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Mid Life Crises

Twelve years ago, my wife and I arrived in New Zealand with four children, one 1972 MG BGT, and many, many cardboard boxes. Those of you well versed in the interior design of said MG will undoubtedly question whether that was the most appropriate choice of transport to try and take my wife in, let alone four children and many cardboard boxes. Leaving family, friends and employment to move halfway around the world had little to do with being sensible though, but as per classics, a lot to do with emotion. And possibly with a smidgeon of a managed, somewhat risk averse mid-life crisis, that the whole family could healthily participate in.  And above all, that we’d always just wanted to go and try out New Zealand.

If you can permit the mashing of metaphors, for us it was not so much as a Brexit as a NewZenter. It wasn’t a case of being bored with Blighty, but more a desire to experience the delights and culture of another country, that wasn’t too dissimilar, but had enough differences to challenge us to grow us out of our all too comfortable comfort zone. There had to be something more than being stuck in yet another traffic jam on the A45, although if it’s on the bridge over the Orwell river in Suffolk that’s quite a view…unless you’re in a 1972 MG in which case all you see is concrete side walls, exhaust pipes and a gently rising temperature needle.

Orwell Bridge, Ipswich, Suffolk, looking suspiciously clear….

New Zealand has very strict biosecurity border controls on animal and plant imports, so bringing our brilliant but frog faced Fiat Multipla was out of the question, although the whole family of six plus at least 2 cardboard boxes easily fitted in that.  Leaving the other Fiat, a 20v Coupe Turbo behind was a decent but ultimately misguided attempt at social distancing from the mid-life crisis. Being a relatively high mileage 10 year old car, we struggled to give it away back then and I hate to think what it might be worth now. And then I find in New Zealand that just about any European car, even Fiat, is considered a ‘premium’ brand, presumably by association with coming from a very long way away and having speedometers made from chic designer fashionista brands like Jaeger. Can’t see why having a multi coloured striped speedo didn’t engender the same premium perception for my MG, but perhaps the “Paul” moniker wasn’t exotic enough which is probably why it just says Smiths.

Our characterful Italian dynamic duo posing in their happiest environment – 5 minutes away from their Italian specialist garage.

Once landed in New Zealand, we needed some sizeable wheels. And with the closest major car manufacturing country being Japan, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Toyota are as common in Kiwiland as Ford, Vauxhall and Toyota are back in Blighty. Being a family of six now minus the cardboard boxes, that meant choosing between a Toyota Previa, a Mazda Bongo Friendee, or a Mitsubishi Grandis. Now I know discussions on people carriers are chiefly the domain of Autocar or the Catholic Herald, but I think noble reader, they have their merits. Especially in terms of keeping your highly invested in plethora of progeny safe compared to shoving them in rearward facing seats of Volvo estate cars we previously had. One also has to think of the safety of drivers following behind with whom my bored little darlings in the boot would exchange hand signals. The size 25 egg on wheels Previa, or Estima as it is badged here, has moon roofs and curtains to distract you from looking for its completely inaccessible and therefore very expensive to service engine. The Bongo Friendee just uses its name to distract you, and I can tell you, friendee to drive it wasn’t.

No you’re not seeing double…you’re seeing Grandis stereo….

That left the Grandis, the swooping design and car park standout colours of which I erm, actually rather liked. And the way the rearmost seats folded flat into the floor and those vertical LED taillights under the rear spoiler echoing the starting lights at the Santa Pod Raceway…in my mind anyway.

A People Mover that actually looks good…

And thus our automotive journey in New Zealand began in three rows of two. And I’m looking forward to taking you on a few more travels, comparing cultures, cars and classics between here and the UK. What became of the MG though? Well the temperature needle never goes over normal now, it turns out there are a fair few other Leyland-land connections right on my doorstep, and the car itself took on a whole new lease of life as a classic rental car. But that’s a whole other mid-life crisis….

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