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The race ahead

For Mario Scicluna, it all started with a white MGB, Joseph Busuttil from the Old Motors Club says.

Photos: Tony Vassallo, Old Motors Club

Photos: Tony Vassallo, Old Motors Club

Way back in 1989, a small group of people with a profound passion for old cars, commitment to a cause, and a vivid vision for the future, got together to form the Malta Old Motors Club.

Among them was Mario Scicluna, a modest man with sharp organisational and communication skills, who has, over this long period of time, been harnessing his talents voluntarily to the benefit of the OMC and other local motoring groups.

“I was born into an established motoring family and environment,” he says. “My father Joseph operated the Reo service station in Mosta. Besides importing Reo trucks, he also employed the best mechanics around. The Reo company operated from Michigan, in the United States, between 1905 and 1975, and over those 70 years, manufactured cars, trucks and buses. In fact, my father also imported from them chassis which then had a body built on them by local tradesmen to be transformed into buses for the local public transport service.”

As a small boy, Scicluna remembers being present for chassis races up the steep Saqqajja Hill at the foot of Rabat.

“All the chassis from the other competitive bus companies entered the race: the chassis had nothing at their back except a flat wooden platform covering the naked iron structure beneath, which was then packed with people holding on to each other for dear life, without any undue considerations for life or limb. The races I attended were regularly won by the Reo chassis.”

I raced in a 1961 Austin Healey Sprite, which I had customised

As expected, Scicluna went straight into the family business after concluding his formal schooling. At the Mosta establishment, he fine-tuned his technical and mechanical skills and developed a genuine love for classic cars.

“My father had a Morris 10 Series M. It was his pride and joy, and I learnt to drive in it. I was determined that eventually, I would have my own classic car, preferably a sports one.”

Other priorities came in the way, but finally in 1988, he was in a position to fulfil his dream.

“I first thought of acquiring a Triumph Spitfire. In fact, a friend alerted me to such a classic car on the market, and we went together to Attard to see it. However, when we entered the garage, the vehicle in front of us was an MGB! I immediately realised that this was actually the car I was long looking for. Everything instantly fell in place, as I recalled how fond I was as a young man when seeing MGBs either in our service station or on the road.”

Scicluna wanted to try the classic car on the road, but it was a rainy day, so he decided to return the next day to test-drive it. He lost no time in acquiring the white 1969 MGB, having an 1800cc engine and five main bearings, which was in excellent condition, and did not need the slightest intervention.

Some years ago, Scicluna, assisted by his son Daniel, carried out a complete mechanical overhaul on the vehicle, including re-boring the engine. But he hastens to add that this project was executed more out of want than need.

The MGB – a much loved and popular car in Malta – is a two-door sports model manufactured and marketed by the British Motor Corporation as a four cylinder, soft-top roadster from 1962 to 1980. Its innovative, modern and sleek outlook made it an instant hit and its lightweight design reduced production costs while adding to the overall strength of the vehicle.

In the OMC, Scicluna has held many committee positions, and is currently the club representative to the Federazzjoni Maltija Vetturi Antiki. For many years, when the OMC was roofless and had nowhere to convene, Scicluna offered his company premises which then also acted as the OMC headquarters. He has also served on the committee of the Island Car Club for a long period, besides participating in their hill climbs in Mtaħleb, Miżieb, Ta’ Qali and Gozo.

“For such events, starting in the early 1970s, I raced in a 1961 Austin Healey Sprite, which I had customised. The original 1100cc engine was replaced by a Toyota Corolla with its own 1200cc engine, eventually upgraded to a 1300cc full race balanced one. All the required parts were bought from the Toyota racing division in Japan. I still have this vehicle, which is presently being restored to an ex-competition condition. Among other things, the competition colours of blue sides and a red body with white stripes have given way to a uniform yellow.”

Together with his long-term navigator Gerald Portanier, Scicluna has won many Island Car Club hill climbs with the Austin Healey/Toyota, and OMC rallies with the MGB. Besides local participation, they have also competed overseas, including in the Cavalieri del Minotauro rally between Taormina and Mount Etna. He also derives great pleasure from adjusting to the different demands, rules and regulations, for example in speed and timing, between hill climbs and old motor rallies.

Scicluna makes it a point out to do all the technical and mechanical work on his old cars himself, getting a lot of satisfaction in the process. Besides the MGB and the Austin Healey/Toyota, he also has a 1985, charcoal BMW 520i, model E28, which he bought brand new, using it only occasionally at weekends, and consequently still in showroom condition.

At one time, he also owned a 1955 Ford 8 which he was yearning to bring back to active life, but alas, he did not find the time to go into a full nut and bolt restoration project, and consequently had to sell it.

Scicluna says that while his wife Mona sometimes goes with him to OMC activities, she does so more out of a sense of companionship than a passion for old motors.

“On the other hand, my two sons Daniel and Mark Anthony have firmly followed in my footsteps, with the former having a Mini Cooper S which we restored together, and the latter is into Fiats 500. My daughter Maria has her hands full with other things, and no time for old motors.” 

As to the local scene, he is excited at the steady influx of new classic vehicles from abroad, emphasising that this augurs well for the future of old motors in Malta. However, he rues about two realities that clearly bother him.

“The first one is the lack of participation by classic car owners in old motors events. There is now on offer a varied and tempting menu of activities to suit all tastes at all places, including at our own historic headquarters in Mosta.

But out of the hundreds of members, only the same few dozen faces turn up.

“The second is the fact that sponsors for old motoring events are hard to come by, as most companies approached believe that sponsoring such activities is wasted money,” he concludes.

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