This year’s British Car Day near Wellington, New Zealand, welcomed Continental cars for the first time, showing that uniting with Europeans made for a far better time, writes Jack Yan
The British people may have voted for Brexit, but here, in the colonies, the opposite has taken place as the British Car Day in Trentham, north of Wellington, New Zealand, welcomed European cars for the first time in its 30-plus-year history on Sunday, 11 February.
If it weren’t for that policy change, I would never have heard of this event, which draws in hundreds of people each year – given the population of New Zealand, that’s an impressive number for a single-day event that’s held in a suburb that’s not the easiest to reach.
But many make the trip to the Trentham Memorial Park, including passionate British car owners who bring their prized items from as far afield as Hawke’s Bay, some four hours away — more if you’re bringing it on a trailer, as Lis Gibbs and Tim Neal did with a rare Mini Jem (above).
Despite enjoying a heat wave in the New Zealand summer — January 2018 was the warmest on record — British Car Day on 11 February wound up being wet as the heavens opened. It was, as at least one person observed, very British weather.
It was a pleasant drive for me and, when I spotted a 1969 MGB GT MkII, a 1978 Mini Clubman, and a Jaguar 240 — the thin-bumper Mk II of the late 1960s — on the motorway, I knew I wasn’t running too late. Antipodean readers know that our part of the world, once dominated by British marques, is now more loyal to Asian brands, so those of us who drive vehicles from further afield perhaps have an understanding of the other. The B sported a personalised plate, so there was no way of knowing whether it was sold new here, but the Clubman was indeed a Kiwi-assembled one, as was once commonplace. Getting nearer the Park I spied a Jaguar Mk V parked on the road. I was on the right track.
I followed two Wolseleys and a Sunbeam into the park, paid my NZ$10 (proceeds to Wellington Free Ambulance) and proceeded to look for ‘my own kind’.
Ross Macfarlane at the Greater Wellington Citroën Car Club, who notified me of the event, was there with fellow members, with a Big 15 through to a C5, with a 2CV Dolly and two XMs for good measure. There isn’t a Renault club for this part of the country, but a proud Alpine A310 owner had parked his car at end of the Citroën row, and I joined him in my Mégane III coupé. It may surprise British readers to know that Renault sold 14 cars per annum here at the turn of the decade — Astons and Bentleys are more common — so we were special. This is one place in the world where, as a Renault driver, and possibly one of two people with a non-RS Mégane III coupé, I can glance over at a Maserati Quattroporte and comment, ‘Oh dear, how common.’ Unsurprisingly, the Alpine got far more attention.
A 73-year-old gentleman called Richard brought his Simca Chambord, and I chatted to him about the Brazilian production of the vehicle (‘Never too late to learn’). It was one of 13 cars in his collection, which included numerous Škodas and a Lada. Next to the Chambord were two rare Germans: a Borgward Isabella, a car I still used to see as a boy, and a pretty Hansa 1100 coupé. Nearby, the Ferrari club had its cars on display, including a 330 P4 and an F12 Berlinetta.
The Peugeot club, including my friend Tareq Branney, was also close by. Tareq’s 1972 404 is for sale presently, on New Zealand’s Trade Me auction site. A rare (for these parts) 404 pick-up was present, along with a 205 GTI, a 406 and a new 2008. Fiat owners showed off a 128, two X1/9s (both a 1970s Fiat and a 1980s Bertone), a Coupé Fiat and a 124 Sport Coupé.
Despite the continentals (Volkswagen, with plenty of Käfers and a Karmann-Ghia Typ 1, and BMW, with one E3, one E30 M3, and a 635 CSi, had notable presences), this was still largely a celebration of the British motor car, and a nostalgic trip for many New Zealanders who grew up seeing them regularly on the streets. Land Rover occupied one corner of the park, Mini another, Rolls-Royce the third (with Silver Shadow, Silver Spirit and Silver Seraph saloons). British Fords were out in force, including a prewar Model C 10 and a Popular; a Zodiac MkIV; Escorts in MkI 1300GT, MkII 1·6 Ghia, MkII RS2000 and CE14 RS Cosworth guises; a Capri Mk I 3000 GXL, and a Lotus Cortina Mk II were among the treasures. You could not miss the local MG club, almost in the centre of the park, with a 1931 M-type Midget in red, numerous B GTs, Fs and TFs, a Sprite-based Midget, a 1300, and a ZR; plus more recent Chinese fare, with a 6 for sale and a flagship AWD GS from the local dealer.
