Tucked quietly in the back streets of Geraldine, any number of classic and vintage cars might be parked outside Geraldine Auto Restorations. On one particular day, a head-turning green 1954 Ford Pickup truck, its chrome glinting in the sun, is casually stationed alongside a black 1965 Jaguar Mark II that oozes with the sleek sophistication of a bygone era. However, these vehicles aren’t in for a service; these are the cars owned by the people who work here, people who drive these old girls to work on a daily basis the same way the rest of us commute in our contemporary
air-conditioned, Bluetooth-enabled air-bagged cars.
Sincerely impassioned about old cars, the folk at Geraldine Auto Restorations have dedicated their lives to keeping the matriarchs of our highways not only active, but also looking their best.
The owner is Wayne O’Donnell, a businessman with a fervour for classic and vintage cars that was triggered as an eight-year-old boy. It’s his black Jag parked out front, although it was a ride in the neighbour’s 1928 Ford Model A that fired his imagination as a young boy growing up on the family farm in Ngakuru, a tiny settlement in Waikato. Another Ngakuru farmer drove a 1939 Chevrolet as his everyday car, while yet another farming family owned a British racing green Jaguar Mark II. However, it was a red 1974 XJ12 Jaguar that stole Wayne’s heart and these days he owns one himself, admitting it’s the V12 engine and the sizzling hot colour that won him over.
Wayne’s enthusiasm for vintage and classic cars has grown over the years and today he has a diverse private collection. With a love for the Art Deco era, Wayne’s 1927 vintage Chrysler Tourer is a distinctive gem. However, he also owns and drives two vintage American cars, six rare Jaguars that bridge 52 years and six Land Rovers spanning 40 years. Wayne chuckles that he now heads up an automotive restoration business. ‘This business has grown out of a passion. What began as a hobby became an obsession which became a business.’
As a member of the South Canterbury Jaguar Owners Club and the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand, Wayne’s obsession also plays a role in his social life, where he is a regular participant in monthly car rallies. Ironically, he affectionately refers to the cars he drives as ‘old shitters’, but it’s clear he thinks of them as anything but. Instead, Wayne is passionate about respecting vintage and classic cars. ‘Old cars have all the little quirks. You’ve actually got to drive them. You’re a real driver. You’ve got to know the limits of the car and treat it with the respect it deserves.’ Tellingly, Wayne also adds, ‘Anybody can get their licence but whether you can actually drive are very different things.’
While Wayne’s passion for old cars began as a fledgling schoolboy, mechanic Rod Wills started even younger. Growing up in Whakatāne, some of his earliest memories are of tinkering alongside his parents as they restored vintage cars, including a 1929 DeSoto. Inherently drawn to classic cars, it’s the nostalgia and the simplicity that appeals to Rod. Laughingly, he wonders if he was ‘born in the wrong decade. I should’ve been a 1950s teen’ and even admits to owning the entire collection of Happy Days on CD!
These days Rod will drive anything and calls himself a bit of a tart. Where most old car enthusiasts have a specific passion, Rod’s leaning towards ‘American stuff’ is tempered by an enjoyment of English cars too. In fact, in his twenties he owned four Ford Cortina Mark I and Mark II cars. While Ford is known as an American brand, the Mark I and Mark II Cortina cars were designed and built in England.
As a 19-year-old, Rod drove a 1946 Ford V8 sedan while his mates were knocking around in Japanese imports and 10-year-old Holdens and Falcons. However, it’s his first car that tells the real story of Rod’s passion for restoring classic cars. He was just 14 years old when he borrowed his dad’s car and trailer, drove to Rotorua and pulled a Triumph Herald convertible that had a goat living in it out of a hedge! It was Rod’s first restoration project and he remains gutted the car was just two weeks shy of full restoration when he turned 15, meaning he couldn’t sit his driver licence in it.
