It runs in the family

Like father, like son, they say, and there is no doubt that Noel Zammit is a chip off the old block. A childhood spent running around the mechanical workshop his father Joseph ran in Żabbar, and spending long hours learning the skills needed in the treatment and rehabilitation of the engine, had an everlasting effect on Zammit.

His son Sven, 17, also seems to have classic car blood running in his circulation

“In those years, nothing could replace the thrills that came from the oily atmosphere of the packed garage, where many disgruntled clients baffled by mechanical woes would bring their cars for service, only to return some time later, the erstwhile sullen scowl now replaced by a satisfied smile on their faces,” Zammit said.

Other siblings of his willingly fell under the pied piper spell, for out of the six Zammit brothers, three eventually turned out to be professional mechanics.

Zammit recalls how he hated school because he had to be taken away from his father and his car repair work, and he only attended because it was compulsory.

Things got better when he attended the Technical Institute in Marsa, for here he could develop his inherent proximity to mechanical matters by following appropriate courses. The welding and auto courses were up his street, and they were complemented by a period of practical apprenticeship with the Public Works Department through the Extended Skills Training Scheme.

On completion of his studies, Zammit went to work in his father’s garage. Although he was happy there, there was always a burning ambition inside him to open his own mechanical set-up.

Subsequently he only stayed with his father for a couple of years, before he opened his own garage, first in Żejtun, and later moving to bigger premises in Luqa.

A bond with mechanics was not the only thing Zammit inherited from his father. “My father also had a 1962 Ford Cortina Mark I, which he kept in an impeccable condition. A ride in the classic green and white striped car was the ultimate Sunday treat, and I had made a pact with myself to get a similar car when I was older.

“One of my neighbours, Vincent, used to bring his Cortina to our garage regularly for maintenance. When I was old enough I used to pester him to sell it to me. This went on for years, even when Vincent stopped driving and had it garaged. Eventually my persistence won the day.”

The body of the 1964 grey Cortina Mark I was in an excellent condition, but the engine, which had been lying idle for eight years, needed a thorough check-up.

Ford came out with the Cortina in 1962 to rival the BMC Mini, which had become an icon of the swinging 1960s. Ford wanted to create the Cortina as a larger family car which could sell in big numbers – and sell they did, for it became Britain’s best selling car of the 1970s.

There are very few mechanics with an eye for classic cars who stop buying old vehicles once they get their hands on the first one. Zammit is no exception. The Mark I was eventually joined by another Cortina, this time a silver fox coloured, 1968 1600E. He saw an ad in the paper, and lost no time in acquiring it.

“This Cortina had also been garaged for eight years, so the engine needed an overhaul. The brakes were gone, and so a new braking system had to be installed,” Zammit explained, adding that although the vehicle is on the road, it will be undergoing a nut-and-bolt restoration project in future.

The Cortina 1600E came off the line in 1967, aimed at broadening the appeal of the model into the higher market segment. It combined the lowered Ford Cortina suspension with the high-tuned GT 1600 Kent engine.

On the outside, the car caught the eye with its black grille, tail panel, front fog lights, and plated Ro style wheels.

Some years ago, Zammit was buying some spare parts from a car shop in Fgura, whose owner had bought an old Ford Anglia with the aim of restoring it. However, when he realised the extent of work required, he gave up. Zammit ended up buying the ivory white, 1955 Ford Anglia 100E.

“The owner was accurate in his analysis,” admitted Zammit. “For the vehicle was in a very bad state. Rust had taken over the body, the engine needed a thorough overhaul, the braking system needed replacement. The list was endless, and I had problems procuring spare parts.”

Presently, the Anglia is in an advanced stage of restoration, with Zammit being helped by his son Sven, who although 17, also seems to have been born with classic car blood running in his circulation.

The Ford Anglia had a lengthy production period, stemming from 1939 to 1967. It was then replaced by the Escort, which is also another classic car to be found in Zammit’s collection.

Over the years he had remained friends with Joseph, one of his teachers at the Marsa Technical Institute, who was well aware of his enthusiasm for old cars.

When Joseph got to know of a Ford Escort for sale in Birżeb­buga, he lost no time in relaying the news. “I seem to have an affinity for buying cars that had long been taken off the road, for the 1972 Escort had been gathering dust in a garage for 15 years,” jokes Zammit.

“The beige vehicle was also in a bad condition, and a detailed job was needed both on the body as well as on the engine.”

Another advert in the paper led to the acquisition of a 1932 Morris Series 8. “It was in Marsaxlokk, and I went to inspect it together with my wife Marie. Although she is not a deeply rooted classic car aficionado, she fell in love with it at first sight, and I needed no additional prompting to buy it,” admitted Zammit, who after dealing with a small engine problem, soon had the two-tone, green and black vehicle back on the road.

The Series 8 was a small car powered by a Morris UB 918cc, four-cylinder side valve engine. The gearbox was a three-piece unit with synchromesh on the top two speeds, and a Lockheed hydraulically operated, eight-drum braking system.

Since childhood, Zammit had also harboured a secret dream: that of being behind the wheel of a sports car. His long wait was over a couple of years ago when he spotted an MGB in a Buġibba showroom, and subsequently bought it.

“The blue teal, 1973 model had been a recent import from the UK. The 1,200 cc engine of the Mark II Roadster was in a very good condition, but the body left much to be desired, so I had to re-spray it in its original colours.”

Zammit and his vehicles are a regular feature in Old Motors Club events, and he is one of the few old motors enthusiasts to have become a member prior to owning a classic car. With four old cars on the road, and another two waiting impatiently to join them, Zammit finds himself in a financial quandary, especially when it comes to licensing. He hopes the authorities soon come up with solutions, such as one licence plate to cover multiple vehicles.

Hope springs eternal, and despite what the Bard says about an excess sickening the spirit, that soon dies, Zammit still has room to cherish more classic car dreams. “I love the Mini Cooper S – I am still scouting around, should the right one turn up somewhere,” he concluded.

Joseph Busuttil is public relations officer of the Old Motors Club.
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