The Chev played a small roll in that rise. The period photo on the right, shows Sir Robert, Dame Pattie (on the left), and, by all accounts, Dame Zara Holt, on the right.
The fact that the car is still in its sedan configuration, means that it was prior to The Unfortunate Tarnagulla Incident.
As students of history, both past and modern will know, conservative leaders are inordinately fond of the idea of war. Sir Robert, as a young man prior to 1914, was formost in beating the drum about the Boers, about the Bosch, and about Duty to the Empire, British that is. When war was declared in 1914, however, young Robert, 19 at the time, resigned his Officer's Commission in the Melbourne University Militia, and concentrated on The Law and money.
Quite right too! Why die, when the lower orders will do it for you, a very honorable tradition, followed, later, by John Howard and George W Bush, who both declined duty in Vietnam, but were fearless in sending others to die later.
This remarkeable story was researched by the Historical Unit of the FSCC, with some assistance from Prof. Dr. Gus Tuft, of the ANU. Prof. Tuft is currently engaged in talks with the National Motor Museum to purchase the vehicle for the nation.
The story starts in Victoria, in 1930, when the new Chevrolet Six was purchased by a young lawyer, Robert Gordon Menzies, later Sir Robert, as a campaign vehicle for his attempt at the Ministry in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. He had been a Member of the Upper House since 1928, and this was his big thrust for power. He achieved his goal, and was a minister in the conservative Victorian government from 1932 to 1934, and became Deputy Premier of Victoria in 1932, before moving onto the big stage, and becoming the Longest Serving Liberal Prime Minister in Australian history!
By 1930, most had forgotten Sir Robert's "yellow period", but not the returned servicemen of Tarnagulla. On a "Meet the People" tour, Sir Robert met a few who remembered. They also had with them some tar, and feathers. The Great Man sought refuge in the Police station, and so the diggers, with the main quarry gone to ground, concentrated on the car. They tarred and feathered it, and set it alight. By the time the Fire-Brigade and Police reinforcements arrived, the body was ruined, but otherwise the car was intact. Sir Robert left town, to concentrate on the leafy glens of Kooyong, which had a higher concentration of conservative lawyers, his own kind of people. He gave orders that the wreck be sold for scrap and never, ever, returned to Tarnagulla.
According to records, the wreck was purchased by a William Snedden, blacksmith, of Bealiba, Victoria.
William "Hillbilly Billy" Snedden, as he was known, could see the value in the car, and decided to turn it into a Ute for his own business.
He ripped the burnt body off, from the winscreen back, and spent a considerable time, with no expenses spared, to build a quality ute, to advertise his panel prowess and thus make a transition from carriage to car trade.
Having successfully completed the conversion, Hillbilly Billy decided to "christen" the car with his favourite first cousin, Molly Mackie. Such were the smoothness of the springs, and such was the enthusiasm of the cousins, that, on the sugar stroke, poor Hillbilly's ticker gave up, and he died on the job! But, not before he passed on his genes to a son, Billy Mackie Snedden, who, by a curious twist of fate, also became a leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, and who also died "on the job".
Poor Mollie could not look at the car which had taken her Billy from her, and so decided to sell it to out of towners, the Abbot Brothers, pig breeders, from Wychitella.
It was Xavier Abbot (on the right) who actually paid for the car, and he forbade his younger brother, Anthony (on the left) from driving it, because he was a total idiot, who could barely be left in charge of a wheelbarrow, let alone a car of the quality of the Chev.
But an idiot cannot be watched all of the time, and it was while Xavier was away courting the "widow" Mackie, in the farm's Dodge 4, that Tony seized his chance.
He fired up the ute, eventually found a gear, and stomped on the accellerator. To give him some credit, this is what you did with the Dodge, which would sorta get going eventually, but never with much enthusiasm.
