The champagne is bubbling, 250-odd rooms are booked, and the car park is full of gleaming Rolls Royces at The Rydges hotel on Canberra Avenue at the moment. But before you think it must be either a dream wedding or the mother of all international delegations, it’s the 64th Federal Rally of the Rolls Royce Owners’ Club of Australia, and they’ll all be converging on Queanbeyan on Sunday (6 March) for a concours-style public show.
President of the club Peter Hyland expects up to 120 cars to be parked in order of age at the Queanbeyan Town Park from 10 am to 3 pm.
“People from all over Australia have come for this … except for WA,” Peter said.
The rally is an annual event for the national club and last came to Canberra in 2017. Peter says the owners are overjoyed to be back together after COVID-19 restrictions have put the kibosh on many of their regular events.
“We were concerned about COVID here, and then when everybody realised the borders were open, I just got flooded with applications. They’ve all come!”
The Rolls Royces won’t be the only ones providing a strong whiff of petrol (and probably a bit of oil) in Queanbeyan on Sunday, either. Only a few streets away at the Queanbeyan Showground, another car show will present over 700 cars and bikes from all manner of brands from 10 am to 1:30 pm.
Sponsored by Shannons Insurance, the annual Wheels is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, attracting historic, modified, electric and other special interest vehicles from car clubs in Canberra and beyond.
The local Rolls Royce club usually participates, but Peter says it’s “pure coincidence” the two shows align.
“I said to Wheel’s organisers that normally, we would be there, but it just so happens, the rally falls on the same weekend.”
Owners first started rolling in during the week, and the Rolls Royces will continue to be a common sight in Canberra and the surrounding region until a breakfast event bids them farewell on Monday, 7 March. A busy activity schedule encourages owners and their families to make the most of their time in the national capital.
“Some of these really old cars can only do 50 km/h as their top speed,” Peter says. “A couple of them took four days to get from Melbourne. You can’t push them fast, and they just don’t go fast.”
Peter himself owns a 1994 Silver Spirit III, which he describes as the last of the true English Rolls Royces.
“The modern ones are Rolls Royce in name, but they’re actually BMWs.”
Graham Gittins is helping to manage the Wheels car show on behalf of the Canberra Antique and Classic Motor Club, and has also fallen for the British cars, despite their propensity for not necessarily starting every time.
“I’ve got a 1955 MG Magnet, in red, but it’s currently for sale because I’ve just recently purchased a 1953 Triumph Mayflower, which is not on the road yet – it’s got some problems we’re still working through.”
Graham says Wheels will see equally large numbers of cars this year as COVID-19 fades into the background.
“Normally, we see between 400 and 500, so this is a special event.”
There will be “spotlight displays” set up to honour 80 years of the original Jeep, 100 years of the Austin Seven, as well as cars from the bubble trend of the 1950s and ’60s, including several BMW Isettas.
The Australian Federal Police, Historic Fire Brigade and Electric Vehicle Association are also bringing along some of their vehicles.
QPRC mayor Kenrick Winchester will also attend and select the car he would most like to take home.
Graham has attended Wheels since its humble origins in a car park at Phillip Oval in 1982 when a few owners got together to show off their cars and support a local charity at the same time.
Since then, he says it has raised over $400,000 for local charities in gold-coin entry donations.
“This year’s charity is Technology for Ageing and Disability, and attendees are also invited to buy tokens on-site from the Stroke Foundation and use them to cast their vote on the best car of the show. The car that raises the most money will be declared the winner.”
As for the future of car shows in the region, that’s almost a certainty. As Graham says: “People love it.”