With The Hood Down

Melbourne-Sydney-Mudgee-Melbourne Apr 1998

In April 1997 years of regret ended when I by re-purchased a 1921 Oxford that I had sold in 1980 after having restored it in the mid-sixties. In June Bob Terry advertised a Bullnose valve lifter for sale, resulting in my not only in obtaining the lifter but in getting details of the Morris Register. Bob’s enthusiasm about past bi-annual National Rallies set Josina (Joke – pronounced Yoker – for short) and myself planning to be at Mudgee even before becoming members. The Bullnose was re-purchased with the deliberate intention of using it as ‘normal?’ everyday transport so from the outset there was no question that it we would drive it to Mudgee. Clare and Eric Cooling covered the Rally itself in our April Newsletter and no doubt other participants will be describing it to the less fortunate at the next several meeting nights. Therefore in the spirit of ‘getting there is half the fun’ this is how we spent 13 unforgettable days driving to and from Mudgee, becoming re-acquainted with an old friend and meeting many new ones.

Being a late entry we waited for news of unbooked accommodation and were fortunate to get the last on-site van at Rally Headquarters. The next anxiety came from having to apply for two weeks leave at the worst possible time for my employer. Overnight accommodation at about 300 kilometre intervals along the eastern coast had to be selected to give due consideration to the car and our addiction to ‘antique and collectibles’ shops. The original plan was to take our two Jack Russell terriers but we also had to consider five cats, a love bird and countless free-range varieties who expect their crusts each day. In the end it was decided to arrange a live-in sitter for all. We received Ross Steele’s kind assistance in taking a large suitcase filled with bedding for the on-site van but which we had no hope of fitting in the little roadster. A banner was ordered carrying the words “1921 MORRIS OXFORD MELBOURNE-SYDNEY-MUDGEE-MELBOURNE APRIL 1998” and made to fit across the spare wheel. Just before our departure on Sunday, April 5 I added, with some trepidation, ‘oil stabiliser’ to the sump oil, glycol to the radiator to assist with cooling – and lowered the hood.

By 10 a.m. we were all of five kilometres from home on the Eastern Freeway extension when the dickens of a clanging started up under the bonnet. Whatever the cause the initial reaction was to blame the as-yet unproved oil stabiliser and the trip appeared doomed. Instead it appeared that a side bonnet support on the radiator had come loose and while dangling from the green-hide bonnet strip, had become engaged in the fan. Luckily the fan skidded on the flat belt, saving both itself and the radiator core. After the effect of the drama subsided it evident that the motor had otherwise quietened considerably, coincidentally with a vast improvement in performance. This time the ‘oil stabiliser’ received the credit. Its name will be revealed in private but not in print due to expected negotiations on fees, but just between us and a ‘tail-down bull’ I am sure they are all just as good. We encountered the first ‘antiques and collectibles’ shop before 11 am and abandoned hope of arrival at Bairnsdale, some 250 kilometres on, before dusk.

Yarragon proved just as difficult to pass through because there was another such shop across the highway. We made a U-turn and pulled into the parking space outside only to be descended upon by members of the “Gippsland Historic Vehicle Restorers Club”. They were trying to identify a dashboard light for the owner of the antique shop and as they suspected it was English a Bullnose Morris owner seemed an obvious person to help. The light was a later version of that on my car’s dashboard and we all headed for the shop. While we waited to advise the lady behind the counter one of the cognoscenti said “Are you really going to Mudgee in that little Pommy thing, I don’t think it will go that far”.

That remark was enough to give a hint as to his type of vintage conveyance. I replied that I would rather go to Sydney and beyond ‘where-ever’ in a Bullnose Morris than drive around in some Yankee Black Iron ho-hum machine. He replied, leading with his chin so to speak, “Well. at least it gets me around reliably”, to which I retorted “Oh yeah, so does the Morris but what do you do for fun”?

The now distressed lady behind the counter intervened “If you gentlemen want to continue your discussion, er, could you please do it outside”. When we all laughed and explained that it was only vintage car buffs’ talk she was obviously relieved.

