Each year, Motorclassica, Australia’s International Concours d’Elegance, presents some of the most beautiful and significant cars this country has to offer. Early shows drew cars from overseas, but it’s a reflection of the health of the collector car market here in Australia that in recent years, the classics on display have almost entirely come from local collections.
This year was the ninth running of Motorclassica, with the event once again held at the historic Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne and its surrounding grounds.
From some of the earliest examples of motoring, to the latest machinery from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini, Ford, Alpine and McLaren, there was plenty to see at this year’s show and the carefully-balanced diversity of the old and new seems to be really striking a chord with the public, as 24,000 attended this year.
Sunshine Show Even before they got inside the heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building, visitors were greeted with an array of cars outdoors as part of the ‘Club Sandwich’ display. Sponsored by Lorbek Luxury Cars and presented in association with the Targa Florio Australian Tribute, Club Sandwich allows car clubs of all persuasions and affiliations to present their member’s cars for public appreciation.
And it’s not just marque-specific stuff, either. Sure, there was the likes of Mini, Renault, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Fiat, Morris, MG and Citroen, but this year also saw some quirkier clubs, like the Australian Electric Vehicle Association, who had everything from a Ford Capri converted to electric-power, to a fresh Tesla and a rare (possibly the only one in Australia) Renault Twizy.
The Historic Rally Association presented some classic rallying vehicles that looked like they’d been used regularly and driven hard, while the O.C.K.A. (Old ‘Cruisers Kicking Arse) club would have to represent the first all-Landcruiser club to display at Motorclassica.
Regional clubs, like the Macedon Ranges Car Club and Bayside Car Enthusiasts Group, were part of the mix, too, with everything from an XB Falcon to a Russian-made Volga to be seen.
Notable amongst the Club Sandwich lineup this year was the fact that the new Ford Mustang has already garnered its own enthusiast group – Melbourne Mustang 6G Club – who presented some impressively customised Mustangs. Alongside these, the Victorian Branch of the Mustang Owners Club of Australia displayed classic examples of the now global ‘pony car’.
The outdoor display area also included a big representation of stock from Lorbek Luxury Cars, with groups of Ferraris and Lamborghinis, as well as Maseratis and Porsches on show, while the latest McLarens near the entry to the indoor display area drew attention all weekend.
More to See Inside This year’s Motorclassica seemed to offer more in the way of trade and exhibitor stalls compared to past years, with a lot of travel and destination stallholders, as well as plenty of businesses directly related to the automobile industry – everything from custom bodywork and metal finishing, to driver training, car freighting, car care and protection products, tyres, exhausts and even real-time vehicle tracking.
Most of these were located on the upper mezzanine level, where the Art Show was also located. This year, Mike Harbar, Naish Art and Stuart Row were presenting their work, with Drive Melbourne automotive photography and Demigod Antiques also part of this group.
On ground level, the marque displays from Lamborghini, McLaren, Alpine and others were joined by businesses familiar to JUST CARS readers: The Healey Factory, Oldtimer Australia and John Conroy Classic Cars.
Also on ground level, Maskell’s Customs and Classics conducted a live ‘Restoration Theatre’ where everything from fabrication to paint, interior trim, mechanical and assembly was presented and conducted on site. Master coachbuilder Brian Tanti was also on hand here for special interactive sessions.
In terms of the new cars on show, it was hard to pick a favourite, but the Mustang Bullitt and the racing GTE version of the new Ford GT (fresh from its display laps at Bathurst only a week prior) certainly proved popular with showgoers.
Themes - Big and Small As with past Motorclassicas, this year’s event saw a number of special themes celebrated. In terms of size, two of these couldn’t be more diverse – ‘A Tribute to Cadillac’ and ‘Micro Cars – The Practical Runabout’. The former consisted of a sextet of post-war Caddys, from 1950 to 1966, with America’s most prominent luxury marque also represented in some of the other categories.
While the big Caddys were popular, the Micro Car display was massive (no pun intended!). Visitors really responded to the mini movers, and no doubt many gained an education in the variety of makes, models and body styles produced during the brief period when these cars reigned
American car fans, and particularly muscle car fans, were spoilt for choice as ‘The Last Days of the American Supercar’ was also on the bill. Focusing on the apex of the US muscle era of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, this display saw a Chev Camaro Z/28 and Chevelle SS 396, Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and Plymouth Barracuda and Roadrunner – basically the sort of makes and models you’d expect, but lesser-known muscle cars, like a Mercury Cyclone Spoiler Cale Yarborough Special, Oldsmobile 4-4-2 and Buick GS Stage 1, as well as an older representative in the form of a 1963 Ford Galaxie R Code hardtop, were also represented.
The other two themes this year were the main ones, celebrating 90 Years of the Australian Grand Prix and Cars of the Art Deco Era. As reported in our preview of Motorclassica, the Australian Grand Prix is the world’s second-oldest, and while it only joined the international Formula 1 calendar in 1985, it has a rich history preceding that.
