Garage Archaeology!

garage archaeology - boxes
Digging out boxes from the garage. What mysteries will be revealed?

In clearing out my mother’s house, I moved from her garage to ours several long-buried boxes of, um, let’s call them cultural artifacts from my adolescence and very early adulthood.

Box of books
Note an early edition of Kinsey, et. al., and music books from Hoover Vacuum Cleaners.

Major finds included books (including my Eagle Scout project notebook, photo albums and school annuals, and some of my parents’ more-interesting college textbooks), a beer sign (salvaged from the corner store’s trash can some 45 years ago), a few old car hubcaps, several unbuilt model car kits including two of my favorites, the Jaguar XJS from the Return of the Saint TV series and an AMC Marlin, and a copy of the script for the movie-length pilot episode of the original Battlestar Galactica TV series (the one with Lorne Greene as Commander Adama).

1951-1953 Chevrolet hubcaps
Remnants of my once-vast childhood hubcap collection: a complete set of 1951-53 Chevrolet hubcaps.

I need to talk about those hubcaps first. As a child, I had a hubcap collection numbering hundreds of examples, almost all picked up from the side of the road. (See? I’ve been searching for artifacts of material culture practically since I could walk.) I always thought they were really cool, how you could take a basic form (a circle) and function (something to cover the mechanics of an axle-to-wheel assembly) and develop an infinite array of designs and design variations. Also, how design reflected application: truck hubcaps looked like truck hubcaps (heavy, solid), sporty car hubcaps looked sporty (fake spin-off centercaps, stamped “wire” spokes), luxury car hubcaps oozed extravagance (enamel inlay in early 50s Cadillac wheel covers, evolving in the 60s to translucent and metallic paint under dimensionally molded lucite inserts to give a jewel-like effect). I displayed them all hung from the rafters of an enclosed patio that ran almost the length of our house. My coolest rarity: the hubcap from the factory-option continental tire kit of a 1958 Edsel Citation.

various model car kits
Context query: which were gifts and which were purchases? Answer below.

Flash forward through several moves, including the purchase of my own first house, and I ended up selling them all to an auto parts dealer before I combined households with my wife. Two small boxes of hubcaps got overlooked at my Mom’s house, and this set, from a 1951-1953 Chevrolet, were in one box. Note that a couple still have hints of the original blue paint in the bow-tie logo.

My long-time interest in cars might also be revealed by the model kits, but two are special to me.

The Saint's Jaguar XJS model car kit by Revell
The Saint’s Jaguar XJS model kit from the ITV series Return of the Saint, by Revell.

Return of the Saint was a short-lived British TV series, only 24 episodes in the 1978-79 season. I also have the matching Corgi toy, complete with a tiny plastic Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar, aka the Saint. The model kit by Revell was bought for me at Comic Con by an advertising partner who knew I was into Return of the Saint. The show’s unique gimmick was . . . the Saint had a phone in his car! As a plot device, the mobile radiophone helped keep the action moving, both by working and, ooo, twist, by not working! “Quick, call Simon on his CAR TELEPHONE to warn him he’s walking into a trap!” And then, oh no! We see Simon driving into an UNDERGROUND PARKING GARAGE! What will happen now?! The model kit has a tiny phone to fit into the car’s interior, which, along with the box livery, differentiates it from run-of-the-mill Jaguar XJS model kits.

The Saint's Jaguar XJS model car kit by Revell, side of box
The kit description includes the mobile telephone, a key piece of the Saint’s gear.

The same car phone gimmick was used stateside at the exact same time, in the Robert Urich TV series Vega$ (1978-1981). Urich played Dan Tanna, a Vietnam veteran/private investigator who tooled around Las Vegas in a classic red Ford Thunderbird outfitted with a mobile telephone.

This is evidence of what I call airborne ideas; that often a very specific concept occurs simultaneously to multiple people at about the same time. I experienced this phenomenon frequently in developing ad creative, and there was occasionally a tussle in the pages of trade publications as to “who had the idea first.” It’s all bogus, of course; like viruses, ideas sometimes are just in the air, and several people pre-disposed to tune into developing trends catch it at the same time.

Archaeologically (to get back on-topic), that means I doubt similarity in lithic style or boat design constitutes by itself proof of contact between groups. I’d argue for parallel development in most cases: that similar problems in similar situations give rise to similar solutions. Further education might change my mind, but for now, that’s where I stand.

AMC Marlin model car kit by Jo-Han
AMC Marlin model kit by Jo-Han, which also made promotional models for car dealers.

Speaking of contact influence, though, the 1965 Marlin was American Motors’ response to the 1964 Ford Mustang fastback. The sleek design, based on the mid-sized Rambler Classic, was somewhat compromised by Roy Abernathy, the 6-foot-4 inch AMC CEO, who insisted that he be able to sit in the back seat of the design mules. As a result, though, the Marlin was a true six-passenger luxury sports coupe unlike anything else on the market at the time. (Speaking of which, it’s about time for bench seats to make an automotive comeback.)

The model kit is of the first-generation Marlin, and is based on promotional models made by Jo-Han for AMC dealers. Like the Jaguar XJS, there is a Corgi version of this car as well, in two-tone red and black and the rarer blue and white, which was part of a boxed set. The second generation Marlin, based on the larger AMC Ambassador, was a single-year model in 1967. AMC head designer Dick Teague said the second-gen Marlin, on a longer wheelbase with stacked quad headlights, was the best looking one, but no toy versions exist that I know of.

"Battlestar Galactica" script
A copy of the script for the movie-length pilot of the original Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Finally, that script. One of my high school friends had a parent who worked for one of the big production companies or studios. So, he had access to all kind of stuff like this. Aaand, my part-time job in high school was working at a printing and quick-copying shop. He came to school with this one day and asked me to make a few copies for him and me and some other friends. I don’t remember if his original copy was on pink paper or white, but he specified that I use pink paper because it denoted final approved shooting scripts. Now, though, after a career that included many revised “final approved shooting scripts” for 30-second TV commercials, I would seriously doubt the provenance of any final approved shooting script that wasn’t covered in markups and changes.

Kodak Plus-X Pan film with canister
Unexposed Kodak Plus-X Pan black and white film, with the metal screw-top canister.

Small finds included an apparently unexposed roll of Kodak 35mm Plus-X Pan black and white film. The “panchromatic” meant that it was balanced to respond equally to all visible colors, so – in theory – a light pink wouldn’t appear darker in than a light blue, unless it was actually a darker shade. The metal screw-top film canister is very cool. It’s also reusable and recyclable in a way that plastic film canisters aren’t, so . . . old school ftw!

 


* The 1/16 scale dragster kit and motorized Ford GT race car kit were childhood gifts. I bought the Tamiya Morris Mini and Monogram Rolls-Royce kits. Context is important, and only some is preserved in the physical record.

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