Clas­sic Wheels

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

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

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