Ian Zanders sits down at a small table pressed against a wall in his workshop.
There's just enough room for the Whangārei car painter to pull out the chair as stripped cars and buckets of paint fill the room.
He places two items on the table - car registration papers for the 1956 Mark 1 Zephyr he will have owned for 50 years in May, and a calendar which features a photo of the glossy black classic.
As Northern Advocate reporter Mikaela Collins finds out, that Zephyr is more than just a car to Zanders - it's part of the family.

06 May 1969: Ian Graeme Zanders.

That's the last date and name printed on the registration papers for a 1956 Mark 1 Zephyr.

It marks the day Zanders purchased his first classic car - the first day of what is coming up to 50 years of adventures.

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But this love story begins in 1956, when Zanders was only 6 years old.

"I remember the Mark 1 Zephyr in 1956 when my parents were buying a '56 Ford from John W Andrews in Auckland.

"Me as a little kid, I went over to look at the Mark 1 in the showroom there and I remember them brand new. They used to be called a five star car," he smiles, then starts laughing.

"I remember that better than what I had for tea last night."

Zanders, 69, says Mark 1 Zephyrs were everywhere when he was growing up.

He had a couple of uncles who took him for rides in them, and they were also used as police cars.

"As a child you sort of got a grip of a certain type of a car and it took my eye. As I was growing up, all us young fellas all liked the Zephyrs. They had a really nice sound to them."

But it was the shape and look of them that he really liked.

"It just looked cool," he said - and it's as simple as that.

Fast forward to 1969. Zanders is 19 years old and an apprentice car painter at Harold Bateman.

He spots an advertisement in the local paper for a 1956 Mark 1 Zephyr for sale.

"It was pretty amazing, I thought this is my chance to get hold of one," he says with a big smile on his face.

He was familiar with that exact car because two years earlier it came into the workshop.

Zanders says he didn't do any work on it, but he reckons he probably sat inside it.

"It was a cool car, you know? Loved the Zephyr."

The Mark 1 Zephyr was originally turquoise and white but Ian Zanders covered it in 16 coats of black lacquer.
The Mark 1 Zephyr was originally turquoise and white but Ian Zanders covered it in 16 coats of black lacquer.

Zanders really wanted the car but didn't quite have $650 to buy it. He points to the name above his on the registration papers: 'Owen Zanders' - his brother.

"My brother Owen, he bought it because he had the money. I said I'd borrow the money - or something like that, I don't know how it happened - and then I got it back under my name.

"I bought it on the 6th of May 1969. They don't do ownership papers like this anymore, that's history, you never lose that stuff."

When asked if he saved up for the Zephyr he says, "Yes, sort of" and changes the subject.

"Do you want to know something else about the car? You wouldn't believe it," he says.

"You know when a young fella buys something the motor breaks down?"

He begins talking about the first time he drove the car from the former owners' property in Maungakaramea to his parents' farm in Kaikohe.

"By the time I drove to my parents' farm in Kaikohe the engine was stuffed big time. But the good side of it is we got the last brand new short block from Ford in '69 - and it's in that Zephyr.

"It's the last brand new one they released, the last one in New Zealand. We were so lucky."

Despite the motor troubles, Zanders still loved that first ride.

"It was lovely, it really was. Because the Zephyr was 'the car' and if you had a Mark 1, you're in, you know?"

Whangārei car painter Ian Zanders spoke to the Advocate in is Port Rd workshop. Photo/John Stone
Whangārei car painter Ian Zanders spoke to the Advocate in is Port Rd workshop. Photo/John Stone

In 1975 Zanders started his own car painting business in Whangārei - Ian Zanders Carpainting - and the Zephyr got its first paint job.

The original turquoise and white colour was replaced with 16 layers of black lacquer and no paint has come near it since.

"I thought black because the car has got a lot of chrome on it. The chrome stands out really nice on a black car, that's what I liked about it. It was beautiful."

The Mark 1 Zephyr was the first in what is now Zanders' collection of about 12 classic cars.

But the Zephyr is special.

"That car is part of the family," Zanders says.

It was he and wife Virginia's wedding car, and it's been the wedding car for three of his children and many friends.

"I just jokingly tell people I've had it longer than my wife," he laughs. "Nah, I better not, I don't know," he says, questioning whether he should have shared that.

Zanders met Virginia at a dance in 1976. He says he probably drove the Mark 1 there but he can't remember.

When asked if he thinks the car played a role in the romance, he laughs.

"If you liked the car then you probably like me too, aye?"

In 1977 Zanders and Virginia got married in Whangārei. He allowed someone else to drive the Zephyr, a task he's trusted only a few people to do.

"My dad was the only one that used to drive it. I wouldn't let anyone else drive it too much, unless it had to go to the garage or something."

But Zanders says he was happy for someone else to take the wheel on his wedding day.

The Zephyr has done about 42,000 miles - or 67,592km - since it's been in Zanders' hands.

Ian Zanders with his Mark 1 Zephyr Six.
Ian Zanders with his Mark 1 Zephyr Six.

It has travelled right up to the top of the country and as far south as Palmerston North.

"We've belonged to the Zephyr Club in Auckland since 1984, so it's been out and about on several occasions with the classic cars."

The Zephyr is quite a looker so filling up at the gas station during trips sometimes takes longer than usual.

"You go to the gas station and Virginia says 'you're not here all day' because somebody wants to talk about the car while I'm getting petrol.

"The first question they seem to ask you is 'how long have you had it'?"

Zanders' beloved Zephyr has even featured on television.

"Oh my god, I'm glad you mentioned that," he says excitedly when the topic is raised.

In the summer of 2003-04 TV3 was producing a programme on the Queen's 1953-54 anniversary tour of New Zealand, and as part of it they wanted to highlight what it would have been like when the Queen visited Northland.

They were looking for an old car they could drive along an old dusty road.

Zanders got a call.

"They used our car. I always remember sitting in the front seat of their car - a Holden station wagon, I think it was - with the back door wide open and Richard Langston, the reporter, was driving the Zephyr and it was coming down the road and they had the cameras all out the back and that was quite amazing."

He smiles when asked what it was like when he watched his baby on television.

"Oh, yeah, it was amazing. It was about a minutes worth of fame aye, quite hard case."

Zanders is hoping to go on a South Island tour with his wife to celebrate 50 years of owning the car.

"I might have to buy it an anniversary ring," he laughs.

But he's serious.

"I am actually thinking of having one made. An anniversary emblem just with a 50 year thing on it."

He starts sketching his ideas on a piece of paper.

"I'll bolt it to the front bumper."

If one thing is clear about Zanders it's that he loves his cars, but he really loves his Zephyr.

And after 50 years of owning it, he hopes there are many more years to come.

"It's part of your life, isn't it?"