Vinings of Nelson and the motor industry


When William Graeme Vining boarded a ship bound for New Zealand in 1892 he had no idea where his road to a better life would lead him.

W.G. ViningW.G. Vining, photo supplied by authorClick image to enlarge

William (or W.G as he was known to his friends and family) had grown up as the youngest of ten children. His father, James Tully Vining, was a barrister and solicitor in London. James's wife, Emma Mayo, was a devoted housewife and mother. When W.G left his London home he spent eight grueling weeks battling constant sea sickness in rolling swells, unappetizing food and overwhelming homesickness. W.G was in search of a land with new and exciting opportunities as, growing up through his childhood and adolescent years, he had been cursed by constant illness.1 W.G settled on the shores of the Nelson region and set about expanding his horizons. W.G had foresight and knew exactly what he could do to earn a living. He opened a small business in upper Trafalgar Street - at 296 (currently the Cod & Lobster and formerly House of Ales and Chez Eelco).

W.G.'s businessW.G.'s business in upper Trafalgar Street, photo supplied by author
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Outside of business hours W.G was the organist for the Nelson Cathedral. With his musical background W.G inspired people by selling pianos. These were the modern equivalent to today's stereos, as everybody needed one in their homes. He also imported and sold bicycles as he thought that horses were temperamental and high maintenance, whereas bicycles were an easy and exciting form of transport.

In 1895 W.G married Miss Margaret Kebbell of Wellington; they had two children together, a daughter Vera and a son Phillip.

Before the turn of the century, W.G became very interested in early forms of motorised transportation. In 1898 he found himself owning one of the first imported cars to New Zealand, a ‘Benz'. It had bicycle wheels with solid rubber tyres. He had been monitoring the progression and development of the early motor car and saw a promising opportunity to take his place in the motor industry.2 

W.G.'s 1898 BenzW.G.'s 1898 Benz, photo suppilied by author
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W.G. decided that horses were a thing of the past and that people needed to focus on the future of transportation. W.G then decided to provide the public with a modern means of transportation by changing his business to promote and sell the versatility of the motor car.3

On the 26th March 1906, W.G set out to make history. W.G, accompanied by three women, Mrs. Lucy Hunter-Brown, Mrs. W. Sutton and Mrs B. Humphries, left Nelson to conquer the extremely difficult task of traveling to Christchurch in a motor car on unformed roads. The epic journey took six days in a 1906 10hp (horsepower) single cylinder Cadillac. Rain protection consisted of only waterproofs, wraps and one umbrella! This trip was a daring venture and showed extreme confidence in his vehicle, especially with the three women aboard. W.G and his passengers overcame sheer bluffs, major unbridged rivers, rocky coastlines and rutted tracks before eventually arriving safely in Christchurch.  The motor car winning the battle against rugged untamed terrain. 4

W.G. & passengersW.G & passengers on first car trip Nelson to Christchurch,  photo supplied by author
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In the early 1900's, with the increased popularity of the motor car, W.G. found himself expanding his trade even further into the motor industry. W.G came under pressure to supply the people of Nelson with whatever cars were available. Because of the high demand and shortage of cars, W.G. decided to become a direct car importer. He found himself in need of a larger premises, so in 1908 he built a very large garage covering a massive 31500 square feet (2926.5 square meters) and this became the largest garage in New Zealand at that time.5   W.G.'s new garage occupied a whole inner city block between Bridge and Hardy Streets.

W.G.'s garageW.G.'s garage,  photo suppilied by author
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At this premises W.G. established a car assembly factory to put together vehicles which he imported as bare chassis. W.G. imported many types of vehicles: Cadillacs, Maxwells, Beans, Haynes, Darracs, Unics, and by 1908 he was importing Model T Fords. W.G.'s business also saw him owning Nelson's first bus. W.G. later obtained the franchises for Hudson, Essex, Chevrolet and Rover cars, therefore expanding his business dramatically.

W.G. & Nelson's first busW.G. and Nelson's first bus. Photo supplied by authorClick to enlarge

W.G.'s son, Phillip, was keen to learn his father's business. By the age of ten Phillip was driving cars, and by the age of fourteen he was working as a passenger car clerk required to drive his father's clients to Blenheim. On one expedition to Blenheim the brakes on Phillip's passenger car failed going down the Whangamoa hill. Escaping the risk of running, not only himself but his passengers, off the side of the cliff, Phillip steered the vehicle hard against the inside of a bank, letting the car slowly come to a stop without injuring anyone. Phillip had grown up in the industry so it was no surprise that he worked his way up to become workshop manager, following in the footsteps of his father.7

On the 30th September 1927 W.G. felt it was time to close his business and go into retirement, so he sold his garage to Mr. Les Montgomery, a close business associate. Les transformed this garage into ‘Montgomery's Garage' and today this premises has become ‘Montgomery Carpark'. When W.G. sold his business, his son Phillip was devastated by his father's decision. So on the 1st of October 1927, the day after W.G's business was closed, Phillip alongside Charlie Scott, a clerical worker of W.G's, started their own business together. Phillip wanted to carry on his father's legacy, so Charlie and Phillip decided to open another similar garage which supplied vehicle maintenance and sales. Phillip and Charlie started their business under the name of Vining and Scott and moved  into temporary premises on Bridge Street, known in those days as ‘Bishops Garage'.8  One month after moving in they felt the garage was unsatisfactory, so they moved again to a larger site with a Waimea Street frontage (today known as Rutherford Street).