We reached Bairnsdale just in time for a magnificent Chinese dinner. The township boasted quite a few attractions that we endeavoured to visit the following morning. Unfortunately I fell victim to some plumber’s macabre sense of humour in placing the hot and cold faucets on the wrong sides of the motel basin. This made steering around the town, and indeed for most of the day, a painful exercise. As we headed off towards Lakes Entrance the parched countryside gave us our first encounter of the drought conditions that are unappreciated by city dwellers.

We were now two days out and it seemed that the world was cheering us on our way. Cars and trucks pulled in behind us to read the banner and then pulled out to pass with toots and waves. The weather was at its absolute best but the 77 years between the Morris and today’s Holden et boring al have seen the passing from the enjoyment of sun and breeze to kids’ faces pressed up against closed, air-conditioned windows. We felt sorry for their owners while all the real ‘free air’ was ours and it was great.

Again there were the occasional antique and collectibles shops, some open but a lot closed with signs stating ‘open irregular hours’. A small ceremony marked the border crossing into NSW, recalling a similar event in a Bullnose sedan in 1957 and we reached Merimbula after dark. We now realised that 300 kilometres per day was too far for our style of travelling, becoming resigned to a late arrival at each day’s rendezvous from then on. We had dinner outside on the balmiest of balmy nights at a Thai restaurant with superb food but a 100% Caucasian staff. This was followed by a sleep at the Ocean View motel that had a sneaking hint of a glimpse of the ocean to avoid a charge of misleading advertising. In the morning the world resumed sharing our trip.

We had chosen the ‘coast’ road because it conjured up visions of views of a cliff-lined Pacific Ocean but both its name and my memory were misleading. Actually very little of the east coast is visible from this road and we were advised that one of the best of the few views was at Tathra. The climb out of Merimbula towards Tathra was reasonably arduous and I put the occasional ‘missed beat’ down to overheating. At the top of the climb there were more ‘misses’ than ‘hits’, which caused us to pull over and investigate. The ‘make-and-break’ points were barely opening, and I regretted not paying an exorbitant sum for a set of magneto spanners from a dealer a few weeks before. A 6 inch shifter ‘sort of’ did the job, assisted by looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope.

As recommended, the view at Tathra was magnificent and well worth the detour off the highway. While we were admiring it two good ‘ole Aussie blokes approached us. One told us how much he would like to have a car like the Morris but explained why he needed his Falcon. He proceeded to give a more than adequate display of a plastic right leg to reinforce his point. His friend grabbed our attention with the statement “I kin tell ya somethin’ that ud interest yuz”. He then ruined the day with a description of how they broke up a ‘Dee Dyin’ (sic) (de Dion Bouton) on his farm some years ago. He described in detail a rare turn-of-the-century vis-a-vis model, in which the passengers sat at the front of the car facing the driver.

At Cobargo a figure hailing us darted out of a shop. It was Howard Haynes, another Bullnose owner, who had seen the car coming down the hill into the town. It was after our conversation that a question began to arise in our minds. Just what have vintage Morrises got when they are quite basic and as alike as 400,000 peas in a pod but yet are an endless source of conversation?. At his direction we made another detour, this time to Bermagui.

This proved to be not a quite worthwhile detour in the search for views because it is located in a low flat area. Just before entering the township we passed the local school where afternoon playtime was in full swing. Recalling the problems of passing schools in past years we drove along pretending to be the only ones in the district who could not hear what was apparently derision emanating from the schoolyard. The day was quite hot and we found only one milk bar in the township. It was right opposite the school so on our return there was no choice but to stop to get some drinks. We cringed as one small girl climbed on the wire fence but to our surprise she called out, “I like your car, it’s the best of all the ones I’ve seen today and I’m going to tell my teacher”. A convoy of Rolls Royces was in the town on its way to Phillip Island to attend their ‘Mudgee’. Out of the mouths of babes!

Friends had mentioned Central Tilba as worthwhile detour. It is a restored historic town near Narooma and we made a quick check of finances in anticipation of finding rows of collectibles shops. There were none! However there were quite a few very-restored shops and some built recently and depicting what could possibly have been on the site. All sold craft, with the exception of the well-known cheese factory. The sun-dried tomato cheese was excellent and it was no wonder that many posters announced that it had won second prize at a world cheese contest held in Canada recently.

