AUS­TRALIA’S Mr 356 60

Richard Holdsworth tells the life story of Aussie Porsche hero, John Gregory

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Richard Holdsworth Pic­tures: The Mike Ja­cob­son col­lec­tion

To­day, sixty years on, Spy­der au­to­mo­biles is very­much alive and kick­ing with his son-in-law, Mike Ja­cob­son, con­tin­u­ing the good work, putting best ser­vice and high­est stan­dards first for the Porsche world Down Un­der. Myaussie wife, Heather, and I are chat­ting over a cof­fee in Mel­bourne with­mike and his part­ner, Lorena, writes Richard Holdsworth, and I am­re­minded of the fact that in 1965 John Gre­go­ryʼs­men re­pairedmy Speed­ster af­ter some er­rant driver clouted the car af­ter a sunny dayʼs shop­ping at South­mel­bourne mar­ket. The dam­age was not great and John and his team had the car back on the road in per­fect con­di­tion be­fore you could say Air Cooled Rules!

John Gregory was born in Le­banon, but in 1952 moved with his fam­ily to Mel­bourne where he be­came a mo­tor me­chanic with De­von Mo­tors work­ing on Fiat, Simca and Alvis cars. Aged just 19, he had com­pleted an ap­pren­tice­ship with a Ford dealer in his home coun­try and had this un­canny knack of know­ing what went on un­der the bon­net of a car as if heʼd spent a life­time in the trade. He was also flu­ent in five lan­guages. Within a few years he had his own op­er­a­tion, a ser­vice sta­tion in the Mel­bourne sub­urb of Flem­ing­ton, run with his brother and cousin and spe­cial­is­ing in ser­vice and re­pairs to Volk­swa­gens. The op­er­a­tion was named Car­rera Mo­tors.

Then came a chance meet­ing one sunny day in May 1956 – a meet­ing that changed Johnʼs life. Nor­man Hamil­ton, the man be­hind Porsche in Aus­trala­sia, drove onto Johnʼs fore­court and they started chat­ting – chat­ting about the rather unique 356 that Nor­man was driv­ing.

Years be­fore, Nor­man Hamil­ton, a Mel­bourne en­tre­pre­neur, had been on hol­i­day in Aus­tria and had es­pied this sleek sports car car­ry­ing the name of Ferry Porsche and was con­vinced the cars would find an en­thu­si­as­tic fol­low­ing Down Un­der. Nor­man Hamil­ton went home, made an ap­proach to the fac­tory in Ger­many, or­dered two 356s and es­tab­lished Hamili­tons as the first ex­port dealer for RHD Porsches – the year was 1951.

And on this day in 1956, when Nor­man swept onto John Gre­go­ryʼs garage fore­court, this also brought a sea-change to John Gre­go­ryʼs life. The two got talk­ing and, in­evitably, the en­gine lid was raised and Johnʼs head was soon among the ma­chin­ery. It was air-cooled and also like the Volkswagen Bee­tle that John knew so well: it was rear-mounted and bore so many me­chan­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties to the Peo­pleʼs Car.

At that time Johnʼs mode of trans­port was a side-valve Ford Club Coupé but he ditched the hot rod in favour of his first Porsche, a 356 Speed­ster, just the fifth Speeder im­ported by Hamil­tons. But the car was not just pur­chased – John had to know more and it was not long be­fore he had it stripped bare to find out what made it tick. The love af­fair re­ally be­gan.

In 1959 John bought a sec­ond 356, a Cabri­o­let, and started

tak­ing on the ser­vice and re­pair of Porsches along­side his Volkswagen work. Over the years, he had spe­cialised in the run­ning gear and chas­sis align­ment of cars and was con­fi­dent that he could con­trib­ute to the Porsche world that was tak­ing hold in Aus­tralia. John re­turned to his friend, Nor­man Hamil­ton, and through him was ap­pointed by Porsche in Stuttgart as an au­tho­rised re­pairer and ser­vice agent – a po­si­tion he held un­til 1975. The Porsche side of his busi­ness took the name Spy­der Au­tos.

Johnʼs com­pany pro­gressed and Spy­der was where Porsche own­ers headed when they were in trou­ble, as with my own ex­pe­ri­ence when the Speed­ster was clouted at an in­ter­sec­tion on the busy St Kilda Road. I called Hamil­tons and asked, ʻWhere should I take the car for re­pair?ʼ

My Speed­ster had been hit on the front near-side, for­tu­nately miss­ing the wheel but the im­pact spun the car around wrench­ing open the bon­net and my weekly shop­ping (a bach­e­lor at the time) spilling out onto the road. The man at Hamil­tons replied, ʻGather your shop­ping and take it home – but take the car to Spy­der Au­tos. You canʼt do bet­ter than see John Gregory.ʼ

Johnʼs em­pire grew, tak­ing in Chas­sis Tec, spe­cial­is­ing in chas­sis straight­en­ing and com­po­nent re-jig­ging us­ing jigs de­signed and de­vel­oped by John so that a se­verely dam­aged car would be re­turned to its owner as good as new.

