Kevin Dunlop collects, maintains and services classic vehicles and is a classic character, to boot. He tells PHILIP CHANDLER why he’s part of a dying breed, and explains the only downside to owning old cars in Queenstown

A Queenstown master mechanic with a passion for old cars and engines is finally living out his dream.

After a long retail career, former Southlander Kevin Dunlop is now specialising solely in the mechanical servicing and repairing of classic vehicles — and finding heaps of work for his business, Old School Mechanical.

For the 52-year-old, who also has a formidable collection of classic cars and motorcycles, vehicles are in his blood.

A branch of his family owns a mechanical garage in Clydevale, South Otago, which was started by his great-grandfather in about 1898 as a blacksmiths.

Dunlop himself, after completing a six-year apprentice ship, went to a garage in Lorneville, near Invercargill, which his dad, himself a mechanic, had already owned for about 20 years.

In turn, he built what became Lorneville Small Engines into a major Husqvarna dealership, specialising in mowers and chainsaws, as well as
automotive repairs.

In its heyday, the business employed eight staff.

After 29-and-a-half years, he and his wife Sandy sold the business in 2019.

Meantime, the couple had bought Queenstown’s Southern Lakes Mowers in 2015.

After selling it last October, they set up Old School Mechanical in a new shed they’d built on their property in Queenstown’s Arrow Junction.

They’d specifically bought the 3.5-hectare property, after selling their Arrowtown crib, as it had two building platforms.

It also had a colourful history, having once hosted a failed ostrich farm and then dog kennels.

Sandy says she and Kevin had started talking about their latest move 18 to 20 years ago, ‘‘when we first got together’’.

‘‘Kevin said, ‘this is where I want to be’, I said, ‘well, I’m happy to be there, too’.’’

Kevin adds: ‘‘At Lorneville, we did cars full-time but here at Southern Lakes we just did lawn mowers.

‘‘I did a bit of [automotive] stuff at home for clients, but I didn’t get home from work till 6 o’clock.’’

What he likes about old vehicles, he says, is ‘‘everything’s repairable and it’s repaired manually’’.

‘‘All that earlier stuff is all tuned by ear — it’s actually a dying art now, the old-school stuff.

‘‘To find people to repair old vehicles now is quite a problem because the new apprentices aren’t trained to do that.

‘‘They are really fitters, not mechanics — they take the part out of the box, bolt it on and plug it in.’’

Kevin says he can’t believe the number of classic cars in garages and sheds around Queenstown — ‘‘I’ve got clients that have got three, four or five of them’’.

He recalls his uncle telling his dad when the latter started out as an apprentice — ‘‘you’ll never be out of a job because where there’s wheels or cogs, there will always be trouble’’.

Meanwhile, Kevin confesses he’s almost running out of room in his new shed for his own vehicle collection.

He has about 13 classic cars and 15 motorcycles and scooters.

The oldest is a 1931 Ford Model A Roadster, while his big green 1937 Hudson Terraplane Coupe is irreplaceable, he says.

‘‘We buy and sell classic cars, but we would never sell this collection.’’

The 1952 Desoto Diplomat, for example, had been bought by his dad and has been in his family for 48 years.

Another example is his 1957 Series 1 Landrover — ‘‘my father bought that at an airforce auction in 1962’’.

Sandy says at January’s Lake Hayes A&P Show, when Kevin drove it around the show grounds with special guests, the Topp Twins, onboard, ‘‘a guy said to Kevin, ‘I will pay you whatever you want, just put a price on it’’’.

‘‘Kevin said ‘no’.’’

Given older vehicles don’t usually have the horsepower of their modern equivalents, the couple say the only downside about storing old classics in Queenstown is we don’t have the long flat stretches of road you find in Southland.

Kevin: ‘‘There’s not enough flat road before you get a hill.’’

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