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Country Garage

Just South of Ashburton there is a dog leg turn in State Highway 1, where the road passes through Hinds. Right on the corner is a garage, which has a yard full of knackered old British cars behind it, and always a few rusting hulks out the front where folks can see them. At the moment, there's a Triumph Mayflower, which used to be known as the panelbeater's nightmare because its arrogantly presumptuous coachlines made it difficult to repair and its dreadful handling made it likely to need  it. There's a Hillman Minx, like the one my father once owned, and Standard Vanguard, like the one in which I sat my driver's license.

They were appalling cars, all of them: slow, cumbersome, ugly little things, but they were all that were available to us because of the special trading relationship we had with Britain. We bought British, even though they were ridiculously expensive and hideously iunreliable. American and European cars were even more expensive, and cheap, reliable Japanese ones weren't around then.

These were our status symbols and markers of our social progress.We pined after them. Lusted after them. There is a Phase III Vanguard (a 1957 Australian made one, as you can tell from the mesh grille. Obviously.) of the sort my father always wanted but could never afford. Now it's just a piece of junk, not worth worrying over. But actually, that's all it ever was. As are most of the objects of our desire.


Brian R said…
I first visited New Zealand in December 1966, at the end of my first year of high school teaching. I was with a group of students (16-17), so not a lot older and some are still good friends. However we were very amused at the English cars everywhere. In Australia we mainly had American cars and, of course, the Holden. Actually, when learning to drive, my father had a Hillman Husky (4 on the floor) while my driving instructor had a Holden (3 on the wheel). No wonder I took a while but I am fairly flexible now and actually hate driving an automatic. When I moved to NZ, I bought a Ford Fiesta. My 20 something year old Holden owner would have been horrified. However I had moved through VW Kombis and Suzuki Sierras in between.
Kelvin Wright said…
For a long time there were heavy import duties on all cars but especially on non English ones. As well, they could only be paid for in overseas funds, which not everyone had access to. So sometimes second hand cars were more expensive than new ones. And they were kept alive for years. My early cars - Morris 8, Austin 8, Austin 10 - all needed weekly repair which I had to do myself, using used parts and improvising where necessary. I too had a Kombi and Clemency had a Vauxhall Viva - a truly dreadful car whose gearbox failed at 27k miles ie about average for Vivas and whose plastics all cracked in the sun. But then again, Britain did make some remarkable cars - the Jaguars, Aston Martins, Alvis, Bristols, Bentleys and Daimlers which were beautiful and fast and handled well. And could be obtained if you were courageous enough and were a good enough mechanic.
Alden Smith said…
The photo of the Hillman Minx sparked some memories for me. When I was living in Christchurch many years ago, a good mate of mine always insisted on delivering me home by car after a night on the town. At around 2am in the morning he would sneak into his parents bedroom and remove his fathers car keys. We would then release the handbrake on his fathers Hillman Minx and roll it silently out onto the road, assisted by a downward sloping driveway, push it forward on the road a distance and then start her up. The return journey (which I sadly never witnessed otherwise I would have taken a photograph) was completed by turning the engine off a distance from the cars garage and gliding silently up the road and into the sloping driveway. It was a clandestine adventure that my good friend relished - I sometimes think he missed his calling and should have worked for MI5. I can remember his name but my lips are sealed.

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