NZ On Screen's Car Collection is loaded with vehicles of every make and vintage, as a line-up of legendary Kiwis get behind the wheel — some acting the part. The talent includes Bruce McLaren, Scott Dixon, Bruno Lawrence, a clever canine, and a great many bent fenders. Onetime car show host Danny Mulheron tells tales, and picks out some personal favourites here.
Goodbye Pork Pie was a low-budget sensation, definitively proving Kiwis could make blockbusters too. Young Gerry (Kelly Johnson) steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John (Tony Barry), who wants his wife back, and hitchhiker Shirl (Claire Oberman). Soon they're heading to Invercargill, with the police in pursuit. High on hair-raising driving and a childlike sense of joy, the Blondini gang are soon hailed as folk heroes, on screen and off. Remake Pork Pie is directed by Matt Murphy — son of Geoff, who drove the original film.
Bruce McLaren was one of the icons of motor racing in the sport's 60s ‘golden age’ – he won four Grand Prix, and joined fellow Kiwi Chris Amon to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The McLaren team he founded became one of the most successful in Formula One. In this documentary, director Roger Donaldson returns to the tarmac where he has made a mark before — Smash Palace, his fictional story of a race car driver, and two films inspired by Invercargill's DIY racing legend Burt Munro. Stuff reviewer James Croot called McLaren "engrossing, enlightening and surprisingly emotional".
This documentary uses archive footage and interviews to tell the story of motor-racing legends Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, and Chris Amon. The trio topped podiums in the sport's 'golden age' — one of those eras when unlikely Kiwi talent managed to dominate a truly global sport. The Team McLaren racing team that four times Grand Prix winner Bruce McLaren founded in 1966, has been the most successful in Formula One. That same year McLaren and Amon teamed up to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in 1967 Hulme was Formula One world champion.
A road movie with a heart of gold, Mark II is "the Polynesian Easy Rider". Three teens (Nicholas Rogers, Mitchell Manuel, Faifua Amiga) head south from Auckland in a two-tone Mark II Zephyr, two of them blissfully unaware they're being pursued by a van-load of vengeful thugs. Along the way, they encounter the Mongrel Mob, who turn out to be quite helpful, and experience love, prejudice and jealousy from strangers. Written by Mike Walker and Manuel, it was TVNZ's first telefeature and is the third film in a loose trilogy (following Kingi's Story and Kingpin).
In late 2012 Campbell Live showed that dogs could be taught new tricks, when canines Monty and Porter got behind the wheel of a Mini Countryman and took it for a racetrack spin. On 10 December in a "world first" live test drive, Monty went solo and Porter (nearly) drove reporter Tristram Clayton around a bend. The following night saw definitive evidence that dogs can turn corners. The stunt was an SPCA campaign to change perception about the intelligence of rescued canines. Animal wrangler Mark Vette trained the driving dogs, who attracted global media attention.
This motors'n'mullets doco focuses on a group of men, women and their families who are obsessed by stock car racing. Shot by Stuart Dryburgh, it follows a group of drivers and their crews as they ready for Saturday night racing in the mud at Waikaraka Park Speedway, Onehunga. Hours are spent preparing, and repairing the one-and-a-half tonne cars that can travel at speeds of up to 112 kmph in one of the few full contact motor sports. Passion, ego and native cunning fuel the drama, and injuries and personal sacrifices are the price for the part-time petrol heads.
A series of comical graphics introduce this 1966 National Film Unit diversion, in a style animator Terry Gilliam would soon make famous via British comedy shows Do Not Adjust Your Set and Monty Python's Flying Circus. The film itself follows a reporter (Michael Woolf) on a jaunt with an international 'veteran car rally' through Southern Lakes scenery, trying to make sense of it all. As he says, "there don’t seem to be any rules to this vintage motoring business". Directed by John King, the playful film features a dubbed soundtrack, complete with sheep baas and car horn sound effects.
