Hats off to Joe

A lifetime interest in vintage cars has been a ‘hell of a lot of fun’ for Gisborne man Joe Webber. The 89-year-old this week was presented with a Vintage Car Club 50-year award. He talked to Debbie Gregory about vintage cars, the Gisborne Vintage Car Club and how he ended up with four sets of different trade tools.

A lifetime interest in vintage cars has been a ‘hell of a lot of fun’ for Gisborne man Joe Webber. The 89-year-old this week was presented with a Vintage Car Club 50-year award. He talked to Debbie Gregory about vintage cars, the Gisborne Vintage Car Club and how he ended up with four sets of different trade tools.

IT’S ALL BEEN FUN: Gisborne man Joe Webber has been acknowledged for his 50-year involvement with vintage cars. He is pictured above with his Austin 7 Tophat, which is nearly 90 years old.
Joe’s Vintage Car Club 50-year award.
CHRISTMAS PARADE STAR: The Webber’s Austin 7 could often be found in Christmas parades, the most memorable one being in 1988 when it was enclosed in a Matchbox Yesteryear-like box, looking similar to yesteryear models available at the hobby shops, and towed in the parade.
NELSON RALLY: International vintage car rallies have been an important part of Joe and Merle’s life. Together they took part in the 1972 International Rally in Nelson with the Austin 7.
FAMILY: Joe and Merle Webber are pictured in 2013 with their daughters Lyn (left) and Irene and the family’s little Austin 7 Tophat that is the same age as Joe, and restored with love.

OWNER of three vintage Austins and a sporty little 1968 MGB, it is Joe Webber’s Austin 7 Tophat he bought first, that is his baby.

“It’s exactly the same age as me,” he says.

Mr Webber first joined the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand in September 1966 as a member of the Hawke’s Bay branch.

A short time later, with a group of members, he travelled to Hawke’s Bay to put the case of Gisborne becoming a sub-branch of Hawke’s Bay — the first sub-branch to be formed in the New Zealand Vintage Car Club — a name that was continued until Gisborne became a branch of its own in 1973.

Prior to all that, Mr Webber and his wife Merle had been travelling regularly at weekends from Gisborne to Pahiatua to help their friends Graham and Marie Masemann restore a 1926 Crossley which the Webbers and Masemanns were going to use to take part in the 1965 Haast tour.

Mr Webber had the option of purchasing a 2-door Buick Opera Coupe at the time, but instead purchased a 1928 Austin 7 Tophat which was restored in time to take part in the Cook Bicentennial Rally in Gisborne in October 1969.

“Merle didn’t want a big car so when we spotted the Austin 7 for sale on Gladstone Road we decided to buy it.

“I offered him 20 pound for it and he said he wanted 25 so that is what I paid for it .”

There was a drain at the front of their house so he used that as his “pit” while working on the Austin 7.

“Merle did all the upholstery. The pleats in the seats all have the original horsehair in them. She stuffed the hair into each pleat with a ruler.”

A cooper by trade, Mr Webber worked at the Gold Top Brewery in Gisborne from 1946, and when, in 1980, that was taken over by the Leopard Brewery he moved there.

He had learned the trade of a cooper from his uncle and still has the original set of tools.

“After the war, they needed some help at the brewery so I was trained up. I was only 19 and the law said only people over 21 could work in a brewery but because I was doing an apprenticeship I was allowed to stay.”

He actually ended up with four sets of tools, for coopering, for carpentry (as he was handy with wood), plumbing tools from the brewery days, and he worked for Laskey’s Carpets in his finals days of employment, so has a set of carpet-laying tools also.

“I am lucky I have always been good with my hands.”

The Webbers have two daughters, Gisborne- based Irene Webber and Wellington-based Lyn Provost, who was recently honoured by being named a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday honours. Lyn has been New Zealand’s auditor-general and deputy police commissioner.

International vintage car rallies

International vintage car rallies have been an important part of Joe and Merle’s life.

Together they took part in the 1972 International Rally in Nelson with the Austin 7 and they have attended all the International and Pan Pacific rallies throughout New Zealand apart from the 2006, 2012 and 2016 rallies, as well as many national branch events throughout the country.

“From one end of the country to the other,” Mr Webber says.

The couple were part of a team at the 1980 Rotorua rally producing the daily Rearview newsletter and the souvenir booklet printed at the end of that rally.

Mr Webber was one of the founding members of the Gisborne branch together with Bruce Pidgeon who was domiciled there at that time running the Ace Tyres franchise.

He was first chairman of the branch and served in various positions on the committee over the years.

