|April 11, 1997
Perkins gets cranked up on vintage tractors
|Five-times Bathurst winner, Larry Perkins,
establishing a tractor museum.
"Lightning Larry", the racer who has become a household name at the wheel of his Castrol Commodores, has assembled an unique collection of vintage tractors from Victorias Mallee region where he grew up.
Beside the hangar at Melbournes Moorabbin Airport that is the home of Perkins Engineering, a new structure is going up to house the tractor collection which is believed the first of its kind in Australia.
"Ive got nine tractors already, and another seven Ive got to pick up on my semi-trailer when Ive got a spare Sunday or two," said Perkins.
Tractors have been his life-long passion. Having learnt to drive a 1936 McCormick Deering W40 tractor at the age of 10, he ploughed the fields of farming neighbours at Cowangie in the Mallee, sometimes until 2am and for $1 an hour.
Among the collection Perkins now has is a W40 identical to that on which he did his `apprenticeship, several other McCormick Deering machines, and a Case tractor "that always starts first time". Two came from the Perkins family farm, a couple from auctions and others "just through people I know or word-of-mouth".
"Theyre all early American tractors that were used in the Mallee and the Wimmera region," said Perkins. "They were already vintage when I started driving tractors - theyre from the 1920s and 30s."
One, a Hart Parr, sat idle in the Mallee for 54 years. The owner had rejected many other offers but happily handed it over to Perkins because he knew it would get a good home.
Yet another of the tractors had not been started for 30 years. "The engine was covered in grease, but I steam-cleaned it, cleaned the plugs and cranked it into action," said Perkins.
The new `shed that will house the collection measures 35 metres by 27 metres. Perkins said it would be much easier to restore and display the tractors there than in the Mallee.
"I dont think that will matter too much - they dont just show Picasso paintings in Spain," he said.
"The first thing I want to do is stop the decay and get them all going. Theres plenty of rust and flat tyres on them. Some havent even got rubber tyres - theyve got the old steel wheels, but that doesnt change the handling much !
"Theres a bit of work to be done, but Ive already got quite a few spare parts and the restoration wont be finicky like it is with cars. These tractors will be original, not chrome-plated ! Im not out to make them what they were not - Im going to make them what they were.
"Theyll be on public display but I just want them all going so I can have a little drive out the back. Ill have to be a bit cautious though and duck (because of the planes taking off and landing at Moorabbin Airport)."
While Perkins admitted the tractor project was taking a good deal of his time, he said it was a "very pleasant diversion" from the serious business of motor racing.
"Its not interfering - my teammate, Russell Ingall, and I are getting better results than we normally do early in the season," he said.
Ingall and Perkins scored one/two placings in both V8 Supercar support events at the Melbourne and Gold Coast Grands Prix.
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