Vero International Festival of Historic Motoring 2016
A Frazer Nash Mille Miglia Drive from Nelson to Dunedin - and Back!
January 10 - 28, 2016 (Ver. 3.0)
There are very few photos on this report. Click this link for a narrated You Tube video slide show with many photos!
There are more video links below, in the story
International Festival of Historic Motoring (IFOHM)
We decided to attend this 9-day event after reading about in Beaded Wheels, the magazine of the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand. We registered for the IFOHM in June 2015 and made flight plans in September. We had gone to New Zealand at least annually since 2005, but never as early as January.
Late on January 10, Shannon and I flew from Los Angeles to New Zealand on Air Tahiti Nui, the same airline we used when we went for the first time in 2005. Just a stop in Tahiti, great food, on time. We then lost a day, crossing the International Date Line, arriving in Auckland, New Zealand on January 12. We used a 3 pm JetStar flight to go from Auckland to Nelson. It's a new airline and great savings over Air New Zealand for intra-country flights. All went well, including the 10 minute walk between terminals in Auckland, in the rain!
From the Nelson airport at 5 pm, we took a cab to the Waimarie motel, where we've stayed previously. After dinner at the "623 In the City" and a few glasses of beer, we were ready to sleep in a real bed!
To Dunedin: Via Hanmer Springs and Timaru
We were up early on Wednesday, January 13, walked to an ATM and Nelson's landmark Christ Church cathedral. Then to breakfast at the Suter Cafe, back to the motel to wait for Peter Cash of Victory Racing to take us to the shop and the Frazer Nash. The car looked great and was ready to go, after taking many unneeded items from the trunk/boot and loading our luggage. Just a small overflow to fill space between us!
We then met VCCNZ Nelson branch members Tom and Jan Johnson, picked up very nice Branch logo polo shirts, filled the Frazer Nash tank and headed south down Highway 6 to Dunedin. We had tried to link up with other branch members going to the IFOHM, but they either had left earlier for the West Coast or would leave later and make the trip in two days. We planned on three. After fueling, we were on Highway 6 about 11 am.
From Nelson to Hanmer Springs
The drive was pleasant and "top down" until Murchison, where we stopped for coffee. On to further hills and the Lewis Pass. There had been no rain until this point, but there definitely was in Lewis Pass. The wipers, recently repaired by Victory Racing, worked perfectly. But the wiper blade on the driver's side was not used to doing actual work, folded itself off the arm, stayed on the windscreen until I reached for it and then flew away. No hope of stopping on the pass, in the rain, to find it, so we continued on.
At the same time, Shannon noticed a small crack in the windscreen and there was a mild rattle noise from under the car. Also a high-frequency chatter from hood area! We continued on! I later found the hood release was not fully engaged; that cured the chatter but the rattle continued.
Hanmer Springs is a popular resort area a few miles off Highway 6. After a missing our motel on the first drive by the Spa, we checked in to the Alpine Lodge motel and at 4 pm went straight to the Spa's warmest pools. Enjoyable!
We walked to the Alpine Village Inn for dinner and a glass of great New Zealand beer. We fueled in Hanmer Springs and were driving south by 9:30 am, planning to stop at the Ruapuna race course on the western outskirts of Christchurch, where Garry Orton and Guy Griffith (Victory Racing) were managing a team in the Toyota Racing Series. The GPS got us very close, but we gave up about a half-mile away from the track! And there was no response to our mobile calls. On to Timaru!
Hanmer Springs to Timaru
We fueled again in Rolleston, just south of Christchurch and arrived at the Homestead Lodge motel by 3 pm, January 14. Again we zipped past it the first time it because the GPS did not recognize the Evans Street address. We got directions to a shopping center - Shannon had not been 100% since the flight and thought a pharmacy visit would help, but it would be a few more days for a full recovery. We also shopped to stock up with food and drinks along the way and for simple breakfasts in our motels, which always had mini-kitchens.
