6 February 2024

Could this be the Ford 'Crown car' that ferried Sir John Kerr around Canberra in 1975?

| James Coleman
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cat chassis on trailer

The 1974 Ford P5 LTD is currently a work of progress in Johnny Tsatsakis’ yard. Photo: Johnny Tsatsakis.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in November 1975 during the Governor-General’s discussions about whether to wade into the parliamentary deadlock and dismiss Prime Minister Gough Whitlam or not.

We might not have access to the fly, but Johnny Tsatsakis is confident he’s got the wall.

It takes the form of a 1974 Ford P5 LTD, said to have driven around Canberra and Sydney as the Crown car between 1974 and 1975, with former Governor-General Sir John Kerr in the back seat.

Johnny works in Melbourne as a fleet manager for Australia Post, but he grew up surrounded by cars at his father’s mechanic workshop in Preston, Victoria.

“Petrol is pretty much in the blood,” he says.

He was introduced to the Ford in 2021 by a guy who had come to buy car parts from him. The seller claimed it had high connections as an ex-government car, and it didn’t take long for Johnny’s curiosity to get the better of him. They agreed on a deal.

“A family friend used to have a massive poster in their lounge room of a black LTD they owned at the time – I’d always wanted one.”

Johnny Tsatsakis in a field

Johnny Tsatsakis hails from Victoria, but his car spent considerable time in Canberra. Photo: Johnny Tsatsakis.

Depending on who you ask, LTD stands for Lincoln-Thunderbird Division or Lincoln-Type Design, but either way, it was Ford’s attempt to match the limousine-style luxury sedans coming out of the US and Europe. The long-wheelbase version was the most expensive Australian-built car on the market at the time ($7770), and one Wheels magazine headline even read, “Look out Mercedes, here comes Ford’s opulent twins”.

Johnny was told this particular one was ex-government, and all the tell-tale signs were there too – a flag holder, interior map lights, telephone attachments – but within minutes of posting photos to social media, he was inundated with messages from former LTD drivers.

1974 Ford Ltd

The 1974 Ford P5 LTD was described as the Mercedes of Fords. Photo: Johnny Tsatsakis.

He followed a rabbit trail of research, from finding out the NSW Department of Supply used it and was one of two black LTDs employed at Kirribilli House in Sydney, until he stumbled across an article in The Canberra Times from 21 January 1976.

This shows a former NSW premier getting picked up from Canberra Airport and being ferried away to Government House in the back of a Ford P5 LTD, which perfectly matched Johnny’s.

“I’m like, ‘There it is – there’s the connection’,” Johnny says.

“It wasn’t Sir Kerr’s personal vehicle as such, as his transit vehicle known as the Crown car.”

clipping from old newspaper

An article from The Canberra Times in 1976 depicts a Ford P5 LTD, exactly like Johnny’s. Photo: Screenshot, NLA Trove.

Government House in Canberra has noted “no record” of a Ford LTD, but a journal from Admiralty House in Sydney contains several handwritten notes about the Ford LTD “picking the Governor-General up from here or dropping him there”. A newspaper article from mid-1975 also says Sir John is replacing “a Ford LTD in the Admiralty House fleet” with a new Mercedes.

Johnny currently has a record request in with the Kingston auction house where the car went under the hammer in April 1985, which he hopes will provide conclusive proof the vehicle was Sir John’s.

“The person who bought it from the government auction has passed away, but I’ve spoken to that gentleman’s daughter and the first thing she was was, ‘It was Kerr’s car’. For someone to say that, you have to have evidence somewhere. My guess is it’s in the auction catalogue.”

Johnny estimates it has cost him about $2000 to access these records, and that’s before he’s so much as undone a bolt on the car.

“The car needs a complete ground-up restoration,” he says.

The previous owner did somewhat of a backyard makeover in 2020, but before this, it changed hands four times between Wagga and Melbourne. Johnny expects it will be a 10-year project to get it back to its original condition, complete with period telephones and antennas.

rear of Ford LTD

The car was in a sorry state when the previous owner came across it. Photo: Johnny Tsatsakis.

He’s had a lot of help from the NSW Historic Police Museum, where it will go to live under consignment once complete.

“It’s been a fantastic journey, uncovering the history of the car and where it might have been, and of course, the conversations that will have been had in this car, given it was still serving over the years of the dismissal.”

For now, Johnny is inviting anyone who might know something to step forward.

Visit the Facebook page for more information.

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

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