ART DECO FES­TI­VAL

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words and pho­tos: Jac­qui Madelin

Sit­ting at a café ta­ble in down­town Napier on Art Deco Fes­ti­val week­end is a bit like step­ping back in time. Most folk in sight are dressed to suit the art deco pe­riod. All the cars are in pe­riod, as are the build­ings, and even many shops boast win­dow dis­plays to suit. But all that the at­mos­phere, com­plete with pe­riod mu­sic and buskers on uni­cy­cles, couldn’t com­pete with the cars this year.

The New Zealand Vin­tage Car Club (VCC) runs an an­nual rally along­side the city’s cel­e­bra­tions, of­ten fea­tur­ing a head­liner mar­que and or­ga­niz­ing as­so­ci­ated events. But this year was dif­fer­ent, for it marked 30 years of the fes­ti­val, and, to cel­e­brate, the club had in­vited 30 sig­nif­i­cant cars to take part, with a col­lec­tive worth of over $30M.

They’d gath­ered from all over the coun­try, and even Aus­tralia, for some in­vi­ta­tion-only runs from the Wednes­day, and I was lucky enough to be in­vited to the event, which this year ran over Fe­bru­ary 14–18.

But best laid plans and all that … By the Satur­day be­fore­hand, it was ob­vi­ous that my Austin 7 was not a starter, and my plan to drive it down made a quick U-turn: we’d drive a mod­ern, and cadge lifts for the events. At least that meant we’d ar­rive on time.

There was no miss­ing the start at Euroc­ity. There’s noth­ing like fol­low­ing a Lin­coln V12 Di­et­rich into the deal­er­ship and see­ing a 1935 Auburn 851, a 1934 Cadil­lac V16, a 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C, and a 1908 Rolls-royce Sil­ver Ghost lined up ready to leave to get you in the mood.

Even the vet­er­ans joined us for the first run, as I hopped in Garth Hogan’s 1934 Lin­coln V12 Di­et­rich to Nel­son Park School to ad­mire the kids’ cos­tumes and talk to the clas­sic car own­ers of the fu­ture. Then came a se­ries of shed vis­its. There are im­pres­sive col­lec­tions of deco-pe­riod cars tucked away here, and some se­ri­ously de­luded own­ers. “I fu­ture-proofed by buy­ing a big shed” said one chap, whose shed is now so packed with cars and mem­o­ra­bilia that you’d be hard-pressed to find a square cen­time­tre of clear space any­where but the ceil­ing. Fi­nally, a quick visit to The Fara­day Cen­tre — with some fab­u­lous hands-on dis­plays of steam-, elec­tric­ity-, and hand-driven ma­chin­ery from the past.

Thurs­day saw a town and coun­try tour — I nav­i­gated a 1930 V16 Cadil­lac Fleet­wood — through nearby small towns be­fore lunch, and the op­tional climb up Te Mata Peak for the views. I hopped aboard the 1934 Due­sen­berg Model J from Wanaka’s War­birds and Wheels mu­seum, which ef­fort­lessly crawled up the steep climb to join Doug and Bar­bara Bix­ley’s 1930 Studebaker Pres­i­dent road­ster as we en­joyed the breath­tak­ing vista be­fore the equally breath­tak­ing de­scent, at which point our driver asked if I’d like to take the helm.

This was a tech­ni­cally ad­vanced car when new and eye-catch­ing even then. Only 481 were built, of which 378 sur­vive. This one was owned by Hol­ly­wood star Carol Lom­bard, who then earned half a mil­lion per year, five times more than the US pres­i­dent. Choos­ing spec like carved red onyx for the gear knob may have been par for her course, but the 6.9-litre straight-eight en­gine cer­tainly wasn’t the norm — it de­vel­oped 265hp (198kw) even with­out the su­per­charger, con­sid­er­ably more than the 175hp (130kw) of the V16 Caddy, and more than suf­fi­cient to pro­pel its 2.5 tons to a claimed 116mph (187kph). That meant I kept up with mod­ern traf­fic ef­fort­lessly, chang­ing to top early and let­ting it al­most idle along. “Would you like to drive through Napier?” Why not? Who needs power steer­ing round junc­tions and round­abouts? Not I! How­ever, I should have thought twice when asked if I’d like to also take it into the ho­tel car park. The wheel­base alone is 3632mm — that’s longer than the Rolls-royce Phan­tom’s, but with­out the park­ing aids or, as I was again re­minded, power steer­ing. It took the full width of the road and the avail­able drive­way space be­fore I en­tered the un­der­ground car park, and a quick cal­cu­la­tion of the car’s value

against my net worth re­vealed a sum that should have had me aban­don the driver seat, but, bi­ceps trem­bling at the ef­fort, I nudged to­wards the garage wall with a rea­son­able sem­blance of con­fi­dence …

