“Cut and shut”: crash repairs in days gone by
I just found a photo at Mum’s place, showing the driveway of my parents’ former home, around 1989.
It shows my Dad’s ’82 Mazda 323 (which I talked about in this article about my own) plus my brother’s ’82 XD Falcon, his ’77 HX Holden Kingswood and Mum’s ’85 Mitsubishi Magna. My own vehicle at the time isn’t seen – perhaps it’s in the garage.
Every one of these cars would visit the smash repairer, for some major repairs. With my brother at the wheel, the Kingswood hit a kerb at speed while cornering, and the front of the chassis was left quite bent.
The Falcon would be rolled on a back road. Yep, overturned.. with all four wheels pointing to the sky. The roof sported a slight peak in the middle until the repairs were finished.
Both were back on the road within a reasonable time.
The Magna was hit while parked in a street, by a car coming around the corner. It needed a new rear bumper and some minor bodywork.
Then there was Dad’s 323:
In late 1990, Dad stopped in traffic and a 4WD with a bullbar slammed into the back of the car – you can see the imprint of the bullbar uprights in the hatchback. The impact sent the Mazda into the back of the car in front, but thankfully only minor damage was caused there.
Here’s the kicker: Dad was driving the 323 after having signed a dealer contract to buy a used Land Cruiser, with the 323 as his trade-in. They told him to come back in a day or so, to pick up the new vehicle. So with the trade now an insurance matter, Dad somehow rustled up the funds to complete the deal.
Even with its bent rear quarter panel, squashed towbar and flattened hatch, the 323 was fully repaired (looking better than ever with new lights, paint and plastics) and was soon sold to a family friend.
These photos got me thinking about smash repair standards today, and in days gone by. Would a 12-year-old sedan with a visibly bent chassis be straightened out? Would a 7-year-old sedan, that had been found crashed and upside down, be brought back to life?
In 1989, at least, the answer was ‘yes’. I think today these cars would be written off.
Around this time, I was introduced to the body repair term “cut and shut”. That’s because my friend’s early 80s Honda Prelude was left in such a state after being hit while parked, that nearly half of another car was welded to what remained of his.
He’d left the car parked on the front lawn at his parents’ house, in a quiet street about 4 houses from the corner. One night someone took that corner too fast, and ran into the back of his Prelude. Unfortunately the impact pushed the car forward – into the power pole that also stood on the lawn.
So this Honda was a candle that had been burnt at both ends. The insurance company arranged for the repair, and the body shop gave him an awful, beaten up early 70s Toyota Corona to drive, for the months it took to fix the car.
After a very long wait, the car was returned, with the shop saying they’d “cut and shut” a new rear section on the car. The Prelude looked great, but never drove the same – and the sunroof often refused to open or close.
So much for “cut and shut”. It wasn’t long before the Honda was an open and shut case, and traded in.
Giocattolo inspires my Mazda ‘toy’ – a 323
For around 3 years in the late 1980s, a factory at Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast was making a supercar – despite many spanners in the works. It was called Giocattolo – the Italian word for toy.
Giocattolo Motori Pty Ltd was founded in 1986 by former IT consultant and De Tomaso fan/dealer Paul Halstead. His dream was to turn a mid-engined V6 Alfa Romeo rallying prototype – an Alfasud Sprint 6C – into a reality, after Alfa abandoned the idea.
Spanner 1: Alfa wouldn’t supply him with bodies or engines. So Halstead bought fully finished Sprint cars to take apart and convert. Then, with Busso V6s not plentiful, HSV teamed up with Giocattolo and supplied Holden V8s. Kevlar was used to add ‘lightness’.
Spanner 2: Customs duty and taxes on the imported ZF transaxle from West Germany were huge – as in tens of thousands of dollars – then you can add to the business model high 80s interest rates and the economy at the time.
Despite all that, 15 cars were built before investors pulled the plug. The Giocattolo was launched at Lakeside Raceway, just north of Brisbane, by Aussie 1980 F1 world champion Alan Jones. One was destroyed in a fatal crash at Eastern Creek in 2001.
Read the full Giocattolo story here on Top Gear
In the late 80s there were newspaper articles about this supercar – either on the establishment of the factory, or its fight to survive. I recall seeing the Giocattolo in the Courier-Mail, because the picture featured one styling move that stuck with me: painting the wiper arms the colour of the body.
At the time, I owned a white car – and I desperately wanted to give it a different look. It was a 1981 Mazda 323 hatchback.
Same car, but not mine. Source: Grays
I wanted to personalise my 1.5 litre 4-cylinder 323 because my dad owned the exact same car, in the same colour – but a 1982 model. The only difference was mine had a blue interior, and his was brown.
He bought it for me around 1989, because he wanted to help. I’d just driven my rust-riddled 1977 Toyota Corolla to the local car dealer, looking to trade my first car in on something. However, the prices were a bit steep for a uni student working part-time (who’d blown over $3,000 a year or so before on the cursed Corolla). I had to get to uni, but my dad had followed me down and had free time, so he promised to look after my need for new wheels.
Before I left, I saw the Mazda in the lot for around $8,000 and moved on, due to the price and its similarity to dad’s car. I did admire an early 80s Mitsubishi Colt (similar to this one I later owned) because it was priced lower and had the ‘split’ gearbox, with power and economy shifts offering 8 speeds. I was interested in automotive quirks, even then.
I bussed home from uni late in the day, and dad said he’d chipped in to buy me a car. I was hugely thrilled, saying “the Colt hatch?”. He shook his head and revealed that he’d bought the Mazda 323, because it was a familiar model and “we all know how good they are”.
They were good – spritely performance, a simple and clever interior, plus the hatch and fold-down rear seats (behind which I snuck into the local drive-in one night, with someone else driving). However, a young man trying to make his way in the world doesn’t really want to be a carbon copy of his dad.
So, when I saw the Giocattolo’s all-white presentation, I decided to paint the wiper arms on my 323, along with the grille (a trend I’d seen on other cars). White spray paint was bought, along with some tape to mask off the MAZDA badge on the grille.
The result looked a lot better than this artist’s (?) impression:
There was more I could have painted body colour, if I had the money/expertise (like mirrors and bumpers) – but these two augmentations were easily and cheaply accomplished.
Apart from needing rear wheel bearings and having extractors installed for some reason, the Mazda cost very little to maintain. I did find the forward-hinged bonnet annoying. Also annoying was the driver who ran into the car’s back bumper, when I stopped before an intersection (in the rain) to make way for an ambulance. She was uninsured, but paid for the repair – in instalments.
Despite my yearning for individuality, just a few months after buying my 323, dad sold his to buy a Toyota Land Cruiser – a “country vehicle” which had many problems, and prompted suspicion that it had been caught in the Charleville floods of 1990.
By the end of 1991, I’d saved some more money, noticed some surface rust starting on the doors of the 323, and also noticed its oil consumption rising a little. It was time to shop for another car!
New Year’s Eve 1991 is when I made that purchase: a 1989 Daihatsu Charade TS 3-cylinder.
However, the painted Mazda wasn’t done with me yet; a few years later, I was visiting Moorooka on Brisbane’s southside and noticed a white 323 in the shop carpark. It was mine, and stood out because it still had the Giocattolo-inspired styling, some years after the ‘toy’ factory closed. There were 15 Giocattolos made in Caloundra – but only 1 rattle can ’81 Mazda in Cleveland.