The ad in my local newspaper said, 'for sale - kit car. No wheels or tires, $500 cash'. Of course, I had to call. The grumpy old codger that answered said he didn't know anything about it except that his sorry, no good brother in law parked it behind his house six years ago and gave him the title in exchange for $500 and he hasn't see that b*****d since and he wants it gone. So -- I drive all the way to his house and he points to an open shed in the back yard and says 'cash money if you want it'. As I approached the car I could see that it was something unique, unlike the rotting Avengers, Bradleys and unfinished dune buggies I usually see. As I got closer my heart began to pound. When I stood next to it I broke out in flop sweats. I almost ran back to the house, banged on the door and struck the deal. He was holding a clean title and my hands were trembling as I wrote out a bill of sale and counted out five one hundred dollars bills and in less than fifteen minutes I officially owned a GENIUNE DeTomaso Mangusta. I almost fainted when the old fart handed me the keys and I was dialing a flatbed tow truck as I hobbled back to my new car on wobbly legs to wait. Then............................... I woke up.
Not just any young man and not just any car. Twenty-seven year old Bill Buckle had been living the dream in Britain, dabbling in motorsport, following the F1 circuit and feeding his interest in cars in general. "I had always had an interest in motorsport and cars, my father had an automotive business and I grew up around cars," Buckle recalls. "I had been following the F1 and looking at various things and I saw some of the fibreglass specials they built there and I thought they were pretty crappy and I could do better. I came back and talked the directors of Buckle Motors into letting me do it ... and we did it."
The Buckle GT Tourer was under way. Buckle built a full-size plaster model on which to mold the fibreglass shell which would sit on a box chassis designed by then relatively unknown Aussie mechanic and designer Ron Tauranac, the man who was to go on to be the genius behind the famous Brabham Formula One cars.
"We settled on a 2.5-litre Ford Zephyr engine, initially because Ford would sell us new parts where Holden wouldn't. I am glad we settled on Ford because I believe they were the better engines."
Buckle's dream saw 25 of the sleek 2+2 rear-wheel drive GT cars built before the uphill struggle of getting his unknown local product out into the market began to tell. "Every one knows it is hard to sell an unknown brand against names like Austin Healey, MG, Triumph ... even though I had every hill climb record and race circuit record on the East Coast for GT cars. And it was a nice coupe with a big boot and big fuel tank that went like hell."
By 1958 Buckle had moved on to start importation of partial CKD Goggomobils for which he would build a local fibreglass body. Starting with a sedan version of the Goggo, followed by a coupe, Buckle then hit upon the model that was to become part of automotive legend. "The Dart was the third model we did here. I decided it was easier to build a body that you didn't have to have doors with a real simple little thing and it just clicked. We couldn't build them quick enough."
Despite the popularity of the Dart, Goggomobil faded from the scene and Buckle was left facing a harsh reality. "When I finished doing the Buckles and then Goggomobil, Buckle Motors which was my father's business, but he had died when I was 19 sort of fell over because the guys running it when I was doing all this building cars and motorsport didn't really have their eye on the ball. "Then I had to get out and make a dollar so I didn't worry too much about the cars I had built. That is when I started Bill Buckle Autos at Brookvale which finished up to be a pretty big dealership."
Buckle says he all but lost track of his clutch of cars, except for one which was offered to him by an acquaitance who worked for finance company AGC which had repossessed the car in the late 1960s. "My son, Bill junior, pulled it apart and then probably went surfing or something and a lot of it sat in boxes at one of our factories. When we had a move from there somebody had a look at the boxes, didn't know what it was and threw it all out."
That almost sealed the fate of the car which sat unlamented in various warehouses and garages for almost 40 years until Buckle's interest in his cars was reignited by a chance meeting just weeks ago. "I had to give a talk at the Powerhouse Museum a couple of weeks ago about building cars in Australia 50 years ago," Buckle says. "They have had a Goggomobil Dart for years and I have a couple of nice ones so they thought it would be good if we could get a Buckle there as well. "I rang this bloke and he agreed to bring his Buckle down from Lithgow. When I saw it it was just so beautiful and I thought then that I should really own this as I am not getting any younger. So I made the bloke an offer he couldn't refuse and got the car."
Buckle says that there was a lot of satisfaction in getting a prime example of one of his cars back, but there were some initial nerves involved in bringing it back to Sydney. "The funny part is that I drove it back from Lithgow with some apprehension but after a couple of kilometres I was absolutely at home. It doesn't rattle, it drives properly, it goes around corners, it stops and there is plenty of grunt."
Since getting his "new" Buckle, interest has been revived in the almost forgotten ghost in the garage. "When I bought this (new) car I got a few extra parts and I've sourced quite a lot of other parts so I think I will now finish restoring the one we have been sitting on for the past 40 years."
Buckle concedes that the original plan to build his car was "probably a bit more passion than commonsense" but there is still an enormous sense of satisfaction in what he achieved. "When I saw the car at the Powerhouse Museum I immediately thought `Did I build something as beautiful as that?' Even today they are a pretty good looking thing."
Buckle GT Tourer Price new: 1875 pounds Price now: $40,000 (show condition) Years built: 1956-1959 Number built: 25
That was what Frank Bathgate said when he won a round of the Victorian Hillclimb Championship.
Some of our oldies who used to travel over to Calder for the 6-hour would remember Frank's hybrid Honda.
Maybe "hybrid" is not the right word these days because now it usually means that there's electric power in the mix. Meanings of words do change over the years. Like the word "gay". I recall 2 lines of the Glenelg Football Club's victory song:-
"We're happy, we're gay
We're the pride of the bay"
I bet that's changed.