On the walk to a Pak N' Sav, I saw a vintage Brit car on a trailer behind a Range Rover. The driver paying inside looked familiar and we saw it was Gavin Bain, owner of Fazazz - the formerly wonderful, eclectic auto shop in pre-earthquake Christchurch. Gavin told us the business now operates from Auto Restorations and his home, pending an insurance claim settlement. We did a bit of food and beverage shopping, checked out of the motel on Friday, January 15 and drove south in fine weather.
We fueled again in Oamaru at 10 am and continued south in very nice weather. But with the hills of Dunedin in sight, the sky darkened and we entered a rain zone - still no wipers!
Timaru to the Edgar Centre, Dunedin
I had used the last of my Rain-X on the windscreen in Timaru, so had a fairly good view of the road up and down the long hills from Waitati-Blueskin Bay to Pine Hill. Shannon did not have a clear view and was concerned!
We continued on down the hills and through Dunedin to the Edgar Centre, the headquarters of the International Festival of Historic Motoring, arriving at noon. The rain continued, but it was good to see other vintage and classic cars in the parking lot. Our check in was very efficient and we were given a case full of "goodies" - including two more polo shirts! Because of the rain, photos of the Rally cars scheduled at the historic Dunedin Railway Station were postponed. We never saw a new schedule.
The GPS got us to the 97 Motel Moray, very convenient to Dunedin's central city. I had been keeping in touch by email with David Mehrtens, a friend from prior visits to Dunedin and very talented restorer. I had emailed him about the lost wiper blade and sent photos of the wiper arm because its attachment to the blade was not "standard". David told me he had a good collection of blades in his shop.
The Frazer Nash was parked and we had no driving obligations for a while, so we walked through the Octagon and found the very nice Cafe Rue for lunch. We later went food shopping and got a SIM card for Shannon's new Windows phone, but it was not much used. We skipped the evening's Scottish theme opening event at the Edgar Centre.
Saturday was a short walk to the Dunedin Railway Station for breakfast and to join the excursion to Oamaru. The first boarding group would go to and from Oamaru on the train; our group would return by bus.
The ride was scenic and well-narrated. We arrived in Oamaru about noon; walked around a bit and went to the Last Post pub for lunch. Our return bus was scheduled for 3 pm, so we had time to explore the historic district with its many buildings constructed of famous white Oamaru stone. One notable building is the Steampunk HQ in and old wool warehouse. Not enough time to explore this or the brewery at the other end of the historic district! This is a link to a "home movie quality" video of the train ride and walk through Oamaru.
After settling-in on the return bus, I noticed my Garmin 750 GPS had gone missing. I ran back to the Last Post, thinking it had fallen from my pack there, but they had no sighting. How would we get from point to point?? It turned out "all was not lost", but I didn't know this until weeks later.
The return route departed from Highway 1 at some point and followed a twisty, narrow coastal road for a while. The Rally event on this Saturday evening was "An Evening with Corky Coker", the celebrity US guest and supplier of vintage tires. We passed on this event.
The Car Show - Wings and Wheels
Sunday was "Wings and Wheels", at the Taieri Airport in Mosgiel. All 600 entrants were invited to show their cars for this public event. David Mehrtens suggested we drive the Frazer Nash to his house first to clean it up and we washed it. It was about 10 miles to the airfield through Mosgiel. We got at the end of a long line of cars at least a half-mile from the airport that moved very slowly. After 20 minutes in line, with the Frazer Nash water temperature near overheating, I pulled out of the line, circled to the other side of the airport and found an open entrance with a few other cars. The rally staff was probably giving detailed parking directions to each car - not necessary! We found our "post war" group parked at the end of a row. An entrant from Switzerland (driving a borrowed Alvis TD21) came over to the car and said "you have the best car here!" Thanks, Daniel! It was cloudy and very cool, so we briskly walked around, viewing the aircraft, exhibits and cars. Hot dogs for lunch! Shannon was still not 100%, so she took the shuttle bus back to the Dunedin motel at 1 pm. I continued to look at cars and talk to their owners. I saw Gordon Dacombe from the NZVCC; he had emailed me about his drive from Nelson, offering to help if we needed anything. They also stopped in Timaru, but to race for the Pomeroy Trophy at the Levels track.
