Those New Zealanders around *cough* my age will have fond memories of Todd Motors. Their logo seemed to be everywhere, and they were a huge player in the New Zealand car industry, to the point of having 1,800 staff at their factory in Porirua, Wellington at its peak.
The company started in the early 1900s in Heriot, West Otago, in the South Island.
Then in 1987, John Todd, the Managing Director of Todd Motors Group, announced to New Zealand that they were selling 100% of the company to Mitsubishi Motors, with the new company called Mitsubishi Motors New Zealand (MMNZ).
The company certainly has gone from strength to strength, and now apparently there are more Mitsubishis sold to private individuals than any other brand. That’s a big claim to fame, when you take the rental car market out of the numbers.
After over 100 years in New Zealand via the Todd Motors brand or under MMNZ, it was decided it was high time to celebrate this achievement.
Neil O’Callaghan, convenor of the event and also MMNZ’s Technical Service Engineer, explained some of the background for the idea of the Heritage Day.
“The actual idea was from Roger White, who had worked for Todd Motors and then MMMZ for many decades. He had this thought, and it seemed like a great idea. It took me a week to come up with a name that would represent what we were trying to achieve, but we think Heritage Day says it all.”
But this was a first for MMNZ – so no one had really thought about what would happen. “We had a blank canvas,” says Neil, “and had no idea initially what we wanted to do for an inaugural event. We decided to start at the place where most of the action happened –Todd Park in Porirua. Then we’d go to Southward Car Museum as they have a long history in the area.”
While the organising was happening, all of a sudden a dealer unearthed some new old stock from under some shelving. So that meant it was time to have an auction to get rid of these parts from the 1950s, and also some other product donated by suppliers. The auction raised around $1500 for Wellington Free Ambulance.
For this event, people travelled from wide and far once they knew what was happening.
“We’ve got our parts and service dealer from Russell McBride in Alexandra, he’s the furthest travelled. He drove a 1975 1850 Galant up for this event,” Neil told me.
There was also people from North of Auckland and Napier who came especially for the Heritage Day.
“There’s a YC Sigma here about 1978, that vehicle is a survivor, one owner from Oamaru,” says Neil. “The new owner who works at Mexted Motors was going to hot rod it, but the rest of the people at Mexted said ‘there’s no way you are going to hot rod that car’. That was good to hear. It’s pretty hard to find original cars from the 1970s or 1980s now.”
Part of this event included some family history from Mike Todd, and I managed to catch up with him after the event.
There’s no way anyone can say that Mike Todd could be considered simply a figurehead of the Todd Family. Mike is a true Car Guy. He has a small collection of 8 cars, including a 1972 ex-Rod Coppins E49 Valiant Charger that he brought along for the Heritage Day. He also owns a 1962 Sunbeam Alpine, and Mike restored both of these cars. His Charger and Alpine are both ex-Todd Motors franchise cars.
Mike was Executive Manager Marketing in 1987 at the time of handover to MMNZ, but resigned afterwards.
Drive Life chatted to Mike about the Todd Motors Group and Mitsubishi New Zealand.
What did you take from the Heritage Day?
Inside MMNZ, it intrigues me that there’s still such enthusiasm for the company and products, even though we don’t build cars here anymore. There’s such passion from the employees of MMNZ for the company, and they way they are treated there. Some of the people working there have been there a long, long time yet still get so much satisfaction from working for MMNZ. The organiser for the Heritage Day, Neil has been there over 40 years. It’s a good indication of a company doing it right by their employees.
I think it was obvious from the calibre of cars there today – and not just older British classics, but the number of older Mitsubishis – that there’s still passion for the Mitsubishi brand, and of course all those brands that the Todd Motor Group either imported or assembled in Petone and then Porirua.
So what does that mean for the future of MMNZ?
There’s some extremely exciting product that’s going to come from the Mitsubishi/Nissan/Renault merger. Time will tell, but there’s no doubt the whole landscape of car retailing in New Zealand, and the world, will be very different in a few decades.
After four terrible days of wind and rain, Heritage Day rolled around, and the sun was shining – and there was no wind at all. A little cold to start with for those in convertibles, but it was 100% one of those “can’t beat Wellington on a good day” sort of day.
As early as 830 in the morning, cars started to roll up to Todd Park in Porirua. There was a huge variation in brands and years, very much showing the history of Todd Motors Group and MMNZ.
I walked around, drooling over the 1973 GTO and then the 1991 GTO – both amazing cars for their day, plus the beautiful 1962 De Soto Diplomat, and so many other cars.
Funnily, I was talking to someone the other day that you never see a Mitsubishi Starion anymore, and then I see four, all at the Heritage Day. As an aside to this, Mike Todd tells me later he’s owned 3 Starions, including a wide body – naturally he regrets selling any of them. It was so good to see these four at the Heritage Day and looking great.
With over 100 cars on display, it was good to see that not only were there cars as good as they left the factory (sometimes better) but also some that were well used.
We all wandered into Todd Park for the auction, and also a talk from Mike Todd on the entire history of the Todd Family’s motoring interests, and it was bloody interesting stuff – complete with historical photos. This history wasn’t something that would be repeated any time soon, so it was a privilege to hear this from a Todd family member, rather than read about it in a book.
After the formalities, each car did a slow cruise up to Southward Car Museum in Paraparaumu, for more drooling and some lunch – and also to take in the museum.
There wasn’t much more to the day, other than to hand out the award for People’s Choice. It was won by a certain 1965 Sunbeam Tiger owned by yours truly. It was well worth me going to this Heritage Day, and I do believe the value of my Tiger just increased. ?
A great day, thanks to MMNZ, and hopefully not another 100 years before the next one.