For those who love cars, like the collectors dropping a million or two at the weekend’s classic automobiles auction, it’s hard to accept – but the days of the private car are numbered
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Bev and Rob Simpson are off to the Whangamata Beach Hop this week. But after the roar dies away and the exhaust fumes dissipate and all the other thousands of classic car aficionados leave the beach town, they’ll be staying.
After years of collecting and racing Minis, Rovers and more, the couple are selling the farm, and the classic car collection too, and retiring to the seaside.
Back in the day, Bev raced the famous Whitcoulls Mini Cooper. She still carries a crash helmet with her. She loves the smell and sound of a combustion engine. But at 69, she reckons her next car could well be an EV to potter round Whangamata in.
New Zealand has the fourth-highest rate of per-capita car ownership in the world – so is just switching all 4 million of them to EVs a good enough answer? Click here to comment.
For now, they plan to hold onto their late-model Mini Countryman. But the cars they’ve collected, restored and sometimes raced have been loaded onto the vehicle transporter and shipped down to Southward’s Car Museum in Paraparaumu for Webb’s Auction House’s first classic car auction of the year.
There’s Bev’s much-loved 1968 Ford Anglia GT with it’s cute turned back rear window, there’s a 1980 Mini Leyland HL, bright yellow like something out of similarly classic Kiwi movie Goodbye Pork Pie, there the 1969 Austin Mini Cooper S “Whitcoulls Mini” with its distinguished racing pedigree. Then there’s a 1986 Rover Vanden Plas SD1 Series II (V8), a 1968 Rover 2000 TC, a 2014 BMW 530d Motorsport, and a bright red 1965 Ford Cortina GT, quite rare to market and expected to go for as much as $45,000.
All up, the couple are hoping to recoup as much as $250,000 for their retirement – but that’s not even a fraction of what they’ve invested in their shared passion, over the years.
And indeed, New Zealand as a whole has invested heavily in private cars, despite the sure knowledge that they lose almost half their value when they’re driven new off the sales lot.
New Zealand has the fourth-highest rate of per-capita car ownership in the world, behind the USA and a couple of small, wealthy European principalities.
According to the Ministry of Transport, New Zealand had 4.1 million vehicles in 2017, an increase of 23 percent over 10 years. That’s more vehicles than there are people old enough to legally drive them. Light four-wheel vehicles made up 93 percent of the vehicle fleet.
Sure as eggs, their days are numbered. The Government is embarking this year on an aggressive strategy to decarbonise New Zealand’s public and private transport fleet. It’s a carrot and stick approach. There will be incentives: Transport Minister Stuart Nash has signalled Cabinet will consider some form of subsidy for the importation and purchase of EVs, something like the “feebate” that was stalled in the last parliamentary term.
If the Government was minded to introduce such a scheme in the Budget, Ministers and the motor industry would be anxious to avoid saying much more before then, lest it temporarily take the bottom out of the EV market as prospective buyers wait on a subsidy.
“If we are not careful, New Zealand will become the Cuba of the South Pacific, a dumping ground of Europe’s dirty diesels and high carbon-emitting petrol-fuelled cars.”
– Neeraj Lala, Toyota
There will also be tougher measures to forcibly break Kiwis’ obsessions with car ownership.
The Government intends to introduce the Clean Car Import Standard it’s long promised, which was first proposed last term but killed off by NZ First. That will bring New Zealand into line with other developed nations by requiring newly imported light vehicles to meet a carbon dioxide emissions standard. The Government expects it will lower fuel costs for Kiwis by $6810 on average over the lifetime of a vehicle, as well as lowering carbon emissions.
That is likely to be just the start. Already, Norway is banning petrol and diesel vehicles by 2025, the UK by 2030, and China, California and Quebec require all new cars to be electric or hybrid by 2035. New Zealand will need to do the same if it’s not to have all the world dumping their dirty diesels here.
Indeed, Toyota NZ’s chief executive Neeraj Lala has issued a strongly-worded call for a “feebate scheme” to bring electric vehicles within the reach of business and household budgets. “If we are not careful, New Zealand will become the Cuba of the South Pacific,” he warned.
As the numbers of vast car transporter ships unloading combustion engines on the docks at Auckland diminishes, the fuel companies will faces an existential threat. They are already developing biofuels, in Z’s case, but the main drive will be to replace petrol pumps with EV charging stations.
Just as the spread of cellphones has made it far more difficult to find a phone box, and the spread of internet banking has facilitated the closure of smalltown banks, so too it will become harder and harder to find anywhere to fill up with petrol or diesel next decade.
More radical changes to driving
The revolution to New Zealand’s transport network will go further than just bringing down the price of EVs sufficiently that New Zealand’s households can replace their diesel SUV and petrol coupe with a couple of electric cars instead.
Former Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy, in a speech to the Infinz financial professionals association this week, said we needed to take far more dramatic measures to break our “unhealthy addiction” to cars.
Speaking afterwards to Newsroom, he likened the challenge to smoking cessation, which he said New Zealand had led the world on. It had done that with punitive tobacco duties, and support programmes and tobacco substitutes to help people quit.