It was too late to start collecting ‘betcha did not know we are famous’ statements. We had passed through towns that were first, second or third in the last five years in any of at least six categories in the ‘Tidy Town’ contest, and now here was a world famous cheese. Later in our trip we visited the ‘Town On The Ten Dollar Note’ and saw the largest sheep in the world. We dined at a restaurant that had its ‘catering’ awards set out in a manner befitting ‘The Last Supper’ and at another that was the best in the opinion of the local radio station. These claims to fame are but a few of those we came across. Isn’t Mudgee itself mentioned in a poem incorporating its now defunct train? There’s material for a book in there somewhere.

After we returned to the main highway we stopped to have a vacuum-flask cuppa with our cheese. There was a late afternoon hilltop view that only those who drive a car with a collapsible hood can enjoy in the proper manner. We snapped back to the practical world with the realisation that with all the dilly-dallying only one third of the day’s distance had been covered. It was time to head for Nowra some 200 kilometres ahead and rest up for the next day’s challenge of Sydney’s traffic and to drive across THAT bridge.

Ominously, our notes taken during phone bookings indicated firstly that the front entrance of the motel would be hard to find but not to enter by the more accessible rear gateway. Secondly, we had been told that the ‘guest house’ on the property was not part of public accommodation. All that we could find in the dark was the rear gateway and the guest house. The local bikie club had permanent occupation and blue lights throughout lit it with a strange glow. A large sign carried the imaginative name of “The Blue Games Room” so we chose the rear gateway in preference to learning the truth about certain ambiguities. The location of the front entrance remains a mystery as well.

The next morning we visited Kiama with its famous blowhole and saw the last of the more pleasant unhurried townships before Sydney. Just out of Kiama the Princes Highway joins one of the two main southern routes into Sydney. Here the traffic made us realise that we had had it fairly good for the first three days. Air displaced by an unending line of interstate trucks seriously buffeted the Bullnose, which was vulnerably minute in comparison. The air flow firstly pushed it away as they drew level and then sucked it back just when the rear wheels were in line with us. This was a new experience for me in a driving lifetime of vintage motoring and we sought refuge in the by-pass road and Wollongong.

Here there was madness of a different type. In one tight knot traffic was rushing everywhere and Joke, who spent some years in Sydney, informed me that it was good practice for what was to come. We settled for a spot behind a bus that pulled into the stops and out again faster than we could catch up with it. A wild postie, crouching over a motorscooter with his coat flying out in the breeze, joined us by buzzing in and out of the gap. The unlikely inter-dependent trio disbanded before Bulli.

The Bulli Pass was not graded for Bullnose Morrises so double de-clutching down to first gear came very early in the climb. If it had not been for the doubt of holding the car down such a steep grade together with the idea of a truck with air brakes screaming right behind us we would have done a U-turn at the first chance. My nerves were already jangled by thoughts of the consequences of missing a gear change or a broken half-shaft or stripping a pinion or….. Instead we had to settle for sloshing water into the radiator core before removing the Calormeter at each of the four stops up the grade. The reward was a magnificent view at the top and feelings of relief and disbelief that the car had actually made the climb.

Any vintage Morris enthusiasts worth their salt will know that Bullnoses NEVER had Calormeters, only Boyce Motormeters towards the mid-twenties. Equally, they will see the wisdom in fitting one. As an aside it may be worth mentioning that years ago a friend had a Bullnose fitted with only the original plain cap. At some point the he lost the gasket and hurriedly made one from cardboard to stop water spitting out. This soon became soggy. fell apart, jamming in the overflow pipe. With no warning of the state of the cooling system he took the car up a long climb in the security of no spitting water. He succeeded in changing the shape of the core to resemble a gigantic hand of bananas and continued in ignorance until it exploded.

The nightmare that is Sydney traffic started at a jam-up a couple of kilometres before the Georges River bridge. Modern automatics crept along at a stop-start snail pace while the Bullnose boiled and wore precious cork off the clutch. Here and there car occupants wound windows down and asked questions about the banner and how we had enjoyed the trip so far, etc., etc. It was our belief that any good road would lead to the Harbour Bridge but roads having that description appeared to be few and far between. We used the jam-up to glean as much local knowledge as possible. There had been a smash on the Georges River bridge and by the time we passed the crew cleaning up we had a reasonable idea of the way ahead. Rockdale was found by noting a service station on the right where I had filled up while on a business trip. This would have passed unnoticed if it had not been for a waste disposal truck that had overturned while doing a right turn. It had rolled into the service station and was lying on its side up against the petrol pumps!

