Vintage car lovers, here’s a book you’ll to enjoy. Idle Torque, by Alex Forrest, is a collection of the motor journalist’s favourite newspaper columns celebrating many of the wonderful cars, and the people who own them, across WA. Alex chats to The Starfish.
Alex, congrats on your book. Why did you decide to do this?
I felt it would be great to be able to preserve some of the many stories I wrote for The West Australian, and bring them to a new audience. When the opportunity to work with Fremantle Press on this project came up, I was very excited. After a couple of years work at night and on weekends, it’s done. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
Tell us about the pic on the cover?
This is one of the most storied cars of Western Australian motor racing history, the 1935 Bugatti Type 57 Tourist Trophy that was imported from England in 1938 by its first WA owner, Duncan Ord. The Bugatti was raced by Ord all over WA including in Albany, Dowerin and in 1940, even on the streets of Applecross.
Before it arrived in WA, the Bugatti had a rich provenance, having been driven by the English driver and aristocrat Francis, Earl Howe in the Ulster Tourist Trophy race in Ireland. The car would remain in WA for the next 80 years. It was bought by its long-term WA owner in 1958 for £400 and was sold in 2018 in Paris for $1.12 million.
It’s not unusual to see a convoy of lovely old cars on the streets at the weekend. Does WA punch above its weight in terms of how many quality old vintage cars – and enthusiasts we have?
Evidence suggests WA does have a high per-capita ownership of classic cars. That’s probably due to our strong economy and mostly good weather that helps us enjoy classic cars. Our very strong car club scene, which supports and promotes classic cars would also be a big factor.
Do you find many younger people are interested in vintage cars, or is it an older person’s interest?
Yes, many older people do enjoy classic and vintage cars, but it’s certainly not a rule. It’s great to see younger people enjoying cars which are often decades older than them. Soon, it will be important that younger people do continue to enjoy older cars, simply so the knowledge of how to maintain them can continue.
There is some brilliant work that has been championed by younger people that explores new ways of keeping some of these cars on the road, such as 3D printing of unobtainable parts. In many ways, I think we are in a better position than ever for restoring and maintaining vintage and classic cars.
You’ve met so many classic car enthusiasts and identities. What’s a precious memory?
Introducing my son to Sir Jack Brabham in 2011 is a very special memory, especially given that at the time, we were standing on the same patch of dirt in Caversham where Sir Jack competed in the 1957 and 1962 Australian grands prix. Driving a Ferrari F40 across the Bolte Bridge in Melbourne is also up there.
Who has the best private collection you’ve ever seen?
In Australia, it would have to be transport magnate Lindsay Fox’s collection. A Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing and 540K Cabriolet, a Jaguar XJ220 and a Porsche 550 Spyder with chassis number 56, meaning it was built immediately after James Dean’s car. Breathtaking cars, all maintained meticulously, and most are ready to drive.
What’s your favourite classic old car in WA and who owns it?
You’re limiting me to only one?! Neville Martin’s stunning aluminium bodied Jaguar XK120 would have to be among them. It featured in the very first Idle Torque column. Neville taking me for a drive in it in some light spring rain was one of the moments that confirmed to me that writing about cars was for me.
In your book you mention Peter Briggs bought a 1963 E-type Jag for $76,000 in 1980 – and sold it in the late 90s for $800,000. Is it dangerous to buy a vintage car hoping to make a profit – or are there certain cars you can’t go wrong on?
As a general statement, to profit significantly from investing in vintage and classic cars, you usually need to spend a lot of money in the first place. If you buy a 1950s Ferrari for $10 million, you might be able to sell it a few years later for $12-15 million.
Briggs bought that E-Type – which was nonetheless very special – at a time when regular E-Types could be bought for around $8000 – $10,000. Most people thought he was crazy to pay around eight times the going price for a run-down racing car, at a time when the classic car scene was in its relatively early days. Especially when you could have had a well maintained, regular one for much less. But Peter’s vision paid off in the end. In 2016, the car was sold again for US 7.4 million.
For affordable classics, the common experience is you probably won’t lose money when you compare buy and sell prices, but you do need to maintain and store them, and generally, prices go up slowly.
What do you drive?
A 1968 Volvo 1800S. Which is a good case in point regarding the last question. I’ve had it for 32 years, but the values of these cars have only started going up in the last ten years. I enjoy driving it as much as ever.
Who will your book appeal to?
Anyone who likes a good yarn about interesting cars and the inherent affection so many people have for them.