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Not just a number

Edwin Debono has an uncanny talent for remembering the numbers of all the significant classic cars in his life, says Joseph Busuttil.

Photos: Tony Vassallo

Photos: Tony Vassallo

From early childhood, Edwin Debono has nursed a fascination for old cars, in the process developing not only a Matchbox collection which he still adds to today, but also an uncanny knack for remembering car numbers. It is amazing how he can easily roll off the digits of all the significant classic cars that have crossed his path over the past 50 years.

“There was an old 1950s Ford Prefect (6330) in the family, which my father used for work and family outings,” he says. “This enhanced my attraction to old vehicles, an infatuation that later turned into a lifelong love affair. My first job as a salesperson with a leading auto spare parts outlet added fuel to the burning flame.”

Once Debono got his driving licence, a long string of classic cars passed through his yearning but restless hands. His first acquisition was a green Simca Aronde (17091), which he kept for a year before exchanging it with a made-in-Malta, mustard-coloured, Triumph Spitfire Mk 1 (29529). A year later, the Spitfire made way for a tobacco leaf-coloured Mini Mark 1 (37273).

The Mini also moved out after four years, replaced by a blue Morris pickup (55220), which in turn was replaced with a grey Fiat 124 (64126).

“This vehicle gave me a lot of thrills, as I worked on the engine to enhance its power and performance, so that I could participate in the races held at Ta’ Qali,” he recalls.

Eventually the Fiat also met the fate of its predecessors, and in its place came a white Ford Transit Mk 1 (C7304). This old vehicle helped Debono no end in his years in self-employment. Then came a time when Debono went off classic cars, moving to go karting.

“This period lasted more than nine years, during which I had a number of go karts. These vehicles undergo a lot of wear and tear, and you have to acquire a new one every three years.

“I was a regular at events organised by the Island Karting Club at Hal Far. I did my own maintenance, but at intervals used to go to Sicily where a professional mechanic would fine-tune the vehicle. At times I would also join a group and go to England where we hired go karts, and ran in circuits there.”

Debono says he enjoyed this lengthy interlude, but finally felt that it was money down the drain, and so decided to return to his old love – classic cars.

It was back with a bang, because within a short period he bought two old motors. One was a 1969 red Cooper Mk2 (CPR 069), and the other a 1962 Austin Healey (HAS 001). He enjoyed them for some years before they had to be sold owing to family circumstances.

However after a two-year hiatus, Debono, hooked on classics, was back in business, buying another two cars. The first one was a 1985 red Corvette, which he found in Rabat.

“The two door red coupe was in excellent condition, retaining all its original parts, and with low mileage. Nothing needed to be touched – it was just start and go.”

The Princess belongs to a series of large luxury cars made by Austin and its subsidiary Vanden Plas between 1947 and 1968

Built by Chevrolet, the Corvette has been coming off the line over seven generations, emerging in 1953 and still being produced today. Debono’s model belongs to the fourth generation (1984-1996) which saw a major overhaul in design. A four plus three transmission – a four-speed manual coupled with an automatic overdrive on the top three gears – was introduced to meet US fuel economy standards. A more fuel-efficient V8 engine was also installed.

The second classic car purchase came about while Debono was talking to an elderly neighbour in Mosta, who had a number of old motors. Getting on in years and hardly using them, he told Debono that one of them had to go.

“This was an 1100cc Austin Princess Vanden Plas, a rare car in Malta. I lost no time in buying this 1965 grey model, which was in shipshape condition. Still, I decided to respray it in its original colour.”

The Princess not only boasts a royal appearance and exterior, but also a sophisticated interior, with plush leather upholstery, arm rests, solid mahogany panels, and even a back tray for catering.

In fact, the Princess belongs to a series of large luxury cars made by Austin and subsidiary Vanden Plas between 1947 and 1968. It was the most expensive flagship in the Austin range. Many models of the Princess were manufactured, and these usually ended up in the hands of captains of industry and members of the British royal family. Incidentally, the official car of the President of Malta is a large classic Austin Vanden Plas model, dating to colonial times.

Debono looks with satisfaction at the healthy state of old motoring in Malta. A member of the Malta Old Motors Club and the American Car Club, he says that his nostalgic preference goes to classics produced in the 1960s. He regrets that many owners do not let their old motors see the light of day, and leave them in splendid isolation in the garage.

“A close friend has eight classics, but he never takes them out. My two brothers have five between them, and again, they are rarely seen on the road with any of them.”

On the other hand, he  adds that if all owners were to come out to drive their old motors, the already strained transport situation would turn to chaos and disaster.

Besides his deep attraction to classic cars, Debono is also one of the biggest fans of the Lambretta scooter. In fact he has eight models – six on the road and in pristine condition, and two undergoing restoration. His Lambrettas arrived in a very dilapidated state. However, he delights in bringing them back to life in the fast lane.

Lambretta is the brand name of a line of motor scooters manufactured in Italy by Ferdinando Innocenti. After World War II, Innocenti picked up the public demand for cheap transport, and came up with a motor scooter competing on cost and weather protection, against the standard motorcycle. The Lambretta came out in 1947 and was successful for many years. But with the availability of cheap cars in the 1960s, its popularity waned, and was finally sold to the Indian government, where it is still being produced today.

Debono’s collection of Lambrettas recalls this history, with some models reflecting the Innocenti era, and another scooter made in India. He is an active member of the Retro Scooter Club and frequently goes to Sicily either with the club or in a small group.

Despite his satisfaction with the club and its activities, Debono harbours a burning ambition: that of setting up a local club wholly dedicated to the Lambretta brand.

Old Motors Club

www.oldmotorsclub.com

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