Essay : Myrtle’s Tales

Take an Austin 1100 around New Zealand, and you get yourself an adventure.

John Dobedoe did just that and lived to tell the tale…

Myrtle admiring Lake Tekapo.
Myrtle admiring Lake Tekapo.

HAVING just driven 27,000kms around Australia in a clapped out old Holden called ‘Harry’ (purchased for approx £350 and never missed a beat!), you would think that the last thing you would want to do is to travel around another country in yet another clapped out old car! But here we were on the flight to New Zealand, planning just that.

On a previous trip to New Zealand, a couple of years previously, I had noticed a large amount of elderly British cars dating from the Sixties and Seventies, still in daily use, and apparently in amazing condition! To me, being a sucker for old junk (oops.. I mean classics of course) this place was heaven!

It was decided if still possible, we would look for a suitable car on arrival at Christchurch. Once we had settled, we began our search in earnest.

Just taking a walk around the Christchurch streets, it was just as I remembered; with an incredible variety of old British tin in amazing condition lining the streets along with the thousands of Japanese imports that have invaded New Zealand in the last few years.

Trawling through the local paper was amazing; you could literally find an example of the complete Seventies BL range in the small ads! Along with numerous old Fords and Hillmans.

So we began to make some calls…

My partner, Mary, has always had a soft spot for Moggies, and seeing that New Zealand has its fair share of Minors, this was certainly a possibility. Initial thoughts were to find a good Minor, use/improve it for a few months while based in Christchurch, and then travel around the country in it – with the idea that we could ship it home back to the UK when we had finished.

After looking at a few moggies and finding nothing suitable in our price range, we decided to broaden our search and look for another car – but continue to look for moggies on our travels to ‘post’ home.

We eventually narrowed our choices down to either a Triumph 2000/2500 or an 1100/1300, as these seemed to be most numerous, and in our price range (i.e cheap!)

After loads of deliberation, we narrowed our choice down to Two Cars: a 1974 powder blue Austin 1100, or a 1963 Morris 1100, both up for NZ$650.00. It was a horrendous decision – The Morris was amazing, an absolute time warp car in mint condition with its original two tone paint. It just seemed a shame to thrash it all over the country fully laden with camping gear on dirt roads! So, the Austin it was then. Our offer for NZ$500 was accepted and ‘Myrtle’ was ours with a new Warrant Of Fitness, or WOF, as the locals know it (the NZ MoT certificate).

Myrtle as purchased in Christchurch. (Note: the Princess and Avenger in the background - this was fairly typical in Christchurch at the time).
Myrtle as purchased in Christchurch. (Note: the Princess and Avenger in the background – this was fairly typical in Christchurch at the time).

The car had been Christened ‘Myrtle’, by the previous owner, who had a sticker made up for the rear Window! A very apt name for an 1100 we thought, and so it stuck…

I hadn’t driven an 1100 for a long time and I had forgotten what a great little car it was to drive. With the willing little ‘A series’ engine, sharp steering and great Handling, it really was a pleasant surprise – a bit like an overgrown Mini, but with a much better ride (and so much more civilized!)

Our first trip out in ‘Myrtle’ was a trip out to the Banks peninsular – about an hour’s drive from Christchurch. The Drive out there was an ideal ‘test run’. With varied roads taking in the suburbs of Christchurch, through fast stretches of open road, to the steep and twisty ascent, and then descent, as you approach Akaroa. Myrtle was brilliant, quite happy buzzing along at the speed limit (100km/h, or 62mph) on the open roads and proving amazingly agile on the twisty bits.

Returning back to Christchurch, everybody thought we were mad to contemplate driving around the whole country in an old 1100, but this just made us more Determined to do it!

Over the next week or so, we decided to leave Christchurch for a tour of the South Island.

We load Myrtle up with all our camping gear and head off. Many fellow travellers doubted we would get as far as Dunedin, and surely we should have got something Japanese instead! (Oh, they of little faith!)

Well, we certainly got as far as Dunedin! Over the next couple of months we travelled throughout the South Island, taking in the stunning scenery that the South Island truly does have to offer! From the majestic Milford Sound and Fiord Land, to the gorgeous beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park, and from the Canterbury planes on the east to the Glaciers and the rain forests of the west coast, the diversity of the scenery truly is stunning!

Most Kiwis we met loved Myrtle, and all seemed to have a tale to tell about 1100s (Most Kiwis seemed to have learnt to drive in one!)

'Myrtle' finds a friend at Milford Sound.
‘Myrtle’ finds a friend at Milford Sound.

Myrtle Proved to be 100 per cent reliable. The only problem at all being the classic ‘Transverse A-Series’ problem of wet Electrics, which only Manifested Itself once while on the West coast, during torrential rain of the sort you seldom see in the UK. Even then, she never actually stopped – just misfired a tad! (a copious amount of WD40 was used in the process of keeping her going, though!)

One particular drive that I remember was on the road back to Christchurch for Christmas over Arthur’s Pass on an absolute stunning day (December 23, I think!)

The scenery on this road, which links the West Coast to Christchurch on the East, and cuts through the Southern Alps is stunning, and the drive itself is Fantastic. Once again many people doubted Myrtle’s ability to make it over Arthur’s Pass, but of course she proved all the doubters wrong. Romping Along and loving every minute of it.

Sometime after Christmas, on a trip up North (of the South Island), we called in at an antique shop in Blenheim, which also specialized in classic cars. Sat at the back of the shop was a 1949 ‘Lowlamp’ Morris Minor! Could this be the moggie we were looking for?

