A high-flyer who dared to dream

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Car lover: Jock Freemantle with his Formula One-type Hulme car in 2009 PICTURE: OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Queenstown’s been built by entrepreneurs. One of the most colourful was Jock Freemantle, who died recently. Despite only living here for 17 years, till 1986, he made a big impression in the tourism industry and the wider community. Philip Chandler reports

Although he left Queenstown more than 30 years ago, Jock Freemantle left an indelible impression on the town and on those who knew him.

The colourful British-born entrepreneur – who later conceived, built and tried to produce a supercar named after New Zealand’s only Formula One winner, Denny Hulme – died near Dunedin recently, aged 75.

A Queenstown memorial service will be held for him this Saturday.

In reminiscences recorded by an Otago Community Hospice biographer last year, Freemantle says he and his Kiwi wife Wendy moved to the resort in 1969 specifically to open a guest house.

They bought a sloping section in Stanley Street, above the CBD, “even though everyone told us we were daft because the section was the wrong shape to build”.

They were advised to contact then-Oamaru architect Murray Cockburn, a fellow petrolhead who was impressed by Freemantle’s rare-in-NZ BMW 2002.

Cockburn, who later shifted to Queenstown, designed distinctive ‘A’-shaped chalets for Freemantle’s A-Line Motor Lodge.

He says his client got frustrated waiting for a building permit – “Jock was an impatient sort of a guy”.

Cockburn went to see then-mayor Warren Cooper, who introduced him to council building inspector, the late Alan Walker.

“Warren said to him, ‘would you describe to this young architect how you feel about his design?’

“‘Well, really, they sort of look like a row of African shit-houses’.”

Cockburn: “I said, ‘well, I’ll take that as a compliment, when can I get my approval?’

“He went and and got a stamp and stamped it on the spot.”

A-Line took off after it opened, winning an award as NZ’s best hotel/motel.

In his reminiscences, Freemantle says he gradually expanded A-Line by acquiring more land and borrowing $1 million from the bank.

To promote a new wing in 1980, he invited the Australian Penthouse ‘Pet of the Year’ to open it – “our new extension was all over the press”.

Striking: The A-Line Motor Lodge in 1987

Away from the business, wife Wendy says he “got involved in everything”.

He helped form the Wakatipu Aero Club, was its first vice-president and learnt to fly, later buying a Piper Cub which he used to take guests fishing.

With Dardy Wallace he got the outdoor ice rink back up and running, and he also helped set up the squash club.

He co-developed the Aintree Rise apartments on Park St then, when he shifted to Dalefield, put in a water scheme for 25 four-hectare blocks.

His big passions were skiing and sailing – he built a Ross 930 trailer yacht and sailed Foveaux Strait races between Bluff and Stewart Island.

He records that in about 1983 he was asked by the Mount Cook company boss to become temporary manager of Coronet Peak skifield after its manager Sugar Robinson suddenly resigned.

However, after waiting at the field next day to start the job, he found out Robinson had been persuaded to stay: “I was the shortest-serving ski mountain manager in the world – 10pm to 1.20pm the next day.”

Freemantle says they’d got to know everyone and become locals when they left for Auckland in 1986.

They’d not got on with their new American partner, the late Ralph Brown, so they sold their share of the business, and their children Kelly and Jake were being educated up north.

Freemantle initially co-designed a new cruising/racing yacht but bailed out after the ’87 sharemarket crash.

An engineer who’d trained with Rolls Royce in England, he got gripped by the idea of building a Kiwi supercar that would run on the road.

After 2002, he spent his life savings, with help from investors and friends like Cockburn and Maclean, designing and building his Hulme Supercar prototype.

He exhibited it in Queenstown in 2009, soon after its launch, and also all around the world.

However he refused to have it built outside NZ – “so I knew it would never go ahead”, Cockburn says.

“It was dead before Jock, if you know what I mean.”

Fellow Queenstown petrolhead Stuart Maclean, who co-drove for Freemantle in the 1970 South Island Silver Fern Rally, says “you’ve got to really stick your neck out to do something like that”.

“I think it was very sad [it didn’t take off] because I think it had the potential to actually happen, and through one reason or another, it didn’t happen.”

He adds that Freemantle was a fun person to be with: “He was a glass half-full person – there were never any negatives.

“If Jock was down, then the whole world was down.”

Diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2013, he and Wendy moved close to Dunedin two years ago.

“His belief in the Hulme was equalled only by his belief he would beat cancer,” wrote friend and motoring writer Allan Dick on the day he died.

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A memorial service will be held today, at 2pm, at Queenstown’s Anglican Church parish hall