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Never heard of a Velie? That’s not surprising. The company was founded by a grandson of John Deere, Willard Velie, and operated from 1908 to 1928, when the founder died and his son dropped the car line in favour of aircraft.
So, it’s no surprise there aren’t many about, and this one — sold new here on July 1, 1925 — is the only Velie in New Zealand.
Alan Roberts bought the car when current owner, son Wayne, was born, in 1964.
“I used to sit in the centre, between Mum and Dad, and my daughters did the same when they were small,” says Wayne.
Alan had owned an Austin 7 Silver Swallow, but wanted something for his growing family, and this car fitted the bill.
He paid £140 for it (around $4700 today), not bad considering it had cost £575 when new, at a time when Chevrolets cost £250.
Back then it had never been restored — it still hasn’t — though the polished aluminium body was a bit tired, and to refurbish that would cost a fortune, so it was painted gunmetal grey with black trim, as you see it today.
The car is powered by a six-cylinder, 21kW (28hp) engine to propel around 2.5 tons, and would cruise at 70 or 80km/h, although Wayne’s happy with 65km/h.
That motor was rebuilt in 1972, and again in the 1980s. Other than that, “it’s stripped the fabric timing gear once.”
The Warner (later BorgWarner) three-speed gearbox and Columbus diff are original.
“The head was done in about 1959, before Dad bought it, and the upholstery in 1974.”
He’s just had the rocker cover nickel redone.
“It still had Dad’s name engraved on it from 1966, when he had it done the first time. It cost him £6, and us more like $600.”
As for spare parts, Wayne has his sources. “I go to Dad’s, he’s got most of what I need under his house.”
Folk know he has a Velie, and when parts turn up, that’s where they go. Mind you, the new hubs had to be made when one broke on a Hawera-to-Auckland drive three years ago.
Wayne had his first ride in it in a carry cot, so it’s appropriate that he bought it from his Dad in 2000. Over the time the family has owned it, Wayne reckons it’s done at least around 322,000km, or nearly 6000km a year.
His parents took the car as far as the South Island. Wayne’s not been further than Hawera, but he and his wife, Carrie, plan to drive south to an Ashburton vintage and veteran rally next year.
They like to plan back-road routes, such as to Taranaki via Raglan, Mokau and on to Uretiti, returning via the Forgotten World Highway, often in convoy with friends. Fortunately the car includes a tool kit tucked into one door lining, and a huge map pocket which folds down from the front seatbacks.
There’s even a light pointing into the spacious rear cabin which unreels on a cord long enough to turn it into a work light. That was standard, as was the cigar lighter, which pulls out far enough to light the cigars of backseat passengers.
This was a forward-thinking design. Velie and Duesenberg were the only two manufacturers at the time that used four-wheel hydraulic brakes. There’s a chamber under the left-hand bonnet with a plunger to allow the driver to pump pressure into the system before starting out, and to repeat that manual pressurisation every 160km. Wayne now has a master cylinder instead.
Mind you, he says “The shoes press on the outside of the drums. If you drive it hard or go too fast on long downhills, the brakes heat up, the drums expand, and the brakes can burst into flames — which they’ve done a couple of times. And they don’t work well in rain.”
His dad was driving along Auckland’s Jervois Rd once when a then-new VH Holden Commodore passed, cut in and slammed the brakes on for a pedestrian.
Naturally the Velie took longer to pull up.
“It wrote off the back of the Commodore, and the bumper fell off the Velie. Dad tied it back on, and off he went.”
It’s comfy — the ride is bouncy, but not distressingly so, and though there’s no power steering, the huge wheel makes it easy to manage. It’s so torquey you can just about drive it everywhere in third gear. And all-round vision is fabulous. Wayne doesn’t put the side windows in, though the roof is always up.
“Dad folded it once, and it stacked higher than the windscreen.”
Although Wayne calls the car an heirloom, his daughters aren’t interested. However, with his sister in a Ford Model A and a niece keen, don’t be surprised to see the Velie rolling on for years to come.