Getting From A To B—the Sports Car Art Story

Sometimes your back-up plan is better than the original idea Just like the B-side of single records gone by (“Love Me Do”, by the Beatles and several others come to mind) isn’t always the one that hits with fans, sometimes your back-up plan works out better than your original idea. That would be exactly the story of Plan B Illustrations.

Sometimes your back-up plan is better than the original idea

Just like the B-side of single records gone by (“Love Me Do”, by the Beatles and several others come to mind) isn’t always the one that hits with fans, sometimes your back-up plan works out better than your original idea. That would be exactly the story of Sports Car Art.

After a career spent in advertising and marketing, my illustration work was mostly confined to technical work for paying clients with the occasional personal work thrown in when I had the time…and inclination. I harbored absolutely no thoughts about pursuing my illustration work as anything other than a hobby. That all would change with a completely random—maybe serendipitous— response to an on-line request posted on the MG Experience forums by someone looking to replicate a rare Lockheed/Borg & Beck decal used on the MG works racecars at Sebring and Nelson Ledges in the late 60s.

Lockheed-decal-recreationAlong with a love of good illustration, building and working on cars is my other serious vice. This simple decal request seemed like a nice, albeit small, opportunity to combine the two of things so I responded to the requester not knowing anything about him other than his name, Ralph Zbarsky, and that he was restoring one of the original MG works racers and needed some help. And without knowing it, the seeds of Sports Car Art were sown.

All Ralph had to work with was a poor quality photo of the original car sitting in the paddock at Sebring. I needed something better to go by if I was going to make an accurate replica so started researching the image, the car, and the race.

The Decal that Started Everything
Eventually a simple photo credit led me to Henry Camisasca, owner of another of the surviving original cars, and the photograph. Henry was also an acquaintance of Ralph’s. A brief exchange resulted in Henry sending me a nice high-resolution image of the decal. It’s fair to say that the completed decal met with Ralph’s approval. We printed a number of copies that Ralph sold at a modest price, recovering his development costs. It was an interesting assignment (and a fun one at that,) and that’s as far as I though it would go. Boy, was I ever so wrong.

Ralph, as it turns out, is a racecar restorer of some note and well connected in that field. Soon, my e-mail was buzzing with inquiries from several other racecar restorers looking for similarly rare pieces. One assignment lead to another and, while the new business sure wasn’t going to pay the bills, I was having a good deal of fun and making a little bit of money while I did it. Not a bad combination.

78-MGB-49-state-MGB-Emissions-LabelThings Pick Up
It wasn’t until I responded to another decal request—this time for an MGB emissions decal—which I began to think there might be something more to this than just the occasional interesting assignment. The request was simple enough, “Could I recreate a 1972 MGB emissions label?” Yup, not a problem.

While I was at it I thought I’d see if anyone was interested in any other years and, sure enough, there was a flood of requests for various years for both the 49-state as well as California versions for the cars. So off I went, to develop and print a full ten-year’s worth of MG emissions labels, selling enough of them to make me think there might be something to this. Still though, my regular advertising, web and design work was primary focus and I handled the rapidly increasing decal development work on the side.

That would all change with another simple request. MGC decals.

I’m Out of First Gear
Again, through an Internet contact, I was encouraged to develop a complete set of decals for both the roadster and GT versions of the MGC. Knowing the market would be limited, I decided at the beginning to make these “limited edition” sets, meaning when the print run was completed, that would be it.

I have a confession to make—I know less about the MGC than most of you have forgotten by now and, had it not been for the help of several MGC owners including Carroll Phillips (owner of Top Down Restorations in Middletown, New York) I doubt the MGC decal project would have come out to much at all. Eventually, I was able to develop complete sets for both roadsters and GTs, selling all 25 sets I printed in very short thanks, not only to the devoted group of C owners but also to Robert Kirk, who stepped up and bought my remaining inventory, sealing the deal.

Things, however, were still in the hobby stage. That was getting set to change…in a hurry.

Sectioned_MGB_at_the_British_motoring_heritage_museum_gaydon_(3) Second Gear
A previous recipient of several of my decals asked me if I could improve on a rather famous composite photograph of the MGB GT cut in half by Abingdon engineers back in the late 60s. Sure, I thought, not a problem. Wrong, wrong, wrong,

What I thought would be a simple image correction assignment soon became some entirely different. The original photos of the cut away GT were never taken with the idea they would ever be reassembled into a complete car so there was no attention whatsoever paid to perspective or camera angles.

