the formally recognized  car shows have been closed one by one... starting with the LA International Auto Show down to the Winternationals, a custom car show, and then the club shows like hot rod clubs or owner groups like Shelby clubs. A lot of people with interesting collector cars still want to take their cars out on a Sunday morning, enjoy the weather, have a bit to eat and talk with other enthusiasts.

I have been particularly monitoring Malibu, an odd shaped town about 13 miles tall and a mile wide that's got the Pacific ocean as a side draw. But there, one after another, the cars'n'coffees have disappeared, the official ones canceled outright and the unoffical ones (no sponsors. no ads, nothing for sale). In Malibu Village at Cross Creek there's private guards blocking off the parking lots on Sunday mornings.  Oh, I can still find an event if I prowl around, something not advertised, and something where they can wave cars away that are too teeny-bopper. It almost fits my definition of a perfect  cars'n'coffee.

Even before the pandemic they would wear out their welcome. The one in Irvine , in Orange County, was interesting a few years back because it was next to Ford’s west coast Advanced Design studio and once in a while they would even roll out a prototype. But eventually it all went wrong. At that one younger folk would stand at the exit and encourage leaving drivers to “show us whatcha got” and a few drivers were tempted. The result? Crashes, tickets and the event was ended. Another one that has sprung up recently in Orange County in San Clemente, a coastal town, is a meet in a shopping center. Yes, they have the cars, 100 or more, and even some exotics, but no ambiance. A parking lot is a parking lot.

The last one I went to in March 2021, there were maybe 50 cars; among them were a Bentley Special, a McLaren swept-tail, a Maserati Ghibli, a gullwing, several 356s, a Bentley S2 dhc Mulliner/Park Ward, a mint XK120, in other words cars for the cognoscenti. Everyone was masked. I hope it survives. I keep looking. There's just one left on my schedule. And it only happens every few weeks and it's got most of what I want plus it's on a beach that looks like you're in the South Pacific. The downside: zany parking fees. Until we know how effective the vaccine is, the big events probably won't be re-scheduled, at least not in California. So we'll have to settle for Cars'n'Coffee....  perhaps the last vestige of motoring enthusiasm on this Continent?


Remembering John Blatchley

A man who shaped Rolls-Royce

by Wallace Wyss

It's funny how  it all works out. Many decades ago, a 12 year old lad in England named John Blatchley was beset by rheumatic fever and confined to bed for three years.

He began sketching. That student became a car designer when he grew up and is responsible for some of the most significant Rolls-Royce's as well as some pre-war custom classics.

He started out his education by learning the mechanics of automobiles at the the Chelsea School of Engineering, followed by Regent Street Polytechnic, and then landed a job in 1935 with the leading London coach builder Gurney Nutting. You might say Gurney-Nutting did more eccentric designs, not so polished as James Young, but still a popular coach builder. Before the war, with luxury cars, you often ordered a chassis and then went shopping for a coach builder.

Originally he was hired to make the initial drawings of customers' bespoke car bodies, But he was so good at it that within 3 years he was head designer. The designs were so individualistic, rarely were there two cars made alike. Many bespoke designs were completed in just six weeks. But by 1940, the market disappeared with the onset of war and Blatchley went to Rolls-Royce's Nottinghamshire factory, designing metal aero engine cowlings... all alike... which bored him to death.

However, a post-war Rolls-Royce car was secretly being done and he was in it neck deep, though it meant Rolls was almost giving up on outside coach builders. as this would be their "standard steel saloon." 

Blatchley was appointed Rolls-Royce's first ever stylist. He saw his job as putting a little finesse into it – making each mass produced car look like a craftsman-made  car though it would be made by the thousands. And he did the whole lot - interior too. That  car became the 1946 Bentley MkVI which had a near twin sister, the Silver Dawn. He also almost "accidentally" came up with  the Silver Cloud/S-type Bentley design. He had spent years doing this new generation, but it was shot down for being "too modern" and then, understanding what they wanted, he did a sketch in 10 minutes which was then approved. 

But he really didn't like the regulations forcing him to change a "pure" design so elected early retirement at age 55. He and his wife moved out to the country and enjoyed visiting Rolls and Bentley club events. He was called by BMW in 2002 to advise on a new generation of designs but panned all the designs presented except one... and that was the one they went with.

He died in 2008.

motor>spirit - Rob Alen