South Island Bucket List Trip
by Danny James
Recently I had my 50th birthday and my wife informed me that my present was a trip to the South Island to put a few ticks on the bucket list. I’m always one for saying we must do that or we must go there at some stage, but often time goes by and we haven’t seen or done what we have promised ourselves. Well this trip was to catch up on a few museums and meet a few people down south that I’ve been meaning to see for a long time.
We had six days and a lot of travelling, starting with a visit to the E Hayes & Son store in Invercargill to have a look at Burt Munro’s “World’s Fastest Indian” Motorcycle. This is an amazing store with a wonderful collection of items from Burt’s motorcycle days, including the “Offerings to the God of Speed”.
Next stop was Highlands Park in Cromwell and the National Motorsport Museum. The track and complex in general are absolutely stunning and Tony Quinn deserves a huge pat on the back for his commitment and investment to this world class facility.
We also visited Timaru to catch up with New Zealand motor racing legend Leo Leonard. Leo was a master of endurance racing in NZ throughout the 70’s as well as being a very talented rally driver (check out HCMC Rallysprint on Youtube to see Leo in action). He was probably best remembered however for his driving in the famous PDL Mustang 2, in which he proceeded to win sports sedan races and set lap records throughout the country in the late 70’s. What’s more he is a true gentleman and all round nice bloke, both he and son Mark made us very welcome.
On to Oamaru and in particular there was an auto museum that I was told had a large range of rally memorabilia, and of special interest to me, an ex works Mk2 Escort. This was a place and a car that I had to see!
The museum is called the Oamaru Auto Collection and is based in a beautiful old building at No1 Tyne Street Oamaru. It is owned and operated by Allan Wills and Carol Scott. A wonderful couple who have put together a stunning collection of auto and rally memorabilia.
I was amazed at the items on display, even before getting to the cars. As you enter the museum there is a vast range of old photos and posters from rallying spanning back to the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Priceless collector’s items fill the place, including the boots and gloves a young Colin McRae wore to victory in the 1994 Rothmans Rally NZ (still with evidence of mud stains on the soles!) Overalls worn by Possum Bourne , Hannu Mikkola, Bjorn Waldegard, Fabrizia Pon’s and Juha Kankkunen, and even a damaged minilite mag wheel from Mikkola’s 79 winning Masport Escort.
I’m told that many of the overseas drivers coming down to the annual Otago Rally call in and visit the museum, and there are signed photos from the likes of Ari Vatanen, Russell Brookes and Michelle Mouton throughout the building. A clever idea was that in some cases Allan and Carol have taken a photo of the stars signing the original item, which authenticates what you are seeing.
Then to the cars, and the first one to view as you walk through the collection is the ex Mikkola and Malcolm Stewart Audi Quattro. Fully re built and immaculate, this is a very special car. Driven to 3rd in the 1984 Sanyo rally of New Zealand by Mikkola (Allan even has the original door banner on display) and then later purchased by Malcolm, and campaigned successfully for several years in New Zealand until the end of the Group B era.
Next in line is Brian Stokes’s Escort Cosworth which won the Silver Fern rally here several years ago.
Then on to my favourite, and the main reason for my visit. The ex works Rothmans Mk2 Escort. This car has some real history, both internationally and in NZ. As a young teenager I had watched Ari Vatanen driving this car on a dark night tarmac stage just out of Tauranga. Wainui South Road was a late night stage as the cars made their way from Auckland through Coromandel to complete Division 1 of the 1979 Motogard Rally of New Zealand. I well remember the cars idling up to the start line with headlights only on before flicking the auxillary lights on with about 15 seconds to go, then the distinct sound of a bda engine revving in time with the count down, followed by a roar as the clutch was dropped. On that occasion Ari’s escort had to settle for 3rd place after head gasket problems slowed his progress. An escort did win however in the hands of the great Hannu Mikkola.
Back to Ari’s car and it stayed in NZ after the rally, purchased by Ford NZ and run in Masport colours. It was then sent to Australia to compete in the 1980 Castrol Rally where Ari finished a frustrating 2nd after a minor roll. For some classic footage of the car in this rally check out the Castrol film “Forty Split Seconds”. Back in NZ and still in Masport colours Pentti Airikkala drove it in the South Island Motogard International but put the car off the road at the end of a stage in Leg 3.
The car was then on sold as a rolling shell to the Parkes brothers and converted to right hand drive for local 1600 ace Dave Parkes to drive. Dave drove the car to a fine 4th overall in the 1981 Rally NZ.
Eventually Brian Walker purchased the car, still on the original works shell, and I’m told had it re built in 2007. The restoration is first class and while the car looks immaculate (even to the doors opening and closing beautifully, which is rare in any 2 door Mk2 Escort let alone a rally car!). It still carries the patina of a classic car with so much history. It has also been converted back to left hand drive. Works Escorts had many individual details and this car is a great example of the way they used to be built.
The car is for sale and while I’m still hoping for a lotto win to secure it, the reality is that it may well end up overseas. All the more reason to view it while you can.
There are more than just cars and rally memorabilia at the Auto Barn however. I also saw an original ex army Willys Jeep and an original De Havilland Mosquito aircraft engine still with it’s original engine id tag.
Oamaru is a lovely little town with plenty of motel accommodation, about a 90 minute drive from Dunedin, so next time you are heading down to the Otago rally, or want to put a tick on your bucket list, make sure you visit the Oamaru Auto Collection.