Cars in Tassie
On a 2023 visit to the Apple Isle we came across many interesting vehicles, including some in the most unexpected places. Here are the highlights.
Our Tasmanian visit started with attendance at the Penny Farthing Championships in Evandale, near Launceston. The event attracts nostalgia buffs from around the world and that includes local old-car fanatics.
We were impressed by a beautiful, Holden-bodied, straight-eight, 107bhp 1940 Buick. This car was ahead of its time in the USA, boasting overhead valves and coil-spring suspension.
Another stand-out was a rare four-cylinder, side-valve Willys from 1933, with Holden bodywork.
We also liked this brazenly two-tone, 1953 Austin Somerset and a model T that was certainly not painted in Henry Ford’s favoured black.
Our travelling mate Jan G posed beside a lovely Austin Seven, looking like she’d dressed to match its black and red livery.
Back in Launceston we headed for the new location of the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania, where the drawcard is the comprehensive display of Australian muscle cars. The one that started it all, the XR GT had pride of place.
Allan Whiting had campaigned a Cortina GT500 in NSW rallies in 1966 and thought it was a fairly potent piece of machinery, until a mate turned up at his place in one of the first Falcon GTs, in June 1967. Back then you could have one colour – gold with black striping – and one powertrain – 289 Windsor V8 with four-speed box. The GT500 was good enough to bash the Minis at Bathurst, but the Falcon GT took the race game to a whole new level.
Holden fought back with successive Monaros from 1968 and this display model was a 1974 GTS.
Chrysler also didn’t want to be outdone and introduced the VG Pacer in 1970. Although lacking the V8 appeal of its competitors, the Pacer’s potent, two-barrel, four-litre slant-six “Hemi’ was good enough for 180km/h top speed and it was much cheaper.
Holden’s success in taking the Vauxhall-based Torana from daily commuter to successive Bathurst winner was also well displayed. The ‘Lonny’ Museum features some rarities in addition to its avowed commitment to Aussie icons.
Stand-outs for us began with this 1907 Aerocar that featured an air-cooled, in-line four-cylinder Reeves engine. Aerocar operated from 1905 in Detroit and even the adoption of a water-cooled engine in 1908 couldn’t save this luxury car maker.
Hupmobiles are rare these days and the display model was from 1911. This car was sold originally in Tasmania, went to South Australia for a time and was recently returned to Tassie.
Better known for its trucks in Australia, Berliet began way back in the 1890s. The display 12bhp, four-cylinder Berliet dated from 1911 and Berliet continued producing cars until 1939, after which it made trucks only.
The iconic Cadillac brand was established on the bones of Henry Ford’s first car making initiative. The display machine was a 1906 model K runabout that is kept in good running order and was driven from Perth to Sydney in 2012.
Louis Renault was one of the great automotive innovators, as evidenced by this ‘shovel nose’ 1909 model. Renault had employed de Dion suspension and shaft drive from the early days.
This 1928 Ford Model A ‘Lizzie’ was instrumental in pioneering many wilderness roads in Tasmania. Fred Smithies and Lizzie navigated the track up to Ben Lomond in 1932 and then proved the feasibility of roads to Queenstown, Great Lake and Bronte.
Citroen’s DS was the most advanced car in the world when it was introduced in 1955 and was still a formidable machine in the 1970s. The Museum’s display vehicle was a 1973 DS23 that won the gruelling 1974 London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally, with an Aussie crew of three on board.
Jack Brabham was the only driver to win a F1 World Championship in a car of his own design and manufacture. The Museum’s tribute was a 1961 MRD Brabham BT1.
The Museum also featured some British rarities, including an SS100 ‘Jaguar’; a 1956 AC Ace – long before the Cobra days – powered by a Bristol (BMW origin) two-litre, six-cylinder engine; a Triumph TR5 – one of only 2547 built – and an Austin Healey 100/M, with high compression head helping it produce 110bhp output.
As our journey through Tassie continued, we came across rare cars in the most unlikely places, including Pearn’s Steam World, in Westbury, where we found a 1925 Dodge fire appliance in original condition. This vehicle had done a vintage rally across the mainland Nullarbor Plain and had also made a trip to New Zealand.
While checking out a Ford Louisville truck fleet in Mole Creek, we discovered that the company owner was just as passionate about old Ford cars as he was about its petrol-powered truck models.
He’d painstakingly restored several of the family’s Ford cars, including a XR Falcon and a 1966 XP. The family 1978 ZH Fairlane looked as good as new, as did the Falcon Longreach ute.
The quickest car in the shed, he reckoned, was this worked over 1977 TE Cortina, with forged pistons and 465 Holley.
We know there’s a lot more automotive history to be experienced in Tasmania, but that’ll have to wait until next time.