Back in a beloved Z
It’s almost three decades since former race car driver, Antoni Gecsek, traded in his brown 1971 Datsun 240Z race car for a Volkswagen Beetle. He decided in 1991 to give up his passion for a deposit on his first home.
There are no photographs or race memorabilia on display these days in Antoni’s family home in Geelong West to tell us a former race car driver lives here. However, his passion for cars is evident on his social media profiles, such as Instagram and Facebook, where his feed is populated with pictures of cars. Antoni recently bought the 1971 Datsun 240Z he originally purchased in the late 1980s. “It was my road car and my weekend track car,” says Antoni. After joining the Nissan Datsun Sports Owners Club, Antoni was encouraged by members to race. “The first event I think I did was in 1990 in Queensland… it was the inaugural Z Car Nationals,” Antoni recalls, “I guess I was bitten by the bug of that and went on to do car club sprints.”
“In 1991 I did the Bob Gardner Memorial state round at Winton, that was my graduation race,” says Antoni. “At about the same time I think I lost my licence for speeding, I was running in my new motor and ended up losing my licence for six months. At about that point I sort of lost the passion for the car and for the racing and I’d also met my wife to be, Darlene.”
Antoni was on his way to pick Darlene up for a dinner date in Ballarat when he lost his licence. “When he came and picked me up, I remember, I could see (the expression on) his face and I said to him ‘what’s wrong?’ and he said ‘I’ve just lost my licence,’” Darlene remembers.
Luckily Antoni had previously bought and installed a passenger seat for Darlene on one of their first dates. “That’s how his parents knew that I must have been a bit special,” Darlene laughs. In order to attend race meets Darlene drove the Z to and from the track. “I had to have a stack of pillows because he’s 6.2 and I’m 5.2 and racing seats don’t move… I could only just see over the bonnet,” says Darlene. “It didn’t really work and I said to him I can’t drive this car to and from races.”
Twenty years and three children later, at age 52, Antoni is a successful project manager at PM Design Group Australia. Alongside Darlene, his wife of 22 years, Antoni has provided a stable home for his children: Maddy, 22, Billy, 20 and 18 year-old Mekealy. From family outings to the Philip Island Grand Prix Circuit, to watching Bathurst on television, Antoni’s passion for cars has been present throughout his children’s upbringing.
Mekealy is excited for her father and his future race aspirations. Photo Eden Young.
“He has always been a car enthusiast… He is always talking about cars and he and my brother are always having conversations about cars,” his youngest daughter, Mekealy recalls.
“It doesn’t bore me, I like hearing about things people like, if someone’s really passionate about something like he is then it’s not hard to listen to and he doesn’t crack on about it all the time so it’s not too bad,” Mekealy laughs.
Antoni loosely followed the ownership of the 240Z and when the owner died, he thought it might come up for sale. In July 2019 he came across a post on a car auction website advertising his now yellow Datsun. He faced a disturbing reality: the car had been sold and he had missed his opportunity to reclaim his long lost love. “I didn’t know at the time whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. I suppose I would have been a bit apprehensive to go to auction and try and bid on it,” says Antoni.
“I contacted the auctioneers and sent them some photos of when I had it and said ‘the new owner might be interested in some history,’” Antoni says. “They passed is on to the new owner and they were pretty happy to receive it all.” Two weeks later Antoni received a phone call from the auctioneers. “The new owner, who had bought it sight unseen, was unable to fit in the car and asked if any of the underbidders might be interested. The auctioneer basically asked me if I wanted first option.”
He sits on a stool under the open garage door in the fading afternoon sun with his newly reacquired 240Z. Both Antoni and the car have undergone physical changes since he last possessed it. He now sports a grey beard; glasses and bald head. Despite these physical changes Antoni looks at home in the driver’s seat and can tell it is the same car. “I was putting the front cage back in, that the person who couldn’t fit in it pulled out to try and get in it, and I could see underneath the dashboard there was the old metallic brown paint color from when I had it.”
“It has got to stay as a race car,” says Antoni, asked what he intends to do with the car. “My plans for the car are to obviously get it back out onto the track,” says Antoni. He plans to resume car club sprints in 2020. With the help of his son Billy and wife Darlene, Antoni is making improvements and transforming his suburban garage into a fully operational workshop. “Last week I got my CAMS basic licence and I’ve sent my log book off to get changed into my name, so making all the preparations to get back out there,” says Antoni.
There is a growing buzz of excitement in the Gecsek household as Antoni prepares his return to racing. “I’ll ease my way into it, I’m not really scared,” he says. “…Yellow is a bit brighter than brown. It stands out, so everyone will be watching, so you’ve got a little bit to live up to,” he laughs.
“…This car, it brings people together,” says Antoni. “I think 240Z in general and the early Datsun Z’s have the ability to do that and I’m just really happy to have the car back in my garage.”
Antoni looks back in admiration at his prized Datsun. “I’ve had a couple of Z’s since I got rid of this one and none of them have drummed up the emotion that this one has. I guess that’s because of the history and all the things that took place when I had it.”