Words by Les Fitzgerald.
As a 17-year-old in a boring office job, I decided to join a gym to try and maintain some sort of fitness. This gym specialized in amateur wrestling.
One of the coaches, a huge man with an acquired American accent, had been a professional wrestler, and had spent several years in America. Interestingly, he had a mid 20’s Hudson Super Six. This I had to see.
I was blown away, and to listen to the Delco-Remy starter-generator when he commenced the engine, was too much, I was hooked.
So different to the Ford Consul that my family had just bought, and nothing like my car ( my first car ) a 1937 Standard Flying 12.
I joined the New Zealand Vintage and Veteran Car Club ( NZVVCC ) acquired a 1926 Model T Fordor Sedan from another member and became very active in club activities, attending events far and wide.
A few years went by and someone made an offer that was too good to refuse, and the Ford was out the gate, and in came a 1931 Marmon drophead coupe straight 8. The model was Roosevelt, and the radiator badge actually had a photo of Teddy Roosevelt on it.
The NZVVCC had just been given approval to hold the The Haast Pass International Rally to be held in 1964, about 4 years away. I had thought the Marmon was the car to do it, but the fabric hood had let water in and the wooden frame had suffered badly.
At this stage, the car was only about 30 years old, and I couldn’t justify the time or money, it wasn’t exactly a thoroughbred. It was a beautiful car to drive, a great thumping straight 8 under the bonnet gives a nice easy drive. Marmon used 2 of these blocks to build the famous Marmon V 16 engine. Time was ticking by and I decided on a smaller project.
The gate opened, and in came a 1923 Harley Davidson 10/12 ( 1200cc ) and sidecar. Someone else had done a lot of work, and now all I had to do was make it reliable. The Rally was a huge success. International entrants got preference to Hotels and Motels, NZ entrants had to bring tents and sleeping bags.
My navigator in the side car constantly kept going to sleep, and I’d have to reach over and shake him when we came to a checkpoint. Another time he woke up startled when I got into a slide on a greasy corner. The expletive language that came from that man shocked me.
The Harley performed beautifully. The one glitch was on the Linden Pass, I lost compression on the rear cylinder. An elderly gentleman who was riding a Harley that he had bought new as a young fella, stopped to give assistance, he asked what gear I was using, “Top gear of course, not a problem”.
No I should have gone down a cog, his reasoning, the back cylinder had overheated and was now warped. ( Fair enough, I then recalled the Ariel 4 Square had similar traits ) His advice, wait half an hour, and it’ll return to normal, and sure enough, half an hour later we were on our way, no damage done.
The Haast Pass Rally took about 2 weeks, there were rest days, when, providing you
didn’t have to work on your vehicle, one just sat around drinking and smoking ( as my photos attest ). Over 1000 people were involved. There were two tow trucks, mobile workshops, mobile kitchen, marshalls, official photographers and so on.
Most of the evening meals were spread around several venues. During an evening Dinner Cruise on the vintage twin screw steamship “Earnslaw” at Queenstown New Zealand.
I was able to make small talk with Lord Montague, owner of the world-renowned motor museum at his castle, and his curator, Michael C Sedgwick, later to become a highly regarded motoring journalist, and wrote several books on Rolls Royce.
It’s Lord Montagues brushes with the law that helped pave the way for the legalisation of homosexuality. I knew of his incarcerations at the time, but it would have been highly inappropriate to broach the subject.
How I would have loved to have had a conversation with him. Times were so different, NZ law was modeled on the UK, the age of consent was 21 at the time, and electric shock treatment was being used, at an asylum near you….
Arriving back home was a bit of an anti-climax, by this time I’d moved out of home, changed jobs, ( I was now driving a J6 Bedford loaded with processed pig meat ) and the Harley was my sole vehicle of interest, and I attended meets relentlessly.
By 1969, I’d bought a house and Australia was calling. It was a six can trip in an Electra that dropped down at Essendon.
Almost immediately I fell into a job at Molina’s Hotel in Brighton, Lou Molina came 5th in the 1953 Grand Prix, Albert Park. The hotel was absolutely decked out with motoring memorabilia, and I was in heaven, cars ruled. Many car clubs held their monthly meetings there.
Typical of an Italian Family Man, Lou was a tremendous employer, and the staff were always invited to hill climbs and sprints wherever Lou was competing. A marquee, topped with Lowen-brau flags always marked our site.
Then Lou moved to The Anchor and Hope in Richmond, and a whole lot of new memorabilia was installed, and the show rolled on, I couldn’t have been happier.
Not much vehicular activity until I acquired a GTR Torana, a lovely little car, which had only done 6000 miles when I bought it. Who would have known what the future would hold for this cute little Vauxhall Viva in sheep’s clothing.
Sir Henry Bolte called it a supercar, and if any other manufacturer even thought of building a similar car, he would ban them.
Chrysler quietly dropped their plans for a V8 in a similar sized body. Holden already had the GTR– XU1 in the showrooms, realising they were onto something, were planning the next model, and of course that didn’t happen.
I picked up a Morris Isis, in beautiful condition, to sit alongside my HQ Holden.
In about 1975 the HQ Holden was wiped out in a crash outside the London Tavern in Hawthorn Rd.
So, I sourced a Hillman Husky, an Estate Car, with fold down seats. Ideal, because from time to time I would buy a 44 gallon ( 200 ltr ) drum of red wine to bottle and lay down, and now I didn’t need to engage a taxi truck.
In the end I left the gate open, and cars came and went. Some stayed longer and some didn’t stay long at all. Some left oil spots, while others left fond memories.
In more recent times I’ve been a Grey Nomad, travelling around NSW and QLD in my F Series Ford, 4.2L, 2002 build, pulling a 26 foot Australian built 5th Wheeler.
The truck and van was used, and came as a package. I was horrified when I got it home and realised I didn’t have electric windows or central locking.
This truck is built for work, and that it does very well. Fuel economy is excellent, better than a Landcruiser towing smaller vans. I really enjoy this vehicle, in spite of it’s bad habits, inherited from big trucks I guess. (I still own this rig, it’s all up for sale, I’ll miss it dearly).
Currently I’m getting around in a 2013 Chrysler Grand Voyager. It’s a real Mummsy’s car. A seven-seater people mover, just on five meters long and weighs in at just over two metric tonnes. Typical American car with lots of leg room for everyone.
The Chrysler Mini Van, commonly known as The Stow and Go, in reference to its disappearing seats, has been in constant production since 1984. But surely the accolades for historical production runs ( let’s call them SUV’s ) must go to the Chevrolet Suburban, first hit the road in 1933, and today, very popular with the current American President.
Having an interest in early transport, cars, motorcycles, light trucks etc. has given me so much pleasure, even before I was old enough to get my licence, like 13 or 14, I had a “cyclaid”. That was a 25cc motor in the rear hub of my bicycle.
I’ve met so many interesting people, and only a couple of years ago, while being shown through a private collection by its owner at Kyneton, he pointed out the Vauxhall he took to NZ in 1964. Imagine his reaction when I said “Didn’t see you there” He phoned his wife to come to the shed, and we had such a wonderful time, reminiscing the characters we met, the cars, the roads, the accommodation and so on, it was amazing.
I was on first name terms with Len Southward, founder of the Southward Museum, and his son Roy. Been on and off several committees.
But it wasn’t until I was introduced to Motafrenz, and I acquired a 1972 Dodge light truck that I felt I’d come home. Thanks to Motafrenz, it’s been a great journey, and I’m looking to seeing many more kilometers of blacktop go underneath me.