The history of the universe is a pretty big job, so we set our sights a little lower, with the history of a Galaxie located in a place not so far away.
Words: Gordon Campbell
Josie and Neil Guy of Huntly bought their gleaming black 1960 Ford Galaxie hardtop sedan in 2006. They didn’t know a lot about its history and there was a suggestion that, being black, right-hand drive and New Zealand-new, it may have been a Public Service car.
Several years later, through the car’s previous owner they discovered the original ownership papers and learned that its first owner was Robert James Clegg of Sandringham in Auckland. Neil did a Google search and found a Robert James Clegg in Wellington. He wrote to him and received a reply that Mr Clegg was very surprised to learn there was someone in New Zealand with exactly the same name as him, and that he was a Holden man and wouldn’t be seen dead in a Ford. Slightly taken aback, Neil knew that he’d reached the end of that path of discovery.
Several years later, a chance meeting with John Stokes, NZ Classic Driver contributor and author of Ford in New Zealand Volumes I and II, rekindled Neil’s interest. Another Google search produced a death notice for a Robert James (Jim) Clegg. At Stokes’ suggestion, Neil contacted the listed funeral director and soon received a response from Suzanne, one of Jim Clegg’s two daughters, who lives in Whangamata and who wondered whether Josie and Neil had ever been to the Beach Hop Rock ’n’ Roll Festival. As it happens, Neil has owned a hot-rodded Ford ‘Jailbar’ pickup for more than 40 years, and he and Josie have hardly ever missed a Beach Hop, as well as being long-time members of Howick-based Southside Streeters Inc. It was agreed that Suzanne, her sister Caroline, Josie and Neil would meet during Beach Hop 2023.
Jim Clegg passed away in August 2020 at the age of 98, having lived a less than ordinary life. Keeping a happy family became a financial struggle during the Great Depression of the early 1930s and, as noted in his eulogy, Jim’s school days were peppered with truancy, mischief and the strap. That ended when, at the age of 13, he started work to help support the family, initially as a luggage handler at the Port of Auckland. He never forgot the first time he was able to buy a ham sandwich for lunch on pay day. A succession of jobs followed – radio assembler, grocer’s assistant, car battery specialist, wharf porter, finally joining the Post & Telegraph Department as a telegram boy, postman and Morse telegraphist.
At the start of World War Two he enlisted in the Army and was posted to the Signals Corps in the Bay of Islands. He transferred to the RNZAF and a posting to Harewood in Christchurch saw his life take a new turn. A stint at the Electrical and Wireless School in Christchurch resulted in a ‘First in Class’ award. After graduation, he was posted to the RNZAF station at Ardmore, and then to the New Hebrides as a radio mechanic with the No 5 Catalina Flying Boat Squadron in the Pacific.
After the war Jim worked at Newmarket Post Office as a Morse telegraphist, a technician at radio station 1YA, gained a certificate in Radio Broadcasting Technology, and enrolled at Auckland University in Science – a late starter at the age of 24. During the university years, he also worked as a technician at the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, and a scientist at Fisher & Paykel’s lab.
After graduation with a M.Sc. (Honours) degree in Physics, again First in Class, Jim was off to London to a job in the British General Electric Company research laboratories. In 1954 he moved to Canada and spent three years with Westinghouse followed by a period with RCA in Montreal. He was involved in computer solutions for air-to-air missiles, and the Official Secrets Act meant he was never allowed to talk about it. It really was rocket science!
Jim travelled extensively in America whilst living in Canada, including travelling at least some of Route 66. He returned to New Zealand, where he found all his friends had moved on and there was no work for him. Disillusioned, he returned to Canada, where he met Teresa (Terry), an Irish girl who’d also moved to Canada for a better life. They married in 1959. With Jim’s father having died a year earlier, it was time to consider moving home.
A lecturing job at Auckland University brought the newlyweds back to New Zealand. Prior to returning to our shores, Jim purchased a new Ford Galaxie despite his daughters saying he wasn’t really a car person, so his reason for choosing the pillarless Galaxie, rather than something less glamorous, remains a mystery. It’s possible he had in mind that it would be a good seller back in New Zealand, although he kept it for seven years, so it probably wasn’t seen as an investment. Suzanne and Caroline think that, after an upbringing of privation, Jim found himself better off and finally able to treat himself to a really nice car. Whatever his reasoning, they know the purchase would have been thoroughly researched beforehand, as that’s what Jim always did. As Suzanne commented, even spontaneity was carefully planned.
At that time, the Galaxie was painted Corinthian white, with red upholstery. It had a 5,768cc (352ci) FE V8 and a Cruise-O-Matic transmission. Jim ordered his new car in right-hand drive, which means it was built in Canada, in this case at the Oakville, Ontario plant.
