World War II saw almost a million American service personnel pass through Australia, starting in December 1941, for training or preparation for the Pacific front.
For a nation worried about defending itself, their presence was initially welcomed: they introduced soda fountains, hot dogs and hamburgers to Aussie life. However they also brought along their better pay, smarter uniforms and exotic provisions, which apparently impressed the local ladies.
There was a saying – some believe it began in Australia – that the Americans were “over-sexed, over-paid and over here”.
Disagreements sometimes ended in major confrontations on the street, such as the “Battle of Brisbane” in November 1942.
Brisbane is where I bought a piece of American motoring history, that most of the locals didn’t love: a 1996 Ford Taurus, up for auction. I’d discovered an app which allows you to bid and hear the auctioneer, without being present at the auction site. The Taurus was low on kilometres (150,000) for a 23-year-old car, but there was very little detail on the website about its condition, apart from it having 2 keys, air conditioning – and a single service record from 1997. So, before auction day I inspected it at the yard – without starting or driving it.
I’d always been interested in the Atlanta-built Taurus and its blobby look – partly because no-one else liked it! However it was only ever sold here in an upmarket Ghia trim, so it cost way more than I could ever afford ($42,000+, more than the locally-made Fairlane). It was a sales failure here, despite Ford’s reported hopes that it might one day be a replacement for the Falcon. Being front-wheel-drive didn’t help it win fans.
This Taurus looked like a car that had been cared for: the paint was near perfect, the leather seats had very little wear, and the carpets had mats on top, which looked like they’d barely seen use. The V6 in the engine bay was remarkably clean.
A couple of days later, the auction was on and I was logged in to hear it. In between looking at the car and auction day, I’d Googled its VIN and discovered that it had been up for auction there a couple of weeks earlier, and presumably hadn’t reached a reserve – or even received a bid.
So, when the Taurus was driven into the auction room again, the auctioneer made comments like “when’s the last time you saw one of these?” which I can imagine only reminded any dealers in the room, about how tricky finding parts might be (tricky in Australia, parts are plentiful in the US for the Taurus and its clone, the Mercury Sable).
The auctioneer opened the bidding at $1,000.. and there was silence from bidders (even I wasn’t going to spend that much on it, considering the extra auction fees). Then he reduced it to a $500 start – I pressed “bid” on the app and put in my $600 bid. Then, more silence. “Going once, going twice” couldn’t attract more bids, and my Taurus bid was “referred” to the vendor, or “passed in”.
However within minutes I had a call from the auctioneers, telling me the reserve on the car had been $1,500 and asking if I could increase my bid – I said considering the added fees of nearly $500, I couldn’t. They went back to the seller, then back to me.. saying if I could move just a bit, I’d probably get a deal. So I went to $700 and the car was mine.
The same day, I was emailed an invoice for nearly $1,200 (including fees) which I paid online, and the receipt followed the next day. That meant I could pick up the Taurus.
So, one afternoon I took a train to Brisbane, and hopped off at a station near the auction yard. I just had to show my receipt, plus my unregistered vehicle permit, and the car was released – with the bonus of half a tank of fuel in it.
As it was driven up to me at the gate, I heard a loud squeaking sound from the suspension. Was this car hiding a big problem? The trip home, in air-conditioned comfort, didn’t reveal any dramas, apart from having to change the temperature readout from Fahrenheit to Celsius by pressing the right buttons together on the dash.
The 200 horsepower V6 was smooth (the same Duratec 30 engine was in the Jaguar S-type that we owned, plus the X-type and XF models) but the soft American suspension gave this long car a floaty feel – so much so, I dubbed it “the land yacht”.
Luckily, the Taurus had the original books, with the name of the original owner (well, his southern Queensland cattle property, at least), who’d bought it in 1997. I Googled the property name and it brought up a number. I rang it, and the woman who answered didn’t know anything about the car. However, when I mentioned the property name, she recognised that and gave me a surname – the White Pages gave me their number.
The original owner told me his wife had mostly driven the Taurus, and she now wanted a shorter car with a reversing camera. So, he traded it in on a new Toyota, a couple of months before the auction. So I’d bought the Taurus from a country car dealer.
I asked him about the single dealer service record, in 1997. He explained that the car had been serviced all these years in the workshop on his property. I told him that I’d found 6 CDs (Loretta Lynn, etc) that he’d left in the boot CD stacker. He told me to keep them.
The roadworthy on the car revealed a couple of issues: the squeaking sound might be worn suspension, and there was a problem with the handbrake not locking into place. I had 2 weeks to fix those problems, to get the OK for registration.
My mechanic discovered that the squeaking sound was simply old grease in the suspension, having gone hard over time – so he cleaned and re-greased, and the noise was gone. The handbrake was a similar problem: the old grease around the ratchet prevented it from locking. So, after removing the centre console, he cleaned the ratchet, re-greased, and it was also fixed.
I drove the Taurus locally, enjoying the smooth engine and the big steering wheel buttons for the cruise control. It also had automatic headlights, with the light sensor in the top of the dashboard. Plus, being made in the carjacking-prone US, the doors locked when you put it into drive.. and the remote only unlocked the driver’s door on the first push.
After a while, I put it up for sale – at a high price, but one I’d seen another low-kilometre Taurus listed at. After some low offers, an older couple came to look at it – the man revealed he already owned a Taurus, but it was playing up – and he so loved the model, he wanted to buy another one.
We went for a test drive, agreed on a lower price, then they transferred the money to me, right there on the driveway, using their phone’s bank app (they seemed like a low risk for fraud). Within hours, the money did appear in my account (so then I could sleep).
The American Ford Taurus might have been overweight, over-styled and over here.. but I was happy it had appeared on the streets of Brisbane, for me to sample its luxury.