But the Chev shot off, pushing Tony into the seat, where he had a momentary panic seizure, let go of the
wheel, and covered his eyes. By the time he looked through his fingers, the view had not improved, and he was heading for the dam.
It did not occur to him to put the brake on. Why would you? He'd learnt from the Dodge that the brake pedal was purely ornamental, and so, scattering a wallow of Large Whites with a couple of British Landrace and a solitary Gloucestershire Old Spot, he cruised into the dam, and stopped at axle height. The pigs thought that he had kindly added an island to their wallow and adopted it instantly, and with some enthusiasm, for nothing much happens in Wychitella, even for pigs..
When Anthony had finally extracted himself from the quagmire, and looked at what he had done, he made a strangely wise decision (for an idiot). He quietly packed up a few personal items and, not looking back, he left the farm to get as far away from his brother as he possibly could. Some say he got as far as Sydney, where it was reported he stowed away on a boat for England. He apparently returned to Sydney in 1960 with a son. God knows what became of him, with genes such as his, poor sod.
Xavier's return to the farm with the "widow" Mackie was planned to be the "piece de resistance" in his courtship with the "widow", and his loving polishing of the Chev, was to be the centre piece of the whole shebang. Such were the plans, but as the sainted Robbie Burns said: " The best laid schemes o' mice an' men. Gang aft agley." And agley they did become.
Proceeding down the long drive to the Wychitella farm, on a hot day, the "Widow" Mackie thought she saw her beloved Billy's Chev dancing on the waters of an inland sea, with Billy in the drivers seat. "An omen!" she thought .
On closer examination, when the tears of joy in her eyes had evaporated in the heat, she realised that "Billy" was actually a Large White (called Malcolm), and that the Chev was in a wallow with a small sow called Tammy lounging in the back!
People have said that "Hell hath no fury compared to a woman scorned!", however that is a mere bagatel compared to the fury of a woman whose sacred marital bed has been turned into an aquatic adventure playground for pigs!
She reached across, and gripped.
Xavier, who had been paying attention to the road, had not noticed the wallow, but had noticed the "widow's" hand. "Hello", he thought, "this could be promising." But not for long. The grip intensified, past cuddly, past uncomfortable, and into the lower reaches of pain. Relentlessly, slowly, the grip intensified. It is said of the "squirrel grip" that the "gripper" can virtually control the "grippee" by the variation of pressure. And so it was for Xavier. He brought the Dodge to a screetching halt, something one would have though beyond the capabilities of the car, but the "widow"was not satisfied. The pressure increased, and just before Xavier passed out, he recalled the "widow" singing: "Hitler, had only one brass ball; Goering, had two but very small; Himmler, had something similar; but poor old Goebbels, had no balls at all!" The red veil passed over his eyes.
He was a destroyed man, physically and mentally. He asked a distant cousin to take the Chev away, and spent his remaining few years, alone, just in the company of his snivelling little house-pigs Janette, and Little Johnny.
The Chev went to a place called Dallas, just out of Trentham in Victoria, where it became a yard ornament for years, till Roger Ramjet discovered it.
The Roger was, and is, an erstwhile member of the club that is often confused with the Victorian Senior Citizens Club, (with strong affiliations to the Liberal Party), and, as with so many of that ilk, has a yearning for "rough trade". He thought of joining the Ferals, and imagined that just buying the right hulk will do it.
Nosirree! It's just not that easy, though not impossible! We need to check out any aspirant in case they are a closet bible-bashing rechabite with polishing tendencies who disliked dogs and beer.
We invited Roger along to check him out. It was to a Chad Morgan "concert" at the Logan Pub, where we were to overnight. The drive there, via various pubs was a huge success, as was the concert. Unfortunately, Roger contracted a slight case of alcoholic poisoning during the night. I can recall him saying: "Jeez, Keithy gives good value! Look at these buckets, and they're full!" They were, and he had many of them, and consequently so was he. Anyways, on medical advice, he was urged to break active contact with the Ferals, or die.
