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Restored 1940s Studebaker breathes new life

From the back of a 1940s Studebaker you can visit the Darwin sites which were bombed by the Japanese in World War II, locations where Cyclone Tracey struck in 1974, and perhaps even see a saltwater crocodile in harbour waters.

For the past nine years David Leck has run ‘The Darwin History and Wartime Experience’ which takes 18 passengers at a time in a restored Studebaker around the NT capital.

“The Studebaker is either a late 1942 or early 43 model but I don’t know for sure where or if it served during the war,” Leck told Big Rigs.

The tour takes about 35 minutes and travels on a 35-kilometre loop around Darwin, taking in some of the most historical and interesting sites.

Along the route passengers enjoy commentary about Darwin during the war, all the while re-living the period, and passing and discussing many sites attacked by the Japanese, while accompanied by music from the 1940s.

On June 30 of 1943, 27 Japanese G4M ‘Betty’ bombers along with their Zero escorts attacked the airfield at Fenton, south of Darwin.

This was to be the first of several raids on this field. The runway was bombed, three B-24 Liberator bombers were destroyed and several others damaged. No one was killed, but this raid encouraged the rapid building of more and deeper slit trenches.

There was a series of more air raids. Passengers are taken to these sites.

“We go to buildings which were bombed and even to where bullets are still in a fence,” Leck said.

Visitors get to visit various sites from the back of 1940s Studebaker.

Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin, with a devastating impact, on Christmas Eve of 1974 with wind gusts recorded at up to 240km/h, before equipment broke.

Tracy destroyed 70 per cent of buildings in Darwin, including 80 per cent of its houses, and 71 people were killed. Over the following four days over 35,000 people were evacuated from Darwin, the majority by air.

Sites which received the brunt of the winds are visited and passengers can be dropped off at the Defence of Darwin Experience Military Museum and be picked up by later tours.

One popular location visited is the famous Darwin Harbour where ships were sunk during the wartime air raids.

From the Studebaker passengers have spotted saltwater crocodiles too. “Not all the time but we do see crocs and despite this some people swim in the water or walk in it,” Leck said.

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