Later I walked through nearly all the cars with a GoPro, making a video - not professional, but may be entertaining!
David and Christine Mehrtens stopped by. David advised me to leave early, although all the cars were supposed to stay until 4:15 pm. I fired up the Frazer Nash at 3:45, hoping to avoid another backup. That plan failed! It was slow going down Factory Road, but then stopped for long periods at the intersection with Gordon Road/Highway 87. It seems there was construction - on Sunday - and Highway 87 was getting priority. The Frazer Nash water temperature kept rising and after making the turn to 87, with the final light about 1/4 mile away, went over 200 F. I pulled over, opened the hood and saw coolant spouting from the radiator overflow tube. Since I was directly across from a Repco auto parts store, I bought a small jug of coolant. When the radiator was cool enough to remove the cap, I found not much had been lost, so I buttoned everything up, joined the line of cars and got safely back to the motel. Shannon had a better experience shopping in Dunedin!
International Festival of Historic Motoring Events
Our "Yellow Group" was scheduled to drive to Middlemarch on Monday, but the rattle under the car had not been diagnosed so we decided to walk through Dunedin. On previous Dunedin visits, we never found time for the Cadbury chocolate factory tour so walked there only to find huge crowds! We opted for the smaller museum tour and learned how Cadbury started in New Zealand and was going strong. Lunch was at Speight's Ale House. In the evening we had dinner with David and Christine Mehrtens at the Nova Cafe, on the Octagon only a short walk from our motel.
Tuesday started out rainy. David came to the motel to fit replacement wiper blades he had sent from Nelson - just where we started! This was "one make" day - the Frazer Nash was grouped with Hillmans, Humbers and other makes even less numerous. The destination was Harwood Domain, which I surmised was about 15 miles out on the Otago Peninsula. We opted for breakfast at the Blackdog Cafe, went to the Edgar Centre to get tickets for an evening event, but it was sold out! I posted three notices on a bulletin board: about a 1977 Ford Ranchero for sale, that I was interested in meeting with anyone about digital libraries for car history, and looking for interest in a BMW 328/Frazer Nash Mille Miglia replica project. Later, we walked to the Dowling Street location of Hard-To-Find books and met Warwick, who I had emailed a year previously to order two books to be mailed as gifts. Great business!
There was a late afternoon reception for the international rally entrants at the Edgar Centre. We invited David to join us - great food, drink and short speeches. There we heard the drive Harwood Domain was not pleasant - rain and much fog and mist on arrival. We again met Victor and Nikki Pace, who we first talked to at the car show, and exchanged more stories about his time working in the U.S. on Bristol engines in Frazer Nash cars and ACs. He knew several of the owners of those cars who I knew and spent nearly a year in nearby Glendale rebuilding an AC Bristol. Great guy!
Early Wednesday we walked uphill on Stuart Street to Moana Pool, which had been unknown to us on prior visits. It's a great indoor facility with three pools. A school regional swim meet occupied the main pool, but the 25 m. warm-up pool was good enough for lap swimming, followed by some time in the spa hot pool. Easier to get downhill! Breakfast was at the Kitchen Table, shouting distance from our motel.
David arranged for us to get the Frazer Nash on a lift and we finally found the rattle was a worn shaft on the clutch linkage, wired to take up the play for the near future. We also found some rear axle leakage on the linkages to left side torsion bar, but not enough loss for concern.
David then led us to the Olveston House, the great house that had been preserved and restored. Christine Mehrtens is on the staff. The tour was very good and the Frazer Nash was allowed on the grounds for photos.
We had walked by the Craic Irish pub several times on the Octagon, so that was finally our spot for dinner Wednesday night.
Rally Day 2 - To Balclutha?
The weather was good and the old Frazer Nash glitches were fixed, so we planned to join the Yellow Group run to Balclutha on Thursday, schedule to depart from Dunedin Ice Palace between 9 and 10 am. We planned to use our Samsung tablet GPS "just in case". The Frazer Nash was hard to start and stopped completely just 100 m down Moray Place. After the restart, it ran poorly and quit again about 1.5 miles away; I was just able to coast into a parking lot for the Harbor bikeway-footpath. After I checked what I could, I thought water may have gotten in the gas, so I went across the road to the Mobil station and got a gallon to add. No help.
