Period cars have been a feature of the festival from the beginning, and the Hawkes Bay Vintage Car Club team that organises the cars for the parades gathered together 30 of the best pre-War cars in New Zealand for this year’s festival, under the by-line of ‘Simply the Best’.The first Art Deco Festival involved about eight vintage cars and the weather was appalling. The parade went ahead as planned but the picnic to follow was abandoned. Fortunately, the weather has generally smiled on the event since then, and the festival has become a major national occasion.
Steve Trott and Steve Donovan are stalwarts of the Vintage Car Club. Steve Trott called on his huge network of friends and contacts in the vintage movement around New Zealand to get 30 special cars together, while Steve Donovan did a lot of the background work. Many others were involved as well, to ensure the event was a success.
With the Warbirds and Wheels’ Duesenberg and Garth and Andrea Hogan’s 1934 Lincoln V12 Dietrich from Wanaka; the 1895 Benz Velo, 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport Zagato and ex-Marlene Dietrich 1934 Cadillac V16 Town Cabriolet from Southwards; two Bugattis, Garry and Alison Boyce’s sublime 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B, the WOW Museum’s 1930 Cadillac Fleetwood V16, the ex-Amelia Earhart Packard Coupe, Auburns, a Cord, a 1908 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and much more, ‘Simply the Best’ was an apt title.
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Art Deco Rally
A veteran and vintage car rally was part of the festival, and filled the three days leading up to the main day, with the first two days being for the 30 Simply the Best (STB 30) cars. Entrants’ rally packs included a nicely presented STB 30 book, with a photo and details of each of the 30 cars. They were personalised with the entrant’s car on the cover of their copy. The rally started at the impressive Euro City showroom, as the company was the main sponsor of the rally. The Southward Benz Velo was on display in the showroom beside a new Audi R8, which made an interesting comparison.
A brief ride through Napier took us to the Nelson Street School, where the teachers and students had really taken the Art Deco theme to heart with everyone dressed in period, and after a good look at the cars and chats to the owners, the teachers and students performed a well-rehearsed 1920s dance for us before we said our farewells and headed for Neville Smith’s shed, a term that barely does justice to the size of the building and the treasures within.
Not all of the cars belong to Neville, as he stores a couple for other people, including an Auburn boat-tail Speedster. I was particularly taken with Neville’s 1936 Buick Series 80 Convertible, which was also one of the STB 30 cars. Cars were just part of the attraction; there were also old petrol pumps, signs and a room full of vintage radios. From there we moved on to the Mission Estate winery for a first-class lunch in beautiful surroundings.
I’d spent the morning in the dickey seat of Doug and Barbara Bixleys’ lovely two-tone green 1930 Studebaker President Roadster, and Murray and Kay Hislop very kindly returned me to Euro City in the Southward Museum Cadillac V16. Murray is one of the Southward trustees, and he was given the privilege and responsibility of looking after the Cadillac for the event, as well as driving it from Paraparaumu to Napier and returning it safely.
This was my second ride in the car, and I made sure to travel in the back like a celebrity. Fortunately no one who saw us on the road knew the truth! Our next stop was at Steve Trott’s shed, where we viewed another impressive collection. Steve’s 1941 Cadillac Convertible, 1935 Auburn Supercharged Phaeton and 1936 Packard 120B Convertible Coupe were on display, and almost every square centimetre of wall space was covered in signs, car badge collections and other interesting memorabilia.
The final stop for the day was at the Faraday Centre, a fascinating museum, and then it was time to freshen up for an excellent dinner at the HBVCC rooms, catered by club members.
Some days are just special, and the Thursday was one of those days for me, a day to remember and savour. The STB 30 cars were on display at the Soundshell on the Marine Parade, and when it was time to leave I was to be a passenger in the 1934 Bugatti Gangloff driven by David Brock-Jest. Not only was it not his car, but he’s never met the owner, Steve Lockwood, who was keen to accept the invitation to be part of the STB 30 but was unable to attend. He asked Steve Trott to find someone who could be trusted to drive the car, and the only person Steve could think of was David, currently the owner of a Bugatti and some other special cars.
As David said to me, “Who would lend their car to a racing driver?” I can assure Steve Lockwood that the car was treated with respect and was in good hands. One of David’s cars was in the STB 30 group – his spectacular 1938 Lagonda V12 Le Mans piloted by his good friends Martin (Monte) Males and Tracy Barnett, who travelled from England especially for the Art Deco Festival.
After a brief drive around the city the route took us across to Clive and into the hills behind Havelock North, through the beautiful Tukituki Valley. At one point there was a straight section of road with a row of trees along each side that could have been planes or elms, and David commented that we could have been somewhere in France. Right then I was having a ‘Pinch me, is this really happening?’ moment. Was I really riding in a Bugatti on this beautiful piece of road?
A short display stop in Havelock North was followed by a quick burst in the Lagonda’s passenger seat to Off the Track, our lunch stop, where we enjoyed good food in a lovely relaxed setting. For me, lunch was followed by the chance to drive Neville Digby’s 1904 Baker Electric Carriage. There were a couple of important things to remember, but I was surprised how easy it was to drive, and even more surprised to learn it has five forward speeds and two reverse.
