Peter Kunz with occasional notes by Denis Murphy
30 Mercedes-Benz Club members braved the early winter cold for this year’s Bertha Benz commemorative drive, coming mainly from Canberra but also from elsewhere in the region. It was a fine Sunday morning as club members arrived at the Epic Service Station cum McDonalds ‘restaurant’ to drive to Crookwell via Gunning.
The English wheel is used to put a smooth curve in metal
Another Metal manipulation
After an introduction by El Presidente, Pat and further instruction from Denis our intrepid Fuehrer for the day, we set out. Our ‘convoy’ (Peter claims he has seen a paddock of hyperactive rabbits form more efficient convoys than MBCACT) headed for the village of Crookwell . First settled in the early 1800s and established as a town in 1836, Crookwell sits on the top of the Great Dividing Range and the run from Gunning to Crookwell provides a wonderful roller-coaster drive along the top of the plateau with a vista extending for many kilometres.
By the time we reached our destination our convoy had been bi (if not tri) furcated, and the section Peter was in took a wrong turn coming into Crookwell. Our President of Vice, Richard said with a twinkle in his eye ‘who would have thought we could get lost in Crookwell? Indeed. We are a club of fathomless talent. Things looked, well, crook. However we finally retraced our steps and met our leadership group of Pat and Denis and some other members who don’t need satnav to find their way around a hamlet.
A Riley undergoing restoration
The original design car with Jaguar engine, Porsche gearbox & diff and Mazda windscreen
Our first stop was Sydney Vintage Car Restorations where we all arrived right on our scheduled time of 10am. Gill Skidmore, the owner explained that they used to work in the Emerald City until various frustrations made them look further afield. A meeting with a local mayor who said ‘have I got a deal for you’ sealed their relocation.
The tour started with Gill and one of his strapping sons demonstrating forming rounded panels of steel with a machine which looked like it ignited the industrial revolution circa 1790. Processes included English Wheel rolling, stretching, shrinking and slotting of vent holes. Later the other son demonstrated the dark art of lead wiping for filling dents in panels. In between we were shown a number of cars under restoration many of which sat coyly under covers. Without going into too much personal detail we saw:
- A ‘humpy’ FJ Holden which had sat waiting repair for 30 years.
- A Valiant sedan circa 1966, which someone is having fully restored in honour of his uncle who owned it.
- A late 1920’s La Salle (the poor man’s Cadillac) in the throes of early restoration
- A 1930’s Riley drophead coupe which someone had bought from ebay, but required a lot of bodywork. It was a rare prototype.
- A car which the owner wanted to be a ‘one off’. It looked like a Jaguar E type on steroids, wider than the original and painted British Racing Green with rivets along the bodywork. Leaping cat mated with Arnold Schwarzenegger if you will.
- Peter’s favourite - a lovely large seven seater Cadillac limousine from circa 1929. Owned by two gentlemen from Sydney. Black fenders, silver mink sides, blending into a maroon roof. A V-8 engine replacing a V16. Even the dome light inside the car was worth staring at. It will look spectacular on completion.
Gill opined that despite hailing from the land of Albion, it pained him to say that the old Cadillacs were better cars than the Rolls-Royce of the day.
The magnificent Fleetwood bodied Cadillac
A 1932 Chevrolet
We all had a hearty steak lunch which was prepared while we perused the treasured cars. After lunch Pat made a well deserved presentation of the Bertha Benz award to Rowena Sargent, who without any doubt, was the deserving winner of the period dress competition. Pat also thanked Gill for showing us his classic car restoration business.
The visit to the workshop was most rewarding, apart from your correspondent having to nip outside to warm his frigid feet on occasion (where many of the canny females were ensconced on chairs absorbing the pallid winter rays).
The AP5 Valiant
The late 1920s La Salle
It was a pleasure to see that artisan craftsmanship was alive and thriving, and that there are still people who have an emotional investment in a vehicle, which permits them to say ‘hang the expense, I want my car restored to its former glory’. Gill is a man who loves his work and the craftsmanship which typifies old cars as treasures of cultural heritage.
Our next stop was at a small farm with lovely pine trees to park among. Called Australia Alpaca Products, the farm and its owner Susan Reynolds breed alpacas and sell alpaca wool and some woollen products.
The club enjoying lunch at Sydney Vintage Car Restorations
We were told we were to be greeted by a beautiful Scandinavian type statuesque blonde (if that’s your type) who apparently loves men. With lovely eyes under dreamy eyelids and a Mona Lisa-esque enigmatic smile, we were assured she was very warm and cuddly. Think Greta Garbo in her prime. A good day looked like getting better for the male members of the MBCACT… ‘Crystal’ was in fact all this and more. The slightly inconvenient fact is that Crystal was an alpaca. As Scandinavian as a Mayan goddess. This didn’t stop me from predicting that she would make a fine ‘backup’ bed warmer and portable sofa.
Crystal may have loved men, but I didn’t make any impression on her as she snubbed me and barrelled past to where others of our group were feeding the herd with their favourite chaff mix supplied by their owner Sue.
Having eventually recovered from the rude shock that my feeble appeal to the opposite sex failed to encompass female alpacas, I searched for a crumb of comfort. I found it in Joseph, the ‘baby’ alpaca. Joseph may be young but his slightly coltish physique allied with his ‘strong silent type’ attitude was out of a James Bond thriller, and consequently female club members was drawn to him in spades. My partner, Luciana, was cooing ‘he’s so cute’. Hmm, that he was. Joseph had a lovely dark brown coat. I’m sure that if you took a bite of him as he minced past, he would taste like dark chocolate probably with a hint of orange, albeit rather furry. I would have liked to have taken Joseph home and treated him as Ernest Hemingway would have termed it a ‘moveable dessert feast’.
Sue told us many fascinating facts about these South American animals that were almost hunted to extinction by the Spanish in their strongholds of Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
As the cool rays of the winter sun dappled the pines we all set for home in a deeply contemplative and philosophical mood, having learnt many esoteric, quirky, yet remarkable things. A man can have a grand passion for his uncle’s Valiant and a female alpaca can have a discerning passion for men, but when it comes down to it, a good feed of chaff is more appealing.