Historic Racing Australia’s Charles Rogers and In Pit Lane’s Brett Ramsey spent a late winter’s day at the serene and picturesque Como Gardens property of George & Pat Hetrel in Victoria’s The Basin to film for an episode of the In Pit Lane TV show.
The Como Gardens property is a 15-acre slice of the form Chandler family estate at the base of the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria. There are 150 year old Oak trees, the original plantings of Daffodil and a six-acre formal botanical-style garden that was installed in 1976 by John Chandler. The estate was sub-divided and sold off in 1995 and the Hetrel’s, then living in Boronia on a quarter-acre block bought the 15-acre slice.
There was no building on the land, so construction commenced shortly after on a new home for their retirement. Two horse paddocks were rejuvenated; one into a lake and the soil form the lake formed a natural slope up to what is now a vast single-level home. The area was filled with a large farm-style barn to house Groge’s increasing collection of cars, bikes and memorabilia.
With the home complete and moved into in 1996 the Hetrel’s soon went about restoring the garden and installed a 650 metre railway around it.
The first proper car George bought was in 1984 when he purchased a 1914 Fiat Roadster. This car got George and Pat into the veteran car movement in Victoria. George soon learnt that some owners had more than one car, how could they justify that. Well, that didn’t last long and the neutral stand George made with wife Pat finished.
A competitor, George is best known in the historic racing community for steering his genuine 1927 Bugatti T35C. One of only fifty examples that left the factory, this is the only T35C in Australia. The forerunner of the T35B the T35C (not this particular example) won the 1928 French & 1929 German Grands Prix, and the 1929 Targa Florio.
The earliest car in the collection is an 1896 Benz Velo. This is known as the first standardised motorcar and about 400 were built between 1893 and 1898. George was particularly interested in an 1894 model, but the result was this 1896 version that was advertised in the UK having being returned from the Netherlands where it was on loan to a museum there. It was advertised as an 1894 model, but on research done by a local person George had engaged it was found to have left production in either late 1896 or early 1897. Purchased the car via a phone bid. It’s not sure how many of this model survive today.
Other cars in the collection include:
- 1903 Oldsmobile
- 1093 Peugeot
- Ford Model T fire engine
- 1924 Vauxhall 30/98
- 1931 WO Bentley 4 Litre Saloon – bodied by Freestone & Webb
- Riley Kestrel
- Aston Martin Lagonda
And, there’s a 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet C. One of 410 540Ks produced the car came into Australia in 1989 under suspicious circumstances with a false declaration of its value made to Customs. George acquired following a three-year court case in which Customs seized the car and George became the successful phone bidder at auction. The history of this car is quite intriguing with Adolf Hitler loaning the car to Prof. Ernst Hinkle from 1936-1939, then whilst carrying out the subsequent restoration of the car following its arrival in Boronia signs of grey paint were found and not only did the car have front guard mounted flag poles, but rear ones too (the Nazi regime had these installed on their staff cars). So the car is not only one of the rarest in the World but also has Nazi province with it.
he generousity shown by the Hetrel’s has continued to this day with the twice a year opening of the gates to the public across the third weekend in April and October. As George puts it – you just need $20 cash; $7.50 for the gate, $2.00 for a train ride and some money for lunch and Devonshire Tea. All proceeds go directly to the SES and St John’s Ambulance with the annual combined target at $40,000.
www.comogardens.com.aau is the web site for more details.