On Fri­day, the spe­cial 30 joined the an­nual rally for a coun­try tour and pic­nic. Mean­while, Napier had trans­formed. Down­town had been closed to most mod­ern traf­fic, and happy crowds were pre­par­ing for a night of fes­tiv­i­ties, with flap­pers and their dash­ing young men, fam­i­lies, and older folk all dress­ing to fit the pe­riod, and the restau­rants and bars bristling with pe­riod cars, from Austin 7s to Bent­leys, an­cient wood-framed buses to solid-frame bi­cy­cles, and ev­ery­where the sound of early jazz drift­ing on the warm evening air.

Satur­day started with a sump­tu­ous morn­ing tea at the clu­b­rooms and prize-giv­ing, be­fore ev­ery­one headed to town for the VCCrun pa­rade.

We aban­doned ship to watch, and it was well worth it. Num­bers are re­stricted to 300, all of a suit­able age, with the first part of the con­voy car­ry­ing navy big­wigs to mark the enor­mous role they played in as­sist­ing the stricken city af­ter the 1931 quake.

Car af­ter fab­u­lous car passed, all laden with deco-dressed folk and led by the 1895 Benz Velo owned by South­ward Car Mu­seum, among them the odd ‘ev­ery­day run­about’ and even one De­pres­sion-era ve­hi­cle with pan­han­dlers seek­ing work and Char­lie Chap­lin perched on the rear lug­gage rack throw­ing sweets.

Fi­nally, the fab­u­lous 30 lined up in the Sound­shell, be­fore the VCC ran rides for the pub­lic along the wa­ter­front.

There was still the Sun­day to come, and we’d had so much fun with the cars that we’d barely touched the fes­ti­val events. But what cars!

First was that 1895 Benz — bought in Paris, as­sem­bled in the UK, and driven 1600km be­fore be­ing brought home with the owner to Christchurch. Next was the 1899 Lo­co­mo­bile Stan­hope Steam Car that was first owned by Kempthorne Prosser’s founder, Thomas Kempthorne, while fol­low­ing it was the 1904 Baker elec­tric — which has a bell on the throt­tle lever to warn pedes­tri­ans of its si­lent ap­proach — New Zealand’s oldest regis­tered and road­wor­thy elec­tric­i­ty­pow­ered car. It had been trail­ered up from Christchurch for the event. It’s now run by four 12V bat­ter­ies, has a top speed of 40kph, and sold new for US$1600.

The six-cylin­der 7.0-litre Rolls-royce that was next in the pro­ces­sion is one of just five re­main­ing from 1908. Im­ported sec­ond­hand to Aus­tralia, it cost £15,500 when new and now lives in New Ply­mouth. This was fol­lowed by a 1912 Type 10 Amer­i­can Lafrance, which started life as a fire en­gine. It was bod­ied as a car in 1921 and ar­rived here in the 1970s. Now dubbed ‘Mr Toad’, it has a 9.3-litre 85hp (63kw) en­gine that cruises at 106kph at just 1500rpm, with two tons hauled up by two-wheel brakes.

The 1935 Bent­ley 3L Tourer that fol­lowed has a Park Ward body, was im­ported here in the 1940s, and has been in its cur­rent own­er­ship for 54 years, dur­ing which time it has ral­lied in Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia. Af­ter this came the only 30/98 Vaux­hall bought new in New Zealand. The car started life in Hast­ings in 1924, and now lives in In­ver­cargill. Its 4.2-litre, 115bhp (86kw) en­gine can take it to 126kph.

Fol­low­ing this was a 1929 D8S De­lage, which cost £500 when new and was bought by the cur­rent owner’s fa­ther in 1933 for £50. The 1929 Packard Cus­tom Eight 640 that came next was driven by the event’s oldest

driver, 87-year-old Brian Belcher, and its fol­lower, a 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750, came up from South­ward Car Mu­seum, while the 1930 Cadil­lac Fleet­wood V16 ar­rived from Nel­son’s World of Wear­ableart and Clas­sic Cars Mu­seum, look­ing far smarter than it must have done when it sported a coach body and op­er­ated a daily run from Nel­son to West­port via the Buller Gorge.

