Pontiac on the Hume
TODAY THE HUME HIGHWAY SEAMLESSLY CONNECTS SYDNEY AND MELBOURNE. IF THERE ARE ANY REAL CORNERS, AS THE 880KM LONG BAND OF BLACKTOP CUTS A SWATHE THROUGH THE COUNTRYSIDE, BYPASSING EVERY TOWN, I DON’T REMEMBER THEM. CRUISE CONTROL SET AT 110KM/H, IN 2018 THE INTERCITY DRIVE IS AN EXERCISE IN BOREDOM.
Not so in 1963 when editor Bill Tuckey, photographer John Keesing, together with their families, drove Sydney to Melbourne on the Hume, returning via the Olympic Way through Bathurst, in a Pontiac Laurentian. The 1932 kilometres (1200 miles) occupied 30 hours. The reason: “just to photograph a car” for the magazine, although we are never told the make or model, only that the location was outside a suburban Melbourne mansion called Goodwood.
Fifty-five years ago, the Hume Highway was a challenging two-lane road, even then a national disgrace. The so-called ‘highway’ included a dangerous 280-degree bend, where Tuckey remembers, “I once got a 2.5-litre Riley completely sideways on bald tyres in the damp.” Narrow, often wooden, bridges added to the ordeal. (Less than a decade earlier, one bridge on the Hume was single-lane only.) The route wound noisily through every town on the road, most featuring thennew motels, and climbed the still-notorious Razorback Hill between Camden and Picton. The Nsw/victorian border included fruit-fly gates where all south-bound traffic was checked for “any fruit, vegetables or pig meat”.
The Wheels crew sighted at least one semi-trailer on its side but, helped by the locally assembled Pontiac’s 4.6-litre V8, mostly coped with overtaking clotted groups of semis. With
few open-road speed limits, Tuckey admits to cruising at over 130km/h (80mph) when possible, chiefly on the long straights in Victoria.
Mostly, as Tuckey describes, the Sydney-melbourne drive was an exercise in finding fuel. There were few 24-hour service stations/cafes, and these often stayed open to suit themselves. The driver needed to understand the car’s range and to know where to expect to get petrol. It was not easy, as Tuckey explained: “I twice spent chilly and lonely winter mornings in Goulburn sleeping in a car until opening time.”
In 1963, the Laurentian (basically a Canadian model based on a Chevrolet, and not the wide-track American Pontiacs) was the biggest and most expensive model sold by GM-H. No air-conditioning, though it did have a standard heater. “The best combination for the Pontiac’s heater was to leave it without boost fan, elevate all the glass, and keep one of the fresh air vents (remember them, ed?) slightly open.”
On the return to Sydney, through country NSW, Tuckey discovered the Pontiac, “was just ideal for blowing picnics up grass banks or overtaking three semi-trailers in the space one would normally allocate to an old lady on a bicycle.”
It was, after all, wrote Tuckey after arriving home at 2:00am, an adventure.
MOSTLY, AS TUCKEY DESCRIBES, THE SYDNEY-MELBOURNE DRIVE WAS AN EXERCISE IN FINDING FUEL.THERE WERE FEW 24-HOUR SERVOS AND THESE OFTEN STAYED OPEN TO SUIT THEMSELVES