Leo Goodfellow
Mon, February 16, 2015 at 16:22
Stephanie Hunt

Robyn Lockwood emailed me about her father.  It was a long email in which she described Leo Goodfellow's adventures as a young man, his love for his wife and children and his passion for automobiles.  I'm not much of a car lover myself, but there's nothing that interests me more than someone with passion.  No question, Leo Goodfellow has passion in spades.

************************************************************

A Motoring History

“My life has been enriched by cars,” says Leo Goodfellow

when I meet him at his Safety Beach home.  His wiry frame, full head of salt and pepper hair and quick wit belie his 85 years, although once he starts to talk about automobiles it’s obvious he’s outlived many a motor company.

With considerable pride Leo tells me, “I’ve had 64 cars that we can account for.” Over two hours of rambling reflection we touch on many of those vehicles and the critical roles they have played in Leo’s life.

 

 

 

1955 Standard Vanguard Spacemaster

“That’s actually me lying under the car there.  That’s our car, nearly at the finish,” says Leo, pointing to a faded photograph.

The car he refers to is a grey 1955 Standard Vanguard Spacemaster, a fairly popular sedan when the photograph was taken.  “The finish” is the end of the grueling 1955 REDex Reliability Trial, arguably the toughest rally ever to be held in Australia.

Leo and his brother Horace had entered the race in Horace’s family car, confident that they would win.  But the Australian outback tested their driving and navigation skills to the limit. 

“We got bogged hundreds of times,” remembers Leo.  “Roads weren’t like they are today.  Coming out of Tennant Creek there was a sign on a gum tree pointing to Broome, 2600 miles that way.  That was about it.”  His eyes sparkle as he begins to recall his many adventures.

“Once we were lost, completely lost in what they call the clay pans.  All we had was a compass on the windscreen, which eventually fell off, a Shell roadmap and enough fuel to get to Fitzroy Crossing.  We’d still be there if someone hadn’t come along who knew the stars.”

When the Standard Vanguard finally found its way to the finish it was 10th on time points.  Leo and Horace hadn’t won, but they had driven an ordinary car 13,500 miles (almost 21,700 kilometers) around Australia in less than three weeks. 

“Not a 4WD,” exclaims Leo.  “We drove a 2-wheel drive car around Australia!  And in many places there was no road at all – you just tried to find the solidest sand to run over.”

 

1928 REO to 1949 Austin 5-tonne

Leo was born in Dorrigo in 1930, as the Great Depression was taking hold.  The runt of the litter, by the time Leo arrived his three brothers were all over 20.

Their Dad had bought a 1928 REO truck two years prior and the family was busy carting wood to clear Dorrigo’s soldier settlements and keep their heads above water.   “It was just a truck. It had no name,” says Leo.  “But that REO was really the start of Goodfellow’s Transport that I finished up selling out with 20-odd trucks.”

Leo was 22 when he took over Goodfellow’s from his brother.  By then he had finished his motor mechanic’s apprenticeship at Burbidges Garage and started dating the boss’s daughter.

He ran three trucks to start, the biggest a 5 tonne Austin, grey with black mudguards.  His brother had kept the trucks in good condition but Leo quickly developed a reputation for maintaining an immaculate fleet.  “When I took over I was single, and those trucks were pretty much my life,” he recalls.

Even after he married Barbara Burbidge two years later he kept his trucks spotless.  Barbara was also a perfectionist and she kept the books ship shape.  She was also a very understanding woman, because she allowed Leo to enter the REDex Trial when their first child, Robyn, was only 6-months old. 

With a patient wife, a growing family and a trucking business you might think that crossing that REDex finish line would be the end to Leo’s carefree rallying days, but not quite yet.

 

1957 Volkswagen  Beatle

Having proved themselves in the REDex, Leo and Horace were hell bent on winning when they entered Leo’s 1957 Volkswagen in the 7000 mile (11,300 kilometre) 1957 Ampol trial.  “We took the Volkswagen because of its ability to go over rough ground quickly, and it didn’t need a lot of water,” says Leo.

A Volkswagen won that year, but the Goodfellow brothers weren’t behind the wheel.  Their car never made it past Winton, in outback Queensland.

