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Vintage French car takes the long road home

Vintage French car takes the long road home

A 1908 Darracq extended chassis service car has come home to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Museum at The Hermitage, Aoraki Mount Cook bringing with it a colourful history.

Darracq being brought into Museum

The modified eight-seater French vehicle was pivotal to the area’s tourism development; commissioned as one of the first service cars to transport climbers and tourists from Timaru to Aoraki Mount Cook.

Rodolph Wigley and Samuel Thornley recognised the Darracq as having the strength, speed and durability to negotiate the rough roads and unbridged rivers to Aoraki Mount Cook. They founded The Mt Cook Company and the Darracq offered the first regular motor service. In order to transport more passengers, they extended the chassis to make more seating room.

Vintage Rally 2006

General Manager of The Hermitage Denis Callesen says that the modified cars were a feat of Kiwi engineering.

“The company literally cut each chassis in half and added in another metre to extend the car’s seating capacity.”

The journey from Fairlie to Aoraki Mount Cook took 10 and a half hours and was comfortable, enjoyable and decidedly quicker than former methods of transport.

The Darracq, Vintage Rally 2006

Building on its local success, The Mt Cook Company soon extended the fleet south to Queenstown but the city fathers passed a by-law prohibiting passage “by any vehicle propelled by its own power”. Wigley reportedly snorted then arranged for a man with a horse to meet the Darracqs at the no-go zone and, “with engines silent…the Darracqs were pulled [into town] by true horsepower.” Wigley made his point and shamed councillors into opening the road to motor traffic.

The Darracq fell into disuse after WWII and was eventually dumped off the TSS Earnslaw at Lake Wakatipu’s Half Way Bay Station.

In 1971, Sir Henry (Harry) Wigley, who had taken over the management of his father’s company, had the idea of restoring the Darracq. He and Bob Forward, the company’s Landline Manager, searched for and recovered the chassis, loaded it onto the TSS Earnslaw and brought it back to Queenstown. It was then freighted to Christchurch and later to Geraldine for some renovation.

Blacklow Engineers in Ashburton restored the engine and Alex Smith of Geraldine was hired to build up the bodywork.

By 1977, the Darracq was roadworthy again, revving her forty-sixty horsepower engine in various vintage car rallies, including a 2006 commemorative trip along her original route.

About The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
Opening from late December, the $7.5 million Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre brings together a state-of-the-art 3D theatre, New Zealand’s first full dome digital definiti® planetarium and a comprehensive museum that weaves the story of Kiwi endeavour and achievement in the Aoraki Mt Cook region.

The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre is designed to be the place to go and feel at one with New Zealand’s most famous New Zealander. It also encompasses and records the stories of early pioneers reaching the area, summiting one of the world’s most difficult peaks and establishing what is today a flourishing climbing and tourism culture.

At the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, New Zealanders will feel a sense of cultural belonging and international people will experience the culture and man that Sir Edmund represents.

The Hermitage at Aoraki Mount Cook is an integral part of New Zealand’s tourism history. It lies within a World Heritage Wilderness Area and looks out to the majestic Aoraki Mount Cook surrounded by the silent splendour of the Southern Alps.

Aoraki Mount Cook is an iconic, must visit destination for New Zealanders and international visitors. In 2006 it was voted number 6 on the 101 Must-Do’s for Kiwis in the nationwide AA Travel domestic travel survey.

Make the journey and be amazed!


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