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For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by non animal means of getting around. That one baby-power rocking horse took me on many wonderful and exciting exploratory adventures, but it wasn’t long before the urging of the need for speed reared its persuasive head, a need catered for by a Christmas present from an understanding Mum and Dad … a Cyclops pedal car. Thus commenced a love affair with driving a motor vehicle, of the sheer enjoyment of manoeuvring this obedient metal contraption which took me wherever I wished to go, subject of course to the availability of sufficient propulsive power of a couple of skinny little legs.

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Malcolm's first car

Carl Benz, German engine designer and automotive engineer had solved this problem years before of course, his Benz Patent Motorcar from 1885 is considered the first practical car into series production, and he received a patent for the motorcar in 1886.

Benz motor car 1886

But it would be many years before I could afford a horseless carriage of such magnificence, and in the interim a one boy-power two wheeler push bike was the way to go, and my two older sisters and I rode our bikes to Airdmillan School each day.

 Airdmillan School 1

The school is long gone, although plaques remain with names of past head teachers. I drove out there recently to inspect once again the tram line on which local cane trains carry their load to the mill during the crushing season … this one crosses the bitumen road at an angle,  and 80 odd years ago the front wheel of my bike caught in the track and deposited me on the road, arriving at school  tear stained and bloody.

Airdmillan School

Later I graduated to a full size bike with light and dynamo, sporting a three speed Sturmey Archer gear hub and brakes, but leg power was still necessary.

In 1938 dad bought a Vauxhall Sedan, 14 HP 6 cylinder, and a couple of years later I was allowed to check out the controls, under strict supervision. It had a manual transmission which was handy to know how to operate.

vauxhall 1938 2

Previously I had practised on a small Allis Chalmers tractor which, again under close supervision, provided useful early experience in manoeuvring the machine.

In 1951 Dad bought a Holden Panel Van and I became the proud owner of the Vauxhall, for a reasonable financial consideration, teaching the value of things earned rather than gifted, and became responsible for regular checking of tyre pressures, radiator and battery water level, oil dipstick etc, and of course regular quenching  of its thirst for petrol. Many happy hours and miles were spent in that car and much valuable experience gained in days when traffic density and speeds were much lower, but roads were much more of a challenge.

 

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In 1951 I had commenced a three year Pharmacy apprenticeship at the Ayr Friendly Societies Pharmacy under the tutelage of Master Pharmacist Joachim Alfred Charles Dlugaj, known to everyone as “Alf” as no one could pronounce his surname. A brilliant young man whose family had owned pharmacies in his native Poland, Alf spoke fluent English as well as French, German and Hungarian, and as time passed he became proficient in Strine as well. Why a young, single, university educated man who had moved to England after World War 2, then to Australia, would move to the wilds of North Queensland  to manage a business in a small country town where he knew no one, I do not know … but have always been thankful  for my extreme good fortune in having benefited from the move, being his first and only apprentice. Have wondered if that was his reason for leaving Pharmacy, entering the priesthood, studying at Banyo Seminary, and moving to various locations in Queensland before retiring. He died at age 86 and is in West End Cemetary in Townsville.

December 1957 saw the arrival of the ’58 model VW Beetle at local dealer General Engineering Company, the first of the large rear window models. Bought one on a Thursday and took it in to Cec Cox the following  Saturday morning for the 300 mile first service. The Beetle was very popular due to its success in Round Australia Trials where it gained an enviable reputation for reliability and durability. Linsey Caddies at General Engineering serviced it and kept it in top form and I enjoyed many miles in it.

VW Beetle 1958.

Driving home from Townsville one night things came unstuck … an approaching vehicle with undipped headlights necessitated slowing down muchly, fortunately, for as it was nearly on us a black steer, previously unseen standing on the side of the road, swung its head to follow the path of the other car and the side of its head and the left hand windscreen pillar of the Beetle had a short argument, which the steer won convincingly. Joan in the passenger seat had caught a glimpse of the black shape just prior to impact and slid under the dash, and was showered with small pieces of glass, this being in the days prior to laminated screens on VW’s. The other vehicle, apparently unaware of the collision, kept on driving, and the steer also trotted off, probably with a big headache. An inspection revealed minor front mudguard damage but NEY756 was roadworthy and faithfully took us home, somewhat shaken. Midnight saw us in a local doctor’s surgery with him carefully picking small pieces of windscreen out of my wife’s face, thankful to have avoided much more serious injury.

A discussion of alternatives with Cec and Linsey resulted in a decision to replace the faithful steed with the attractive  up market version, a Karmann Ghia 1200 in Pampas Green, much the same underpinnings dressed in a pretty body, often referred to as the poor man’s Porsche. Joan had noticed that when driving it on our relatively narrow bitumen roads, oncoming traffic often seemed somewhat disturbingly to drive straight at her. We soon realised that this was due to the fact that on many parts of the road the guinea grass which was tall and grew very close to the road was exactly the same colour as our car, and combined with the very small frontal area made it difficult to see … obvious easy fix, headlights on during the day too.

Karmann Ghia 1200 1961

An effort had to be made to improve the performance of the new car to match its sleek attractive shape, so Linsey installed two significant items which filled the bill … a Judson Supercharger and Maico front disc brakes. The Judson required a diet of 120 octane Avgas available in 44 gallon drums from the local Shell depot, and as the standard 8 gallon fuel tank wouldn’t allow long trips a copper tank was made holding 12 gallons and this filled the front luggage space. Glad we did this back then because in present day none of these modifications would be allowed … in fact now I doubt if I’d be game to sit in it, let alone drive it in traffic.

Next step up the ladder a handsome looking Karmann Ghia 1500S, very comfortable and covered a lot of territory.

 1966 Type 34 Karmann Ghia 2

An interesting small vehicle available was a Datsun 2000 Sports, looked good, manual transmission, performed well and stuck to the bitumen like a coat of paint … ride comfort? Rough as guts and Joan refused to ride in it, and drove only in her own VW type 3 squareback which was much more suitable for Andrew and Fiona ( our children ) and shopping.

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Around this time the Wankel engine, a type of internal combustion engine using an eccentric rotary design to convert pressure into rotating motion appeared on the scene. Compared to the reciprocating piston engine, the Wankel engine has more uniform torque; less vibration; and, for a given power, is more compact and weighs less. Mazda got into the act and produced the R100 by dropping a Wankel into their 1200 Coupe which produced a little pocket rocket which amazed a lot of 6 and V8 owners. Unfortunately they didn’t do a lot of work on the suspension and handling which produced some interesting results for those exploiting and enjoying the amazing get up and go of this little upstart. There was much early criticism regarding fuel consumption and engine reliability due mainly to over exuberant use combined with failure to observe some basic rules. I enjoyed many happy miles of motoring with a series of rotaries through RX2 up to RX7 and never had any major problems when basic rules such as NEVER exceeding 3000 rpm until operating temperature was reached were strictly observed.

Mazda R100

In October 2003 I visited an online friend who lived in West Virginia and was an Audi enthusiast, and Audi became a focus of interest, and remains so to this day. Over almost 20 years I have thoroughly enjoyed driving Audis.

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The first one was an Imola Yellow S4, a biturbo V6 and the present one a White Q5 2l diesel … a long way from the little blue Cyclops pedal car of 80 years ago but the simple joy of the physical sense of driving has never faded.

 Listen to Malcolm read this article.

 

 

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