Next, a 1930 Chrysler 77 rolled on by, the last brought into New Zealand. It was given away as a 21st birth­day present in the 1940s. The 1930 Studebaker Pres­i­dent that came af­ter it was sold in New Zealand new but, by World War II, was be­ing used as a trac­tor: restora­tion was com­pleted in 1992. Next came the only Packard Di­et­rich Road­ster ever built, a 1933 V12, and a gor­geous 1934 Bu­gatti Gan­gloff Road­ster once owned by the Louis Vuit­ton fam­ily.

The 1934 Cadil­lac V-16 Town Cabri­o­let that fol­lowed them had been re­stored by South­ward for this week­end. First owned by Mar­lene Di­et­rich, its pas­sen­gers got fit­ted make-up mir­rors and a rear ra­dio that swivels out for tun­ing. Then came that Due­sen­berg, and Garth Hogan’s Lin­coln V12. The fol­low­ing 1934 Packard Su­per 8 Coupe Road­ster ar­rived from Aus­tralia for restora­tion in 1996, and in­cludes grille bars that swivel to block air­flow un­til the en­gine warms up, shock ab­sorbers ad­justable from the driver seat, and vac­uum-as­sisted brakes. Then came a trio of dif­fer­ent 1935 Auburns — the cream speed­ster pi­loted by ar­guably the most stylish cou­ple of the event — and a 1935 MG SA com­plete with fit­ted pic­nic ta­bles.

Driv­ing af­ter these was the car that avi­a­trix Amelia Earhart left at the air­port when she flew off round the world, never to re­turn: a 1935 Packard Su­per 8 three-win­dow coupé. The car still car­ries its orig­i­nal li­cence plates and Amelia’s ini­tials, and had come over from Aus­tralia for the week­end. Af­ter this was a 1936 Bu­gatti Type 57, a com­pletely orig­i­nal, match­ing-num­bers car, while the 1936 Buick Se­ries 80 con­vert­ible towed a rare Mullins Red Cap trailer, com­plete with pe­riod bags. De­vel­oped and built in 1936 and 1937 to carry bulky lug­gage at a time that few cars had boots, it was pop­u­lar with reps, and this is the only one in New Zealand.

Near the end of the pro­ces­sion was a 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton that had come down from Hamil­ton’s Clas­sics Mu­seum, a 1937 SS100 Jaguar 2.5 Sports that had sold new for £395, and a 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C that has fea­tured in New Zealand Clas­sic Car (Is­sue No. 324). And fi­nally, last, but def­i­nitely not least, came the 1938 Lagonda V12 Le Mans, raced at Monte Carlo and pow­ered by a 4.5-litre V12.

There may never be an­other line-up like it in New Zealand, so per­haps it’s lucky that the Austin didn’t start, and I got to cadge rides. Maybe it will next year. Lady re­porter Lois Lane launched along­side Su­per­man in 1938, and what bet­ter car for a 1930s writer than an Austin 7?

Top left: Doug and Bar­bara Bix­ley’s 1930 Studebaker Pres­i­dent was used as a trac­tor in WWII, then aban­doned. Restora­tion fin­ished in 1992 Top right: Mar­lene Di­et­rich’s 1934 Cadil­lac V16 re­stored for this event and at home in Napier’s wine coun­try Bot­tom left: Clas­sics Mu­seum, Hamil­ton brought its 1937 ‘cof­fin-nose’ Cord to the pa­rade Bot­tom right: Gary Boyce pulling in to Nel­son Park School to talk to fu­ture clas­sic-car own­ers in his 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C

Left: 1912 Ford Model T came down from Auck­land Mid­dle left: Steve Trott’s shed packed to the gun­wales with cars and mem­o­ra­bilia Bot­tom left: A step back in time – strolling the boule­vard by Napier’s Sound Shell Right: Morn­ing tea at VCC clu­b­rooms brought out 100s of mem­bers from all over, in­clud­ing this Austin-own­ing fam­ily Be­low: The writer pre­tends to own the 1934 Due­sen­berg J Phaeton once owned by Carol Lom­bard, now by Wanaka’s War­birds and Wheels mu­seum

Left: Brent and Lou Mathieson aban­don their 1935 Auburn Speed­ster to try out a 1912 Ford Model T Be­low: 1934 Due­sen­berg takes on Mata Peak’s steep climb Be­low mid­dle: Nel­son Park Schoolkids dressed in pe­riod cos­tume to ad­mire the Fab­u­lous 30 Bot­tom: Di­et­rich Cadil­lac 16 en­gine at­tracts ad­mir­ers

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