Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


DOES YOUR HOUSE EXHIBIT obsolescence? Mine does, sorta, as described in a book I just bought.

Extinct: A Compendium of Obsolete Objects, edited by Barbara Penner, Adrian Forty, Olivia Horsfall Turner, and Miranda Critchley, Reaktion Books, 2021.

Penner is a professor of architectural humanities at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London; Forty is professor emeritus at Bartlett; Turner is a historian of architecture and design and senior curator of designs at the Victoria and Albert Museum; and Critchley is completing her Ph.D. at Bartlett. The four arranged and edited this book’s 85 essays on obsolescence. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are my favorite tidbits (not yet extinct, but admittedly ephemeral).

Arsenic Wallpaper. In 1778, Swedish-German chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a vivid green pigment that became all the rage in 19th-century wallpaper. 

“By the early nineteenth century,” Lucinda Hawksley writes, “British interior designers were excited by two important changes: the creation of a machine that could produce long strips of wallpaper (instead of the previous small squares) and the repealing of the paper tax. Suddenly, wallpaper was affordable.”

A 19th-century wallpaper, printed with Scheele’s copper-arsenic green. This and a following image from Extinct.

And, with vivid green’s copper arsenic the wallpaper became deadly as well. 

Hawksley says, “No legislation was ever passed in the British Isles to prevent the use of arsenic in the manufacture of wallpaper, and the extinction of arsenic wallpaper in Britain was achieved entirely by campaigning doctors and journalists and because of a change in public opinion.” 

Arsenic and Sleuthing. Indeed, I recall the appearance of arsenic wallpaper in the Brit TV Doc Martin, Series 5 Episode 3: Aunt Ruth’s crazy neighbor Shirley is being slowly poisoned by her cottage’s vintage wallpaper. 

Doc Martin identifies the deadly wallpaper. Image from

For more on arsenic poisoning, check out “A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie,” by Kathryn Harkup. 

Chaparral 2J: the “Sucker Car.” We’re familiar today with race-car downforce generated by a complex interaction of airflow and bodywork. However, in 1970, Jim Hall and Hap Sharp devised another means of sucking the car onto the race circuit. Eirik A.G. Bøhn describes its “auxiliary two-stroke 45-horsepower snowmobile motor that powered two large-diameter fans, adopted from a mobile howitzer cannon.”

Chaparral 2J.

Bøhn explains, “Reversing the principle of the hovercraft, the fans mechanically sucked the car to the ground, shifting 273 cu. m (9650 cu. ft.) of air per minute from underneath the car and producing 998 kg (2200 lb) of downward thrust.”

He writes, “Part conventional racing car and part suction chamber, the Chaparral 2J was visually distinct from, far louder than, and took corners 50 per cent faster than the competition.” 

A year after its debut (as mechanical gremlins were being resolved), the idea of suction-assisted downforce was banned. And, by then, talented aerodynamicists were tricking the airflow to generate its own downforce sans these mechanical gremlins.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll examine three other products largely of bygone eras, slide rules, flying boats, and (cough cough) ashtrays. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022


  1. MIke B
    May 3, 2022

    Totally non-auto related, but my main computer is a tower (side of the desk), case about 10 years old but guts newer. It’s surrounded by a UPS obtained secondhand from my wife (works fine with a fresh battery), a 2-channel DJ mixer (I use it as a preamp for the sound system); little Class-D amp (among the newest parts, but declining more quickly than anything else); headphones that are literally 30 years old and work great; cassette deck about 15; Mom’s old VHS & DVD player (recently integrated into the system so I can rip some old tapes); Dual 1245 TT with Stanton cartridge (yes, I do rip LPs and 78s to digital); pair of 1990s Altec monitor speakers (small but sound good); and a late-1970s Akai reel-reel deck (only recently retrieved from storage; have some old tapes to rip). So the computer corner kind of screams obsolescence. What, precisely, is wrong with that?

    • simanaitissays
      May 3, 2022

      Neato-jet. My stereo dates from the 90s with a newer CD player and inexpensive turntable. I’ve used Apple Garageband to digitize LPs. I have scads of casettes but the player went bellyup years ago. I should just trash the casettes….

      • Mike B
        May 5, 2022

        I found a Denon cassette deck in good shape (except for needing some deep cleaning) at Goodwill. They don’t carry electronics where I live any more, but in SoCal who knows?

  2. jguenther5
    May 4, 2022

    I have my USC Astronomy professor’s Olympia typewriter, circa 1964. i do my Xmas newsletters on it. I have two tools from my father’s medical office: a magnet he used for extracting metal objects from eyes, and a tape measure. (He was a Western Reserve Grad, circa 1920.)

  3. simanaitissays
    May 6, 2022

    Come to think of it, though my stereo deck cassette player is bellyup, I haven’t checked my little portable units in the same cabinet as all the cassettes….
    By the way, I had a similar challenge in unearthing scads of slides. This was solved by a gifted cassette carrousel projector. Bless your heart, dear giftee.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: