6 November 2023

Classic Car Club welcomes all makes and models - as long as they're old and loved

| Michele Tydd
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Kon's Fiat 124 sitting in a driveway.

One of Kon Panagakos’ most loved restorations, a Fiat 124. Photo: Supplied.

Like most of his teenage mates in Wollongong in the early 1980s, Kon Panagakos’ motoring life began on a humble note.

“My brother George and I grew up in a middle-class Greek family with not much money, so all we could do was buy the rattiest cars we could find and attempt to restore them,” he recalled.

“We basically taught ourselves with tips from mates who were mechanics or panel beaters.”

Now 55 and a Transport NSW commercial contract manager, Kon is the co-founder of the South Coast Classic Car Club, which began in 2019 with a philosophical outlook that might shock the more conventional classic motoring fraternity.

Kon, with now solid restoration credentials, rejected the ethos of some of the top classic car clubs in Sydney, but learned from them about what not to do.

“Many of these clubs are made up of zealots who prefer one make of car and one only. They like the cars to be in pristine condition with low kilometres on the clock – so much so their cars are often transported on trailers to the club gatherings,” he said.

“And restorations have to be close to perfect – in one of the top-end clubs, I was criticised for a hubcap that wasn’t quite the right shade and for having the wrong wheel nuts on my car at the time.”

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So when he and a few mates established the South Coast Classic Car Club, all they stipulated was that the car had to be more than 30 years old, registered and, most importantly, loved.

“It’s about recognising our rich motoring history, enjoying our cars and keeping them on the road,” Kon said.

“We have one guy in his late 80s who has had a triple bypass and has spent more time in hospital than at home in the past few years, but he just comes alive when he gets to drive his 1980 cream Magna at our runs.

“We also have a woman who just joined who loves her old 1970s white Kombi, which she has fitted with a bed for weekend getaways.”

The youngest member is just 18.

“He picked up an old BMW for a few thousand dollars and is in need of a helping hand to restore it, which we’re always happy to give,” Kon said.

His first car was a Datsun1600, and from there he moved on to an ever-changing range of quirky old cars from Mercedes to Triumphs.

“I’ve had five different model Triumphs, including a Spitfire, TR4 and a Dolomite Sprint and a heap of Mercedes because they are easy and enjoyable to work on thanks to the logical engineering.

“My rule is I never buy the same car twice, and once I’ve restored them, I eventually sell them because my joy comes from the restoration and preservation of our automotive history.

“My preference is for cars that still have chrome bumper bars, a feature that stopped by the 1990s and was replaced by plastic. For me, those cars reflect the elegance and quality of that era.”

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At one time Kon had eight cars on his property but now he has only three – a Mercedes SL500 convertible, a Fiat 124 and a Mercedes 450SEL sedan, which he is working on.

The Mercedes convertible and sedan are his favourites to drive, but he finds the public’s reaction on the streets makes him uncomfortable.

“I get looks that say ‘He’s going through a midlife crisis’, whereas my mate, who drives an old Toyota Landcruiser FJ45 ute, gets a hero’s welcome with people stopping him to chat about the car – to them, his choice of car signals he’s a good bloke,” Kon says with a laugh.

Kon is married with four grown sons, none of whom, he says, has the slightest bit of interest in cars or restoring them.

Check out South Coast Classic Car Club on Facebook for more information.

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