James Weber is not so much sitting on a gold mine as a collection of life-size, 24-carat muscle cars from the last-ever gold mine in Australia.
The ex-Army family man is the proud owner of Canberra’s biggest collection of Holden Special Vehicle (HSV) muscle sedans.
“There is another that comes close, with the complete collection of HSV merchandise, but I kick all their asses [when it comes to the cars],” he says.
He now has 30, spanning years and types, including those belonging to his wife, son and daughter.
“Put it this way, we just bought a new house for the garage space,” he laughs.
But he’s most proud of the fact that after years of trying, a total of 40 cars owned by fellow members of the HSV Owners Club of the ACT and arch-nemesis Ford Performance Club of the ACT will be on display to the public this Sunday (2 April) for the inaugural ‘HSV vs FPV Day’.
That won’t be all, either.
Over at the Queanbeyan Town Park, all manner of exotic Italian machinery from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Ducati and more will be on display for the 38th Auto Italia show.
Yep, it’s set to be a strongly petrol-scented weekend for the Canberra region.
James says he’s been trying to get a combined HSV-FPV show off the ground locally for years before finally tracking down a suitable venue – the Dirty Janes antique store car park in Fyshwick. The rest was history.
“When we opened up online entries for the HSVs, it took less than a minute for all the spots to fill,” he says.
“The FPVs were a little slower because HSVs sold better in the long run and were considered more iconic by many.”
Even though “one in four HSV cars on the street are actually fake”, he says Canberrans can expect to see only the tried and true at the show – including those given the stamp of approval by judges at HSV Fest, the biggest official owners’ event of the year.
“The cars have got official stickers saying they’re real.”
HSV was the officially designated performance division for Holden, established in 1987 as a collaboration between the brand and Scottish racing-car driver and entrepreneur Tom Walkinshaw. Think of it like M to BMW or AMG to Mercedes. Their first car was the Holden VL Commodore SS Group A SV of 1988, which defied all expectations and took the trophy in the 1990 Bathurst 1000.
James was there and puts his love for HSV down to the moment the car – driven by Win Percy and Allan Grice – passed the chequered flag after 161 laps of the Mount Panorama race track.
“I watched as the Australian car beat all those imported pieces of crap, and I’ve loved HSV from then on.”
Five years later, he sold his EH Holden and got into his first HSV – a red VR Maloo ute – and he’s never sold one since. In fact, he’s built up such a rapport with the factory, almost all of his are the 214th car off the production line too.
“I tell them that’s what I want and they delivered. I buy enough to demand that.”
He doesn’t leave them standard though.
“Modifications are what I do,” he says.
“I get them and within a week, I change them. I went a bit stupid with my favourite, the SE – it makes 1000 horsepower at the wheels – which means I can’t really drive it anymore. I do, though.”
The HSV vs FPV Day runs on Sunday, 2 April, from 10 am to 1 pm at Dirty Janes, 80 Collie Street in Fyshwick. Entry is free, and there’s a cafe available on-site.
Meanwhile, Auto Italia runs from 10 am to 2:30 pm at the Queanbeyan Town Park, also on Sunday. Sponsored by Lerida Estate Faithful attendees over the years will remember entry is by gold-coin donation and there are food and drink vendors on-site.
Chairman Tony Hanrahan says they’ve strived to bring something more to the event over the years – in addition to hundreds of exotic cars, scooters and bikes – including a fashion competition.
“We have a qualified fashion designer, who will judge attendees and give out prizes based on this year’s theme of ‘vintage Italian’,” he says.
“It turns out many people just love getting out and dressing up, so it grows every year.”
Tony and the team have also worked their way around an accidental clash with the Australian Grand Prix this year by doing a deal with the Queanbeyan Hotel to live stream the nation’s biggest Formula One race from one of their big screens. This starts from 3 pm.
“It’s sort of an event within the event, which I think will work pretty well. I’m expecting a very successful day.”