Decent cars were rare where I was brought up, in a thriving but dusty mining town in outback Australia called Broken Hill. Durability was the order: people who wanted reliability drove tough old Yankee pick-ups; new car owners chose tough, Australian-made, GM-inspired Holdens and the surprising number of people sentimental links to “the old country” chose Austins and Morrises — and watched them fall apart.
My family’s self-imported, English-made Ford Consul always needed a rebuild after our annual two-week trip to the seaside, a dusty, car-busting 750-mile round trip. Lucky it was simply engineered.
Car life changed for me, and for a lot of other latent car lovers, when the 1955 Redex Round Australia Trial came to town. Round Australia trials had started a couple of years early but by 1955 they were national front-page news, generating amazing pictures and newsreel footage, relieving the grind of the postwar austerity and reassuring every impecunious Aussie of his perceived national characteristics: boldness, resourcefulness, disdain for authority and an ability to mend anything with a pair of pliers and a yard of fencing wire.
My old man and his friends got seriously excited when the 1955 trial — the longest ever at 10,500 miles over 21 days — was routed through The Hill. I was only a little kid but I vividly remember the way everything in the town stopped dead. That, and the sheer, bewildering number of different cars.
The event was supported by nearly every car manufacturer, and seeing that field made me suddenly aware that there were so many of them and that they were so different — everything from the mighty Ford V8 (winner in ’54) to the Morrises Oxford and Minor, the Vanguard Spacemaster, various Chevys and even the Renault 4CV. It dawned on me that people had favourites, so I developed favourites. Mine were always cars with fastback styling: Peugeot 203, VW Beetle, Ford V8 Beetleback and a few others.