Unique Cars - - CONTENTS -

I LOVED the stun­ning range of lovely cars at last month’s Motorclassica event in Mel­bourne. As al­ways the top-down road­sters and sports cars lured me into imag­in­ing my­self be­hind the wheel, sam­pling the plea­sure of the clas­sic wind-in-yourhair driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. As I dreamed it struck me that while much of the ba­sic ar­chi­tec­ture of th­ese old­school cock­pits sur­vives in to­day’s cars, de­tails have shifted in a big way. For ex­am­ple in­stru­ment-panel de­sign has changed rad­i­cally over the decades. Then, the ‘speedo’ was clearly the dom­i­nant in­stru­ment. Now, pro­vid­ing speed read­ings is but one of many func­tions of com­plex dig­i­tal dis­plays.

In those sim­pler times the speedo did way more than just dis­play speed. As well as in­di­cat­ing your cur­rent rate of progress, it could an­swer the ques­tion asked by many a wide-eyed young car fan, if your car looked a bit tasty: “What’ll she do, mis­ter? ” Those were the days when any­one vaguely in­ter­ested in per­for­mance would take their lat­est ac­qui­si­tion out on the high­way and f lat­ten it to see what it would

‘do’. And you would give it every chance, keep­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tor firmly nailed for five kays or more un­til the nee­dle wouldn’t budge even one mil­lime­tre fur­ther up the scale. By com­par­i­son ac­cu­rate ac­cel­er­a­tion times were dif­fi­cult to pin down and any at­tempted im­prove­ment to your per­sonal-best time be­tween Mel­bourne and Sydney was at the mercy of the el­e­ments, and the num­ber of car­a­vans you en­coun­tered over the Ra­zor­back, and the punc­tures you suf­fered. But your car’s top speed was there on de­mand, right in front of you, on the speedo.

The speedo also pro­vided what we could call an as­pi­ra­tional inf lu­ence. Pe­riod speedome­ter-dial mark­ings typ­i­cally showed a full-scale speed that was be­yond the car’s ac­tual top-whack po­ten­tial, by a mar­gin of 20 miles-per-hour (mph) or more. The speedos of the ma­jor­ity of cars, in­clud­ing early ‘grey­mo­tor’ Hold­ens, and even four­cylin­der fam­ily cars, fea­tured an es­pe­cially al­lur­ing top num­ber – 100mph (161km/h). The ‘magic ton’ was to many ev­ery­day rev-heads the ‘Holy Grail’ speed to as­pire to, the more so be­cause the tempt­ing num­ber was sit­ting there, on their own speedo di­als.

With grav­ity giv­ing you a help­ing hand, a good down­hill run could typ­i­cally get the nee­dle seven or eight mph closer to the three-digit tar­get than your car could man­age on the f lat. I can re­call one mate’s early Holden lurch­ing its way down­hill in the orchard coun­try north-east of Mel­bourne show­ing a pleas­ing 92 or 93mph. Later with twin Strombergs, a de­cent ex­haust and a Wade cam it could pull those num­bers on the f lat – and it hit the jack­pot down­hill, while valve-bounc­ing loudly.

This speedo con­scious­ness pro­vided op­por­tu­nity for a bit of fun when we went met­ric. Dur­ing my time at Ford a pri­mary-school mate of my young son was a real mus­cle­car fan who got pretty ex­cited when I came home in any­thing dec­o­rated with ‘go fast’ stripes, or ‘Hi-Po’ badges. And he loved a spin round the block, and the sound of a fruity ex­haust.

This ju­nior rev-head came with us one Sun­day for a bush bar­be­cue in a new XB Fair­mont 302 GS – it was the first I had driven fea­tur­ing the re­cently in­tro­duced met­ric speedo. On the way home down the Ma­roon­dah High­way, I sug­gested he check out the speedo read­ing. The lit­tle guy grinned from ear to ear when he saw we were clock­ing 100. He couldn’t wait to tell his dad when I dropped him off. Once I had ex­plained my lit­tle de­cep­tion to his un­der­stand­ably con­cerned old man, the lit­tle bloke went off at me in a big way.

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