Each week, Canvas asks someone to confess to three of the seven deadly sins. This week, Gordon Brown, 103, successful motor mechanic, business owner, motor racer, company board member and multiple grandparent enters the box.


Are you ready to confess all your sins?

You've got to be joking, haven't you?


Why don't we start with a bit about your life and what you're most proud of in your life and, once you've told me the good stuff, we'll get into the bad stuff.
I've got no bad stuff. I haven't. I haven't. I've had a few tickets for speeding.

How many tickets have you had for speeding?
No idea. Quite a few.

More than 10?


I was always interested in mechanical things. I used to go down to the local garage. There was no power in the area. This was Ruawai, near Dargaville. I used to go down to the local garage and get all the old batteries, take them home, pull them apart, take the bad cell out, get another battery with a good cell, go and put it in. I finished up putting electric lights in my bedroom and I put electric lights in the cowshed.

So your room was the first with electric lights and the cowshed was next?

How old were you when you were doing that?
This was 1923-4, so about 8 or 9.

Why did you not do it for your parents first? That would have been the nice thing to do.
No idea.

Did you eventually do it for the rest of your family?
No. We had quite a good gas light. They didn't need it.

Tell me the story of how you came to start your long-running and very successful garage and car rental business in Victoria St West just after the war?
It was an old bottle store and it was falling down. The council wouldn't allow me to use it, so I just worked inside and I put a flat roof on it so it didn't show from the road. And all of a sudden my door's open and I was in business. It should have been pulled down. It was a wreck.

Okay, I'll put that down for greed.
When you look back at your life, do you feel proud of what you've achieved?
I'm very proud of what I've achieved. I've done - what have I done? I learned to fly at 88. At 90 I drove a jet boat. I used to race a lot, doing hill climbs, sprints, beach racing, crcuit racing. I built that car [he points to framed newspaper clipping on the wall].

This one? [reading headline on newspaper clipping] "The Brown special." Is that car still around?
I lost it. I Sold it in Rotorua. There was a hill climb at Mt Tarawera. Peter Harrison had bought an MG Magnette and they gave a trophy for up to 1500CC and he was going to win it - he thought. [Laughs]. I beat him. [Laughs].

And he wouldn't let me leave Rotorua. He just went up and up in price until I couldn't say no. I let him have it. The worst thing I ever did. I should have kept it. It was a beautiful car, won everything it went in for. First time out was the Mt Eden Hill Climb. I won that. That was the first time out. Beach racing, hill climbs, sprints: that was just a fantastic motor car.

I think we can put that down for both pride …
I was very proud of it. And still am.

And also greed, because you took the money rather than holding on to the car
[Laughs]. That wasn't greed. It was business.


I wonder if we can put you down for envy as well, because you were envious of Peter Harrison for having your car.

The only time I can remember being envious is just recently. One of my apprentices came to visit me. All my old apprentices visit and he came in and we were talking away there and he told me what he had done and what he hadn't done and I felt envious because I thought I had done a lot but it was a totally different sort of thing. He was mixed up with the harbour board and Westhaven. He was responsible for Westhaven not being sold and given back to the control of the public and all that sort of thing. He's got a big property over on the Shore, two sections, two beautiful workshops there. I got quite envious.

Gordon Brown appears at the Auckland Writers Festival tomorrow at 10am, talking about the new book Keepers of History: New Zealand Centenarians Tell Their Stories