I have always had a keen interest in old cars. The square boxy shape and their old technology and simplicity.  In 1995 a good friend of mine taught me how to drive crash gears in his Packard driving through the fire tracks on Mt Crawford Forest on route to the Barossa Valley. I was hooked.

I had wanted to try to restore a car but was not confident I could do it. I found the Essex for sale as a “restorers dream” (aren’t they all?) in Unique Cars for $500. This was promising as if it all went to grief I could just dump it and move on….

The car was actually located in the late 70’s by a grader driver making some roads for the Woomera Rocket Range. The local station manager asked him to grade the dump after his shift for a couple of cartons of beer with everything under the sand.

The car was buried up to its axles in sand and had been cut to a buckboard. The motor was out and on the sand, the gauges were gone but mostly the rest of the car was intact. The grader driver and his brother set bout rescuing the Essex.

They stripped out the diff and front end by removing the spring shackles and threw it onto their trailer along with the already removed engine. They still could not get the chassis out of the sand so they chain-sawed the body into pieces so they could lift, then heaved the chassis, panels, cowling etc onto the trailer to move it. And that’s how I bought it some 17 years later….as a pile of junk.

Having sorted the various components and sand blasting the chassis I started working on the body with new sill rails and recesses for the floor boards using Aussie Oak. Gradually the pile of timber started to resemble a body. In my search for parts and information I met one of SA’s well known restorers who shared with me his contacts for sourcing parts and expertise. From tyres, tubes and rust bands to brake linings, spring shackles, and NOS Felt seals for the differential and so on. 

Fred also introduced me to his painter and coachbuilder, Rudi Jaud was a former body-shop lecturer and a great help. His knowledge is second to none in regard to vintage coachwork and body building.  Once the timberwork was (eventually) complete, Rudi was able to schedule the metal fabrication of the car and the re-skinning as needed of the cowling and tourer tub and guards etc. These skills were well outside of my capacity. Rudi’s workshop was quite small and so quick turnaround was the outcome.

The project continued. The job was done by Hillier Crash at Dry Creek. I selected a colour scheme from a 1926 Marmon, a classic car of the day. And so Black Guards valances Front Apron with the Bodywork comprising Bonnet, doors, tourer tub and scuttle would be Green. I also elected to paint the artillery wheels Green and compliment the hub with a dark British Racing Green highlight.  Black Pinstriped spokes completed the detail

About this time I started searching for parts for the tourer roof, of which I had none. A friend put me in contact with a chap in suburban Adelaide who some years before had begun restoring a 1927 Essex. Possible roof parts? Alas, none, other than his own car’s. He opened his garage and revealed a completely dismantled 1927 Essex. He was able to show me the roof irons and cones but advised if I wanted to buy them I had to buy all the car and parts, and by the way the engine, diff and gearbox was already finished.

I did not really want a second car but never the less a deal was negotiated and I secured the rest of the parts for my restoration including the power train etc. The project continued after the paint job was finished with the usual final re-assembly, wiring and upholstering. I sourced UV stable version of Acrylic which could be stitched to use as side curtain “windows” which are quite rigid. I also discovered in one of my ethereal moments that a near neighbour was a retired lecturer at the state Automotive Technical College who knew Rudi. He now upholstered vintage cars as a “hobby”.

Phil set about the upholstery and I had not even one seat spring!  Phil’s work is meticulous and he knows just how the original trimmers worked their craft. The end result was the emergence from Phil’s workshop of the completed vehicle.

Though the build is not without its faults I am very happy with the car. The period colour, nickel plated radiator, badge trimmings and wooden steering wheel etc all present as an authentic and very original Essex. I have worked very hard to use authentic period materials down to cloth woven wiring, nickel not chrome.

In my search for parts I have found some real treasures. After market original period stop lights and a second tail light are one example which allowed me to ensure there was both a left and right stop/tail light matching pair. Finding the original period accessories and options was quite a challenge, but that’s a big part of the hobby...that elusive find! The car was completed after some 4 ½ years of fairly continuous work and registered in September 2000. Has since travelled in excess of 10,000 miles.

To my great joy, our youngest daughter has taken up driving the car as well. After several careful lessons on defensive driving and other driver awareness issues, including mastering double clutch gearboxes, she too has driven many miles. Not bad at the age of 20 years!

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