Beer cans. empty, and in their tens of thousands, the green of VB, the maroon of Carlton Draught, the blue of Toohey’s New, clinking together around your ankles as you shuffled your feet through them like fallen autumnal leaves.
This is one of my earliest memories of Mount Panorama, Bathurst. Knee-high to a grasshopper, or about six beer cans tall, I grasped my old man’s shorts as we wandered through the lawless-feeling, Mad Maxian wasteland that was the Top of the Mount at approximately 6pm on the Sunday after the race. Garbage blanketed the ground almost entirely.
This was the mid ’90s, and as columns of weary punters marched back to their parked cars, lugging eskies and camp chairs, plumes of thick, black, acrid smoke reached up into the sky, somewhere over in the campsite. Presumably another car was being sacrificially torched to appease the gods of red and blue – whichever had lost the race.
There were only two colours of flag zip-tied to the poles of the khaki awnings throughout the temporary canvas town back in those days. Either a blue oval, or the proud lion motif – maybe a cheeky old Nissan flag of some s**t-stirrer. But if you chose one flag and hoisted it above your campsite, you dared not fraternise with those of the opposite. The rivalry was real.
In the April 2019 issue of MOTOR, we’ve taken two of the rarest vehicles from these long-warring tribes – an HSV W1 Ute and Ford Falcon Phase III GT-HO – and ‘compared’ them for a very special feature. To me, this kind of stuff is starting to feel a bit like seeing Peter Brock’s Marlboro VC and Dick Johnson’s Tru-Blu XD together in the modern day, old enmities replaced with nostalgia. It’s got me thinking about where the red-versus-blue rivalry itself is heading.
In my dealings with you, MOTORists, and in gas-bagging with my equally car-mad mates, or my older relatives who knew and partook in the Bathurst tribalism, it seems the boundaries of the old hostilities are blurring into something entirely new.
Many of us, realising how lucky we were to have a homegrown road car rivalry at all, are now just becoming admirers of the wider Australian car industry and the legendary machines it produced – independent of brand. I know I am; I see a mint, original VE SS and I get as excited as seeing a tidy, unmolested BA GT. My online classifieds saved search includes Aussie models from both Ford and Holden. I was a bit Ford obsessed as a kid, and while I’ve always had a respect for the ‘other’ brand, I’ve never actively yearned for certain Commodores like I do now. It’s all a bit new and confusing, but I’m liking it.
It’s this growing interest in, and celebration of, the Australian car industry broadly that will, in my opinion, also shortly do silly things to the values of the cars still around. Cars should not be thought of as investments, yet I bet an aircraft hangar full of mint post-1990 SSs, Clubsports, XR8s, XR6Ts, GTs and T-Series will, healthy economy permitting, outperform a share portfolio over the next decade. But we digress...
Of course, there’ll always be the stubborn boofheads, so it’s hard to know for sure if your average Ford fan will start to feel warm and fuzzy at the sight of some rare HSV; or if their Holden equivalent will develop a bit of a soft spot for a Barra. But my sense, and hope, is that it’s heading this way. And perhaps we’ll come to realise that, as we sit amongst each other’s squalor on the top of some hill in country NSW, VB and Toohey’s New might taste different but beer is beer. And beer is good.
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