Hamilton: It's a classic

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright takes her family on a nostalgic trip back to 50s New Zealand at a vintage car museum in Hamilton.

The Classics Museum in Hamilton transports visitors to a bygone era.
The Classics Museum in Hamilton transports visitors to a bygone era.

You can't miss the Classics Museum on the way into Hamilton: a red vintage car is perched on top of a pole on the building's roof. It signals the labour of love of Hamilton businessman Tom Andrews, whose father Les works at the museum on the weekends and daughter Emily is the museum's manager.

To start the time-travelling experience, there's the Jukebox Diner on the way to the museum's entrance. On the menu are retro milkshakes, burgers and American hotdogs, as well as all-day breakfast foods like eggs benedict. Even the salt and pepper shakers are tiny old-fashioned Coca-Cola bottles.

The museum's 1950s-style diner.
The museum's 1950s-style diner.

In the corner, under the playful eye of a life-sized Elvis holding a blue guitar, is a two-toned dodgem car from the famous Long Beach Pike Amusement Park Zone, started in 1902. The car is typical of the ones made in the mid-50s and children are allowed to climb inside the precious car and relive the dodgem era, which started in the 20s.

There's also a jukebox, a gumball machine and a model of a roller-skating Bettie Boop waitress at the door. The place is packed on a rainy Saturday afternoon and we order Raspberry Fizz creaming sodas and curly fries, which come presented in a silver basket lined with newspaper. The 50s were nothing if not deliciously full-fat.

The museum entrance is filled with nostalgic items such as picnic sets, counter-top jukeboxes, slot machines and colourful 7-inch vinyl records.

By the time we enter the museum we've well and truly turned our back on the modern world.

I'm not a vintage car enthusiast, but once inside, we can't help falling in love with the selection of cars Andrews has chosen. To start, there's a red and white 1958 Isetta Motocoupe and a fawn-coloured 1967 Fiat 500F Bambino, complete with fuzzy dice.

The blown-up photographs on the walls are just as enchanting. There's one featuring a Bambino car parade with beauty queens poking out of the sunroofs, and a delightful image of a Karori school converted into a city block, complete with pedestrian crossings, fences and "buildings" to teach road safety in 1957. Another shows an "egg-and-spoon" race, where cars had to be driven with an egg in a spoon balanced on the bonnet.

As well as the beautiful cars, there are also fairground carousel horses and a selection of framed matchstick cases featuring a 1920 Studebaker and a 1909 Oakland.

Vintage petrol pumps, a selection of old road maps, a replica 1896 roper steam bicycle and a pink and white candy coloured Indian motorcycle are some of the items in a museum packed with curios.

The museum's many displays evoke a sense of nostalgia.
The museum's many displays evoke a sense of nostalgia.

One of our favourites is the pink and white 1958 Nash Metropolitan - the first American car to ever be marketed specifically to women. Fifty-five years later, their marketing still works - on me and my four-year-old daughter, at least.

Inside a little exhibition room, we watch part of a film about car-racing legend Bruce McLaren and his inauspicious beginnings at Auckland's Wilson Home for Crippled Children.

We're told he lay in bed for two years drawing little racing cars, after his dreams of becoming an All Black were shut down. What spirit he had, even as a child.

We leave the museum with plenty to think about, but what sticks most in our minds are the stories each item holds and the heartwarming way the museum gives life to them.

The past seems like a pretty cool place.

PIT STOP

Find them at: 11 Railside Place, Hamilton. Ph (07) 957 2230, Open seven days, 9am-4pm.

Special events: The Petrolhead breakfast (January 5): Join an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast the first Sunday of every month, with a free car display and bands. Look out for drive-in movies planned over summer.

Further information: See classicsmuseum.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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