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Art and the Automobile

By Ron Hauser

I had this thing for art from age 5 years on up.  I was always drawing or painting pictures of horses and cars. The connection to cars got really serious during high school days in Skokie, a north Chicago Suburb. While attending school a lot of the Hot-Rod club members as well as some of the rich kids, started asking me to hand-paint names and pictures on their cars. The best spot was always on the bottom of the front finders, and it did impress the girls! Top 40 song hit names and pictures to match would be how I found my inspirations to paint from.

A 1955 hand-me-down Mercury Montclair was my first car, only because my mom couldn’t sell it. I made the best with what I had and started doing custom interior and body work copying what was hot looking in LA during the 50s & 60s. In order to keep this big street rod running, I found Auto mechanics 101 class at school to be a big help.

After high school,when I started at Wright Junior College, I made the swing to foreign cars. I promptly sold that cool custom Mercury to a greaser, and bought a Renault Dauphine 4 speed French car. Now with this car I could sign up as a member with the ILIMA (Ivy League International Motoring Association). This move introduced me to the European Championship (auto racing) aficionado’s. My new friends were talking about cars that I had never heard of before.

My first experience with car racing would be a costly one. In short order I blew the 4 cylinder rear engine and had to learn how to rebuild it so I could go out on to another “Gymkhana” event and ruin the throw-out bearing on the transmission along with the differential.  In time I was able to really build up a competitive, good Gymkhana race car, what helped was locating a wrecked  Renault Dauphine Gordini, and swapping out the good engine and 5 speed transmission. This was far better, but no cigar! I was my own “Pit Crew” and learned to pull the rear engine out rebuild, and be back in the car in a week end in order to go spinning around the tight cornered track set up with Street cones in the parking lot at Chicago’s Solder’s field.

Finally there it was one day, the “Holy Grail” a 1957 MGA for sale , and my uncle Henry bought it for $500 because I didn’t have the money at that time. I was to pay my uncle back when I could.   I had more fun than any college kid should have racing my 1500 black MGA with other car club brothers and sisters, while finishing my freshman year at Wright College. The once a month meetings at the Irving Park Field house was helpful for picking each others’ brains for history and sharing mechanical knowledge about each others cars.

There were two moments that I found to be fantastic for myself and others to test out our road racing skills. #1 was to drive through the LaBagh Woods off Foster and Chicago avenues during the day, to practice making road racing turns. The key to cutting your lap time was to fly around a sharp turn by going high on the outside while down shifting and cutting straight across into the inside of the turn then pulling to the outside high side again and up shift to a straight away. We timed each other running only one car at at time. The Chicago police were always trying to stop us, but we had our sharp eyed spotters.  #2 was ice racing on some of the smaller lakes in the Antioch area, slipping and sliding into the snow banks. This was great fun, much better than doing donuts on parking lots when it would snow.

While going to school at SIU 55 years ago, I found the love of my life. I’m quite certain it was the slick black MGA that caught her eye. I let her drive it one night around Thompson Lake, which would have made a great road racing track with all the hairpin turns. She was doing so well, but then I pulled a trick on her. I lifted my toe up under the control linkage that went from the right hand side (British driving side) to the gas peddle on the American left hand drive side. Now I had control of the speed and caused her to power slide through the sharp turns which she was negotiating quite well.  In her mind the car was out of control and the brakes wouldn’t stop it. To her, this was not as funny as I had thought and it landed me in big trouble when she finally realized what I had done.

During our short courtship I had a real bad wreck which took out the front bumper grill and right front fender. With a lot of body work being needed, and no money to repair it, I was provided with an opportunity to practice artful sculpting, by reshaping the fender and fashioning a “Devon” style racing front end. It was a real eye catcher when people saw it coming. They couldn’t understand quite what it was at first. Along with the body restyling I did a full upholstery job, because I was now working for Singer Sewing Machine Co. as a salesman, and trying to go to school at night. Using the sewing ability I picked up at my grandfather’s tailor shop in Chicago, I re-did the interior and  made a full new convertible top. 

The last major problem I would have with the A was when my new wife Mary and I came flying into Carbondale off Rt. 61 way too fast, and red-lined the engine after down shifting from 4th , missed  and past 3rd and caught 2nd gear. We heard a loud bang. I pushed in the clutch as the motor stopped, and looked back to see the oil that had trailed all behind us.  #4 rod had flipped the bearing and went through the block.  Now where do you find a good used engine for this kind of car in a college town in the early 60s?  Luck was on my side. I found a 1957 MG Magnette sedan with a 1500 block that would work. This turned out to be a real learning curve. I changed out all the parts like the sump pump, oil pan, SU carburetor set up, and last thing the starter motor???  Where was it going to go now, because there were two openings, but  overlapping each other.  Oh No!  I didn’t know that I had to change out the adaptor plates on the back of each of the motors connected to the flywheel area for the starter  motor to be lined up in the right place. I had to pull out everything and do it all over, and then finally the car started right up. This arrangement lasted for a while, but the MGA was getting too small for my lifestyle which included a raucous dance band. Uncle Henry had stepped in and made the MGA a wedding gift later when I got married, but right now I needed something bigger. A 1958 Mercury 9 passenger station wagon fit the bill for hauling around music equipment for my dance band from job to job.

The next British car in my life was a sweet little Morris Minor purchased for my wife to get around town in with our first baby daughter.  Mary was so upset with that car, because it didn’t have enough power to climb a small hill.  Most of the time it only ran on three cylinders instead of the four it was rumored to have.

Along with other cars I’ve collected over the years, I adopted a basket case 1975 MG Midget 1500 that had to be rebuild from the ground up. It is now being fully restored again for the 4th and hopefully last time. I should be done with it by spring 2018. Moss Motors has been a big part of my parts supply chain. The Midget is to be a “Show and Go” car with one modification to fit my non-midget-sized body—a 13-inch racing type steering wheel and a steering column shortened by 2.5 inches.

For the last 20 years I’ve been working as an artist, which is my afterlife, post marketing manager for several big brand companies. I retired from corporate life due to major accident that rendered me disabled. My wife said to me one day, “Why don’t you stop moping around the house, and go down in the basement and paint?” So down I went and found some old canvases and what was left old oil painting supplies.  A few months later my wife came downstairs to check on me. “What are you doing? I wanted you to come down here and paint the walls!”  She liked my work well enough and went out and bought all new supplies for me. A new career was born!

One thing led to another and before I knew it I began selling commissioned works as well as high-end Giclee prints on canvas. I love painting moments from history and I also have done a collection of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  Now, drawing on my great love for cars, and all things that went fast I’ve started works of American classics and European sport cars.

I’ve recently finished my impression of one of the  great Grand Prix heroes, Sir Stirling Moss, and a few of his great rides. I’m proud to share it with the Moss Motors family. I had been thinking that this painting might be the start of several like it. If you’d like to browse through my work, or contact me, my website can be found at www.ronhauserartist.com.         

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