Home Mechanic Profile Looking Back to the Good Ol’ Days

Looking Back to the Good Ol’ Days

by Digital Mayne Media

Hear the one about the man who traded his horse for a Ford bull bar? Mechanic David Bruce has seen plenty in his 82 years.

Saying ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ is a tired cliché, but really, it’s often so very true. A morning spent chatting with David Bruce, a retired Ford dealer franchisee and mechanic, soon proves the point. The 82-year-old cut his teeth working in Brisbane on varied British imports in the 1950s. Back then fault diagnosis was performed using only one’s senses and hands. Then there are dealership tales which truly are from another century.

David produces a photograph of his ‘David Bruce Ford’ premises taken in the mid-1980s. Based in Tewantin, it was the assigned Ford dealer for Noosa and Cooroyon Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. It was far more rural back then, and a world away from the millionaire’s playground it’s become today. Even so, the trade-in tales are scarcely believable.

“One guy traded in a block of land on a car,” he says. “Then another time a guy wanted a bull bar for his Ford F-250 truck, and he traded in a horse. We had to call the horse Bullbar after that.” Today’s local Ford dealer would no doubt bite anyone’s hand off for a plot of Noosa land in exchange for a new Ranger, but a four-legged pony for a Mustang? Not as likely.

The old photo shows near-new Ford Lasers and XD Falcons on the dealer forecourt, while a sign by the bowsers displays BP Super at 36.9p a litre. Things really ain’t what they used to be.

A Brisbane native, David served his apprenticeship at Howards Limited, the Queensland distributor for MG, Morris, Wolseley and Riley. “We’d mainly be working on British cars, and in those days cars needed valve grinds at 30,000 miles and an oil change every 1000 miles,” he explains. “Gearboxes and diffs didn’t last anywhere as long as they do now.”

With a keen interest in motorsport, David ended up working at Brisbane’s UK Motors – agents for Austin Healey and the then new Morris Cooper. “They set up a sportscar division and I worked there,” he says.

This was the early 1960s when many who wanted to go motor racing would build their own cars. David was no different, buying parts to create a ‘Vulcan’ sportscar. He constructed a custom steel tube frame for the fibreglass body to sit on, then transplanted a Standard 10 ute’s engine, gearbox and rear axle.

“Looking back, with what machinery is available, it would’ve been so much easier building it now,” he says. “Everything back then was done by hand. I used a hand hacksaw; now they’ve got cut off machines and Tig and Mig welders.”

David said his Vulcan “scared the life out of him” on its first run at the fast Lakeside circuit, before he temporarily hung up his race helmet to concentrate on family and business. He returned to motor sport to compete, throughout Australia, in a single-seater Lynx Formula Junior when in his forties.

“I knew of a car I saw race as a teenager,” David said of his next toy. “A WRM sportscar built in Brisbane by Jim Bertram which had raced in the first Lakeside meeting in 1961.” This Jaguar D-Type-looking beauty was a wreck stored for 20 years, but David fully restored it to run in historics. “Its Ford Prefect engine had about 36hp from the factory. With the modifications I did – camfshafts and carburettors – I got about 60hp. It was a big difference and lots of fun.”

Work-wise, David had scored a job as regional service rep for the Ford Motor Company. “I got a company car, a brand new Cortina 1600, and an unlimited expense account,” he recalls. “It was a big change.” David would visit Ford dealers in his territory whose warranty costs were too high, advising about making their service departments profitable. He’d also be there to deal with customer complaints.

“The Ford warranty back then was 12 months or 12,000 miles I think,” David says. “Paint and water leaks were big complaints, and I’d analyse faults with particular vehicles and Ford would cover a full fix or pay 50 per cent or cover parts if it was out of warranty. Some customers were very demanding. They felt like they’d bought a Rolls-Royce but had really bought a mass-produced Ford.”

In 1971, David, wife Joan and some friends took a much-enjoyed river break at Tewantin, 150km north of Brisbane. By happy coincidence, one week later, he spotted an ad selling Horton Motors in the town. “I resigned from Ford on Friday and bought the business on Monday,” he explains.

He took over the workshop and fuel station, and within six months had persuaded Ford to give him the area’s franchise. “We changed the name to David Bruce Ford and the two-bay workshop was turned into a showroom for three cars, while we built a new workshop at the back of the property,” he says. Before long he bought the butcher’s next door, and after struggling to sell meat himself, had it knocked down and turned into a used car yard.

“We had the franchise from 1971 until 1988 and Ford was very big then,” says David. “There were good cars too. I liked the Capris, especially the V6, and the GT Falcons. The Ford LTD P6 was a lovely car and looked a bit like a Rolls Royce.”

David ran an auto parts store before retirement, which has seen him continueto tinker with classics and enjoy car club events. He’s recently sold his beloved 1964 Daimler V8, but keeps a 2005 Jaguar X-Type for a dash of British class. And he’s certainly not lost his passion for cars and working on them.

“I watch YouTube clips of a guy in a big modern workshop and the range of tools are just amazing,” he says. “Everything’s electric – impact drivers and screwdrivers – of various shapes and sizes. It’s mindboggling. You’ve almost got to be a contortionist to get a spanner on some places in a modern car. In old cars with big wide engine bays it was far easier.”

One thing that hasn’t changed since David started out in the 1950s has been the ability to fault diagnose. But it’s simpler these days with a diagnostic tool, whereas he’d “listen, see and feel,” for a problem. “You still need to look at what caused it. A scan tool tells you XYZ, but not why has XYZ failed?” he says.

So perhaps some things really never change. But a horse as a trade-in? For good or bad, those days are sadly now gone.

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