Greg Price wants to know if it is too much to ask for accurate record-keeping
Recently, I had the privilege of driving a particularly rare classic car that, prior to getting close up and personal with, I’d never even heard of — and I’ve been around for a while. In case you want to drop everything and check it out on ‘Mr Google’, it was a 1960 Alexander Turner.
Alexander Turners were a kit car that one could buy complete or as a kit to build yourself. Alexander Engineering manufactured a cylinder-head conversion — akin to the famous Raymond Mays cylinder-head conversions for the Ford Zephyrs — which was coupled to an Austin A-series engine in the Turner kit vehicle. If you want to know much more about these Turner cars, then go to turnersportscars.co.uk.
With the benefit of that wonderful thing called hindsight, I’d probably seen advertisements for the cars in some of the UK motoring magazines of the era but not paid much attention at the time — a bit like when I was at school; it wasn’t school that I didn’t like; rather, it was the ‘principal’ of the thing! Anyway, this Alexander Turner first graced our shores in 1997, when it was acquired by what was then the Epsom Classic Car Museum. It resided at the museum for the next 14 years, until being sold.
What was fascinating about this car was that the original owner had kept every last receipt and document, including all the original logbooks (ownership papers), and expired tax discs. You name it, it was all there with the car each time it changed hands. When the Turner first arrived in New Zealand in 1997, it was not presented for certification — probably because it was intended for the museum only. Certification did not happen until 2011, when the person who bought it from the Epsom museum decided it needed to be ‘ driven’. Up until then, the car had spent much of its lifetime in various museums. It was at this time that the shortcomings of the New Zealand Transport Agency ( NZTA) surfaced, in that, when the whole motor-registration system — vehicle records held at the Palmerston North motor-registration centre — was being computerized in the early ’90s, some administrative noddy failed to enter into the new system all known vehicle names. In fact, the system seemed to have been designed to prevent any ‘ different’ vehicle names from being recorded, even if the vehicles were made by a prominent vehicle manufacturer. So, despite the fact that the Alexander Turner had every last piece of relevant documentation/history available in hard copy, it went into the good old NZTA database as a — wait for it! — ‘ factory built’. That would seem to make the Turner originate from the same factory that made my 1960 Fuji Victa 50cc motor scooter, as, when I put that back on the road in 2006, it, too, had to be listed as a ‘ factory built’.
I felt it was particularly disappointing for the current, very lucky owner of this Turner, who proudly produced all the original documents for his car — including, for example, various newspaper articles about pop singer Petula Clark, who owned two of these Turners — only to have to accept that, in the eyes of our Motor Vehicle Register, it is simply another ‘ factory-built’ vehicle.
Imagine for the moment that the owner is being pursued by the authorities: “Car 54! Keep an eye out for a red factory-built car heading south on SH1.”
To which the pursuing officers reply, “Whisky Tango Foxtrot! What’s a factory built look like?”
However, to be fair, it is not just the NZTA that has come up short in this area. Those of you who scan the Trade Me auction listings for more unusual vehicles or have, in fact, tried to list one, will have come across the dreaded term ‘Other’!
But Trade Me is a commercial entity and development costs probably have something to do with how that platform is set up; this cannot therefore be an acceptable excuse for the NZTA’S very unsatisfactory short- sightedness in allowing such an important function to be less than descriptive when it comes to correctly listing vehicle types and makes.
Now, I also appreciate that, when the vehicle database was computerized, it had to be done from the existing hard-copy files held at the Palmerston North facility, and that accuracy was entirely dependent on what was originally recorded when a vehicle was first put on the road. I’ve previously mentioned the difficulty that I faced when attempting to put a very-low-mileage Honda CB110 back on the road, only to find that the person who had first registered this and another motorcycle at the local post office had used a bank-note serial number for both bikes — he’d obviously left the papers back at the dealership! Unfortunately, this error was computerized at the changeover. The only redeeming aspect was that the new computerized system now had two vehicles with the same frame number — a clear indication that there had been a stuff-up.
Another glitch occurred when someone originally registered one of my old Mark I Zephyr convertibles. They listed it as a coupé! I’ve never worked out how that happened, but my current convertible is listed as a saloon, and my sedan is a passenger car / van! Presumably, this misinformation was transferred across from the hard-copy file to the computerized database.
Realistically, how hard can it be to record a vehicle’s details accurately, particularly its body style? I appreciate that, with the advent of kit cars, there has to be a way of differentiating between a genuine Ferrari and a kit car. The Beacham Jaguars are clearly identified as such when registered, so why is this not possible for other marques?
Doing my bit
Maybe I’m being a bit pedantic, but if the Brits can do it, why can’t we do the same here? Speaking of the Brits, when they computerized their motor-vehicle records, they gave something like five years’ advance notice to the public, so that everyone had the opportunity to get their ‘barn finds’ recorded in the new system. Not so here in New Zealand, which is why so many vehicle owners, whose vehicles had lain around or been parked up for some time, missed the chance to place their registration on hold and thus avoid the dreaded recertification process, which became uneconomic for many a classic car — or was that the plan all along?
No matter. I am still focused on getting as many old vehicles and motorcycles as I can back on the road and into the database, and thus contribute in my small way to extending the average age of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet, which at last count was 14.3 years — and climbing!
Speaking of perfection, don’t you reckon that this little Alexander Turner is just that?