Have you ever set yourself a goal for the upcoming year on New Year’s Eve? Eat less and healthier, go to the gym more often, or finally clean out the garage this spring?
More than two decades ago, I set myself a goal to visit (at least) one new country every year. Living right in the middle of Europe makes this endeavor a little easier than in many other regions of the world, but it still takes some commitment.
With 365 days ahead every year, there is plenty of time to actually get out and travel, making this goal achievable for even the most hardcore procrastinators.
Automotive photography comes in many different flavors. Some love to shoot action at race tracks, some at the hustle and bustle of car meets and shows, some in the silence of a museum or studio with perfect lighting. All of these activities involve some sort of planning ahead, and who doesn’t love the anticipation coming with that?
However, what I love most can’t be planned in advance. Going to places where chances are high to find interesting vehicles certainly helps, but most often it happens unexpectedly, where you least think of it, without prior notice. Walk or drive around a corner and there it is, triggering that instant grin.
These moments are the drug I’ve been addicted to for more than two decades, and I’ll never get enough of. My host family in the USA coined the term ‘drive‐by snapshots’ for these pictures, and this expression has stuck ever since 2001.
Most of the times it’s not possible to locate the owner of the parked vehicle and therefore the stories often lack details and are more focused on how, where and in which condition the car was found.
Lacking the ability to move the car and having to work with whichever background it is parked in front of, provided a steep learning curve (and lots of frustration). It taught me to always make the best of the given circumstances.
If there is somebody around, I usually just go and ask whether it is okay to snap a couple of pictures. The worst thing that can happen is that somebody says no, but experience shows that most people either don’t care or are positively excited and want to show something that is hidden in the garage or around the house.
Not speaking the language should never stop you from traveling to a foreign country. A friendly smile goes a long way and if you have the basics like ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ covered, you’re usually off to a good start.
The car language is universal and like-minded people always understand each other by pointing at things, smiling and laughing.
Being in the right place at the right time made meeting these awesome people possible, and I’m more than thankful for the time we spent together. Some of them may remain fond memories forever because I forgot to ask for contact details and couldn’t keep in touch. Others became friends, thanks to email, forums and social media.
It is by no means necessary to travel to the other end of the world in order to find opportunities for interesting pictures and stories. A true gem might be hiding right around the corner from your home, just keep your eyes open.
Never think: ‘I’ll snap a picture on my way back.’ The chance that the object you desire to take a picture of might be gone by the time you return is 50/50.
Whichever device you have on hand is usually good enough to freeze a moment you’ll have fond memories of in the future. Every time you look at the picture, it will bring a smile to your face. None of the pictures in this post have been shot with a full‐frame DSLR and fancy glass.
If your budget is limited, spend it on traveling instead of expensive kit and gain experience. The pictures may not be technically perfect, but they always tell a unique story worth remembering and sharing.
Early morning, night fades into a grey and foggy morning.
The Toyota 12H‐T turbo diesel engine hums its sonorous melody and the rugged tires sing a slightly melancholic song about the coarse asphalt of old French highways. A light rain begins to fall and upon activating the windshield wipers, a dissonance gets mixed into the trust‐inspiring symphony of analog machinery.
Dried solid by the sun in southern Spain, the wipers lazily try their best to wipe the fine raindrops from the glass with a nerve-wracking rattle. It may have been a good idea to replace them with a set of new ones, but who thinks about wiper blades for a 2,500km road trip while buying a 1988 Toyota Land Cruiser HJ61 on a bright blue day in Malaga?
The cruise control keeps the speed slightly above the legal limit in France, and with minimal corrective input via the thin steering wheel I help the mighty Land Cruiser to follow the road in a straight line.
We are alone. Nobody travels in the other direction or passes us. The time stretches and I ponder the question how long it will take until the sun burns a hole into the monochrome grey, turning it into a bright blue sky worthy of Sunday in June. A sleepy voice from the passenger seat asks for coffee and we decide to take a break in the next village, once the rain stops.
When traveling with my parents as a young boy, they taught me to always start searching for culinary treats near a church when traveling in France. Et voilà, the old habit yields a positive result once again. On the other side of the church, right across the side entrance, we spot the typical French combination of bar and restaurant. The sun peeks through the clouds and illuminates the gorgeous time machine parked in front of the establishment. I grab the camera to capture the first colors of the day in this wonderfully picturesque setting.
The hot beverage we’ve been longing for is immediately forgotten and the smell of hot Toyo Proxes R888 semi-slick rubber compound enters our nostrils. The air above the engine cover is blurry from the escaping hot air, and the only noise is the crackle of the drivetrain cooling down. It almost feels that the petite old lady is quite happy to take a break after a spirited morning drive. Respecting her need to rest, we head into the bar.
