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American Fever grips Taranaki

20 March 2017


I can’t remember a time when major changes in the American political landscape created as much interest in New Zealand as they do now. The newspapers are full of Trumpisms, Trump policy, and Trump faux pas. 

On the other hand, the tenth running of Americarna was an event to celebrate all things good about America, including culture, fashion, and, of course, cars. Hence it was ironic, as well as a relief, to be amongst American themes, US flags and bunting, yet void of anything referencing Trump and his tirades, images, and tweets over February 22–25.

They say that worldwide the English language has been of an American flavour, and that the American way of life spread first through movies and then television. The same can be said of its cars. The ubiquitous Model T, followed by numerous striking models from all manufacturers in the 1920s and ’30s, followed by the reincarnation of vehicle design post World War II. 

Then there were the large chrome-laden monsters of the 1950s and ’60s, the British-inspired sports vehicles, and, of course, the smaller, cheaper vehicles sold to baby boomers that we love so much, such as Mustangs and Camaros. 

The 10th anniversary of Americarna celebrated all of these important generations of American motoring heritage. There were rare bespoke models from the 1920s and ’30s on display, all the way through to the muscle cars of the 1960s and the latest offerings from Detroit in both left- and right-hand drive.

Americarna has become an institution in the Taranaki, having been held once in Lower Hutt and once in the deep south, but now firmly ensconced in the land of white and black gold. Although these last two industries have fallen on harder times in the last few years, Taranaki has been promoting tourism, which is something that Americarna encourages and enriches.

This year was their largest event yet, beginning on the Wednesday with a cruise to the beautiful Opunake Beach and a party at the TSB Stadium at night. Thursday was a ‘best dressed in your 1950s costume’ theme, with a cruise to Waitara and then on to Inglewood for a street party untill dark. 

Friday was a big day, cruising initially to Stratford and then onto Hawera. Hundreds of cars dominated the highway back to New Plymouth late in the afternoon, ensuring everyone knew Americarna was on in Taranaki. Saturday was the final day and was kicked off with the cars on display in New Plymouth followed by a large party for all entrants. 

My wife and I travelled to New Plymouth on the Friday afternoon in our 2011 Shelby GT500. Settling into the Waterfront Hotel we took a table at the Arborio restaurant at the Puke Ariki Museum next door for dinner. Overlooking St Aubyn Street we watched an armada of US gems driving past — the deep rumble of V8 engines a constant background to the delight of diners.

The next day, and a two-minute walk from the hotel, brought us to the heart of the New Plymouth CBD and Devon Street. Known as the longest, continuous straight street in any New Zealand city, its central area had been shut to regular traffic from 10am to 3pm. 

Classic American vehicles were parked on both sides of the main street and side streets with more than 400 vehicles on display, along with merchandise stalls and entertainment. Thousands of people walked along the footpaths and in the middle of the street admiring and, in some cases, drooling over people’s prides and joy. 

The fact that New Zealand has such a large number of US cars from all years is matched by their owners’ motivation to drive them to all corners of the country. There are hundreds of car shows every year providing motivation for owners to get their cars out of their garages, but few of these can compare to the size and organization of Americarna. More than 800 cars were registered for this year’s event, the sun shone all week, and Taranaki was alive with rock-and-roll music and American grunt. 

On display on the Saturday were the normal suspects, Tri-Fives and late-model Corvettes, but there were rare cars, not often seen that caught my eye. Plymouth Prowlers (three from memory), an Auburn, a Packard, a Chevy tow truck from the 1930s, Caddys from the 1950s, a split-window ’Vette, an Edsel, and several retro Thunderbirds from the early 2000s.

Well done to the organizers of Americarna who not only brought a massive collection of US cars and car lovers together, but also promoted the fantastic towns, scenery, and coastal highway of Taranaki. 

Next year’s event is already being planned for February 21–24, so make sure you’re there to check it out.