Tom Bujna
Tom Bujna Georgia Simpson

TREK TO PARADISE: Terrifying escape leads man to Airlie

WHEN Tom Bujna was just 13 months old, he slept through a great escape.

The year was 1956, and wading through two metres of snow, the family trekked for hours to the Austrian border as they fled the Hungarian revolution.

The night sky was clear and still - not a breath of wind whispered in the air - and the moon shone brightly down on the group as they prayed the sleeping babe would stay sleeping.

If he woke he would put his entire family in danger.

They were fearful his cries for his mother's milk would alert Russian guards stalking through the night with their dogs, as they captured and killed others fleeing to the safety of foreign borders.

He slept peacefully through the ordeal and the family eventually made it to Australia, in the influx of famous 10-pound refugees who hit our shores in the 50s and 60s.

"People have stories about escaping, and everyone knows about Schindler's List - well my mama has stories too," he said.

The scenes of Tom's anecdotes seem so foreign to where he is today; sitting comfortably in his garage dressed in shorts and a t-shirt appropriate for the tropical, humid climate.

He's surrounded by the hot rods and vintage cars he now restores for a living.

Tom's love for cars and all things automotive first revved up when he was a young boy, as he admired his older brother's first car, a 1963 Ford Falcon.

His love affair exploded full throttle when he was 14 - his father gave him his very own car as a life lesson in how to look after something.

It was then he says he was "blooded" when the blood running through his veins was replaced with petrol, and the petrol will pump until "the day he dies".

The 64-year-old spent many years in the public service and carved out a prolific career.

Automobiles were never far from his mind and he still found time to incorporate his passion into his everyday life as he tinkered with and restored cars on the side.

Eventually he hit the brakes on the public service, accelerating instead into the multi-billion dollar global automobile industry, basing himself in Europe with his young family.

He had clients all over the world - Austria, Italy, Argentina, Mexico and the US, and describes billionaires with 400 fleets in their priceless collections.

He views cars like a real estate agent looks at a house - how much ROI is he going to get from the investment?

In the automobile world, a master craftsman auto-restorer is a title only one's peers can bestow upon you.

Ever so humble, Tom doesn't like using it to describe himself, but he alludes to others having referenced his work with that title.

"There are guys who are real artisans - they have magic in their hands, for what they can reproduce."

He doesn't consider himself in the same calibre, but when he walks around his workspace, it's easy to see his craftsmanship is up there with the best.

A labour of love, Tom is restoring a 1944 Ford Coupe, a true collector's item for those in the know.

"This body was never released in Australia, it's been imported from the US.

"What most people don't realise, our 'hobby' is the largest participating hobby sport event type in the world - hundreds of thousands of people own vintages cars, and belong to groups," he said.

Tom said depth of the industry had generated many additional industries, and jobs people weren't aware of.

It's taken Tom 43 years to master his craft, and he's at a stage where he can pick and choose what he works on. Every car has a story, but none are more colourful or as compelling as his own.

With five daughters and a couple of grandkids, the restorer extraordinaire is happy with his work, and gives a nod to his roots every weekend as he helps his wife Marta at Huns' Delight.