An Englishman in Sydney

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Since my arrival in Australia some three months ago I have been trying to find time to record my impressions from the motorist’s angle, but pressure of business has repeatedly compelled me to postpone this pleasant task. To-day, however, an incident occurred which demands no further delay in the matter.

I was riding in a taxi (Yankee “Yellow Cab” variety) out Bondi way, an outer suburb of Sydney, when my rather doubting ear seemed to pick up the crackle of a real honest-to-goodness motor car, and before I had time to realise just what was happening a stripped red 2-seater which could have been (and I am pretty certain was) an 1,100-c.c. or 1,500-c.c. racing Maserati, turned from a side road, and with engine screaming at something like maximum as the driver stepped through the gears rapidly became a mere speck in the distance. In true movie style, but with an excited stammer, I instructed my driver to “catch that car in front.” It was, of course, hopeless, as any reader who might have chased a Maserati in a taxi will know full well.

That is, perhaps, an outstanding wartime incident even for Sydney but, nevertheless, for the English sporting Motorist (rather uneducated regarding the Empire) this is a city full of pleasant surprises and extraordinary interest.

One other recent surprise was the sight of a Nuffield-Riley saloon with a brand new chassis of similar type in tow, thus demonstrating that at least the nucleus of an overseas trade is being maintained by the British industry, a fact which interests me after having read over a period of years of Britain’s struggle to secure a colonial market. In view of this I came out here fully expecting to see the Americans holding the monopoly, as indeed they do, but not nearly to such a large extent as one has been led to expect. Not only are there a very large number of the smaller British cars, but also a good seasoning of European products, particularly in the form of D.K.W.s which, with most attractive Australian coachbuilt bodies, would appear to have been well on the way to securing a good market immediately prior to the war, whilst quite a few American Bantams, known as A.B.C.s, are also to be seen.

Due to the enormous duty imposed on complete motor vehicles brought into this country, both European and American chassis are usually fitted with bodies of local manufacture, the latter conforming in most cases to their original design and quantity produced by a subsidiary of General Motors, whereas the English chassis are bodied by more numerous and smaller concerns whose designs provide a pleasing contrast to the much-of-a-muchness mass-produced saloon to which we have become so accustomed at home. Of these English chassis the 8-h.p. Morris, known here as the “8/40” (40 b.h.p.?) would seem to predominate with Austin Eights and Tens running close behind in company with the smaller Standards and a number of Singers and Hillman Minx. The Ford Eight and Ten are also to be seen, but to a rather less extent. The most popular body style in the small-car class is the 2/4-seater tourer, rather like the British 8-h.p. Austin in general outline, but different enough to be individual.

In the field of larger cars the Americans are certainly on top, for with the exception of a 25-h.p. Daintier, an ArmstrongSiddeley, some rather aged Rolls and a few Vauxhalls, I have seen nothing from Britain. As might be expected, the Yanks are mostly of “sedan” type, and as alike as two peas, recognition of individual makes being almost impossible except at close quarters, although half a dozen or so 1944 Chryslers used by the Commonwealth Government are quite distinctive and possess good lines, aided by the war-time austerity finish which tends to tone down the ironmongery at the front. Of the few open-bodied American cars of more recent manufacture the Willys are the most numerous, and are strangely reminiscent of the Raymond Mays despite a hideous frontal treatment.

A very popular body style out here, and one unique, I think, to this country, is a form of utility vehicle consisting of a pressed steel cab rather like a fixed-head coupé, with a metal panelled open truck behind provided with a kind of tonneau cover. Whilst this body is more usual on the larger chassis, there are one or two smaller versions around, including a little D.K.W. which, because of its front-wheel drive, has a very low loading level.

Despite their good fortune in having a basic petrol rat ion, the Australians have been much more ready to make use of the gas-producer plant than the British, a good 25 per cent. of all vehicles being thus equipped. There are several types of gas units on the market, and good specialised service is available at most garages. Generally speaking, the gas works are fitted in the rear boot, the lid being discarded, but it is not unusual to see them mounted on long outriggers ahead of the radiator (particularly is this so in the case of taxis, where retention of luggage space is desirable), whilst the Australian utilities already described have the unit immediately behind the cab, where they occupy a good proportion of the carrying space, but at the same time save a great deal of wear on tyres and chassis.

