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National Holden Motor Museum, Echuca

Royce Kurmelovs, ‘It’s taken a toll’: burnout drives auction of vintage Holdens at Australian museum, The Guardian, 24 January 2024

Three classic cars and naming rights of country’s longest-running museum of the iconic vehicle up for grabs as owners of 30 years say they need a break.

The National Holden motor museum will put its name and its classic cars up for auction after failing to find a buyer to take it over.

The closures marks the end of longest, continuously running, single-maker motor museum in Australia and the end of a local fixture in the regional Victorian town of Echuca.

Its current operators, Tony Galea and Mark Galea (no relation), put the museum up for sale in August after the owner of their building said it was being put up for sale and their lease would end in three years.

Classic early Holdens, including the FB model (left), which was produced between 1960-61. Photograph: Dina Galea.

“It’s not great, but it is what it is,” Tony Galea said.

When the museum failed to attract a buyer, the business partners announced on social media last Thursday, that it would auction-off its assets and close its doors.

“It’s with great sadness that we announce the impending closure of the National Holden Motor Museum on 14 April 2024,” it said.

“Thank you to display vehicle owners, current and past, our loyal social media followers, local businesses, visitors, friends and families for supporting us over the years.”

Tony Galea said the business was “profitable” and “going very, very well” but over three decades of operations, it had taken a toll on the business partners who have not been on a proper holiday since taking it over.

Tony Galea and Mark Galea took over the museum in 1993 and say they have hardly had a day off since. Photograph: Dina Galea.

“It’s basically burnout,” he said, “We love doing it, we love talking to the customers, listening to their stories – it’s great. But we’ve just got burnout now.

“This is a big tourist destination, over 1.5 million tourists come through the region. This business is open seven days a week, 360 days of the year. If you add those days up, we don’t get many breaks. It’s taken a toll on us, physically and mentally.

“I’m a grandad now, so I want to spend more time with the grandkids. And I want to see my parents. They’re not going to be around for ever.”

The National Holden motor museum began in 1984 with two brothers, Alex and David Hughes, who would rescue damaged or old Holden cars and lovingly restore them.

They started the museum in Bayswater, but it moved several times before being taken over by Tony Galea and Mark Galea. Holden’s CEO, Bill Hamel opened the museum when it moved to Echuca in 1993.

“It was surreal,” Tony Galea says. “We both moved up from Melbourne, from the south-eastern suburbs. A bit of a tree change.”

“We made changes in the museum which we believe were good. We continually rotated the cars in here and the people kept coming back year after year, putting their head in to see what’s new.

“It was a good feeling. We started to do things our way.

The museum is host to rare custom models and prototypes. Photograph: Dina Galea.

The museum is now host to the last SS Redline ute to roll off an Australian production, the last Holden Caprice and a GTS Maloo. Others in the collection include a first-build LJ Torana and a one-of-a-kind 1984 WB Caprice made from spare parts in the factory that was never put on the road.

There are now 51 vehicles on loan to the museum, and another three cars owned by the business partners themselves. These three vehicles, along with the museum’s name and other assets will go up for auction through Burns & Co Auctions on 18 May.

Since announcing the closure on social media, Galea said there had been renewed interest from potential buyers and anyone who wanted to take over the museum was welcome to buy the assets at auction.

“At the end of the day, they can come to the auction and buy the whole lot,” he said. “If they buy the name, they can use it wherever they want.”