A couple of months ago, my family and I took a weekend trip to beautiful North Stradbroke Island. Just off the coast of Brisbane’s southside and accessible only by ferry, this 106 square-mile sand island is full of lush greenery, golden beaches that stretch for miles and, to my delight, an abundance of kangaroos and wallabies. There’s also a parking lot that’s quite different from those on the mainland.
Growing up in a city – as the majority of Australians do – I never saw any wild kangaroos or wallabies as a kid and I certainly never saw any koalas. North Stradbroke Island is mostly undeveloped, however, so there were plenty of these around and they’re quite tame. Forget koalas – these are the most iconic Australian animal and, frankly, much cooler than their lazy, tree-dwelling friends.
Brisbane has no beaches to speak of. Oh, there are a couple of tidal flats some people charitably refer to as beaches but if you want to experience a proper, golden Australian beach, you need to travel. Either go an hour north to the Sunshine Coast, an hour south to the Gold Coast, or take the ferry across to Straddie, as North Stradbroke is colloquially known.
The view to the mainland. If you zoom in close, you can just make out downtown Brisbane.
I could continue to wax lyrical about Straddie – and you really should go here – but let’s talk about the parking lot.
Right as you disembark in Dunwich, you’ll find this relatively large parking lot which is presumably used by island residents who are travelling to the mainland – perhaps to a proper-sized grocery store or a Kmart (unrelated store, actually good) – and who don’t want to pay anywhere between A$60 and $120 to take their vehicles across. Why pay that much when the passenger ferry drops you close to stores, restaurants and trains? If these owners therefore are only travelling around on the island, there’s really no need for them to own something flashy and new.
Our climate is friendly to old cars (if not their paintwork) so it’s not unusual to see daily drivers from the 1980s. Nevertheless, this parking lot seemed stuck in a time warp. There were a handful of newer pickups but the only cars I can spy from this century are two cheapskate specials, the Hyundai Getz and Great Wall X240, as well as a Suzuki XL-7 and either a BA or BF-series Ford Falcon ute.
There are plenty of trails on Straddie and you can drive on some of the beaches so the number of proper four-wheel-drives makes sense. Toyota absolutely dominates the off-roader market in Australia and has done so for decades. Here’s a 60-series LandCruiser wagon and it wasn’t even the only one in the parking lot, the two 60s also joined by an example of the subsequent 80-series and a couple of the old school 70-series.
The LandCruiser line has long been split between a more rugged, off-road-focussed model and a more comfortable, modern wagon.
In 1984, the 70-Series replaced the classic 40-Series that had first been introduced in 1960. In a few markets like Australia, the 70-Series continues to be sold alongside the more contemporary 200-Series. There’s also the LandCruiser Prado, related to the 4Runner. Speaking of the 4Runner, there were a few in this parking lot, too.
Next to the 60-Series LandCruiser was another familiar SUV, the Holden Jackaroo. Or, as you may know it, the Isuzu Trooper. Or Opel Monterey. Or Vauxhall Monterey. Or Subaru Bighorn. Or Honda Horizon. Or… you get the picture. The second and final generation of Jackaroo was discontinued in Australia in 2004 and, unlike the US market, we didn’t have the GMT-360 truck to just slap a new badge on.
GM-Isuzu had a replacement for the Trooper in the form of the MU-7, manufactured at their Thai operations and sold throughout South-East Asia but it skipped Australia. Its replacement, the MU-X, was introduced here and Holden received a version called the Colorado7 (now TrailBlazer).
That finally gave Holden an entry in this popular segment after eight long years. Do you see now why Toyota is so indomitable in Australia? They’d never abandon a popular segment for that long.
Next to the Jackaroo was one of the ubiquitous KF/KH-series Ford Lasers, which North American Curbivores will recognize as looking identical to the ’91 Ford Escort. That’s a story for another day (soon) but next to the Laser is a Range Rover. These were locally assembled from CKD kits between 1979 and 1983 but this is a much later model.
The Vogue nameplate was introduced in 1989, beating Madonna’s single by a year although the dance scene preceded both. By this time, Land Rover had well and truly realized the snob appeal of the Range Rover line and its flagship model would continue its rise upmarket.
My grandparents had a base model Nissan Pulsar just like this, only a dull blue-grey instead of a red. That paint doesn’t look too faded for 30-year-old red paint in this climate. The N13-series Pulsar was built locally and was also sold with Holden Astra badges. It was based on the JDM Pulsar/Langley/Liberta Villa trio; the Pulsar was sold in Europe with Sunny badges. All Aussie N13 Pulsars used 1.6 and 1.8 Family II four-cylinder engines sourced from Holden. Unfortunately, they tended to do poorly in Wheels magazine’s annual quality surveys, falling below other Aussie-built Japanese small cars like the Toyota Corolla and Ford Laser. My grandparents’ held up well but it was babied.
Another car that did consistently poorly on Wheels’ quality surveys was the Hyundai Excel. In 1991, for example, it came 19th out of 20 vehicles, bracketed by two locally-built Nissans, no less. That year, Wheels’ tester had a busted rear demister and wiper, squeaked and rattled and had some loose trim pieces, had inconsistent panel gaps and improperly sealed seals, and even had a paint chip that had begun to rust.
The following generation of Excel (known as Accent elsewhere) seemed to both a better car and a better-built car and, unsurprisingly, sold much better. It even briefly became the best-selling car in Australia. As for these earlier Excels, they’ve mostly disappeared from our roads. The pre-facelift models could possibly be extinct.
One car that refuses to die is the reliable and well-built second-generation Toyota Camry. Yes, Aussie workers did a bang-up job screwing these together. I don’t know what was going on over at Nissan but Toyota’s Aussie workforce had a stellar reputation and were one of the last three automakers standing here along with Holden and Ford. Nissan, meanwhile, packed up in 1992. Our Camrys met Toyota’s standards for quality so well, they were even exported from Australia for many years. And not just to New Zealand like a lot of cars we built, but also to markets as far away as the Middle East.
Finally, amidst all the Nissan Patrols and Mitsubishi Pajeros (Monteros), we find the most unusual car in the whole lot – a Mercedes-Benz 190E. Not that an old Benz is all that unusual but in this 4WD-heavy context, this bodykit-bedecked Benz stood out.
For the first few years of the Baby Benz, the only engine available in Australia was a 2.0 four-cylinder with 113 hp so don’t let the body kit or the AMG vanity plates fool you. Though the 190E made the three-pointed star brand more accessible than ever to Australians, at launch it was priced against mid-size sedans from Audi, BMW and Volvo. These really did look like shrunken W124s, though.
On the way from Dunwich to one of the other two townships on the island, I also stumbled across the definitive Aussie island runabout: a Mini Moke. Otherwise, the island was mostly old 4WDs and late-model pickups visiting from the mainland. You don’t come here, however, for the car-spotting. You come for the beautiful scenery and the beaches that stretch to the horizon. Pile as many people as you can in a 4WD and hop on the ferry!