Attending a classic motoring event of the magnitude of Australia's Motorclassica is a delight of serendipitous automotive discovery. Each year there are a few hundred new and interesting stories to discover in the magnificent Royal Exhibition Building, which was created for the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880 and is the first building in Australia to be granted the status of a World Heritage Site.
Every car has a story and most cars on display at Motorclassica have a full history available, if you just ask the person standing nearest to the car.
The automobile has been a key tool in overcoming Australia's "Tyranny of Distance" and has been deeply entwined with Australian culture for 120 years. The depth of knowledge of the custodians is extraordinary and the show floor atmosphere feels more like a family gathering than a car show.
As usual, there were many wondrous facets to Motorclassica this year, with the customary Tour Classica run around the Melbourne central business district on the Thursday prior, tribute classes to the Targa Florio, the decadent designs of the Art Deco period, a look back at Cadillac's range over the last 116 years, and the Last Days of the American Supercar. The Figoni et Falaschi Delage D6/70S above was one of the stand-outs in the Art Deco class at Motorclassica this year.
There were also several new and very popular elements introduced. One was "Motorclassica at the Movies," which screened and celebrated cinema's greatest car chases with a tribute to the heist films of the 21st century: Gone in 60 seconds (2000), Fast & Furious 5 (2011), Baby Driver (2017), The Fast and the Furious (2009) and Need for Speed (2014). All of the marquee classic car events around the world have directors with vision and an astute finger on the pulse of the growing tribal group of classic car aficionados, and Motorclassica is following in the footsteps of other events, such as Amelia Island, that have risen to global status due to the inventiveness and foresight of their curators.
Live Restoration Theatre
Melbourne in particular and Australia in general has become quite a hotbed for automotive restoration and Motorclassica's most interesting new feature was the Live Restoration Theatre. This showcase of ancient and modern skills and technologies in practice allowed showgoers to witness the machinations of the restoration of a car, from barn find to concours entrant.
The premise behind the theatre were elucidated thus by the organizers, Greg Maskells Customs & Classics, and internationally respected restorer, Brian Tanti: There have been many changes and developments in technology since the first Model T rolled off the production line at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, Michigan. As a result, not only Australia but the World is slowly losing the skills that were once required to maintain and keep vintage and veteran cars and motorcycles moving. No longer do smash repairers roll panels on an English wheel, instead ordering replacements through OEMs. Neither do they hand paint bodies with horsehair brushes and heated paint. Nevertheless, these ancient skills and many more are still required if we are to keep our national fleet of automotive treasures on the road.
For me, there were three stand-out aspects to the show this year, being the Micro Cars display, the celebration of the Cadillac marque and a marvelous retrospective of 90 years of the Australian Grand Prix.
90 Years of the Australian Grand Prix
The Australian Grand Prix has been held in 20 different venues during its 90 year history, and the above image shows the start of the Grand Prix at Albert Park 60 years apart.
In 1985, the Australian Grand Prix became a round of the World Formula One Championship, but looking back prior to world championship status was the theme of the weekend and some of the many famous cars that have started in the event provided a 90 year retrospective which was fascinating. Winners of the Australian Grand Prix across the years include Sir Stirling Moss (1956), Jack Brabham (1955, 1963 and 1964), Bruce McLaren (1962 and 1965), Graham Hill (1966), Jackie Stewart (1967), Jim Clark (1968), Alan Jones (1980) and Alain Prost (1982).
The first recognized Australian Grand Prix was a 100-mile road race at Phillip Island in 1928, on the same track which now holds the Australian round of the World MotoGP championships, Arthur Waite won in his supercharged Austin 7 accepting £20 for his efforts. The astonishing image above showing Waite at speed just a few meters from the crowd was taken during the 1928 race on the main straight of Phillip Island – motorsport safety has come a long way in 90 years.
Colonel Waite was hospitalized during the Australian assault on Gallipoli, the campaign upon which Australia's ANZAC brotherhood with New Zealand was forged. It was there Waite met his future wife Irene, who was serving as a nurse. Irene turned out to be the daughter of the founder of the Austin Motor Company, and Waite was accepted into the Austin family in very public fashion in 1915. Waite had subsequently returned to Australia to set up the distribution of Austin cars after racing successfully in events across Europe, and though his racing Austin was in England still, the car sent for this important race was more than up to the task.
The car above is a recreation of the original winning car, with the original supercharged engine and gearbox. You need to stand next to it to understand how diminutive this car is, being not much bigger than the Peugeot Bebe that was the highlight of the microcar display.
Micro Cars: Lessons from automotive history
The Micro Car display might well have been entitled "lessons from history" as it illustrated the kind of energy efficient personal transport that's at the forefront of modern automobile design. While they may be unconventional, the Micro Car offers far more than just spartan convenience.
