By Jodi Bryant
Instead, during a diverse career path involving professional acting, farming, butchery, family violence and aged care, she drove the likes of a Volvo, Land Rover, tractors and quad bikes. Her acting career, which spanned 12 years and included lead movie roles, began at age 14 on the then-new Shortland Street playing pregnant teen Aroha. The controversy her character created once lead to Finn being attacked in a supermarket by an elderly woman. Ironically, working in aged care led to her finally getting behind the wheel of a classic car and follow the dream she'd harboured for 25 years and, these days, the elderly are among her most grateful customers.
"One of my clients was 107 and said, 'You've got to do it because, by the time you get to our age, you're not getting any younger'."
By then in her early 40s, Finn left her role in aged care and took the first steps in actioning her plan of owning her own fleet of classic vehicles for tours and funerals – the latter triggered by a deep longing close to the heart.
"I've lost five of my brothers who were motorcycle enthusiasts and I know they would have just loved that kind of send-off," Finn says.
Her first purchase was in May 2019 with an original Harley Davidson Road King Trike, along with a hearse carriage.
"It was a great find and I saw it as a sign.
"When you start, you have a concept and a passion and to see it today and it's real and happened, is the most beautiful journey."
Her journey really began as a child, the youngest of 12 siblings and a further six half-siblings, her father collected classic cars and motorcycles and her brothers later followed suit. As a family, they travelled throughout the country and Finn has many memories of isolated and beautiful destinations.
"I have long-noted the need for enthusiastic, compassionate local Maori tour guides with a wealth of cultural and local knowledge who are keen to showcase these fascinating venues that are a vital part of our heritage."
Touring over the open roads in comfort and at a leisurely pace in a well-appointed classic car or motorcycle was definitely the way to go through Finn's eyes.
With family connections in Northland, she settled in Whangarei, after meeting partner Dr Larry Thompson in the Far North while he was working at Kaitaia Hospital. The practising physician, now at White Cross Whangarei, is also her business partner and chief financial officer. Together they carefully crafted a plan, forming Te Ao Mako Enterprises Ltd, based at the Town Basin and from which they run Elysian Wheels, TAME the Beast Classic Excursion Tours and Wedding Cars on Quayside.
The couple began sourcing and obtaining their fleet of classic vehicles and preparing them with certification repairs.
"Even before we had a garage we had vehicles all over Whangarei," laughs Larry.
The business got off to a good start when they entered the Waipu Classic Car Show in February winning the Peoples' Choice award and subsequently obtaining their first funeral job.
"It was an affirmation and it felt fantastic."
Then came lockdown.
"We were just hanging on by our finger nails but we kept going because there was no way I was turning back," says Finn, adding that they managed to survive the pandemic by sheer force of will.
The couple spent the time critiquing and fine-tuning the business while continuing to source further vehicles for their fleet. By the time they emerged from lockdown, they had qualified as an essential service so were able to carry out funeral processions.
The service, symbolically named Elysian Wheels, caters for the increasing number of people who desire their funerals to serve as mirrors into their lives providing an alternative to the mainstream traditional funeral service.
The funeral procession features a Harley Davidson-drawn carriage escorted by a vintage car to transport the departed loved one and entourage in style on the "last ride" ceremony to the final resting place and can incorporate routes of sentimental value.
Says Finn: "Our service is not only for those who ride or who have always wanted to ride, but also for those who want something unique and memorable for their last journey. We aim to do more than mourn the departed. Our goal is to commemorate the life of your loved one in a dignified, yet distinctly celebratory manner."
She added that, though unique, motorcycle hearses are not a new phenomenon. They have been in existence since World War I, when they reportedly were employed to carry bodies back from the battlefields. The usual design consisted of either a modified sidecar or a trailer that bore the coffin. However, the concept only began to make inroads in the funeral industry in the late 1990s.
The Elysian Wheels Experience caters nationwide with three days' notice and has already taken Finn to various parts of the country.
