Designs for life
Ronald Muscat Azzopardi uses his trained eye both for his architectural profession and his passion for old cars, Joseph Busuttil from the Old Motors Club says.
As an experienced and busy architect, Ronald Muscat Azzopardi is frequently asked to visit the homes of clients who need his services. As he goes around inspecting a building, this very task-oriented professional goes straight to the core of the job required, wasting no time in petty conversation or any other aspect that may distract his focused objective.
That is, until his observant eyes fall upon a covered vehicle gathering dust in some garage. Then his old motor instinct takes over, a gut feeling senses the aura of an auto of yesteryear, and now the thought uppermost in his mind is to diplomatically ask his client what lies beneath.
“I have had an attraction to old cars from an early age, although in my family there was never any tendency in this direction,” starts Muscat Azzopardi. “Furthermore my father Dominic, who was a headmaster, never even owned a car.”
As a student, Muscat Azzopardi bought his first car, a 1963 dark blue Fiat 850, which he kept for a number of years. His eyes then fell on another vehicle that he always had a soft spot for, a 1970 Rover 2000.
“A friend who was aware of my wish alerted me when one came on the market at a Birkirkara dealer. The blue Rover was in a good condition, but after one year, I decided to change its petrol engine to diesel. I spent four years running with it.”
As he settled down and started a family, Muscat Azzopardi, who has always been very keen on travelling overland, thought of buying a camper. But in those days, it was prohibited to import vehicles above a certain capacity. However, through the grapevine, he was told that if he imported a closed vehicle and then opened windows in it locally, the law could be bypassed. An arrangement was made with a local importer of UK vehicles, who brought over a 1978 Ford Transit van.
On arrival, Muscat Azzopardi took it to a St. Venera coachbuilder who opened two windows in the vehicle. He then continued the rest of the work himself. This included cutting the top of the van, making a mould for the roof, and finally inserting and attaching the elevated area. The original yellow colour was changed to silver. The converted camper has provided his family with many memorable overland adventures all over Europe, and is still in action today.
Over the years, Muscat Azzopardi has been collecting classic cars that for various reasons, have caught his eye. One of his early acquisitions was a 1977 white MGB, which was in good condition. He let it be for a number of years prior to embarking on a thorough overhaul, which included engine tweaking, and a new roof and leather upholstery. The MGB was followed by a 1988 red Alpha Spyder, bought from a Luqa dealer, which also needed little to be altered or seen to.
He soon became a member of the UK MG Owners Club, and some time later bought from a Birkirkara dealer a 1959 green MGA that was in a good running order. The only significant change was in colour, with British racing green replacing the original standard green. One day while inspecting the interior at close quarters, he came across a handwritten race sticker. It aroused his curiosity, and deciphering it, decided to write to the UK club for further information. Eventually the secretary replied, informing him that the MGA had formerly belonged to him, and that except for its first two years, had spent all its life in racing. It was so successful that the secretary added that he had shelves full of trophies to prove it.
An ad in a local paper led him to purchase a 1989 black Maserati B Turbo convertible. The vehicle needed little attention, although he gave it a new spray in the original colour, and decided to change the cream upholstery. Another convertible in his garage is a 1984 grey Jaguar XJS.
My father Dominic, who was a headmaster, never even owned a car
“I planned a UK trip to view four such Jaguar models, three in London and one in the north. While the London vehicles were nothing to write home about, the last one seduced me while still sitting silently along the pavement. It was well worth driving across England to get my hands on it.”
All of his classic cars are low floor ones, something that he always sought in his purchases. However, he admits that a recent addition goes against that trend – a silver blue, 1985 BMW 318 I, which he bought from Siġġiewi.
Muscat Azzopardi does a lot of the work on his old cars himself, although he did not have any formal technical training.
“My grandfather was a carpenter, and my father used to say that if you want to do it, it can be done. Many skilled dockyard workers resided in Marsascala, where I was brought up, and they were always tinkering about with boats and vehicles and anything that needed attention or repair. I used to watch attentively and take it all in, and later, this served me in good stead.”
Besides having worked on many of his own classic cars and seeing to their maintenance as well as upkeep, he once also embarked on what can only be described as a very interesting and ambitious project.
“Many years ago, while walking in Swieqi, I came across a yellow Morgan. I was so impressed with this fascinating car that I used a whole new film that I had in my camera that was intended for something completely different. It was the 1960s, an era when some brave local pioneers were constructing their own dream car, like the Beach Buggy or the Rhino Bug. I decided to do likewise.”
He started buying bits and pieces – the chassis of a Triumph, the radiator of a Jaguar Mk 7 – and slowly putting them together his own Morgan. He worked on and off on the project for many years, but it was slowly taking shape. However, by now, his four children were growing up, and one dark thought started to cross his mind: what if one of them would be driving it in the future, and something goes wrong? Discouraged by this foreboding, he stopped working on the project to concentrate on classic cars that had come out on a professional line. The nearly finished self-assembled Morgan still resides in his garage.
Muscat Azzopardi harnesses his old cars as a relaxing refuge from his demanding work. He tries to drive two vehicles at the weekend, regularly rotating them. In the family, his wife Lorraine likes classic cars, while only one of the four children, his son Stephen, imbibed the old motors spirit, to the extent that he has his own Triumph Spitfire. As a long time member of the Old Motors Club, Muscat Azzopardi has been instrumental in offering his professional services voluntarily when the club ventured in obtaining a roof over its head, first in Lija and later in Mosta.
“I belong to several motoring clubs, both here and abroad, and I can say the OMC is one of the best organised ones. There are a variety of vehicles and models, a good mix of members, no pique or spite, interesting networking, and social interaction with a family atmosphere.
“I have two regrets: the first is that my many commitments now leave me little time to take part in club events. Secondly, when it comes to members, there are very few young people, who seem to prefer modern cars. The club must think of activities that attract this age group, like treasure hunts.”
As to the old motors scene in Malta, he says that it has changed completely. Before, the main problem was finding required parts. There were a few garages that dismantled cars, and one would try to acquire what was needed through networking or by word of mouth. The internet has now changed everything, and one can source needed items from all over the world. You order a part on a Sunday, the postman delivers the following Wednesday.
Besides, he adds, one can get step-by-step instructions on how to carry out a project, or what pitfalls to avoid. As an example, he cites the MGA Guru site, which offers free advice and guidance.
With such accessibility and availability, it is no wonder that old motors in Malta are increasing, and will continue to do so, he concludes.