AA Torque Show was a Kiwi motoring show following in the wheelspun tracks of international hit Top Gear. In this episode from the second series, architect Roger Walker takes the new Audi TT off the drawing board for a spin on the Central Plateau; actor and host Danny Mulheron tries to convince superbike champ Aaron Slight that a convertible is more than “a hairdresser’s car” as they drive a Volvo and a BMW coupe to the Gladstone Pub in the Wairarapa; and it’s the final of the Motormouth Cup (“which C-lister will walk away with motoring’s glittering prize”?)
“For three days, Wellington, New Zealand will become the Monte Carlo of the South Pacific”. Monaco Monza Macao Wellington follows a champion saloon car team (BMW Schnitzer M3) racing in 1989's Nissan Mobil 500 Wellington street race. From their arrival from Macao, to crashes, dramatic victory and a Coromandel wind-down, the documentary goes behind the scenes of a race team on the international circuit. Features interviews with team manager Charlie Lamm, drivers (Emanuele Pirro, Roberto Ravaglia), and a young Jude Dobson as interviewer.
A stylish title sequence sets the tone for this NFU short on motor racing in the early 60s. Shot during the golden age of the sport, it begins with amateurs competing in Dunedin's 'round the town' race (won by future Formula One champ Denis Hulme), then shifts north to Auckland for the New Zealand International Grand Prix. 60,000 spectators watch world champ Jack Brabham and local hero Bruce McLaren battle for the title. Also included are classic summer shots of the world's top drivers relaxing on the beach, and Australian racer Arnold Glass teaching McLaren to waterski.
The Dominant Species is a loopy look at the relationship between people and cars in 1975 Aotearoa ... from an alien's eye view. Nifty animation and special effects intersperse the automotive anthropological survey of Mark IIs, VWs, anti-car activism and car-washing. There's a dream sequence involving a ladykilling Jesus Christ atop a car, and Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries scores a rugby match traffic jam (also used in a famous scene in Apocalypse Now). Filmheads will note the tripped out assembly is flush with formative industry talents (see this guide by director Derek Morton).
Pork Pie is a rare local remake — the source material is the 1981 movie which first got Kiwis lined up in blockbuster numbers, to see themselves on screen. This time round, the mini-driving rebels are played by James Rolleston (Boy), Dean O'Gorman (who also hit the road in Snakeskin) and Australian Ashleigh Cummings (TV's Puberty Blues). Writer/ director Matt Murphy is the son of Kiwi film legend Geoff Murphy, who directed the original Goodbye Pork Pie. The "reimagining" became the fourth highest grossing film in local release, during its first five days in New Zealand cinemas.
In the late 90s twin national treasures The Topp Twins (aka Lynda and Jools Topp) created their own TV series which ran for three seasons and showcased their iconic cast of Kiwi characters and singing and yodelling talents. These excerpts from the second series of their eponymous show feature a country and western saloon musical dream sequence (with fluffy pink slippers and feather boas and sharpshooters and car sharks in drag, Deadwood this ain't); and Camp Mother and Ken Moller compete at the speedway in a bambina and Hillman Hunter respectively.
This documentary follows the 1973 Heatway Rally, a mud and oil-splattered event in which 120 drivers covered 3600 miles over eight days. Directed by Tony Williams, it was a major logistical exercise, with five camera units, shot by a who’s who of the 70s NZ film industry. In addition to high speed on-and-off road action, it includes an explanation of what co-drivers actually do, a chance for a driver’s wife to ride in a rally car, and driving and cornering montages set to orchestral accompaniment. It won the Feltex Award for best documentary.
Director Florian Habicht's follow-up to his offbeat fairytale Woodenhead is a documentary tribute to a community of characters, drawn together by a desire to jump in a car for the local demolition derby. Behind the bangs, prangs, and blow-ups, the heart and soul of a small Far North town — Kaikohe — is laid bare in this full-length film, thanks to a cast of fun-loving, salt of the earth locals. Kaikohe Demolition won rave reviews, and The Listener named it one of the ten best films of 2004. Filmmaker Costa Botes writes about the film's characters and qualities here.