Today the fleet stands at 12 and includes a two-seater 1995 Harley-Davidson Road King Trike, a custom-built trailer hearse, a 2014 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Motorcycle Trike, a Futura covered and solar-powered transport trailer, a 1967 Chevy C10 Truck, a 1971 Chevy C10 Truck, a 1982 Chevy Camaro, a twin set of matching 1964 Ford Thunderbirds, a converted classic Victorian horse carriage - now a motorcycle-drawn wedding carriage and a freshly-imported state-of-the-art 150-HP turbo 2-passenger Rewaco Power Trike.
Vehicles were sourced both online and through word of mouth.
"People would see the vehicles parked outside and say, 'Oh I know of this one down the line…'."
Word of mouth has also led to many jobs along with collaborating with funeral directors. In addition, a collaboration between those in the wedding industry to offer a free wedding to a couple affected by Covid, saw Finn offering her vehicles for the occasion. This opened the door to the wedding industry leading to Wedding Cars on Quayside but, while weddings have taken a back seat with many postponed this summer due to the pandemic, the fleet, nor Finn sit idle for long; when she's not entering them in car shows around the country, they can often be found parked up at the Town Basin surrounded by onlookers – and this is where TAME the Beast Classic Excursion tours come in.
"We showcase the vehicles in public areas and a lot of elderly love the classic cars – it reminds them of the old days when they were 21 when they were in a T-Bird, those were the best days of their lives," grins Finn. "I'll let them take a photo sitting behind the steering wheel."
A self-confessed 'softie', Finn admits to taking it a step further, often taking people on free tours. "I'll have these lovely 90-year-olds sitting in the back cuddling and I call that the 'Magic Carriage', it takes them back in time."
She recalls taking a 95-year-old on a trip down memory lane to her old haunts in Onerahi.
"She was pointing out where she used to live around Beach Rd which used to be farmland. It really gave me an insight on the history – I'm learning too."
Then there was the four-year-old girl who rode her bike along to the Town Basin with her nana and spotted what is commonly referred to as the "princess carriage".
"She was wearing her tiara so I got them to climb aboard and took them past the parents' house where they were sitting out on the veranda and could watch her go by."
Finn is currently forming a charitable trust for fundraising to enable adjustable hoist seats so people with disabilities and elderly can also take part in her tours.
"I've been noticing on my tours there's a need for accessibility for disabilities or aged care. I don't like seeing someone next to my vehicles and they can't get in it. Why should they miss out on a beautiful tour?
"The experience that the clientele are having to me is worth more than money. I have no money but I am trying to do something and that will come. To see children smiling and mothers having time with their children, is the best feeling because it feels like you're making a difference."
As well, her Classic Excursions are enhancing tourism for Northland. Finn recalls the motorcycle enthusiast couple who recently stopped at Whangarei enroute from Wellington in a campervan with their dog.
"The husband had been doing all the driving and he spotted my ad for the trike tour. They booked it so he too could see all the sights. I told them to bring along their dog and I took them to every spot. They had planned to stay three hours and ended up staying three days."
She also supports local businesses by incorporating some as stop-offs enroute while including local points of cultural and historical interest with communication made easy through an intercom system.
Of course, Finn receives a lot of attention on the road – both wanted and unwanted.
"People are always wanting me to rev it up. I had someone ramming up behind me on the Whangarei Heads road wanting to race. I'm never going to do that.
"I forget I'm in a classic car because it's become normal to me and I'll get big smiles and thumbs up. I stopped in at Pak n Save the other day and parked up beside a car and asked the man if it was ok if I parked beside him and he said, 'It's not every day that a T-Bird parks beside you'.
"I'll often return to my vehicle and find crowds taking pictures and I offer them to sit in it. When people sit in these vehicles, it changes their whole persona."
Finn has big plans for her business - eventually they hope to create a fleet throughout the country, employing local drivers, to carry out their funeral processions to help keep travel costs down for the families. And she is quick to point out that her fleet is not complete.
Tomorrow, you will find Finn and Larry and their impressive line-up of classic vehicles at the Waipu Car and Bike Show. See pages 6 & 7 for further details.