“It is a shame we didn’t register Merle as a member when I joined because she has been as much a part of this as me and deserves the award as much as me.”

Mr Webber was also instrumental in obtaining a derelict 1929 Morris Commercial truck which is still in the club’s hands today.

Restoration was carried out at the rear of the Ace Tyres premises, where the branch had been allowed the use of a corner of the property to store parts and scrap metal (which was a good money-spinner in those early days). The truck’s first rally was the Easter Rally at Tauranga in 1969.

Mrs Webber became a staunch member of branch affairs, taking on several different roles over the years. Her sisters Ida and Thea and their respective husbands Ivan English and Les Lucas, all became club members with club-eligible vehicles to enjoy participating. Mr Webber’s brother Keith and his wife Avon were also members with a Model A Ford Pickup which belonged to Avon’s father.

Initially, monthly meetings were held in members’ homes, but Mr Webber, with the help of his brother-in-law Mr English were able to convince the people from the Mangapapa Union Parish Church to allow the use of a converted house at the rear of the church for meetings.

This continued for several years until the branch firstly built a parts shed at the Showgrounds and later added the clubrooms to the building.

The clubrooms were formally opened in 1983 by club president Norm Dewhurst.

Mr Webber also instigated the Toatoa Campouts which ran for some years during Auckland Anniversary weekend.

On the first trip a patch of ground near the road at Toatoa was selected as a suitable place on which to erect tents. On the second camp-out the irate owner of the land demanded to know what was going on, but once satisfied that there was to be no full-time occupation, he became quite amenable. In the years that followed, he would often join the campers around the campfire, sometimes donating meat for the spit.

These were considered great weekends with activities for the kids and adults alike, and a swimming hole discovered at the end of Takaputahi Road was considered the icing on the cake.

On one or more occasions, members from other VCC branches would be accommodated by the Webbers in the basement of their home rather than staying in a nearby scout hall that had been arranged but found to be too cold for comfort. The basement was also conveniently used for branch social events from time to time.

The Webber’s Austin 7 could often be found in Christmas parades, the most memorable one being in 1988 when it was enclosed in a Matchbox Yesteryear-like box, looking similar to yesteryear models available at the hobby shops, and towed in the parade.

Mr Webber was also a member of the Austin Register and later purchased a 1931 Austin 12/6 Harley which he restored and has used on several rallies around New Zealand.

A 1968 MGB later joined the stable and he also restored a 1951 James motorcycle which had been located at Toatoa between Motu and Opotiki.

A 1927 Essex and the components of two Model A Fords were gathered over the years, but disposed of to other members, due to the lack of time to restore them.

Over the years, Mr Webber has turned his wood-working skills to good use, making the wooden components and bases for several of the branch trophies.

In some instances the wood used has been sourced from origins of note — for instance, in one case a part of a beer barrel and in another case a part of the staircase banister in Gisborne’s iconic Opera House, long since demolished.

Mr Webber has been generous with his advice and assistance over the years, making parts from his collection of spares available to help others with their vehicle restorations.

• Additional reporting by Rod Clague and Tony Bartlett

OWNER of three vintage Austins and a sporty little 1968 MGB, it is Joe Webber’s Austin 7 Tophat he bought first, that is his baby.

“It’s exactly the same age as me,” he says.

Mr Webber first joined the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand in September 1966 as a member of the Hawke’s Bay branch.

A short time later, with a group of members, he travelled to Hawke’s Bay to put the case of Gisborne becoming a sub-branch of Hawke’s Bay — the first sub-branch to be formed in the New Zealand Vintage Car Club — a name that was continued until Gisborne became a branch of its own in 1973.

Prior to all that, Mr Webber and his wife Merle had been travelling regularly at weekends from Gisborne to Pahiatua to help their friends Graham and Marie Masemann restore a 1926 Crossley which the Webbers and Masemanns were going to use to take part in the 1965 Haast tour.

Mr Webber had the option of purchasing a 2-door Buick Opera Coupe at the time, but instead purchased a 1928 Austin 7 Tophat which was restored in time to take part in the Cook Bicentennial Rally in Gisborne in October 1969.

“Merle didn’t want a big car so when we spotted the Austin 7 for sale on Gladstone Road we decided to buy it.

“I offered him 20 pound for it and he said he wanted 25 so that is what I paid for it .”

There was a drain at the front of their house so he used that as his “pit” while working on the Austin 7.

“Merle did all the upholstery. The pleats in the seats all have the original horsehair in them. She stuffed the hair into each pleat with a ruler.”

A cooper by trade, Mr Webber worked at the Gold Top Brewery in Gisborne from 1946, and when, in 1980, that was taken over by the Leopard Brewery he moved there.

