There’s a world of automobile history planted in the paddocks around Horopito Motors, just waiting to be picked over.
Also known as Smash Palace, the parts recycling and auto repair business was started by Bill Cole back in the 1940s and is now owned by his daughter Barbara and her husband Colin Fredricksen.
But it is much more than it sounds. Horopito Motors is a tourist destination, a movie set, a paradise for car restoration enthusiasts, a museum, and a place where the past slowly disintegrates.
Colin specialises in old, older and positively ancient vehicles. There are hundreds from the 1920, 30s and 40s – many bought by his father-in-law Bill Cole and they are still selling parts from some of them.
“There’s an a 1946 Chevy which we haven’t touched for years, and just a day or so ago, I got a call from a guy who wanted a few knobs from its dashboard.” Colin reckons he’s doing his bit for history. “There’s a lot of stuff we might not sell on in my lifetime but someone might want it one day.”
Can’t keep them all
It’s reported that Bill Cole didn’t believe in dismantling a car and selling what was left over for scrap. Which explains the many car bodies that are decades old. In the past 20 years, Barbara and Colin have begun to crush and sell cars for scrap - when the metal prices make it worthwhile. They’ve just finished one massive crushing project.
“The lease on one paddock was not renewed so we had to move all the cars off that area – most of them were Japanese, and a few Cortinas.” The job was done over lockdown with a mobile crusher. “About 2,500 cars were crushed and taken away but we haven’t finished yet.” Colin reckons there’ll be another 2,000 removed from other parts of the remaining five hectares of land in the summer. That will still leave about 3,000 available for parts.
Colin says it was a shame to have to lose so many potential parts and he admits he does find it hard to let go of anything he feels is ‘special’ - like the little 1967 Singer Vogue that just needed some paint and had been sitting on the site for two years. “A young girl came in and wanted it, and I had to sell it.”
Then there are the vehicles he buys to keep, or at least to keep and sell on as a whole. “For example, I’ve just bought a Mr Whippy van with it’s original signage.” He won’t be taking that apart to sell the parts.
He and Barbara buy, on average, about eight cars a week to stock their parts business, This side of their company makes up about 75 percent of their income and they are always on the lookout for a neglected classic from someone’s back shed.
There’s also a small repair workshop at the Horopito site, which is largely used for Colin’s various project cars, warrants and fitting parts to customer cars. There’s another larger workshop in the centre of Ohakune, which Colin admits he bought about six years ago largely to prevent it being closed down. “We send all our modern stuff there.”
Barbara Fredricksen learned the business from her father. She drove around the North Island with him as a child and later as a young woman; managing the business accounts, buying cars and parts and then on-selling them from Horopito. Between her and Colin they know where every car is on the place, and just where to go in the enormous, aging and crammed buildings to find a particular part. Both their memories are filing cabinets of information on the makes, models, parts and pieces that make up New Zealand car history. It is astonishing.
Colin says, “If a customer asks for parts for a 1959 FC Holden for instance, I can usually just list the parts we have. Or I can tell from a picture whether we’ve got it or not. Barbara is the same.”
Barbara says “I remember because of all the sorting and stacking I’ve done over the years.”
Their daughter Michelle also works part-time in the business and while there is no possibility of ever cataloguing their vast amount of stock, they are starting to advertise parts on Trade Me.
Growing the collection
The site’s roots reach back into the early 1900s, when it was a blacksmith’s forge and horse stables. One of the original wide-planked buildings is still used to store dozens of wooden-spoked wheels, among other parts.
In the mid 1940s Bill Cole arrived in town and set up a workshop in what was originally a sawmill with cookhouse/bunkroom. He milled trees off the property using the sawmill (which has been restored), built the family home and later the large sheds to house the ever-growing collection of cars.
His son-in-law Colin was a builder when he met Barbara but he also loves cars. Over the years he has repaired, raised new roofs and added walls to the collection of buildings on the site.
His latest project was to clear out one of the buildings to set up a museum for some of the cars he has restored. His collection of around 30 vehicles includes a 1936 Chevy Coup, “two or three” Model As, a 1929 Dodge and a former London Transport double decker bus. Most are in storage at his home, but several make up the public display at the museum.