Similarly, New Zealand would need a combination of fuel taxes and congestion charges to make it unaffordable to keep driving fossil fuel vehicles, as well as supportive alternatives like widespread electric car-sharing schemes, and much improved public transport networks.
Levy himself still drives a small Volkswagen Golf – but he is trying to catch the bus instead, whenever possible.
Brett Waudby, the general manager of MINI for Australia and New Zealand, told Newsroom that Mini would phase out petrol engines by 2030, though he couldn’t speak for the wider BMW Group.
He acknowledged the company’s new electric Minis were a response to a climate crisis. “The original Cooper S revolutionised a space and petrol consumption problem in the middle of an oil crisis,” he said. “The Mini Electric Hatch seeks to do the same for a new generation of eco-conscious city dwellers that want to have fun, yet clean mobility.”
Nearly 30 percent of the 700 cars they sold in New Zealand last year were electric, Waudby says, and they plan to increase those numbers this year – but of course, that’s a small drop in the bucket of petrol. A couple of hundred cars is a long way off reducing the climate gases emitted by New Zealand’s 4 million combustion fuel-burning cars.
Waudby echoes Toyota’s Neeraj Lala in highlighting the difficulty getting sufficient electric stock to New Zealand to meet demand, when bigger markets like China, Europe and the US are offering incentives to buy and sell electric.
In New Zealand, EVs remain expensive (the Mini Electric is nearly $60,000 new) and there are few on on the all-important second-market yet. “New Zealand should be doing everything we can to be green,” Waudby says, “whether it’s a feebate, whether it’s assistance with the charging scheme. And having spent a lot of time in Auckland, the public transport system there is pretty shocking to be honest. If they want more cars off the road they’ve got a lot to do on their public transport system.
“Whether it’s car-sharing or however we do it, there’s still going to be a requirement for cars, especially in New Zealand. People need to travel around New Zealand, to go from Auckland to Wellington or whatever. I’ve got a friend who’s driving from Auckland to Christchurch in the next few weeks and having a tiki tour. Kiwis love to drive.”
So will the company accept a need to reduce the overall size of the car fleet that congests the roads of New Zealand’s cities? There’s a silence. Waudby shakes his head, without saying anything.
And BMW Group’s communications manager Brendan Mok eventually replies on the company’s behalf. Is the company accepting a need to sell fewer cars? “Not necessarily,” he says.
A legacy of disruption
In some ways, the story of that Whitcoulls Mini is the story of a changing of the guard, the end of an era, of technological disruption and the arrival of a new generation. Much like the bookstore whose name is emblazoned on either side of it, whose very survival was threatened by the decline in old-fashioned book sales.
The car was originally purchased new by the Dunedin City Council for the princely sum of 840 pounds, to join three other Mini Cooper S on traffic patrol as “Q” cars. But the Minis went out of tune quickly and were forever breaking exhaust systems and engine mounts – so this one barely made it into service before being sold to a racing enthusiast.
The Mini Cooper S, of course, was made famous by four rally wins in Monte Carlo from 1964 to 1967. But this one, the Whitcoulls Mini, is said to have been the last Cooper S to be placed in any International Rally, by winning its Class in the 1976 Heatway Rally held in the South Island. Their were 98 starters but, with inclement weather, only 39 finished. British Leyland sent driver Denis Ogle a letter congratulating him on his Class win and stating the car would no longer meet with FIA homologation by the end of that year.
The car had 60,160 miles on the clock when Denis first raced it in a rally. He secured sponsorship from Whitcoulls but unfortunately, he crashed out of the 1973 Heatway Rally in spectacular fashion. With helicopter coverage of the accident, though, Whitcoulls maintained it was the best advertising they could get and continued their sponsorship.
Ogle went on to compete in the Marlboro Series, the Pall Mall Rounds, and the 1975 and 1976 Heatway Rallies. Several further owners followed, with one taking the car with him to Australia and back while he was in the military.
Bev and Rob Simpson saw the car advertised for sale in 1998; it had been “found” by an enthusiast in the Wellington area and racing driver Trevor Barlow had entered it in the 1997 and 1998 Dunlop Targa Rally.
“The following year, Rob and I did the Hamilton Car Clubs’ Waikato Tarmac rally as a shakedown to the main event,” Bev Simpson recalls. “We had not done an event together before so were seeded last at 41st. Imagine our surprise when at prize-giving that night we won Most Improved Seeding, having moved up to 21st place!
“We competed in the 1999 Targa event too. On day three our service crew did a motor and gearbox changeover in a farmer’s shed in 90 minutes. We missed several stages, only to re-join for one stage before a 2-hour lunch break. The camaraderie of the event was great. We had a lot of fun.”
In the 2000 event, though, they broke a top ball joint and hit a strainer post on the first day of the rally. The car was badly damaged. It’s taken years since then to restore back to as-new condition. It was then that their friend Scott Benn at SIB Classics Panel and Paint restored the original racing paint job. “We had contacted Whitcoulls at the start of the restoration but unfortunately by the time the work was finished, Whitcoulls were having their own troubles!”
