CarsGuide Podcast: Tools in the Shed ep. 127
Episode 127 - 300 Series LandCruiser engine deep dive
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The large and glamorous classic will make a cameo appearance in Baz Luhrmann's latest film, Australia. When a friend in the movie industry heard the filmmakers were after an old, special car, the old Vauxhall came to mind.
Before he knew it, Sheldon was in a chauffeur's suit and on the set of the film.
“All the stars were there. Hugh Jackman, he opened the door up and sat in and got behind the steering wheel for a look,” he says. “Nicole Kidman, Bryan Brown, Baz Luhrmann the director; they were all there.”
Sheldon struck up a conversation with another guy on set, later to be told it was Keith Urban.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I couldn't thank my friend enough for getting me involved,” he says.
The special nature of the car doesn't stop with the cameras. The stunning sedan is one of only two registered on the road in Australia.
Sheldon says while there are 22 known survivors of this model, many are wrecks and no longer in working condition. It was that 'working-condition' tag that was holding back Sheldon's model when he first bought it two years ago.
The previous owner had bought the car for spare parts for another model he had, but didn't have the heart to destroy it so he restored it instead. Getting the Vauxhall's 26.3hp (19.3kW), six-cylinder heart pumping was the only job left.
“It was in perfect condition as far as body work, paint and chrome was concerned, but mechanically, it wasn't going,” Sheldon says.
“It was very dilapidated and had to have a full mechanical rebuild,” he says.
Sheldon didn't go looking for his ultimate car, rather, it found him. At a club dinner, he mentioned he was considering buying another Vauxhall and before long, he was being introduced to a car enthusiast wanting to sell one.
“I really wasn't looking for one. I was thinking about it, but there it was and I went to have a look and fell in love with it,” he recalls.
After paying the $12,000 asking price, Sheldon recruited friends to inject life back into the car.
“A good friend of mine he did all the work, him and his dad,” he says. “Their forte is Austin 7s. They've done a fantastic job ... it drives like a new car. It's taken about two years. They just got it going about two months ago.”
With a 74-year-history, Sheldon says parts for the vehicle are hard to find. The friends who were reconditioning the engine eventually turned to hand-making some of the parts themselves.
Sheldon and his wife enjoy buckling their two- and three-year-old daughters into child seats and hitting the road now the car is in working order.
“It's a lot of fun but it can be quite heavy; heavy on steering, heavy on the brakes and you sit up high in it, like a four-wheel-drive,” he says.
“There's plenty of good vision, but it's not like driving a modern car, that's for sure, 'cause everything is heavy and it's quite slow.”
The Sheldon family will put it to the test when heading to the Snowy Mountains in January for the Vauxhall National Rally.
“I have always wanted an Al Capone gangster car. I just like the style of it,” Sheldon says.
However, the enthusiasm isn't only heard from the driver's seat.
“The little kids, they absolutely love it. They go mad. We put the baby seats in the back and they sit up there, kick their legs and enjoy it,” he says.
About 3500 of these Vauxhalls were sold worldwide and Sheldon says that they are a lot more Australian than most people might think. “This particular car is unique to Australia because it's actually a Holden body,” he explains. “A lot of cars in the 1930s and 1940s were made by Holden; they were making cars as early as World War I.
“This car was made in South Australia.”
Sheldon says that in their day, in Australia most of the cars were owned by big land owners who wanted them for the rough outback roads as the heavy cars tended to soak up all the pot holes.
“For an English car it was very American, a lot bigger than the English cars were of the era.”
The Vauxhall name isn't new to Sheldon.
His father bought a Vauxhall Victor station wagon brand new in 1971.
The car followed them when his family emigrated to Australia from England when Sheldon was 10 years old.
“It came by mistake. (The removalists) sent the car instead of the furniture,” he says. “It's the first car I can remember us having and it followed us over to Australia.”
Once Sheldon passed his driving test and received his licence, father handed the keys over to him. And Sheldon says a lot of people involved with the car club also have an interest in the brand, which has been passed on from their fathers or grandfathers before them.
1934 Vauxhall BX big six
Value when new: about pound stg. 3000
Value now: unknown
Verdict: The big and glamorous car from the 1930s may not be easy to drive today, but it's still a stunner seven decades later, even impressing the movie world.