Master apprentice

Young car buff takes a shine to the 'old iron'.

A veteran (pre-1919) motor car sporting a P plate has got to be a very rare sight. But such is the case when 18-year-old James Brennan hits the road.

The Camira local has SAE30 oil coursing through his veins. His grandfather, Merv Brennan, was a prolific motor vehicle collector — as anyone driving by his property at Drayton, on Toowoomba’s southern outskirts, would have observed — and his father, Ron, is a lifelong motoring enthusiast too.

But what sets James apart from most young car buffs is an affinity with ‘older iron’. In his words: “I’d prefer to drive a 100-year-old car to a modern one any day”.

Why? It has everything to do with the engagement between driver and vehicle.

“You don’t just sit back and drive, you have to check your ignition timing, watch your oil pressure and watch the water temperature,” James explained.

I think that this makes the journey just as exciting as the destination.

The former Clairvaux MacKillop College, Mt Gravatt, student is currently well-advanced rebuilding a 1914 Standard Rhyll and has other projects on the go — a 1932 Ford A Model hot rod, Datsun 1200 ute and Waratah (an Australian-made) motorcycle, for starters.

“In a lot of cases, you can’t buy the parts, so you have to make them,” James said.

“Each car is different and if you stuff up, you have to do it again.

You can learn to do anything, but you need to take the time and have the patience to work it out.

It’s just as well, then, that he has not just his father as an authoritive and available mentor, but Veteran Car Club of Australia Qld members Bob Burley (president) and John Lewis too.

“The club has looked after him well,” Ron said.

“He’s a good learner and dedicated – he’s in the shed a lot of nights until eight.

“The Standard was originally from Perth and we got it started the first night we brought it home, about eight years ago.

“James has been working on it ever since – the engine, gearbox, spray painting.

“He’s currently saving up for new tyres, but he’s slowly getting there.”

James is in his second year of an apprenticeship in sheet metal fabrication, a trade that fits hand-in-glove with motor vehicle rebuilding. But his ambition doesn’t end there.

“I’d like to get my trade certification and go to the McPherson College in the US and do a degree in auto restoration,” he revealed.

James’ standing in the historic motoring movement suggests he is well on his way to realising his ambition. In 2016, he was one of just seven recipients of the Robert Shannon Foundation award.

The annual award is aimed at encouraging young men and women (under 30) to become actively involved in the hands-on restoration and preservation of vintage, veteran and classic vehicles.

The Foundation perpetuates the memory of the late Robert Shannon, an avid classic car enthusiast, who was concerned that the historic vehicle movement wasn’t attracting enough younger people.

Images by David Pattinson