Struck by Studebakers: vintage car enthusiasts meet


The Studebaker Drivers Club of NZ held their biennial national meeting in Nelson at Easter 2022.

Andy Macdonald / Stuff

The Studebaker Drivers Club of NZ held their biennial national meeting in Nelson at Easter 2022.

Lester O’Regan fondly remembers his first Studebaker, and the year he bought it is unforgettable, he says.

He bought the Studebaker Transtar truck in 1986, “just before the GST was introduced,” he said.

“That’s how I remember the date.”

The Transtar was one of more than 40 Studebakers on display in the parking lot of the Rutherford Hotel Nelson on Saturday morning; where the chrome shone, the paint jobs were vibrant, and the club members gathered to breathe their shared passion.

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O’Regan said he drove the rusty old Studebaker he grabbed for $3,000 to Paraparaumu and took it back to Nelson on the ferry “just before the ferry fares went up by 10%”, which was the first GST rate.

It took two years of renovation to bring the old 1956 truck back to life, he said.

“I had to completely rebuild it; there was corrosion from the front bumper to the rear.

Once in working order, he said he would drive the car daily to his place of work – Honda, formerly known as New Zealand Motor Corporation.

He chuckled as he remembered parking his Studebaker in his own company’s parking lot surrounded by Hondas.

Lester O'Regan will never forget the year he bought his first Studebaker, as it was around the same time that GST was introduced in New Zealand.

Andy Macdonald / Stuff

Lester O’Regan will never forget the year he bought his first Studebaker, as it was around the same time that GST was introduced in New Zealand.

“But because Studebakers weren’t made anymore, they didn’t mind.”

The last Studebaker was made in 1966 before the Canadian factory closed.

Since then, every two years, the Studebaker Drivers Club of New Zealand meets every two years in New Zealand cities, while every two years a meeting is held in Australia.

Studebaker Club organizer Ian Mortimer said club members were “quite social” because the cars weren’t “look at me a car” type.

Studebaker Drivers Club of NZ event organizer Ian Mortimer described the Studebakers as

andy macdonald/stuff

Studebaker Drivers Club of NZ event organizer Ian Mortimer described the Studebakers as “different, really weird and strange things”.

It was “different, really weird and weird stuff,” he said, which drew him to Studebakers.

Tinkering with cars was in his blood, he says, because all of his uncles were mechanics.

“When I was a child, I played in the workshops of Nelson where they worked. I have a fascination with all things old and mechanical,” and he said many of the club members were similar.

Looking behind the makers of Studebaker brought up some interesting facts, Mortimer said.

A few years after buying his first Studebaker, a 1965 Cruiser, André de Haan discovered that his grandfather owned the exact same make and model of car.

andy macdonald/stuff

A few years after buying his first Studebaker, a 1965 Cruiser, André de Haan discovered that his grandfather owned the exact same make and model of car.

He said the slogan was, Different by Design, and the shapes were created by French-born Raymond Loewy. He was “one of the very first industrial designers”, he said, designing many of the iconic shapes we still know today, including the elegant Coca-Cola bottle and the emblem of the Shell oil.

This year’s Nelson Gathering brought together over 70 members from across the country as well as over 40 Studebakers.

Andre de Haan drove his 1965 Studebaker Cruiser from Otorohanga where it was used as his “farm car”.

He said he “accidentally” fell into Studebaker’s trap when he bought one for sale at his local panel shop in 1997.

Four years later, his daughter went to Holland, where De Haan is from, and saw old family photographs, he said.

“My grandfather had the exact same car. It was quite magical.

Len Trent and Bill Hohepa seated in the back of Hohepa's 1953 Land Cruiser.

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Len Trent and Bill Hohepa seated in the back of Hohepa’s 1953 Land Cruiser.

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