New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: David Burke-kennedy Pho­tos: Adam Croy

In the 1960s, it made sense to bring a car with you if you were mov­ing to New Zealand from over­seas. Thanks to on­go­ing war-time tar­iffs and im­port li­cens­ing re­stric­tions de­signed to sup­port lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers, buy­ing a new here was dif­fi­cult, pricey, and seemed to take for­ever — un­less you had over­seas funds or were a farmer or em­ployed in other pri­or­ity oc­cu­pa­tion. An op­tion was to buy a late-model used car — but you’d pay well over the new price. And you’d take a thrash­ing on the value of your trade-in if you had one. The mo­tor in­dus­try had a take-it-or-leave-it stran­gle­hold on us un­til the late 1980s, when Ja­panese im­ports started to flood in.

So, when Ann and Mike Di­mo­line and their two young chil­dren moved to New Zealand from Kenya in 1968, they brought their fam­ily Mini es­tate with them. In New Zealand, the fam­ily grew to six, and two dogs — too many to cram into the Mini. Which was when their 46-year-long love af­fair with Rootes Group cars be­gan.

Au­to­matic choice

A white Hillman Su­per Minx es­tate caught Ann’s eye. She loved its fold­ing seats ex­tend­ing the back plat­form — ideal for kids and dogs. And it was au­to­matic — un­com­mon then. This was fol­lowed in the early ’70s by a white Humber 90 saloon. Well, sort of white — its pre­vi­ous owner had con­sid­ered it such a gem that he’d em­bla­zoned di­a­monds all over the bon­net. It was writ­tenoff by a daz­zled VW owner. Un­de­terred, the Di­mo­lines bought an­other … and it pro­gressed from there.

Af­ter 40 or so years of own­er­ship of var­i­ous Hill­mans, Hum­bers, Singers, and Sun­beams, and the kids all grown up with fam­i­lies of their own, the Di­mo­lines’ car fam­ily now num­bers eight, with some re­stored and oth­ers in orig­i­nal con­di­tion: two Su­per Minxes; two Scep­tres; three 3B Minx Es­tates; ‘Babe’, a 1954 1100cc Humber 10 with less than 18,000 miles (29,000km) on the clock; and a 1966 Su­per Snipe. Some they’ve owned for decades. All

get war­ranted, rego’d, and driven reg­u­larly in ro­ta­tion.

While vis­it­ing the Eller­slie Clas­sic Car Show in the early ’90s, a Humber Hawk– own­ing friend sold them on join­ing the Humber Hillman Car Club. They also joined the Sun­beam Car Club and Rootes Group Car Club, pick­ing up nu­mer­ous Pride of Own­er­ship and other tro­phies from club com­pe­ti­tions along the way.

“It’s amaz­ing go­ing on club runs,” Mike says. “You keep dis­cov­er­ing Kiwi in­ge­nu­ity … old blokes restor­ing all kinds of things. Out driv­ing, peo­ple con­stantly come up to you and say, ‘Haven’t seen one of these for a long time’.”

Some of their cars have fea­tured in TV com­mer­cials.

Re­gard­less of whether you like Rootes Group cars — most of us have grown up with, seen, or ex­pe­ri­enced them at some time in our lives — you can’t help be­ing im­pressed by the sheer orig­i­nal­ity of this col­lec­tion. Some would be great con­tenders for the Sur­vivors Class at the Eller­slie Clas­sic Car Show.

“When we were re­plac­ing the Mini, we looked at oth­ers but kept com­ing back to Humber,” Mike says. “They’re noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar, but a good fam­ily car, and they just go and go and go.”

Clas­sic hits

Mike’s favourite is one of the Humber Scep­tres, while Ann loves a 1964 Hillman Su­per Minx that she’s owned since 1986.

How­ever, here we are fo­cus­ing on Mike’s favourite Scep­tre and the Su­per Snipe — only be­cause they hap­pen to be in my neigh­bour­hood and keep catch­ing my eye as they drive past. Well, they all catch my eye — it’s rare to see cars like this me­an­der­ing around the suburbs. But the Di­mo­lines’ other cars are scat­tered around Auckland and could take years to visit given the traf­fic.

