The gift of gear

Clyde Busuttil went from model car birthday presents to real classics says Joseph Busuttil from the Old Motors Club.

From a very early childhood, Clyde Busuttil developed a keen interest in classic cars. His father Aldo drove an Austin Farina A40, a small family car that was very popular from the late 1950s to the middle 60s.

“Sunday drives with the family were the highlight of the week, something that I very much looked forward to,” he remembers, adding that the vehicle, maintained in an immaculate condition, was used frequently and was kept in the family for many years. This model had a lasting and impressive imprint on the young boy’s mind.

For his birthdays, Busuttil had a specific request for his parents: the purchase of a classic car model, which he would cherish with affectionate care. The only troubled waters that would cause havoc in the otherwise very quiet Busuttil home surroundings would arise when his younger brother Conrad would take one of his old car models without his permission and cause some form of damage.

“Then all hell would break loose, as I was very protective of my hard earned collection,” he recalls.

As a young man, his first classic car was a blue, 1956 Volkswagen Beetle with oval windows. Despite its age, the vehicle was roadworthy and needed little repairs. Consequently Busuttil used it regularly for a period of seven years. Alas, as is often the case, when marriage beckons, an old car would be one of the first items that have to make way for the new to be assumed responsibilities.

Clyde Busuttil with his 1969 Triumph Herald 13/60. Photos: Tony Vassallo

For a lengthy period – between 2006 and 2013 – thoughts of owning a classic car were far removed from his mind, although he is quick to point out that whenever he could, he attended old motors shows all over the island, thus slightly quenching in a subtle way his thirst for being behind the wheel of a memorable motor. However, once he felt settled down and other priorities were seen to, he was soon on the lookout for a classic car.

Through the grapevine, he got to know of an abandoned car in a field in the limits of Rabat.

“It was a left-hand drive, 1960 Volkswagen Beetle. It was in a dilapidated state, having been left at the mercy of the elements for many years. My first reaction was that restoring such a vehicle would be a bridge too far, but then both my eagerness for a challenge as well as nostalgia oozing out of those halcyon days in my first Volkswagen, won the day.”

Having paid a few hundred euros for the broken down car, he happily towed it home to start planning an elaborate nut and bolt restoration project. But his troubles were far from over, as it turned out that the Volkswagen had belonged to a person who did not have the previous transfer papers, the reason for its being left to fend for itself in an open field for countless years.

“Luckily my work in the insurance field as well as helpful contacts saved the day. Transport Malta were able to trace the original owner, who did not possess the number plates, but the chassis number could be identified as the original. Although the original log book had been lost, new papers were issued, and a new document could now be printed out,” explains the much relieved new owner.

“His red coloured model came out from the Malta Car Assembly in Marsa”

A car that has come to symbolise Germany as much as Goethe and sauerkraut, the Volkswagen or People’s Car is an iconic motor that was produced from 1938 until 2003. The 1960s models featured a front anti roll bar with hydraulic steering damper.

Being well aware that the old car needed a labour of love, patient rehabilitation, Busuttil is still thoroughly working on all putting the bits and pieces together, as well as in contact with Volkswagen Heritage to find out the original colour that preceded its present orange colour.

While working on the Volkswagen, Busuttil realised in 2015 that he could not stay away from driving a classic for such a long time. One day while surfing the net, he came across a 1969 Triumph Herald 13/60 for sale – a model he has always admired for its sleek and stylish lines. Considering it a bargain and knowing how quickly such offers are taken up, he immediately contacted a friend so that he could do all the running for him, as he could not get away from work at that period.

“We acted just in the nick of time for the classic car, which incidentally later turned out to have belonged to another friend of mine, and had a number of enthusiasts following it seriously.”

The Triumph Herald 13/60 is a small, two-door car produced by Standard Triumph of Coventry from 1959 to 1971, designed by the renowned Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti. Busuttil proudly points out that his red coloured model came out from the Malta Car Assembly in Marsa, a plant operating between 1963 and 1982 that also saw models like Alfa Romeo, Alfa Sud, and the Austin Mini coming off the line.

“I did not have to do too much work on it, for it was in a very good condition. The main tasks were engine maintenance, brakes and shock absorbers, while it was re-sprayed in its original colour.”

A year after buying the Herald, Busuttil got to know that a friend who owned a 1970 Morris Mini Mark 111, was selling it.

“The Mini was roadworthy, but he had garaged it and dismantled it in preparation for a restoration project. However, he then developed second thoughts. Having always had a soft spot for the Mini since childhood, a deal was soon on the cards.”

He is now working on the overhaul and assembly of the Mini, having finished the internal spraying of the British racing green classic car.

Recently Busuttil came across another attractive offer online – a 1974 Land Rover Series 111.

“I was impressed by its overall functional state and condition. The vehicle was roadworthy, and needed no special attention. The UK import has been in Malta for many years, and was in constant use. It soon found its way to my garage.”

The Land Rover is a very successful off road vehicle produced by the Rover company in three main series.

Busuttil states that out of the four old motors, the Volkswagen Beetle is definitely his favourite. He laments the fact that a 1981 Mazda 323 that was also driven by his father, was eventually sold. Despite two classics on the road, and two more with a work-in-progress classification tag, he does not rule out the acquisition of another old motor, especially one that comes from the pre war era.

An active member of the Malta Old Motors Club, he follows not only major local highlights like the Mdina Grand Prix and the Valletta Concours d’Elegance, but also spreads his wings abroad and regularly visits activities abroad like the Birmingham three day classic car event at the National Convention Centre, and the Ragusa Auto Story, that specialises in showcasing old Italian cars.

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