The Bebe is one of the first Micro Cars, and could be purchased prior to WW1 with either a 652 cc single-cylinder four-stroke engine or an 855 cc four. It became one of Europe's top selling cars in 1913, but when you see it in the flesh, you'll be shocked at how impossibly small it is. The design was one of many Ettore Bugatti masterpieces, and bears many similarities to the Bugatti Type 13 racer which finished second at the 1911 French Grand Prix. The Bebe was manufactured by Peugeot under license from Bugatti.
Economy and practicality were the hallmarks of the Bebe and as the Wikipedia entry for the Peugeot Bebe points out: Advertising promoted its qualities as an economy product, in one case highlighting the comparison with more conventional transport in the case of a rural doctor, needing to cover approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) per day, for whom a Bébé would replace a team of two horses, while costing no more than one of them.
Prior to WW2, owning a car was not something the average person could afford in countries struggling under the devastation of war. Immediate post-war Europe needed low-cost transport. In the immediate post WW2 years, America produced more than 90 percent of the world's cars while Europe lay in ruins in desperate need of transportation. Europe answer in general, and Germany's in particular, was in the form of the micro car, with simple engines, light weight, and reliable modest performance.
As a side note, students of history will note that Heinkel had begun WW2 as the most advanced aircraft company in the world, with the first liquid-fueled rocket and first turbojet-powered aircraft in aviation history to its credit. Heinkel's light and heavy bombers became the mainstay of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), while the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was the most feared of the Luftwaffe's fighter aircraft.
These cars embody the similar tenets of lightweight, low-cost construction and energy efficiency as the machines that seem certain to populate the roads of the 21st century. Most of these cars weigh in under 300 kg (660 lb) at the kerb and have small capacity engines, with the Messerschmitt KR200 running a 190cm3 two-stroke engine, the Heinkel Kabine a 200cm3 single four-stroke, the Lightburn Zeta a 324cm3 two-stroke and the Goggomobile Dart came in 250cm3 to 400cm3 two-stroke capacities.
The black sheep of the family
The Morris J-Type Owners Club is a regular at Motorclassica, drawing members from across Australia for the annual pilgrimage. These commercial vans were the first practical urban delivery vans available in the British Commonwealth, and were a common sight on English and Australian roads in the 1950s, winning a die-hard following across the world for their frugality and reliability that has endured to this day.
Always one of Matchbox toys most popular models, the J-type is synonymous with a decade where the country was growing quickly as it emerged from war.
They're a particularly friendly bunch, and there's always someone from the club available for a chat. Because they all know each other, and the history of each other's vans, you can always get the rundown on anything you haven't seen before.
This proved useful when I spied what I suspect is the black sheep of the family. Instead of the 1500cc four the Morris sported as standard, the van shown above runs a very lumpy and muscular 350 Chevrolet V8. It was driven 1000 km from Sydney carrying a motorcycle sidecar outfit. We suspect that the trip was a warm one for the driver and passenger, who had the engine between them. The driver has apparently been known to wear ear muffs.
Bargain basement Ford GT40 re-creations
One of the most famous cars in history is the Ford GT40 which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans four years running, beginning with a 1-2-3 finish in 1966 then following up with wins in 1967, 1968 and 1969. Between the Mk I, Mk II, Mk III and Mk IV GT40s, just 105 of the original cars were produced, and they sell for between US$5 million and $10 million whenever they reach auction these days.
Melbourne company RF GT40 has been producing GT40 replicas for 24 years now, and offers the GT40 in construction modules that recreate the shape, feel and specification of the original vehicle. Each module is very reasonably priced, and the aim is to offer a kit that enables an enthusiast to build their very own road going supercar, though an entire car can be purchased for around AUD$165,000 (US$117,400).
Not surprisingly, with the Australian dollar so competitive against the US dollar, the company is finding it is now sending an increasing proportion of GT40 cars and modules overseas these days.
Carroll Shelby's first competitive racing car
Small British car manufacturer Allard had considerable success in the early 1950s with its J2 and J2X models, using superbly hand-crafted lightweight aluminum construction in conjunction with a big bore American V8 engine of the buyer's choice. In England, the cars were assembled whole using either Ford or Mercury flathead V8s, while for the American market, the cars were shipped from England without engine, most commonly configured for the 5.4 liter (331 ci) Cadillac V8. In this configuration, the car weighed in at around 940 kg (2072 lb), and a J2 driven by Tom Cole and Sydney Allard finished third in the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Apart from the car that took a podium at Le Mans, this Allard is the best known of the approximately 1900 cars produced (90 J2s and 83 J2X among them), as it was purchased by Texan oil millionaire Roy Cherryhomes, who put a promising young driver (and chicken farmer) named Carroll Shelby behind the wheel for local events.
