Australian Picker - Blackbourn 441

By: Rob Blackbourn

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ferrari race car cabin ferrari race car cabin

While keeping your eye on the prize can bring success, it seems the quality of the prizes can vary quite a bit

A recent internet article about a bloke buying a down-at-heel, 1957 Testa Rossa Ferrari for $8000 was a ripper read. In the early-1970s an American truck-driver heard that a Testa Rossa was ‘chained up in a carport somewhere in Sacramento’. A practical man with a can-do attitude, he grabbed some maps and headed tout de suite to Sacramento to conduct a street-by-street, house-by-house hunt for his dream car. Perhaps not unexpectedly the search didn’t yield the prize. The breakthrough came when another enthusiast heard about his efforts and made some enquiries on his behalf before pointing him in the right direction. After complex and lengthy negotiations stretching over almost 12 months ("…it was like pulling teeth, like you were trying to buy his kid or something.") our man finally got his hands on the project Ferrari.

A bit earlier I was on a similar quest, not however chasing Prancing Horse exotica in California – I just needed a late-1930s to early-1940s Ford from anywhere near home in Melbourne. My dream machine at the time, a beaut 1941 ex-military Ford 1-tonner, had just become my nightmare. After finding it in a Clayton truck wrecker’s yard six months before with the bonnet in the back and the heads off the motor, I sorted its mechanical issues, tidied it up and re-sprayed it with a low-pressure gun hooked up to a vacuum cleaner. Then after only a few weeks on the road my finest-little-truck-in-the-land rewarded me by suddenly destroying its unobtanium, floating-axle rear-end. With an empty piggy bank after the truck project I needed a cheap-as-chips mechanically challenged Ford that I could put on the road by cannibalising the truck’s good bits.

A grapevine message mentioned the sighting of a 1940 Ford sedan being rolled into a garage a few years earlier that might still be there. But it was hazy about the location. The house was next door to a police station – wait for it – in an eastern suburb close to Melbourne.

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Heading east from central Melbourne on my motor bike I soon ruled out the inner suburban cop-shops. All those from Collingwood to Camberwell were among shops, but no houses. Then I remembered going to a dance a few kays away at the Balwyn RSL once. It was opposite the Balwyn police station in those days…

"Sorry to trouble you like this," said I, to the elderly woman answering the door of the 1940s house with attached single-car garage, next to the Balwyn police station. "But do you have an old car in your garage by any chance?"

"If you want it you can have it," she replied. "And would you like a cup of tea, love?"

Yep, a 1940 Ford Standard model V8. Tyres flat. Headlights missing. Radiator sold for scrap. Everything else pretty much there. Body basically straight with patchy paint. Interior not too bad.

Getting it on the road was surprisingly drama-free. With the truck’s radiator, headlights, battery, fuel pump, some fresh petrol and a few miscellaneous bits in place she fired up a treat. Although the motor burned a bit of oil the old Ford was in reasonable mechanical nick throughout. Pity that the tall ute radiator jacked the bonnet up a bit though.

The Ford saw me through happily to my next tax refund when it made way for my first Holden, an FE panel van. The Testa Rossa and Ford stories diverge radically at the epilogue stage. After 12 years or more, and heaps of restoration, Ferrari man traded it for a Lister Corvette, a Cooper Monaco, an M-20 McLaren and a D-type Jaguar, with $250,000 cash thrown in. I sold the Ford after six months to a bunch of kids as a paddock bomb for $50.


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