‘Mad Dash to the Haast’ ready to go

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Recreating history . . . Mad Dash to the Haast instigator David Mills is set to take his 1947 Austin 8 on a return trip from Dunedin to the West Coast tomorrow. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

History is set to repeat as a fleet of vintage cars get set to recreate an “epic” journey departing Dunedin tomorrow.

Mad Dash To The Haast instigator David Mills, of Dunedin, said a fleet of four vintage Austin cars would depart Dunedin on a return trip to Haast at 4am tomorrow.

He would drive his 1947 Austin 8 and more Austins would join the convoy at points further north.

The fleet would follow the same route, and attempt to keep the same time, as a journey made from Dunedin in 1965.

He got the idea for the trip when researching the history of The Vintage Car Club of New Zealand Otago Branch.

“I came across several epic journeys and this was one of them.”

On Saturday, November 6, 1965, the Haast Highway was opened.

At 4am in Dunedin the day before, Les Nye and Gordon Sharpe embarked on a journey in a 1930 Austin 7 Tourer at 4am to attend the opening.

The men made a tape recording detailing their journey and drove at a “cracking pace” along State Highway 1 to Dunsandel, crossing Arthur’s Pass about noon, and camping overnight on a bank on the Moeraki River, north of Haast.

The next morning, prime minister Keith Holyoake’s wife Norma cut a ribbon to open the Haast Highway.

Heavy rain fell, as dignitaries made speeches, and Mr Sharpe “snuck” the Austin to the front of a queue waiting to be the first to travel on the new highway.

As some vehicles got stuck in the mud, the Austin seized the opportunity to lead the convoy to Haast.

They two men then continued driving to Dunedin – via Wanaka, Alexandra, Lawrence and Milton – arriving home at 8pm.

The Austin 7 now belonged to Mr Nye’s nephew Ken Brown, of Cromwell, and would be among the fleet departing Dunedin tomorrow.

The car had been taken on test runs in Dunedin including traversing the challenging George King Memorial Dr, near Outram, without any issues.

“Austins are reliable – we don’t anticipate any trouble.”

Rather than sleeping on a river bank, the drivers would stay overnight at Lake Paringa Lodge.

When he floated the idea of recreating the journey about a year ago, the trip planning went ahead because “no-one said no”.

“It’s going to be a real hoot – it’ll be so funny, it’s not funny.”