Our Member, Albert Neuss, has been in the news lately. Not only with a story in the Canberra Times about the National Museum purchasing Albert’s FJ Holden & subsequently being featured in a Museum magazine but the following story appeared in the ACT based “Capital Magazine”. Since then, the Chrysler has had a lengthy report in the “Classic Car” Magazine.
The Chrysler also won “The Best Classic Car” at the recent American Car Nationals.
Article reproduced from Capital Issue 11, July – August 2004.
Story and photography by Malcolm Robertson.
A ministerial fleet Chrysler, once a Commonwealth commotion, is now a collector’s item.
They caused quite a stir at the time, 25 brand new Chryslers for the ministerial fleet purchased in mid-1944 at the time of serious government austerity. Smith’s Weekly, a self-proclaimed guardian of the public interest, publicised the story with a headline story saying the new cars were the” highest-priced and most modern Chryslers to have ever made it to Australia – and they definitely haven’t got ‘austerity’ written all over them.” Even one of the government’s own advisory committees questioned the purchase, but when an administration builds up momentum, convinced of the right path, like the Queen Mary II at full steam, it will ride out the waves and maintain the course.
Which is precisely what happened. By December 1944 the cars were ready for use and shipped to the Transport Office in Kingston where each was registered with the distinctive government number plates, all prefixed C*, indicating ministerial usage. The cars were 1942 models, built in right-hand drive to special order which must have fallen through, leaving them available for an astute representative of the Australian government to find. After all, new cars were hard to come by in 1944.
The car in this story is the sole remaining survivor of these ministerial vehicles. It was registered by the government as C*08 and allocated to the Treasurer, then Ben Chifley, who used it extensively, even so far as commuting home to Bathurst in it (where, in accordance with the practices of the day, it was kept under wraps in his garage and not used around town).
Current owner, Albert Neuss, isn’t exactly sure who bought the car when the government let it go in 1950, but by 1952 his father Roy owned it and used it to drive from the family farm in the Naas Valley to Canberra and Queanbeyan. “I remember the car well,” Albert says. “As a kid we travelled in the luxurious space in the back seat and it seemed so smooth on the rough roads of the day.”
In 1957, Roy Neuss sold the car to buy a Holden ute for the farm. Roy may have been a practical man, but even then his son, Albert was developing a soft spot for old cars. Albert was determined to keep track of the Chrysler and buy it back for himself one day.
But keeping track wasn’t that easy and the car disappeared from view for a decade or even two, eventually resurfacing in Captain’s Flat, the historic mining town about 50 kilometres from Canberra. The then owner was not interested in selling, but time wore him down and, in 1983, Albert was able to buy the car.
It was another 16 years before the old ministerial car was ready for road, including six years of hard restoration work by Albert begun in 1993. The Chrysler needed to be completely stripped down before it could be rebuilt. “The body was hard work, but the gearbox was the worst,” Albert says. “The Windsor was fitted with Chrysler’s Fluid Drive system, an early form of automatic that was so complicated it was almost impossible to rebuild.”
Resplendent in its original dark blue paint, the car finally returned to the road in a debut run to Yass in March 1999. Today it forms the centrepiece of a small collection of fine old cars owned by Albert, a centrepiece that has personal as well as national significance.