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
Stunt driver Judd (US Oscar winner Cliff Robertson) and his mechanic Casey (ex child star Leif Garrett) are in NZ racing 'Shaker' — their pink and black Trans-Am — when they're enlisted by scientist Dr Christine Ruben on a fast and furious dash from Dunedin. Unknown to the Yanks, Ruben (Lisa Harrow) has stolen a deadly virus that she's aiming to smuggle to the CIA, and away from the NZ military — who plan to use it for bio warfare! Touted as "fantasy car violence", the chase and stunt-laden Run was one of dozens of films sped out under an 80s tax break scheme.
A rod and rally race is the angle for this 1969 light comedy. Legendary angler ‘Maggots’ McClure lures “glamour boy” lawyer and fishing novice Applejoy (Peter Vere-Jones) into a contest to catch three trophy fish in Russell, Taupō, and Waitaki. The old dunga versus Alvis ‘Speed 20’, north versus south duel transfixes the nation; snags, shags and scenic diversion ensue. Directed by noted UK documentary maker Derek Williams, the caper was made with NFU help and funded by energy company BP. It showed with Gregory Peck western The Stalking Mood in New Zealand theatres.
Three friends cruise inner-city Auckland in a 1946 Ford pickup, as they cope with the changing dynamic of their friendship and encroaching demands of the adult world. In the tradition of American Graffiti it captures the hope promised by a night on the town and a reality that struggles to meet expectations — punctuated by hoons, officious cops and dodgy tow truck operators. Queen Street is a fascinating look at Kiwi car and street culture in the pre-boyracer era, and a snapshot of a downtown that has changed markedly since 1981 when the film screened on TV.
Mike Chunn's post-Split Enz band was formed as a vehicle for his brother Geoff's songs and this single from their second album is the one they are best remembered for (placing 97th in APRA's 'Nature's Best' Top 100 NZ songs in 2001). It's a classic car-as-metaphor-for-love song (although the model in question sounds like it needs some work). The line "come and come get you" is apparently a sly reference to the very continental VW Kharmen Ghia. This TVNZ studio video captured their live energy but inexplicably put them in a graveyard set much to the band's dismay.
Motor racing ace Scott Dixon is the subject of this episode from a series about notable New Zealanders. At 26, he is already an IndyCar champion but he’s subbing in here to help his team win a gruelling nine hour race in the heat at Salt Lake City and clinch a lower graded championship. The cameras are given plenty of trackside access to a relaxed and apparently unflappable Dixon who wears his 'Iceman' nickname with ease. While a mid-race excursion off the track fails to threaten his composure, his mother doesn’t fare quite so well from her weekend.
By the mid 90s, popular TVNZ weatherman Jim Hickey had begun presenting things other than fronts and precipitation (e.g. Country Calendar, Shaky Beginnings). In 2000 he got his own series. This first episode of his TV One motoring show sees Marie Azcona report on the controversy surrounding the Model T Ford winning Car of the Century; Mark Leishman gives the lowdown on buying a car at an auction; guest Jim Mora vacuums his Audi; and host Hickey test drives the new Volkswagen with music journo and “old Beetle fan” Dylan Taite.
From the duo (Matt Heath and Chris Strapp) behind bad taste TV series Back of the Y, this feature follows Randy Cambell's rocket car driven mission to be "NZ’s greatest living stuntman". Gross and petrol-fuelled palaver ensues en route to a date with speedway destiny, as Cambell romances a one-legged female Evil Knievel, and fights a not-so-death defying family curse. Scott Weinberg (Cinematical) praised this low budget "cross between The Road Warrior, Mad Magazine and Jackass" as "loud, raucous and adorably stupid" when it premiered at US fest SXSW 2007.
