Apple of his eye: inside a former orchardist's Ford panel van
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This 1940 Ford panel van hasn't moved far from its origins. The Ozich family bought it new to work on their Sunrise Vineyard, in Henderson, West Auckland, not far from where its current owner lives
Grant Dean says the van was a "colonial build". These vans would arrive in New Zealand fully built from the windscreen forward, and a local bodybuilder put whatever you wanted on them.
Dean first saw the van 40 years ago when he met the owner's grandson. He was besotted with it.
"It was blue then; he used to drive around in it and I spent 10 years trying to get the family to sell it to me.
"One day he arrived at my place, and said, 'go see Dad, it's for sale'. My eldest son Stephen was 2 years old then -- he's 33 now."
By then the van wasn't in driving condition, it had been used and worked during the past 10 years. "It went bad mechanically. In hindsight, that was a good thing," says Dean.
So he dragged the van home, and pulled it apart to start what became a long-term restoration.
"The original plan was to put it in the garage, and in a year or two it'd be back on the road -- but it took 30 years," he says.
Work, life and kids intervened.
Luckily Dean's wife, Antoinette, kept him on track.
He says the rebuild became something of a lifestyle as he spent much of his weekend time going to swap meets.
"The restoration became as much a social thing."
Being on an orchard, Dean would work on the van during the off season, then push it back in the garage when work called him back to the orchard.
"It's been part of our whole family's life."
Grant Dean and the Ford panel van he has owned since his grown sons were toddlers.
At one point someone wanted to swap another vehicle for it, but Dean says he would have been in the bad books with his sons if he had dared to get rid of the van.
He wanted to keep it as original as possible. The motor is original, "apart from some paint and a couple of gaskets".
He says: "The three-speed gearbox was had-it, we rebuilt it, all the brakes, the suspension, we redid it," all to 1940 standards.
The paintwork is one of the few jobs he didn't do himself.
"When I bought it, it was blue. They painted it once, but it was originally red.
"I don't know if it's the right one. The paint guy said, 'there's 20 reds' so we started mixing, and came up with the colour."
He says the modern paint has reacted with the original, and he wants to fix where the paint is playing up.
The upholstery was redone, the switches are repro, the gauges are original, and he found the period-correct door handles at swap meets. The roof liner is no longer cardboard, but fibreglass matting with resin. "I didn't have a lot of money to throw around."
The cabin glows with warm paint and wood and, as a passenger you feel confident on the road, though it's hard to believe three people used to squash on to this bench seat. Definitely, the biggest work was out the back.
As I chat with Dean over a cuppa, we browse through a photo album, watching the build as it slowly progressed, first with toddlers scrambling over the van, then the two boys getting bigger, hanging off the wooden framing.
Dean says you have something of a free hand with these colonial-built bodies, since there was no factory standard. The coachbuilder would likely have built the same van boxes for Chevrolet and Fargo chassis, too.
"Some of that wood needed replacing, the floor and the wooden frames for the back door -- though that ceiling in the back is original.
"The first thing I had to do was buy a bandsaw!"
Clearly he has a point when he says folk into the older stuff "are a breed".
He grew up on an orchard, playing with machinery, though it's an orchard no longer.
"We'd been in the orcharding game for four generations, it was time for a change."
That this Ford was a commercial may have been a catalyst for its purchase, but it's become a part of his leisure time.
Most Sundays he's not home, as he takes the van on longer trips. Already it's been to Napier.
"We loaded it up with plastic boxes full of bits and pieces, just in case."
Antoinette confirmed the van is comfy; she even fell asleep as her husband drove.
There's only one thing left to do to the old Ford --sign-write it.
"It won't be a vineyard, probably the name of the old orchard."
He just needs to find someone who can do it "old-style".
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