Vale Bill Buckle (1926-2023)
Maker of the stylish Australian built Buckle Coupe and ‘Australianiser’ of Goggomobil vehicles, Bill Buckle, passed away, aged 96 on May 9, 2023. He left his stamp in the form of car dealerships along Brookvale’s ‘motor alley’ in Sydney and many motorsport and sailing initiatives.
Historic Vehicles has recorded Bill Buckle’s motoring initiatives, under Buckle, in the Car Brands section of this website. Less well known is his interesting background.
Bill’s father ran a motor business and was a keen motorsport competitor and boat owner. Little wonder that young Bill followed in his father’s footsteps, tinkering with sports cars and rowing and sailing on nearby Pittwater.
Bill’s first motorsport success came in a Triumph Seven, while he was studying engineering. At the same time, he was involved in 12-foot skiff sailing on Sydney’s Middle Harbour. He also built some water-skiing boats, powered by Ford Zephyr engines.
His father died when Bill was only 19, so that ended his engineering apprenticeship and he was thrown in at the deep end in the family motor business.
To help promote sales of Citroens Bill raced a Light Fifteen in hill climbs and rallies. With good mate, Charles Buck, he built a competitive front wheel drive open-wheeler, using a wrecked Light Fifteen powertrain.
Then followed a working stint with Citroen in Europe, that left ample time for some rallying and to follow Grand Prix events, watching Moss, Collins and Hawthorn do their bit for Britain. When Bill return to Australia, he competed in a couple of Redex Trials around the country.
While in Europe, Bill had seen many fibreglass-bodied specials and reckoned he could do a better job, making an Australian special. Having Ron Tauranac – later Jack Brabham’s collaborator – on hand didn’t hurt. The famous Buckle Coupe was the result.
The experience gained with FRP body construction proved invaluable in Buckle’s subsequent money-making Goggomobil venture.
Then followed Bill Buckle Conversions, modifying LHD vehicles and building ‘fastback’ Minis, before Bill’s company took on a succession of car brands: Toyota, Subaru, Audi and VW.
In what little spare time he had, Bill sailed a 43-foot classic yacht, but longed for more racing speed. He built a lightweight, planing 40-footer called Buckle Up and HV’s Allan Whiting remembers competing, unsuccessfully, against this very fast yacht on Pittwater.
Bill teamed up with sailing buddy, Bob Oatley – of Wild Oats fame – to build a 50-foot, wave-piercing power catamaran. After selling Buckle Up, Bill used to join Bob and some other geriatric sailors on Wild Oats X, for Wednesday twilight races.
Fittingly, both Bill and Bob were awarded Order of Australia Medals in 2014.
Later on, Bill restored some of the iconic machines he’d been instrumental in creating: a second Buckle Coupe and a trio of Goggomobils.
HV used to catch up with Bill Buckle when he was a regular visitor at annual ‘old racers and journos’ lunches – organised by ex-motorsport-race commentator Will Hagon – held every February at Mooney Mooney, on Sydney’s Broken Bay. Other regulars were Ron Tauranac and Australian racing legend, Colin Bond.
Farewell, Bill Buckle, you Australian innovation icon.