Almanac Life – Growing up with cars

My first memory of a car is turning around to look at my sisters in the back seat of a VW Beetle. My only other memory of the Beetle is the evening Dad came home and I asked where the car was.


“It broke down.”




That was around 1971. An HR Holden sedan – EKM805 – arrived in the backyard, dark blue with a white roof, three on the tree, multi-patterned and coloured vinyl seats, a radio with every AM station in the country listed on the plexiglass panel between the volume and tuning knobs. Every May school holidays, we’d pack it with swimmers and T-shirts and corn flakes and drive to Port Macquarie, Dad, Mum, me, three sisters, for two weeks in a holiday flat.




We moved from Padstow to Beverly Hills and when the loungeroom carpet was relaid, the offcuts found their way onto the floor of the HR. I remember an O’Neill family do around ’75, all Dad’s brothers drove Holdens.


1979, the HR broke down and was replaced by an XB Fairmont, HSR620. I remember one of Dad’s brothers describing it as a “luxury bucket.” Jewel Green, bucket seats, T-bar auto, aircon. We drove around the Mt Panorama circuit one holiday, we even stayed in a motel or two! Breakfast delivered to the door, that was special.





I learnt to drive in the XB and have ever since borne an affection for those big, wallowy Australian sedans, so smooth and capable on the open road. I loved the cockpit-styled dash of the XB and hit 100mph on the Heathcote Road when I was 17.


’80, Dad got a new job with, oh wow, a company car! LLF314. A taxi pack, aside from the 250 six and bucket seats, it was the car that made me despise centre consoles.





The XD arrived at a perfect moment of design and rules, when the glasshouse could sit high and pillars still be slim. Ours was all-tan in the cabin, aside from the strip of black plastic across the dash and the instrument binnacle behind the steering wheel. A column-shift auto and plenty of room to stretch your legs.


Not that I got to drive it much, being a company car. I did scare the hell out of my cousin and his mates in Canberra one afternoon when I was 17, put it thru a gap at 50mph which they all swore was narrower than the car.


I loved the airy cabin, the sense of space, the leg room. I used to think about having it for myself, I’d install a four speed gearbox, then work on the suspension and replace the wheels with Aunger Hotwires.


The XB wore out and was replaced by a Mitsubishi Colt which I destroyed in spectacular fashion. The XD was replaced by a beige XF, inner city rock and roll was my life by then. Late ’85, Dad, Grandad and I took a roadtrip. Down to Nathalia where Bill was born in March 1900, he spoke to the schoolteacher living in the house he grew up in, pointed out the shed that was opened once a week for the Christadelphians, or similar, he and his mates lowered a dead cat down the chimney early in the week and stank it out. He stole the schoolmaster’s leather strap but his Dad was the local saddler so he debuted the new strap. He saw the first car in town. In 1912 the family moved to West Wyalong, Bill, his dad and the farmhand took three days for the journey. Later, I rode it in two & half hours.


It’s remarkable now, to think that I had a conversation with a man born in a world that had not changed overmuch for centuries, but would skip ahead month by month thereafter.


Grandad checked out March ’91. Dad checked out 22 June ’19.


May blessings be upon you, Bill and Frank.


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About Earl O'Neill

Freelance gardener, I've thousands of books, thousands of records, one fast motorcycle and one gorgeous smart funny sexy woman. Life's pretty darn neat.


  1. The old XB Falcon. I saw an XB station wagon yesterday, though it wasn’t in god nick . I’d not seen one for yonks.

    Two other interesting cars sighted yesterday included a nice shiny red R series Valiant. You don’t see those every day. Also a blue HZ Kingswood, running a 253. It looked good, sounded good.


  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    That’s a beaut tribute to Bill and Frank there Earl. Cars used to mean something, didn’t they?

  3. Swish, way back in the early sixties one of my good mates, John “Shippy” Shipard owned a Chev Belair and he, Graham “Churchie” Churchett (related to Bays’ full forward Colin) and i would go fishing to exotic places like Browns Beach, Edithburgh, Rapid bay and Victor Harbor for most enjoyable fishing excursions.

    With Michelin tyres it was a dream to ride in. On long straight stretches traveling at 100 mph was like walking.Slowing down to go thru a town made you feel like getting out and walking. And did i mention comfort – inside was quite luxurious. Also Shippy did rather well with the ladies -I wonder why. Those were the days my friend, I thought they’d never end – but they did, Shippy got married (and tamed).

  4. Silly me , the car was a Bel Air not a Belair (also known as a Yank Tank) and was, I believe a ’62 vintage. When Shippy traded it in for a VIP Valiant he reckoned it was the worst thing he ever did – a far better fuel consumption with the Chev.

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