Home » Good Morning, Hope You Like Uncut Charm: Cold Start

Good Morning, Hope You Like Uncut Charm: Cold Start

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In my life before I was an automotive journalist, I had a number of other jobs. I repaired equipment at a primate research lab (I have some remarkably disgusting stories), I worked at a cough drop factory, I sold computers from a shop run by the brother of the guy who sold the very first Apple computers, I was a teacher, and so on. But for most of my pre-enlightened career, I was a designer and illustrator, something I love and still do today, right here, right now. I think because of my background in design, I have a special fondness for seeing examples of good design, especially nice whimsical, strange stuff, done in eras long before doing anything was easy, and working within all kinds of restrictions.

I love restrictions. Restrictions, and figuring out how to push them or work around them, are how creativity happens. Give a kid a whole pack of crayons and tell them to draw something, and it’ll take them forever to figure out what to draw. Give a kid three crayons and those limitations imposed by the colors will help steer and inform that avalanche of creative energy into something, maybe even something good.

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But we’re not here to evaluate my kinks surrounding restrictions and how that has affected my psyche; that’s the job of the next poor bastard I’m stuck sitting next to on a plane. We’re here to look at some fantastic old illustrations from this 1952 Volkswagen Beetle owner’s manual!

I really like these illustrations because they’re charming and goofy and borne from a lot of restrtictions, the most notable of which is that they’re just black and one light blue spot color. I remember making some illustrations like this when I worked at a newspaper, and it’s not easy; these look like they could have been made with X-acto blades instead of pens. The effect is this sort of outline-free Colorform-like effect, where the negative space becomes especially important. Here, look:

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It’s short on detail, but the effect works! And look how well the distinctive VW engine shape is telegraphed by just the tombstone shape of the fan shroud; it’s all you need! There’s also some really nice halftoning going on here, giving two blues, and two blacks (one gray, you see).

Damn, these are fun; I like how that Beetle is rendered there, and I also feel like The Amazing Mustachio there is about to get yanked off his little striped pedestal:

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The owner’s manual also includes more traditional illustrations and diagrams, like this tire rotation diagram underneath this dude with a very extensible jack and a chicken friend:

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In a medium like this, choosing what details to keep and what to leave out is the trick. Look at that Beetle there; panel lines and shut lines aren’t drawn, but the Beetle’s distinctive hood stamping shapes are partially drawn in, as are headlights, bumper, and, interestingly, the two little horn grilles:

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It also seems that this is an early ’52 with round horn grilles instead of the slightly later ’52s with oval ones!

This is also something you don’t see in owner’s manuals anymore: instructions on how to parallel park:

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Also, look at that street of just Beetles!

I like the active chaos of information in this illustration, though, come on, road signs aren’t that confusing:

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And if you’re not washing your car in formalwear with a giant daffodil and a watering can and toothbrush, what are you doing?

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VW always seemed to love to put a cutaway diagram in their owner’s manuals, which I very much appreciate. In later ones, these were a side-on cutaway view, but really early owner’s manuals used this rear 3/4-view:

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Damn, these are always so satisfying. And look, it still has semaphore turn indictors! Make a wish!

 

 

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Col Hathi
Col Hathi
2 months ago

This! This is why this site is so much more than just a car site. Love it!

Christopher Warren
Christopher Warren
2 months ago

Torch, I’m thinking you knew exactly what you were doing when you placed that first illustration beneath the article title!

Sure, it ‘could’ be a handbrake handle, or ‘perhaps’ crossed legs, but I’m thinking it’s just a very happy gentleman sitting in the car with the door open letting a breeze calm him down from whatever caused his excitement in the first place.

Clive Wilson
Clive Wilson
2 months ago

These illustrations are delightful – thanks Torch!

Hamish48
Hamish48
2 months ago

I would love a reprint or a copy of this – marvelous!

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
2 months ago

At one job I was tasked with creating exploded view drawings of assemblies. Even using a 3D model with ability to move parts along a line, it was difficult. Made me appreciate the effort, skill, and talent it took to create exploded view, isometric, or 3/4 drawings by hand back in the day. The 3/4 view here is glorious.

Autonerdery
Autonerdery
2 months ago

When I was 2-3 years old, my favorite bedtime story to have read to me at my grandparents’ house was the owner’s manual from their long-gone 1959 VW Transporter (it had been a non-Westfalia camper, with double side doors on both sides). I still have that book; the illustrations are delightful. I remember that parallel parking diagram, though I don’t remember whether they turned the parking car into a bus, or left it as a Beetle.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
2 months ago

Torch, I bet you have these already but the Incredible Cross Sections Star Wars books are amazing (I bet there are others now, too). I should be bummed because I only have Episode I and Episode II, but the cutaways are just too satisfying to be mad about. All the details, the care, they’re exquisite. Plus, sometimes they have little environmental stories, like in Richard Scarry or Where’s Waldo illustrations.

Eric W
Eric W
2 months ago

“make a wish” in reference to the semaphores, or what?