The day was rounded off with a ride back to Napier in Neville Smith’s lovely 1936 Buick Series 80 (Roadmaster) Convertible, driven by fellow Buick owner, Kevin Marsh, and later a relaxing dinner at Shed 2 on the waterfront.
Friday saw the STB 30 cars joined by many other veteran and vintage cars, and there were two routes to the same lunch destination: a short run of 35km for the older cars and twice that for the newer and/or faster cars. Once again I was in the Southward Cadillac, but this time in the front seat as navigator for Murray. The route took us through some beautiful country in the direction of Taihape, until we turned off to historic Matapiro Station, which was once a farm of well over 20,000 acres and has a suitably grand and beautiful homestead. Lunch was a BYO picnic in the homestead grounds under much-needed shade as the temperature was around 30 degrees.
From there entrants made their way at their leisure back to town to get ready for the evening’s entertainment at the Pan Pac Foyer, part of the Municipal Theatre. The entertainment was a presentation from the Southward Car Museum, music and dancing acts and a ladies’ fashion show. All but one or two people were dressed in full 1920s and 1930s fashions, and everyone looked stunning. The event wound up at about 7.30pm, which gave people plenty of time to soak up the wonderful atmosphere in the centre of town, where streets were closed to modern traffic, there were street performers, and hundreds of people dressed for the occasion. Everyone was in a festival mood, and extra entertainment was provided by aerobatic displays and dozens of vintage cars parked in the streets.
Saturday was the Big Day – the parade and festival in the streets. For the veteran and vintage car entrants, including the STB 30, the day started with a relaxed morning tea and prizegiving at the Vintage Car Club premises on Sandy Road. Prizes were awarded for best dressed people, and the two car-related awards were the Sponsor’s Choice, to a 1941 Packard Roadster, and the Entrants’ Choice, which went to Garry and Alison Boyce’s beautiful Alfa Romeo 6C. Part of their prize was an impressive trophy donated by the Southward family.
Then it was time for me to head into town, claim one of a fast-diminishing number of car parks and wait for the parade. The crowd built up steadily over the next two hours, and it was nice to while away some time talking to an Englishman wearing a Vincent T-shirt, who was here on a holiday timed to include the Art Deco Festival. We were off the main parade route because the crowds along the way meant photos would have been impossible, but almost all of the entrants passed our Marine Parade vantage point, and what a magnificent display it was.
The cars ranged from tiny Austin Sevens to the ex-Marlene Dietrich Cadillac V16, which was the lead car, and everything in between – Alvis, Auburn, Austin, Bentley, Bugatti, Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Cord, De Soto, Doble, Dodge, Duesenberg, Essex, FN, Ford, Hupmobile, Lincoln, MG, Morris, Oldsmobile, Packard, Plymouth, Pontiac, Riley, Rolls-Royce, Squire, Studebaker and Vauxhall.
The Vintage Car Club includes a selection of veteran cars in the parade, and 23 were entered this year, a number they hope to beat in the future. Some I knew, like the American La France tourer (Mr Toad), the Southward Benz Velo, a Locomobile steamer, ‘curved dash’ Oldsmobile, and Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts, but there were quite a few I couldn’t identify, and I’d never heard of GWK, Jackson Dog Cart or Napoleon.
Every person in the cars was dressed in period costume, apart from a few armed forces personnel whose uniforms didn’t look out of place, and probably more than half of the watching crowd was also theme-dressed. The whole thing had a unique and almost magical air of pomp and formality combined with a family carnival atmosphere. It was both a thrill and privilege to be part of it.
Once the parade was over and the cars and motorcycles were parked, the crowds converged on the cafés, bars and specialty shops, and Napier has an abundance of all of these. Again, there were street performers providing free entertainment for those who weren’t seeking shelter from the 32-degree heat.
Back on Marine Parade, a few entrants were providing veteran and vintage car rides in exchange for a donation to the Hawkes Bay Vintage Car Club as a fund raiser, so this time I took a couple of rides as a donating passenger, and in each case it was the best money’s worth I’ve had in a long time. Dennis Lowe took me for a circuit in his 1903 ‘curved dash’ Oldsmobile, with its 1563cc single-cylinder engine chugging away beneath us at about 150–200rpm. My next ride was with the lovely Joelene Simpkin in a 1920 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, one of several Ghosts she and her husband Nyall own.
All good things must come to an end, apparently, and so, for me, the 30Tth Art Deco Festival wound up late on the Saturday afternoon. Although there would be the Great Gatsby Picnic and more vintage car rides on the Sunday, it was time for me to leave what one entrant accurately described as “some kind of ’20s and ’30s fairy land”, and return to real life.
During a brief chat, the very busy young Festival Director Glen Pickering said there were an estimated 40,000 people in town for the day, and he commented that yet another highly successful Art Deco Festival was down to team work, by his people, the Vintage Car Club, the Napier City Council and everyone else involved. They all worked together to produce a magnificent event, and I thank Steve Trott for inviting me to be part of it, and the car owners for being so welcoming and generous.
The festival is clearly addictive, as many people attend year after year, and it’s easy to see why. It was my first, and I may well become one of its dedicated followers.
Simply the Best? Definitely!