Motafrenz Car Club

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Event Recap: Kings Birthday Weekend – 2023

Words by Daniel Borton and Photos by Paul Hollingworth and Daniel Borton

I’d wanted to go to Charlie’s Auto Museum for a few years, ever since I saw photos on Facebook from a friend’s visit. They have a first generation Honda Insight. When the need arose for someone to organise an event on Queens Birthday weekend (as we were still calling it back then), I decided it was the perfect opportunity. Twenty-two other people also agreed, and came along.

We had our first meeting point in Moorabbin, where our President, Secretary and volunteer coordinator arrived very early, – so they decided to do a spot of shopping in Bunnings but got so overwhelmed by all the power tools and trying to figure out how they all worked, that they ended up being late.

We had our usual social catch up, then hit the road for our second meeting point, at Baxter. There we had more time for morning tea, coffee, and a general chat before all of us that weren’t riding a Vespa returned to the freeway to head off for lunch. Kelvin took his Vespa via an alternative route that didn’t involve a 100 km/h freeway.

We had a great diversity of cars with a mix of daily drivers, classics, and the literal shitbox that I was driving. I decided to give the Shitbox Rally Alto a spin for one last time before it goes on to its new life, and also because it would be easier for everyone else to find me at the meeting points.

The drive up Arthurs Seat provided an opportunity to have some fun in the twisty bits, but in practice there’s a lot of drivers on the road who prefer to take it extremely slowly, and take in the scenery as they go up.

Lunch was at the Pig and Whistle Tavern in Main Ridge. They were pretty busy for a public holiday, but managed to cope with us quite well and served excellent food. 

Preparing for Lunch to arrive with eager anticipation…

The Museum had the most eclectic mix of cars of any car museum I’ve ever been to and I absolutely loved it. A highlight for me, and a reason for going, started out as the Honda Insight, but that was very quickly surpassed by what else I saw there. There was a Subaru 360, an Enfield 8000, two Bricklins (I didn’t know any were in Australia, let alone two in one place), and countless others. 

There were about five sheds outside each with a handful of cars, then a series of much larger sheds inside that had been added to over the years. In reality substantially more shedding was required, but they’d managed to pretty much squeeze everything in.

I’ve written a tiny bit about each of my favourite cars below, but some of the others that would have been my favourites had there not been even more interesting cars as well, which included a Daihatsu Handi, a Reliant Robin, a Renault Dauphine, an FSM Niki, a few Skoda’s, a Subaru SVX, a Fiat X1/9, a Mini Moke, a Trojan 200, a Nissan BE1, a Messerschmitt, a couple of Goggomobiles, 3 Avanti’s, an Invacar, a Lightburn Zeta, a Nash, a couple of Tatra’s, a Smart Roadster and two Toyota Sera’s.  And that list is before you even get onto all the more conventional Australian, American and everything else cars that an Australian car museum has.

Pre Lunch Socialising in the fresh air…

But my favourites (I think kind of in order) were:

Enfield 8000

This was an electric car developed in the Isle of Wight in the UK. It was initially built there, but right after production commenced, it was moved to Greece. The team behind it had high hops, that it would become a new global electric car despite its top speed of 77 km/h and range of 64 km. Three cars were even sent to California where production was hoped to commence to take advantage of their new clean air legislation. 

But it wasn’t to be. In practice the realistic range was closer to 40 km, and only 120 were built in total, with 65 of those being sold to Electricity companies and boards.

Subaru 360

This was the first car produced by Subaru (if you ignore 1500 of which only 20 were made four years earlier). Designed to fit into the Japanese Kei car class the car was compact in dimensions (1.3 metres wide and under 3.0 metres long) and powered by a 356cc engine, just under the maximum 360cc allowed.

