A childhood exposure to old agricultural equipment like ploughs, tractors, and means of field transport instilled in Carmel Vella an early interest in old vehicles.
“My father did not even have a car, but from a small age, I would spend my free time with my brother-in-law Paul in his fields on the outskirts of Rabat,” he says. “He carried out all the maintenance work on his equipment and vehicles himself – by following him closely, I soon began to develop anatural knack for mechanical matters.”
Vella further fuelledhis interest with a sheet metal course at Umberto Calosso college. He then joined the civil aviation department, working there for 16 years on metal maintenance tasks, ranging from vehicles like fire engines to facilities like gates.
In his spare time, he also did some work on friends’ vehicles in his garage in Bahrija. One day in 2004, one of his friends, John, a sprayer who was well aware that Vella was considering buying an old car, told him about a1954 Standard Ten,which had been abandoned in a Rabat field.
“We went to see it, but at close quarters, I found out that it was just junk. Dogs had gnawed parts of the interior and rats had made it their home.”
Vella decided that the Standard Ten was definitely not for him.
But two weeks later, Vella had a change of heart.
“Together with a small group of friends, we drove a trailer to the field to get it home,” he recalls.“It was more akin to a spontaneous Bahrija community project, as all of us embarked on tasks like chasing away the rodents, clearing the rubbish and putting the body on the trailer. Once outside my garage, the activity continued as we dismantled the old vehicle and continued with the clearing up prior to putting it inside”.
Besides the body and the upholstery, the Standard Ten still had its original engine.
“Obviously, after around 20 years of idleness, it was all clogged up. But one of my friends, Godfrey, who is a very good mechanic, took a nozzle bottle with petrol, injected it into the carburettor, and amazingly, the engine sprung to life without any sign of protest.”
Vella immediately embarked on a nut and bolt restoration project that took him four years to complete. Buying the parts was the main struggle, as was the luggage boot, which he had to build up himself. There were other difficulties, including the rubber parts, especially of the quarter windows, rear wings, floor and running boards and the grille, which had the base chrome rod missing.
Vella managed to source some of the parts, like the starter, ignition, and hubcaps, from abroad. His friends were also on the lookout for missing parts.
“We found the window rubber in twoStandard 10 doors that were on a roof of a house in Dingli – they were being used as the ceiling for an animal coop. The owner wanted one old Maltese lira for them. The weather had taken its toll on the battered doors, but somehow, I managed to pull out the stiffened rubber and fit it in”.
Another friend came up with three original and new bulb headlamps. The missing grille chrome rod was located in the UK, but when Vella bought it, he found out that it did not fit. Not easily discouraged, he started to build one himself, basing his design on a photo that he acquired and which his wife Samantha, well versed in information technology and a staunch supporter of her husband’s classic car inclinations, enlarged. Another item built from scratch was the dashboard, resembling an empty bookshelf, which he assembled with glued up layers of builders’ cardboard.
The 948cc straight-4 OHV engine remained largely untouched. Vella only carried out the obligatory cleaning of the carburettor and the petrol pump, which were obviously full of rust.
In order to restore the vehicle to its original state, Vella became a member of the UK Standard Motor Club. Besides practical advice and guidance, the club also supplied him with the original spare parts catalogue.
“Although I am meticulous in my work, the catalogue proved to be the ultimate source of reference for any niggling doubts that crossed my mind at intervals. It also served as confirmation or otherwise of what I had already restored. A case in point was the rear and front lights system. I had already bought the set for installation. But on checking with the catalogue, I discovered that the 1954 Standard 10 lights had a flat outline, while the ones that I had purchased were pointed, meaning that they belonged to the 1958 model. So I had to change them.”
The Standard Ten was produced by the British Standard Motor Company between 1906 and 1961. The name came from the fiscal horsepower of the vehicle, a task of the surface area of the piston – although this term soon became obsolete. The Standard Ten was eventually replaced by the Triumph Herald.
Vella finished off the restoration by covering the old red seats with another new layer in similar colour, a task carried out by his friend Gaetan, as well as spraying it again in its original black, the work being done by another friend, Ryan.Proud of the work that he put in to restore the abandoned vehicle back to its showroom condition, he also points out that the vehicle was featured in the UK Standard Car Review magazine.
Vella joined the Old Motors Club soon after bringing the battered vehicle to his garage.
“There is a spirit of camaraderie at the club, which I find uplifting,” he says, adding that there has been a significant surge in classic car interest and acquisition. “Most of my friends, now middle aged, are now going through the nostalgia phase, yearning and looking for that Ford Escort or Capri of their youth. Alas, it is not easyto find such cars for sale today, and if located, they do not come cheap.”
At the moment,Vella is busy restoring a 1980 Yamaha 175 DT motorcycle, which he bought when he was 17 years old. It was left unattended for 30 years, and now he has the time to work on it. He has also acquired two other motorcycles, a 1980 Vespa P125 X and a 1987 Vespa T5, in good working order.
“These are for my two girls, Emily and Sarah, who also love classic vehicles. And Samantha is egging me to go for an MGB – now that would be my next project, once I finish restoring the Yamaha.”