Cheap & Cheerful tour: Lexus roadtrip to the National Museum of Australia

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Guy Allen & Angelo Loupetis

Presented by

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The UC crew grabs the unsuspecting Soarer and goes swimming

Production bloke/designer Angelo and I have a deal: once a year we pull a car out of the shed and go touring. It’s generally north, with some sort of event as the target. Plus we roll a bunch of feature shoots and shed visits into the schedule.

Last year we woke up the Mighty Kingswood and shot off to the big annual Shannons Sydney Classic gig at Eastern Creek, followed by a giant car museum tour of NSW. This time, the target was a one-off classic show put on by the National Museum of Australia at Wakefield Park. The idea was the museum would take some of its historic fleet (who knew it even had one?) for a gallop, and invite a bunch of clubs along for a show ’n’ shine. A terrific idea.

roadtrip-3.jpgIt’s 28 years old and has over 350,000km on it, but the Soarer kept plugging away and was pretty good to travel in

And the vehicle of choice this time? Plan A was to give the Kingswood a rest (it did another big trip a month earlier) and take my 1976 BMW 633 coupe. In the meantime I’d also bought a 1991 Soarer Limited, a V8 auto, badged as a Lexus SC400. A lot of grey imports got that treatment back in the day because dealers thought they’d fetch more with the premium brand on board. It cost the princely sum of $3200 a few months ago, so you’d expect the best, and was picked up in Queensland and driven back to Melbourne.

| Read next: Kingswood Country road trip to Parkes, NSW

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Okay, there were a couple issues to fix. First was replacing the worn-out starter. That was a surprisingly big job, thanks to its location at the back of the Vee of the powerplant, under all the induction plumbing. Next was pull out the leaking air suspension and fit hydraulics from another Soarer, which was cheap and relatively simple.

| Read next: Mustang road trip to Parkes, NSW

engine-bay.jpgIt wouldn’t be a proper trip without a little roadside maintenance

Despite having around 350,000km under its wheels, the engine is really good. Minimal oil use and runs perfectly. Angelo got a steer of the thing and was seduced by its ultra easy-going nature. It’s strangely undemanding to drive, while being comfortable with decent performance. He declared it as his choice for the trip. Fair enough.

amphicar.jpgThe amazing Amphicar – this will never work...

Our plan started something like this: first leg was via Gippsland to Tumut to meet up with Tony Nassar and his 1964 Amphicar. We’d been corresponding with him for months and his enthusiasm for the quirky amphibians was infectious. Plus, he is a very active member in the Cooma Monaro Historical Automotive Club. They run the huge Cooma Motorfest, which celebrated its fortieth year at the start of last November.

| Read next: Cooma Motorfest 2019 gallery

museum-7.jpgJust part of the giant Cooma Monaro car club facility – amazing!

Tony’s motoring tastes are somewhat broader than amphibious vehicles, but these diminutive twin-prop roadsters (now there’s a phrase you don’t often see) clearly chew up more than their fair share of his waking hours. And yes, in case you were wondering, his example is registered as a boat and a car. We went for a swim with the thing – which is great fun – and will soon bring you the feature and video. One to watch for…

museum-14.jpgDoug’s Minis in Tumut is an amazing shed – watch out for the upcoming feature

Next up, Grenfell, where we planned to raid Jeff Connolly’s very special Chrysler museum, located in the main street. His passion for the marque started when he bought a then three-year-old Valiant S back in 1965 and, in more recent years, he’s been able to indulge the passion. What’s on show is a mix of machinery out of his shed and the collections of others. Taking pride of place is an E49 Charger in spectacular and unrestored condition.

Read next: Inside the Chrysler Museum, Grenfell

lexus-3.jpgOld timber rail bridge manages to add something to the scenery

The collection is weighted towards Australian cars and spans as far back as the 1920s. The place opens by appointment and you can reach Jeff on 0427 926 246.

Next up was Cowra, to catch up with Ford collector Brian Tomkins. Though largely a one-marque shed, the variety is fascinating.

museum-4.jpgThe Chrysler museum in Grenfell is well worth a detour. We featured it in issue 431

As we wind our way to Wakefield Park and the National Museum of Australia’s ‘Chequered Past’ event, the inevitable question comes up: who knew the organisation had a car collection? Sure it’s logical enough. When you think about the huge social and commercial roles the industry has played in this country, it would in fact be remiss of the organisation not to have something along those lines.

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Exactly how the fleet has come about is probably a mix of deliberate action and good fortune, such as the occasional donation. Certainly it’s eclectic.

For example there is a 48-215 Holden and a 2017 Commodore Calais to bookend that manufacturer – which makes sense. And there’s a Brabham open-wheeler from 1967, or the 1923 Citroen light tourer. The list goes on, including some oddball former Commonwealth cars that had been set up for escort duty and hauling around dignitaries over the decades.

museum-9.jpgThe National Museum’s car show at Wakefield Park was a raging success with hundreds of toys rolling up

Meanwhile the surrounding car parks were packed with good gear from a range of clubs. At a guess there would have been 300-400 cars there with a great variety of marques and most eras represented. Angelo and I did our usual trick of stalking potential feature cars and picked up a few. One very unusual find was an HR Holden X2 wagon, in black. It was a stunner of a car, had done half a million miles, and fortunately we managed to track down the owner.

Look out for the upcoming story.

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As for the drive itself, nothing beats getting out for a good, long head-clearing run. We got lucky with the weather. The northern road into Tumut had closure warnings and the southern route we took had been closed the day after we rolled through. It was spectacular to cruise through countryside that had seen a decent snowfall.

As for the Soarer, well, the Cheap & Cheerful theme sums it up. Of course back when it was new, this was a very expensive car with a 4.0lt quad-cam V8 Toyota reportedly spent $100 million developing and every electronic gadget they could dream up. Think back to 1991, and there weren’t many cars getting around with touch screens and satnav.

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Our example needs a fair bit of cosmetic tidying up, which we’ll get to over time. The next mechanical job is to replace the cam belts and maybe a couple of relays in the transmission. Neither job is huge.

lexus-5.jpgWell, if you have to have hay bales, you might as well enjoy them

In the meantime, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable car to travel in. It’s light and responsive on the controls – not super-sharp, but predictable. There’s plenty of power for the job and a big fuel tank for long trips. And it seems reliable. Overall it’s a fun, low-stress thing to punt around. Good value, we reckon… 

 From Unique Cars #434, Dec 2019

 

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