Jim and Terry used the Galaxie to tour some of America before it was shipped to New Zealand, where it arrived and was registered in August 1960. It became the family car, although a pretty spectacular one compared to the Austins, Vauxhalls, small Fords and other more mundane family transport of the day. When it was out and about it in Auckland traffic it must’ve seemed a bit like a luxury yacht gliding through a gaggle of slow fizz boats.
Suzanne and Caroline were born in Auckland and Suzanne’s first contact with the Galaxie was when she was brought home from the maternity hospital in it, probably on her mother’s lap in the front seat. Her later contacts with the car were less happy – she used to get very car sick and to this day cannot stand red upholstery of any kind as she associates it with nausea.
University life led Jim overseas on several occasions and much of his research centred around thunderstorms and wind power. The family also enjoyed these trips, Antarctica being the exception, fuelling a lasting love of travel. On one occasion he took the family to Iran because he wanted to go skiing and he’d heard the skiing was good there. Again, it was a decision the family couldn’t really fathom.
The Galaxie was sold in April 1967 and replaced with a station wagon that also had red upholstery, much to Suzanne’s discomfort. The Galaxie remained in the Auckland area where it passed through the hands of five more owners before the old-style ownership papers were phased out and its history became simply a list of change of ownership dates and mileages.
With two young daughters, outings on hot rod runs or to other car events in the Jailbar pickup were no longer an option for the Guy family, so something with more seats was needed. Neil knew that Kelly, a fellow Southside Streeters member who had reupholstered the Jailbar, was importing cars from America, so he asked him to look for a Ford Galaxie or something similar. Kelly said he didn’t know of anything at present and then, surprisingly, rang a week later to say that his brother, Brad, was thinking about selling his 1960 Galaxie. Kelly emailed some photos and the car looked great.
The Ford was in Howick, not far to go to inspect it, and after checking it out a deal was done. There was one condition – Brad had already entered the Beach Hop and wanted to use the car for that event before handing it over. That was fine, except that, after the Beach Hop, he started having second thoughts about selling. However, the deal was eventually completed, and in 2006, Josie became the proud but slightly nervous registered owner of a car that was much bigger than she was used to driving, with no power steering. Many years later, she feels just about as confident in the Galaxie as she does in her modern Ford Focus.
When Josie and Neil purchased the Galaxie it still had its original running gear and wheels, but not the original hubcaps. They drove it like that for a while until the hot rodder in Neil felt that some improvements were needed. The 352ci engine was removed to make room for a rebuilt and slightly modified 390 FE (6,391cc) V8. The suspension had already been lowered and previous owners had fitted rear ‘fender skirts’ to enhance the car’s long and low appearance. Neil added a set of 17-inch American Racing wheels, as the standard 14-inch rims would not allow for the fitment of larger disc brakes.
The car was bought to be used, and it has been. There have been the many annual trips to Beach Hop since 2007, as well as to the Masterton Motorplex Dragstrip and Surf City Rod Run in Gisborne to name a few other events. In January 2022, Josie and Neil drove to Muscle Car Madness in Rangiora, then picked up two friends in Christchurch for a tour of the bottom of the South Island. The Galaxie performed faultlessly the whole way, and of course there was plenty of room for the four people and their luggage. As you would expect, the car attracted attention wherever they stopped.
The first meeting with Suzanne during the Beach Hop had its emotional moments, not so much because of the car, but for the memories it rekindled. Jim’s great granddaughter, Lizzie Rose sat in the car, happily grasping the big white steering wheel, just as Suzanne had done when she was two years old. While Suzanne had some memories of the car, Caroline was too young at the time, but she was very moved to sit in her parents’ car so many years later, imagining the happy times they would have had with it in their younger years.
Josie and Neil have attended nearly 20 Beach Hops and enjoyed every one, but there’s no doubt that Beach Hop 2023 was especially memorable for them. It had been arranged that Suzanne and Caroline would join them in the Galaxie for the Grand Parade on the Saturday. Travelling in the parade in their father’s car was a special experience for the sisters. It was Caroline’s first Beach Hop, and it gave Suzanne a different view of the event. She and her husband were keen members of the Coastal Rockers Rock ‘n’ Roll Club and had danced at some previous Beach Hops, where she may have seen the car, although she had no way of knowing it was the Ford Galaxie she’d travelled in so many times as a child.
The circle hasn’t been completely closed. Like so many historical artefacts, there are some gaps in the Galaxie’s history, and we don’t know who had it repainted black, although it clearly happened a long time ago. But more than half of its past is known, from 1960 in Canada to 1979 in New Zealand when the last entry with the owner’s details was added to the ownership paper, and from 2005 when Brad acquired it, until now.
As Josie and Neil aren’t sellers and their two now adult daughters are both very keen on the Galaxie and the Jailbar, it’s going to be a long time before there’s another entry on the Galaxie’s ownership records, unless it’s transferred to one of the girls. Most of its history is known, and its future is assured.