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Motorclassica, the Story Teller

The wonderful thing about cars is that they all have a story to tell, with Motorclassica drawing together some of the most interesting tales from automotive history.

From the legends of how the designs came into being, to the journey of the individual machines through time, Motorclassica is a gathering of significant cars from all corners of the world.

The thing is, this celebration is one of contrast; from lifelong museum pieces to barn finds, from low mileage mint condition specimens to contraptions have that have lapped the globe, and machines that pre-date Federation through to future classics.

Every vehicle on display has a backstory, and fortunately via the passion of their owners, these accounts have been preserved.

Cars can be a time capsule, a snapshot from a corner of the world at a particular moment in time; picture a European micro car from 1960s parked next to a brash American V8 from the same era.

Here we compile some of the incredible stories behind a small fraction of the cars from the past decade of Motorclassica.

 The Compare and Contrast

The journey to Motorclassica for vehicles can be straight forward, wildly turning, or static in time.

Every motoring enthusiast loves a good barn find, a long lost relic that has been set aside to age away in a forgotten corner.

For Alan Esmore’s 1908 Cadillac, the quality of the car was only bettered by the build quality of the barn!

Used sparingly from new, the machine sat idle in a Connecticut barn until it was rediscovered in 1993, with this derivative from the original horseless carriage requiring major restoration work.

Some cars however were far from lucky enough to be protected by a barn, with Robert Holland’s 1928 Buick Speedster having a backstory deserving of a film.

Built by Holden Bodyworks in 1928, the car was shipped to England for performance improvements and to subsequently compete in the Brookland Time Trials, where unofficially it reached a top speed of 222km/h.

With the closing of Brooklands for clear safety reasons, the car returned to Mildura, was painted matte black, had its headlights removed, and with holes cut into its body, was used to run moonshine across the Victoria-NSW border between Mildura and Echuca.

Travelling only at night using moonlight for navigation, the Buick became known to locals as the “moonlight speedster’’, evading police until 1964.

Seized under the proceeds of crime laws, the car was pushed into a creek, where it lay forgotten for 20 years, until its ultimate recovery and reconstruction.

For every tale of neglect, there is a contrasting story of a prized possession which can be just as interesting.

For instance, Motorclassica has been graced by several prototypes over the years, including the 1947 Holden 48-215 Prototype, the genesis of the brand’s local manufacturing story.

Although an invaluable piece of our country’s motoring heritage, the car has in fact passed through several private hands since its days as a test mule concluded in 1951.

While the original Holden is priceless, not all cars displayed have always been valued at the top end of the price spectrum.

Take for instance Bill Sandeman’s Mazda R360 Coupe, the tiny kei class machine that set the wheels in motion for the Japanese brand to become a global mainstay.

The car had a long history as a daily driver before being purchased for the grand total of two bottles of liquor!

Compare this to the Ferrari La Ferrari Aperta. Only 209 examples of the 949hp beasts ever rolled off the Maranello production line, with one selling at auction for a staggering A$12.5 million.

That sort of money could buy a lot of liquor bottles to exchange for Mazdas…

The Classic Tales

Some of the tales from Motorclassica are difficult to fathom.

While every Rolls-Royce is special, David Berthon’s 1913 Silver Ghost is on another level, with its four-speed transmission one of only 22 constructed, making it the same specification as the 1913 Spanish Grand Prix winner.

The car was requisitioned by the military following the outbreak of World War I, and subsequently auctioned off by the Ministry of Munitions, in due course being acquired by a Sydney doctor, landing on these shores in 1928.

Fitted with a more modern tourer body, the Silver Ghost was later used as a tow truck and a mourning car, before it lay abandoned for many years, until its discovery in 1966.

Chris Salisbury’s 1950 Cadillac Coupe De Ville meanwhile hasn’t enjoyed the life of a Swiss Army Knife, but its tale of preservation is no less impressive.

Emerging from the factory in June 1950, the beautiful machine sat in the Hubacher Cadillac showroom in Sacramento, California, for 42 years.

