Troy resident David Tracy traveled to the other side of the world to fix up a car, drive it across the Australian Outback, and document the process for his website, The Autopian.
TROY — Traveling to Australia, fixing up a beloved car and driving across the Outback to one of the wildest parties Down Under? It was quite an adventure for Troy resident David Tracy.
Tracy, an engineer turned automotive journalist, is the co-founder of a car culture website called The Autopian, a new site that launched in April. Fixing up old cars consigned to the scrap heap has long been a passion of his, and it seemed like the perfect kind of project to feature on his new site.
“The idea for the project came about when I was a journalist where the people you are in touch with and reach out to you are unpredictable. You end up going down some very unexpected paths. A year ago I bought a used 1965 Plymouth Valiant in upstate New York after helping a friend move,” said Tracy. “It was a little rusty, but good. I drove it home from New York and used it as my winter car. It would get stuck in first gear a lot, but I loved it. I was working for Jalopnik at the time, and I wrote about the car a lot. … This started me down this path.”
Australian car buff Laurance Rogers had been following Tracy’s work and had a passion for Valiants himself. He was curious if the pair might team up on a project.
“I had been following his articles … and how he would repair vehicles and drive them down to Florida or wherever,” said Rogers. “I reached out after he purchased a Valiant and fixed it up, and we got talking. I’ve got two Valiants of different versions. I work in farm insurance and I go out to different farms, and there are so many Valiants around in Australia — I’ve picked up several that I’ve fixed up or used for parts.”
“(Rogers) got in touch with me, and I learned how ubiquitous Valiants were around the world, and particularly in Australia,” added Tracy. “We talked about cars, and he would tell me about his own Valiant. He showed me this listing for a rusted-out, really run-down Valiant knowing I fix up cars I can buy for cheap. I joked that he should buy it and we should fix it up, but he actually did it, so I knew I would have to go down there and fix it up.”
Tracy traveled to Dubbo, New South Wales, in Australia, where Rogers lives. There, they began to fix up and restore the old junker with plans to drive it to the Deni Ute Muster, an event Tracy called “Australia’s Burning Man.”
“The trip was from late August to early October. I needed all of that time to bring that car back to life,” said Tracy. “In New South Wales, they have extremely strict inspections, whereas in Michigan you can drive around in just about anything. I had to fix rusted areas with new metal. I had to replace electrical systems. We went through three engines, because the engine that was in the car was rusted and filled with this thick fluid. The dipstick was even rusted away. We had to make sure it looked good, too. If it looks like a junker, the inspector will find something wrong.”
“The repair process was intense,” added Rogers. “I would come in there when I got off work, and we would work until midnight or later some nights. The last week or so, I even took a few days off. We had to fix up the car pretty much from the ground up, replacing the engine a couple of times and refurbishing or replacing pretty much everything. It was a 52-year-old car.”
The restoration process was intense, going through multiple engines, weeks of work and even switching which Valiant they were restoring with one they were just planning to use for spare parts.
“We pulled pieces from this junk yard in Australia that just handled Valiants,” Tracy said. “We had an engine that was stored in a chicken coop. We cleaned it up, but then the cylinders were rusted. We ended up with a fourth engine that my host had sitting around for another car he was going to work on. … We had four weeks to turn something with no interior, had no glass, had a bad engine, the frame was bent up, and was rusted out, to make it road worthy. We collected parts from around the area. A car we got for parts ended up being the car we really used to fix up and make it ready for the road again.”
Tracy will be documenting the restoration process and the trip to the Deni Ute Muster on his site, www.theautopian.com in segments over several weeks, calling the adventure “Project Cactus.”
“We’re rolling out episodes of what happened on our site, and right now we are up to the part where we’re fixing up the body,” he said. “The goal was to get to the Deni Ute Muster, which I went into thinking it was a car show. I learn it’s more akin to Australia’s Burning Man with art and music and people partying out in the desert. People go nuts out there for three or four nights. It was a couple hundred miles from Dubbo where we were fixing the car up. … I don’t want to give too much away, but it was a crazy journey.”
“A couple components broke in the steering column the night before the inspection. We had to scramble at the last minute,” added Rogers. “We worked all night on that, but that was just part of the experience.”
Tracy said the whole process was fun and one he thinks auto enthusiasts in both Australia and the United States will enjoy.
“Readers had seen similar projects from me when I wrote for other sites, but I had readers already waiting to see my next project, which really helped the site,” he said. “The culture (in Australia) might even be stronger than it is in Detroit. They love it and live it.”