Remarkably, the winning car from the first Australian Grand Prix in 1928 has not only survived but was on show at Motorclassica. The humble Austin 7 Sports may not be what most people connect with “grand prix”, but it represented what was raced here back then, along with Rileys and MGs
The post-war grand prix era, when the more familiar ‘formula’ cars became established, was represented by Cooper Climax, Brabham, Lotus and McLaren machinery. The newest GP cars on show were a 1981 Ralt FT4 and a 1977 Williams FW07 formerly piloted by Alan Jones, while Jones himself was Motorclassica’s special guest.
Of the Art Deco cars, it was luxury all the way, with some beautiful, exotic examples from Stutz, Bentley, Delage, Alfa Romeo, Cord and Bugatti. Marques not commonly associated with this era, like Hudson, Plymouth and Buick, showed that Deco style wasn’t just confined to elite marques – it trickled down to more commonly-available makes and models, too.
Of this group, the Cords were visual highlights with their coffin-nose styling and hideaway headlights, while a 1930 Cadillac Series 90 Fleetwood V16 and 1931 Delage D8S Tourer showed that Art Deco style could be found on both sides of the Atlantic.
Concours – Viva Italia Themes, trade stalls and outdoor displays aside, the major drawcard at Motorclassica each year is the Australian International Concours d’Elegance, which covers several categories across the pre- and post-war era, as well as regions, with the special themes up for their own awards, too.
The big one, though, is the Best in Show, which was won by a 1913 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in 2017, with an immaculately-restored 1969 HG Monaro GTS 327 taking the top honour the year before that.
This year, the judges had a tough task on their hands, with more than one hundred judged vehicles in the running for the major prize - everything from a Ferrari to a Goggomobil – with some very rare and very beautiful cars in the mix. The major winner, though, was a 1932 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS Spider.
A supercar of its day, the 6C 1750 was powered by a 1,752cc six-cylinder engine derived from the 6C 1500 of 1927. Various Turismo, Sport and SS (Super Sport) derivates followed, offering more power, while GS (Gran Sport) examples like the Best in Show winner featured a double overhead cam version of the inline six.
When an optional supercharger was added, 76kW (102hp) and a top speed of 170km/h (110mph) was the result. As fitted to the Best in Show winner, this combination of DOHC engine and supercharger made it the most powerful 6C variant available across the model’s five-year lifespan.
The 6C chassis was bodied by a number of different coachbuilders in its day, but Italian carrozzerias Touring and Zagato did the bulk of them. A total of 2,579 examples of the 6C 1750 were produced before it was replaced by the 6C 1900 in 1933, but of those, only around 250 were in GS spec, making the Best in Show winner a rarity.
While it may have lacked the visual ‘wow factor’ of past winners, the low-slung, all-black Alfa was still an amazing vehicle and a worthy winner in the judges’ eyes. “Lawrence Southward’s Alfa Romeo 6C Spider is truly a world-class car and a very worthy winner of the ‘Best of the Best’ award,” Motorclassica Event Director Paul Mathers said.
“Every year the standard of our Concours entrants keeps getting higher and making the judging that much more difficult, the panel is literally having to make judgements on the most minute detail. “It’s fantastic to see this evolution and to share the passion of the owners with our Motorclassica audience.”
Originally owned by English jazz musician and racer Bubby Featherstonehaugh (what a name!), the 6C 1750 resided in the UK for many years before being exported to New Zealand. There, a lengthy restoration was started 16 years ago by current owner Lawrence Southward’s father and sister. Both would unfortunately pass away during the process, with the restoration only completed earlier this year after it was entrusted to Bristol Motors in New Zealand.
The Motorclassica Chief Judge picked another Alfa Romeo for his ‘Spirit of Motorclassica Award’ in the form of Allan Reid’s 1964 Giulia Sprint Speciale.
It must be the ‘Year of the Alfa’, as the major award at Motorclassica follows an Alfa Romeo 8C with a Berlinetta body by Touring winning the Best In Show at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in the USA
Other awards of note saw Re-creation Automotive pick up the ‘Restoration of the Year’ award for the job they did on Barry Edge’s 1969 Maserati Ghibli Spyder. That makes it three-in-a-row for the Lilydale restoration experts, as they won in 2016 for the HG Monaro GTS 327 (that also picked up Best in Show), and last year for the 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SE they part-restored with Reinhard Klavers & Associates
If the ‘People’s Choice’ award is anything to go by, the love for Holden still remains strong a year after local manufacturing ended, with a 1969 HK Monaro GTS scoring that trophy.
The addition of micro cars to this year’s show saw them win Post War Classic Open and Post War Classic Closed trophies, while another win of note went the way of media personality Sam Newman, whose 1959 Cadillac convertible won this year’s special ‘A Tribute to Cadillac’ trophy.
Top ‘Ten’ in 2019 Next year’s Motorclassica will be the tenth since the event started, with organisers already planning a big one for the concours’ tenth birthday. Watch this space for more details as the 2019 Motorclassica draws nearer, or go to: motorclassica.com.au
Words: Mike Ryan, Photos: Mike Ryan and Motorclassica media