Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Queen City Roadsters

Gone but not forgotten

A glimpse at the Queen City Roadsters

Today, we think nothing of being able to drive the length of New Zealand for any given rodding event however, time away from work and travelling expenses can slow this desire down. In the sixties, there was great desire for a very staunch and niche group of guys to drive their roadsters to events all over the country. That group was the Auckland based, Queen City Roadsters and their active participation and positive promotion of hot rodding is even very impressive by today’s standards. It turns out that these channelled and American themed early bodied rag tops influenced a great number of people into rodding as past or current rodders recall the impact these cars had on the street or at shows.

The Queen City Roadster’s story is one that had interested me greatly, however forty plus years takes its toll on memories, not to mention the passing of some key people and no firm documentation in any records other than early club corner sections of New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine. Written by pioneering president of the New Zealand Hot Rod Association, Ralph Wright, he remembers the club as a “boutique” group of guys with a specific interest in early roadsters. “There was Auckland Hot Rod Club, then Pukekohe, Wheels Incorporated and then Queen City Roadsters in Auckland”, remembers Ralph.

The late Kevin Dolores was the main instigator and each person I spoke to said that Kevin possessed great leadership skills and his wife Margaret remembers Kevin’s great attention to detail. Vern Hoskin remembers it like this, “the idea was Kevin Dolores to start a club modelled on the L.A. Roadsters in the USA. The late Graham Hobbs knew Mike Gearing so with Kevin , Mike, Graham , Garth Hogan, and myself we meet at my parents home where one of the first meetings was held around 1967”. The linking of the L.A. Roadsters to the Queen City Roadsters is further proof of how much more closely aligned to the USA scene we have been than that of our Australian counterparts. Whether or not any contact was made to the L.A. Roadster club, we don’t know but leaves us with interesting speculation.

Upon formation of the club, Mike was the only one with a car on the road at this stage. Featured in the Aug-Sep 1967 issue of NZHRM, Mike’s roadster was built by himself with work commencing around 1962. This car possessed excellent proportions and brilliant build quality and finish utilising such parts as a dropped axle and also the OHV Cadillac V8 engine. Mike later became a member of Riverside Rodders and was also the Secretary of the New Zealand Hot Rod Association and had rebuilt the roadster into its gold guise and fitted a McCulloch supercharger as featured in the June 1973 issue of NZHRM. He later sold the car in 1978 to fund his drag racing career and Nick Boblea is the current owner of this car.

The Feb-Mar 1968 “new color issue” of NZHRM featured the ’68 Roadster Round Up and Vern’s “Kookie” style T Bucket appeared in there under construction with a ’59 283 Chev OHV V8 being used. After selling the bucket, Vern is unsure of where it is now but is now into old motorcycles and has a Camaro. Looking back, Vern comments, “At the time I also had a 1936 Ford sedan and we use to get bottles of Coca Cola plus big bags of ice, and with the back seat out of the car we would take it down to the Kopuku Drags and sell it to make our money and did not have club fee’s”.

Margaret Dolores remembers the day that Kevin picked her up from work in Upper Queen Street – the ’32 was like something she had never seen before. “It was white and named “Wild Thing” – a name that was prone to gaining sarcastic attention so Kevin proceeded to rebuild the car at his parents place in Northcote”, remembers Margaret. “I also remember Mike Gearing and myself going to Kevin’s regularly to help on the car”, says Vern. The original deadline to complete the rebuild for Kevin & Margaret’s wedding went but the completed car was featured in the Feb 1970 issue of NZHRM now named “The Collector”. In fact Kevin’s 32 even featured in the February 1971 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine in the USA using Allan Porter’s photography. The Dolores roadster passed thru a number of owners up and down the country before being sold to Australia where Tony Cassar has rebuilt the car and unchannelled it in the era of a late forties, early fifties highboy.

Then there was Maurice Campbell who had been bitten with the hot rod bug after being very impressed after riding in the Gearing Caddy powered roadster. “I was visiting my girlfriend at the time and was introduced with Maurice who showed great pride in English sports cars”, remembers Mike, “I took him for a ride and that was it”. An already channelled ’32 was purchased and Mike built alot of the car for Maurice using a brand new 283 Chev from Tappenden Motors. Like he had done with his Cadillac motor, Mike adapted a Jag gearbox to the Chev engine. This car was featured in the 1968 NZHRM Roadster Round Up under the ownership of Dave Morris before being sold to Gary Rae of Auckland Hot Rod Club who proceeded to put 35,000 miles on it before the car was damaged badly in a garage fire. Gary still owns the car and has a fully documented history of it and is rebuilding the car as this is written.

Dave Kirk was also a Queen City Roadsters member with his “Must Drag” channelled 32 which also featured in the ‘68 Roadster Round Up issue of NZ Hot Rod Magazine. Its history as a hot rod goes back 10 years prior when the Nicholson Brothers channelled it in the late fifties. Of all the people we have spoken to about this article – it is the 1968 Roadster Round Up issue of NZ Hot Rod Magazine that stands out for many as their favourite issue as along with the Queen City Roadsters cars, there were similar roadsters of Keith McQuade, Adrian McNamee, Barry Brewer, Graham Vautier, Dave Chung, not to mention Les Ireland’s bucket and Roger Devlin’s Wild Honey in its more refined stage.

