That black stuff on the ground at each corner of your car can kill you or thrill you. It is so important that for the most part we don’t even think of it. Yet only a few years ago, in the evolution of things, drivers were very aware of the spot where the car and road meet.
It is highlighted here in the Discovery Caravan Park in Clare. The park is playing host to the Combined Veteran Car Clubs of Australia. In the park there are a hundred or so veteran cars. They were all built before 1918 yet to a vehicle they present a kaleidoscope of colour and movement as up to date as tomorrow. Their creaking mechanical bones alert you to their age but they give nothing else away as to the journeys they might have made.
They are as loved as a Ming dynasty vase. To get here each was hidden from prying eyes in their own little motorised cocoon that towed them here. The most spoiled of them had its own transporter. Their names are beautiful forgotten words of yesteryear. They are gleaming paint and brass. And although they have much in common they are unique.
Stubborn, some of them. To wake up they have to be tickled, stroked, pumped, and primed. Some even need the attention of a throng of watchers to perform. They will blow smoke. Or they will groan. They will whine. And at the point it seems they will save there energy for another day they will roll the dice of life and get going. This morning was a case in point is was cold. A driver raced back to his covered trailer to retrieve a membership lanyard. He parked his car, put the brake on, and walked three meters. He climbed back into the car, took off the brakes, put the car into gear and it blew black smoke, it roared, it damn near exploded and it stopped. Thirty minutes later the driver had taken off cowls, pumped this, primed that, been assisted by another chap and the thing would not start. The assistant drove off. Something was done and the machine started as easily as an electric vacuum cleaner.
Little dips and bumps in the road surface make these little machines roll and buck. Yet on a good tarmac they roll along as without a care in the world. To give colour to their performances most drivers and passengers elect to wear all or some contemporary clothing. So their appearance is magnified by costume and character. Moustaches, bonnets, gloves, goggles and other paraphernalia remind the viewer of the forgotten film Genevieve, the story of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Rally. The characters are all here. I’m certain it you listen carefully you can hear Glynis John’s thin voice.
About the same size as these cars is the golf cart the maintenance man uses. Being electric it is almost silent. Apart from that the big difference is in the tyres and wheels on the cars and the cart. The Veterans stand tall. Each is propped up on 24 or 26 inch spoked wheels. The tyres are narrow. Possibly only 80 or 90 cm across. Where as the golf cart has wheels no taller than a man’s shoe is long, but wider than a pair of shoes placed side by side.
And here lies a story worth telling. Not so long ago, mid last century, when this writer started to drive. Tyres were narrow, they had poor performance in: longevity, in reliability, in staying inflated and so forth. In fact before driving any distance it paid to check the oil and water and the tyre pressure before even thinking of turning the key. We were taught our well being depended on the 4 hand print sized rubber contacts our car had with the road. Without power steering, and disc brakes life on the road was tenuous. These vehicles are a reminder of those times and how the reliability of modern vehicles isolates the drivers from the reality of real hazards on the road.