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
2 months ago

These are amazing and I’m a little sad that we don’t see this kind of thing anymore. Also, I like what you said about restrictions feeding creativity. I feel that way too but I never have tried to articulate it.

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
2 months ago

These are great illustrations. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is the only time a chicken has been included in a car’s owners manual and I’m 138% here for it.

Look at that lil’ fella…just happy to be involved. Maybe thinkin’ there’s some snacks in that box.

Also, I find it interesting that they recommend rotating the spare tire into service as well.

Last edited 2 months ago by Trust Doesn't Rust
Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
2 months ago

Back before the mini spares this was a common rotation.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago

Is repairing equipment at a primate research lab a metaphor for fixing halter tops at a Hooters?

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Given the choice I would vote Hooters every time. But Torch? Who knows…

Parsko
Parsko
2 months ago

We are advertising in the brochure that the jack is not designed correctly and will bend when you use it. BEWARE!!!!

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
2 months ago

I repaired equipment at a primate research lab”

Ooh, yeah, I did programming/IT stuff at one. It got pretty grim after a few years.

A. Barth
A. Barth
2 months ago

Something caught my attention in the last picture.

It’s not numbered, sadly, but there is a roller-type accelerator pedal! I’ve seen those as aftermarket items but had no idea they were available from the factory.

And the air cleaner is definitely an unfamiliar style – would like to see more of that.

The fact that the roller pedal and the driver’s-side end of the air cleaner are visually similar induces a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Bleeder
Bleeder
2 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

If I recall correctly, my ’67 Beetle had a roller beneath the floor-mounted flat accelerator pedal.

I’m curious about #13 in the diagram – I have no idea what function that serves.

A. Barth
A. Barth
2 months ago
Reply to  Bleeder

That’s… a really good question. I looked for images of ’52 VW interiors and didn’t see it – maybe we didn’t get whatever it is in the US.

I sent Jason a note on Discord, asking him to post the legend that goes along with the numbered diagram.

EDIT: found it!!

https://www.thesamba.com/vw/archives/manuals/10_1952beetle_french/60.jpg

According to that image, number 13 is “Câble de commande du chauffage” which means “Heating Control Cable”.

I’m guessing it controls the vents below the back seat (where the passengers’ heels would be. My ’72 had individual levers for that IIRC.

Last edited 2 months ago by A. Barth
Bleeder
Bleeder
2 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Excellent!

My initial thought was that it had something to do with front seat belt attachment as mine had a u-shaped hoop to hook into, but then I thought “haha they didn’t have seatbelts in ’52 VWs”

Thanks for the follow-up!

Robot Turds
Robot Turds
2 months ago

I too have had a shit-ton of weird random jobs. I repaired small engines, mowed 30 lawns, worked in restaurants, worked in hardware stores, mixed paint. But beyond that I’ve worked as both a graphic designer and now a creative director for decades.

I started RIGHT when the transition from paste-ups and transparencies was happening. The computers we had were pretty crude for design: Mac classics. The transparencies were not easy to do at all. Everything had to be precisely cut and measured. And you had to either cut out your own fonts or buy them in packets to paste onto the boards. And if all worked out, stick in front of a giant camera. The work often had to be huge in order to be shot under or in front of the camera.

A far cry from today where I can literally circle an area in Photoshop and type something like ” Make more trees” and it just happens. Someday soon there will be stories of how people used to make their own designs in Illustrator and Photoshop before the machines took over and did the designs instead.

Larry B
Larry B
2 months ago

After reading the title I felt some trepidation about what exactly was uncut. But after reading it and realizing my mind was way off base, I had a vague memory about the value of spurring imagination by imposing limits. Then it hit me, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Phaedrus, if I recall correctly, told his struggling students to write an essay just describing one brick in a building.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 months ago

Speaking of illustrations, the artwork of Peter Aschwanden in the Idiot’s Guide would make a wonderful post. His drawings are perfect in that they make complicated mechanical things relatable. A complete newbie can pick up that book and not be afraid to take a wrench to their motor. It’s like Richard Scarry doing a repair manual 🙂

-I may be somewhat biased as the only real work of art I own is his exploded Beetle diagram

Last edited 2 months ago by TOSSABL
Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

I am planning on getting his diagram “The Piston” from the Idiot book as my next tattoo. The Idiot book and Aschwanden’s drawings were what really made the workings of an internal combustion engine “click” for me when I was 11, and first starting to work on my Beetle.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

I first read it around 11, but didn’t get to wrench on a bug till some years later. I credit it for giving me the courage to tear into things.

Not a manual, but, if you enjoy reading, you may well like Truck: On Rebuilding a Worn-out Pickup and Other Post-Technological Adventures by John Jerome. Some of the musings in it remind me a lot of Muir’s asides

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
2 months ago

come on, road signs aren’t that confusing

Have you even driven in Philadelphia?

