For Frank Cerutti and his wife Adrienne, the Veteran era of automobiles was the golden age.
Frank Cerutti and his wife Adrienne enjoy attending national veteran tours where they share their appreciation of vintage cars with attendees from all over the country.
Even as a child, Frank Cerutti was fascinated by anything with wheels. His first ‘project’ was dismantling a Matchbox model tractor – stripping it for parts for the next model he was sure he was going to receive. Growing up in Ingham, where he lived between the Ford dealership, which had a Ford Model T, and the General Motors dealership, which had a 1927 Oldsmobile, further fanned the flame. Then, when Frank went to James Cook University to study Electrical Engineering, he lived at St Paul’s, where the residents looked after the 1916 Dennis fire engine that was used in the annual University Commemoration processions.
“This was my first chance to get close to a working project,” says Frank, who went on to work for Ergon for over 40 years.
“There were others, more competent than I, who looked after the fire engine but I got involved. Then in 1972 I saw a 1917 Ford model T roadster driving down Nathan Street in Aitkenvale and I followed it and met the owner. After chatting with him, it became obvious that I could own my own old car.”
Now Frank and his wife, Adrienne, have not one but four old cars – she has a 1909 Maxwell runabout, model LD (American, veteran) and a 1927 Swift roadster, type P (English, vintage), while Frank is the proud owner of the 1916 Dennis fire engine, type N (English, veteran) and a 1929 Chevrolet tourer, model AC (American, vintage).
All of the cars were completely torn down and rebuilt including mechanical, electrical, body, paint and upholstery. The biggest project was the Dennis, which Frank and three of his mates rebuilt from 2001 over a period of three years. The Chevrolet, which was put on the road in 1972, is now going through a complete body restoration because the body work is showing its age after 45 years.
“Each car has a special place,” Frank says. “The Chevrolet was our first car, the Maxwell is the car we take to national veteran tours, the Swift is our vintage car for touring and the Dennis is our unique piece of North Queensland history. Each one feels different. The Swift and the Chevrolet have an electric start, so they are the closest to a modern car as we have. The Maxwell is a crank start, and the two litre, two cylinder motor is easy to roll over.
“The Dennis is a different story. The best that can be achieved is pulling the motor over top dead centre on the crank handle to prime the cylinders. Then the trembler coil ignition will cause one cylinder to fire. To the causal observer it appears to start by magic, but there’s a lot of old-time engineering to get that to happen.”
The Veteran period (which is up to 1918) holds a particular appeal for Adrienne and Frank, who enjoy dressing up for the era of the car when they go to national veteran tours, which are held annually in rotation throughout the country. Last year they attended Ulverstone, Tasmania, and this year they’ve nominated for the tour in Clare, South Australia, in October.
“Owners of veteran vehicles are a great bunch of people,” Frank says. “I also like the fact the vehicles are different compared with later vehicles because production hadn’t settled into bigger numbers where all the models are the same.”
“I like the fact veteran vehicles are different compared with later vehicles because production hadn’t settled into bigger numbers.”
As for the next old-timer Frank would love to add to his collection… it will have to remain on the wish list.
“There are a couple of cars I desire but I don’t have any more storage room so that means one of the present fleet would have to go and that’s not going to happen,” Frank says. “I’m happy to enjoy each of our vehicles and keep them in tip-top condition so I can jump into any one of them and know it won’t let me down.”