Car Restoration Projects
This beautiful example of our automotive past belongs to Graham Sawyer, who rebuilt and personalised this car as an Overland Speedster. It was originally a tourer, but he lusted for down-to-earth veteran motoring – flies in the teeth, wind in the hair – of the early 1900s.
This is how it looks now, but it started life as…
Overlands of this vintage are hard to find, so how did it come to be in his possession? Back in mid-1920, the original owner was driving it from Melbourne to Brisbane and it broke down – failed to proceed, if you prefer – at Guyra on the New England Highway.
The original owner never returned to collect the car, so it sat at a relative’s property in a partially-open shed until the mid-1970s. The local postman had passed it many times and, as it happened, mentioned to a friend and, as if by chain-letter, the news eventually reached one Kevin Piggott, who was well known in the vintage car fraternity.
Kevin went to Guyra and purchased the Overland, then brought it to Sydney. Kevin’s 21-year-old son, who was doing a journeyman panel-beating course, started working on it, beginning with the front guards that were in a sad state.
However, soon after, he was unfortunately killed in a motorcycle accident and Kevin Pigott just pushed the Overland to the back of the shed.
Graham Sawyer said that in the mid-1990s he was keen to buy a veteran-era car and spoke to Kevin about the Overland.
“I want nothing to do with it,” Kevin said. “So if you want to buy it, come over and get it.”
Graham picked up the old tourer on a trailer and a ute-loaded of all the parts that had been removed.
His wife Kerrie took one look and said: “Good heavens – you should be taking that lot to the tip.”
The journey begins
Graham Sawyer is a perfectionist as is evidenced by two 1930 Chryslers he’d restored previously some years ago. So, with the Overland and Kerrie’s “pile of scrap” unloaded and sitting in his shed, Graham was keen to start work. He’d already decided to rebuild it as a Speedster.
Overland Speedsters were the pinnacle of the marque, as were the Speedsters or Runabouts produced by other US car manufacturers; mainly Mercer, Maxwell, Haynes and Stutz with its Bearcat. The idea was to display their performance prowess, not just as builders of tourers and roadsters that conveyed families through the countryside.
If you were a sporting person in the first decade of the twentieth century, you were looking for a nifty motor car that reflected your sporting nature. After all, you wanted to have fun and adventure at a time when exploring the world in a car was the current thing to do.
In his workshop, Graham got to the heart of the restoration by getting started on the three-litre engine.
“We were living at the time in Mount Kembla (near the NSW city of Wollongong),” said Graham. “And the driveway had a 20-odd-degree incline.
“I reckoned I’d ‘do’ a big-end climbing that with an engine that’s splash fed, so I’d have to fit an oil pump.”
Graham purchased a Holden Torana oil pump, which nestled-in perfectly and drove off the magneto drive on the camshaft. However, it was then a matter of getting oil feed to the big-end and main bearings.
In a task that few would take on, Graham delicately drilled the crankshaft from the front main journal to number one crankpin; then on to number two crankpin; next to the centre main and so on, to feed the number three and four big-ends and the rear main.
In one of the great understatements of the restoration world, Graham said: “That wasn’t an easy task, in fact it was a hell of a job, but it had to be done.
“I then ran a small diameter, high-pressure nylon tube to feed the camshaft bearings.
“I made and fitted an adjustable pressure relieve valve, which I’ve set at 27psi,” he said, with a smile.
“Next on the agenda was to get the chassis and springs prepared so I could fit the axles and get it up on its feet, so to speak,” Graham continued.
“Then I got started on the body and the scuttle was an interesting challenge.
“Firstly, I made a model using 10-thou shims, bending them in half-widths with a progressive reduction of the height and width.
“Once I understood how to achieve it, I applied sheet aluminium over the full-size wooden frame scuttle.”
With that done he then had to make the speedster bucket seats.
“I got the clue on how to manufacture them from a ‘yachty’,” said Graham.
“I used five sheets of quarter-inch-thick flexible plywood; glued them together and pulled them into a half circle with straps and secured them with mechanical fasteners.
“They are absolutely rock solid and once padded and trimmed are very supportive.”
The rear semi-elliptical springs are unusually mounted, but Graham said they give a beautiful, smooth ride. The rear quarter-elliptics support the rear transaxle – that’s right; the non-synchro gearbox is integral with the differential, giving better weight distribution to the rear of the vehicle. Remember, this vehicle was built over a century ago.
The rear wheel brakes operate externally via a foot pedal and the internal shoes are operated by the handbrake lever. Graham said:
“The handbook suggests for an emergency stop use both systems in tandem.
“I’ve tried it and, it’s rather daunting, as it gives you massive sideslip.”
He eliminated the 1916 crank handle starting by fitting 12-volt electrics and an electric starter motor.
The speedo’s odometer shows only 25,000 miles – thought to be authentic, owing to the the fact it had been driven for only some nine years, before failing to proceed in mid-1920, then sat idle in Guyra for some 50-odd years.
When you look at the quality of workmanship entailed in this most beautiful example of motoring history, it’s not just a restoration, but has been totally rebuilt, by a man who is a perfectionist and, there is no doubt, a true craftsman.
Graham’s passion is not just the pleasure of rebuilding these old treasures from our automotive past: he also believes in driving them. Both he and wife Kerrie attend as many veteran and vintage motoring rallies as time will permit – all over this wide brown land of ours.