Car Restoration Projects
Barry’s seven-year Hillman itch
Since his teenage years in Britain, Barry Apps had a love affair with Hillmans. After he found this rare tourer in Melbourne it took seven years – between work commitments – to restore it to its original condition.
In 1959, when Barry was 13 years old, his dad traded their reliable Panther motorcycle and sidecar combination to buy his first car.
“My father was a dispatch rider during the War,” said Barry. “So motorcycles were a familiar form of transport, plus money was tight, so I grew up travelling on motorbikes and in sidecars.
“The car he bought was a 1946 Hillman sedan, but when he took the carpets out, the floors were full of rust.
“So he took it back to the dealer and, with some additional money, bought a 1948 Hillman sedan”.
1959 photo of the first Hillman and Barry’s mum
Barry says he loved this old car’s cream colour and white-wall tyres and the family travelled many miles around the UK in it, until 1963.
In 1962, Barry was apprenticed as a motor mechanic, working on Rootes Group vehicles, including Commer trucks with Perkins diesel engines and also Humbers and Hillmans.
“Dad asked me if he could bring the Hillman down to the workshop for a MOT (Ministry of Transport) certificate that’s the equivalent of our ‘rego’,” said Barry.
“One of the mechanics put it over the pit and called dad to come and have a look, because the chassis was full of rust caused by the mix of sand and salt that was thrown on the UK roads during winter.
“There wasn’t an option: it would have to go, as it would cost too much to repair.
“I was sad to see it go because I used to wash it and had a soft spot for the old car,” said Barry.
The intervening years
When Barry left school at 15 years of age he wanted to be a cabinetmaker, because he loved woodwork and came top of the class for three years. (Even after he moved to Australia he used to receive Christmas cards from his woodwork teacher.)
However, Barry couldn’t get a job as a cabinetmaker, so his mother said that because he was always fixing other people’s pushbikes, why not be a mechanic?
Barry was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, UK in 1946 and met his wife Jenny at school. They were married at 18 years of age and, having little money, had a 500cc BSA motor bike and sidecar for three years. Barry reckoned it was a great reliable bike, but was followed by their first car – a 1947 Triumph Flying 8.
Barry said that their first reliable car was a 1953 Austin A40 Somerset and later on they had Mark 1 Cortinas and Zodiacs, then Land Rovers for their business.
At a party in Leeds, Barry’s sister met an Australian rugby player, who was playing for Halifax. The couple were married in Leeds and then left for Australia. Barry’s mother and father and his brother emigrated in 1969.
At that time Barry had a panel shop and mechanical workshop, and was doing well, but his family kept asking them to come to Australia. Barry and Jenny had just bought a new house, so they weren’t keen on leaving.
However, as they later found out, life has some strange twists and turns.
The panel shop had an opening into the mechanical workshop, where we had a Rover 2000 on stands with the brake discs and callipers off. I’d asked one of the panel beaters to weld a small plate in the back floor for rego, but he didn’t look underneath: he just lifted the carpet began oxy-welding.
The Rover 2000 had a plastic petrol pipe from the tank to the pump, so the car caught fire and burned the two workshops down.
As the firemen were putting out the fire, Barry thought: ‘Australia looks pretty good from here!’
Because they were insured, all was replaced and the workshop was up and running again, but that thought about Australia was still there. Eventually, they sold it all and in 1973, Jenny and Barry, with son Tony (11) and daughter Karen (7) sailed for OZ.
Jenny and the kids loved it here straight away, but Barry thought if that #$@&%! sun shines again tomorrow he would be going home! It took him some time to settle, but went back to the UK only once in 40 years and he reckoned no other country comes near Australia.
Barry started a business in Kirrawee in the Sutherland Shire, south of Sydney, during 1981. He employed five mechanics and it was a good business for 20 years. They sold it and Barry went to work for a Toyota dealership for two years.
When he left there, he and Jenny bought a window cleaning business in the Shire, to eradicate stress and Barry reckoned that was the funniest, most interesting time of his life. They did that for two years before moving down to the South Coast.
One June, Barry and Jenny were on the eve of on a trip to Canada, and while he was browsing through some classified ads, there was a Hillman: the same colour and year as his father’s car. It was a rare beast, having been in production for only nine months.
Barry rang the seller, who lived about 60km north of Melbourne and told him he wanted the car for sentimental reasons; settled on a price and sent him a $500 deposit. Barry asked if the owner would keep it in the shed until he got back in six weeks time and sent him an additional $1000 deposit.
In yet another twist, Peter Gordon, who lived next door to Barry, knew the seller from when he owned a panel-beating shop in Melbourne. The seller owned a used car yard at the time and Peter used to do his panel work.
When Barry returned from Canada, he and Peter went down to collect the car. The guy said they could stay at his house overnight.
“So Peter and I drove down with a car trailer in tow and loaded the car that night; then drove back to Batemans Bay the next day,” said Barry.
Barry said the car needed a lot of work, so he stripped it to the body shell and cut out the floor and the back panel below the boot.
“I made up and welded-in the floor panels and rear panel,” he recalled. “I cut the boot skin off and made a panel to replace it.
“I also cut the bottoms out of the front and rear guards and made and shaped new ones.”
He overhauled the engine, gearbox, steering box, diff and brakes, and added a booster. He plated the petrol tank and literally replaced every nut and bolt.
The final result is testimony to Barry’s first-class artisan status.