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Little red number

In Joseph Scicluna’s classic car collection, one particular vintage stands out, Joseph Busuttil from the Old Motors Club says.

Photos: Tony Vassallo, Old Motors Club

Photos: Tony Vassallo, Old Motors Club

In the 1960s, many Maltese motor racing enthusiasts used to flock to the Targa Florio car race, rally and hill climb events held in the mountains of Sicily near Palermo. A few of them even took part in the activities, but most went to watch in awe the brave motorists and fast machines participating in the oldest sports motor racing event which started in 1906.

Joseph Scicluna was one of those spectators.

“The atmosphere there whetted the appetite of the racing fraternity that came to Targa Florio from far and wide. The daring drivers in their Porsches, Fiats and Alfa Romeos left an indelible mark on my psyche,” he recounts.

Back in Malta, Scicluna tried to practise what he saw. Once he got his driving licence, he bought his first car, a new Fiat 125.

“I used the blue vehicle as my everyday car, but being fascinated by speed and sport racing, the engine was soon customised for the local unofficial road races, which in those days used to be held at Ta’ Qali, tal-Barrani, Mqabba road, and the Kappara junction.”

He adds that the local Fiat agents, through the good offices of Stephen Micallef, sponsored him on many occasions, and the car was serviced and maintained by Charles Camilleri (Ginger), the Fiat technician. Scicluna kept this vehicle for five years, clocking up 70,000 miles in the process.

Another Fiat appeared on the scene, a 124 S. After a year, Scicluna, accompanied by his mechanic Camilleri, took the second-hand yellow car to Sicily, where the engine was changed to a more powerful Fiat 124 Sports 18.

The customised vehicle, which he kept for another four years, was a regular participant in local road races and hill climbs in Mtahleb in the early 1980s.

Scicluna – whose working life was roughly divided between the construction company set up by his father Antonio, and driving heavy vehicles all over Europe – harboured another burning desire besides the need for speed. This was a long-seated attraction to old motors. When the time was ripe, he bought his first classic, a 1962 British racing green Morris 1000. A friend informed him that it was for sale in Naxxar.

“I liked what I saw, especially since the vehicle was quite in a roadworthy condition, although unfortunately, it has now been idle for the last two decades,” he says.

The Morris was soon followed by a 1987 Jaguar XJ6. Scicluna, who hails from Marsascala, says the metallic maroon Jaguar had quite an interesting original owner. “He was an English private detective who had plied his trade in Asian countries, and then settled in this seaside town.

“We soon became good friends – he was an amazing linguist, and within a short time not only learnt the local language, but started to write a book in Maltese about Wied il-Għajn. Alas, he passed away before the work was completed. His wife did not drive, and consequently she sold the Jaguar to me. It was in a very good condition, with no rust and a perfectly running engine.”

Other classic cars followed. These included a roadworthy metallic grey 1962 Herald 12 Estate, a 1972 Mini Clubman Estate, which is still being restored, and a rare 1972 Singer Imp. Fired by his Targa Florio youthful memories of winning marquees, Scicluna has also managed to purchase some models similar to the winning entries.

These include a 1972 Fiat 124 Sports, which came to him in quite a roundabout way.

It has been my dream car since I was 18

“I had been asked to take the Jaguar on the filming set of a movie about the Russian mafia being shot in Marsaxlokk. While filming, I started talking with the Maltese crew supervisor, who told me he had a Fiat for sale. I bought the red vehicle whose condition was not too bad. However, I dismantled everything, including the 1800cc engine, and had it rebuilt by Charles Camilleri and his son Noel.”

Another classic harking back to those halcyon days is a 1973 Alfa Romeo Giulia Super.

Scicluna bought it from a friend who lived in the same town. The metallic grey, 1600cc engine, four-door vehicle was in a very good condition, and the new owner had very little to do to take it back on the road.

But the apple of Scicluna’s classic car eye is his most recent purchase, a Porsche 911 Targa model – as befits his racing fantasies.

“It has been my dream car since I was 18, having pictures of myself taken alongside powerful Porsche models at Targa Florio,” he waxes lyrical. The 911 – one of the most powerful cars in the world – has a racing and rallying history dating back to 1963, with outstanding successes not only in Sicily, but also at Le Mans and Daytona.

Scicluna searched high and low for a Porsche 911 Targa model, and went to five different locations in the UK prior to finding what he wanted in Leeds.

“The one-owner, 1984 Guards’ Red, 3.2 Carrera model belonged to a 72-year-old Englishman who, following a hip replacement, found it hard to continue driving. It had clocked only 72,000 miles, and was in an impeccable condition. The owner had also kept all service history sheets and documents, which he passed on to me.”

Scicluna is a regular at Old Motors Club events, especially on organised trips to Sicily.

“With my many years of driving experience in Europe, I am asked to stay at the back of the classic car convoy, just in case of an emergency. This summer I went up with the group in the Porsche, where on one motorway, it reached a speed of 270km/h with half revs on fifth gear. The vehicle is very flexible, however, and its torque can also adapt to midtown traffic with no knocking on top gear at 35km/h.”

He maintains his speed spirit satisfied in Malta by having a 1970 Hillman Imp with which he participates in local hill climbs. “It has been modified and maintained by my current mechanic Joe Mifsud (Sly). In fact, most of the time he runs it in competitions, while I watch. The Hillman Imp has won its category in the national championships for the last two years.”

Scicluna also has a love for motorcycles. His two-wheel collection includes a 1962 Triumph Trophy that he bought from a museum in the UK. There are five Lambrettas around, too. One of them has a special feature.

“Instead of the standard long single seat to take two persons, it has two separated, individual seats. It used to belong to a priest from Ħamrun, who for obvious reasons, wanted some personal space between him and the passenger behind. The factory used to produce a few models with this unusual seating arrangement to comply with special requests.”

Scicluna views the current situation in the local old motors scene with pride and satisfaction. He has two misgivings, however.

“Firstly, I would say that there are as many cars under wraps or gathering dust in garages that never see the light of day, as there are to be found on the road.

“Secondly, even though these classic car imports from overseas swell the local old motors population, these foreign cars do not possess a chequered history as those with a local, sometimes intriguing, background.”

As an example, he cites the story of his Triumph Herald Estate, which belonged to one late owner, a member of the religious doctrine society. He took immaculate care of it, preferring to commute to work on his motorcycle than use the car. He kept all car records, including old licence discs and service and maintenance documents. He once took it overland, but in order not to stress the engine, he replaced it with a Triumph Spitfire engine, doing all the tasks himself. When Scicluna bought the car after the owner died, it came with two engines. Such stories are not easy to pick up when one buys a classic from abroad, Scicluna concludes.

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