Flushed with success we arrived at Ultimo, and became lost, all at the same time. Where cars in a left lane in Melbourne must turn left they have prior warning to move into a dedicated side lane. Not so in Sydney! There you keep to the left as any good solid citizen should when suddenly a left-turn arrow appears painted on the road – no extra lane at all. Right at the corner a notice says “Left Lane Must Turn Left” and left you must go the tourist, abandoning your course in fear of being booked and/or abused. The whole arrangement shows no consideration for tourists, to say nothing of two wheel brakes and crash gears.

After a couple of these enforced departures I was disorientated and lacking somewhat in demeanour. We were due at friends’ home for lunch and with the time approaching two-thirty I phoned them to apologise and get help. In the absence of street names they assumed that we were describing Redfern but strongly advised on-the-spot advice.

Finding parking space outside a shoe store, I asked an attendant the way to the Harbour Bridge. We were concerned that we had not seen any signs and he replied that there were none, suggesting instead that we follow those that pointed the way to some fish market. This curious piece of advice actually helped us get closer to our goal, but only closer; we were now lost in Pyrmont. Fortunately the driver of a van recognised our predicament from the frantic manipulation of an N.R.M.A. directory and called out for us to follow him. After dipping and diving along a route that was impossible to remember, we found ourselves in a long narrow street. The huge grey structure was in sight at the end of it. With a wave he sped away, just as we passed another sign pointing to the mysterious fish market.

How different the conditions were to those in 1957/58 when I last drove a Bullnose over the Bridge, not once but many times. How different when, a little more recently in 1970, I drove across in my 1909 Aries tourer, executing a U-turn at the Northern exit to return. This time the little Bullnose was like a hunted duck trying to at least keep pace with a hail of buckshot. With my right foot down and one hand wildly clicking the camera we took off to the accompaniment of good-natured waves and toots from the Sydneysiders. We got across absolutely flat chat, out the other side and off up the Warringah Freeway, going miles out of our way and stuck in the centre lane.

At some time well after three o’clock we arrived at our destination, Jim Kelso’s home. People who have been associated with the vintage car movement in Victoria for some time will remember Jim not only as the first President of the Vintage Drivers Club but as the photographer who took the famous shot of “The Line-up At Monbulk” in 1957. He was also our official photographer for the re-enactment of that run this year. In his garage is a magnificent Barker bodied Rolls Royce undergoing restoration, magnificent enough to give the Bermagui schoolgirl cause to reconsider. The overnight stay was with Joke’s relatives at Kenthurst where we looked forward to farewelling the Sydney traffic the following day.

Just as we thought we had left the rat-race behind us we ground to a halt at the base of the climb through the Blue Mountains. A semi-trailer had overturned on a U-turn just out of Penrith, halting all commercial traffic. Police slowly ushered cars through a maze of trucks to a road that circumnavigated the scene but the two hours crawl covering less than a kilometre had been too much for the Bullnose. It boiled with no hope of relief in such a situation, creating a slight pressure that was apparently the last straw for the overflow pipe. It came away where it exits the header tank, allowing a fine spray of water with 20% glycol to go over the magneto and into the fan. By the time we reached Katoomba the firing was so spasmodic that the car was undriveable. We found a quiet back street to allow some safety while working on the magneto side of the motor. Each brush and its corresponding surface had to be cleaned along with the points. I reckon that the dealer with those magneto spanners knew that I would need them ere long.

Our original plan was to detour through the Katoomba township to admire its Art Deco buildings. This was thwarted not only by the magneto failure but by a visibility of no more than 50 or so metres due to a fog. There was no wind at all but as I worked thunder without lightning rumbled around us. It was the build-up of the storm that flooded Sydney later that day.

Back on the road we began seeing the occasional road sign that referred to Mudgee. Very late in the afternoon we were passing through Lithgow when a buzzing came from the bonnet zone, followed by a tinkling noise beneath the car. Inspection revealed that the petrol cap had come unscrewed causing us to spend an hour or two searching the road, adjoining nature strips and reaching down drains. The cap remains in Lithgow so if anyone has, or knows of, a spare Bullnose petrol cap I would welcome their help. Likewise, the whereabouts of an E4 Lucas magneto that has at least one bakelite handnut remaining for the plug leads would be appreciated.