Upon entering the bar, it seems like Mademoiselle Alpine has not only enchanted us but also teleported us into the last century. Dim light inside barely illuminates the bar furnished from dark brown wood. A man with flared jeans, brown leather jacket and sideburns leans on it, holding a Gauloise in one and a small glass in the other hand. Le Patron is busy polishing a wineglass in the background. A scene straight out of a movie with Jean‐Paul Belmondo.
Both men scrutinize us skeptically and focus on the camera in my hand. A little nervous, we say ‘bonjour’ and order café au lait, chocolat chaud and croissants. An indeterminate tension lingers in the smoky air. Not in the least hostile, but noticeable. We sip from our hot beverages silently and nibble on the delicious pastries.
Fortunately, I speak French and try to break the ice by asking whether the man is the owner of the beautiful Alpine A110 outside. Slowly, a conversion starts and after explaining why two tired Germans travel in a classic Japanese 4×4 with Spanish license plates, he smiles and begins to tell us the story of his relationship with Mademoiselle Alpine.
The two have been inseparable for decades and look back on a rich history of shared adventures on the small roads of the surrounding départements. Every Sunday morning, while most other people are either in bed or in church, he picks up the old lady from her garage to go dancing together. They carefully start at a leisurely pace to warm up and eventually accelerate to dance faster through familiar curves. Once she has reached her operating temperature, he gladly fulfills her wish to fly over the deserted hinterland roads, where she screams on top of her lungs in joy, feeling like a happy young sports car again.
Wherever the wild dance takes them, the cool-down lap always ends with a well-earned rest at the Bar Les Colonnes.
Have you ever met an idol of your childhood? Although he obviously wasn’t Monsieur Belmondo, it somehow felt like he was. Not only did he look like he still lived in the good old days, he actually had neither a cellphone nor an email address at the time of our chance encounter. When asking if I could post the pictures of his Alpine on my blog, he responded “Un blog? Qu’est‐ce que c’est?” but didn’t mind.
This is the forgotten joy of living in an analog world.Sleepless In Tokyo
When opening the mailbox, there is a postcard between the bills and the advertisements that I already fished out curiously on my way to the apartment door. Where was it posted and who sent it? The dim light of the cold winter day makes me want to see a holiday greeting with palms on a beach, a lighthouse amid towering waves or a sunlit attraction. I turn the postcard to the front page and see… black. The entire surface is printed in a deep black, which in some places is weathered by mail sorting machines. Printed in one of the trendy neon colors it says ‘Berlin bei Nacht’ next to a crescent moon and a couple of stars.
Two decades later, during a nocturnal foray through the Japanese metropolis, I am thinking of this trend of the ’90s, whose remains can still be found sometimes in the back corner of a postcard shop. Who does not remember sending or receiving such postcards? Today we post status updates and Instagram stories on Facebook instead of sending postcards to family and friends.
Unable to close even one eye, I lay awake in the tiny Airbnb room and quarrel with the jet lag. The inner clock has not yet adapted to the local time zone, although I have slept well during the long flight and the body is refreshed. But wait, jet lag is a good thing, isn’t it? It makes it possible to explore foreign cities when the locals sleep. Who knows what waits to be discovered at this time of the night?
Before finishing this thought, I’m already dressed and stand outside the tiny house in the narrow street. Left or right? It doesn’t matter. Those who have no destination will not get lost. When the lights switch to green, I start walking.
Tokyo is a huge metropolis, but contrary to many other major cities around the world, most of the inhabitants sleep at night. Moving quietly through the residential streets, I admire how close the homes are spaced. The distance often corresponds to the width of a German license plate. It is a prosperous area, judged by the amount of European cars parked in open garages and integrated carports.
Again and again, there are little details, like the anime figures glued to the dashboard of a Volvo 850 wagon, which bring a smile to my face. While approaching the end of the alley, I can hear a sound from the crossroad. Rapidly rotating tires mingle with the silence as if an invisible DJ gently fades in a new tune. A Toyota Hiace ambulance flashes past, without sirens out of consideration for sleeping residents and the flickering red light is reflected off a parked R33 Nissan Skyline.
As I move on, I notice the transition from residential to a more commercial area with shops between the houses, with neon signs illuminating the parked cars. A shoe salesman has set up his goods on the covered corner of a house, which will disappear again in the trunk of his W140 before dawn. Since I’m the only passerby far and wide, I wonder who the nice elderly gentleman sells his shoes to. Unfortunately, we do not find a common language to clarify this question. When I tell him that I’m German, he smiles and directs the conversation, which consists of just a few words but many gestures, to his vehicle and we quickly agree that it is of outstanding quality and perseverance. He is really happy that I want to take a picture but doesn’t want to be part of it himself.
