1991 Pontiac GTA Trans Am - Reader Ride

By: Damien Kingsbury, Photography by: Guy Allen

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Adding this old American to the shed was more about its former owner than the car itself

Slung low and wide, this slightly feral old TransAm rumbles down open roads towards distant horizons, capturing some of the spirit of a wasteland movie, on the hunt for fuel, surviving the apocolypse.

Sone might otherwise describe this third generation ’91 Pontiac Trans-Am as perhaps a good basis for a tidy up. But that would miss the car’s deeper significance, which is that it belonged to the ebullient and larger than life Frenchman Bertrand ‘Le Frog’ Cadart.

Bertrand was known for many things, perhaps best of all for his role in the first, 1979, Mad Max movie. In the late 1970s, the then recently arrived Frenchman was making motorcycle fairings under the name La Parisienne.

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It’s somewhat lacking in subtlety and has a few battle scars. That’s how it’s staying

Mad Max director George Miller was looking to create some appropriately futuristic vehicles and contacted Bertrand, who agreed to modify the 10 Kawasaki bikes used in the movie. "I got ze deal," Bertrand said in his thick French accent, "because I wuz ze only guy doing eet."

As well as being paid for the fairings, Bertrand was offered a small part in the movie, as Clunk. His main scenes were driving a crowbar through the roof of a Chevrolet Bel Air and having a store mannequin as his pillion passenger.

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According to Toecutter, the mannequin "is not what she seems" and was executed by Johnny the Boy. Clunk exited the movie when he and his bike were run off a bridge by Max (Mel Gibson). Bertrand always regarded his involvement in the movie as an accident of fate.

After Mad Max, Bertrand returned to his more usual life, working in the French section at Radio Australia (where we met), importing, selling and servicing Fournales shock absorbers, later selling French hair product and, after his marriage went south, hiding out in the small town of Bicheno on Tasmania’s east coast.

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By this stage, Bertrand had decided there was little left to do but drink and was in the local RSL working on his thirst when he was asked if he had served. He had, he replied, in the French Marines, and it was on an R and R visit from New Caledonia to Australia in 1971 that he decided to move here. In 1972 at aged 24, Bertrand loaded up his old BMW motorcycle and rode overland from France to start a new life on the other side of the world.

At the Bicheno RSL, he was told that foreign servicemen were welcome to join and, by the way, they were about to have elections and needed someone to stand as vice-president. No work involved, they said – the president did that. Bertrand was elected vice-president and almost immediately the president died, propelling Bertrand into the presidency of the Bicheno RSL.

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Bertand with one of his creations

Bertrand’s gregarious nature was popular with the locals, who suggested he run for council. He served three terms as Glamorgan-Spring Bay Shire mayor, regularly appearing in his signature bright red or yellow jackets in the local newspapers.
Bertrand’s public profile was further boosted when he entered his 350 cubic inch/5.7 litre V8 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am GTA in two Targa Tasmania rallies, with Hobart’s Lord Mayor Damon Thomas and then local MP Eric Hutchinson as his navigators. The car still has the stone chips from those events and subsequent outback forays.

Further political opportunity beckoned for Bertrand but, in his forthright manner, he described his constituents in a local newspaper as "the most bogan of bogans". With that fairly spectacular end to his political career, and having recently been diagnosed with leukemia, he drove up to move to the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast to be close to his adult children.

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As ‘Clunk’ on set for Mad Max..

By this stage, Bertrand had become the subject of a French TV feature documentary, called Beneath The Outback Sun. Production was expected to conclude around the time you read this. Bertrand’s role in Mad Max, and the Trans-Am, feature in it.

When Mad Max’s 40th anniversary rolled around in early 2019, Bertrand was guest of honour at the Mad Max festival held at Maryborough in central Victoria. He drove the Trans-Am down from Queensland for the show, hence the Mad Max decals that still adorn it.

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Damien with his toy. Of course the keyring has a frog hanging off it..

After the show, the car spent time at Silverton’s Mad Max Museum before ending up in the Shepparton Motor Museum. By now it required too much work to drive back to Queensland, and Bertrand’s illness was taking its toll.

Towards the end of 2019, Bertrand held a ‘living celebration’ – the wake you have when you want to be there – even having his bright red coffin present so friends could write messages on it. He died the following April.

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With Bertrand’s estate being wound up, it was feared that his Trans-Am would go to someone outside his close circle of family and friends. I talked with his kids and his executor and acquired the car, to fix up and have available for subsequent events.

Bertrand’s Trans-Am was on hand when his family and friends gave him a final send-off at the Elphingstone pub.

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As a driver, the Trans-Am has sufficient performance and surprisingly tight handling.

Like its former owner, the it also is unmistakable. Driving it is a suitable tribute to Bertrand ‘Le Frog’ Cadart, and to the ground-breaking Australian movie he was a part of.

 

From Unique Cars #450, March 2021

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