Don's book a glimpse of a bygone motoring era

Don's passion for the cars we used to drive

Book Reviews
MEMORIES: Author and car buff Don Loffler with a 48-215 Holden.

MEMORIES: Author and car buff Don Loffler with a 48-215 Holden.

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Don Loffler's eighth book looks back on a golden age of motoring in Australia.

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In 1948, nine-year-old Don Loffler was living in the small South Australian rural community of Wanbi or, as he describes it, "almost beyond the black stump".

But remote as the community was, 1948 was an exciting year for a young Aussie lad because the first Australian-built car - the Holden - was rolling off the production line, and to Don it was the most beautiful thing in the world.

Fast forward 73 years and Don is still as much in love with the Holden today as he was as an impressionable car mad boy. So much so that he's written seven books about the Australian automotive icon.

However, many Holden aficionados would complain Don has turned to the dark side with his recently published eighth book Cars We Used To Drive Australians on the move 1940s to 1960s as it features many of the other makes and models of vehicle which graced Australian roads between 1946 and 1968.

The book is not only a glorious 250 page celebration of a bygone motoring era, but also, as Don writes in his introduction, "a fascinating social documentation of an Australian lifestyle that was simpler, more basic and less sophisticated than that of the 21st century".

Older readers will revel in the nostalgia while younger readers will gain an engaging insight into our automotive past.

Ford, Chevrolet, Austin, Rolls Royce, Volkswagon, Dodge, Wolseley and Mercedes Benz are just a few of the car makes featured in the 280 images in colour and black and white, with each one accompanied by an historical snippet revealing times much different from today.

"I say to people there's not many advantages in being old," Don told The Senior. "But, I'm 82 and I had the advantage of being nine-years-old when the Holden was released in 1948. I was already really interested in cars, maybe because I was a country boy. Mum and Dad were primary school teachers living at Wanbi and the locals would come to the general store and sit on the verandah and all the talk was about this new Australian car and all the speculation about what it was like. I used to be spellbound.

"My brother and I would sit on the front gate posts and wait for cars to come past and we would pronouce judgement on what we thought they were like.

"So the release of the Holden was a really big thing and I loved it on first sight. I thought it was the most beautiful car ever made and that love stayed with me.

"Our family managed to scratch together enough money with loans and hire purchase to get a Holden in 1953 - they were still marketing the same shape Holden with the same look.

"For our family to trade in a 1928 canvas-topped Chevrolet for this modern Holden, was a very momentous occasion. It was such a proud moment and I loved the car to bits. I was forever asking Dad if I could wash it and of course I learned to drive in it - that was quite wonderful."

The release of the Holden was a really big thing and I loved it on first sight. I thought it was the most beautiful car ever made and that love stayed with me. - Don Loffler

However, a Holden wasn't the car Don eventually bought for himself as a young man. "I did stray so to speak when I graduated as a teacher," he laughed. "All the young guys bought Volkswagon Beetles. No self-respecting young unmarried fellow, would buy a Holden, they were family cars and were far too unexciting.

Ford Zephry Mark II. Image: Alan Vivian featured in Cars We Used To Drive.

Ford Zephry Mark II. Image: Alan Vivian featured in Cars We Used To Drive.

"We roared around in these Beetles - they made a lot of noise and they sounded like they were going very fast, but they weren't. They were a real character car and huge fun to drive. They had a wonderful gear box and you could race through the gears.

"In the end I owned six Beetles, one VW 1500 and one VW 1500 station wagon and ironically I never bought a Holden until I was a senior person when I managed to get a barn-find, a 1948 Holden, and then I got an FJ as well. I haven't got either of them now but they were great."

The photos in the book are of an era when manufacturing was very important to Australia.

"It was a big deal for a family to buy a new car," said Don, "but it was also all those companies which supplied components for the manufacture of all these cars and there were hundreds of them outside of the Holden plants and the other plants of Chrysler or Ford."

Much to the surprise of many, Don was never a Holden factory employee, nor has he ever worked in the motor trade. Don wrote his first book She's a Beauty - The Story of the First Holdens in 1998 after retiring from a distinguished career as a German, Latin and chemistry teacher.

It was a big deal for a family to buy a new car, but it was also all those companies which supplied components for the manufacture of all these cars and there were hundreds of them outside of the Holden plants and the other plants of Chrysler or Ford. - Don Loffler

Other books followed and in the process Don has made many friends from across Australia.

"They're not just contributors giving me their photos, I've got to know their families and their stories," he said. "It's been a very people-oriented thing which I treasure. Before I retired and started writing these book I hardly knew anyone outside of South Australia. Now I have really good friends in most states. It's become much more than just the nuts and bolts of cars, it's become the people and the culture.

1964 EH Holden Premier station sedan. Image supplied for Cars We Used To Drive by Beverley (Southwell) Chidgey.

1964 EH Holden Premier station sedan. Image supplied for Cars We Used To Drive by Beverley (Southwell) Chidgey.

"I get feedback about how readers love seeing the fashions, how people dressed, and the simplicity of the picnics, you just put down your travelling rug and got out your sandwiches or other food stuffs. There were no fancy fold up chairs or tables, it was just pull up at the side of the road. It was a different age."

To write about cars other than Holdens was a natural progression for Don who during the years had received many photos and slides of non Holden cars.

"I then asked people do you have any photos of other cars and over a period of five years gathered enough to write the book.

I get feedback about how readers love seeing the fashions, how people dressed and the simplicity of the picnics, you just put down your travelling rug and got out your sandwiches or other food stuffs. There were no fancy fold up chairs or tables, it was just pull up at the side of the road. It was a different age. - Don Loffler

"It's quite interesting, I didn't realise how one-eyed some Holden people are. Can you believe I know of people who will definitely not buy the book because it has other cars in it?

"But generally speaking the book has been very well received and I'm thrilled," said Don.

A sequel to Cars We Used to Drive is already in the planning stage, although Don reckons it will be a few years before it's published.

"The current book has 280 photos and I think I'm up to 40 for the new book so I've got a way to go."

So what has Don now got squirelled away in his garage? Well, surprisingly no Holdens or VWs, just one modern Honda... and a whole lot of memories!

Cars We Used To Drive Australians on the move 1940 to 1960s, published by Wakefield Press.

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