In what seems to be a recurring coincidence on Motafrenz Museum visits, I’d actually just watched a Youtube clip the night before on the Subaru 360. It was imported into the US by businessman car enthusiast Malcolm Bricklin. He wanted to import Subaru scooters to the US and on a visit saw the Subaru 360. He decided that the 60mpg car was the way of the future and sought to import that. US safety regulations prevented the 360 being imported, but Malcolm went investigating. He found that US regulations required a car to weight 454 kg, but the 360 only weighed 410 kg, so he could bring it in.

Never officially imported to Australia, a few have made their way, like this one.

Subaru 360

Honda Insight

The Honda Insight was the first mass market hybrid sold in Australia, beating the Prius by a few months in 2001. Despite using a less advanced (and less efficient) hybrid system, the Insight managed better fuel economy than the Prius with official economy of just 3.2 litres to 100 km compared to the 4.4 that the Prius used. Even today, no other internal combustion car sold in Australia has managed to beat that result.

Instead the Honda used weight saving and aerodynamics to achieve its masterful fuel economy with plastic covers for the rear wheel arches (a-La Citroen CX), and weighing only 827 kg, less than my Suzuki Alto. The Insight was strictly a two seater and only came with a five speed manual transmission, both of which hampered its sales, particularly when compared to the $9000 cheaper 4 door five seater Toyota Prius. It would take a lot of driving at 2001s low fuel prices to regain that $9000 premium.

Few were sold new, and even fewer remain. I think I’ve only seen one on the road in the last ten years.

Honda Insight

Bond Bug

The Bond Bug was three wheeled car built by Bond and Reliant in the UK. The 850cc engine in this one was the largest of the engines offered in the Bug. The Bug failed to sell up a storm, being slightly more expensive than the larger and more powerful Mini 850.

Suzuki CV1

The CV1 was a Japanese micro car sold between 1981 and 1985. It had a 50cc engine, a top speed of 32 km/h and was substantially smaller than a kei car. It was a single seater, and sold under the banner of Suzuki Community Vehicle (CV1). The 1 after CV presumably alluded that there’d be more models, but despite some improvements (later models moved from the single headlight of the example at Charlies, to two headlights), it was removed from the market in 1985 when Japanese licensing laws were changed.

Bricklin SV1

After failing to successfully sell the Subaru 360 in the US, partly due to its poor safety, Malcolm Bricklin set about creating the safest vehicle he could, the SV-1 (Safety Vehicle 1). The car ended up a bit of a Frankenstein with components from AMC, Ford, Opel, Datsun, Toyota and Chevrolet amongst others.

Bricklin set about finding a government that would fund production, settling on Saint John in New Brunswick Canada after the government provided $4.5 million in financing. The area had high unemployment, and it was hoped the factory would turn the local economy around. Unfortunately the local workers had no skills in car production and the quality was appalling, as seen on the examples there. 

Production ended after two years due to a range of issues, substantially to do with the workforce, but also because the price for the car doubled in the two years it was produced

Daihatsu Max 360

Another kei car, and the cheapest car sold in Australia in 1974. Heavier than the Subaru 360 at 515 kg, the 360 used a 2 cylinder 2 stroke engine.

During the 70’s and 80’s Daihatsu produced a single kei car passenger car, however their line up now comprises 40% kei car passenger cars, plus commercial vehicles. Daihatsu left Australia in 2005. Despite the possibility of Daihatsu cars being sold in Australia badged as Toyota’s (their parent company), this never eventuated.

Daihatsu Max 360

BMW Isetta

The was a 1950s economy car with a single seater 236cc engine. It was unique with the door being across the front of the car, with the steering wheel attached to the front door and the engine in the rear. It also only had three wheels, but unlike a Reliant Robin, there were two at the front and one at the rear.

Microlino 2.0 is a small electric quadracycle (basically a low powered light weight car that you don’t need a car licence to drive in Europe) with its design inspired by the BMW Isetta, although it features four wheels.

BMW Isetta

In fact my only real disappointment from the whole museum was the distinct lack of any Citroens.

You can see all the pictures from the day via the links below :-

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