Jaguar and Daimler had an impressive selection, with a Series II E-type 2+2 on a trailer gaining plenty of attention, but equally car buffs gathered around the two Daimler SP250s, a 1947 Jaguar MkIV 3½-litre, and a Series I E-type roadster. Simon A’Court-Taylor’s red 1965 E-type roadster made a brief appearance, too (daughter Victoria and son-in-law Gary brought along a Mercedes-Benz 560SEL, their second W126). There were plenty of Mk IIs, but not the 240 spied on the motorway earlier; and the Series I XJs were represented by a blue Daimler Sovereign. A One-O-Four was probably the oldest Daimler there, while Jaguar geeks would have had a field day pointing out the differences between an S-type and a 420 (both were present), or how a 420G is different from a MkX. There were also MkVs, XJ-Ss, and a stunning XK150.
Logically, Rover was near Jaguar, with P6s and SD1s out in force, but there were at least two P5 coupés at the park at different locations. A P4 110 represented the immediate post-War saloons, and a lone Morgan Plus 4 was parked with the Rovers.
The author’s favourite was a Standard Vanguard Phase 1 which stood out — I voted for it accordingly in the ‘People’s Choice’, but a Jaguar owned by one Mr Bray won the prize.
Given where this is published, of course there were plenty of BMC and British Leyland cars, including three stunning P76 sedans from Leyland Australia, with a Targa Florio in blue the most cherished. I was told that Lord Stokes’ former P76 Force 7 is in the country, too — sadly not at this event. The British Car Club itself brought out two Wolseleys (a 6/80 and a 6/99), and a mixture of Hillmans, Vauxhalls and Triumphs. Elsewhere there were a bunch of Wolseleys gathered together: a 6/90, a 6/110 and an 18/85. I doubt any Wolseley 18-22s made it here; in fact, no wedges were present, a real shame considering Austin finished local assembly with the Princess. There were two Morris 8s in different parts of the park, though the oldest from that marque was a 1924 Cowley. A tidy Morris Mini Cooper S Mk I, an Austin-Healey 3000, an Austin A99, a 1935 Austin Litchfield, an Austin A125 Sheerline, and a Triumph Toledo with Dolomite wheels were among other random spots linked to the BL story that deserved a mention.
Triumphs were parked in different places, too; Mk II saloons appeared but there were no 2·5 PIs — the fuel injection would have meant few survivors — and I couldn’t find any Mk Is, either. But there was a TR3 next to a TR3A.
Rootes fans were well served with an Audax Sunbeam Rapier, numerous Minxes and Super Minxes, a Super Minx Estate with the faux wood panelling, a Sunbeam–Talbot 90, a Tiger and a fastback Rapier, complete with RoStyles. A Humber Super Snipe was the grandest of the Rootes cars, next to a Humber 80, a badge-engineered Minx which was unique to these parts.
Perhaps it is a testament to GM’s mixed sourcing over the years that Vauxhalls had not all gathered in the same place, but, nevertheless, there were a Viscount and some Veloxes about.
Arguably the most cohesive collection was from Armstrong-Siddeley, with four Sapphires, a Whitley and a Star Sapphire all looking proud, even if three showers pounded attendees through the day.
There were only two Lotuses that I could make out: a Mk VI and an Élan Sprint. That’s the same number as Jowett. Porsches numbered a grand total of one, a 356C, and parked with the Jaguars and not the BMWs was a single Isetta.
Custom cars had a presence, with a JBA, an Almac Sabre and a Fraser Clubman among them – names that will have greater significance to the local home-made and low-volume scene. Curiously, some American cars were present, with a Tesla Model S (a future classic?) and a 1956 Packard 400.
Later in the day, the Renault forces had doubled, with a Fuego and a Laguna II break adding to the display. But the rain proved too much for some and the number of cars began to thin around lunchtime.
Throughout the day, entertaining live commentary was offered by Ron McGuinness, his Irish accent connecting the audience back to the northern hemisphere, and his own car tales complementing those from owners who had headed to Trentham.
It was generally agreed that the presence of the Continental machines made the day more special, and certainly this helped spread the word. I would not have known otherwise – and, without specifically searching for the British Car Day online, till now it remained an enigmatic event for me, which I only knew of when seeing the odd club travelling in convoy to or away from the event.
The crowds were still healthy despite the weather, and the inclusion of the Europeans, and the extra numbers that must have come as a result, should set a welcome precedent for future events. They may even get a more antipodean February day, with sunshine and blue skies – but the climate can be increasingly unpredictable these days. Like Brexit, that is another subject altogether…