Gears and Loafing In Canberra

52w ago


Along the early morning fields at the Pialligo Estate cars streamed in for the 2018 German Auto Day. Four of Canberra’s German auto clubs – Mercedes, Porsche, VW and BMW – had organised both the event and a night-before dinner with canapés, beer and wine. I attended both.

At the dinner I ate and drank little, instead choosing to discuss tracking cars with an owner of a 993 Porsche Turbo. I left early in order to get up early for the following morning for the event. However, despite wanting to get a good night’s sleep, I tossed and turned, and opened the curtains to a morning clearer than my head. Well, that's settled then. Time to hit the caffeine and so, on arriving at the grounds of the Pialligo Estate, I headed straight for the coffee van.

The Coffee Van complete with usual queues. A journalist's haven.

“Double espresso, please.” I paused. “And a cappuccino... with an extra shot.”

“Is that in two cups or one?” the barista asked.

Preferably through a funnel, I thought, but mumbled, “Two, thank you.”

E9 3.0 CSL aka "The Batmobile"

The crowd swelled during the day and the mood felt light, almost festive. I found most owners proud of their cars and eager to explain the foibles and delights of their vehicles. I joined the fray to anyone who’d listen about my i8 being more GT than super car per se. The dihedral doors drew a crowd and the question most people asked me about concerned getting in and out. People smiled at the car, frowned at me, and laughed at the i8's punchline... its boot.

BMW i8 - despite its lack of many things, it attracted attention... and in a good way.

Also, despite the crowds, almost everyone respected the autos and there was little unwanted touching of cars. There were families and the atmosphere was good. If I graded this crowd, I’d give them a high distinction. There were the odd this-and-thats, but on the whole the crowd seemed happy to admire and photograph cars, without wanted to touch them to ensure they existed.

I looked across from my car and saw an Audi R8.

Audi R8. I liked it. Photographed it. And then it was gone.

"Are you the owner?" I asked a random stranger next to the R8.

"Yes," replied said stranger and we discussed the merits of an R8.

"How do you find the DCT... ah, DSG?" I asked.

"Better than the auto sequential box in R8 I had before," he replied, beginning to lose interest.

I wandered back to the i8 and then the R8 gone. I don’t know why. Indeed, I don't recall seeing many Audis. Somewhere in the back of my brain I recall them not being a part of this, but I don't know why. I could even have got that bit wrong and while the lack of Audis may be an administrative thing, I smiled at the thought it would be something like the club didn't do its homework and got sent to the headmaster. A sort of automotive detention.

Nevertheless, that R8 was a thing of beauty and I remember its owner told me the alternatives he’d been thinking of, including a Lamborghini Huracan and McLaren 650s.

If only I had similar purchasing problems. Mmm. Must be time for a coffee.

Air cooled Porsche 911

Cayman GT4 - if the transformer Bumblebee had been born German.

One person I met had a 993 911 Turbo, a Cayman GT4 AND a C63 AMG. Although a 911 turbo had always been my "dream car", I found myself being drawn to the Cayman GT4 with its striking yellow and black wrap to protect against stone chips. If Bumblebee, the transformer, could get a body transplant that car would be it. I also enjoyed its sticker about the "manual gearbox preservative society". I’d have it on one of my cars, except they're all automatics. Which sort of defeats the sticker's purpose... unless your goal’s irony.

Except for the fact all my cars are automatics, I'd have one.

I spoke to the owner of a Porsche 944 S2 since I used to own a Porsche 924, which is the 944’s stunted older half-sibling. Still, some of the things on the 944 I recognised from my 924, particularly the door handles. I always thought they’d borrowed them from VW, but then I wander over and check the door handles the older 911s. They were the same. I frowned. I walked over to a VW Beetle and checked its door handles.

Yup. The same. Maybe a VW/Porsche thing, I mused. Naturally, this should signal to any reader just how tired I was. I’ve just spend half an hour comparing door handles.

Porsche 944 S2 in original condition.

The 944 S2 was the only front engined water cooled Porsche I saw. Where were all 928s and 924s? I could have checked out their door handles too. OK, let’s move on from this. Time for another coffee and, whilst I waited in the queue, a young singer played for the crowd.

A talented singer on the way to the coffee van

Finally I approached the barista. She looked at me. "The usual?" I nodded.

