Car enthusiasts, petrol heads, car fanatics, people your financial adviser would strictly warn against – call them what you will, but our own ACT has the highest number of them, per capita, in the country.
I’m one, and I’m with another of them now, out the back of a motor repair shop in Queanbeyan East. The smell of an era past is in the air – a mix of typewriter ribbon, leather, and petrol. Possibly. It’s heaven.
Dave Rogers was a Vice-Marshal in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) before retiring in the 1990s to something else that’s made of metal and goes fast.
He’d had a 1962 Triumph TR4 Sports decades earlier, after accidentally winning a book about them in a raffle. With his interest in the now-defunct British brand perked, he went out to the small NSW town of Binalong and bought another one from the car museum there.
Over the course of 1997, he painstakingly tore it apart and pieced it back together such that today, as I gaze at it, we both could have been wearing striped jumpers and watching the moon landing live. Over on the other side of the garage is a 1972 Triumph TR6, just as lovingly restored and aromatic.
Canberra and the surrounding regions are home to over 76 motor clubs and countless car-themed events, many of them overseen by the CACTMC.
Since 1985, this group of 150 delegates has essentially lobbied on behalf of gear heads to the ACT Road Transport Authority (RTA). It has been appointed “the sole interlocutor for the ACT Government on all matters relating to policy, regulation and concessional registration on all matters relating to affiliated clubs”.
Perhaps their greatest achievement has been cheaper registration for cars over 30-years-old. There are three classes under the plates of Veteran, Vintage, and Historic, all below $126 a year. At the moment in the ACT, about 1,200 cars and 200 motorbikes are registered under this scheme.
However, there are conditions.
You must be a member of a club which, in turn, is a member of the CACTMC. And the car must be kept in original, or close-to-original, condition.
“In other words, you can’t have a Morris Minor with a V8 and flames roaring out the exhaust”, Dave says.
You can only drive for club events, rallies, or test runs within a 40 km radius. For anything else, the owner has to receive permission from their club first, meaning that most of the time, you’re like me – in a garage, looking at it.
But after two years’ back-and-forth between the council and the government, the approval has finally come through for conditions similar to those in every other state and territory. These will allow 60 days a year of driving for whatever reason, “hopefully by July”, Dave says.
This will also be accompanied by a new ‘Modified’ plate, so that those with hot rods and the like will be able to benefit from the lower cost too.
“We don’t just cater for the old cars. We’re encouraging the younger clubs to come in, like the Datsun and Torana clubs.
“These are the types of young blokes who probably earn $2,000 a week and spend $2,500 on their car. Everything goes into it. The pride and workmanship they put in is very good.”
Canberra is also home to Summernats, which won’t be on in January due to the never-ending party-pooper that is COVID-19. When it is held, more than 100,000 people and 2,000 cars gather at Exhibition Park in a celebration of tyre smoke, noise and stubbies.
While it isn’t exactly Dave’s cup of tea – “the younger groups really get into that” – what is still going ahead is Terribly British Day, with all manner of cars and bikes from the UK gathering at the Queanbeyan Town Park from 10:00 am on Sunday, 6 December.
When asked why there’s such enthusiasm for the car in the ACT, Dave explains “it could the long winter, when you don’t have much chance to get outside”.
“The wealth in Canberra is a little bit higher than in most other cities; consequently, people have probably got a little bit more disposable income.
“But that’s not necessarily so right across the board. We’ve got … people who are ex-judges and doctors right down to ex-tradesmen who put all their effort into it. They’re the backbone of the whole organisation.
“And hey, when my generation’s gone, somebody’s going to have to look after it.”