Those of you who regularly visit Auckland’s Tamaki Drive will, no doubt, have noticed this iconic 1967 Citroën H Van parked up at Okahu Bay. Not only does this magnificently restored vehicle serve up the best organic Kokako coffee to go but it also always has a tantalizing assortment of fresh muffins on offer and, during the summer months, several flavours of Kapiti ice cream for those wanting more than just their usual morning caffeine fix.
It’s all a labour of love, and the Citroën, aptly named ‘René’ — French for ‘born again’ — by the owner’s wife, is a magnificent sight and attracts plenty of attention from passers-by. With this in mind, we couldn’t resist the urge to take a drive and check out René and its creator, John Martin, aka Tinman.
John Martin’s passion for classic cars began when he was 18 years old and decided to go rallying in a Mk1 Escort. John built the car himself, including the engine, and, like most of us in our younger days, blew most of his money on his car while competing in rallies around the North Island, both locally and nationally organized events.
After about four years of local rallying, John headed off for his OE and, while in England, secured a job at the home of British motor sport — Silverstone — working for a factory-backed race team owned by Andy Dawson.
Andy achieved renown during the ’70s and ’80s as a World Rally Championship driver and also competed in New Zealand. During the late ’80s and ’90s, he began to lean more towards circuit racing and, in 1987, bought a formula Ford that he transformed into a front-running car. From there, he moved on to Formula 3, and his team, Dawson Auto Developments (DAD), entered the 1988 British Formula 3 championship with a Ralt RT30. DAD ran Portuguese driver Antonio Simoes in the British Formula 3 Championship in 1989 and enjoyed further success in the same series in 1990.
John worked for Andy Dawson’s team for about eight months then, with some money in his back pocket, headed off to explore Europe — an experience that included helping to sail a catamaran from Holland down the coast to England. Alas, all good things must come to an end, as they say, and, in 1990, the time came for John to return to New Zealand.
After a couple of years back home, John was in