This episode of the Prime profile series follows a day in the life of driver Greg Murphy. The motorsport idol cycles to work — the Adelaide first round of the 2005 V8 Supercar series. There he adjusts to a new team after his 2004 Bathurst 1000 victory (the fourth time he's won the touring car race seen as the pinnacle of Australian motorsport). The down-to-earth Holden pinup charms sponsors and fans; discusses being an honorary Aussie; defends motor-racing as a sport; and when Murphy's gear-box blows it underlines his appreciation of success borne from struggle.
For her first feature, writer/director Gillian Ashurst wanted a “big wide road movie; big skies; big long roads.” Cruising the Canterbury landscapes are small-town dreamers Alice (Heavenly Creature Melanie Lynskey) and Johnny (future Almighty Johnson Dean O’Gorman). But the duo’s adventures go awry after encountering a charming American cowboy. Reviews were generally upbeat: praising the talented cast, plus Ashurst’s ability to mix moods and genres. Snakeskin won five awards at the 2001 NZ Film and TV Awards, including best film and cinematography.
This documentary follows the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand on a 1985 commemorative tour. On 24 March 1985, over 90 vehicles and their owners gathered in Invercargill to honour a century of motoring. Then the Vauxhalls, Chevrolets and Fiats embark on a reverse Goodbye Pork Pie as the lovingly-restored vintage cars head from the deep south all the way to Cape Reiga, meeting Prime Minister David Lange en route. A rare directing credit for veteran cameraman Allen Guilford, Milestones is narrated by John Gordon, who swaps A Dog's Show commentary for motoring trivia.
In director Gaylene Preston's genre-bending tale, Meg (Heather Bolton) buys a stylish old Jaguar so she can be more independent. While driving on a country road, she hears screams in the back – but there's no one there. In the excerpt above, she picks up a mysterious woman in the rain. Later she discovers that the woman was the car's previous owner, and she is missing. Now her killer might just be stalking Meg too. For their first, acclaimed feature, Preston and producer Robin Laing rented out local cinemas, conclusively proving that Mr Wrong had an audience.
Youngsters Romeo, Ed, and Polly wait in two cars after dark while their parents are inside drinking. It’s a situation many Kiwis would recognise: cars in loco parentis outside the bar or rugby club. Soon cross-car rivalry warms to budding friendship. Winning performances, and the tender mix of comedy and romance saw the tale of a Te Kaha pub carpark become an international hit. Two Cars won a boot-full of awards, launched Waititi’s career, and was the second NZ short to gain an Oscar nod (Waititi infamously feigned sleep during the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony).
This Contact documentary explores what it takes to make it as a motor racing driver: from the roar of speed to the ratio of skill, chance, sponsorship and the role of mechanics. Kiwi star Dave McMillan is followed from days of thunder downunder (where a spectacular crash leads to Formula Pacific victory) to leading the Super Vees in US before a near fatal 1980 accident. McMillan bounced back to win the New Zealand Grand Prix in 1981 and in 1982 won the North American Formula Atlantic Championship. He was inducted into the NZ MotorSport Wall of Fame in 2006.
This Pacific Films short provides a vivid snapshot of Australasian motor racing’s coming of age, before brand sponsorship or even crowd safety was on the agenda (look ma, no barriers!) Opening with the ’56 Australian Grand Prix on the streets of Melbourne — where producer Roger Mirams was shooting official newsreels for the Olympics — Stirling Moss scoops another international title, before we head to Auckland where the tragic death of Ken Wharton and a ‘see-sawing duel’ between Reg Parnell and Peter Whitehead makes for a dramatic day at Ardmore.
Kevin Whana (aka 'Starfish') makes a crust by running onto Auckland intersections and cleaning car windscreens. Sándor Lau's acclaimed documentary adopts a style befitting its charismatic subject: witty and street-smart, coloured by more serious moments where Whana struggles with drugs, the law and homelessness; and rages at wrongs against himself, and the Māori people. Keen to make something "political but also entertaining and emotionally engaging", Lau made the film after realising the best window washers "know it’s like street theatre or performance art".