A car sometimes overlooked in the Big Back Shed at the Packard Museum is our Cadillac V8 Service Car. The vehicle seats eight people and once belonged to the well-known firm – Newman Brothers.
Newman Brothers started as a horse-coach business in 1879 then moved into the service car business in 1911. They ran a fleet of V8 Cadillacs and advertised them as a luxury car for the discerning traveller wanting to view the scenery on the way to their destination. Newman's main depots were in Napier and Nelson, from there they ran the service cars and later buses.
Service cars first appeared in New Zealand around 1905. A number of the horse-coach companies gave up their horses and moved into service cars, especially as few individuals owned their own car. With improvements in roading and the invention of the pneumatic tyre, these cars halved the time of the horse and coach.
Newman's weren't the only company to get into the service car business. No licence was required to drive these vehicles, so many other companies, including 'freelancers', took up the business. By 1930, there were 497 service cars in New Zealand. However, the fierce competition meant many operators eventually went out of business.
The 353 cubic inch V8 Cadillac, such as ours, was one of the most popular cars to be operated. Often these vehicles were purchased second-hand in the United States, imported into New Zealand, where they were 'stretched' and 'rebodied'. If you take a close look at the back of our car, you can see where the original rear panels have been remodelled and the car lengthened to cater for the extra seats.
The lengthening of these cars was undertaken from the 1930s to the mid-1950s by a company named Crawley Ridley, motor body builders in Wellington. They worked for Newman's as well as other companies.
Eventually the service car was replaced by short wheel-base coaches and, today, the mini-van. Our car is a reminder of the luxury travel available in a by-gone era.