Shelby drove it in five SCCA races in 1952 for four wins and a second place, before finishing tenth in the 1953 international 1000 km race in Buenos Aires behind the powerful factory teams. Shelby's speed in this car caught the eye of Aston Martin which gave him a factory drive in 1954, kickstarting a racing career which ultimately led to Shelby producing his own cars and becoming a household name globally.
Shelby made no secret that his experiences in this car had helped him find the ideal AC Cobra recipe of a lightweight British chassis combined with an American V8. Hence this particular car can be seen as a landmark vehicle in the history of sports cars, as it inspired one of the most famous automotive marques in history.
As previously mentioned, there are quite literally hundreds of automotive stories at the show, and we've summarized many of these stories in our Motorclassica photo gallery captions, as well as provided a quick look at the winners from the show below.
Once more, well done Motorclassica.
Best In Show
The winner of the Best in Show award was this 1932 Alfa Romeo 6C Spider owned by Lawrence Southward. The 86-year-old Alfa would have been is powered by a supercharged 1,762cc in-line six, and wears aluminum bodywork by Zagato and would have been the absolute height of fashion in its day.
The car was purchased new in 1932 by English jazz saxophonist Buddy Featherstonehaugh, who was touring the United Kingdom as part of the Billy Mason Band, backing jazz superstar Louis Armstrong that year. Featherstonehaugh was at the pinnacle of his craft. One can imagine the impression such a car would have created in the United Kingdom's major cities as the celebrity band rolled into town.
Featherstonehaugh was also an occasional car racer, who two years later won the 1934 Albi Grand Prix in a Maserati 26M, so he was clearly no slouch behind the wheel.
The Alfa lived in the UK for most of its life, before being purchased and taken to New Zealand, where a restoration was undertaken over 16 years, being finished this year.
The People's Choice award went to a pristine specimen of one of Australia's great home-grown muscle cars, the 1969 Holden Monaro GTS of Sam Santoro. This car also won the Modern Classic USA & Australian category.
Restoration of the Year
The restoration of the year was awarded to a 1969 Maserati Ghibli Spyder restored by Recreation Automotive. There are many fine automotive restoration services available in Australasia, with this award going to companies in South Australia (2014) and Tasmania (2015), prior to Victoria's Recreation Automotive winning it three years in a row from 2016-2018. Owned by Barry Edge, the Maserati Ghibli also won the Modern Classic Sports & Performance category for cars of more than three liter capacity.
Chief Judge's Spirit Of Motorclassica Award
Winner: 1964 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale. Owner: Allan Reid
Vintage & Veteran
Winner: 1924 Cadillac V-63 Tourer Owner: Scott Emmerson
Pre-War U.K. & European
Winner: 1926 Delage D.I.S.S Boat Tail Tourer | Owner: Max Joffe
Winner: 1929 Stutz Black Hawk L6 | Owner: Trevor Hudson
Post War Classic Closed
Winner: 1958 BMW Isetta Micro Coupe | Owner: Tony Nassar
Post War Classic Open
Winner: 1959 Goggomobile Dart Convertible | Owner: Mark & Michelle Jansen
Winner: 1963 Jaguar Mk2 | Owner: David Lamont
Modern Classic GT U.K. & European
Winner: 1961 Jaguar E-Type | Owner: Gavin King
Modern Classic Sports & Performance Under 3 Liter
Winner: 1967 Porsche 911S | Owner: Bram Williams
Preservation Cars Pre 1950
Winner: 1924 Minerva AB Tourer | Owner: Greg Mackie
Preservation Cars Post 1950
Winner: 1974 Ferrari Daytona Coupe | Owner: Greg La Manna
Racing Cars Pre-War
Winner: 1937 Maserati 6CM | Owner: Tom Roberts
Racing Cars Post War
Winner: 1957 Lotus 12 | Owner: Mike Bennett
Motorcycles Pre 1955
Winner: 1954 BSA A7 SS Daytona | Owner: Thomas Weitacher
Motorcycles Post 1955
Winner: 1959 Triumph 650 Bonneville | Owner: Jon Munn
Winner: 1972 Triumph X-75 Hurricane | Owner: Jordan Roddy
Art Deco Cars
Winner: 1937 Cord Custom Berlin Coupe | Owner: Terry Dowel
90 Years of the Australian Grand Prix
Winner: 1963 Brabham BT7A | Owner: Peter Harburg
A Tribute To Cadillac
Winner: 1959 Cadillac Convertible | Owner: Sam Newman
Last Days Of American Supercar
Winner: 1963 Ford Galaxie R.Code Fastback | Owner: Barry Hodson
Micro Cars - The Practical Runabout
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more