The Humber Su­per Snipe Se­ries V was the last of the big Hum­bers pro­duced as var­i­ous mod­els from the 1930s — ceas­ing pro­duc­tion in 1967. This shape, launched in 1958, was based on the Humber Hawk, whose transat­lantic styling in­flu­ences drew com­par­isons with the ’55 Chevro­let.

The car was sold new in Levin. Eight years later, it moved to Dan­nevirke, where its owner cher­ished it for 33 years. Then it be­longed for 10 years to a Hawke’s Bay Car Club mem­ber, re­plac­ing his 1948 drop­head coupé. The Di­mo­lines com­peted with it for decades try­ing to win the club top-dog award, the Pride of Own­er­ship tro­phy.

“One day I was brows­ing Trade Me and bingo, up it came,” Mike says. “I’d never owned a Su­per Snipe be­fore. So, I rang the owner. There wasn’t much bar­gain­ing. One price for a club mem­ber, much more if you weren’t.” A deal was done.

The azure blue and off-white saloon still im­presses with its pres­ence, just as it did back in the day. It looks and feels big and heavy but rides well, if not softly, waft­ing along like a Bri­tish politi­cian dis­cussing Brexit.

It’s wider than and al­most the same length as a Jaguar XJ6. But it’s higher and marginally heav­ier, with more cabin space and legroom. Or, com­pared with some­thing more con­tem­po­rary, slightly smaller than a re­cent Holden Com­modore. De­spite that, the in­side feels big and fea­tures all the ac­cou­trements of a car aimed at rear-seat driv­ers — aris­to­crats, politi­cians, pro­fes­sion­als, or oth­ers who might have re­lied on a chauf­feur. So, there are ash­trays in the rear arm­rests, cigar lighters (two in the back), rear-open­ing quar­ter lights, read­ing lamps, cham­pagne-glass-sized pic­nic ta­bles (that fold out from the back of the front bench seat), loads of wal­nut trim around the fa­cia/dash­board and doors, and heat­ing and ven­ti­la­tion. Safety belts were of­fered as ac­ces­sories.

The fa­cia is a chauf­feur’s dream, with di­als and switches for things that we no longer think about — panel il­lu­mi­na­tion, an am­me­ter, oil-pres­sure and wa­ter-tem­per­a­ture gauges, air con­trol and a heater blower, a choke, and fresh- and heated-air ven­ti­la­tion — with the usual floor-mounted head­light dip switch typ­i­cal of the era. And it has power steer­ing.

Power comes from a three-litre over­head­valve in­line six-cylin­der churn­ing out 128.5bhp (95.8kw) — pow­er­ful for its day — matched to a three-speed Borg­warner auto trans­mis­sion that pushes it from zero to 60mph (97kph) in 16.2 sec­onds.

It also has its quirky touches. Mike en­joys watch­ing per­plexed fore­court at­ten­dants search­ing for the in­vis­i­ble fuel-filler cap — it’s the right rear re­flec­tor be­low the tail lights, and un­screws.

The pris­tine-con­di­tion owner’s man­ual fea­tures in­for­ma­tion that you wouldn’t see in to­day’s hand­books — rang­ing from ig­ni­tion and valve-tim­ing to car­bu­ret­tor set­tings, gear­box ra­tios, and more.

A lo­cal mar­ket page rec­om­mends Europa lu­bri­cants, a Rus­sian-sourced brand in­tro­duced to New Zealand in 1935 by Todd Brothers — later, Todd Mo­tors — which built a small plant in Pe­tone and as­sem­bled Hillman, Humber, Kar­rier, Com­mer, and other Rootes mod­els un­til lo­cal assem­bly ceased.

You nor­mally need to use the choke af­ter the car has been sit­ting a while — wait­ing and lis­ten­ing to the fuel elec­tron­i­cally pump­ing through to the car­bu­ret­tor be­fore it throbs into life. And, when you take off, it’s slower, but state­lier, than a royal visit.

There’s lit­tle road noise or rat­tles, apart from after­mar­ket rear vene­tian blinds clat­ter­ing in the draught com­ing through an open win­dow.

In front, you sit high, up­right and the seat is firm. In the rear, you sink into deep squabs as you look out at your min­ions. This is a good car for tour­ing or show­ing up in for a walk-on part in Yes Min­is­ter.

Mo­tor­ing mem­o­ries

“Grow­ing up, we used to have a Humber Scep­tre,” the man said af­ter they’d walked around the car. “Rego CZ1925.” Ann looked at him. “You’re not go­ing to be­lieve this, but … we ac­tu­ally have that car!”

