$30m worth of vintage cars star in Napier Art Deco Festival
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The vintage vehicle parade is a highlight of the annual Napier Art Deco Festival weekend, and this year the local Vintage Car club invited 30 fabulous and historic classics to mark 30 years of the festival.
The line-up was collectively worth over $30 million, and some have an illustrious history.
You may not have heard of 1930s Hollywood beauty Carole Lombard, a woman of taste if her Duesenberg is anything to go by; but you will have heard of Marlene Dietrich. And Southward Car Museum restored her Cadillac to drive it at this year’s festival.
It also brought New Zealand’s oldest car – a 1895 Benz – to accompany two other “horseless carriages”, an 1899 Locomobile steam car and a 1904 Baker electric carriage, both from Christchurch: battery-powered cars are definitely not new technology.
New Zealand’s oldest car, an 1895 Benz brought in Paris, shipped here, and assembled by the Raglan Cycle Company before 1900. Top speed is 30km/h
Many of these special cars carried VIPs in the parade, including a group of senior naval personnel to acknowledge the huge part the Navy played after the devastating 1931 earthquake that led to the Napier’s Art Deco rebirth.
Those 30 went on show in the Napier Soundshell afterwards, and took some lucky punters for rides in the town centre, which is closed for the event to cars newer than 1945.
At the heart of this astonishing line-up were three cars imbued not just with the glamour of the period, but with the aura of their famous owners.
Amelia Earhart made her name as a pilot, setting numerous records that included a world altitude record for autogyros in 1931, at 5613m. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic, in 1932, and when she left for her ill-fated round-the-world flight in 1937, she left her custom-built three-window Super 8 Packard at the airport.
Now resident in Australia, it was parked beside the fabulous 1934 Cadillac V16 town cabriolet (above) once owned by Dietrich. One of only nine built that year, its 7.4-litre motor was once capable of a top speed of 160km/h, not bad for a limo with an open front for the driver, while the owner reclined in the beautifully appointed rear seats, or consulted the makeup mirror hidden behind a subtle hatch, and twirled the dials of the pop-out radio beneath it.
Alongside them was Lombard’s 1934 Duesenberg Model J (above), a dual cowl sports phaeton with a separate windscreen to protect the rear passengers, and a 6.9-litre straight-eight engine that delivers 198kW, considerably more than the 130kW of Dietrich’s Caddy.
The only one of these cars in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s eye-catching inside and out, from the two-tone paintwork down to the carved red and cream onyx orb that caps the gear lever.
Other owners were less famous, but the cars were equally fabulous. A 1908 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost (above) made it over from New Plymouth, its aluminium paint and silver-plated fittings glinting in the sun. The 1910 “Mr Toad” LaFrance (bellow) started life as a fire engine, then a racing car, before it arrived here as a running chassis in the 1970s, awaiting this five-seat body.
That 9.3-litre motor uses a massive chain to drive the rear wheels, and will hit over 100km/h at just 1500rpm, though it’ll guzzle an eye-watering 23.5 litres of petrol for every 100km travelled.
The 1924 Bentley tourer (bellow) from Palmerston North was bought by its owner 54 years ago, while the 1924 alloy Vauxhall Tourer — the only one sold new in NZ — came up from Invercargill.
The 1929 DS8 Delage was bought for £50 by the current Queenstown owner’s father in 1933, a great deal considering it had cost £5000 new just four years earlier, while the 1929 Packard Custom Eight was traded on an earlier Packard, and totalled £1285 when first sold, in Napier – it now lives in Auckland.
A beautiful Alfa Romeo 6C (bellow) also arrived from Southward, while the fabulous 1930 Cadillac Fleetwood V16 came up from Nelson’s WOW Museum.
The 1930 Chrysler 77 Roadster was the last of this model to arrive in NZ: it must have lost its shine a bit by the time it was given away as a 21st birthday present in the 1940s.
The 1930 Studebaker President definitely had — now immaculate in pale green and black, it was sold new in Hastings for £1132, but was used as a tractor in World War II and subsequently sold for £60. Its current Napier owner paid $5000 for it in 1979: clearly it’s since come up in the world.
We could list all top 30 cars, but we’d need more space. Suffice to say that fabulous cars may have headlined, but as every year, it’s ordinary Kiwis in their classics which make up most of the 300 cars that take part in the parade.
Some of them were the Corollas of their day, not least the 1937 Austin 7 (above) which always leads the parade, driven by its owner, official Art Deco Ambassador Clarence Bertram St John Fitz Montague. His 7 had siblings which raced at Le Mans, in 1935.
This one now leads a more sedate life, as you’ll see if you’re at next year’s Art Deco Festival, on February 13-19.