A rural NSW mechanic proves you can never have too many skills for a varied working life with cars.
I’ve enjoyed it; these are good skills for life,” Frank Hiscock said when reflecting on his career as mechanic, panel beater and spray painter. Having worked his whole life in Cootamundra in rural NSW, his jack-of-all-trades skills stretch far wider than that, and it’s clear he’s game to turn his hand to anything. “Academically I’m pretty stupid I suppose,” he joked, “but when it comes to mucking around with cars there’s not much I can’t do.”
Frank ran his smash repairs and mechanical workshop in the town of Sir Donald Bradman’s birth, about 100km from Wagga Wagga, from the early 1970s until retiring in 2013. “I first worked for my father, starting an apprenticeship in 1966, training as panel beater and spray painter,” he said. “When I started my own business I soon realised I had to do mechanical as well. You’d say I’m more of a bush mechanic than anything. I came from the University of Hard Knocks for mechanics – if I didn’t get it right I had to do it again. There was nobody looking over my shoulder telling me what I should be doing.”
Showing how things have changed over the decades, when Frank considered himself experienced enough, he applied for his mechanic’s license. “An inspector came across from Sydney, spent a week watching me do mechanical work, asked me hundreds of questions, then passed me.” He didn’t stop there, going to his local TAFE to learn wheel aligning, chassis aligning, air conditioning, electrical work, automotive assessing, sheet metal work and different types of welding. Upskilling is never a waste of time, and Frank’s diligence in this area ensured a successful career.
His Cootamundra repair shop had separate areas for panel beating, mechanical and windscreens, employed up to 13 staff, and was a massive 77-metres long. “When I started it was mainly Holdens and Fords, Morris and then Toyotas,” he said. “The 4WDs became popular in the late 1980s and we’d get loads of Toyota HiLuxes in as they rolled so easily. One time we had nine in the shop, all with the same rollover damage and we fixed them all. When it got wet, farmers would go out on their properties to check stock, they’d slip and slide then roll because HiLuxes were narrow and high.”
“If I Was A Young Fella Today I’d Stay In School And Get My Apprenticeship Somewhere That Specialises In One Vehicle.”
Cootamundra’s wildlife spelt danger for drivers, but helped with Frank’s business. In times of drought kangaroos would come to the side of roads looking for food. “Summer was a busy time for us,” he explained. “The calls would start coming in saying we’d just hit a kangaroo, and I knew I’d be getting $6-7000 coming in the door.”
Frank’s had enthusiasm for motorbikes and cars since childhood; his first dabble being a BSA Bantam bike. It had no engine, but he and his mates would push it to the top of a hill and ride it down for entertainment. He restored vehicles through his career, and now retired, his giant shed at home contains quite the collection. Four motorbikes, a 2013 Mazda MX-5 for car club runs, rare (and quick) HSV VXR Turbo and 1974 Mercedes-Benz 280CE. He’s recently sold his Holden HK Monaro, but it’s clear his affection is for old MGs.
“I’ve got four MGs in the shed, and another on show at a museum,” Frank said. Most special is an ex-race car 1959 MG
A Twin-Cam with 81kW DOHC aluminium cylinder-head version of the brand’s B-Series four-cylinder engine. “There are only 6900 miles on its clock, the first 1500 for racing, so I keep the racing livery on it. It came to me as a restoration project in 1985. The motor was blown so I took it to the local TAFE college as they had better facilities for re-boring engines. We had to re-sleeve and the crankshaft was bent, so that was sent to an MG specialist and it’s run fine ever since.”
He has a 1959 sister car to the Twin Cam, a left-hand-drive version, which was brought in by a customer who didn’t return for ten years. “We negotiated the storage costs and he gave me the car for free,” Frank remembered. “I put in a 3.5-litre Rover V8, Commodore diff and Commodore disc brakes on the front. I moved the steering rack and it’s now a lovely car to drive. Quick too; it’s done the ¼-mile in 15.2-seconds.”
Another Rover V8 sits in his 1971 MGB with a series-produced replacement body shell from Heritage Motor in England, while a former basket case 1936 MG TA has been lovingly returned to former glory. “I brought it home half in the back of the truck, half in a trailer,” Frank said. “I sandblasted the body, rebuilt the motor and got the upholstery and hood done. I had a local expert MG friend help with the more complex engine bits and set up the SU carburettors, I did the electrics and now it’s great fun.”
Frank said he’s never lost his enthusiasm and is a great believer in being multi-skilled and educated. “If I was a young fella today I’d stay in school and get my apprenticeship somewhere that specialises in one vehicle. Mercedes, Rolls-Royce, whatever, as the more expensive the vehicle the more you should get paid as a mechanic. Most importantly, you have to be enthusiastic no matter what you do.”