Some few weeks ago I made a 150 miles return journey to the Blue Mountains of N.S.W. on a gas-producer Mercury at a total cost of 14s. for two bags of charcoal, which is not bad going. The car was slow but pulled well, climbing to well over 3,000 feet in 25 miles without difficulty.

With regard to actual motoring conditions in Sydney, war-time restrictions prohibit the creation of a fair impression, but I should imagine the intricate tramway system utilising units of two cars coupled together, is an absolute menace in peace-time traffic, whilst it would be untrue to say, “I think your policemen are wonderful,” for they are the most officious examples of small people wielding big power I have ever encountered.

As in Britain, one has to pass a driving test before a licence is granted, and as this test involves knowing a most voluminous highway code, I have been content to renew my learner’s licence every 28 days. This is probably a shocking confession to have to make, but having failed my pilot’s course in the R.A.F. due to a poor knowledge of maths., I am convinced that during my short stay here it would be impossible to master all the various minimum distances at which a car may be parked from kerbs, inter-sections, fire hydrants, postal boxes, and other vehicles.

And now, having dwelt all too long on Motoring as a means of transport, let me turn to motoring as a means of preserving one’s sanity in a world gone mad.

Within a fortnight of stepping off the boat I had looked up Bob Pritchett, the hon. secretary of the Vintage Sports Car Club of Australia, and been duly enrolled as a member, attending a meeting held at his home, when Alex. MacKinnon took me for a brief run in his Frazer-Nash, an episode which took me right back to the days before the delightful aroma of Castrol R gave way to the stench of T.N.T. MacKinnon, incidentally, comes from Richmond, Surrey, and some ten years ago I remember trying in vain to raise enough money to buy a T-type Aston which he had for sale at the old Talbot Garage at the bottom of the hill.

What an enthusiastic bunch these Australian vintagents are, and what a good collection of cars they own between them. If Bob Pritchett is as efficient a club secretary as I think he is, a list of these cars will have appeared in Motor Sport by now, as also reports of their initial rally and a one-hour trial held in March, at which latter event your correspondent had the honour of officiating as starter and the pleasure of riding in the last car away, Tattersall’s truly magnificent “30/98” Vauxhall Wensum, a car that would delight the hearts of Sam Clutton and Anthony Heal

However, it must not be thought that the three dozen or so real motor cars owned by members exhausts the supply, for I personally have seen in and around Sydney several T and TB Midgets, Hornet Specials, Morgan 4/4s (as many of the latter as I ever saw in London), two large Alvis, a B.S.A. Scout, a very shabby Brough, two Austro-Daimlers, one of tubular chassis type with a beautiful coupé body, a little Skoda saloon, an elderly F.N., an S.S. 100, several Jaguars, an enormous boat-bodied Fiat with C spanner wire wheels and V radiator (someone, please, designate type), an A.J.S. and a “Segrave” Hillman with their fabric bodies beautifully preserved (how, in this climate?), a Morris-Leon Bollée, and a very impressive black Hansa with cowled radiator not unlike the special 12-cylinder Lagonda.

But there is a tragic side to most things in life, and it is now my sad duty to relate that Australia, too, has its sporty boys of the white helmet variety. These poor, misguided creatures are largely influenced by gadgets imported from America and taking the form of chromium-plated flexible exhaust pipes leading from V8 bonnet sides directly into the wings, the word supercharged cast in aluminium, with “speed spray” trailing from each letter, and the most abortional badge bars of square section tube twisted after the fashion of the supporting columns on fairground roundabouts.

There is certainly plenty of cleaning up to be done by the V.S.C.C. of A.

Outside the city itself one is immediately impressed with the large number of vintage everyday motor cars still giving yeoman service. Model T Fords (some with lovely brass radiators) are a common sight, equalled in numbers only by the bull-nosed Morris, whilst large American tourers appear in a variety of marques long extinct in England, such as Rugby, Flint, Jenett, Oakland, Durant, Erskine, etc.

Yet amongst this vast international assortment of cars I have yet to locate the particular one I am looking for — the s.v. Aston-Martin. Somewhere, somehow it has been lost check of, although through the V.S.C.C. of A. I have been able to secure its chassis number (1934) and a couple of photographs. But to track her down, and beg, borrow or steal her for the period of my visit, would, indeed, be something to write home about!