LITTLE RED ENGINE: A Renault Dauphine waits in front of the Stanthorpe Museum.
LITTLE RED ENGINE: A Renault Dauphine waits in front of the Stanthorpe Museum. DEIRDRE SMITH

Revving up a driving passion

EVERY old car has a story to tell.

Some, like the daffodil- yellow Lotus owned by John Cross, of Sugarloaf, look showroom-fresh, despite its nearly 50 years.

He has had it only six weeks and all he has to do is get used to its "little idiosyncrasies”, such as telling what gear he is in.

Nearby at the Show and Shine, held by the Stanthorpe Historical Vehicle and Machinery Group on Sunday, is a red Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint that was "a very rusty wreck” when Michael Heeremans found it six years ago.

"Everybody said it had to go to recycling,” he said.

"I didn't want it to be a Chinese fridge. I wanted to put it back on the road, for its original use.”

For Michael and club secretary Gary Ellis, who has a 1947 Humber, an up-market British make, the cars are made to be used.

Michael used to take his sons to school in one of his Alfas, while Gary drives his car around Stanthorpe on a daily basis.

But it's here they differ. Gary likes his Humber to reflect its age and life story, as does the owner of a faded red Renault Dauphine.

Dating from the late '50s, when it was regarded as a "pretty” competitor to the Volkswagen Beetle, the owner also subscribes to the "oily rag” theory of car restoration, which sees efforts to make it look like new as unjustified as touching up the Mona Lisa where the paint has faded.

The two Alfas Michael has on show are rather more glossy and he's laboured over them. The red Giulietta took two years of work and he said "the bits I couldn't buy, I made”.

"I thought, 'where do I start?',” he said.

"But it's like anything in life, you look at the summit and think 'how do I get there?' So I started with the boot lid.”

A diesel mechanic by trade, Michael "got sick of crawling under trucks” so undertook a carpentry apprenticeship - but cars were always his first love.

He knew mechanics but taught himself other skills, such as making panels and painting. As a kid from a farm in Central Queensland, he said the rule was "if you couldn't fix it, you couldn't have it”.

Michael has done up six cars in 20 years and has a few in "different stages of repair” but he finds it hard to part with them.

"You put so much heart and soul into the restoration,” he said.

But they still get a good workout, as Michael races them in historic car events across the country.

Back home, his workshop in Amosfield Rd receives a steady stream of visitors from places as varied as South Africa and Italy, attracted by the Alfas parked outside.

"They might not speak English but the language of cars comes to the fore,” he said.

Other people tell him about parts they have and even send them to him.

"Everybody has an input into it,” he said.

"They say they like to see the bits go to a good home.”

Club president, Jim Baxter's 1960 Ford Anglia is also his everyday car. It's not like he always aspired to own one, rather he thought it was "a nice little car”.

"You don't see many so I thought, why don't I buy it?”

He said the Anglia was used as a police car in Victoria and the UK in the '60s.

"I don't know why, they're not fast,” he said.

"It's flat-out at 50 miles per hour.”

Funnily enough, he often gets pulled over by police, not because he's speeding but because they want to have a look.

By contrast, the Citroen Pallas was something Richard Marchant 'had always wanted'. He has had 43 cars since he was 21 and while his other car is a Triumph TR7 he has had his eye on the Pallas since it first came out in 1976.

"I'm still getting used to it,” he said.

An innovative design means that functions are controlled by switches on the steering wheel, much like in Formula One cars.

A nearby Jaguar looks a lot more regal but it doesn't race and it isnt' used every day. Like every owner, it's got its own story.

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