Cars with character

Moving Well | Words: Jenny Brown | Photos: Meredith O'Shea | Posted on 01 October 2015

Tribute artist Mark Tabone goes that extra mile when he gets into character by having a car to match the costume. 

As a tribute artist, Mark Andrew Tabone has a wardrobe that allows him to get into the persona of the singers and actors he celebrates in his performances.

He has a room of retro costumes, glasses and the odd wig that can invoke Dean Martin, Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Tom Jones and his audiences’ enduring favourite, Elvis.

When I rock up to a show in the Caddy, it starts the vibe and the atmosphere straight away.
Mark Tabone in front of his cars

“I love doing Austin Powers, too,” Mark, 49, says, “because he’s so much fun, so cheeky and he can make all sorts of subtext innuendo. People love him and he can appeal to any generation.”

But Mark doesn’t just look the part; he likes to drive it, too. He has several cars that are the ultimate automotive accessories for his characterisations.

In the garage at his south-eastern Melbourne home, he has a 5.8m-long, white 1964 Cadillac convertible he imported from Florida after finding it on eBay. It’s perfect for playing Elvis. “When I rock up to a show in the Caddy, it starts the vibe and the atmosphere straight away.”

Mark also has a 1964 Mini Minor he painted with a Union Jack and upholstered with the insignia of the Australian flag. “It’s got sliding windows and a push button starter,” he says. Austin Powers would dig it. Yeah, baby, yeah!

He spent an inheritance from his grandmother on a gold 1966 Mustang Fastback “with power-steering, air-conditioning and all the matching codes”. In the packed garage that he’s going to extend, over a 1960s silver Valiant caravan, is a 1966 blue-and-white Ford Cortina that he and his son Jesse, 21, have been restoring “as a bonding exercise” and because it recalls the model Mark’s late father owned.

I guess this is me looking for my childhood again. I love everything about those times.
Mark Tabone as Austin Powers
Mark Tabone as Elvis

In the driveway, next to his contemporary BMW wagon – “my daily driver” – and obviously the family transport of wife Vikki and the four children, is a 1960s VW Beetle that he dismisses with scant regard. He has a more consuming obsession with the split-screen 1964 VW Kombi that is only part-way through an extraordinary restoration.

Taking some colour cues and most of the stripey exterior paintwork design from a genuine old Kombi catalogue, this red, white, blue and yellow vehicle with the red-wall tyres is a restoration that has already taken Mark the best part of a year.

Though its original engine is so shiny it looks new, he says the reality is “it take a while to start. It’s a work in progress.”

It’s an old car with a Beach Boys surfie theme. A miniature surfboard hangs from the rear-vision mirror and he has embedded another small board motif in the floor at the back where the seats can fold down to make a bed.

“It’s a one of a kind now,” Mark says.

It’s probably also the last of his collectable cars. “I think I’ve stopped now.” But if the evidence of the home’s rumpus room is anything to go by, he will carry on collecting all manner of things of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, which remind him of a time in his childhood before the death of his mother.

With, toys, clothes, jukeboxes, pinball machines, TVs, radios, fridges and the covers of hundreds of EPs and LPs on the walls, Mark says: “I guess this is me looking for my childhood again. I love everything about those times.”