Hino, known today as a maker of heavy vehicles such as buses and trucks, partnered up with Renault of France back in 1953 and began production of the Hino Renault PA 62. Adopting a somewhat unconventional style for the times, it had a rear engine and rearwheel drive. And, believe it or not, because of its compact size, it was adopted for use as a taxi!
Hino Motors, which absorbed the technological guidance of Renault, independently developed and planned the Contessa 900, which was released in April of 1961. The design details of the Renault and Hino’s own technology were used, but the body styling was new, and, since it was a ‘sports sedan’ in the eyes of the Japanese, the car was given the name ‘Contessa’, a Spanish word signifying nobility.
Grand Prix success
By using the rear engine and rear-wheeldrive system, the car was noted for its manoeuvrability and smooth-running engine. There was also a version, known as the ‘PC10’, with what was considered at the time to be a small sporty body. In 1963, one was entered in the Japan Grand Prix and was awarded first place in the GT class. My oh my, have times changed!
Back in about 1998, my grandad, Trevor Stanley-joblin (contributor to this publication since May 1991, and a long-term organizer of classic-car events in Canterbury), purchased a very rare 1963 Hino Contessa that had travelled only 43,272 miles (69,638km). Although he has no proof, he was told that it came into New Zealand via American Samoa. Unfortunately, this Hino was then left outside under a tree for many years, somewhere over on the West Coast of the South Island.
Trevor kept the car for many years in its as-found condition and said that his wish, if he’d won Lotto, would have been to simply send the Hino into Auto Restorations, a world-renowned restoration shop here in Christchurch, with instructions to give it a full first-class rebuild. This may have cost five times as much as its New Zealand value, but if you win Lotto, what the heck!
As it was a ‘sports sedan’ in the eyes of the Japanese, the car was given the name ‘Contessa’, a Spanish word signifying nobility
Grandad donated this low-mileage, left-hand-drive example to the Stewarts Classic Collection in Russley, Christchurch, some years ago. The car requires a total restoration and, to this day, remains parked up, under cover in the to-be-restored barn at the museum. In the unlikely chance that Grandad does win Lotto sometime soon, he will ask John Stewart for the car back and will still send it into Auto Restorations.
New Contessa introduced
The Hino Contessa was continued until 1967. Grandad told me that, back in the mid ’50s his father said to him, “The Japanese don’t invent much, but they are great copiers.” You can see that from the front of the 1967 Contessa shown on the next page. Take a close look — what do you see? If your answer is ‘The MKI Triumph 2000’, you’re correct.
Grandad purchased this 1967 Hino Contessa 1300, by pure chance, in about 1994. He had received a phone call from a lady asking if he was interested in buying a car radio from a 1937 Ford V8 coupé that she and her late husband had once owned. At that stage, Grandad was restoring his 1936 Ford V8 roadster. Acting on this phone call, he went to the address. It was then that he was introduced to this Hino, which had been out of action for some time and was absolutely covered in a thick coating of dust.
The car was totally original and had travelled only 35,804 miles (57,619km). Frost White in colour, with powder blue vinyl upholstery, this pristine example was probably the most original in New Zealand, if not the world! Even after all these years, Grandad still clearly recalls driving the Contessa home: “It drove really well for a car manufactured in 1967. I also recall how tight the car felt. Not a rattle or noise from anywhere in the car. In fact, without a word of exaggeration, she felt like new. A bit light and drifty in the steering department, but I guess a set of modern-day radial tyres would vastly improve that.”
When Grandad purchased it, the left front park light glass was broken. These, of course, would be like hen’s teeth to locate. However, the chance came up a few years later to purchase a complete Japanese-assembled 1966
Hino Contessa Deluxe, warranted, registered, and driveable, for just $350. It had been owned by the seller for the past nine years, and she’d had it regularly serviced during her ownership. Consequently, the deal was done, so home came another Hino to join his ‘brother’. This one was yellow, but, when new, it had been finished in a nice metallic maroon/red colour, as was detected by the paint in the engine bay. This particular Hino is believed to have been one of the seven or eight pilot cars imported by Campbell Motor Industries prior to New Zealand assembly. In 1966, it was sold new to a lady in Levin.
Off came the hard to find park light lens, and, as an extra bonus, as this car was a Deluxe model, it had a factory clock fitted — the almost square one you can see in the photo above left, so that came off too. It is immaculate and works. The Frost White Hino, being a standard model, did not have this luxury fitted, which is why Grandad transferred it to the ’67 Hino.
As he had no use for the now-almostcomplete Hino, a couple of years later, he advertised in this publication. A gentleman from an auction house in Auckland purchased it sight unseen over the telephone, and away she went, never to be heard from or seen again! Shipped to Japan, maybe?
One thing Grandad had to do with the Frost White one was have the bumpers and overriders re-chromed. This was simply because the car had sat for so many years, absolutely covered in thick dust, in spite of being housed in a good garage. Fortunately,
the paintwork washed, cut, and polished up remarkably well. The entire interior was absolutely like brand new, including the delicate-looking powder blue upholstery. Grandad re-chromed the hubcaps and fitted a set of wheel bands to the repainted gunmetal grey wheels.
Contessas are now very rare. The New Zealand–new Contessas were assembled by Campbell Motor Industries at its plant in Thames. It is also worth mentioning that the New Zealand– assembled Contessas were different to the Japanese-assembled cars in a number of important ways. These included a unique chassis-number set, previously unknown to the Japanese Hino club people. The optional heater was a ‘Cruise’ brand, made in Hastings, and included unique dashboard controls. The seat frames, air cleaner, exhaust system, and carburettor pipe were made by Campbell Tube Products in Thames, and locally manufactured upholstery included a unique range of colours not available in Japan. Other locally manufactured items included the radiator and all the window glass except for the front quarter windows, which were manufactured by Pilkington New Zealand. Local paintwork also included a unique colour range not available in Japan.
As for the numbers known to have survived, Contessas still turn up occasionally in paddocks and barns around the country. Our research suggests that there could possibly be five Contessa sedans in running order, and there are rumours of another six or seven. New Zealand certainly seems to have the most Contessa survivors outside Japan. Israel has a few as well, and I believe that they are very rare in Australia, where there may well be fewer than six; they were always far rarer there than in New Zealand.
Above: The ‘spare’ ’66 Hino sent away to mystery buyer in Auckland Left: A 1961 Hino Contessa 900 PC10
Above: Hino Contessa 1300s at a motor show. Below: “Frisky sporty rugged” — a contemporary press advertisement for the Contessa Right: Trevor’s first Hino Contessa, purchased in 1998