Restoring old Rally Cars

I am a second year Mechanical Engineering Student and a proud member of the Sunswift Vertically Integrated Project. Andrea HoldenMy interest in engineering started when I was quite young and continued all the way throughout high school with my family’s hobby of restoring old cars. Most of my school holidays involved being in the shed with greasy hands pulling apart old cars with my dad. Every year our family would go to a different Australian destination and tour one of the cars in our collection for a week (usually driving 600-800km per tour) with about 140 other pre-1918 cars. I guess “unique upbringing” is what comes to mind when I think about my childhood.

My family have always joked about “building memories” at the car restoration events we attended. At the time these events seemed really horrible but looking back I just laugh. I remember being 9 years old and driving in our windscreen-less and roof-less 1902 Thomas with Dad in Tasmania when it was 10 degrees and pouring down rain. Fast forward to morning tea, I broke down in torrential tears because I don’t think I’ve ever been that cold in my life. After morning tea, I drove in a separate car with a roof while my dad and two others managed to get lost and nearly ran out of fuel. That’s all the fun of it, right?

The rule with our 1902 Thomas (definitely my favourite car in Dad’s collection) always was, if I could crank start it, I could drive it. 15-year-old me was determined to make this happen, so on a rally in Robe, SA I finally started it and drove it the next day. It was awesome! There’s such a sense of achievement restoring a 100 year + car to its original form and then being able to drive it like a normal car – with extra quirks and nowhere near as much speed. 

At every rally, it’s inevitable that something would “break” in someone’s car. Usually it’s not a big deal and some duct tape or super glue will fix it.But sometimes a motor decides it isn’t happy and BOOM - your car is terminal for the week. I remember using araldite to glue our carburettor back together - I was amazed it held it together because it was literally in two pieces, but it got us through the rest of week, and we fixed it when we got home. I also remember hammering pieces of metal into the wooden spokes of the wheels because they were a little loose for comfort. Engineering on the fly, right? Unfortunately, that fix wasn’t as successful - I think we officially gave up on day five and had the wheels re-spoked that following year.

COVID has been pretty tough for the most part, but for me it gave an unexpected bonus, I had the opportunity to spend 2 months working with my dad on my 1915 Cadillac racer our current restoration project– I can’t wait to take it to Eastern Creek when it’s finished. Pulling apart the motor that had been sitting in a garage for 50 years and finding that somehow it wasn’t completely ruined surprised us both. 

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Photogallery

  • Andrea driving a restored car