As a young boy Chris Sorenson drove past Queenie Hinkler’s De Dion Bouton and dreamed of a day when he could call the car his own.
It was the start of a lifelong passion for the Burnett Heads man who has since collected seven veteran vehicles.
His first apprenticeship in the Qunaba Sugar Mill only fuelled his interest in historic machinery.
“I think it goes back to when I was an apprentice at the mill, which was just nearby here, and I was a fitter and turner,” Chris said.
“That was back in the early 60s and at that time there was still a few older cars around and it just started to interest me.”
That start gave him the basic skills which he now uses to tinker with his prized collection.
“The first car that I had was a 1948 Morris 10 and from then it sort of progressed. The apprenticeship and the mechanical parts that was the starting point.
“I went to sea as an engineer on ships and in those days the ships were steam ships and of course fascination for steam and so that’s why I have steam cars.
“I think it was just a mixture of going to sea, all the mechanics, the engines, everything that kept me involved.
“Now that I’m retired it’s a wonderful past time, I can put all my time into the cars.”
Chris’ fascination with the Edwardian period grew, leading him to seek out veteran vehicles from that period.
“If you see the early movies and you see the dress and the brass and all those early cars, 100 year old cars are mostly brassy cars.
“The first veteran [I purchased] was a 1911 Overland. Believe it or not it’s still sitting in the garage.”
It has become a passion he shares with wife Jenny who sews all of the costumes the pair where when displaying vehicles.
Chris purchases Queenie’s car
While he had secured his first veteran vehicle, his love for the De Dion Bouton continued.
It first arrived in Bundaberg in 1904 having been ordered from London by a Mr Parry, the owner of the Bundaberg foundry.
“He sent his foreman over to organise the purchase and the shipping of the car.
“He taught himself to drive, we’re told.
“Records show it was on the green outside the foundry towing a stump so he could stop quickly.
“It stayed in their family for many, many years. It then passed to Mr Louis Palm.”
Queenie was the wife of Louis Palm and her car was the showcase piece in Palm Centre at the end of Bourbong Street, near Kennedy Bridge.
“I would go past in the school bus every morning going to Bundaberg High School and look at that car and I thought I would love to own it.
“So, we saved and saved and saved and eventually we bought it, but that’s now 1985 so we’ve had it since then.”
As the third owner of the car Chris has kept it in perfect working condition.
“It’s a lovely little car,” Chris said.
“It has a one cylinder little eight horsepower engine.
“Every time I go to start it it always starts, it never misses.
“It’s had one coat of paint and it’s had its upholstery redone somewhere in its life.
“Everything else, all the timber, all the floorboards, everything is the old car. The engine, everything.
“It’s just one of those things it’s just survived time.”
Chris still has the car’s original papers which show it was the second car to ever be registered in Bundaberg.
“In those days the cities had their own registration before the state bought in the registration that was state-wide for vehicles.
“The records show it was car number two.
“It is a Bundaberg car and this is where it belongs.”
Fascination for steam furthers car collection
Chris also has two prized steam cars in his collection that have both won prestigious awards in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.
“Why do I have steam cars?
“Because I worked in a sugar mill that ran on steam and I went to sea on a ship that in those days were driven by steam.”
Chris’ 1901 Locomobile was purchased from Massachusetts in the United States.
“It is a restored car, I can’t say the same for it as I say for the Bundaberg car, but it is still the old car.
“It was burnt in a fire so there was a lot of damage done to it.
“My friend restored it and we did that with the aim of running it in the London to Brighton.”
Run it in the London to Brighton they did – taking out the Councours d'élégance d'équipe last year.
The prize is arguably one of the most prestigious awards for veteran vehicles and costumed teams.
“The Concours is the prize,” Chris said.
“That’s the car and the people.
“You only want to do that once in a lifetime so after we won that we thought let’s bring the car home, we’ve done it.
“That’s why the Locomobile is here in Australia.
“It’s spent the last five years in London living in a little shed over there waiting for us to come over every year to run in the London to Brighton.”
1903 Grout purchased for original features
His other award-winning steam car is a 1903 Grout.
“It is quite a unique car.
“Very original old car and I bought it because of its originality.
“It’s very much like the Bundaberg car.
“If you go and look at it you’ll see everything on it, other than the upholstery, is pretty much the old car.
“We took it to London and drove it in the London to Brighton.
“We won the People’s Choice at the Regent Street Show which we were quite thrilled about because that’s the people choosing the car and the dress that they like.
“We were quite surprised when that was announced.
“A lovely prize and all to do with dress and car, the uniqueness of it.”
Steam car operation has its challenges
Chris said driving a steam car could be quite difficult.
“There are different things that you do.
“First thing in the morning when you wake up you just can’t go out there and crank it.
“You have to get steam up, it’s like a kettle on the stove.
“You have to put the fire on the bottom of the boiler and wait.
“The steam pressure will come up and once you’ve got the steam pressure up you just open valves and push levers.
“It’s tiller steering so it doesn’t have a wheel.
“Until it starts to hiss like an old steam engine that was at the railway station you wouldn’t even know that it was going to go anywhere.
“When you’re driving down the road you have to listen to make sure your fire is on and you have to adjust the valves.
“They’re quite complex.”
All three of these cars will be featured in the Bourbong Street Gaslight Parade on Thursday, 19 September from 6.30 pm.