As you may have dis­cov­ered, odd co­in­ci­dences oc­cur when you own a clas­sic car. Ann was out in a Su­per Minx when a car pulled up be­hind and young cou­ple

ap­proached. “We saw your Su­per Minx parked here,” the driver said. “Do you mind if we have a look?”

“Not at all,” said Ann, used to her cars at­tract­ing at­ten­tion.

“Grow­ing up, we used to have a Humber Scep­tre,” the man said af­ter they’d walked around the car. “Rego CZ1925.”

Ann looked at him. “You’re not go­ing to be­lieve this, but … we ac­tu­ally have that car!” The stunned cou­ple lived close by, and so CZ1925 was brought around to show them.

“They had the car’s his­tory,” Ann re­calls. “[It was] orig­i­nally owned by a doc­tor who bought it for his wife — he had it shipped out from UK. She ab­so­lutely loved it.

“[The cou­ple] were just blown away when they saw it. They had a lot of pic­tures and the man re­called be­ing in the car as young boy … lux­ury.”

The Scep­tre wasn’t orig­i­nally on the Di­mo­lines’ wish list. They were liv­ing in Ro­torua when a fel­low car club mem­ber asked them if they’d like to see his Scep­tre.

Got to have this one, Mike thought at the time. The owner wanted it to re­main in the club, so Mike made an of­fer.

The Humber Scep­tre MKI was pro­duced from 1963 to ’65. Orig­i­nally de­signed to re­place the Sun­beam Rapier, at a late stage, Rootes de­cided to re­badge it, although some mod­els re­port­edly still hit the road wear­ing Sun­beam badges. It was ba­si­cally an up­mar­ket, more lux­u­ri­ous ver­sion of a Hillman Su­per Minx / Singer Vogue, with Rapier me­chan­i­cals, four head­lamps, and a wrap-around wind­screen — echo­ing the look of 1950s Chryslers. It was a suc­cess­ful though not big seller, carv­ing out a solid niche in the Rootes scheme of things.

Much smaller than the Su­per Snipe, at 4200x1610mm, it’s roughly the size of a VW Golf. Once you’ve worked your way through the splut­ter­ing choke start if the car has been stand­ing for a time, the en­gine sounds raspy and pulls away en­thu­si­as­ti­cally if some­what leisurely. The 80bhp (60kw) 1590cc Hillman four-cylin­der over­head-valve en­gine and four­speed man­ual gear­box with over­drive will cat­a­pult — no, make that pro­pel — you to 97kph in 17.1 sec­onds.

On the road, it feels faster, sportier, and tighter than the cars on which it is based, with a firm ride that makes you feel that you could take on the Monte Carlo Rally.

The mood is en­hanced with lash­ings of black vinyl sur­round­ing the sport­ing line-up of in­stru­ments and switches, dash­board grab­han­dle, doors, and up­hol­stery that smells like leather even if it isn’t. And it looks the part in its smart two-tone dark olive body­work and taupe roof.

The Di­mo­lines are the car’s third own­ers, and it’s likely to be the one that they’ll keep the long­est ac­cord­ing to Mike. They’ve al­ready had it for 16 years and have had to spend barely a cent on it.

“It’s com­fort­able; lovely on the road; has over­drive in top; goes well; has a ra­dio, heater, all the ex­tras that ear­lier ones didn’t have; and there are not many around … not many around in good con­di­tion; only three in the club,” he ex­plains.

If you want to know, Ann and Mike can tell you al­most ev­ery­thing about each of their cars. And they have books, brochures, and other mem­o­ra­bilia. Will they add to their col­lec­tion? “Own­ing one car leads to an­other,” Mike says. “But I’m com­ing up to 85, so I think eight is enough.” That said, a day or so later the phone rings. “We for­got to tell you, but we owned an­other one,” Ann says. Min­utes later, she drops off an al­bum crammed with six years of pho­tos taken tour­ing around the coun­try in a ’74 Com­mer camper pop-top, which they sold last year.

So, the fleet still sits at eight. Un­til they see an­other and can’t help them­selves.

Will they add to their col­lec­tion? “Own­ing one car leads to an­other,” Mike says. “But I’m com­ing up to 85, so I think eight is enough”

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