Now, the 1969 Whitcoulls Mini and the 1980 yellow Mini Leyland HL are off to the classic car auction – but their manufacturer insists the new electric Minis will become classics too. The Mini Electric Hatch does 0-100 in 7.3 seconds, almost as fast as the latest Cooper S’s 6.7 seconds. And Waudby reckons the electric Mini has the same spark and fizz from its instantly accelerating electric powertrain as the old 1969 model. “It may be even closer to the original spritely spirit of that car … You get in behind the wheel and you have that smile like you’re driving something naughty.”
Run them regularly
For those vendors, collectors and and tyre-kickers gathering at Southward’s Car Museum at the weekend for the Webb’s Collectors’ Cars auction, there remained confidence any threat to their love affair with gas is still a fair way down the road.
Caolán McAleer, Webb’s head of collectors’ cars, said the market was stronger than it had ever been. The last classic cars and motorbikes auction in December grossed $2.8 million – a record. Some collectors will keep them safely under a sheet in the garage; most will take them for Sunday drives.
Among the 24 cars going under the hammer were some that reached six figures. There is a 1970 Ford XW Falcon GT-HO that sold for $414,000.
“In fact, it’s better that they run them regularly and keep them serviced, because that’s what we want to see in a classic car, originality and a service history.”
“I don’t think it’s going to devalue it whatsoever,” he said. “Having a classic car is always going to be like having a luxury asset. It’s not something someone necessarily needs – it’s something that they want.”
– Caolán McAleer, Webb’s Auctions
He was not concerned that, with bans on new petrol cars coming into effect in the coming decade, collectors might find themselves unable to fill up the tank. “That sounds like some post-apocalyptic fantasy, like Mad Max – he drove a Falcon GT!”
Coming out of the past year’s Covid lockdowns, there was little better than the feeling of freedom getting out on the road in a long, low American car with its throaty rumble. “The lust for life, and to just enjoy New Zealand, seemed to be paramount after lockdown. People wanted to get out there and spend their money and see the country.”
McAleer was confident that, if anything, the transport transition would make classic combustion cars more valuable collectors’ items than ever. “I don’t think it’s going to devalue it whatsoever,” he said. “Having a classic car is always going to be like having a luxury asset. It’s not something someone necessarily needs – it’s something that they want.”
From my cold dead hands
Rosscoe Lane, for one, agrees. Lane bought his first car at age 17, a green-blue 1967 Triumph Herald, and fell in love. “Then I found you could unbolt the roof, and that was my first convertible.”
Like the Simpsons, his collection of classic Americana and Japanese supercars has grown to eight cars, filling his large Wellington garage.
The police officer and his partner used to follow Formula 1 around the world and were at the Melbourne Grand Prix a year ago, when it was called off because of the emerging Covid outbreak. “She knows it’s my passion,” he said. “She puts up with Formula 1 and the TV blaring all hours of the morning.”
He’s just driven down from Central Districts Field Days at Manfeild Speedway, filled up with gas outside Levin, and now he’s arrived at Southward’s Car Museum ahead of the auction. He strolls among the cars on display, delighted. “There’s Ray Williams!” he explains. A New Zealand ‘legend of speed’, Racing Ray Williams has a huge history of success in motorsport competition, both locally and offshore. He still holds multiple New Zealand land speed records for road cars.
Rosscoe Lane is selling three cars at the auction this weekend: a classic cream 1988 140bhp V8 Cadillac Brougham and two Cadillac Eldorados. “When you’re driving a Cadillac at 90kmh you’re just floating along, life on a cloud in your big armchair.”
But unlike the Simpsons, he is not getting out of gas guzzlers. “Petrol’s going to around as long as I’m on earth and long after I’m gone – I can’t see it running out soon. So there’s a place for these cars.”
“At the moment I just can’t see someone coming to admire an electric car in the Car Museum in 30 years’ time.”
– Rosscoe Lane
Instead, if his cars sell, he’s got his eye on an even bigger Cadillac Escalade ESV like the one TV gangster Tony Soprano drove. “It’s got plenty of room for a body in the boot,” laughs the 60-year-old cop.
“There’s hundreds of people like me, thousands of us around, who have fleets of petrol cars. Sure they’ll price petrol off the planet – it will be 10 bucks a litre so we won’t take them out so much. but you’ll still hang onto them, and you’ll still come to places like Southwards and ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at a generation of gas-guzzling monsters.
“Electric cars? I’d probably have one if I was just going into work and home every day, or to go shopping it would be fine. But at the moment I just can’t see someone coming to admire an electric car in the Car Museum in 30 years’ time.”
* UPDATE: Bev and Rob Simpson had a good day at the Webb’s classic cars auction on Sunday. Five of their seven cars sold at auction, for a total $114,425 including buyer’s premium. The 1980 Mini Leyland HL sold for $9,200, the 1965 Ford Cortina GT went for $37,375, the 1986 Rover Vanden Plas SD1 sold for $17,250, the 1968 Rover 2000 for $16,100, and Bev’s much-loved 1968 Ford Anglia sold well above estimate for $34,500. For Rosscoe Lane, the auction wasn’t so profitable. All three of his Cadillacs were passed in, unsold.