Diplomacy brings us the pride of UK's car industry

It's not terribly easy to take a diplomatic line when talking about Britain's car industry, in particular when it's the great marques on which the conversation is focused.

Speaking to Britain's senior diplomat in New Zealand, British high commissioner Vicki Treadell, maintaining some sort of diplomacy becomes even more difficult. She is the driving force behind the Great British Car Rally, the renaissance of an event that last ran in New Zealand in 1997.

Treadell speaks with passion and excitement about the likes of Jaguar, Triumph, Range Rover and MG, which (save the mighty Trumpy, of course) are all still alive and well, but ownership is spread from Ratan Tata's Indian empire to some of the newly minted Chinese firms.

A British-made car these days is more likely to be a Nissan Juke out of the highly-successful Sunderland plant, or a Honda or even Vauxhall-badged Holden.


But rest assured, those who own a Jag, whether it's a British-built E-Type or one of Tata's well-made XFs, will still be claiming it as Blighty's best, and rightly so. The cars that built Britain's industry may not be a part of it in the sense of where the parent companies sprang from, but the badges they wear still qualify them for elder statesmen at least.

It is these wide and varied makes, marques and models that Treadell is trying to attract to an ambitious non-competitive event that will run from Auckland to Christchurch, following basically the same route as the original, wandering through the Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa before reaching the capital, crossing the straight and heading to Christchurch via Blenheim and Kaikoura.

"In straightforward terms it's the chance for us to celebrate one of the great connections that we have between Kiwis and Britain, which is a passion for great British cars," Treadell says.

"But it's also - no pun intended - a vehicle for me to remind people what a great car industry we have. It's been through tough times, it's evolved and we now have a lot of foreign parentage, but our automotive sector is resurgent and is perhaps stronger than it has been for any number of decades.

"If you look at the export stats including brands like Toyota and Nissan that are manufactured in the UK, two new Nissans are wholly designed, engineered and manufactured in the UK, the Juke and the Qashqai.

"That is the story of the modern British car industry and I get mightily annoyed when people say 'there are no British cars'. We're in a globalised world, and we still make fabulous cars."

Having worked in Mumbai as deputy high commissioner during the sale of Land Rover and Jaguar to the Tata group by American-owned Ford, Treadell has a solid understanding of the internationalisation of the car industry.

There were two players in the purchase, Ratan Tata and the Mahindra & Mahindra company - and the British Government's role in the sale was far deeper than many would expect.

"What are the plans, what are the intentions - from a government perspective we wanted to know that they intended to run a British brand. Our interest is to make sure that our best companies continue to thrive and grow. We were interested to know what their expansion plans were, what their level of ambition actually was - we don't worry about foreign ownership, and Britain really Blighty's best hasn't been concerned about foreign investment in the past 30 years as we've seen the benefits of it."

"When Nissan was looking at moving to Britain, it was encouraged and welcomed: 'Come and make your cars here.'

"We have a proud history and heritage but we now also have a contemporary car industry.

"We may not make Triumphs in Britain any more, but we make Nissans."

Registration for the rally is filling up fast, and while it's probably the ultimate chance for British car tragics to compare notes and machinery, it's also benefiting a solid group of charities across the country, including the Stepping Stone Trust, the Christchurch City Mission, Save the Children and the Starship Foundation.

At each stop on the rally route (below) there will be interesting events to give locals a chance to get a good look at the cars that most of us grew up with which are become far rarer sights as they get old and harder to maintain - or in many cases too valuable to risk on such an ambitious trip.

Whether you don't think a Jag's the real deal unless it was made in 1970s Britain and leaks oil like the Beehive leaks self-serving propaganda, or you think your Nissan Qashqai represents Britain with more finesse than anything that was lovingly assembled under British Leyland's roof, or even if you'd just like to see the impressive collection of machines from Austin Healeys to Aston Martin Zagondas, the resurrected Great British Rally is shaping up to be a fantastic event.

*For more information go to http://tinyurl.com/c32wart.

Buckle in for the Great British Rally
Saturday February 16

The event starts on Sunday 17, but participants can pick up their rally pack and enjoy a cup of tea at Twinings in East Tamaki between 12-3pm.

Sunday February 17

Auckland City Council hosts an event at the Domain before the rally is waved off to Tauranga by Mayor Len Brown. The cars will park up on Tauranga's Strand so locals can
have a look the hydroplane racing finishes around the same time, so there'll be plenty to see and do.

Monday 18 February

Leaves Tauranga, stopping in Whakatane before hitting Gisborne.

Tuesday 19 February

After leaving Gisborne, the rally heads off to the art deco capital of Napier, where participants and locals can enjoy a wine while checking out the British steel.

Wednesday 20 February

There'll be no breakfast beer, but the rally briefing will be held at the Tui Brewery at Mangatainoka. The Masterton District Council is organising a British themed carnival
to farewell the cars as they head to Wellington and an evening reception at Parliament.

Thursday 21 February

Parking on Queens Wharf by Museum Wellington, there's a chance for public servants and private sector workers alike to take a late start and check out the cars while a BBQ breakfast is cooked up on the wharf. Those going the whole hog will travel over the Cook Strait and meet up with mainlanders who didn't want to take their toys overseas. Everyone will then head to Blenheim and those who are quick enough will enjoy a limited-
seating dinner at Alan Scott winery

Friday 22 February

Breakfast at the Drylands winery in Blenheim will welcome the Southern rally bods before heading to Christchurch via a lunch in Kaikoura. Crayfish, anyone? A dinner is to be held at Riccarton Park for participants.

Saturday 23 February

A civic event hosted by Christchurch City Council will kick off with a convoy through town, followed by another BBQ and a party to celebrate the conclusion of the Great British Rally 2013.