This is what cars are all about. We’re roaring through the streets of Queanbeyan, wind and V8 fury rushing through the nonexistent roof. Yes, the average hatchback or SUV is all well and good, but somehow, right now, this old British roadster is nailing the essence.
And no, there isn’t even a bit coming next about how we’re stuck at the side of the road with smoke pouring through bonnet or the floor.
From 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on Sunday (6 December), all manner of cars and motorcycles from the UK will gather in Queanbeyan at the Town Park. It’s called ‘Terribly British Day’ (TBD) and this year marks the 45th anniversary of the annual show.
There’ll be “a good 200-plus vehicles” from marques such as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, Morris, Rover, Mini, Aston Martin, MG, Triumph and more.
“It was started by a few Canberra people… [who] got together one day and said, ‘Look, we’ve got these Pommy cars – let’s show them off’.”
Horst Kirchner and his wife, Ruth, are members of the Triumph Car Club ACT and for the past four years have done “the whole thing” on behalf of the club.
It was held in front of Old Parliament House before the National Capital Authority and ACT Government decided they didn’t like the grass getting squashed. TBD – as well as other car shows like Auto Italia and Wheels – were sent on their way.
“They’re very restrictive on where you can put anything with wheels,” Horst says.
Auto Italia moved to Pialligo which was an “absolute disaster” on account of the one road in and out, while the British car enthusiasts have faired much better at the enormous and accessible space close to the Queanbeyan town centre on Lowe and Campbell Streets.
Instead of being bludgeoned by the need for a full risk-management plan, traffic management plan and licensed traffic controllers, “the Council was over the moon”.
Horst shows me the prizes he’ll be handing out on the day for titles such as Best Ladies Car. He describes himself as a “frustrated artist” so each certificate is accompanied by a hand-sketched drawing, in this case featuring Sean Connery.
As you may have guessed from the name, Horst is, in fact, German, and in his garage is a BMW X1 M and a Subaru WRX. But his love for Britain came about 20 years ago.
“I got crook with bowel cancer, and when we came out of that, I said to Ruth, ‘I’ve always wanted to buy a sports car of some description’. And she said, ‘That’s fine, but we’ve got a child and the dogs so we need four seats … We saw a Triumph Stag in a shopping centre and she said, ‘Yeah, I like that'”.
Since then, they’ve owned a Triumph Spitfire which unfortunately ended in, well fire, right outside their house. The yellow Stag that’s currently causing local residents to rush to their windows is one he salvaged from an old hay shed in Bungendore. And in another garage around the corner is a work in progress – a Triumph TR7.
He shows me the website and catalogue he goes to for the parts, and honestly, sourcing bits for a modern car looks more painful.
After World War II, the British Motor Corporation (BMC) opened a factory in Sydney. Save for a few parts which were pressed locally, cars would arrive in pieces from the UK ready to be assembled.
But mention the words ‘Leyland’ and ‘P76’ and it becomes immediately clear that we didn’t really improve upon the build-quality of many post-war English cars.
“Even the Triumph Stags when they first built them – they just didn’t put them together well … And it was the same when they were building the cars here.”
Then the Japanese started arriving in droves, showing the world it was possible to make a car that was both affordable and worked. Together with a financial crisis back in the UK, and BMC and many of its brands went belly up.
We pull up onto Horst’s front lawn where the V8 snorts its last before falling quiet. The doors are clanged shut and the poodle clambers out from the back seat where she’s been enjoying the breeze the whole time.
“That was the life,” I think, as I get into my German hatchback. The engine and air-conditioner spring to life immediately. “But this is good too.”
Entry to the Terribly British Day is by gold-coin donation. This year’s entry fees are being donated to the Respite Care Home in Queanbeyan. Attendees are also asked to scan the QR code that will be dotted around the place as part of the event’s COVID-19 Safety Plan.
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