The Gregory fam­ily had bought a prop­erty at Bac­chus Marsh some 40 miles north of Mel­bourne on the road to Ade­laide and John had in his mind re­tir­ing there, which he did years later. At Bac­chus Marsh he spent his time scour­ing the coun­try for early air-cooled Porsches, ul­ti­mately as­sem­bling a col­lec­tion of over 20 of the 356 model and, later, a hand­ful of 911s as the new Stuttgart car started fil­ter­ing through to Aus­tralia. By now John was mar­ried and for their hon­ey­moon he and his wife, Jean, cov­ered 5000 miles tour­ing Aus­tralia – it was no sur­prise that it was in one of Johnʼs col­lec­tion of 356s, a Cabri­o­let.

But simply col­lect­ing and restor­ing Porsches never quite brought sat­is­fac­tion for John and the lure of help­ing other Porsche own­ers was too much; he moved Spy­der Au­tos back to Mel­bourne. The year was 1983 and nor­mal ser­vice re­sumed. Their daugh­ter, Lisa, soon got the bug – be­ing dropped off at school each day in a va­ri­ety of Porsches and she could hardly fail to be the toast of the school­yard years later when she was old enough to get be­hind the wheel of a 356 of her own.

It may seem strange that the Land of Plenty has a re­ces­sion but Aus­tralia ex­pe­ri­enced such a phe­nom­e­non in the 1960s, but

such was the ex­per­tise of John Gregory and the sup­port of his faith­ful cus­tomers that he sur­vived, em­ploy­ing 20 men and han­dling new car prepa­ra­tion for Hamil­tons, af­ter-sales and war­ranty work. But the stress of run­ning the busi­ness, some­times work­ing 16 hours a day, took its toll and John re­lin­quished his Porsche ser­vice au­tho­ri­sa­tion in the mid 1970s, mov­ing back to the fam­ily farm­ing prop­erty. But, once again, re­tire­ment was not for him and he was back in town by 1983 re-pur­chas­ing his old premises and work­shops of Car­rera Mo­tors in the Mel­bourne sub­urb of Flem­ing­ton.

By this time his wife Jean and daugh­ter Lisa were ac­tive in the busi­ness and when Lisa mar­ried Mike Ja­cob­son, Mike be­came part of the team. In 1988 the busi­ness was moved to the Mel­bourne sub­urb of Moorab­bin and busi­ness thrived.

John Gre­go­ryʼs health had been suf­fer­ing for some time and he suc­cumbed to Mul­ti­ple Myeloma in March 2003; he had worked up to Christ­mas Eve, 2002, show­ing typ­i­cal loy­alty to cus­tomers by com­plet­ing out­stand­ing projects and work.

Lisa had started a sign busi­ness, Af­ford­able Sign Sys­tems, run­ning this along­side Spy­der Au­to­mo­biles un­til the de­ci­sion was made to move to War­ragul, some 70 miles to the east of Mel­bourne where Spy­der Au­tos op­er­ates to this day. Lisa was well known in the Aus­tralian Porsche world – and be­yond the shores of Aus­tralia – and when she died of cancer in Oc­to­ber 2011, words of sym­pa­thy came from many quar­ters of the globe.

One was fro­mamer­ica. Dave Bouza­glou of TRE Mo­tor­sports is the or­gan­iser of Targa Cal­i­for­nia – an an­nual three-day rally of 850 miles across some of Cal­i­for­ni­aʼs best sports car roads. The rally is for pre-1975 cars and air-cooled Porsches fea­ture heav­ily. And such was the name of John Gregory and daugh­ter Lisa that Dave Bouza­glou used the 2012 event as a fund raiser for breast cancer with the funds be­ing split be­tween Aus­tralia and the United States. Mike Ja­cob­son ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion to travel to the 2012 rally and be­came nav­i­ga­tor for Chuck Miller in his 2.7 Car­rera; they have stayed firm friends to this day.

Mike and I are still chat­ting and it seems ap­pro­pri­ate to take a break as I find out the next move and how this brought Mike Ja­cob­son into the John Gregory fam­ily, his daugh­ter Lisa, and Spy­der Au­tos.

Mikeʼs train­ing had been as an ap­pren­tice at a ma­jor Ford dealer in Mel­bourne and he ex­plains: ʻThe Ford dealer had a rich his­tory in motorsport and I can­not re­mem­ber a time when mo­tor rac­ing of one sort or an­other was not part of my day. By age 18 my in­ter­est had grown and I joined a sport­ing car club where I met John Faulkner and helped him at race meet­ings with his 3.0-litre Ford Capri Tour­ing Car. Then I was en­listed by David Can­non with an RS2000 Ford Es­cort. It was at this time I first started com­pet­ing in club events then pro­gressed to open race meet­ings.ʼ

Mike tells us that af­ter his ap­pren­tice­ship he was sec­onded to Brian Wood Ford, an­other dealer that was a ma­jor motorsport sup­porter and it was not long be­fore he was

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