The sweet aroma of freshly baked Maltese bread wafts invitingly into the early morning air as the baker-cum-delivery man distributes his warm wares from the back of his old vehicle to housewives awaiting on their doorsteps or huddled in small gossipy groups. The old deliver/ van halts at short distances, then is driven again effortlessly along various streets in IJorrni and Siggiewi, with the baker's son - still in his early teens and barely visible in the driver's seat - behind the wheel.
"Scenes like these were very common in the late 19500 and early 1960s", recalls Bastjan Grech, who for several years assisted his father in the daily bread rounds. 'Traffic was scarce, and for many young-sters, including myself, progression from compulsory primary school was not necessarily to a secondary one, but straight into the family business. This was also dictated by the size of Maltese families in those days: in our case, we were 19 children, and I was number 18 in the pecking order!" The Grech family was deeply steeped in the old cars tradition.
Father Anthony had a Ford V8 Pilot-the first Pont war "Big Ford" produced between 1947 and 1951 - which he customized for delivering bread. Two sons also had old vehicles: John mowed around in a Cheurolet Impala, while Cannel droue a De Sato. Imbibing such an atmosphere, it was no wonder that old cars always held a fascination for the young Bastian. Besides collecting the Matchbox Models series, he used to build his own versions of old vehicles in wood. "One of the advantages of the family bakery was a constant supply of wood, so provi-sions were no problem" smiles Bastian.
"Another plus was that I became self taught in &Poing the old delivery van well before my eighteenth birthday!" While the young lad always ogled all old four wheelers, his heart pounded more profoundly whenever a Ford Cortina, and especially the Lotus model, appeared on the horizon. Be remembers that there was quite a number of them in the porrni-Hamrun region. "The owner of the Hudson hi-f: establishment in Hamrun possessed a very sporty Lotus, and I used to spend hours gazing louingly at ir. In 1968, aged only 19, Bastian decided to leaue these shores and head for Australia where two sisters and a brother had already settled. His love for classic cars continued down under, and in the three years that he stayed there, he bought an old Holden as well as a Morris 1100.
Returning to Malta in the early 1970s, he joined a nylon knitting factory as a machine operator, where he still works today. Soon after-wards, he bought his first classic locally - a 1964 Mini Cooper with a white body and a green roof. "It was in a very good condition, but we had to part company before long, as when the skies opened up, the car stalled in the rain", he explains. Still haunted by the childhood uision of the classy Cortina, Bastian searched tiredlessly fora suitable specimen. His efforts were rewarded in 1972 when he found and bought a 1964 two door Cortina de Luxe Mars I. "It was a fantastic car, with an ermine white body complemented by a pair of Sherwood green spires", says Bastian with nostalgia. "It needed very little retouching and repair, and I enjoyed it to the Mull for a lengthy period of 21 years". Howeuer, a growing family dictated the purchase of a newer vehicle, meaning that the Cortina had to be sold - something which he regretted almost immediately! "I was completely overwhelmed by the uacuum created by the departure of the uehicle", lamertP Bastjan. "I went on the lookout for another two door Cortina, which was not easy to find, for while the four door models are common, the two door ones are rare". Leming no sb3ne unturned in his meticulous search, he eventually spotted sparked Cortina while on an errand in Birkirkara. "I stopped instantly, asked around for its owner, plucked up courage, and knocked on his door", he recourrP. "As luck would base it, the old owner was ready to part with it, for he wanted a smaller car". Before clinching a deal, Bastian book a closer look at the Cortina, and saw that the body was in a dete-riorated, rusty condition.
