A chance comment from Edwards & Hardy CEO/owner Chris Lucas on the significance of the company’s vehicle history proved a eureka moment for Group General Manager, Tony Thorn.

In his mind the vehicle fleet – past and present – could be well represented at the company’s 60th anniversary celebrations. But how would you locate, let alone, recreate a Morris/Austin pick up – the first truck used by founders Dick Edwards and Des Hardy when they started the company in 1959?

Enter Graeme Clark, Bay of Plenty Commercial Sales Manager. Graeme has always had a passion for cars and was the initiator of the company’s first dedicated work vehicles for the sales fleet. There was no one more suitable to locate and oversee the restoration of an Austin pickup.

“From the time I got my licence at 15 I have wanted to drive cars as fast as they could go”, says Graeme who spent his early days in the Canterbury Car Club racing a V8 Capri. He never missed a Lady Wigram Trophy race but only got to race in one of them.

Says Graeme, “Hunting for the 60th anniversary cars was so much fun – but in the last few months, with pressing deadlines, I had to put pressure on some of the people involved – and they all delivered”

The search began in April 2017.

Graeme with Tony’s support with an eye on the financial aspects, searched car clubs and eBay sites all over the world including South Africa, USA. the UK and Australia. The most common outcome from these enquiries was the vehicles had all rusted out or they were the wrong models, or had just simply disappeared.

A Morris J2 Van
A Morris J2 Van

Graeme developed a ‘wanted dead or alive’ poster to distribute at all the home shows while vintage car clubs listed it in all their magazines. In August 2017, an owner in Mabey, Taranaki between Whanganui and New Plymouth said he had an A2 but it was too rusty to retrieve any parts from. Terry Price, from Restorations Unlimited, urged Graeme and Tony to keep looking. They bought it anyway.

In January 2018 Graeme found a Morris J2 van on Trade Me which had the possibility of being turned into a pickup; the van had a roof and the chassis was rusted but mostly on the sides and roof which was going to be cut away anyway. A purchase was made.

While in the process of turning the van into a pickup, a vintage car club finally provided a huge break: three Morris/Austin pickups were lying in a broken- down barn in Ferrymead, Christchurch and while not able to be rebuilt could act as templates for the van being worked on at Restorations Unlimited. This discovery enabled the team to accurately reconstruct the pickup with some parts like the tail gate, back wall of the cab and side panels able to be restored and used. Even the little side panels going from the cab to the deck would have been difficult to work out without having a template to work from; the tailgate was all there and the way the deck was lined was plain to see.

hree Morris/Austin pickups lying in a broken down barn in Ferrymead, Christchurch
Three Morris/Austin pickups lying in a broken down barn in Ferrymead, Christchurch

The retrievable parts were heading for Whanganui but when Graeme tried cutting halfway through the cab to have half the cab and the deck to get the measurements correct, the two sections fell apart. However, both sides, the back of the cab, the deck, tailgate, some mirrors, lights and windscreen wipers and a number plate were all able to be taken to Terry at Restorations Unlimited.

Every part of the J2 was either built new or rebuilt so by November 2018 all the panel work was complete and the J2 was at the paint shop before all the mechanical components were fitted at Allison Autos. Finally, the tyres – some original cross ply tyres at $500.00 were purchased to give the Austin its final touch of history. She’s a little beauty – immaculately restored and a fitting replica of the company’s foundation.

Since the restoration of the Austin it has come to light that parts of the restored vehicle come from the original vehicle purchased by Edwards & Hardy in 1959

In tandem with this project Graeme was finding models of the old reps cars that could be restored and made available for the 60th anniversary when 10-12 cars and trucks – restored and new – were on parade for the celebrations.

A Toyota Corolla DX 1986 three-door wagon was the first company vehicle bought by Dick Edwards and Des Hardy to service the Tasman region. It became the Manager’s vehicle in 1993 and was used by current Manager Stuart Scott from 1997 until 2018. It was then restored. The wagon has a 1500cc engine, rear wheel drive and five-speed gearbox and is still proudly representing Edwards and Hardy Roofing.

A Toyota Hi Ace, similar to one CEO Chris ran when he first started at Edwards and Hardy, Hamilton in 1984, was bought and restored for the October celebrations. A 1973 model this Hi Ace is believed to be only one of seven left in the country. Graeme says it wasn’t too bad body wise, the running gear was left basically untouched and only a small amount of work was required to restore it back to acceptable condition. It wasn’t long before this truck was replaced by larger trucks as the company grew and larger capacity tanks were required.

Having started with Edwards and Hardy in 1986 in Tauranga, Graeme Clark was using his family car until suggesting that he buy a dedicated vehicle for work that could be sign written to promote the company name. His Suzuki ST 90 van (800cc, four-speed) was adorned with the company livery and sign written reps vehicles became the way forward. The current ST90 was found in Cromwell, brought to Auckland and restored to its 1986 state. It stayed in service for two years until replaced with a later version with more power (1000cc motor) and a five-speed gearbox.

The benefits of having reps in sign-written cars were quickly recognised and sign-written company cars followed. With alteration to commissions for the sales team to reflect the extra cost, Honda City sign-written reps cars joined the company fleet. The Honda Citys came into service in the 1980s and continued until the later 1990s and this model was found in Nelson and brought to Tauranga for a make-over.

An eye-catching car – the S-Cargo – was deployed from 1998 to 2004. The car was designed by engineering students in Japan using the leftover Nissan Sunny parts and proved perfect as a mobile signboard. One was found at a car importing firm in Christchurch but it wasn’t long before seven were in service between Tauranga and Hamilton and one even made it to Auckland for rep Allan Heney. Over time the S-Cargo became harder to keep on the road developing over-heating problems so the search was on again for the ideal reps car.

The search was constant for the ideal vehicles and in the late 1990s the Nissan Atlas AKR came to Graeme’s attention. It was the perfect size, well built with a strong, reliable motor and could be driven with a car licence. The first purchase was 1998-99 and gradually the entire fleet was replaced with them. A colour scheme – red and yellow colour splashes representing E & H coatings, emphasised the message of the company and its operation. Some of this model truck are still in service today.

On the demise of the S-Cargo the company dabbled with a small, lightweight van called a Holden Combo (Opel). These vans made transporting ladders and samples easy but they proved uneconomical so were soon replaced.

Late in 2007 the Suzuki Swift 2008 was chosen, kick starting the long and enduring relationship with Suzuki, these reliable vehicles still being in use today. The fold-up ladder fitted nicely in the boot and the choice was from all managers that this was the best choice for sales reps.

There are very few times in business when you can celebrate a 60th anniversary but to combine it with a history as well – especially given the history of the company vehicles which has proved a challenging and at times frustrating experience. We always knew it would be worthwhile, but as with many ground breaking undertakings, had I known at the start what this project would involve I probably wouldn’t have started.