With about 100 kilometres to go to Mudgee it started to rain just as the sun went down. Putting the hood up was no small matter as it had become the carrier for many glass collectibles and 78 records that we had purchased over the last 1300 kilometres. With these all around our feet and Joke clutching the more delicate items we arrived at Mudgee.

The 11th National Rally was a wonderful experience. Our first thought on seeing the programme was that it was not brim full with activity but having now been to a National Rally we can see why. Many people commented when they learnt that this was the first that we had attended that each one was like a bi-annual family re-union. This is indeed the case at Mudgee.

Easter Monday was departure time. The change in weight of the large suitcase due to the addition of the aforementioned collectibles was noticed by Ross. The hood was required to be empty to accept more items on the return journey. We said goodbye to the many friends we had made and became part of the ‘family’ that looks forward to its re-unions. Here’s to Ballarat in 2000.

Contrary to the Rally organisers’ advice we headed off through Sofala and Bathurst for the first night at Oberon. I cannot see why the organisers discouraged travel through Sofala as it was quite an attractive drive that offered no real challenge to the car. Certainly there were one or two fairly steep grades but by following the maxim for vintage driving that states to use the gear to go down a hill that you would use to go up we had no difficulty. The Bullnose Morris is, in my opinion, the best of all vintage cars of its type for this terrain (or any other between here and Timbuktu for that matter). The accelerator between the clutch and brake pedals allows you to ‘heel-and-toe’ with either foot and the indirect gears have that addictive sound. Sadly, historic Sofala appears to be slowly subsiding, except for of the occasional brick edifice or quite recent addition. We took some photos to compare with a well-known painting of the town by Pat Murray, bought more records, some sandwiches and drove to a hilltop to admire the unlimited view. The rest of the day was uneventful except for a grade just before Oberon that rivalled the Bulli Pass. In one steep climb we went from a moderate climate on the flat to a bitingly cold wind at the top. The records remained in the hood!

The booking was at the Titania Motor Inn. Our room was above a garaging area that held a utility, ladders, various bits and pieces and a large ‘No Parking’ sign. When I went back to the reception there was nobody and no bell in sight but voices were coming from the back somewhere. There was a bar under the motel and I went down the steps. The chap sitting at the end of the counter said “Kinnelpya?”

“I don’t know” I said, “but I’m sorry, I couldn’t find the bell.”
“Aven’t got one,” he said, “everyone round ‘ere knows ter find me in the bar after five.”
“Have you got any space to park a car for room five; the sign underneath says ‘No Parking’?”
“Ah, don’t worry bowtit, just bung ‘er in beside me ute.”

The menu appeared to be too good to be true for a motel with one of the offerings being ‘Turkey and Ham’. Technically this was the case but it arrived as traditional supermarket pressed and sliced loaves garnished with grey tinned peas.

We joined Mine Host, Chris, at the bar after dinner for a port or two or three (on the house). Here was one of the last Aussie philosophers. On the subject of trying to succeed in business he observed, “Ya know, they have a Minister for Tourism, a Minister for Sport, a Minister for This and Bloody That but no Minister for a Fair Bloody Go.”

On the drought: “I tole me mate Martin that it’d rain before Easter an’ ‘e reckoned it wouldn’t ‘n I tole him it would so ‘e said e’d give me ten schooners if it did. Now that’s 10 to bloody nothin’ so I said ‘I’ll ‘ave some of that action Martin.’”
On death: “When they come to take me I’ll tell ‘em I can’t leave yet, there’s another beer to go.”

If you are up Oberon way book in at the ‘Titania’ (the connection will click with Shakespearian buffs – and it’s not the ‘Bottom’). Tell Chris that Joke and Barry sent you.

