Colin Giltrap reckons buying an apartment in London's Belgravia might well be one of the best business decisions he has made.
But surprisingly he reveals that buying a now-vacant property in Great North Rd was one of his worst.
It's unusual for him to say that, considering how well property has treated him over the years. He's referring to a boarded-up site between CCTV Trade and Giltrap City Toyota.
Hectares of land on both sides enabled him to create an entire luxury car dealership precinct at the top end of Ponsonby Rd and also to expand, which is why the usually publicity-shy dealer agreed to speak this week.
His contribution to the new Giltrap Audi Terminal at 150 Great North Rd was $20 million, land plus development, to create the futuristic aluminium/glass facade structure.
Built to strict German design criteria, it started operating this week.
The site at 150 Great North Rd was the first commercial property Giltrap bought when he shifted to Auckland and the site of dealership NSU where Audi was first sold from.
The property development is the largest investment Giltrap has made in New Zealand and is, he says, his confidence vote in the luxury car market and the country.
"The indications are that everything is going to work as the Germans say it should and it's the latest, greatest equipment in the workshop. Computerisation to service cars is changing so rapidly."
In 2001, he developed Giltrap Prestige, on the Great North Rd/Nixon St corner. Audi has been sold from that showroom floor, with Porsche and Volkswagen, since the six-level building went up.
Giltrap's offices are on the top level. "It works really, really well even though we designed it ourselves. We thought we were way over the top at the time but it wasn't the case after a couple of years," he says of the 10,000sq m-plus property which has vast underground storage and service areas and the neighbouring European Motor Distributors wholesale business.
Reception's centrepiece on level six is Gretchen Albrecht's Gains and Losses, the acrylic on canvas hanging not far from NZL60's helm, outside the door of Giltrap's office, which is adorned with Formula 1 photographs and helmets of motor racers Chris Amon and Scott Dixon.
The new Giltrap Audi building is a gear-shifter for the business. "It means that the Audi owner is going to get absolutely dedicated service. With the volume increase expected in the next four or five years, the time is pretty right. Audi is growing quicker than any of the other European brands."
In a recession-defying trend, he says all Audi models are selling well.
The Motor Industry Association confirms this, saying Audi secured its position as market leader for the fourth year in a row, with a record 28 per cent share of the luxury market last year. Sales volumes increased 23 per cent.
In New Zealand, 1300 Audis are sold annually, compared to about one million internationally. Giltrap predicts his business will be selling 2000 Audi vehicles in five years - "hopefully quicker".
The strong kiwi dollar has supported luxury vehicle sales, strengthening the hand of importers like Giltrap.
"It certainly helps. The Germans get most of the gain because they sell us in equivalent of kiwi dollars," he says of the Audi imports. "But with Bentley and Lamborghini, you get them in euros or pounds and it does mean we have been able to drop the prices by up to $50,000 - although they are lower-volume cars."
Educated at New Plymouth Boys High School, the man said to be Britain's fourth most powerful car dealer is a fast-talking Kiwi joker with a quick wit. He began in the car business in the 1960s, selling luxury American vehicles like Mustangs and Firebirds at Monaco Motors in Hamilton, gradually expanding via Matamata Motors, a Holden dealership, then the move to Auckland, followed by entering Britain.
He built Giltrap Prestige on the old Auckland vehicle testing station site and set a record in April last year when he paid $5.5 million for his Mt Maunganui apartment.
Worldwide, more than 300 Audi Terminal buildings will be developed but Giltrap says his next project is refurbishing Giltrap Prestige, creating a small dedicated Lamborghini showroom.
"That's the immediate thing, it's less than $1 million. It was time for Audi to move on, it was too cramped."
Across Great North Rd, his Giltrap City Toyota is being refurbished and in May last year, he developed and opened the new Lexus of Auckland City, a building originally planned to be much larger for an Epsom site but scaled back and brought into the fold across the road from Giltrap Prestige.
The Audi Terminal, spanning an entire block and bordered by four streets, has storage for 80 vehicles, 12 service bays, two glass delivery suites, expansive showroom, racetrack control tower and curved walls to reflect racing tracks.
Warren Gibb, Giltrap Group's general manager of property, is proud of windows that flood the subterranean service area with natural light, the clean tiled floor flanked by a spare parts room and computerised systems that allow brake and shock absorber conditions to be diagnosed simply by driving on to digital reader pads.
"A lot of people think we're pretty ballsy for doing this," he said.
Giltrap predicts the vehicles we drive will change significantly, including new cars with close to zero carbon emissions, built of even lighter weight aluminium. But the hybrid car resale market is yet to be established and diesel is where he sees the future.
Giltrap says he's travelling less these days. So for his next move after the Audi Terminal project? "Take a breather for a year or two."
Colin John Giltrap
Chairman of Giltrap Group
* Drives Porsche Panamera and Porsche Carrera
* Married to Jenni, who drives a Porsche Cayenne
* Sons Richard and Michael are joint managing directors
* $300 million wealth estimate on NBR's Rich List
* Lives in Lighter Quay penthouse
* Has apartments in London and Mt Maunganui
* NZ team founder/owner A1 Grand Prix World Cup of Motorsport
* He and Jenni support Starship Foundation, Breast Cancer Foundation, Child Cancer Foundation and Kidz First Children's Hospital
NZ retail dealerships
* Giltrap Prestige: Sells Bentley, Volkswagen, Porsche
* Independent Prestige: Sells Lamborghini, Aston Martin
* Giltrap Audi Terminal: Selling Audi
* Giltrap City Toyota: Sells Toyota and Daihatsu
* Lexus of Auckland City: Exclusive dealership
* Giltrap Holden North Shore: Sells Holden and Kia
* Schofields of Newmarket: Sells Holden, HSV, Nissan and Skoda
* Giltrap City Toyota, Mt Wellington: Exclusive dealership
* Schofields of Botany: Sells Holden, HSV and Nissan
* European Motor Distributors: Sells Audi, Volkswagon, Porsche, Skoda.
* HR Owen - business listed on the London Stock Exchange
* Colin Giltrap has been a big shareholder and a former director
* The business sells Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Rolls-Royce, Bugatti, BMW.