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Big Willys style . . . Ken Rapley with his restored 1952 Willys Jeep station wagon in Mosgiel on Tuesday. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A vintage wagon recently returned to one of its former duties of transporting nuns across Dunedin.

Mosgiel man Ken Rapley had spent decades restoring his 1952 Willys Jeep station wagon.

He always wanted the big wagon to look as if it had been driven from the factory in the United States.

As he worked on the wagon, he traced its previous owners.

To his surprise, one was the Little Sisters of the Poor in Dunedin.

His research revealed the nuns were driven around the city by a chauffeur.

With the restoration complete, he heard Little Sisters of the Poor Mother General Maria del Monte Auxiliadora was visiting Dunedin last month.

He offered to pick up the France-based head of congregation for the organisation, and her entourage, from Dunedin Airport.

The offer was accepted and he dressed for the occasion in chauffeur attire including a black hat and tie, opening and closing the door for Mother General Maria and other nuns when they arrived at or departed from a destination.

“They loved it and were very appreciative.”

For the ride, Mother General Maria gave him a badge of Jeanne Jugan, also known as Sister Mary of the Cross, a French woman known for the dedication of her life to the neediest of the elderly poor, which resulted in the establishment of the Roman Catholic religious institute for women.

The medallion is displayed on the dash of the wagon.

With the medallion on show, the wagon won prizes at the Kaitangata Car Show and Run earlier this month.

The prizes were for “best presented” and “most unique” vehicle.

His four grandchildren loved travelling in the wagon but it took time for them to adjust to a vehicle with no seat belts.

Seat belts were not the only things the wagon was missing, he said.

“It’s got no power steering, no power brakes and no power windows.”

The petrol bill had halved since he installed a 3-litre X2 engine from a Holden HR about two years ago.

The engine increased its top speed from about 85kmh to about 120kmh.

The wagon handled well when driven in a straight line but when cornering, the “funny suspension” made it a case of “hang on and hope for the best”.