Vanguard-Love - Blackbourn 410

By: Rob Blackbourn

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Rob seems to be finding that clinging to old certainties has become increasingly challenging

I was stunned when I spotted an overseas ad for a 1950s Standard Vanguard recently with a price tag that converted to around $AUD25,000. My reaction wasn’t about its condition – it appeared to be in nice enough nick and surprisingly was being offered by a seller in Denmark (who knew the Brits sold cars to the Danes in the early post-war period?). My response was obviously subjective – all about personal perceptions of value. If I saw a nice 1950s F100 pickup for $25k I would be nodding approval, or a Traction Avant Citroen, or an S Series Valiant, or a Mk II Jag… You get the idea. Something about each of those strikes a chord in the pleasure department deep inside me. But nothing much resonates when I think about the old ‘Guardsvans’.

It’s not as though I haven’t been aware of Vanguards over the decades. For me it’s the ‘motor’ in a motor car that first attracts my attention. And the early Vanguard’s trusty four-cylinder, OHV, 2088cc engine got its justified share of the spotlight. Seen first in low-compression form in the iconic ‘Grey Fergie’ Ferguson tractor, it then powered Vanguards until 1960. A high-performance version powered the TR2, TR3 and TR4 Triumph sportscars as well as the exotic Swallow Doretti.

In my student days, my mate Don had a well-worn but intact 1949 Vanguard. As the spannerman of the group I worked on it a bit. Being inclined to jam in reverse, the gearshift did so inconveniently as Don backed out of a parking spot in central Melbourne in the wee small hours after a university ball. The alcohol in his system helped Don decide that driving his girlfriend the 15-odd kays home to her place in the eastern suburbs – backwards – was the basis of a sound plan.

Vanguard

All went well for a couple of kilometres until the boys in blue pulled him over in Victoria Parade in inner-city Fitzroy. Those kinder days allowed the coppers to caution Don, and tell him to forget the car, hail a cab and take the girl home.

The next morning I arrived, tooled-up, on my pushbike. After sorting the linkage I tied the bike on the roof, hot-wired the ignition and drove it to Don’s usual parking spot near Melbourne Uni. Job done.

Regardless of my lack of interest, Vanguards actually had a strong fan-base back in the day. Memorable industry and motorsport identity the late ‘Hoot’ Gibson from Mansfield (Vic) campaigned one in the first Redex trial and was still punting them successfully in circuit racing in the late-50s. ‘Stormin’ Norman’ Beechey and John French shared one in the inaugural Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island, finishing second in class to the victorious Vauxhall Cresta.

Recently life has a habit of delivering me my share of ‘What would I know?’ moments. The latest came as I cast about pessimistically for any signs of a credible following for Standard Vanguards these days. It was one thing to discover that impressive numbers of enthusiasts in Australia have formed clubs devoted to the various vehicles that originated in the Standard/Triumph factory in Coventry. It was quite another to learn that the Standard and Triumph Car Club of NSW, that numbers a bunch of Vanguard tragics among its members, has WF (Bill) Buckle OAM as patron.

Whether you recognise Bill for his influential role in car retailing and motorsport in Australia, or for building the potent Ford Zephyr-powered Buckle coupes and the forever-cute Goggomobil Darts, he’s undeniably Oz-motoring royalty.

I don’t know quite what brought this on, but I’m starting to think that old Vanguards have a bit going for them, and perhaps 25 large isn’t such a big ask for that tidy example in Denmark.

 

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