After being first registered in 1987, it did not hit the road until 1992, with another 20 years passing before being shipped to Australia.

For the record, the spare tyre is still original.

You don’t need to be a big bold Cadillac to be a feature of Motorclassica, as evidenced by Peter Barclay’s 1956 Lambretta 7D 3 Wheeler from Italy.

Powered by a 148cc engine, this tiny workhorse was originally employed by Ansett Airlines in Perth, Western Australia, scooting around the tarmac making last minute deliveries to planes.

Elsewhere in the small-car realm is the quirky Zeta, produced by South Australian engineering firm Lightburn & Co, who had earlier produced a range of items from concrete mixers, to wheelbarrows, trailers, hydraulic jacks, washing machines and spin dryers.

Fewer than 400 vehicles were ever produced by the brand, and only eight in the utility configuration, with a number of the tray back versions pressed into service by the Sydney City Council in its Hyde Park fleet.

The Zeta’s gearbox had no reverse, so the engine had to be turned off and started backwards, which would provide drivers with four reverse gears.

Fuel delivery was via gravity from a tank behind the dashboard, which featured an external pipe that was utilised as a fuel gauge - however it provided different readings depending on the gradient of the prevailing road.

The Runabout version was not equipped with a rear hatch, so access to the cargo area was achieved by the simple removal of the front seats.

While car designs cover the gamut of the motoring world, oft times the documentation supporting the vehicles paint a picture of their past.

Point in case being Tim Little’s 1955 Cadillac Coupe De Ville, which retains its original handbook and accessories booklet, which are covered in annotations left by the original owner.

Amongst the gems regarding the maintenance of the car are notes including “Range Master Royal tires, cross-switch at 4,000 miles and re-balance & check brakes, $4.00”, and “Put in 20-40 oil on last lube job to see if car would use less oil,” as witnessed on the 90 day/4,000 mile warranty card.

Robert Van Wegen’s 1948 Bristol 400 Coupe has similar documentation, with Mr Gardner, its owner from 1953 through to 1976 keeping fastidious records of the car’s use, noting journeys taken, oil usage, fuel economy, as well as comments like “no 5 plug fouled”.

Locked away in an East Malvern shed for 19 years, it passed through family hands until it surfaced on the Gold Coast, where Mrs Garnder’s hat, gloves and cushion were still found on the front seat, while in the boot were Mr Gardner’s toolbox, arm band from being a corner steward at motor scrambles, as well as all the original tools, pump, tyre levers, bleed tube and wheel brace.

While the Bristol had the sleek lines worthy of the big screen, many examples on show at Motorclassica over the years have been linked to classic movies over time.

Take for instance Micky Jovanovic's 1967 Citroen DS21 Sedan, which was used throughout the 2000 Australian film, The Goddess of 1967, starring actress Rose Byrne.

Michael Alabaster's 1930 Cadillac V16 Sports Phaeton meanwhile starred in the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, with the owner invited to drive the Cadillac in a four day shoot with stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Toby McGuire and Carey Mulligan.

Some marques are synonymous with fame, including the legendary American manufacturer Cord.

Terry Dowel's 1937 Cord 812 Custom Berline is once such example, ordered specially from the factory by Hollywood legend Bing Crosby.

The car was regularly seen at Paramount Studios as the late great crooner went to work making movies, including a string of successful films with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

Ross Milner's 1965 Lancia Flaminia 2.8 Sedan was owned for many years by former Australian Prime Minister, the late Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser.

Mr Fraser restored the car and in 2008 he told a reporter: “I don’t think I’ll ever sell it- though never is a big word. I’ve put too much into it, really.”

At a Lancia rally long ago, the current owner gave Mr Fraser a business card in case he ever wanted to sell, with the phone call coming a full 10 years later, with the car finally changing hands in 2013.

These stories merely scratch the surface, every car displayed at Motorclassica has its story, which is why we meet to celebrate and reminisce, and wonder what the future holds for these motoring classics.

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