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Shifting Gear

Design innovation and the Australian Car

This exhibition, staged by the National Gallery of Victoria, looks at some of Australia’s iconic Automotive designs, back to our most memorable automotive contributions and forward to our future on the international scene.

We had seen small advertisements in various newspapers since late last year mentioning the exhibition and it was pencilled in as an excuse to visit Melbourne. Rapidly it seemed, we saw that the exhibition was due to conclude in July so we cobbled together a week away to take advantage of the exhibition and to fit in a few other exhibitions available at the same time.

The trip down was a pleasantly quiet journey via Cann River to Lakes Entrance and then on to Melbourne. Other than an hour or so in the grip of the Cooma fog, the journey was uneventful.

Melbourne was as usual, pleasant. The weather was good and after surviving the Heritage Restaurant Tram on Monday, Tuesday dawned colder and with rain threatening as we headed into Federation Square. Entry into the exhibition not only got us out of the weather but also into a visually stunning display of Australian automotive ingenuity.

Before reaching the cashier, our senses were bombarded by the Holden EFIJY, a concept car coupe from 2005. For those whose automotive life is primarily driven by post production experiences, a glimpse at the concept cars is quite something.

On entering the exhibition, we were struck by the presentation, no doubt due to the participation of the National Gallery and their artistic flair. It certainly made the day and raised the bar no end for future shows.

For people of a certain age, the excitement of the 50's, 60's and 70's is well remembered and it all came flooding back with the core elements of the exhibition being very familiar to all of us from that era.

Display cars included a Bolwell Nagari, Purvis Eureka, Hartnett, XA Ford GT, Holden GTS, Chrysler E49 Charger, a barn find Ford coupe utility 302 from 1933, Molina Monza special, Elfin and many, many more.

A Brabham F1 engine, the Holden Hurricane and the Holden GTR-X were amongst those rare items that we had never seen in the flesh before.

I think that we finally left with mixed emotions. The exotica of the day was highly desirable and yet the performance envelope was just being opened in earnest with multiple World Records like the 4 door sedan highest top speed (Falcon GT), fastest accelerating five seat production car (Charger E49) and so on. Comparing these milestone cars with those available 45 years later, it is no small revelation that Automotive design, and with it light-year improvements in braking, vehicle dynamics and occupant safety are a testament to ever ongoing design innovation. There is a lot of respect due to those who drove those cars hard.

As an aside, on leaving this exhibition, we found another NGV exhibition of Posters from the wars on another floor. Amongst all the hype of the centenary of the Great War, this was a completely different take on the subject that was well worth seeing. By contrast, the Imperial War Museum collection on exhibition at the Melbourne Museum that afternoon was less well attended on the day.

Thanks to Tony Stone