It’s not every day, month, or even year that a new car museum opens up, but that fact didn’t stop Paul Boden from doing just that.

Paul’s passion for things-automotive saw his own garages and sheds full of cars, until that day when someone suggested he open a car museum to display them. That was ten years ago, and in December of 2023, Cars Inc was opened to the public in Trentham, Upper Hutt, near Wellington.

“We had a number of sheds at home with various cars in them,” says Paul, “we used to have hot rod clubs and the like out to the sheds to have a look and have a coffee. Then one day a visitor said ‘why don’t you create a museum since you’ve already got one at home’. It’s been a bit of a pipe dream, but that’s how it started.”

No one ever saw this as an overnight thing and it took Paul and his family three years to go from visiting an architect to opening day, with some of the legacy delays around COVID certainly not helping. I was curious to find out who designed the building, as it flows well and seems to work as a museum. It turns out that it was Paul and family who designed it – and didn’t want any changes or suggestions from the architect. “We’re into symmetry, so if you put a line down the middle of it, it’s the same both ways – and the café is much the same.”

You have to wonder about a local council’s approach to something like a car museum, and pleasantly, Paul says that Upper Hutt City Council was nothing but supportive of the venture. “They were 100% onboard with everything we did. They want to bring more people to Upper Hutt, and that showed in the dealings we had with them.”

Would they change anything, now they’ve opened and seen the place working? “Only storage. There never seems to be enough storage for stuff.” Sounds a lot like my garage and workshop.

Some people would see a car museum as a relic from the past, so is this a massive gamble – to launch a new car museum in 2024? Not according to Paul, and it’s all about the passion New Zealanders have for cars and automotive-related things. “So many people in New Zealand have cars tucked away in sheds, and they might bring them out a few times a year for a car show, but otherwise, no one gets to see them. We are allowing people to bring their pride and joy out of those sheds and let others appreciate them.”

Regardless, this venture is a business risk – as is any new business. However, making sure there is a café with great food available means that there is another avenue for revenue for the museum. With a new housing subdivision close by, Paul says they get people from that subdivision coming in for coffee or meals – and some of them are calling in three times a week for a hot, cooked breakfast. “The food reviews have been really good, so we’ve got that side of it nailed.” It’s still the museum that’s bringing the most people in, naturally. “I’ve seen people going through the car museum 3 or 4 times – and we’ve only been open for 5 months.”

Visitor numbers were always going to be hard to guess, but after opening for just over 4 months, over 7,000 people have been through the museum. Paul suggests that while they “toyed with some numbers” they had no idea what it was really going to be like. But happily, visitor numbers have exceeded their expectations, but now the honeymoon period is over they’re keen to see what the numbers are like after 12 months of being open.

So, what about the cars on display? Is this a static museum with 60 or so cars, parked up forever? Not so, apparently, as the plan is to rotate the majority of the cars around regularly. Paul has a list of people who want to display their own cars, and he makes them aware it’s a minimum 6-month commitment. The last thing he wants is someone rocking up on a Friday afternoon and asking for their car to be hauled out for the weekend.

“It’s a growing list,” says Paul, “we are getting all sorts of enquiries from car owners who want to show their car off to the public. If you’ve got a cool car, it’s better on display here than sitting in a shed with a cover over it. It’s a great opportunity for people to showcase their cars.”

Around half the cars on display belong to Paul and the rest are on loan. His favourite is the 1955 Chevs – actually he has five of them at the moment, but ‘only’ three are on display at the museum.

Feedback to date has been brilliant, with even non-car people still enjoying the museum or the café while their better half walks the floor. “A lot of the support we’ve had has been humbling, not just from places like car clubs but also from the local community,” he adds.

Paul with one of his five 1955 Chevs

Cars Inc. realise they need to have regular events to keep the turnover up, so every first Sunday is a Rodder’s Breakfast and every second Sunday is a Biker Breakfast. The first Rodder Breakfast saw 180 people turn up in 80 cars, with many parked on the road. Another 85 people turned up for the Biker Breakfast. The Sunday after I visited Cars Inc., it was to be the first JDM and Euro Breakfast.

Opening a car museum might seem like a dream for some car lovers, but it’s not easy when you’ve never done it before. Paul and his family had to start with a clean slate and learn from there. “There are standards and protocols around things like the café, but for everything we had to learn what to do,” he says. Paul’s partner had worked in hospitality some years ago, but overall even starting and running the café was a steep learning curve. The café opens at 8am each day.

Along with the cars and motorbikes on display, visitors will find each wall covered in automotive memorabilia, along with over 2,000 model cars. All the memorabilia is owned by Paul and family, while the model cars are owned by others.

While it’s difficult to grow the physical building without going up, there are plans to grow the business by increasing visitor numbers. For example, Cars Inc. is now getting local rest homes bringing their residents through, and I can imagine what a treat it is for many of those people to see the cars on display. The museum has just received their alcohol license, that was a “mammoth task” says Paul. This means they can now take bookings to run events in the evenings after the doors have shut to the public. One lady has already booked the place to hold her 50th birthday, with a Grease theme. This location is perfect for that scenario. “We’re still at the start, but we will grow.”

For me, Paul has done what lots of ‘car guys’ talk about doing: building and filling a car museum – and doing it properly. I’ve been to some “car museums” where there are holes in the floor and weeds are growing through, into the cars. I’m sure you will have similar stories of so-called car museums that have left you shaking your head.

That’s not the case at Cars Inc; it’s brand new, professionally run and an amazing addition to Wellington’s selection of must-see venues.

Cars Inc:

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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.


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