Motoring’s only been half the story, yet it still provides a tonne of fun and names to drop – from riding Bathurst in Dick Johnson’s Falcon to nudging 245km/h in a Volvo wagon on an autobahn; from driving the Outback Highway from Winton to Kalgoorlie to reviewing John Deere tractors.
So here are 10 favourites, in no particular order, starting with the Porsche 911. All 911s, from the earliest to the latest, forever excite and entertain. The cockpit is just right, engine sounds unique, steering most tactile and the chassis balance a delight.
Then there’s the Range Rover, the original two-door in particular. The wagons from 1974 were enjoyed for no-nonsense style, practicality, and ever-comfortable drive characteristics whether down the highway or through the bush.
In a similar vein, if not quite as capable off-road, was Ford’s Territory. This all-wheel drive was arguably the best of Australians. The interior was pragmatic yet welcoming with the Territory’s ride and road manners, over good and bad tracks, well ahead of many so-called Sports Utility Vehicles.
The favourite Holden – and there were some top sedans – was the 2007 VE Commodore ute. This sportster, aimed more at the lifestyle set than trades folk, caught the eye and with six litre V8 option sounded the business. Not that great as a workhorse but one to remember.
Among sports cars, there was Nissan’s 370Z Nismo of 2017. The standard 370Z was a good-looking coupe with grip and balance before the Nismo version took things that extra metre; tauter, a touch more powerful, with more nuanced steering and always well-planted.
Since 1989 Mazda’s MX-5 has been a spirited roadster, a two-door convertible with engaging road manners that makes the most of small engines.
The current model is a sharp-looking, rear-drive sports car with modern mechanicals but old-school driving charms.
Then there was the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA. The front-wheel drive Alfa 147 hatchback was, still is, one of the prettiest of cars. In 2002 the Italians shoved a tuneful 3.2 litre V6 up front; this could lead to decent understeer, yet chassis balance, sharp steering and throttle responses made that part of the fun.
With the last of Ford’s Falcons from 2008 to 2014 came one of the best-ever Australian sedans – the G6E Turbo. This was the top-of-the-tree Falcon, with all the luxuries, and then gifted the turbocharged four-litre six engine (plus suspension work) from Ford’s XR6. This was an effortless tourer which could double as family car or sports sedan.
For something completely different there’s the Suzuki Jimny. These litre-sized four-wheel drives have always been fit-for-purpose. The new one is cute, more comfortable than before, and still able to run rings around other off-roaders in the scrub.
So to number 10, a vehicle not built. Yet. But a dual-cab version of today’s Land Rover Defender has much potential; Defender wagons are top machines, most capable on and off road with drive characteristics that hark back to the original Range Rovers. A ute version should be a good thing.
PS: And a shout-out to all Subarus.
Bruce has owned a number of cars, including a second-hand Porsche, second-hand Range Rovers, Alfa Romeos and Jeeps.