He had learned the trade of a cooper from his uncle and still has the original set of tools.

“After the war, they needed some help at the brewery so I was trained up. I was only 19 and the law said only people over 21 could work in a brewery but because I was doing an apprenticeship I was allowed to stay.”

He actually ended up with four sets of tools, for coopering, for carpentry (as he was handy with wood), plumbing tools from the brewery days, and he worked for Laskey’s Carpets in his finals days of employment, so has a set of carpet-laying tools also.

“I am lucky I have always been good with my hands.”

The Webbers have two daughters, Gisborne- based Irene Webber and Wellington-based Lyn Provost, who was recently honoured by being named a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday honours. Lyn has been New Zealand’s auditor-general and deputy police commissioner.

International vintage car rallies

International vintage car rallies have been an important part of Joe and Merle’s life.

Together they took part in the 1972 International Rally in Nelson with the Austin 7 and they have attended all the International and Pan Pacific rallies throughout New Zealand apart from the 2006, 2012 and 2016 rallies, as well as many national branch events throughout the country.

“From one end of the country to the other,” Mr Webber says.

The couple were part of a team at the 1980 Rotorua rally producing the daily Rearview newsletter and the souvenir booklet printed at the end of that rally.

Mr Webber was one of the founding members of the Gisborne branch together with Bruce Pidgeon who was domiciled there at that time running the Ace Tyres franchise.

He was first chairman of the branch and served in various positions on the committee over the years.

“It is a shame we didn’t register Merle as a member when I joined because she has been as much a part of this as me and deserves the award as much as me.”

Mr Webber was also instrumental in obtaining a derelict 1929 Morris Commercial truck which is still in the club’s hands today.

Restoration was carried out at the rear of the Ace Tyres premises, where the branch had been allowed the use of a corner of the property to store parts and scrap metal (which was a good money-spinner in those early days). The truck’s first rally was the Easter Rally at Tauranga in 1969.

Mrs Webber became a staunch member of branch affairs, taking on several different roles over the years. Her sisters Ida and Thea and their respective husbands Ivan English and Les Lucas, all became club members with club-eligible vehicles to enjoy participating. Mr Webber’s brother Keith and his wife Avon were also members with a Model A Ford Pickup which belonged to Avon’s father.

Initially, monthly meetings were held in members’ homes, but Mr Webber, with the help of his brother-in-law Mr English were able to convince the people from the Mangapapa Union Parish Church to allow the use of a converted house at the rear of the church for meetings.

This continued for several years until the branch firstly built a parts shed at the Showgrounds and later added the clubrooms to the building.

The clubrooms were formally opened in 1983 by club president Norm Dewhurst.

Mr Webber also instigated the Toatoa Campouts which ran for some years during Auckland Anniversary weekend.

On the first trip a patch of ground near the road at Toatoa was selected as a suitable place on which to erect tents. On the second camp-out the irate owner of the land demanded to know what was going on, but once satisfied that there was to be no full-time occupation, he became quite amenable. In the years that followed, he would often join the campers around the campfire, sometimes donating meat for the spit.

These were considered great weekends with activities for the kids and adults alike, and a swimming hole discovered at the end of Takaputahi Road was considered the icing on the cake.

On one or more occasions, members from other VCC branches would be accommodated by the Webbers in the basement of their home rather than staying in a nearby scout hall that had been arranged but found to be too cold for comfort. The basement was also conveniently used for branch social events from time to time.

The Webber’s Austin 7 could often be found in Christmas parades, the most memorable one being in 1988 when it was enclosed in a Matchbox Yesteryear-like box, looking similar to yesteryear models available at the hobby shops, and towed in the parade.

Mr Webber was also a member of the Austin Register and later purchased a 1931 Austin 12/6 Harley which he restored and has used on several rallies around New Zealand.

A 1968 MGB later joined the stable and he also restored a 1951 James motorcycle which had been located at Toatoa between Motu and Opotiki.

A 1927 Essex and the components of two Model A Fords were gathered over the years, but disposed of to other members, due to the lack of time to restore them.

Over the years, Mr Webber has turned his wood-working skills to good use, making the wooden components and bases for several of the branch trophies.

In some instances the wood used has been sourced from origins of note — for instance, in one case a part of a beer barrel and in another case a part of the staircase banister in Gisborne’s iconic Opera House, long since demolished.

Mr Webber has been generous with his advice and assistance over the years, making parts from his collection of spares available to help others with their vehicle restorations.

• Additional reporting by Rod Clague and Tony Bartlett

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