I called David Mehrtens and we did not wait long before he found us. After his checks that found nothing obvious, he suggested that he tow the car to his house in Kew. It was not far, but up a hill! We hooked up his tow rope and I had an exciting time with no quick stops or crashes! We eventually pulled the spark plugs and found them badly fouled. I thought the very slow drives to and from Sunday's car show had been the primary cause, but perhaps there was some bad gas. David cleaned the plugs, added some upper cylinder lube and suggested we only use BP 98 octane fuel in the future. Good advice; we went straight to the closest BP and put in Ultra 98. We then headed a few miles south on Highway 1 and back to Dunedin to check the engine condition. Seemed good. But we missed the Balclutha run. And another evenings event at Edgar Centre!
In the afternoon, we walked to the Otago Museum and saw the Butterfly Exhibit, the newly opened Planetarium show, and other great exhibits. A worthwhile visit, with not any driving.
We met Mark and Phillippa Wright for dinner on Thursday evening. Mark was the author of a September 2009 article in New Zealand Classic car magazine on my Frazer Nash and we've stayed in touch. They visited Los Angeles last September and we did some sightseeing together. It was a nice reunion.
To Taieri Gorge
We had booked another train tour, an optional Festival event. It was to Middlemarch through Taieri Gorge. A very comfortable, scenic ride, ending at the Strath Taieri Hotel. The efficient staff in the pub got everyone fed, with beverages, in good time. There was time to walk through a small bit of Middlemarch; I later found there is not much on the main street which is Highway 87.
The return journey was fine. We stopped in Pukerangi to change engines. As I watched the siding, a fellow IFOHM participant explained what would happen. He told me he had just retired from the Auckland railways where he had been responsible for disposing of 140 diesel locomotives after a full conversion to electric engines. This is a link to a 12 minute scenic train ride video
Soon we were passing the Wingatui Racecourse and were in Dunedin. by 4:30. We had decided to leave Dunedin Saturday, which was a full day early and we would miss the run on Rally Day 3 and the final banquet. I had some concerns about a successful drive back to Nelson, so this would allow us to keep on our overall schedule. I had emailed Garry Orton about some of the car issues and he replied if we had serious probmes, there were two locations we could leave the car and he would pick it up after the racing season was complete. Great support!
We invited David and Christine to dinner that evening, which was much fun. I gave David our banquet tickets. The Festival had scheduled a 7 pm Parade through Dunedin and its suburbs - this was not a slow drive I'd care to make with the Frazer Nash. Rather I went to the Octagon when I thought the cars of Parade should pass through, but only two cars a full block away.
We checked out of 97 Motel Moray at 9 am, a day early, but the manager was unconcerned. Nice place, great location. We missed the BP station at the north end of Dunedin because it was on Highway 1 heading south, a one-way street a block away from out route north. A U-turn up the road fixed this and we added about 5 gallons of 98 Ultra. We fueled again in Ashburton about 180 miles north, then continued to outskirts of Christchurch near the airport. Traffic was dense the it was warm. Both the Frazer Nash and its passengers were getting too warm, so we spotted the Airways Motel and checked in. We were given covered parking! We asked about dining spots in walking distance and the Avonhead Tavern was recommended. We made the 1.3 mile trek and had a nice meal at this pub, themed by the nearby race track and horse farms. A "shortcut" back was longer!
On Sunday, we drove north on Highway 1, headed for the coastal route to Kaikoura, just 120 miles away. The last 15 miles before Kaikoura were between the railroad tracks and the beach, twisty and scenic. I regret not mounting and using the GoPro! More fuel in Kaikoura and lunch at a nearby Subway, then off to another BP in Blenheim, about 80 miles through a few hills. Also scenic!
It was almost a familiar road after a turn to Highway 6 to Renwick. I wished we could have stopped at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, where Peter Jackson has the great "Knights of the Sky" exhibit. I was only there once on my way to Nelson five years ago, just two days before the terrible Christchurch earthquake.
