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Welcome to the New World

New Zealand.

A country that evokes all sorts of images in your mind’s eye, the most iconic of which will be the landscapes cluttering up a fair proportion of Instagram.  Others could be those chops cluttering up your freezer or this Sunday’s family stew pot. Green eyes are often invoked when realising those same Instagram pictures are cluttered up by some of the smallest amounts of people relative to the land mass anywhere. Red eyes are the reality after the inordinately long flights when you used to be able to do that sort of reckless, extravagant travel to come and see such for yourself. And to complete the picture, as for blue eyes, well I don’t think Frank Sinatra made it this far but Elton John regularly does, and that 1982 smoothie is easily his best export IMHO.

For Kiwis, Kiwiana is defined as the quirky iconic things that contribute to a sense of nationhood, like humiliating much bigger countries in the quirky game of rugby, to which all Kiwis are pathologically drawn. Or at least they used to be until England inflicted the great ‘All Black Eye’ of 2019, talk of which goes down about as well here as Basil Faulty does mentioning a certain time in Germany’s history.

What are the Kiwiana motoring classics then? Are we awash with the back catalogue of British Leyland’s finest, shipped from Blighty to shore up the furthest outpost of the Commonwealth? Nope, but surprisingly not because they’ve all rusted away, for due to the complete absence of salt on the roads here, the many that were sent here actually haven’t.  Rather like the country itself, New Zealand’s classic car population is dominated by geography. Japan and the USA being the nearest car manufacturing countries mean they rule our new and therefore our classic car markets too. But what of Australia I hear you ask? Well that’s not a question you’ll ever hear a Kiwi showing concern for, and now Holden have joined Saab in the great GM cull, there’s no car manufacturing left over the ditch either.

So this is a landscape where you’ll find classic Mitsubishi and Mustangs are more common than Mini and MGs. And where, God help us, a Ford Ranger Ute is more common than a Ford Fiesta hatch. And that, as I’ll describe in a future tales of Kiwiana, comes down to the Kiwi headscape as much as the landscape.  A 25 year old very well used Toyota LandCruiser will sell for many times more than a pristine top of the range Jaguar from the same era. Fights will break out to possess a rotary engined Mazda sports coupe from the 1970s, whereas a rare Mercedes from the same will be left for the odd Auckland wine bar owner to preen over.  Europeans are acknowledged but not in the obvious way. For here, Fiat is considered a premium marque and Skodas ensure Plod is fleet of foot.

A key distinction is that Kiwiana classics are not show ponies sheltering under the eaves of a purpose-built barn from the rear pages of Classics and Sports Car magazine. Fords and Alpines are things to be traversed with gusto in their natural settings, rather than reversed with caution in a supermarket car park. I hire out sports and convertible classics that get regularly driven up and down those alpine mountain passes all year round.  And if Kiwis are going to drive a poncy convertible, then it’ll be with the top permanently dropped. And therein lie some clues and tales about Kiwi culture and its people.

Like their classics, they’re quirky, iconic and generally very lovable.

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