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THE ROLLS-ROYCE FACTOR

19/01/2024

Allan Dick goes to the end of SH1 near Bluff, to meet up with a bunch of Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners, then travels with them to Dunedin.

Words and Photos: ALLAN DICK

Keith Hunter was a young fellow when he arrived in Dunedin to begin studying at Otago Dental School. Born in Wellsford north of Auckland, he was to make Dunedin his home for the next 30 years. The journey from Wellsford to Dunedin was accomplished with a considerable degree of discomfort, and a distinct lack of speed, aboard a Vespa!

Today he could make that same journey with more pace and in a much greater degree of comfort. He’s got a large collection of cars, but the one I’m interested in is a 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III.
It’s not just your garden variety Silver Cloud III, but one with a special, styled and hand-crafted body by James Young Ltd. Founded in 1863, James Young went the way of the other great independent British coachbuilders, like Mulliners, and produced their last body, a Rolls-Royce Phantom, in 1968. Keith’s Silver Cloud one of just 19, 20, or 21 James Young Silver Cloud IIIs that were built — the number varies on where you look and to whom you listen.

I meet Keith along with a small group of Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners at Stirling Point, which is the southern end of SH1 just past Bluff town. There’s a very famous signpost here that people come to stand beside and have their photograph taken!

This is the start of the South Island leg of a Rolls-Royce and Bentley journey to Masterton to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rolls-Royce and Bentley Owners’ Club. The North Island participants are somewhere on that other island north of Cook Strait and they’re all to meet in Masterton.

There is some tension in the air. Not about the weather. Not about the potholes on SH1. Not about the “Cost of Living Crisis”. Not about the price of fuel. Certainly not about exhaust emissions. N0, the concern is if the ferries will be sailing …

An Invitation and a Spanner in the Works

Organisation for the South Island leg was being looked after by Murray Hawkes, a retired geologist who seems to have spent much of his working life in the Yemen but is now “on a farm” in the Central South Island.

I’m here because Murray initially asked if I could be the after-dinner speaker at the Dunedin stopover at the end of their first day on the road. Dinner at the awfully prestigious Dunedin Club talking to Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners sounded like something too good to miss. And I had heard that the Club’s three-stand men’s urinal was the largest single piece of marble in New Zealand when installed circa 1874 — and that had to be worth a look.

Then Murray sweetened the meal. If I could get to Invercargill, I could travel with him in his 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom to Dunedin.

Now I’ve been involved with cars for a long, long time, but not too many of them have been either Rolls-Royces, or Bentleys.

So, the Dick family plotted a motorhome trip from home in Oamaru, spending four or five days on the good roads of Southland and dropping me off at the appointed time of 10am at Stirling Point. My wife would drive the Hilton-on-Wheels while I would be wafted along with Murray.

Then … an email from Murray two days before the planned rendezvous! The Phantom had developed a noisy clutch thrust and it had been replaced by his 1981 Bentley Turbo R.
And this in itself is remarkable.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of rural Ashburton is Bruce McIlroy’s establishment — a modern workshop set in idyllic surroundings where Rolls-Royces and Bentleys from around the world receive the best automotive medical care imaginable. Murray and his cars are clients of Bruce.

Murray rang Bruce for advice — “Noisy thrust bearing, should I risk it?” The answer was no. Instead, Bruce would get his flatbed truck, go to Murray’s house, pick up the Bentley Turbo R, load it, drive to Invercargill and take the Rolls back to be attended to.

That is what you call service. But get to meet Bruce and you understand that’s what he would do.
So, we arrive at Stirling Point. Maybe ten or so Rolls-Royces and Bentleys are all parked nicely, drivers and passengers chatting, watched by a large crowd. Of course, there would be a crowd. If they had been Fords or Vauxhalls, there wouldn’t have been. But these were the “Best Cars in The World”. Cars that are fabled. Cars that are legend. Cars that elevate you to another level of society.
Time to take a break and look at the Rolls-Royce image.

Continue reading in our January/February 2024 issue of NZ Classic Driver - out now!

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