Two other iconic cars of the late sixties were the Model A Tourer of Terry Vaughan and the Model A roadster “G.P. Deuce” of Gary Sword & Peter Barnett. Both owners were members of the Queen City Roadsters with these show and go hot rods and again both were NZHRM feature cars. Terry’s tourer was on the cover of March 1969 and later featured in the May edition whilst the G.P. Deuce made it into the August 1969 issue but did not feature on a cover despite being advertised on the cover in the back issues adverts that ran in the magazine.

As most people would already know, the Vaughan tourer has been under the ownership of Wayne Bishop for many years now and the G.P. Deuce was extensively rebuilt by Riverside Rodders, Terry Fergusson and the car is now in England. Vern Hoskin’s reminded me of the fact that both his bucket and Terry’s tourer were used for a television advert that was filmed in Queen Street and edited and screened in Australia. Vern’s bucket was also used in a local movie here in New Zealand as well.
Garth Hogan had a ’34 Ford sedan that he had hoped to turn into a tourer, at the time he was also the NZHRA Secretary but resigned from this and the club to attend Waikato University. This was also announced in the April 1970 issue of NZHRM with Mike Gearing stepping up to the NZHRA Secretary position. However, Queen City Roadsters was not part of an incorporated society, therefore, Mike could not be eligible to hold post on the executive of NZHRA – sound familiar? “Terry Fergusson arranged with the Riverside Rodders club for me to become a member, but even in the NZHRA AGM I did not know if I was eligible until Terry came inside the door and gave me the thumbs up”, remembers Mike.
It is interesting to note that Queen City Roadsters had only been listed as a charter club to the NZHRA but by July 1970 the Club Addresses listed in NZHRM’s Club Corner no longer had Queen City Roadsters listed.

“We had some good times just cruising together as well, but I left and came to live in Napier in 1970”, remembers Vern and from there the club kind of took its own path. Kevin Dolores eventually joined Pukekohe Hot Rod Club after crewing with Ralph Wright on one of his altered before Kevin himself campaigned his own cars. Mike Gearing went on to run Top Fuel dragsters and has a very colourful drag racing and engine building career as Gearing Engines. Garth Hogan went on to found Pioneer Auto Parts and embark on an incredible drag racing career. Maurice Campbell now lives in Sydney, Australia. Terry Vaughan is in the USA and Dave Kirk and Gary Sword are still based in Auckland.

The Queen City Roadsters showcased the professionalism of a club that is still strived for today. Their cars were always displayed immaculately and it is evident that Kevin led the members with excellent public relations skills. This is evident with the newspaper clippings that the club featured in along with the Radio Hauraki appearances and the use of the club member’s cars in films. Not to mention the extensive coverage of the Queen City roadsters in NZHRM at the drags, runs or shows as well as features.

This article has sparked interest for a close group of guys with roadsters to resurrect the Queen City Roadsters name as a tribute to the original club and its members. Stay tuned as things progress.

Margaret Dolores remembers:
“Kevin & myself were riding with Mike in his roadster, the car had small bucket seats so I was sitting on a towel over the handbrake all the way to Wellington and back! A car passed us and we caught the smell of race fuel and it was all on! There was no way that Mike was going to be beaten so we raced this car as I hung on for dear life!” Laughing about it today, “it wasn’t that comfortable”. Kevin was supposed to rebuild the car in time for our wedding but it didn’t get finished in time for that but remembers that they moved to Waiuku, South Auckland in around mid 1968 for Kevin to begin working at the NZ Steel Mill where he eventually became a Senior Sales Representative. When Margaret was pregnant with Jason, the 32 was the only mode of transport so it was used to take Margaret to the maternity home in Waiuku at midnight. They were greeted by nurses who couldn’t work out what the noise was behind these low small and dim headlights! “Kevin would always be rechroming things on the 32 before each show and stripped Jason’s cot of its chrome fittings as well”, remembers Margaret. His attention to detail was evident with anything that he did right thru to the uniforms with the drag racing team. “Kevin had an idea to have an elite roadster club and organised meetings and got badges printed as well as compliments cards and membership cards. We went to as many runs, shows and drags as possible. I remember along the southern motorway one day we did 100mph!”, says Margaret. “I also recall the indicator signals that we would do in the car as we went around corners with our hands flashing in and out”.

Mike Gearing remembers:
“Kevin Dolores was the instigator, a mover and a shaker and was in fact a boy scout where I believe the told him that he was a natural leader”, comments Mike. But he also had a great sense of humour as Mike recalls, “ we went to the Mount and erected a tent to display our cars, as I put the tent pegs in, Kevin was following behind pulling them out!” Mike remembers the clubs origins came about from the influences of the L.A. Roadster Club in the USA. “We were just a casual group of guys – friends with roadsters that did everything together, it was good fun”, remembers Mike. “I then went on to the NZHRA committee and also became a Show Judge and as a result I just don’t like shows. My initial reasoning to join the NZHRA was to help get the Wiri Drags going to help fundraise for Champion Dragway”.