From Oberon we went to the Jenolan Caves. We were now well outside the area covered by the Rally organisers’ advice but their comments about unsuitable roads would have been quite appropriate here. The road was unmade and in bad condition for the most part, with a descent into Jenolan that was too steep for the car. Referring to the maxim dealing with hills we decided not to return by this way. First gear was hopelessly incapable of holding the car as the brakes faded. The alternative road out was not quite as steep but very narrow and plagued with tourist coaches. Taking it meant we that went almost to Katoomba before turning left and returning through Oberon. We were rewarded for this effort by the discovery of a restored 1930’s Art Deco building in Oberon that was the former council chambers.

The route from Oberon to Goulburn was a disaster. Where the road was not as steep as that into Jenolan it was unmade and corrugated. We spent thirty or so kilometres crawling along the flat sections in first gear with over-grazed, drought ruined paddocks and ‘For Sale’ signs for scenery. The appearance of an occasional kangaroo gave some assurance that there was something alive to turn the lights out if need be. A dusty and depressed crew and car arrived late at Goulburn for the night.

The road to Canberra was the other side of the same coin. The grandeur of a straight, wide concrete super-highway out in the middle of nowhere obviously lulls the powers-that-be into believing that there is no problem just back over the hill. In this 100 kilometre stretch too, there were more crosses and flowers tied to trees than we saw in the rest of the trip, four in one group being the saddest. ‘They’ go to such pains to make boring roads for boring cars and then erect signs warning drivers of the results of this deadly combination?

The Morris purred into Canberra with a thumb to its (bull)nose at all the limousines in their pumped-up glory. Straight down the main road it went, over the Lake Burley-Griffin bridge and around and around old Parliament House. In January 1958, I had a photograph of my Bullnose sedan taken at the centre of the front steps of this worthy establishment while Bob Menzies’ chauffeur tooted me to vacate the spot. Obviously his Passenger wanted to walk the shortest possible distance to work. In 1970 I patiently awaited the dispersal of a sudden flurry of honourables in order to get an uncluttered picture of the Aries in the self-same position. In 1998 the ‘House’ was abandoned and surrounded by impenetrable barricades. On the third, or was it the fourth, circuit we found an entrance via an unguarded rear laneway and to the joy of sightseers and the Aboriginal Village on the lawn, parked right over the oil droppings from past visits. Joke dashed out of the car, snapped a few shots and we were off again, leaving another traditional blob or two and Canberra to its synthetic nature.

By the time of our late arrival at Gundagai we became the farmers’ worst enemy by praying for continuing fine weather. The hood was chockers with collectibles, so much so that some items had to be left at the point of purchase to await a posted box. The late arrival meant a morning visit to ‘The Dog On The Tuckerbox’, after which we headed for Albury/Wodonga and Wangaratta. Home was within a day’s travel now and we celebrated our last night on the road in the appropriate manner.

In 1957/58 there was a small club called ‘The Vintage Morris Club of Victoria’. Its fate is the subject of another story but its first President was David Elder with myself as Secretary. Jim Kelso, whom we visited in Sydney, was its second President and the first of The Vintage Drivers Club. On our way down through Benalla we called to see David and Mary Elder at their property some 20 kilometres off the Highway. They have a world-beating collection of veteran and vintage hub caps together with an Austin 7 Chummy, a 12/50 Alvis and a 1925 Bullnose Morris. Lunch in their shaded courtyard gave not only ourselves cause to reconsider returning to suburban life but apparently to the car as well.

When it came time to leave for the last stretch home the carburettor jets decided to become blocked. There is no description in any literature that I have come across of the model of Smith Carburettor on the car and it is small wonder. We all fiddled with the so-and-so thing for an hour and finally got the engine to run. The chosen route was through Maindample, Thornton, Buxton, the Blacks’ Spur, Healesville and finally, Ashburton. I prefer the Blacks’ Spur to the long downhill run from Kinglake to Yarra Glen as it has shorter drops with occasional level runs rather than one long downhill rush. Right up until sundown the carburettor jets blocked countless times, thankfully ceasing their tricks before dark. However they had delayed our progress so much that instead of being out of the mountain area before dusk we were only at Alexandra.

Arriving at home, we were licked to within an inch of our lives by Pimmie and Mindy, our Jack Russells. The Hotchkiss et Cie engine that is still fitted with its original cast iron pistons had taken us over 2,500 kilometres at 26.3 miles per gallon. The load was taken out of the hood which was put up and the car was ready to drive to work the next week.

Barry Gomm and Josina Walker