A car rally, featuring one make or model of car, sometimes a mixture, heads off to a scenically-appealing destination, among them men and an increasing number of women, young and old, salespeople and surgeons, plumbers and physicists, teachers and taxi drivers. What unites them is a passion for the internal combustion engine and its history.
According to enthusiast James May, most classic cars are rubbish: “If they were any good they’d still be made!”
Modern cars are faster, more reliable, more comfortable, safer, more economical and handle the road much better than their predecessors, yet despite this, people still opt to drive these golden oldies and interest is thriving.
For one thing, old cars are more distinctive.
A Jaguar or Mercedes of yesteryear could be identified at a glance. Today’s cars look much the same and as Harvey Dix of Brisbane points out, it’s hard to tell a modern Jag from a Kia. He drives a Kia for everyday use but keeps a lovingly-restored Jaguar XK 120 from the 1950s as his “weekend fun car”.
He is typical of those who acknowledge the marvels of the GPS and the reversing camera but think that when our cars had chokes and carburettors there was a lot more skill and fun driving them.
And then there is the nostalgia aspect. For vintage car owners, this is all about the elegance and craftsmanship of the early cars, mostly those made before World War II. But for the classic car drivers it’s all about feeling young again.
There is nothing like a VW beetle or classic Kombi to get the Baby Boomers reminiscing fondly about their glory days driving up and down the coast in search of sun, fun, sea and sex.
And – no surprises here – such nostalgia is psychologically quantifiable.
“Memories of vehicles from our past can be a multi-sensory experience says Sociology Professor Janelle Wilson:
“For example, the smell of the seats, the sound of the engine turning over, the look of the grill”.
She explains that nostalgia is not simply a passive “living in the past” phenomenon because sociologists have long concluded that nostalgia can facilitate the continuity of identity.
Differentiating between vintage and classic cars is a minefield of passionately held opinions into which I am stepping with great delicacy.
As a general (but not universally accepted) rule, vintage cars date from 1918-1930. The T-Model Ford is one example and the Aston Martin Grand Prix. They are mostly sold already restored and privately, for a high price, like any old and valued artifact.
Antique cars are more than 45 years old, dating back to about 1930, and include the 1938 Volkswagen, Chevrolet Corvette and El Camino, Rolls Royce Phantom – and the more humble but venerated FJ Holden.
It’s still possible, though not easy, to find such veterans and restore them.
Classic cars are about 25 to 45 years old, and you find a lot of muscle and sports cars in this category.
Nostalgia plays a big part in owning one of these. As one driver said: “I’ve had my gas guzzling Holden Premier for 35 years and I still love it. I don’t like all this newfangled technology that tells you how to drive and where to go! My old girl will see me out. I’ve always kept her in mint condition and made a few modifications and today she’s worth a hell of a lot more than I paid for her!”
(He also asked to remain anonymous so people wouldn’t put him down as a silly old fogey!)
All lovers of old cars dream of finding one in a farmer’s barn or scrapyard somewhere; neglected, dilapidated, going for a song to the person who recognises its qualities and is prepared to lovingly restore it to new life.
Of course, the likelihood of that happening today is almost non-existent. Collecting is driven by the internet and vintage cars are sold privately online or through the automobile clubs. There are several of these in our region.
The peak body Queensland Historic Motoring Federation represents more than 100 veteran, vintage, historic and classic vehicle clubs in the state, with 13,000 registered club members and about 21,000 historic vehicles (more than 30 years old). It just goes to show how popular the passion for golden oldies is.
Some clubs specialise in only one make of car. MG car clubs (three in south-east Queensland) are among the oldest. Others include Jaguar, Holden, Ford, VW Beetle and Kombi, Chevrolet, Morris Minor and the marvellous Mini, Chrysler – it seems that wherever there are a few enthusiasts for a particular make or model they form a club.
Not all these cars are obviously iconic and you don’t have to be rich to own one. For example, the Datsun Z series.
When the Datsun 240 Z was launched (by Nissan) in 1969 it introduced one of the most successful sports car lines ever produced. Queensland DatsunZ club president Jason Cheshire says that back then it gave a great two-door driving experience for half the price of a Porsche and, along with the ensuing 240Z and 280Z, it has a cult following today.
Old cars are generally costlier to run than today’s fuel-efficient models. Those dating back to the days of leaded petrol can be modified (a costly change that can devalue the collectability of your vehicle) or use an additive.
If they are roadworthy, they can be registered but older (vintage) cars usually have restrictions on road use and require a special interest vehicle concession; drivers should carry the paperwork on rallies and outings to avoid a fine.
Antique cars that can’t conform with todays’ roadworthy conditions must be carried on a trailer.
Spare parts are comparatively costly too and may involve scouring junkyards or searching on eBay, depending on the age of the car.
Graham-Paige owner Kevin Vaughan says it took him a couple of years to find a second, similar vehicle, which he “cannibalised” to fully restore the splendid 1929 model he owns – and he had to buy it in the USA and have it shipped here.
“The cost was worth it,” he says enthusiastically. “When I drive my car I’m driving a piece of history”.
The cost of buying an iconic old car, even unrestored, varies hugely depending on make, model, age, originality, vehicle history and specification.
The Kombi, which represents a way of life to older Queenslanders, might trade for as low as $35,000 unrestored but a collectible 1962 VW 23 split-screen model sold recently for $100,000 and some have gone for a lot more than that.
The stylish MG TD which I once proudly owned in the 1960s can still be bought today in good condition for as low as $25,000, but a 1952 Rolls Royce Phantom will set you back at least $200,000.
American comedian and keen car collector Jay Leno once stated: “Any car can be a collector car, if you collect it” and with every passing year classic cars age into antiques and antiques into veterans.
And just why it is that some cars become more collectible than others remains a mystery, understood only by those who have made it their hobby.
If you are inspired to own at least one collectible car be assured that somewhere nearby is a club to suit you.
As Steppenwolf sang: “Get your motor running, head out on the highway…”
It’s a typical crisp, sunny winter’s day and everyone’s going to the show. No, not the Ekka, but one of the vintage, antique and classic car shows popular in south-east Queensland.
This time the show is at Tamborine Mountain and cars have arrived from the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Ipswich and west to Warwick. Some have been driven, others towed on trailers.
Everything gleams in the bright sun – paintwork, brass and chrome fittings, even the immaculate engines which look as if they have just come fresh from the showroom.
The atmosphere is festive, the live music is vintage rock and roll.
Makes and models date from pre-1920s to 1980s. Owners are on hand to show off their automobiles – the word “car” seems almost disrespectful to describe these beauties!
Ancient engines are revved to show their power. Carburettors are displayed as curiosities. Choke buttons are pulled out to show the way we were.
It’s history on wheels. It’s nostalgia. It’s fun.