Following its opening in 2015, Bill Richardson Transport World in Invercargill has morphed into something more than just a truck and car museum and is rapidly becoming a focal point as a multipurpose function facility. The range and scope of events is impressive — from the annual Neptune’s Ball opener to the Oyster Festival and its captivating lighting show, to hosting the cast from the local production of Grease in a themed evening. And then there is the food!
BILL RICHARDSON TRANSPORT WORLD Words and photos: Quinton Taylor.
Some exciting things are happening under the roof of the museum at the moment, including the extension of the Motorcycle Mecca, which is set for relaunch later this year. The collection is continually evolving, with additions coming on stream as they are finished.
The restoration workshop is an amazing place to visit, with some very interesting vehicles underway. A recent addition to the collection that is currently undergoing restoration, with the aim of finishing it close to original condition, is a 1959 Volkswagen Kombi ambulance, which was located in Hastings and supplied by the former Invercargill agents for the Southland Hospital Board, Clark Motors. These distinctive machines chugged all over Southland and made many trips through to Dunedin Hospital. One was based at Queenstown and one in Gore, and it is thought that there were six in total. The fleet survived until around 1970.
Although it will be sometime next year before the museum’s example is on display to the public, it has already garnered a lot of interest. Some former Southland Hospital staff have made contact about the ambulances, and patients have recalled stories. At 1200cc, and with a hefty all-up weight, the VWs must have made for interesting journeys! Contact Bill Richardson Transport World if you have a story about these ambulances that you would like to share.
One restoration workshop staff member, Darren Robbie, has a special interest in the Volkswagen, as his father, Warren Robbie, worked at Clarks at the time that the vehicles were supplied. He admits to having something of a keen enthusiasm for the museum’s one, despite being distracted by working on a very nice race-prepped Porsche nearby.
“It’s been a lot of work, and we still have quite a way to go before it’s finished, but it’s starting to look good, especially now [that] it’s on its correct wheels,” Darren said, who also told us that the ambulance had come with its original ownership papers and would eventually be sign-written with all the correct period details.
While at an auction in Holland earlier this year, collections manager Graeme Williams and collection executive director Jocelyn O’Donnell “managed to locate in Belgium the complete, original ambulance interior fittings for the Volkswagen,” a beaming Graeme revealed to us.
The vehicles were originally fitted out in Germany, purpose built by the factory, so it was thought that finding all of the original equipment in New Zealand would be difficult.
“It’s great to get all this, and once we have done all the cabinet work, then it will enable us to complete the interior,” Graeme explained.
The museum is working on a number of other fascinating vehicles as well. Also obtained at the auction in Holland were a 1946 Woodie station wagon and the affectionately named ‘popcorn truck’, on a 1928 Ford Model AA truck chassis. Once these have been through the workshop, they will be added to the museum’s collection. Another long-term project slowly making progress is a large 1935 Chrysler Imperial Custom Le Baron CW. his very rare, straight-eight-powered limousine was the top of the line Chrysler model in its day. “We have received a lot of help [with this car] from a US collector, and [the restoration] is getting along nicely,” Graeme said.