Rod’s connection to older cars is verging on spiritual and he laments ‘there’s no soul in a modern vehicle. The old cars ride differently, they feel different. There’s an interaction between car and driver and they take you back to a simpler time.’ As the owner of the 1954 Ford Pickup parked outside Geraldine Auto Restorations, as well as a 1951 Ford Coupe and a 1940 Ford Pickup, one could be forgiven for thinking Rod likes his cars shiny. However, his philosophy isn’t just about restoration but also about preservation. Another vehicle Rod owns is a 1929 Ford Model A. With its original Ashburton car dealership sticker still in place, this old truck had been parked up in a shed since the 1960s. While Rod has restored the elements that make it roadworthy, he has been careful to preserve its history, retaining the dings and scratches that make up its 91-year-old history. Chuckling, Rod admits he looks like Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies but the subtle difference between restoration and preservation was worth it when he returned to the widowed wife of the former owner, ‘rugged her up in the middle of winter and roared around in this old car. It was emotional and very special.’
Like Wayne, Rod’s passion for classic cars has also become a social event and even an excuse for world travel. A member of the Road Devils, an international hot rod car club dating back to 1946, Rod was privileged to attend T.R.O.G. – The Race of Gentlemen, an annual vintage beach race held in Wildwood, New Jersey. Whole neighbourhoods in Wildwood look like a film set from the 1950s, a historical time warp.
For Rod – nostalgic, sentimental and born in the wrong decade, it’s a happy place. Geraldine Auto Restorations began life as a mechanical workshop 10 years ago and it didn’t take long to expand to include paint and panel. Surrounded by old vehicles in various stages of undress, many unrecognisable as cars, is Paul Glasier, not just a classic car enthusiast and a panel fabricator, but an unassuming artist of undeniable talent. Inevitably, his passion for old cars began as a child. A man of few words, one who lets his talent do the talking, he shrugs his shoulders and states, ‘My old man was a mechanic, I was born into it.’
Unsurprisingly, Paul’s first car was a Mark I Cortina and he laughs that he ‘probably should still have it’. These days, however, Paul’s into ‘the American stuff; the chrome, the size’ and it comes as no surprise that he too owns classic cars – a 1963 Ford Fairlane and a 1959 Ford Mercury – big cars, stretched and undeniably cool. For Paul, ‘old cars have class, new cars have no style’.
Wayne, Rod and Paul all share a disdain for plastic, preferring the metal, chrome and even the wood of the older cars. In fact, Paul’s workshop is an immaculately clean space dotted with body parts unidentifiable to the novice eye. Cars have been stripped back, their curves and skeletal frames a mere hint of their power and majesty and what they will become once these maestros have worked their magic.
For Paul, this magic is a creative process. If parts aren’t available, he has to make them and he’s happy to take on the challenge of old cars so rough other panel shops won’t touch them. Ironically, his most satisfying project hasn’t been a vehicle, but a barbecue trailer he designed and manufactured to pair with a 1947 Ford Jailbar truck. Not just any old trailer, this elaborately beautiful trailer boasts a rotisserie big enough for a cattle beast, a barbecue and a chiller!
Paul’s skill with paint goes beyond merely spray painting cars – 19 years ago he taught himself custom painting when he was a stay-at-home dad with the kids. A time-consuming exercise, Paul’s elaborate airbrushing shifts him beyond the realm of tradie to artist. Spraying paint to give a consistent surface, this art form was invented in the late 19th century, later becoming synonymous with renowned Pop artist James Rosenquist, a sign writer who blurred the lines between work and art. While Paul’s work is yet to appear in London’s Tate Modern, it does feature on numerous custom cars throughout New Zealand and he administers a Facebook page, Paul Airbrushing, that showcases his work.
From the exterior, Geraldine Auto Restoration is merely a building, a workshop for old cars. However, delve just a fraction deeper and this is a place of magic, a working museum and an art gallery where the installations aren’t just the cars but the men who pour their skill, their knowledge and their love into them. It’s a place steeped in living history where the maestros of automation keep the matriarchs on the road.
Words Pip Goldsbury / Images Emmily Harmer