Harry Clyde is hot on vehicle safety.

For most of his life it's been his business to make sure they're roadworthy, and he rolls his eyes over the current argy-bargy in the news about warrants of fitness.

A can of worms has been opened over soft check standards and dodgy WOFs being issued around the country.

''Not me, mate,'' he says. ''Never. It's all about safety. But, yeah, unfortunately there are cowboys out there.''

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Hyde has just celebrated 30 years of owning the Whangārei Vehicle Testing Station, followed closely by 28 years of owning the Kamo one.

At 70-something, he's not ready to give up work just yet.

He quite a personality, out the back of the business in Railway Rd or out the front, most days you'll find him having a laugh with customers, sharing a yarn.

Clyde was working at the then government-run testing station in Port Rd in 1988 when he heard the once state-controlled stations were about to be sold off. Those were the days of Rogernomics, the free market and the off-loading of State Owned Enterprises.

Having worked there for 12 years, the canny Clyde saw his chance to take over the light vehicle side of the business and, never one to be shy, got on the blower to the Transport Minister.

''How much do you want for the Whangārei Vehicle Testing Station?''

''It's not for sale, but name your price,'' was the answer.

Richard Prebble closed the deal personally and Clyde was the first person in New Zealand to shake hands with the government over a testing station. Others soon followed.

Clyde took on five staff and ran the business alongside the government-retained heavy vehicle business.

''Then 10 years later they wanted to buy my side of the business back into the government fold. I wasn't having that!''

He decided a permanent split was needed so moved out of Port Rd and into purpose-built the premises in Railway Rd.

Opening the premises in Clark Rd, Kamo, in 1990, had been ''an excellent move''.

He and his partner Carol Jameson were driving around Kamo looking for a potential site for a station when he saw the DB-owned liquor store was closing.

Never one to stand back and wait for the door to open, Clyde approached the brewery and soon a down-sized liquor shop and a new testing station with the inspection pit where the in-ground chillers used to be were neighbours.

''We used to say 'Get your liquor and your sticker'.''

He's proud of his business growth in the face of strong competition from an increasingly large number of garages issuing warrants.

Over the years his staff numbers have trebled, then quadrupled, and Clyde says having two people working on one car at a time means the non-appointment, WOF-while-you-wait customers don't have to sit around for too long.

As a young fellow, boating and playing league at Takahiwai were Clyde's passions. He dreamed of going into the navy but his whanau swung him toward a mechanic's apprenticeship.

He was one of 12 young guys selected from around the North Island to do a Māori Trade Training School in Auckland.

He began his first year in 1964 then moved home to Whangārei to finish his apprenticeship through to A Grade mechanic at Wright Stephenson's garage in Rathbone St.

Clyde went on to become service manager there, and in 1976 moved to the Ministry of Transport testing station in Port Rd.

From there, he's become a legend. He's a family man, employer, long-time player and supporter of his Takahiwai league club, and always among the first to put his hand in a pocket to support community events, sports clubs and fundraisers.

And as the first person in New Zealand to privately own a vehicle testing station, he's a true pioneering Northland businessman.