One 56-year-old Rover. Check. Maps and iPhone. Check. AA Membership card in case of breakdown. Doublecheck!

It was the second Saturday in March and the moment had come to depart Auckland for the national rally of Rover cars being held in Nelson. I’d bought an old Rover two years before, and after a lot of fixing and tinkering I was looking forward to taking it on a long trip.

And for AJ7312, a 1964 P4 110 model, Nelson had been home for the first 40 years of its life. This would be a return to the car’s old stomping ground.

While AJ shows its age here and there, considering its mileage (some 250,000 miles, or 400,000 kilometres) it is in good condition – the result of care, regular maintenance and good garaging provided by its two previous owners.

Since I’d purchased AJ, it had undergone a catalogue of ‘make and mend’ that included brakes, suspension and steering (it tended to wander at speed). I had decided not to look too closely at the engine, owing to constraints on time and budget, trusting instead the Rover’s lineage of strong motors. Despite this, I had a nagging sense of dread: the numerous possibilities for something to go awry, the scores of old moving parts that might suddenly decide to stop moving.

I zero the trip odometer, turn the key and off we go, onto the Southern Motorway out of Auckland. A first stop is planned at the Waikato home of a comrade-in-motors who will be joining me for the rally weekend. Here I check the oil and top up the water.

Owning an old car means you get into a ritual of checking fluid levels and tyre pressures, in addition to frequent flicking of the eyes across the various gauges on the dash when you’re driving.

On the open road my Rover drives best at 75-80km/h, the kind of speed that also allows you to be more relaxed and drink in the variety and beauty of the country. It’s easy enough to pull over every now and then to let faster cars by. The great majority of those drivers seem happy to be patient with an older, slower car; many give a friendly wave or toot as they overtake.

The land of the Waikato and King Country is showing the golden tinge of early autumn; the temperature becomes noticeably cooler as we climb to the Central Plateau. From the side of the road I pick a sprig of heather for good luck.

Leaving Waiouru two days later in fog, I head for breakfast at Taihape.

Then it’s on to Palmerston North, a marvellous run on a Sunday morning; I drive for miles with the only traffic an occasional skein of motorcyclists out for a weekend jaunt. After overnighting in Wellington I’m up early for the ferry to Picton. The trip across Cook Strait is as smooth and enjoyable as you could wish for. Leaving the placid waters of Queen Charlotte Sound it’s off south again, past miles of vineyards, then north over the hills to Havelock and west to Nelson.

The next day is the first of the three-day rally. There are still folk at the Nelson Rover Club who remember the car well, and they follow me out to the car park to renew their acquaintance. There is something about old cars – the mix of memories and the simplicity of these vehicles – that drives a strong sentiment in many people.

The rally proper begins on the Saturday with a public display of all Rovers. The afternoon’s agenda includes the chance
to rifle through the club’s spare parts shed. A spare front windscreen is on my shopping list and I’m excited to find a number in the shed.

Bought and paid for, one of them goes into the backseat to take back home.

Sunday dawns fine. Today it’s a navigational run through the Moutere Valley to Motueka, passing orchards and hop farms, travelling along quiet roads and beside streams and rivers. We finish by winding our way back into Wakefield and to the clubrooms once more. It’s been a very pleasant day of journeying and chatting, and the camaraderie continues that evening with a prize-giving dinner. Among the awards there’s one for the driver who travelled the furthest to the rally. That would be me!

Next morning after the rally’s farewell breakfast I head south for Rangiora. At Murchison I hear the news that the Government’s response to the Covid-19 virus has been raised to Level 4 and suddenly I have to get home before lockdown. However, I’m unable to
secure a space on a ferry sailing to Wellington, so I decide to fly back, leaving AJ in Nelson.

And that’s where AJ7312 stayed for nearly three months. Finally, in June, I’m able to return to Nelson.

I had no idea what state the car would be in, but it starts first time and the only thing required before hitting the road is to top up the brake fluid. It’s early winter, and the trip back is colder and wetter.

Even so, motoring north through the eastern side of the North Island is invigorating; there is just so much worth experiencing in our country’s regions – especially at my slower speed. 

Reported by Steve Barnett for our AA Directions Spring 2020 issue

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