Buying (yet another) car

Posted on January 16th, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Now that new cars (at least here in Australia) are cheaper in real dollars
than at any time in my lifetime, and secondhand cars are so low in cost I am
often disbelieving of the prices being asked, it’s no longer inconceivable that
an enthusiast should own multiple cars.

In fact, if I go to the window of my home office and look out at the car
park, er, I mean side yard, I will see five cars sitting there, all
resident in this household of two adults and one baby boy. There’s my 1998 Lexus
LS400, of which I have written much in the past; the recently acquired ’99
hybrid Prius, again of which much has been – and is to be – written; the V6
turbo Nissan Maxima (is it 1988?) which runs lots of mods; and a largely
untouched Toyota Crown Supercharger, which is an ’88 model.

(While that seems like rather a lot of Toyotas, that was never the buying
intention. The Lexus came after the experience with my partner’s ’91 model,
which so amazed me that I followed in her footsteps; the current Prius is one of
the world’s most impressive cars – and the 1999 Japanese import model the
closest I can afford; and the Crown came into the stable when I wanted a
supercharged six.)

And the fifth car? I’ll come to that in a moment.

Click for larger image

Not that this is the first time I have owned multiple cars. When I was in my
late twenties I yearned for something with more depth and interest than the
near-new Commodore VL turbo I then owned. I thought about it long and hard and
then decided I wanted a classic car – my definition of ‘classic’, of course.

I scanned the classifieds, looking particularly for a Triumph or Rover 2000.
Why those? I can’t remember now – but I do recollect thinking that it’d be cool
to get a Triumph 2000 PI with the mechanical petrol injection system. The fuel
injection system is apparently a cow of a thing to set up and tune, and that
sounded interesting…

But in the end it was a rusty old Rover 2000 that came into my stable. (Not
the one shown here but one very much like it.) It was unregistered and so had to
go over the government pits before it could be legally on the road. I fixed the
obvious broken bits like lights and switches and soon I was steering it about in
stately cruises. (The rust was present but had not yet broken through the paint,
so that was OK.)

It had a superb ride, leather seats, an engine that seemed from another era,
and tiny gearlever with a short-shift that would suit an Impreza WRX, wire
wheels with huge central locking nuts, and absolute character.

I think it cost me AUD$800, perhaps another AUD$100 for bits and pieces to
fix it up, and then the dosh for registration for a year or two. Back then I was
a secondary school teacher and when it came time to reduce the car count (by
then I also had a 660cc Turbo Daihatsu Handi rocketship – huh, what
eclecticism?), I gave it away to the first student who had parental permission
and access to a car trailer to take it home.

But the experience of buying an old car and driving it was pricelessly

Click for larger image

(It’s rather interesting that AutoSpeed staffer Michael Knowling, then a
callow youth, derided such classic cars. “Who cares about old cars?” he said.
But later, when in his mid-late twenties, he bought a 1968 Mercedes 280SE, a car
he’s since had to sell through a lack of garage space. He loved that Mercedes:
tears form in his eyes when he thinks of it, and I am certain another will one
day enter his life….)

Click for larger image

Years passed and I again got the yearning for an old car – that time I bought
a Volvo 142. (The lead-up to that buy is covered in From the Editor.) But then I moved interstate and the Volvo went to a man who
paid nearly nothing for it but got cheap and usable transport. (In retrospect I
don’t know whether to be glad that the Volvo went on working for its living, or
desolate that I am sure the new buyer never appreciated the classic he was

And yes, as you’ve no doubt long ago guessed, the newly-purchased fifth car
in the Edgar household is another old one.

The prelude to this purchase started a very long time ago. It must be 20
years ago (I’m now 41) when I drove a Mini for the first time. I think it was a
wagon; despite even then being a quite old car, it impressed the hell out of me
with its packaging and its go-kart feel around corners. In fact, I well remember
describing it to a much more experienced automotive engineering acquaintance, a
man who had no preconceptions about what made a car good or bad.

He listened to my glowing report on the Mini (“Of course, I’m sure that
you’ve driven them before: but isn’t the Mini bloody fantastic on the road?” I
said) before agreeing with me, then taking the conversation further.

“And have you driven the big ones?” he said. “The Morris 1100 and the Austin
1800? They’re great as well.”

Click for larger image

I hadn’t, but I filed the info away for later reference. Then recently I got
a chance to drive an Austin 1800. Ironically, despite being auctioned through
Australian eBay, it proved to be for sale just a few blocks way. That car was a
tired automatic, and it felt incredibly gutless. In addition, it had apparently
experienced an engine bay fire – the fusebox seemed rather melted…. It could
barely stagger up hills, but what it did have was incredible interior space
efficiency – inside, it was like a car 50 per cent bigger than its exterior

Time passed. Then one evening, half-way through driving a new Commodore wagon
to Sydney and back on a road test, I was bored with the prospect of spending a
bookless evening in the hotel room with my family. Why not venture across the
road to the service station and pick up a magazine? Such whims are the stuff of
fate: there amongst all the pictures of cars for sale was an Austin 1800. The
location was described only as New South Wales (and NSW is a big place!) but it
was worth a call.

The car turned out to be at Bowral, just south of Sydney. It was an ‘older
restoration’, but had a rebuilt engine and 4-speed manual gearbox, and new
paint. The interior was described as ‘tidy’. Hmmm, at $1950 that sounded like a
bargain. Especially since it was registered and had recently passed inspection
to gain that registration…

But if I bought it, how would I get it home? Of course it could be trucked
but that might cost a quarter of the value of the car. So what about driving it?
The Commodore wagon could be the escort vehicle, shepherding the Austin along
and being available for emergency tows, or breakdown parts fetching. But before
any decision like this could be made, an inspection was needed: after all, the
most creative writers are those that author car classifieds!

Click for larger image

The car looked good; in fact, with the exception of a few very small spots of
rust, just as described. The retired bloke selling it seemed honest and upfront,
and suggested the car would have no problems being driven the 1000-odd
kilometres back to the Gold Coast. A day later I bought the car at the
knock-down price of $1700; the next morning at 5.30 we were on the road. By
lunchtime the next day we were home, without a single unscheduled stop.

And the car itself? Well, from its huge interior to its Hydrolastic
water-and-alcohol fluid suspension, it’s a fascinating drive. I’ll write more
about it another time, but without a doubt, driving any old car gives an
immediately fresh and new perspective on all cars.

One Response to 'Buying (yet another) car'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

  1. Willy Prang said,

    on April 25th, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Just came across this article… I have had a couple of “tonners” as my old man called them, brilliant cars really for their age.

    Transplanted the seats into an EH sedan, was the most comfortable car around!