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Wheel Stories: Classic car curation with Ken Grindrod

By Michael Stahl, 14 Oct 2018 Features

Wheel Stories: Classic car curation with Ken Grindrod

This trader of precious metal knows how to spot the gems

If there are few things more enjoyable than spending someone else’s money, there’s possibly nothing better than spending it on cars: classics, supercars, racing cars, whatever takes your fancy. That’s pretty much what car consultant Ken Grindrod, 74, has done for the past four years, as the curator of the mammoth Gosford Classic Car Museum on the NSW Central Coast. Part of the Sydney motor trade for decades, Grindrod’s industry connections made him a natural fit for the museum.

“I was born in Melbourne, but we moved to Gundagai, worked on the land for a while, then I came to Sydney when I was 17 to try my luck,” he says. “There’s never been anything else but cars, going way back with Dinky Toys … my first job was as a sales cadet at Larke-Hoskins, then I joined P&R Williams, selling MGs, those sorts of things.

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“Then I worked for some years at Bryson’s, when it was distributor for Jaguar. Sales, always in sales.”

Grindrod opened Wagon Wheels, a landmark used-car dealership on Sydney’s Parramatta Road, with fellow country boy, the late Ray Lintott. “Ray and I had been best mates back at school; we used to muck around in old MGs out in the country.”

Grindrod had started racing in 1963, on the smell of an oily rag. “I bought a Triumph Herald, the only car I could afford. I did a lot of hillclimbs, and I raced it at Bathurst in Easter ’64 … there’s a famous photograph of it rolling over at Warwick Farm.” After several years’ absence, in the 1980s he raced an EH Holden in the revived Appendix J category, then rounded out his racing days in a VL Turbo production car.

“So, yeah – done a bit of racing, a bit of rallying, done a bit of everything. But classic cars are really the thing now, and it’s such a big thing because [of] international buyers.”

Grindrod had been loosely following the trends of the classic market when he got a call from Prague. Tony Denny, an Aussie expatriate who’d built a large used-car retail network over 24 years in Czech Republic, was moving home, bringing with him a significant collection of Iron Curtain cars.

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A car kook to the core, Denny figured he’d have someone on the ground look for some other interesting cars, and find somewhere to keep them.

“Really, it was just going to be a private collection,” says Grindrod. “And next thing, this empty Bunnings building came up and I suppose he had to say, ‘Well, how do we fill this?’

“We went from zero to, at the highest point, close on 600 cars … but to get those 600 cars, we probably looked at a couple of thousand.”

Grindrod says there wasn’t a wish-list, as such. “We had an open mind. We weren’t looking for one brand, although at one stage we had close to 50 Ferraris. We had Lamborghinis. We had two Jaguar XJR-15s, which have both now gone to the States.”

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Stumbling onto incredible finds became simply a part of the process. “There was the ‘barn find’ Falcon GT [Phase III] we bought – it hadn’t been driven since 1981 when I looked at it, sitting in a carport, covered in blankets … It makes the chase worthwhile when you find something like that.”

The Gosford museum inevitably started selling cars as well as buying them. Grindrod retired in March of this year, though he’s using his international network to buy and sell independently.

Does he ever get it wrong? “Due diligence is a major part of it and people can make mistakes. Classic cars are a bit like art – a painting is a painting and people in this market know what’s around. Part of what I do is knowing these people; being part of this operation worldwide.”

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Classic car consultant Ken Grindrod moves among private owners often with large, little-known collections – like one in NSW reputed to hold 1200 cars and 600 motorcycles. “The high-end people like to keep their stuff pretty private,” he says. “You know who they are, they’ll turn up at Pebble Beach with their concours cars… They’re the people that I deal with.”