We stopped in Havelock and I finally used my new GoPro mount behind the windshield for the entire hilly, twisty route into Nelson and the Waimarie motel. This is a link to the video of the 46 mile drive from Havelock to Nelson - yes, all of it!
We walked from the motel to see the kites, but still did not get close enough for the best view. Our room at the Waimarie had a full kitchen and balcony, so we shopped for food and beverages and dined in several times.
On Monday we drove to see Peter at Victory Racing and we had a good visit to the adjacent WOW/Classic Car museum. In the afternoon we swam laps at the Riverside pool and also used the optional cost whirlpool spa. Very nice!
We went to the New Zealand Classic Motorcycle Museum on Tuesday morning and had a good visit with director John Shand, who remembered us from 2015. Great motorcycles and display. They also have a small library and lounge. It's nice to rest up between walks around the museum. This is a link to the video walk-through of the motorcycle museum.
We drove to Victory Racing (this is a link to that video) just in time to see Guy Griffin arrive, taking a break from their support of a car in the Toyota Financial racing series. Garry was on his way to the North Island with the race car. We had a very enjoyable lunch with Guy, his father Rod and Peter at Speight's Ale House just across the road. It's just a few years old but on our list as a favorite. In the late afternoon, we took an ambitious walk to the Centre of New Zealand via the Maitai River path. Maps state it's less than 1.5 miles, but at least the last half mile is uphill 482 feet to the monument on Botanical Hill. There was some repeats of "how much further?" but the photos show Shannon smiling! We'll soon have a short video to download for the view.
We found Shannon's favorite wine, Spy Valley Pinot Gris, at the same place as last year and had it with dinner. On Wednesday morning we checked out of the Waimarie, drove the Frazer Nash to Victory Racing, took a few pictures, made our farewells and got a short ride to the Nelson Airport for the 10:00 am Jetstar flight to Auckland.
SuperShuttle took us to the Hotel Pullman, where we stayed in 2005 when it was a Hyatt Regency. We liked the indoor/outdoor infinity pool, so we booked there again. Alas, the pool was closed all week for maintenance! Shannon, however, was happy to schedule an afternoon massage at the spa. We walked to the city center, but our "shortcut" back did not work out! While Shannon was in the spa, I went back to the city center to mail a rally souvenir to Hayden Beissel at the Southward museum. My "shortcut" back was less than that, but eventually I was back at the hotel with only modest use of our Samsung tablet GPS!
We had dinner at the Occidental Belgian pub on Vulcan Lane, another favorite from 2005. On our last day, we enjoyed a morning walk in the city center. Then decided trekking downhill from the Pullman hotel with luggage to the Britomart Transport Centre airport shuttle bus was not too bad and arrived at the Auckland airport in the early afternoon. The layover in Tahiti was slightly longer on this return to Los Angeles, but we were on a SuperShuttle towards Burbank by noon on the same day we left, thanks to the International Date Line!
We drove nearly 1,100 miles, nearly all enjoyable and trouble-free. If not for the very slow traffic entering and leaving the Wings and Wheels car show at Taieri Airport, possibly the plugs would not have fouled and there would have been no troubles! The bad weather, missing wiper blade and the rattle under the car kept it from a few events. These are minor issues, but perhaps caution is warranted with a car that is 60+ years old and about 500 miles from "home"!
During previous years of use, the Frazer Nash had problems of balky starting. Victory Racing installed a new distributor cap and a Pertronix electronic ignition module last December and this nagging issue is now cured.
It was a grand adventure and, finances permitting, I'd fly back to New Zealand tomorrow!
The lost GPS? I sent a letter from the Auckland Airport to the Oamaru Police Station and on February 2 received this email from officer Susan Rudduck:
I was in Burbank, so asked that it be sent to Nelson. The Victory Racing guys picked it up and Garry Orton delivered it to me on March 1 when he came to Los Angeles looking for restoration parts. Amazing and it could only happen in New Zealand!
Bob Schmitt - Burbank, California (AND still crazy after all these years...)
The Frazer Nash and its long-time owner and driver at Three-Mile Hill, Dunedin, 2005
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March 18, 2016