The Flying Wombat: a vivid COVID-19 dream or a reality? The richest British sportsman of all time: three contradictions in seven words? Daniel Ricciardo: the richest Australian car driver of all time? And we check in by Zoom on the old bloke who has found the three of us (Mick, me and Brownie) a new rally to enter.
In another world exclusive (get the Walkleys and Pulitzers ready) we have found the location of the world’s only Flying Wombat. Get the tissues out readers, friends and others for this is what classic car writer Mick Davis calls a saga of self-made fortunes, divorces, suicides, alcoholism, fatal car, aircraft crashes and tomato sauce.
Rust Heinz was the grandson of the very religious Henry John Heinz, founder of the tomato sauce and pickle empire that carries his name to this day. The Heinz family rivals the Kennedys in terms of tragedies. A hit-run driver killed Rust when he was 24. Heinz lawyer’s persuaded Rust’s wife Helen to take $25k to not make any claim on the family fortune. Helen committed suicide soon after. US Senator John Heinz died in a plane crash. Most of the family don’t talk to each other, some are weird, some have a couple of gold medals for drinking and there used to be quite a bit of sleeping around with persons who you weren’t married to.
Moving right along.
We all knew Rusty was going to be different when mum Liz gave him her maiden name as a Christian name. So, no surprise he rebelled against tomatoes and pickles, went to Yale and studied naval architecture rather than pickling science, including how to see the bubbles of carbon dioxide gas indicating that the lactobacillus is thriving and the brine has started to acidify. Rusty designed a few hot water boats but his real passion was designing the most beautiful car in the world. Like all parents, Howie and Liz wanted him in the family biz but like all youngest sons (a big shout out to the best siblings of all) he ignored them and their money and headed off to the West Coast.
Luckily he had an aunt in the west who was in the rich family business and funded wind tunnel tests and development that moved his dream close to reality. He got into bed with Bohman & Schwartz, custom coach builders to the stars and the obscenely rich, and out popped the Phantom Corsair. (You have to read on to see the connections with Wombats.) The black tomato of the Heinz family and millionaire playboy had created an entirely personal design that I think really is the most beautiful car ever made.
It is an aluminium-bodied two-tonne radical teardrop streamliner. Packed with a Lycoming L-head side valve 4.7-litre straight-eight engine, the Rusty’s car of tomorrow had everything but performance and cool running. Pushbutton doors, triple layer safety glass, aircon, a compass, an altimeter, red leather interior and for drive-in movie lovers, four people could sit across the front, including one to the left of the driver.
But despite being Jack the Lad in tinsel town, the publicity the Phantom got didn’t lead to any orders. There was only one answer. Put it in a movie. The film was The Young in Heart and tells the touching story of a family of confidence tricksters who insinuate themselves into a relationship with a lonely old millionairess with the objective of ripping her off mercilessly. Naturally in a plot like this there must be a car dealer. Thanks for waiting. One of the con persons gets a job at the Flying Wombat showroom in Glenville Arcade, London. His best line is: “If I were to say that the Wombat is the last word in mechanical perfection, I should be withholding the full truth. The Wombat is above mechanical perfection. The Wombat is ahead of its time. As far ahead of its time as was — well, Socrates, of his.” The wood duck customer bought three.
Billed as the car that thinks for you, trick photography made it look like there were hundreds of Flying Wombats in stock. Anyway, the film didn’t help sales, Rusty died, the Wombat went through a number of owners before ending up in the collection of Bingo entrepreneur Bill Harrah in Reno. When Bill died in 1978 his collection became the National Automobile Museum and that’s where our flying marsupial is today.
Last week the Sunday Times Rich List told us Lewis Hamilton was worth $420m. His Merc contract means he gets paid $74m a year without the JobKeeper allowance. Interestingly most of Lewis’s career was at McLaren so perhaps Daniel Ricciardo hopes his move to McLaren will transform him from the Honey Badger to the Flying Wombat. With overtime Dan should be paid $30m at McLaren. But, and it’s a big but, that’s if the Woking racecar makers can keep afloat.
McLaren is looking at hocking its crown jewels of cars and Global HQ to stop going belly up. Execs are looking for $400m (they could ask Hamo). Boris has knocked back lending them $280m.
Finally, the Sultan got me on a Zoom call yesterday to tell me we are entering the last Classic Outback Trial. Owner and organiser Phil Bernadou says he’s flat out with preparations to make sure the 1515km gravel rally starts in Parkes in NSW on Saturday August 8. As you know it’s de rigueur to have a bookcase behind you on a Zoom. I noticed Mick’s classics, including Brain Surgery For Dummies, The Korean Canine Training Manual: 50 Ways To Wok Your Dog and the first draught of Gone With The Wind.