Putting the brakes on his enthusiasm, he then sought the aduice and possible involvement of two panel beaters, who both refused to have anything to do with it! His zeal was damp-ened, and tail between legs, he moved on. Howeuer some time later, a relative of the owner ran into Bastian, and informed him that the Cortina was now in a Bahrija garage, waiting to be scrapped. Sens-ing the challenge ahead and rising to it, he threw all caution to the wind, and bought it. The Cortina was not only in a poor condition, but IP original engine had also been replaced by a BNIC diesel one. Once in their garage in porrni, Bastian and his three sons - all keen old motors enthusiasts - held a council of war on how to draft and launch the restoration offensiue. While going over it thor-oughly, they started to notice features such as the factory shell supports that extend to the boot floor, the A-frame link fixing points for the rear suspension, the hump ouer the differential, the 8000 rpm rev counter, as well as the ratchet type boot lid stand. "Having had the other Cortina for such a long period, we discemed that here was something very different', continues Bastian in a sleulh uoice.
They were right on the mark, for further investigations re-vealed that the father, without realizing it, had bought a genuine Lotus Cortina Mark IlThe chassis number was checked with the Lotus Cortina Register, and it was confirmed that this car was a genuine 1965 model imported from the UK in 1970. Bastian and his boys were overjoyed! One recalls that the Lotus story is synonymous with the swinging Sixties. It started in 1961 when the best brains of Ford and those of Lotus got together. Developed by the legendary Cohn Chapman of Lotus and manufactured by the Ford Motor Company between 1963 and 1968, the Lotus Cortina dominated the racing rallies of that halcyon era. With drivers like Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, it won euerything in sight! "Only 2994 Mark 1 models were manufactured in the UK", chips in Bastjan like a computer. But before the vehicle was restored to its present pristine condition, there was the usual lengthy Calvary trek to go through. In its poor state, finding a panel beater willing to undertake the restoration of the body was newer going to be easy, Finally, the challenge was taken up by a Zabbar enthusiast.
"Sadly, the restoration work was being done at a snail's pace and after three years, I gutted spot wait-ing. I told the panel beater that I was taking it away in ito unfinished state; within two months, the job was done!", he asserts. The car was now ready for painting. But more delays were on the cards. "I en-gaged a meticulous sprayer to paint it in the original Lotus colours-erosive white with Sherwood green stripes. However he took a whole year to prepare the bodywork further prior to the actual spraying. Ad-mittedly, the final result left nothing to be desired", breathes Bastian with a deep sigh of relief. Concurrently, during this four year period, he was busy scouting locally, in the UK and in Australia , for other part par's which needed replacement. These included the engine and gearbox, all rubber seals, gauges, and upholstery. "I was fortunate in finding an original Lotus engine", he admits, "I heard from a friend that there was one in Birzebbuga, which was mounted on a Ford Fiesta Mars I, and ito owner wanted to replace if'. Once the car was back in their garage, the Grech clan embarked on the reassembly operation. "All the mechanical aspects, which took around four months to complete, were cartied out by us, with special credit going to the eldest son, Anthony, who is an engineer", preens the proud father. 'The finish was as close to the original as possible".
After more than four years under wraps, the Lotus Cortina, now in an impeccable condition, came burst-ing out with a uengeance, debuting at the 2004 Mdina Glass Show. It has since become a regular attrac-tive feature in Old Motors Club events. In May 2006, Bastian took part in a local Ford show, where he placed second in the classic Ford category. Last August, the local Lotus was also featured in depth in the UK Performance Ford Magazine. His wife Salvina is very supportive of this other passion in life, and being an old car enthusiast herself, accompanies him to various actiuthes, especially the OMC trips to Sicily. Bastjan's boys are already fol-lowing in their father's foolsteps: Anthony has a 1966 Cortina Mark 1; Omar a 1968 Hillman Hunter; while Andre drives a 1963 Anglia station waren. "I cannot find words to describe the feeling of finally being able to drive my own dream car", he con-cludes. "It is a hard eamed pleasure to be behind the wheel after all that hard work and frustration". The Lotus Cortina Mark 1 is a rare and much sought after classic car. Many British tourists frequently tell him that this car could fetch a fortune in the UK .
But, as the Beatles once blasted out, money can't buy you love; nor quite definitely, Bastian's beloved beauty!