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16 The Sunday Times MOTORING

FEBRUARY 19, 2012

OLD MOTORS ENCOUNTERS – JOHN PULLICINO

Labours of love JOSEPH BUSUTTIL

J

ohn Pullicino grew up in a house on the outskirts of Attard facing the disused Ta’ Qali airstrip, which served as an unofficial racing track for the speed-loving motoring enthusiasts. His earliest recollections feature handfuls of Minis, Mini Coopers, Triumph Spitfires, Alfa Romeos, MGBs and Midgets noisily going through their paces in strong competitive spirit at various times of the day, as well as night, largely undisturbed by the police. “I was only eight at the time, but the sight of these racing cars left an indelible impression on me. The Triumph Spitfires always caught my eye. I was determined to buy one when I grew up,” he said. “Other early classic car influences were the 1958 Hillman Minx which my father Joseph and my brother Edgar, used to run. I remember Edgar getting to grips with any mechanical problems in the family car or motorcycles which he had – and still has.” “He would not let me touch anything in the garage; but although I did not take part in the technical work, I stood beside him, absorbed, observing and learning.” While still at university Pullicino worked part-time and saved every penny to realise his dream. In 1979, the opportunity presented itself: the owner of a 1964 Triumph Spitfire Mark I was emigrating, and wanted to sell. Pullicino was soon behind the wheel of the Triumph, one of the first to roll off the Malta Car Assembly line in Marsa. “But it was a case of buy in haste, and relent at leisure,” he admitted. While the body was in a very good condition, the same could not be said of the engine. Strange noises were frequently emitted from under the bonnet, and the car was working only on one carburetor. Pullicino took it to a friend’s garage in Paola, where he gave the engine a full overhaul and restored it to good running order. He used it for two years prior to selling it. “It had become too expensive to run, and my father offered me the use of his Mini, which by contrast was very economical.” Before getting married, Pullicino was building a house in Attard, and he wanted a practical and strong car to carry construction materials. His eyes fell on a 1968 Triumph Herald 13/60 convertible. “The body of the blue vehicle was in a fair condition, while the engine was still good. The vehicle was robust enough for the tasks that I wanted it to do, and moreover, the Triumphs are easy to work on mechanically.” After the house was finished, John wanted to show his appreciation for the now tired classic car by giving it a face lift. The rubber

John Pullicino with his 1964 VW Beetle (above) and (top right) with his 1964 Triumph Spitfire Mk1. (Right, below) The 1968 Triumph Herald 19/60 Convertible. Photos: Jonathan Pullicino bumpers were restored, a proper hood was fitted, and the vehicle was sprayed again, this time in red. The Herald was introduced in 1959 by the Standard Triumph Company of Coventry in England. It was designed by the well known Italian Giovanni Michelotti, who incidentally also designed the Spitfire. Some time later, a chance conversation with a colleague revealed that there was a Volkswagen Beetle available for free. The only snag was that its owner, a doctor, had garaged it for six years, and there were back-dated licences to be paid. “When I saw it, I realised why the owner wanted to give it away,” Pullicino said as he flipped through a wad of photos showing the Beetle in its cobwebbed condition. However, even in that state, he could see that the 1964

Known as the People’s Car, the Volkswagen saw the light of day in Germany in 1937. It really took off after WWII, when, after American and British car companies wanted nothing to do with it, it was taken over by the West German government, and became part of the country’s economic revival. The finished VW gave Pullicino a sense of euphoria, and having gained so much experience working on it, he went back to the Triumph Herald to restore it from scratch. The project involved dismantling it piece by piece at home in Attard, taking the parts for storage in a Balzan garage, and bringing the items back to Attard one by one to work on each individual part. The nut and bolt restoration was lengthy and arduous, and took five years to complete, with Grima also chipping in with assistance at times. One of the biggest

“For me, car production stopped in 1995 with the advent of computerisation” grey vehicle had great potential. It only knew one owner, who had left everything in it as it was, not even bothering to ever wash it. The carpets as well as the roof lining were in impeccable condition. John subsequently embarked on a labour of love project that took one year to complete. The vehicle was dismantled, and the running boards and the mudguards replaced. The main body shell needed very little attention. The spray was left in the hands of his friend, Lino Grima, who came up with the original anthracite grey for most of the body, with the side panels sprayed ruby red.

headaches was the reinstallation of one of the doors, which would just not fit in again. Another hiccup was the new colour. Pullicino wanted it yellow. But when the paint arrived, it was green. The agent would not change it, but at least came up with a formula to change the green to yellow. “It is a unique yellow, made in Malta, and only I have the combination for it,” Pullicino said. Over the moon with the ship-shaped condition of his two restored classics, Pullicino now wanted to keep them in that state, and was reluctant to use them daily. For such tasks he sought a 1968 Ford Escort Mark I Estate. One of the features that attracted him to it was

an unusual sunroof. The vehicle was soon the subject of a rolling rebuilt. The original 1,300cc engine needed very little attention, although the clutch, mountings, and shock absorbers were replaced. The body required some panel beating, as well as rust removal, and repainted in ermine white. The white roof was replaced with a more contrasting black vinyl top. The Escort was manufactured by the Ford European Division between 1968 and 2003, and the early models have become much sought-after classics, with a number of British enthusiasts coming to Malta to look for them. Pullicino is full of praise for the workmanship, style and practicality of classic cars, and has second thoughts about modern cars. “For me, car production as we knew it, stopped in 1995 with the advent of such techniques as fuel injection and computerisation. Today the new car buyer is a victim, at the mercy of the agent, the computer, and depreciation. The same cannot be said of old vehicles”. Pullicino is lucky in that all the members of his family – wife Liz and sons Jonathan and Benjamin – are ardent classic car lovers. He sees the local old motoring environment as growing significantly, with a nucleus of professional people involved in the restoration of classic vehicles. He also considers as positive official steps taken to encourage and assist old car owners, like the multiple ownership registration. He has strong views about the argument that old cars pollute. “When one considers how much energy goes into transporting all the parts needed to assemble a new car, then the argument does not hold much water”. www.oldmotorsclub.com


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