Toasting Aussie classics
Iam writing to facetiously thank you for your efforts in killing what was once an attainable dream for many. That is hyping old Australian cars – not even necessarily muscle cars – to the point where they are no longer affordable for AVERAGE people,” wrote an aggrieved reader in 2010 as I neared the end of my decade-long stint as founding editor of AMC.
“When I can’t even get a Valiant station wagon now at sensible money, my thoughts turn to this magazine; the pretence and characters now with an almost exclusive tenure upon what was once within reach of anybody. I certainly don’t weep when I hear of somebody’s muscle car being thieved. Instead, my thoughts turn to you and your legion of uber-rich so called ‘enthusiasts’ and the environment you’ve helped ferment.”
I’ve only highlighted two paragraphs here from a much longer letter. The reader sounded like he would have taken great delight in seeing me hang for committing the heinous crime of helping Australian-made muscle cars to finally command the admiration and respect they deserved after decades of indifference and neglect. If that was a crime then I am guilty, your honour.
I well remember growing up in the 1970s and 1980s when what are now considered ‘classic’ Australian muscle cars did not enjoy the reverence they do now. Back then a Valiant was generally dismissed as a ‘wog box’ or ‘Roman chariot’ because the locally-made pentastar had become a favourite amongst post-war Greek and Italian migrant families. Even more unimaginable today was that Hemi Pacers and Chargers, even the hot R/T models, were often tarred with the same disrespectful brush.
I also worked in the building game in the early 1980s when many tradies still drove cars to work, as opposed to today’s plethora of dual cab utes. And lots of them were older Aussie cars.
I particularly remember one guy, a brickie, had an HT Monaro GTS 350. He carried everything in that filthy Monaro, which he treated more like a truck. Its rear suspension groaned under the combined weight of his tools of trade, a boot loaded with bags of cement and four of his brickie mates piled inside. It used to ‘clink’ on approach from all the empty long necks rolling around the rear floor.
Its tatty black vinyl interior was split and faded after years of being parked in the scorching Aussie sun. Its equally faded exterior was a patriotic metallic green with gold stripes. A very desirable combination today, but no-one cared back then because those early Monaros were also the subject of derision, for so long living in the formidable shadow of their Falcon GT and GT-HO rivals.
I also remember, still much to my dismay, an XA GT Hardtop at a B&S Ball being used for pig and roo shooting, with the boot lid removed and a crude steel frame welded into the open boot space for up to three shooters to hang on to. It had no window glass and every panel was dented, but the boys loved it because it had plenty of 351 V8 grunt for charging through the scrub and they just couldn’t kill it.
Any Aussie muscle car which had been raced was almost worthless back then, because they were considered to be worn-out. A competition history and authentic scars of battle were things used car salesmen tried to hide. In the classifieds you couldn’t give them away. These days a proven competition history, particularly if it included Bathurst, is highly prized. And who knows how many were lost during the 1980s street machining craze, sacrificed for the ProStreet drag car look with huge rear-wheel tubs and steamroller tyres.
Fortunately, there is now a widespread respectful appreciation of their history and a resolute commitment among genuine enthusiasts to preserve the original examples that remain. And to restore other less fortunate survivors (which hopefully included that brickie’s Monaro) to their original showroom specifications. If AMC has played a role in all of that, then it’s a legacy of which I’ll always be proud.
So as AMC celebrates its 100th issue I would like to propose a toast, not only to editor Luke West, art director Chris Currie and a talented team of contributors, but also our recently departed car manufacturing industry which created all the fantastic muscle cars that are the backbone of this magazine.
Up until 2017, Australia was one of only a handful of countries in the world that could design and mass-produce its own cars from scratch. Sadly, it isn’t anymore. So it has never been more important to preserve as many Aussie-made cars as we can (and not just muscle cars) to maintain a tangible link to a bygone era when this country was very good at making things. And to keep supporting AMC with your cars, stories and thoughtful insights, for the next 100 issues.
AMC founding editor Mark Oastler steered the ship from issue #1 in 2001 to 2010’s issue #53. Tell us someone more appropriate as guest columnist for our milestone 100th edition?
Turn to page 42 for Mark Oastler’s recollections of bringing issue #1 to life. Today ‘MarkO’ writes and presents for the Shannons Club. See his current work, which includes giving Aussie classics the coverage they deserve, by visiting www.shannons.com.au/club