A car for every decade

Anthony Camilleri’s mission to own an old motor from every decade is well under way, says Joseph Busuttil from the Old Motors Club

In the years of late adulthood, when the first rays of retirement start to seep onto the horizon, many people begin to think about spending more time enjoying their favourite pastime, which hitherto they had been unable to indulge in at length.

Anthony Camilleri, an engineer with sailing in his blood, and his own marine company, started to contemplate a very lengthy round-the-world voyage in his boat, together with his wife Greta. After all, they had just spent some wonderful months sailing the Aegean Sea, and also crossed the Atlantic with some Canadian friends.

However, when Camilleri shared this thought with his wife, she did not subscribe to the idea, as she was averse to be away from dry land for so long. When asked how he would spend his time, she suggested her husband should take up old motors. Ruminating over the proposal, he looked back and thought that he had never really been enthusiastic about classic cars. In fact, when a 1986 Porsche 944 turbo landed in his lap as part of a boat deal, he did not use it much, and eventually sold it. But in order to prioritise marital harmony, he eventually subscribed to her view.

While on the net, he soon spotted a 1927 Chevrolet AA Boat Tail Speedster for sale at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq. They went there to have a closer look. Despite its long life, the beige coloured car was in good and roadworthy condition. Regarded as a rare vehicle with an impressive history, the series had toppled Ford from the top of the US sales chart in the late 1920s. Eventually a deal was reached with the owner, Barry Owen.

While viewing the Chevy, the couple also saw in the same garage a white, 1977 Mercedes SL 350 convertible. The vehicle brought back romantic memories, as the first birthday present Greta gave to her future husband was, by sheer coincidence, a scale model of this Mercedes. Consequently, the Camilleris also bought this classic car, a grand touring vehicle tailored to affluent performance enthusiasts, produced till the present and spanning six generations.

The purchase of two old cars half a century apart gave the couple a strong desire to start a small collection by getting an old motor from every decade, covering both pre- and post-war models. The next two additions came around in an unusual way when Camilleri was in Spain.

“While surfing the net I spotted an attractive blue, 1932 Morris Minor for sale in Fgura. I had already made up my mind to go for it when in the background of the picture, a 1967 Jaguar Mk 11 2.4L sailed into view. Well aware that Greta had a soft spot for this model, I thought of killing two birds with one stone, and buy both. But the two classics were in Malta, while I was abroad. So I decided to phone my friend and neighbour Jesmond Zahra and asked him to go to Fgura, vet them, and if they were fine, to pay a deposit. Soon after getting back in Malta, our collection had doubled to four.”

1964 Jaguar 3.8 MK 2-1

Eventually, the Jaguar 2.4L was part-exchanged for a maroon, 1935 Rolls Royce 20/25 limousine, a classy car that had its chassis and mechanical parts manufactured by the company, while the body was made and fitted by a coachbuilder selected by the owner. Similarly, the Morris Minor made way for a black, 1927 Ford Model T. Known as Tin Lizzie, this model is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile as well as the most influential car of the 20th century.

A classic car with a history was the next addition, another Jaguar Mk 11 3.8L with a historic pedigree. This 1964 black model had been in the hands of various well-known old motors collections, including Graham Gooch, a former captain of the British cricket team.

The next thoroughbred to join the stable was a two tone maroon and black, 1934 Austin 10/4 Clifton, two-seater tourer with dickey seat, which was also bought from Barry Owen. Well noted for its willingness to pull, the Clifton featured, among other innovations, a new style radiator cowl. 750 models were manufactured between 1934 and 1936 – only 27 are thought to be still in existence, thus making Camilleri’s car a rare find. Moreover, it also boasts its original patina, displaying the telltale signs of a well-used and exquisitely cared for vehicle. In 2016 the Camilleris participated with the Clifton in the Malta Concours d’Elegance at Villa Apap Bologna in Attard, and won the Pre-War Section.

The Camilleris’ collection also includes a red, 1964 Porsche 356 SC, a sports car that was first produced in Austria, then later in Germany, from 1948 to 1965. Significant engineering innovations contributed to its motor sports success and popularity. Bought from Holland, Camilleri says that the vehicle, which originally came out in December 1963, underwent a nut-and-bolt restoration project in Australia in 1993, and is now in a concours condition.

Camilleri’s cars have come from far and wide, but in the collection there is a classic vehicle that is very near to home – a 1986 Fiat 126 BIS.

“Camilleri’s cars have come from far and wide, but in the collection there is a classic vehicle that is very near to home – a 1986 Fiat 126 BIS”

“It is my father’s old car, and it brings back many happy and nostalgic memories for me.” This rear engine, small and economic city car came out in 1972 as a replacement for the Fiat 500.

A glittering precious gem among the classic jewels is a British racing green, 1952 Jaguar XK 120 fixed head coupe, a vehicle which underwent a thorough, nut-and-bolt rehabilitation operation in the hands of its proud owner. How this rare car found its way from Orange County in California to Camilleri’s garage in Attard is a tale of trials and tribulations, pinpointing the pitfalls that occasionally put up their nasty head when one purchases an old car online. The sad saga with an albeit happy ending deserves a complete article in its own right, and will be recounted in a future edition of Motoring.

A professional engineer who honed his skills for many years in a leading Maltese company prior to setting up his own marine business, Camilleri says that he likes to do much of the work needed on his old vehicles himself.

“But, truth be told, with the exception of the Jaguar XK 120, all the motors I bought were either in very good condition, or else needed very little repairs,” he adds.

When Camilleri bought his first old cars, he found by chance the website of the Old Motors Club, and saw there a name that rang familiar bells – John Pullicino, an old colleague from his university days as well as the workplace. He contacted him to test the ground, and needless to say, he was soon taking part in club events, something that he continues to do on a regular basis accompanied by his wife. Their three sons are also very interested in classic cars, but their present very busy and hectic working lifestyle makes it hard for them to indulge in this pastime. . As to the local old motors scene, Camilleri notices that the number of old vehicles on the Maltese roads is increasing by the day, aided and abetted by the generous official concessions in importing as well as owning a classic car. With a significant old car collection to enjoy, he feels that he has reached his limit of purchasing more such motors. “But you never know,” he adds with a twinkle in his eyes.

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