Pontiac point to point

TODAY THE HUME HIGHWAY SEAMLESSLY CONNECTS SYDNEY AND MELBOURNE. IF THERE ARE ANY REAL CORNERS, AS THE 880KM LONG BAND OF BLACKTOP CUTS A SWATHE THROUGH THE COUNTRYSIDE, BYPASSING EVERY TOWN, I DON’T REMEMBER THEM. CRUISE CONTROL SET AT 110KM/H, IN 2018 THE INTERCITY DRIVE IS AN EXERCISE IN BOREDOM.

Peter Robinson

Not so in 1963 when editor Bill Tuckey, photographer John Keesing, together with their families, drove Sydney to Melbourne on the Hume, returning via the Olympic Way through Bathurst, in a Pontiac Laurentian. The 1932 kilometres (1200 miles) occupied 30 hours. The reason: “just to photograph a car” for the magazine, although we are never told the make or model, only that the location was outside a suburban Melbourne mansion called Goodwood.

Fifty-five years ago, the Hume Highway was a challenging two-lane road, even then a national disgrace. The so-called ‘highway’ included a dangerous 280-degree bend, where Tuckey remembers, “I once got a 2.5-litre Riley completely sideways on bald tyres in the damp.” Narrow, often wooden, bridges added to the ordeal. (Less than a decade earlier, one bridge on the Hume was single-lane only.) The route wound noisily through every town on the road, most featuring thennew motels, and climbed the still-notorious Razorback Hill between Camden and Picton. The NSW/Victorian border included fruit-fly gates where all south-bound traffic was checked for “any fruit, vegetables or pig meat”.

The Wheels crew sighted at least one semi-trailer on its side but, helped by the locally assembled Pontiac’s 4.6-litre V8, mostly coped with overtaking clotted groups of semis. With few open-road speed limits, Tuckey admits to cruising at over 130km/h (80mph) when possible, chiefly on the long straights in Victoria.

MOSTLY, AS TUCKEY DESCRIBES, THE SYDNEY-MELBOURNE DRIVE WAS AN EXERCISE IN FINDING FUEL.THERE WERE FEW 24-HOUR SERVOS AND THESE OFTEN STAYED OPEN TO SUIT THEMSELVES

Mostly, as Tuckey describes, the Sydney-Melbourne drive was an exercise in finding fuel. There were few 24-hour service stations/cafes, and these often stayed open to suit themselves. The driver needed to understand the car’s range and to know where to expect to get petrol. It was not easy, as Tuckey explained: “I twice spent chilly and lonely winter mornings in Goulburn sleeping in a car until opening time.”

In 1963, the Laurentian (basically a Canadian model based on a Chevrolet, and not the wide-track American Pontiacs)was the biggest and most expensive model sold by GM-H. No air-conditioning, though it did have a standard heater. “The best combination for the Pontiac’s heater was to leave it without boost fan, elevate all the glass, and keep one of the fresh air vents (remember them, ed?) slightly open.”

On the return to Sydney, through country NSW, Tuckey discovered the Pontiac, “was just ideal for blowing picnics up grass banks or overtaking three semi-trailers in the space one would normally allocate to an old lady on a bicycle.”

It was, after all, wrote Tuckey after arriving home at 2:00am, an adventure.

Highway hell

Wheels first railed against the Hume Highway in October 1954, when the story was headed “Death Road.” Since then, almost on a decadeby-decade basis, the road has been chronicled. Only when Holbrook was bypassed in June 2013, was the road finally duplicated for its entire length. Originally, the highway was named the ‘Great South Road’ in NSW and ‘Sydney Road’ in Victoria, only becoming the Hume Highway in 1928. It was named after Hamilton Hume who was (with William Hovell) the first European to travel a cross-country route between Sydney and Melbourne (then Port Phillip).

ALSO IN WHEELS, November 1963

The Lotus Cortina graces the cover, with its “amazing” 110mph (177km/h) vmax impressing Paul Higgins, who is taken by the mixture of high performance and sedate aesthetics. Peter Hall meets the luxurious Toyota Crown, while Rob Luck takes a home-built two-door EJ Holden Convertible for a spin. Editor Bill Tuckey wonders if Holden’s family-car war.

“I have a dream...”

Martin Luther King delivers his defining public speech at the Washington D.C. Civil Rights March, calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans and an end to racism.

Put it on the Tab

Soft drink Tab is introduced by the Coca Cola company as its first diet drink. Tab was offered in six flavours and was popular in the 1960s and ’70s, declining with the arrival of Diet Coke in 1982.

Bulls on parade

Ferruccio Lamborghini founds his eponymous brand, aimed at taking on marques such as Ferrari. Lambo gains prominence with 1966’s Miura, which sets the template for the mid-engined RWD supercar.