The kind gentleman directs me to turn left while imitating the sound of a V8 engine and simulating steering movements. A hearty laugh and a polite bow to say farewell encourages one man to wait for customers and the other to continue walking. I follow the direction indicated and, crossing a fenced bridge, notice that the expensive public parking lots are mostly empty at night.
The homes give way to luxurious shops. In front of a building with spectacular architecture, I take a picture of a Nissan Cedric taxi waiting at the traffic light and muse over the beautiful picture. Otherwise, the streets in the area are empty. I have time to let my thoughts wander.Security
In Japan, other people’s possessions are respected rather than stolen. Therefore even expensive aftermarket wheels are stored in open garages and high-value supercars are parked outside.
Most private underground garages are not equipped with access barriers, providing me the opportunity to take a look at the parking deck of a large apartment complex. Many new hybrid models, rows of minivans and kei cars.
But what is that? In the far corner hides what will become one of my favorite pictures of this journey. Peacefully, a lowered full‐size Dodge van and a lifted Suzuki Jimny share a niche. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. Only in Japan.
A few blocks down the road the sounds advertised by the shoe salesman are audible, immediately evoking memories of another continent. I smile from ear to ear, because the scene is so surreal. In between the typical Tokyo taxis, dozens of shiny American cars cruise with burbling exhausts.
A weird but wonderful contrast that accompanies me all the way to the world-famous Shibuya intersection. Upon arrival, I indulge in the unique atmosphere and enjoy watching the nocturnal hustle and bustle with a glass of matcha and rest the tired legs.
The subway suspends service at night and because my budget doesn’t allow for a cab ride, I walk back to the tiny house and fall asleep fully dressed.A Split-Second Find During Rush Hour
Imagine sitting in the back of a Tuk‐tuk in the bustling megacity called Bangkok. It’s very hot and sweat drips into your eyes. The field of vision is limited by the low canvas top and the driver puts the pedal to the metal to keep up with rush-hour traffic. Whichever direction you look, there is something interesting to see. Too many impressions per kilometer create a sensory overload, while the brain is in limp mode due to heat and humidity.
Wait… What was that? Did I really just see that or is the dehydrated brain playing tricks on me already? There is only one way to find out. I ask the friendly driver to pull over, stop at the curb and wait for a moment. Walking back in disbelief I’m in for a surprise. Can you spot the chromed bumper in the shop window?
Speed, a tiny opening between a pedestrian bridge pillar and a coach literally means that the split‐second chance for spotting it could have been missed easily. Add the reflection on the window and the scooter parked in front of it and you can imagine what a big grin from ear to ear looks like.
A stunning find somewhere in the huge metropolis: two early Volkswagen Beetles, both of them very tastefully modified. While cupping my hands and trying to peek inside, I noticed a young boy sweeping the floor. A gentle knock on the window caused him to look up – and run away instantly. Well, that didn’t go as planned. Taking pictures into a dimly-lit room from a street drenched in bright afternoon sunlight doesn’t really help picture quality.
Turning around to continue the journey, there suddenly was a friendly voice. The boy’s mom asked something and the tuk-tuk driver spontaneously acted as an interpreter, translating the request to take pictures of the two air-cooled gems. She was excited and happy, opened the door and invited us inside with a smile.
Upon closer inspection, it became evident that these early Beetles have been restored and modified to a very high standard and finished perfectly.
The style and all the little details are immaculate and lovely. This is almost exactly the spec a Volkswagen Beetle would be if I owned one. But there was more than just looks and style. Judging by exhaust setups, both cars had engines that seemed to be massaged in some way or another. I didn’t dare to open the engine covers or doors, so there are no specs or interior pictures.
One question remained: Why are two classic air-cooled Volkswagen parked in an otherwise empty shop? The friendly lady explained that it’s going to be a shop selling clothes, apparently automotive themed. The owner wants to use his weekend toys as decoration. This is something that gets a firm nod of approval and respect – well done, sir.
Immediately after leaving this lovely micro-museum, and even now in retrospect a couple of years later, the whole episode seems rather unreal. Did this really happen? In the middle of a city next to a busy street? Always keep your eyes open and don’t blink. Be kind and your smile might open a door you thought was closed – not only in the country of smiles.
As I forgot to ask for the address and didn’t log the GPS data, the location of this venue will remain a mystery for the time being, unless a local Speedhunters reader shares his or her knowledge.
How To join the IATS program: We have always welcomed readers to contact us with examples of their work and believe that the best Speedhunter is always the person closest to the culture itself, right there on the street or local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and would like to share your work with us then you should apply to become part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.