Plenty of blokes talk about their man cave, but this is about the closest to a cave I’ve seen. Alex Ross has a capacious, flag-and-memorabilia-draped space tucked beneath his business, with two gleaming American classics taking pride of place.
Getting them out of the narrow exit is a bit of a mission, though. “You have to be very spatially aware when driving these cars.”
He’s not kidding — the Catalina is over 5.3m long, just a whisker under 2m wide, and a 1964 Mini would fit between the front and rear wheels. “The Impala feels like the big car. This one feels easier to drive — maybe it’s having the roof on it.”
Certainly with the Catalina’s white hood dropped, it’s much easier to see where you are.
He’s owned the Impala for at least a decade and, as a member of the American Muscle Car Club and American Classic Car Club, he’s parked it up at quite a few shows.
The 1964 Pontiac Catalina joined it about five years ago. The Impala was being restored and he was missing his big, left-hand-drive car, so he started browsing Trade Me. “I came upon a 1964 Cadillac convertible, and my partner came in and said, ‘That’s nice’. He was hooked!”
But Alex left it for a while, until his partner Grahame asked if he was following up on it. He needed no urging, called the owner and had a look, “but it had too much rust”.
Still, the seed was sown, and he began scanning eBay. This car came up, Alex got hold of the seller — in Price, just outside Denver, Colorado — and asked what his bottom dollar was.
“He’d advertised it at $13,000 and said his bottom line was $11,000 cash. That was 2011, when exchange rates weren’t too bad.”
Chuck’s Restorations in Swanson put him on to Steve Davies in LA, whose business is shipping, and whose specialty is cars. After a short telephone negotiation, Steve drove east with his truck and trailer.
“He inspects it, calls you from beside the car and tells you what he thinks. I asked if he’d buy it if it was his money — he said he would.
“I ended up paying $10,500 as there was some rust, and landed it for just under $17,000.”
Of course, that’s not the end of the story. It had to go through the registration process, and some work. “We had to deal to the rust and get the motor out as it blew a main oil seal. Once you have it out, you may as well recondition it from top to bottom.”
Otherwise, the car is pretty much as he bought it. A previous owner had replaced the vinyl upholstery with velour, and there’s a modern Sony radio as well as the original one, which works — on AM. “The only things we did add were the twin electric aerials that go up in unison.”
The sound system has Bluetooth and runs off two deep-cell batteries in the boot, so he can go to a car show and run it all day.
The car is powered by a 6.5-litre V8 engine with about 205kW, linked to a three-speed Hydramatic auto, and it was a very relaxed burble through town to a suitable photo opportunity, where the Pontiac made an effortlessly stylish picture. No wonder Alex and Grahame often take the cars to weddings.
“We’ve done every Beach Hop since 2006, except for 2011, when it rained, always in this one. We take both cars, and, if need be, get a friend to drive one.”
Why the dreamcatcher dangling from the rear-view mirror?
That’s because Pontiac was an Odawa Indian chief who achieved fame fighting the Brits in the 1700s and, until 1956, the brand’s logo was an Indian head-dress.
But the ultimate souvenir is the V8 Supercars driver “Jamie Whincup Craig Lowndes“ windscreen banner. Alex carried the dynamic duo during last year’s parade down Queen St.
“When they put that banner on my car, I thought, ‘Whoopee!’. Then one of them won the first race that weekend and the other won the third.”
You get the impression Alex is pinching himself, but as he says, not many folk own their dream cars, and he does. “As kids, those of us who are car people grow up with a fascination for a particular car. My father had an Impala, but I always liked the shape of the 64 Pontiac, and I’m now in the fortunate position of owning both cars I was fascinated with.
“Not many people can say that — not unless they’ve got a lot more money than I do!”
Alex reckons 1950s and 1960s cars are headed for a very long life.
They take niche expertise to keep them running, and they’re not useable every day. But in 30 or 40 years, today’s cars will be too complicated.
“The future is in keeping these cars in relatively good condition for future generations.”