VW Kombi

The VWs ranged from the old air cooled Beetles through to the modern Golf Rs. Perhaps it’s because of the era I grew up in, but I enjoyed the Beetles and Kombis. I had a friend who had a Kombi back in the 80s and who sold it for not very much, but then who could’ve predicted they’d rise in value? We never thought people would actually get nostalgic over them.

On my way back to the BMW van I saw this Beetle complete with rust. I guess this is the “distressed” look, like you get in jeans where you buy them already worn with holes in them.

"Distressed" VW Beetle

Complete with picnic set

Another VW Beetle with a litter

A little further away was a splendid Karmann Ghia. What most people don’t realise is that there are fewer panels on these cars than others. The doors, boot, bonnet and the body. Petrol cap. Sleek. In a perfect world without panel damage these would be the cars to drive. I didn’t find the owner, mores the pity, and so didn't get the back story.

The gorgeous Karmann Ghia

Of course, in the German car world you have the… well, let's call them the oddities. Like the fully functional amphicar that showed off its propellers and the Isetta. The Isetta was taken from an Italian design and sold well back in the 50s and early 60s -- about 160,000 of them. I’m sure it was a good daily driver in its time, although its severe lack of frontal protection probably deterred one from tail gating.


The Amphicar... and functional!

The people in the Benz society were all very friendly. That's what you are when you're an Apex predator. I guess other predators sort of sneak by lions and stuff, hoping not to disturb them. I tip-toed around around their tent trying to get photos of classic Benzes. I even spotted a smart car in their midst. At least it didn’t have the tri-star on it, as I've seen on others.

One of these cars, is not like the other cars...

Whilst I am a member of the BMW club, the fact is I’ve owned a Porsche, my daily driver is an A170 Benz, and (until she purchased it from me) I bought my daughter’s VW Jetta. I smiled, realising I could have easily been a member of any of the clubs. Well, except the Porsche if a criterion is you still have to own one rather than have owned one.

And a 924 at that. I loved that car.

E92 M3... last naturally aspirated M3; a V8; individual throttle bodies...

Finally I made my way to my own club, the Canberra BMW Car Club. I examined a lot of the BMWs, but found myself spending time comparing notes with a white E92 M3 owner. He’d opted for the sunroof over the carbon fibre roof. It was a clean and recent example. Indeed, one of the last built.

There were quite a few other M cars, such as an M6 and M4, plus a very neat M540. Of course, what drew my eye were the stunning earlier cars, such as the 2002 and 3.0s.

Classic BMWS

It's a futile task for anyone trying to make sense of an auto day. A pinball doesn't make sense of the bumpers, it simply bounces between them. Automotive events are similar. You, the spectator, owner or journalist, bounce between the cars and if anything you write is in coherent, chronological order, it's because you've smoothed over the wrinkles of the chaos. Sure, there is some meta agenda and a Master of Ceremonies lurking somewhere in the refreshment tent, but the event is one of joyful randomness.

Better head back to the BMW van, I thought. After one more coffee.

The Canberra BMW Car Club set up and ready to go.

At the van I was asked to be a co-judge for 80s/90s BMWs and went around with a young fellow from the club. I was impressed at his knowledge of cars made at least a decade before he was born.

"Look at that, Stu. The trim should be cloth, not leather. Obviously redone." He made a note. "Great condition, though, but a mark off for that."

I nodded, bemused, amused and confused. By this time I'm certain no amount of coffee is going to help. Still, we judged and compare about a dozen beautiful BMWs. My favourite was an 850 with the classic wedge and pop up lights. Where have all the pop lights gone, long time passing? These, in Australia, were over $200,000 back in the early 90s. Back then that sort of money could buy you a house in Canberra.

BMW 850i. V12. Pop up lights. Coupe. Life is good.

"Look, I'm a bit tired," I finally said to the BMW Club President just after midday. "I'm off."

"Are you sure? We're about to draw for the remote control M4?"

I handed him my ticket. "Yeah. Best of luck."

I opened the i8's door and sat inside, to the crowd's amusement. People arched forward to hear the engine, but I started in electric mode, almost wanting to slip away unnoticed. Unfortunately this meant the crowds milling ahead of me didn't part to let me through, so I flipped it to drive mode. The sudden noise startled a few people and made my way slowly, and very carefully, to the exit. The event had been fun. There were a whole herds of cars I didn't managed to see, yet I left with a smile and shaking my head at people passing by.

Too much caffeine will do that to you.

If these cars were people, they'd be complaining about the younger generation.

I honestly couldn't think of a caption for this one... just enjoy it. Whatever it is.

They don't make them like this anymore.

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