Dream garage: inside one of Ballarat's best car collections

WE were mighty impressed when we visited car enthusiast Fid Pitt's treasure trove of a garage two months ago.

You could have knocked us down with a feather, though, when he told us one of his near neighbours had an even larger collection of classic machines.

Within Roger Rich's massive shed – 'hangar' might be a more appropriate description – there are a baker's dozen glorious machines spanning seven decades. We were gobsmacked.

Mr Rich, 70, started his collection seven years ago. It all started with an impromptu knock on a stranger's door.

"I've always liked Corvettes but I'd never been in a position to get one," Mr Rich said.

"Once I saw this one (a 1978 model) I decided I wanted it. I saw it in a garage and I decided to knock on the door and ask if I could take a look.

"The guy told me it was for sale and I bought it then and there. I paid cash for it. That started me off.

"The hardest car to buy is the first one, I'd say. You have to take that step but after that you see the value in it."

The second car came just two months later a 1968 Mustang. It was, in a sense, a necessity given the pressure he might have got from wife Barb had he not.

Roger Rich with one of his many classic cars. PICTURE: JEREMY BANNISTER

Roger Rich with one of his many classic cars. PICTURE: JEREMY BANNISTER

"The Mustang is hers. When I bought the Corvette, she said she needed a Mustang. She wanted it and I had to find her one," Mr Rich said.

"We were into old-time dancing but then the dancing scene began to change, so then we got into cars. We joined the Vintage and Classic Car Club  Ballarat and started going to different rallies.

"Once you join a car club you get into the whole atmosphere but you are also exposed to more cars for sale."

Mr Rich isn't married to one particular brand but there is a broad theme about what he looks for.

"The main theme is American cars, at least they are the priority," Mr Rich says.

"I also decided I needed one British car and a German car, though. My parents had a British car, an Austin, but I ended up with the Rover. There is only one German car, but what a car! Everybody loves it.

"The variety means I can go to so many different rallies and have something. I travel to all states and so many different events. We'd be doing 10-12 a year. It's not just about the cars, it's more the people.

" I also get visitors. Having Fords and General Motors cars means anyone can visit and there will be something of interest to them."

If asked to single out a special car, Mr Rich nominates the Cadillac Opera by virtue of its rarity but also because it is so unusual.

"It's the only car you can drive from the back seat," he says.

"What Cadillac did was take their 1976 model, take out the back seat and move the front seat, the dash and the steering wheel back to where the back seat would have been.

"They also took 30 inches out of the roof and then built 30 inches in front of the bonnet because they weren't allowed to change the chassis length.

"They wanted something different."

Mr Rich bought the Opera Coupe from Iowa, thanks to the internet. It was a similar tale with the Lasalle, which he wanted because it was the last model before GM dropped the brand altogether.

Perhaps the odd man out is the Holden, but Mr Rich says sentiment got the better of him.

"I bought the De Ville because I saw it at a property in the middle of NSW and I didn't want it to be broken up and its grille put on a WB Ute," he explains. "I wanted to rescue it. It had done four weddings in eight years. That's all it has been used for."

Perhaps the greatest masterpiece is the shed itself. After buying the property in 2008 he set about building a 20 x 12-metre garage but not long after extended it a further 12 metres to bring the total capacity to 19 cars.

The next mission, of course, is to fill it.

Mr Rich has some advice for those who are interested in doing something similar.

"First, contact the Vintage and Classic Car Club and they will give you all the information you need," he says.

"You also need to set a price limit. I find if you buy a car for $20,000 to $30,000 your money is pretty safe and you will be able to enjoy it, and sell it again easily if you need to. Spend more than $40,000 and it is much harder to sell because it's a different market.

"I always look at the condition of the interior because it is a fair guide to everything else. If it is shoddy, then it is a fair indicator about everything else.

"The new club registration permit system allows us to drive them allwww.vccc.org.au/ at a reasonable price. It's about $68 for 45 days' use during the year.

"And because you don't drive each car as often the insurance is also very cheap."

Roger's roster

1978 Chevrolet Corvette, 1968 Ford Mustang, 1971 Buick Boattail, 1965 Ford Thunderbird, 1925 Oldsmobile, 1978 Cadillac Opera Coupe, 1971 Mercedes-Benz Coupe, 1984 Cadillac Biaritz, 1983 Holden De Ville, 1940 Lasalle, 1931 Buick Coupe, 1955 Ford Crown Victoria, 1960 Studebaker Hawk, 1965 Rover.

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