“We were going well until Birdsville,” remembers Leo.  “We got some goat sandwiches on the Queensland border and by the time we got to Winton my brother was sick.” 

Ptomaine poisoning, it was discovered.  But that’s not the end of the story.  “We bedded down in Winton and Horace came out the next morning with blotches all over him.  We checked the mattress and it was just a crawling mass of bedbugs.”

Leo had lost his navigator.  ”One of the drivers had a crew of three and offered us one of his crew.  But the clerk said, ‘You can’t swap and change.’”  The race was over.

“After that Horace was getting on and I had more responsibilities,” says Leo with a sigh.  Rally driving was over too.

 

1969 Mercedes SEL 6.3

Leo’s love affair with the motorcar continued.  “We never kept a car more than a year.  Some Barbara never even sat in,” says Leo.   He was able to invest in more and better cars as his business grew.

It was the right place and the right time to grow a trucking business.  Dorrigo became famous for dairy, timber and potatoes and Leo built his business around carting all three.  “I took the first official tanker of bulk milk out of Dorrigo and I bought the first load of bulk grain,” explains Leo.  Through a combination of hard work and good luck Goodfellow’s became the largest single employer on the plateau.

Leo is humble about his success.  “I suppose there was a certain amount of skill in knowing this would happen,” he admits.  But he refuses to take credit.  “I don’t really think I thought about it too much.  Things just topsy turvy grew, and I grew with it.”

The number and quality of cars in Leo’s garage grew as well.  By 1969 Leo was the proud owner of a top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz.  “It was supposed to be the fastest 4-door sedan in the world,” says Leo.  “It was dark green with leather upholstery.  It was just a beautiful car.”   And it was worth a great deal of money. Leo had “arrived” and he expected that he would own that car for life.

But when the taxman came calling in 1972, Leo discovered there was a price to be paid for all that topsy-turvy growth.  “The business got bigger, but we didn’t get bigger on the accounting side,” Leo admits.  When Leo made side deals and contra arrangements with his customers he thought he was being helpful; the taxman thought otherwise.  Goodfellow’s copped a major fine.

In the end the tax department settled for half the initial fine.  “They knew we weren’t crooks.  We were just new chumps,” says Leo.  But he adds, “It was still a bloody load of money.”

There was only one ready source of cash.  “My lovely Mercedes,” says Leo.  “I had to sell her.”

 

1980 Toyota Crown Royal Saloon

Ten years later he sold the business as well.  “None of the family was interested in taking over hard work,” says Leo with a laugh.  He and Barbara moved to Safety Beach where he took up casual bus driving, joined the CEX car club and filled his garage with cars.

When doctors told Leo three years ago that his prostate cancer had spread through his lymphatic system he sold most of his cars.  “’Cause I thought I was on death row,” Leo explains.  But he’s learned that cancer treatment has come a long way.  The doctors won’t say he’s cured, but he certainly feels well enough to once again appreciate the purr of a good engine and spot a quality make and model.

He spied the tan-coloured 1980 Toyota Crown Royal Saloon about 6-months ago on a road trip to Queensland.  When he decided he had to have her, the dealer observed, “Well, there’s no doubt about you.  You’ve got an eye for a car.”

The Toyota Crown Royal has taken pride of place in Leo’s garage and was displayed at a recent Sports Touring and Classic Car Club event at the CEX.  He doesn’t drive it much, but it makes him happy. 

“Motor cars have been a happy experience for me.” Leo smiles.  It’s not just the adrenaline rush of finishing a challenging car rally, or the satisfying sound of a purring engine or the beauty of a polished, buffed and well-designed automobile.  It’s the people. “As a rule of thumb, people who are interested in cars are decent people, friendly people.”  That sounds about right.

 ************************************************************

This is the final "most interesting person" that I will be writing, as I will be moving on to another project.  It has been an incredible honour to have shared the stories of over 60 people on the Coffs Coast - such a variety of people and a wealth of adventures.  Thank you to everyone who has been involved in the MIPIK project and thank you to the Coffs Coast community for embracing the project.

Article originally appeared on The Most Interesting Person I Know (http://themostinterestingpersoniknow.net/).
See website for complete article licensing information.