1956 Standard 8 Nullarbor Adventure

Standard 8 Adventure 1956

By Lang Kidby

When my father was state manager for Standard in Western Australia in the mid 50’s, we did a trip in a Standard 8 from Perth to Melbourne and back for the Christmas holidays which in those days was something of an adventure. The Standard 8 was reputedly a four seater but in our case, as you will see, had only one door. To make matters worse the Poms decided to save money and it had no boot lid with access only from inside the car, so to put things in the back you had to fold down the back seat and crawl into the car to get at the boot. This was actually quite good for our trip as Dad removed the back seat entirely, stacked our bags on the floor and put a light mattress over the lot extending into the boot.

Here was the travelling section for me (9 years old) my 8 year old sister and Bonnie, our well fed Labrador!

It is 2,500 miles/4,000km each way which included over 1,000 miles/1600km  of very rough dirt road across the Nullarbor Plain. The poor little machine was somewhat overloaded. No accommodation was available (there were no towns!) across the desert section and we were obliged to carry camping gear. The trip to Melbourne was uneventful though required some vehicle modifications. A dash mounted fan was fitted to circulate the hot air – this was over Christmas and the temperatures were over 100 deg. Dad had the dealer attach a roof rack which made the car resemble those photos of overloaded Saharan country trucks and, for the Monte Carlo Rally look, fitted a spotlight. This was essential because the roads were (and still are) alive with kangaroos and wombats at night. I seem to recall this provided somewhat better lighting than the two candle-holders provided by the factory.

On the Nullarbor

You can see in the photos the lighter colour around the doors. This was masking tape which was attached to try to keep the dust out of the car. I suppose when Standard motored around the green lanes of the British Midlands road testing the prototypes, dust exclusion was furtherst from their minds. After the first day on the dirt we all looked like Welsh coal miners (white coal??) and for the rest of the trip all the doors were sealed with tape leaving the drivers door as the only exit.

The run home to Perth had its moments. For some reason Dad decided to get an oil change right in the middle of the desert at Nullarbor Station. I suspect it was because the car would have been cleaned on our return and sold a few pounds under the new price as a “demonstrator”. The station was a fairly primitive cattle property on the road which provided fuel from 44 gallon drums and did repairs to vehicles damaged by the corrugations and bull-dust holes on the road. The workshop was a dirt floor tin shed. Anyhow about 100 miles into the wilderness we lost oil pressure. The “mechanic” had forgotten to tighten the sump plug!

Bonnie our labrador

As the Nullarbor (No Trees) Plain was short of wood to whittle a new plug dad cut a few inches off a tent pole, wrapped it in a rag and screwed it into the sump. Mum came good with a couple of pints of cooking oil and we drove at very slow speed back to the homestead. A new plug was turned up on the lathe (no doubt Standard 8’s are similar to many British cars and had a 17/139ths left hand double spiral thread so nothing off the shelf fitted) and the replaced oil got us another 600 miles to Kalgoorlie. By that time the rattle of ruined bearings was making us feel like we were sitting beside a Vickers machine gun on the Somme and the Standard dealer gave us a replacement Standard 8 for the last 300 miles and no doubt took our car, washed it and told the little old lady buyer that machine gun nest ambience was the latest in automotive technology

Part 2                         2010   ie  54 years later!


I saw an advertisement for a 1954 Standard 8 and having a connection with my childhood decided to buy it after talking to the owner and figuring out 2,000kms was not too far to go to buy something sight unseen.

Bev and I hopped on a cheap flight from Brisbane to Adelaide then I had to suffer the indignity of sitting on a bus for 3 hours to the small town of port Pirie. The elderly owner met us at the bus station and dropped us to our motel and arranged to pick us up in the morning.

Our first inspection of the car, subsequently christened “Rupert” a few days later by a naming committee of women, was quite pleasing and apart from a growling gearbox input bearing it ran fine, The gearbox was a replacement and the original which reportedly jumped out of second gear was nicely wrapped up in the back of the car. We launched onto the road immediately to follow the Murray River to Corowa about 1,000kms east to attend the annual military vehicle week. Not having my usual Dodge Weapon Carrier or GMC 6×6 truck was a bit of a let down but I presumed some army, somewhere, may have been so destitute that they had Standard 8’s or a soldier had owned one or at least a soldier had seen one driving past.

Ten minutes out of town and the noise from the rear end became horrendous. Suspecting a collapsed wheel bearing we slunk back to the ex-owners house and made the joyful discovery it was only dragging brake shoes which had set up a chattering resonance.  Brakes adjusted, and we were off again. It soon became clear that the speed capability of the Standard 8 was going to make this a very long trip indeed! Eventually becoming used to the mesmerising rumble of road noise of a car completely devoid of any sound insulation, we managed to do 500km the first day. Two enforced breaks were taken when the treads parted company with 50 year old “as new” tyre cases and Rupert was given 4 new shoes of the radial variety whose modern design reduced the road noise by not one decibel.

Reaching Corowa after a 600 km drive the next day we were surprised by the people leaving their green machines to look at this “cute” car. Women and kids were particularly taken with its appearance. I think the blokes hanging out of their army vehicles may have thought a man bringing such a vehicle to a military show may be slightly suspect!

After a fun few days we headed off towards Canberra to visit an old friend and then intended to proceed the next day towards Brisbane.

Just outside Canberra Rupert started to run on 3 cylinders. Checking everything, all I could think of was a failing plug or lead as shorting the plugs made no difference to number 3 cylinder. Pressing on to Goulburn, the next town about100km distant, the fabulous neck-snapping power to which we had become accustomed was severely reduced. I seem to recall a couple of larger tree leaves on the road requiring change-down to negotiate.

Anyway the upshot was a failed piston. The head of the piston had separated and the skirt had cracked in two halves. Standard catered for this eventuality in their design by putting a ring on the bottom of the piston which cunningly held the headless skirts together flying up and down for 100km.

The next week is best forgotten trying to get parts delivered from suppliers who refused to courier stuff and relied on good old Australia Post. Anyway Bev and I flew home to Brisbane and I returned to Goulburn a few weeks later to the garage that had repaired and kindly stored the car for me. A full set of new pistons, rings and bearings, valves done and seated properly produced amazing results. I could feel absolutely no difference in power from the original worn out engine!

Once again a long trip 1,200km straight through to Brisbane saw Rupert and I arrive in the early hours of the morning. And do you know, I am quite starting to enjoy driving a Standard 8.