Parsko
Parsko
2 months ago
Reply to  Flyingstitch

Wow, never thought I would have an opening for this, but here it is…

This past weekend I went to Pennsylvania to Hershey Park. One of the things I admired was the road signs with the Keystone State logo designed directly in. I like when states do this. I think Colorado has a cheat code, and CT has it’s little dingetje hanging off the lower left. But, the Keystones were pretty awesome, and I smiled a lot at them over the weekend.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

I hope you enjoyed Hershey! I always loved that the street lights are in the shape of Hershey’s kisses, and of course that the whole town smells like chocolate…

If you ever go back, I strongly recommend any gearhead go visit the AACA museum there – really world class, and full of cars that you won’t see anywhere else. Also the Elegance at Hershey is a bucket list worthy event of the same caliber as the Pebble Beach concours, with the added perk that they run the Hershey Hill Climb the day before. I got to ride along up the hill in a classic Morgan +4, which was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. (I had to pass on riding in a Zagato bodied Alfa – my big American rear end was too big to fit in that little car!)

Parsko
Parsko
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

I saw the museum on the way in and out, and muttered to myself that I wish my priorities were taken into account, but alas. This is something I’d love to go back for. Such a great area. We had such a great weekend out there. Also hit up the Green Dragon, which was a bucket list item for my wife. 10/10 will go back now that we’ve seen it.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

Ahh yes, the flea market. The Green Dragon holds my personal record for the place where I saw the most X’s in front of the ‘L’ on the size tag in a pair of sweatpants, and it isn’t even close. At first I thought the booth was selling odd looking tents…

Parsko
Parsko
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

Sounds about right. I hope we don’t have to go back again. Great food and super cheap chocolate. But, it’s a glorified flea market with a roof. Cool to see once as a tourist.

Bendanzig
Bendanzig
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

I have lived in the area for almost 14 years and never heard of the Green Dragon before. Leave it to the Autopian folks to know more about cool stuff in my back yard than I do. If you are into beer, you should stop by Troegs. Yes that is a shameless plug for my employer.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Bendanzig

I moved out of Pennsylvania six years ago now, alas, but I’ve had plenty of Troegs beer, though I never made it to the brewery. Most of your lineup is too hoppy for my personal taste (which I acknowledge makes me an odd duck in the microbrew enthusiast crowd), but I thoroughly enjoy your double bock!
When I was growing up, my flea market of choice was Zern’s up in Gilbertsville, right off of route 100. The people watching was immaculate, and you haven’t lived until you’ve watched a ‘pro’ wrestling match while munching on flea market pickled sausages… I’m dismayed to discover that Zern’s went out of business in 2018, coincidentally the same year I moved out of PA. It had been in business for 96 years. It just goes to show you that nothing is permanent, I guess. In that case I’m glad the Green Dragon still exists! Go enjoy the spectacle while you still can.

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
2 months ago

This is delightful. Reminds me of the style of many U.S. animated cartoons in the early 1950s. Simple and whimsical often gets the point across better than more sophisticated illustrations, though I do love that cutaway.

Given the mechanical brakes that were a VW staple back then, how many “freinages brusques” is a driver going to manage, anyway?

Toecutter
Toecutter
2 months ago

I have some remarkably disgusting stories

Please do tell.

Daniel Zion
Daniel Zion
2 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Regarding the primate lab, have you read The Hot Zone? Hopefully Torch doesn’t have any stories like that!

Greg
Greg
2 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

I have a feeling that they all will involve some form of animal abuse. Either messy living, or cruel. I guess they are both the same.

Hopefully he worked with monkeys tasked with figuring out the difference between sativa and indica.

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
2 months ago
Reply to  Greg

I worked in a neuroscience lab that used macaques. I’m confident that everyone treated the monkeys the best they could, under the circumstances, but it was still unavoidably grim despite nobody being willfully cruel. There was one postdoc who was reported for poor treatment of his animal.

Greg
Greg
2 months ago

Appreciate the insight. I don’t think the vast majority of scientist using animals are cruel, it just sucks to be the monkey you know? I get that we need to do it in some cases though. I just was reading our research industry is in trouble because they have been cracking down on illegally trafficked apes.

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
2 months ago
Reply to  Greg

One hopes the research is at least into something worthwhile.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
2 months ago

(in Orson Welles voice) “Ahhh — the French!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nvxwf1jxdaM

I love how all of these illustrations are practically steeped in whimsy — as if VW intended owners to read them as bedtime stories to their children.

I know that I’d have loved it if my Mom had read me the owner’s manual to her ’67 Kadett Rallye, but maybe not all kids would be into that?

Chronometric
Chronometric
2 months ago

These are brilliant, charming, and very effective. Because there are so few details, you immediately see the salient point of the illustration. Want jacking instructions, the overlifted Beetle draws your eye. Care instructions, must be the feather duster.

As a technical person with limited drawing skills I often stuff too many details into each illustration for efficiency. But, it’s not efficient if no one reads it.

Last edited 2 months ago by Chronometric
Cool Dave
Cool Dave
2 months ago

These are great!

My favorite detail is the look of confusion and mild fear from the driver in the car “Mustachio” has his rope (?) tied to.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
2 months ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

I enjoy how in the one with the waiter/service guy, the scene appears like it could be possibly taking place inside, as evidenced by the indoor potted plant.

Last edited 2 months ago by Jack Trade
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