Bushwhacked: Change rolls in

THE older I get, the better I was.
Dear, long suffering reader: Bushwhacked is still trying to cope with the fallout of the total demise of the Australian car making industry.

I will not take part in the current national sport of finger-pointing. You only eventually take out an eye with that sort of behaviour, but I have long been an enthusiast of everything to do with motoring in Australia.

My Dad used to take me to Phillip Island as a kid, watching people hammer around in great wallowing Ford Galaxies, or risking all life and sanity in out-of-control VW Beetles and Morris Minors.

I’ve written fairly extensively about the industry and even had the chance once to go on a working visit to Japan writing about vehicle safety design with Nissan and Toyota.

I even once had a chat with Sir Laurence Hartnett, the man who is widely regarded as the father of the Holden. He’d have been sad to know his “child” lasted just 28 years longer than he did. He died in 1986.

I wonder how they’ll feel at Mount Panorama, where the Australian battle between Ford and Holden is the stuff of legend. Now, they’ll all be foreign makes.

And that’s okay. It used to be that way, and I still recall some of the Bathurst endurance races which were dominated by (oh, be still my beating heart) Jaguars.

Just last weekend, the 12-hour race on the mountain saw Craig Lowndes in a Ferrari. Eric Bana in a Lamborghini. Shane van Gisbergen in a McLaren. Once this would have been regarded as automotive treachery. Foreign muck. Watched by people in turtle-neck jumpers and sensible shoes.

I, and the rest of the wretched world of car enthusiasm will just have to suck it up and get on with it. No more Aussies on the mountain, on the island, around the lake.

To cheer myself up, I started browsing back through some old stuff about the Australian car industry, and it’s really intriguing how we now just assume it’s been here forever. Came out on the First Fleet.

It’s not that old. There’ve been lots of little companies come and go over the years. Sixty-nine at my last count, but Ford didn’t start manufacturing here until 1925 (curiously, it was via Ford Canada, not Ford central), and General Motors started building home-grown Holdens in 1948.

That’s not much more than one or two generations ago. We will mourn their loss to us. But we should also spare a tear for:

The VW Countryman, the Aussie Humber Vogue, the Mitsubishi Sigma, the Nissan Pintara (okay, not so much), the Valiant Regal, the Ford Cortina Mk 1 and the mighty Leyland P76 Targa Florio.

I’m serious about that last one. Peter Brock told me in the early 1980s that the smart thing to do would be buy every P76 Targa Florio I could get my hands on and put them in storage. I didn’t. They’re now worth up to $20,000.

My point is that things change, but sometimes we fear that the current changes are the End Of The World As We Know It.

How well do we recall Chrysler Australia? The Rootes Group? Australian Motor Industries? The Goggomobile – no, not the Dart? The Lightburn? The Purvis Eureka?

Do you remember chuckling about the silliness of Alan Bond importing the first crappy tin-can Hyundai in 1986 – just 24 years ago. Funny that it turned out he was dodgy but the car wasn’t.

People will always want to own, race or perve at cars, and if there are none to be patriotic about, we’ll just find something else. And I suspect it’s going to be the same with mass-produced cars.
In the 1970s, Australia made more than half a million cars a year. Now, it’s about 200,000.

But if and when they go, how long do you think it will be before one of the smaller outfits starts thinking on a bigger scale and starts thinking that maybe there’s a market for something uniquely Australian?

And then someone will do a Laurence Hartnett and ask himself: Perhaps I could design something like, well, like an FJ Holden. Could happen.

In the meantime, I am learning to shout new phrases at my telly: Go Audi! C’mon Mercedes! Watch out for the Skoda! 

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