After several hours fussing with the individual images, I soon realized trying to correct them would be a monumental, if not impossible, task. I called the client and offered a solution of creating an accurate illustration based on the photos as an alternative. He was game so we negotiated a fee and I retained the rights to sell additional copies, never once imagining it would be anything other than a few sales of an esoteric image. Wrong, wrong, wrong…again.

Because I was already familiar with the MG Experience board, it was the first place I thought of to see what interest there might be in a limited edition print of the famous GT. After deciding that a run of 25 prints would be a relatively safe investment, I had no expectations when I posted up about the Blaze Red B GT…and sold all 25 within about 24 hours. Wrong, wrong, wrong…one more time.

MGB-GT-Cutaway-thumbBy this time, even as slow on the uptake as I can be at times, I realized that there might be something more to this than I first imagined and committed to completing a set of MG illustrations—TD, TF, and MGB roadster—to see if I could develop enough of a following to warrant investing more time in my “side job”. This was no mean commitment as each drawing can take in the neighborhood of 150 hours (or more) to complete. Still, I plunged into the roadster illustration and it sold decently enough to keep me enthusiastic about working on the TD version.

Enter Henry again.

Hitting High Gear
Through all of this (and my regular work) I was cranking out specialty decal sets for vintage racecars, among them Henry’s MGB Nuremburg set. I’d also been sending him (and Ralph) the illustration artwork from time to time so we’d been having a sparing, if continuous dialog. After seeing the original GT illustration, Henry let me know he’d be interested in and MGC version if I ever did one. His request was a bit problematic.

Up to now, I’d been illustrating cars I was either very familiar with—the MGBs—or that I had direct access to, permitting me to verify critical details. The MGC would be my first illustration where I didn’t have the real car close by for reference. Still, I thought, how different could it be? An MGB GT with a 6-banger in it. No? A piece of cake.

Even more wrong than all of the times before.

MGC-engineI started the engine drawing using photos of a motor undergoing a restoration and it became immediately clear that this was not going to a simple task. There were times when I was drawing the engine that I really thought I’d made a huge mistake but I was determined to see it through. Enter Carroll Phillips to save the day…and the illustration.

Carroll was playing my unofficial editor on the C artwork and was rightfully critical of my initial engine drawing—citing the shape of the pistons and a whole host of other details as being, charitably speaking, “inaccurate”. He then furnished me with a cross section of the motor taken from a technical manual that, ultimately, answered all of my questions and enabled me to complete the engine art.

The suspension proved to be another challenge, solved in no small part, with the help of Dana Ringe who supplied me with some simply great photographs of his grey GT during its restoration. Without his kindness, I doubt I would have ever finished the MGC artwork to the degree of detail I was able to achieve.

MG TD Cutaway V5 The Road Ahead
At present (March 2014), I’ve just completed an MG TD cutaway illustration and am planning to try and complete my MG series including the MG TF, MGA, and MGC cars, but the end of this year. After that, my schedule includes the Austin Healey 3000, ‘frog eye’ Sprite and a number of the Triumph cars—a list that will carry my work well into 2016. After that, who knows. Maybe Jaguars, Morgans, or even the Morris cars. So many British cars, so little time.

During the development of the MGC artwork I heard from many owners, freely offering me their knowledge and their opinions about everything from potential colors to various small, but important, details that really make the illustration. What a great community and how blessed am I to be able to pursue something I love with a group that is supportive, not just financially, but in encouraging me to continue illustrating.

When this whole thing started, I never thought for a single moment that it would be anything other than a pleasant diversion but it has turned out to be so much more.

I’ve become acquainted with some really fantastic car guys in Ralph, Henry, Dana, Carroll and so many others as well as an entire community of dedicated, passionate MG owners. In the process of helping them to fulfill a small part of the car dreams, I’m getting to fulfill a big part of mine to finally make illustration my full time effort.

Sometimes your back-up plan just works out better than the first idea. Sure did for me.

Hope to see you down the road sometime…