Parked next to a storage shed housing the jet-powered car Dean Hart built from scratch over 12 years, in which he broke the New Zealand land speed record last year, reaching a top speed of 458km/h, was a 20-year-old Honda Insight, one of the oddest-looking and least flashy cars ever made. When the Insight first hit the market in 2000, as one of the world's first hybrid cars, it cost $60,000 and hardly sold. Hart estimates there are only about 20 in the country. When one came up for sale a few years ago for $5000, he jumped at it.
We weren't there to talk about the Insight; we were there to talk about Hart's incredible record-breaking effort in a freakish car he built with scrounged parts - a Sodastream bottle he got in exchange for a box of Double Brown, for instance - and drove wearing cut-price fireproof undies formerly the property of reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato. But when I asked him about the Honda Insight, it was like the car he'd devoted so much of his adult life to building had entirely disappeared.
He said: "You look at this car and go, 'It's a stupid little hybrid', but come round and I'll show you."
He showed me all right. First, he tapped at the doors as we walked: "So the whole thing's aluminium, super lightweight panels. It weighs nothing. It's like a 900-kilo car. Feel the weight of the bonnet! It weighs nothing! So that kind of stuff, to me, it's like, that's rad." He went on, talking me through the clever design of the exhaust manifold, the intelligent use of plastics. He even took a brief explanatory detour into the engine design of the Insight's hybrid competitor, the Toyota Prius.
"The guys on Top Gear will rip out a Toyota Prius," he said. "Like, 'Oh, it's slow! Blah blah blah', whereas I look at it and go, 'Have you seen the gearbox in a Toyota Prius?'"
Returning to the Insight, he told me about the brilliant engineering behind its magnesium sumps, its .25 drag coefficient, the fancy coatings on the piston skirts and many other things I didn't understand.
"That stuff, to me, that's cool, man. That's cool engineering. But people just go, 'I want a fast car, I don't care.' Whereas I appreciate nuts and bolts."
Having said that, he did spend 12 years building - by some distance - the country's fastest car.
For seven years Hart's journey towards his goal of the New Zealand land speed record was filmed by documentary-maker Wayne Johnson, and next week the resulting movie, Trash 2 Dash, will appear in cinemas around the country.
Johnson first met Hart while working on another documentary about a man who attempted to build and fly a replica of Richard Pearse's famous aircraft. (It failed when a wing fell off.)
Of Hart, Johnson says: "He came up to me to say g'day. We were standing there and he said, 'I've got this project you might be interested in.' I said, 'What are you doing?' He said 'I'm building a jet car.'
"I could feel my eyes tightening and I said, 'You what?' He said 'I'm putting a jet engine into an old top fuel drag car.' I just went, 'Really?' Like, 'Are you crazy?'"
Hart took him into the garage, where what then existed of the car was parked diagonally in order to fit its tremendous length. "Holy s***," Johnson thought, "This guy's for real."
The story Johnson tells in the movie is of Hart's incredible persistence in pursuit of a goal, facing a stream of hurdles, setbacks and major life moments, including the birth of Hart's first child, Harry, in 2019. When Hart starting building the car, he was 28 and figured he would be finished by his 30th birthday. As it turned out, he wasn't even done by the time of his 40th.
He's in the Air Force and has been for 21 years, his entire working life, where his career has been spent mostly working on avionics - the electronic systems of aircraft.
He's always been interested in cars and used to race street cars on the drag strip at Meremere. He had the idea he'd like to build a dragster but wasn't sure what kind of engine to put in it. Although he'd once seen a jet-powered dragster racing, when it was brought here by an American racer, he thought to himself: "Nah, that's the same s*** we do at work. I don't really care."
But 12 years ago, when he was sitting on a plane, about to come home from an Air Force posting to Scotland, as he listened to the engines starting up, he was hit by a moment of clarity.
"At the time, I was thinking about the dragster as well. I was like, 'f***in' jet dragster! Why do we not?' This was easy now. It was like this was all going to be hard and expensive for the engine and stuff like that, and then it was like, 'Hang on - this is the game-changer. We know the engines, we know everything about what to do.'"
He was helped in the building of the car by a team of engineering colleagues from the air force. When asked whether he paid them, he says: "Nah, nah. We just do it for fun, man."
On one particularly time-critical weekend, he moved them into an aircraft hangar on a Friday night, got three of them welding at any one time, and within 48 hours they'd built a new trailer to transport the dragster. " I think I spent about $300 on beer," he says.
If you're buying it out of a catalogue, Hart says, a 2000hp race engine, of the type used by many of his land speed record-chasing competitors, costs about $100,000. Hart got his own engine after a Facebook chat in which a friend mentioned he knew someone who'd just removed a 60-year-old Rolls-Royce Viper jet engine from an aircraft.
"I was like, 'Where is that engine!?'" Hart says.
The next morning, he drove straight to Ardmore, knocked on a door and said: "I heard you have a spare engine." He offered them $5000: "Five grand, that's about two tanks of gas for the aircraft, so they were like, 'Oh, it's some gas money, sweet.'"
The engine came with full records and Hart was able to get a manual for it from an older air force colleague, who had worked with the same engines years before. He says: "We knew it wasn't gonna be a bag of s***."
The engine was the car's biggest bargain, he says, which is saying something because it's full of them: the emergency stop system is powered by that Sodastream bottle, which he can swap at any dairy for $9; the emergency stop button came from a boat; some of the relays are out of an old Datsun; Takuma Sato's undies (previously unused) and related race gear discarded by Formula 1 teams, he found on the internet. This is what it looks like to spend 12 years of your life chasing the cheapest possible version of your dream.
He says: "Land speed racing's probably the last game you can play and still be like a privateer kind of dude that just does s*** by yourself in your house."
"You can go for the big trophies and the big records with stuff you build at home. You've just got to build everything yourself. But that's no drama."
Next month, another driver is making an attempt on his record, in a car Hart estimates to be worth about $500,000. The cost of his own record-breaking car (approx. $45,000 excl. 12 years' labour) might not sound like much in comparison, but in absolute terms it could buy you more petrol than a 2000 Honda Insight could ever consume. I asked if he'd ever thought he could maybe have spent that money better.
"As in build a cheaper jet car?" he said.
"No," I said, "As in do something completely different. Take an overseas holiday or something."
"Ah," he said, "Not really. Through work I go overseas a lot - I think I've paid for two plane tickets in my whole entire life. One was for this; the other was a trip to the UK for the Rugby World Cup. I couldn't think of anything else to do with 45 grand. I'd probably just build another race car."