1969 – the year of The Sled

Leon Parbs, of Nuriootpa, with his 1969 Ford Capri 1600 GT, the very same one he took home as an 18 year old on August 5, 1969.

Man walked on the moon, close to half a million hippies grooved to the music of Woodstock and the ferris wheel at Adelaide Showgrounds spun on its axis for the first time.

Meanwhile, back in the Barossa, a seventeen year old Leon Parbs placed an order in for the car of his dreams.

“I’d seen the brochure of the car and I went straight down to C.T. Eckermann in Tanunda and I fell in love with the colour, the shape, everything!” said Leon, describing his first “real life” sighting of a1969 Ford Capri1600 GT.

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“I’m a visual person and I just went bang… this is it! I went home, told my mum and dad and their words were no… I said what’s going to happen? You’ll have to buy it  yourself. So, I took it out on higher purchase for three years and I paid it off in just over 18  months. I worked really hard to do that!

“I turned 18 in May while I was waiting for it,  they were only released in August of that year. I had to wait for it – that was a long three months…I went down to C.T. Eckermann’s every week to pay it off with my little book!” 

Leon put on different 13 inch mags because he never liked the original ones and he exchanged the steering wheel and gear stick to after market options of the era.

“It cost me $3,330 on the road 50 years ago,” he recalls.

“The car itself was $2,970. It was $30 for registration, $30 for driving lights and then $300 for insurance because it had GT written on it – it was horrendous!”

Fifty years on, the “Vermilion Fire” coloured coupé, now nicknamed “The Sled”, still takes pride of place in Leon’s garage and he has to smile when he explains how his insurance bill has remained at $300.

“It’s done 210,000 miles,” said Leon.

A rare British beauty, Leon’s four cylinder GT was only made in 1969 because the V6 Capri GT superseded it the following year.

“That’s why there are none left – they’re gone. It’s one of a kind and probably the best one in Australia I’ve been told,” Leon said.

For Leon, The Sled has been central to his life, through all its phases. There are not too many of the 210,000 mile on the clock he hasn’t driven.

“First it was a lad’s car, I met my future wife, Valerie and I taught her to drive in it. She had a mini and when we got married, the car became a family car and I used the mini. 

“Then it became the family car when Melissa and Nathan were little and in 1981, it became a work car for me and we bought another vehicle for a family car.”

It remained a work vehicle up until the early nineties, although it was still used regularly.

“In 1993, I did a Dutton Grand Prix Rally with my good friend, Brian Schmidtke in his Toyota MR II,” said Leon.

“I said to him, next year I’m going to do it in the Capri!

He ended up doing three rallies in it after Werner Gattermayr repainted the car in exactly the same colour, making it look as good as the day it rolled off the assembly line.

Such was its head-turning ability, Leon was encouraged to enter The Sled into an all Ford Day in Geelong since it was far better to display it in its original glory than to “thrash it” on a race track.

“I went over there and I cleaned up! I was shocked. I got the best Capri, best 4 cylinder, best British built car and best overall Ford. The big Ford Falcon V8 boys were not happy!”

The Sled’s winning streak has continued  through the years with Leon showing the car at many events around the country.

“I probably win, on average, five trophies a year and I’ve been showing it for 24 years.”

But there’s one title he wants nothing to do with and he cringes at the thought.

“I’ve driven it to Melbourne and Geelong five times, it’s been to Melbourne once on a trailer, once to Wagga and once to Albury on a trailer, otherwise, it’s never been on a trailer. But, they still call me a trailer queen and I hate it!”

Being runner up in the Blue Ribbon class at the All Ford Day was a highlight.

“Now I get into the blue ribbon class and can’t win it because the cars that have been restored now, they are from the ground up and I can’t compete against those. I get close!”

The Sled is central to Leon and Valerie’s social lives, taking them to interesting places and allowing them to meet new friends with similar interests.

The duo have just completed yet another Bay to Birdwood, an event they love.

“I always thought I would never win it, my goal was to get into the top ten and get a certificate – that’s what I wanted. The fourth time I did it, I actually won!

“I won the Concours d’Elegance section ten years ago…but the car is not allowed to win it again.”

The Capri has also seen some action on the track and if Leon has his way, there will be more in the future, especially since Tim Pumpa rebuilt the engine.

“I’ve done Collingrove Hill Climb with it. I’d like to do it now because the car’s a bit better than it was back then! I’ve done Mallala heaps of times – love it.”

Leon admits he’s keen to put the Capri to the test at Tailem Bend.

“I haven’t been down to the Bend with it yet. It’s a goal, but if I go down there I don’t want to just putter around…I will ring its neck! It’s been designed to go 8,000 revs, so she goes pretty quick!”

A new fuel tank means the Capri can take Leon on longer journeys, something he never dreamt he would still be doing five decades  after first setting eyes on the car.

He does, however, recall a “very brief” moment when he thought of selling it to buy a red, 4 cylinder TE Cortina.

“I nearly traded it in back in 1980, it was close. We looked for a family car, I wanted a Cortina station wagon. Went to Adelaide and picked out what we wanted and said okay. Came home, made a phone call and said sorry, I just can’t do it.”

Now a grandfather of four, Leon is proud to say three generations have enjoyed the car he bought half a century ago.

And whilst he might be called grandpa nowadays, one thing is for sure.

“This is no grandpa’s car!”