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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 4, 2001

Early Nelson Motoring: The Vining Family

page 37

Early Nelson Motoring: The Vining Family

Editorial Introduction by Athol Blair:

From the very early days of motoring in Nelson the name of Vining, like that of Coote, was for many years a household word. Indeed, the association of the Vining name with motoring lasted three quarters of a century.

It all began following the arrival of William G ('WG') Vining in Nelson just as the revolution created by the internal combustion engine automobile was beginning. The first such cars landed at the Nelson wharf in 1903, the first year in which the steam cars in the world were outnumbered by the benzine engine car. Typically, they were open vehicles without a hood of any kind and with a single cylinder engine.

It was in exactly this kind of car in 1908, (the year the world's first mass-produced car, the famous Ford Model T was born), that 'WG' won an indelible place in Nelson motoring history as told in a separate article in this Journal.

WG Vining was born in England in 1865, the tenth family member of James Tally Vining, a barrister, and was educated on the Isle of Wight.

He did not keep the best of health and came to New Zealand in 1892, at the age of 37, seeking a better living environment. Three years later he married Margaret Kebbell and had two children; Vera, later to be Vera Farmer, and our father, Philip.

His early ambition saw him open a business in upper Trafalgar Street, in the premises now occupied by Chez Eelco. At first he sold pianos and bicycles, and then very early motor cars from the building at the rear, which later became the Peter Cooper Photographic Studio. The original wooden turntable in the floor for the cars could still be seen in Peter Cooper's time.

With the progression and development of the motor car, 'WG' saw an opportunity to sell and promote the motor car further. In 1907 he built a very large garage which occupied the inner city block between Bridge and page 38Hardy Streets. It was later known as Montgomery's Garage and is now the Montgomery Car Park.

From these premises he started by selling Cadillacs, which he imported as bare chassis and ran a separate asssembly division to build the completed motor vehicle, along with other makes. He later obtained the franchising of Hudson, Essex, Chevrolet and Rover cars.

Pope Motors, in which he had an interest, also operated a passenger car service to Blenheim, Motueka and Riwaka from the garage. This service was eventually taken over by Newmans for their early motor vehicle routes.

Our father, Phil Vining, started as an apprentice with 'WG' and became workshop manager. When he reminisced about those early days, he recalled that he was driving a motor car at the age of 10 and, from the age of 14, he filled in as a driver for passengers to Blenheim at times.

We remember him telling us that on his most eventful trip to Blenheim the brakes failed completely going down hill. Rather than risk going over the edge and down a big drop, he drove the vehicle parallel into the bank on the driver's side and brought it to a halt without injury to himself or the passengers. If a car broke down or crashed, there were no breakdown trucks to uplift the vehicle and take it back to the garage.

When a car was sold, invariably the purchaser had never driven a car and it was expected, as part of the sales, that they would be taught to drive.

Les White, who started his apprenticeship with 'WG', became the foreman and then service manager of Central Motors in Trafalgar Street, which later became Wrightcars. Les recalled attending a car accident in the Collins Valley at which he first had to heat and straighten the chassis, before driving the car back to Nelson.

'WG' disposed of his business to Les Montgomery on 30 September 1927, and the building then became Montgomery's garage. Our father Phil then, together with Charles Scott, started business in Bridge Street under the name of P Vining & Scott in a building known then as Bishop's page 39Garages. They had the Essex and Hudson franchises and they subsequently moved with these to a building in Waimea (now Rutherford) Street, a garage formerly known as Hall and Coote's. They added the Morris franchise to their range in 1932.

WG Vining and his staff. (Kingsford Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum 118117/6)

WG Vining and his staff. (Kingsford Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum 118117/6)

'WG' enjoyed good music and played both the piano and organ. He was Nelson Cathedral Organist for several years. He was known as a very gentle person, with a twinkle in his eye and a good sense of humour. A president of the Nelson City Club, he was made a life member of that organisation. He enjoyed owning motor vehicles of distinction, such as Lancaster, Rover and Fiat, and in his retirement loved to potter with the mechanical aspects of these cars in a large workshop sited on a property now occupied by the grounds of Auckland Point School.