Businessman's passion drives classic car museum

VINTAGE VEHICLES: Tom Andrews and daughter Emily show off the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette,
one of 100 cars on display at the Classics Museum, opening soon.
VINTAGE VEHICLES: Tom Andrews and daughter Emily show off the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette, one of 100 cars on display at the Classics Museum, opening soon.

An automobile collection showcasing the best memories of the 20th century is about to go on show. Kashka Tunstall takes a ride down nostalgia lane.

Tom Andrews is stoked with his new purchase.

The Hamilton businessman has just returned from a whirlwind European holiday and he's bought a few trinkets while abroad.

But the most prized is the three-wheeled German car known as a Messerschmitt KR200.

It retails for NZ$50,000-$60,000 and it's the newest addition to Andrews' collection of classic American and European cars which number close to 100.

The German car is a rare sight but wait until December and you'll be able to see the automobile for yourself at Andrews' new $10 million Classics Museum near Nawton.

Andrews plans to add the bubble car to the revolving collection of vintage automobiles set for display in a 2500 sqm two-storey building on his Railside Place property off Rifle Range Rd.

A few years ago, Andrews decided his ever-growing car collection needed a permanent home - most are in warehouses scattered across the city.

“When I first started building I thought it would just be for me as a private shed but then I thought we'll start it up as a museum,” Andrews says.

“New Zealand's quite barren on that sort of thing . . . there was nothing in this area so I thought someone better step up and do it and it might as well be me.

“It's about having fun, it's not just another industrial building for our city.”

After years of planning and construction, the museum, the attached 1950s-style diner and conference rooms are nearly finished.

Andrews, 61, has been a member of Hamilton's business community for more than 40 years.

The former Melville High School student set up his first venture at 16, had his own concreting company by the time he was 20, and at 30 employed 150 people at multiple roading and contracting businesses.

One of his first money-making ventures was fixing up cars as a teenager. This sparked a passion for automobilia and he has collected hundreds of pieces of old car-related artefacts such as by-the-gallon glass petrol pumps and early 20th century enamelled Texaco signs.

“I've always collected old stuff and the house was always full of stuff, statues and tins and porcelain - some very valuable,” Andrews says.

A 1920s sign from New Zealand's first petrol company Big Tree (bought out by Shell) lying in his office is worth $10,000.

Daughter Emily, marketing and promotions manager for the museum, remembers being "dragged along" to antique fairs most weekends as a kid while Andrews built up his collection.

The Classics Museum is a house of nostalgia. Walking around the site and looking at cars of yesteryear will be sure to bring back memories.

At any one time, 60 cars will be on show pulled from Andrews' personal collection as well as car clubs nationally.

A 1954 Buick Skylark convertible that Andrews bought for his wife is one of the most expensive in the collection.

It's worth US$250,000 (NZ $300,000). Only 700 were made and only 100 are left.

It will be one of the jewels of the collection when it is added next year.

Andrews' favourite?

A candy apple red 1957 Chevrolet Corvette. He had a model of the car for 25 years before he bought the real thing.

And while some collectors are reluctant to expose such valuable items to public hands that can smudge and break, Andrews is trying to relax his attitude.

“I'm going to try and accept that people will get some enjoyment out of it, I don't want to close it all off,” he says.

“If someone scratches it, well they're an idiot but that doesn't mean I'm going to barricade it off for the other 99 per cent of people.”

The diner will be open before the collection with staff at Andrews' nearby Smo's cafe moving to the jukebox joint. They'll be dressed in 1950s fashion.

A carnival family day is scheduled for the museum's opening on December 2.

The American Car Club and the Corvette Car Club will gather in the car park, there will be candy floss and popcorn machines, and a vintage hair and makeup stall will give away a bit of glam for the ladies.

“We're trying to do something now which is a little bit of fun for the community,” Andrews says.

"I think a lot of people in Hamilton and New Zealand will support it. If they don't, some of the overseas tourists will. If they don't, well then it's my private shed.”

kashka.tunstall@waikatotimes.co.nz

Waikato Times