Gladys as found’
Gladys as found’

I have a quick poke around and discover that it was actually pretty sound, just rather tired! We get talking to the shop owner and he is after NZ$650.00 (£200.00) for it (how tempting). We head up to Picton to where we were staying and ponder on this dilemma over a few beers. We eventually come to the decision: where else are we going to find a ‘Lowlamp’ at that price?

And the following morning we head back down to Blenheim to make an offer. What had we done?

The shop owner was great, and even offered to trailer the Moggie to Christchurch (three hours away) for us, and deliver it to the docks, when we had arranged shipping. Needless to say Gladys made it back home and will be covered in another story.

'Gladys' being delivered to Littleton docks!!
‘Gladys’ being delivered to Littleton docks!!

Eventually the time came and we had to leave Christchurch and the South Island and start heading north, as we had arranged to meet up with some friends, and Track down some relatives of mine near Auckland. So we load Myrtle back up, say our Goodbyes, and head back up towards Picton, and the ferry over to Wellington. We Decide to spend a few more days around Picton and the Marlborough Sounds before we bid a sad farewell to the South Island a place we had both come to love and admire.

Disembarking the ferry at Wellington always comes as a huge culture shock. The ferry port takes you right into the centre of Wellington (New Zealand’s capital city), and the hustle and bustle of a big city, with all its traffic, is a big shock after sleepy Picton, and the tranquility of the South Island. We head straight out of the city onto State Highway One, and head North.

This is Myrtle’s first encounter of a motorway (unheard of on the south island), but she copes admirably, keeping up with the traffic flow and keeping her cool under the pressure. Neither of us are bothered about stopping in Wellington, as we had visited there a few weeks previously without Myrtle. It’s a nice enough city to explore for a couple of days, but neither of us are really city people, so we find somewhere to stay on the Kapiti Coast (about half an hour or so out of Wellington), which also happened to be convenient for the Southward Motor Museum. This museum Is really worth a visit if ever in this part of the world, with a truly stunning selection of cars and motorcycles, along with much other ‘stuff’ to keep you occupied.

We slowly make our way north towards Auckland taking in all the North Island has to other. From Mt Egmont in the west, across to the central plateau, and then basing ourselves around Rotorua and Taupo for a while. This is an area I knew quite well, as I spent some time working in Rotorua a couple of years previously.

Mt Egmont (Teranaki)
Mt Egmont (Teranaki)

While based in Taupo, we have many day trips out to visit places including a trip out to White island from Whakatane – an active ‘Island’ volcano a couple of miles off shore – a most amazing surreal trip. Again with a heavy heart we have to leave Taupo. We had made some good friends but we had to move on…

We continue Towards Auckland, but of course, go the scenic route. Back across to the East coast to art deco Napier (the town was destroyed by a huge Earthquake and was rebuilt in the Thirties in the contemporary art deco style of the time) and the up the east coast to the Beautiful Coromandel Peninsula. By now, Myrtle had become a bit of a legend, as other travellers had talked of the ‘mad’ English couple in the old Austin.

We headed onto the dreaded Auckland Motorway and prepare to do battle with its mad drivers. Myrtle, once again, had no problems keeping up with it all, and we headed straight through all the suburban sprawl of Auckland and out the other side towards Orewa on the Hibiscus coast; a much nicer place to stay rather than Auckland, and convenient for tracking down my relations near Helensville..

We now only have a few weeks left in New Zealand, and we really need to start thinking about selling Myrtle. So we catch the bus into Auckland the following morning and start a mass Ad campaign on all the backpacker notice boards. They are covered with other car adverts, though, and to most people an Austin 1100 is not the ideal car to travel around New Zealand in. We can but try… and so we return and wait for the ‘phone calls to flood in.

Our last trip in Myrtle was up to the Bay of Islands to meet up with some friends, this was all becoming a bit final as the realization that we had to leave New Zealand in a week or so, was beginning to hit home – and we still hadn’t managed to sell the car!

We had both become really rather attached to Myrtle – a car with a huge amount of character, and a great travelling companion – and we never had any trouble whatsoever over all the time and many many thousands of miles that we covered in her (apart from the aforementioned wet electrics). And as we were now faced with the possibility of not being able to sell, we were coming up with the completely irrational idea of shipping her home (what are the chances of getting a rust free 1100 back home).

The last few days we decide to stay in Auckland, in one of the many backpacker hostels in a last ditch attempt to sell Myrtle.

Myrtle finally sells the day before we are due to leave for NZ$400.00 (NZ$100 lees than we paid) and we both felt that we had lost a good friend. We leave New Zealand the following Day with heavy hearts and vow to return …

This trip once again proved that old British cars can be reliable….

Keith Adams

1 Comment

  1. Great story, John! Really good to see that these little blighters are still prevalent on Nz roads and, thansk to the requirement for an annual Warrant of Fitness/MOT, in good roadgoing order. My first car, in NZ in the early 80s, was a 1967 (?) Morris 1100, also blue. She was pretty much unburstable apart from a couple of very hairy braking experiences related to my lack of mechanical knowledge at the time. Am still very fond of all ADO 16 variants and am now restoring a 1970 Morris 1300 Nomad, the camping-bodied hatchback variant made here in Australia from 1968-1972. Dinsdale the Nomad wil be finished soon and back on the road, very exciting! Cheers and all the best with your lowlight Morris 1000 all the way from Blenheim.

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