Kingswood Country Road Trip 2019

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Guy Allen

Presented by

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The Unique Cars crew heads off for a date with the Moon

 

Kingswood Country

Bloody Higgins. Not only does he come bounding into the office full of cheer and the general joy of spring, but he has a good idea. It takes a fair bit of rooting around before it comes to fruition, but anything that involves firing up the mighty Kingswood and heading north out of one of the most grey and miserable Melbourne winters in living memory was going to look pretty good.

This time the plot was doing something to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing. Okay, it was a tenuous link at best to classic cars, but surely, he reasoned, the local clubs up at Parkes would be doing something, maybe at the CSIRO tracking station up there – aka The Dish. That, and the equivalent stations at Carnarvon in WA, and Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra, had played an important role in the NASA mission all those years ago.

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Their part in the Moon mission became the theme for the locally-made (in 2000) movie The Dish, which ended up making the Parkes installation famous. The movie played loose with history, but that’s show-business – it’s still a good flick.

| Read next: Kingswood Country road trip 2018

kingswood-road-trip-29.jpgThe vast land the Kingswood was built for

With Higgins hovering around like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof, I got onto a Parkes historic car club, which in turn passed me on to a nice gent called Brett Preisig at CSIRO. He confessed that, yes, they were organising a car show to coincide with the anniversary. In fact, the whole facility was having an open weekend and, as a highlight, it was showing The Dish at the real Dish on Saturday night, on an outdoor screen. Excellent – we’re going. The family pet, the Kingswood, would be dusted off for this one. Higgins was to line up a current-model Mustang and you can read more on his trip next edition.

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Of course the old Kingswood needed a bit of a check-over beforehand. It’s as reliable as a hammer, but there’s no point in tempting fate. Fluids, plugs, filters got done – just the usual. I also got Mick at Glenlyon Motors (he does the Mick’s Tips column in this mag) to have a good hard squint at the auto. It’s slow to pick up reverse these days, which is hardly surprising since it’s been far enough to make it to the Moon. However it got a report card saying that, while it’s worn, there’s nothing to worry about at this stage.

| Old vs new: 1979 Holden Kingswood + 2018 Commodore 

kingswood-road-trip-26.jpgStephen Brown and his one-off 1976 LX Torana

This was also, finally, the excuse to put a decent set of spotlights on the thing. There was a set of brand new Narvas sitting in the boot for months and heading out for a big drive was a good excuse to swap out the tatty el-cheapo units that have been on the front bumper for years. After all that effort, Higgins was in the car with us out at Parkes one night and asked what was wrong with the lights. He’s been driving new test cars too long – they were wonderful compared to what we had before!

kingswood-road-trip-22.jpgAn interloper trying to push in on this gaggle of older Holdens

In addition to potentially finding some new feature cars and picking up a few stories along the way, the trip was a good chance to catch up with a car we’d heard about in Griffith. Belonging to Stephen Brown, it’s a one-off 1976 LX Torana. Somewhere late in the manufacture process, it was hijacked and sent to the HDT skunkworks and given a whole heap of upgrades that made it a very special toy.

| Buyer's Guide: Holden HZ Kingswood wagon

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As we’ve independently verified with former Holden competition manager Joe Felice, it was one of a very small batch of cars that were pulled aside and upgraded as motor show specials, before eventually being farmed out to dealers. The real story about the car came as news to Stephen, years after the family acquired it, and only emerged when a workshop complained about problems getting bits to match what should have been under the bonnet. We’ll soon reveal more about that special car in a future issue.

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Meanwhile, back on the road, Parkes was of course primed for the anniversary. The local newspaper had put out a special edition, while schools had their assorted urchins decorating walls around town with a host of Moon landing-themed paintings and posters.

As luck would have it, the gent running our motel – the Park View – was a chrome bumper car nut. His modest fleet included a couple of VW Kombis. Meet Nick Kerrigan, and the pride of his fleet – a 1974 Microbus decked out in all the appropriate surfer-themed gear. We’ll do a proper story on him and his toy in a future edition.

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Of course the CSIRO got in on the act early. On the Friday night before the big event, it had a pub talk from some of its leading astronomers and astrophysicists, talking about some basic concepts behind their work and revealing the gist of their latest research. It was fantastic. We’d go to pubs more often if that was the sort of thing regularly on offer!

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Out at the site of The Dish across the weekend, the place was packed.  People were crawling over the installation. While it has a full-time display running, the access for this event was far greater, with a heap of staff on deck. The highlight was of course the outdoor movie night, featuring The Dish, which was packed. The pre-show entertainment included the actual Mayor of Parkes arguing with the movie’s Mayor of Parkes (played by Roy Billing) over who was the real Mayor of Parkes.

During the day, the Parkes Antique Motor Club seemed to be the brains behind the car show, with an intriguing mix of machinery. Travelling from Sydney was a gang from the 48 & FJ Holden Club of NSW. We crossed paths a few times and they seemed to be bowling along pretty well. Not bad for a bunch of cars that were near enough to 70 years old. However one of the passengers pointed at our HZ and declared enviously, "I suppose you have a heater in that thing!" You can meet a couple of owners and their cars in the Reader Rides section of this mag. Our feeling of slight smugness that we had the luxury of a built-in heater was soon dissipated, when I locked the keys in the boot of the Kingswood.

kingswood-road-trip-2.jpgThe ‘non-genuine’ way of accessing the boot

I know, I know, I should have a grip on this by now – always, make sure the keys are in your pocket before you slam it shut. Over 37 years of ownership, that’s exactly what muggins has trained himself to do. The twist this time was I carefully put the keys in the pocket of my jacket, then decided it was a little hot, and so took off the jacket, put it in the boot and then slammed it shut. Brilliant.

kingswood-road-trip-7.jpgMcFeeters in Forbes has all sorts of treasures

Now any kid with a strip of packing tape can break into a Kingswood – or the cabin of one. The boot however is a different nest of ferrets. You have to remove the back seat and, in this case, break through the nice new sheets of sound-proofing behind it, and then your access is through a couple of holes that are only just big enough to squeeze an arm through. Some considerable amount of cursing later, we retrieved the jacket. It was lucky the keys hadn’t fallen out of the pocket, or we might still be there… Somewhere along the way we picked up on one of the motoring highlights of nearby Forbes, namely McFeeter’s Motor Museum. It has an extraordinary mix of machinery and there’s clearly someone there with a theatrical bent. A lot of the cars are displayed with mannequins dressed in period costume. It’s a pretty good way to kill a couple of hours.

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Of course on our return trip – taking the long way back via Bathurst, Corowa and then Canberra – we had to swing by the Mount Panorama circuit. This was spouse Ms M’s first proper look at the track in all these years. She had been there before to watch races, but had never scoped the track itself. Her response was that of many – disbelief at how extreme some of those turns clambering up and down the hill are in real life. Television really doesn’t do it justice.

kingswood-road-trip-27.jpgThere used to be a Mechanics Institute in every town. The members of this one seem to have taken up drinking...

All up, a couple of thousand kays later, we blundered back in the front gate of home. Other than my stupidity of locking away the keys, it had been a fault-free performance from the old Kingswood, which is now celebrating its 40th birthday. It was yet another reminder that these basic old chrome bumper family cars are still terrific things to travel in.

(Ed’s note: Look for the Mark Higgins story with the Mustang, which he uses to track down the old Catalina Park circuit, next issue of Unique Cars mag.)

 

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