Robbo, laid back gentleman farmer, was an obvious fit for the car. Price was a problem.
The Roger had paid too much for the car, driven, as he was, by the sirensong of the Ferals. As he admitted, "The engine is fucked, it's full of water! The gearbox and the diff are the same! Water out of all of them. But the body is good."
The Robbo thought, "OK, I'll just chuck a slant six Valiant in for the moment, and fix it all up later." That's how farmers think. A deal was done at far less than the Ramjet originally thought, and most left, if not pleased, at least not shattered.
The Lupino, and Carse were there to add colour and movement, and supposedly
"help" in the transfer, and we helped to get it to the Guildford Pub, where we sat on the verandah and admired Robbo's latest folly at leisure, as it sat majestically on Robbo's trailer across the road.
But a farmer's mind is not necessarily satisfied with what has been signed off as fucked, being actually so. "Got a mate, Eric, lives on the way to the Duck, (pub at Campbelltown) retired, he's hand-making square nuts. How fucking bored must he be? Reckon I'll get him to have a look at the Chev."
They removed the engine, which was seized, and then removed the sump. The smell was redolent of aged pig, no doubt due to Roger having emptied it not long ago. What they saw was, not at first very welcoming. A fair bit of rust and crud, pistons rusted in, camshaft rusted in, but fucked? Nah!
Too many restorer types have too much money and too few brains. They recoil at any sign of distress and want a total transplant, when a Bex and a good lie down is probably what is really required. Why?
Because they generally don't have natural mechanical skills. Farmers have a hard enough time of it not to waste dough unneccessarily, and therefore have developed these skills. They also have developed an aversion to "experts" who they rightly recognise as wanting to feather their own nests.
Eric and Robbo lifted the main and big-end caps, and realised that there was stuff-all wear or damage. They spent a lot of time with diesel to move the camshaft, and to ease the pistons, and eventually they did both. A bit of pitting on some cam lobes, but that was it!
The bores showed a bit of surface rust, which was cleaned up with just a hone, and, once the engine was freed up, it was full steam ahead!
Robbo lashed out for a gasket set, and a set of rings, which he reckons might have been a bit extravagant, as the old ones probably would have done the job, but other than that, there was no cost.
They cleaned it all up, and bunged it back in.
Now don't think I'm guilding the lily here! They did have some extra costs. They did not have to replace any of the high or low tension leads to the dizzy, it's true, but they did have to replace a couple of radiator hoses!
Eric and Robbo worked like navvies to get the thing going for The Feral Train Chase, which was
a credit to them both.
All in all it took 5 weeks from "fucked" to going, and bugger-all cost.
By the way, Roger had provided some later model wire wheels for the car, with indifferent tyres, but Robbo chose the original disk wheels, which showed the "tide" levels of the immersion in the pig wallow, with the much better tyres. A win-win for both originality and economy. And, as Saint Henry would say: "Ain't it always the case?"
Our own Deaf John, who is a bit of an expert on gearboxes, had deemed the gearbox as : "Fucked!" A bit of heavier gear-oil fixed that, with the rational thought by Robbo: "Most of the time you're in top anyway!" And the same for the diff. No probs!
Which leads to a lesson here: there are probably hundreds of reasons for spending money unneccessarily, and plenty of people who gain from that idea, and actively urge it, but that does not mean it is a good
thing to do. Sometimes, doing the least is doing the most.
As a sorta objective observer, I just cannot find many faults with the Chev, except in one department: the return spring on the accelerator pedal is way too heavy. I think Robbo used one of his stump-jump plough return springs, because he had them lying around. A lighter spring might not cause the pedal to seize shut so often, and be less taxing on the thigh muscles. But other than that; it's a jewel!
In tribute to this historically important vehicle, we have constructed a little fillum. Click HERE to view it.
The True History of Robbo's Chevrolet 6 Ute.