Phillip ViningPhillip Vining. Photo supplied by author
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In 1928 Phillip married Miss Hannah Taylor, an extremely talented Nelson pianist. Together they had two sons, Richard (Dick) born in 1929, and Peter born in 1932. Little did they know that these boys would grow to be inducted into the family business, much like their father. 9

Phillip and Charlie had entered into the business world at a difficult time, when the Great Depression and war years were upon them. Throughout the years of the Depression, while many businesses were forced to close, Vining and Scott managed to retain their business share and maintain their monopoly in the Nelson motor vehicle industry. In 1938 Charlie Scott became very sick, so Phillip decided to purchase his shares within the company. But despite the change Phillip never altered the company name.

In 1939, at the dawning of WWII, most of Vining and Scott's hard working male staff members were called up for military duties, but luckily Phillip was not called because of his increasing age and the fact that his garage was considered a vital service business during war time. 10 During WWII, Vining and Scott had noticeably become a family business. Phillip's sons, Dick and Peter, were introduced into the trade at very early ages. They recall serving petrol from the pumps with one gallon measures, pumping up tyres and balancing petrol rationing coupons against their pump sales.11

On the 18th October 1948 W.G. Vining passed away at the age of 83. His passing was not only a huge loss to the Vining family but to the wider Nelson community. He had come to New Zealand in the hope of achieving a better living environment and spreading his horizons. He had not only achieved this but established a better lifestyle for his son and grandchildren.

Vining & ScottsVining & Scott's on Rutherford Street. Photo supplied by author
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In 1951 Dick purchased an interest in R.B. Win and Co (agents for Jowett Javelin and Bradford Utilities) which he successfully managed until 1955, when it was sold to Henry Houston (a former employee of Vining and Scott). Following this, Dick returned to his father's business to take up the position of manager. Dick's younger brother, Peter, entered the motor industry at Vining and Scott as an apprentice mechanic in 1951 and qualified in 1955. In 1956 Peter transferred to sales and administration at Vining and Scott to take up a more responsible position in the selling and management of vehicles. 12  Then in 1958 Dick and Peter were appointed as directors of the company, continuing on the third generation of Vinings in the Nelson motor industry.

Phillip had expanded the core business by developing a spare parts, rental car and  vehicle recovery services. So in 1958 Dick and Peter also decided to expand the business. After entering into the Nuffield Tractor franchise they opened a new sales yard on the opposite side of Rutherford Street, where they erected a new workshop to provide the Nelson region with a used car, truck, tractor and rental car service. Over the next few years neighbouring properties were purchased by Dick and Peter, and eventually the entire block fronting on to Rutherford Street and Nile Street had been secured by Vining and Scott.13

Vining & ScottsVining & Scott's on Rutherford Street. Photo supplied by author
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In 1964 Dick and Peter chose to expand their horizons even further when they decided to open another Vining and Scott business in the Motueka region. They investigated many sites but finally decided upon a property in the middle of High Street (alongside where the Motueka Warehouse stands today).The official opening of the impressive new complex was on 15th July 1965. Three hundred people came to attend this opening, including the Motueka mayor and town clerk, as well as representatives from the Dominion Motors franchise. This event became another memorable milestone in the history of the company, as Vining and Scott could now provide essential vehicle services to many rural Tasman Bay residents. With the growth and success of the business, Vining and Scott were now employing in excess of sixty employees.14

Vining & ScottsVining & Scotts Nuffield tractor sales. Photo supplied by author
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Towards the end of the 1960's British car manufacturers were having difficulties selling their vehicles across the world. British manufacturers were finding it hard to compete against the Japanese car industry. When British car manufacturers suddenly withdrew their franchise from Vining and Scott, Dick and Peter unexpectedly found themselves without the Austin-Morris franchise. In the meantime, however, the New Zealand Motor Corporation managed to produce the Honda distributorship and passed on the Nelson franchise to Vining and Scott. 15

After this acquisition of the Honda franchise big changes began to happen. The government dropped sales tax on all new vehicles and shipping services were improved therefore making the Japanese car market cheaper and more accessible for Kiwis. New Zealand car assembly plants were forced to close down and large dealerships were forced to lay off mechanical staff and downsize, as it was no longer necessary to have large workshops and lots of mechanics. Japanese cars ran more reliably and with fewer breakdowns than their British competitors. Larger sales teams were needed as more cars poured on to the market, but people were finding it cheaper and easier to maintain cars than ever before.16

Peter and Dick ViningPeter and Dick Vining. Photo supplied by author
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A fourth generation of Vinings was starting to become incorporated into the motor industry. Dick's sons, Michael and Phillip, worked in sales, workshop reception and managerial positions, while Peter's sons, Mark and Tony, were groomers, vehicle distributors, sales assistants and mechanics. 17

After much discussion between Dick and Peter they decided to merge their business with the Bowater family. who were close business associates. They felt that this was a favourable business decision as times were changing. The Bowaters agreed to buy the garage from Dick and Peter, but they still wanted the Vinings to operate their Vining vehicle finance company. This was to provide customers with readily available finance enabling them to purchase cars from the Bowater company. Dick and Peter continued to successfully run their finance company for another ten years until  4th July 1980, when they bowed out of the motor industry. 18

Vining family(from left) Phillip, Hannah, Dick and Peter Vining. Photo supplied by author
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Four generations of Vinings had played key roles within the growth of the Nelson motor industry. It all began with a man who dreamed of broadening his horizons in search of a healthier and more independent lifestyle. Not only did he embrace the potential of the motor vehicle but he also created a foundation upon which future generations of his family could build rewarding and sustainable lifestyles. When W.G. sailed from London to Nelson he had the determination and foresight to become a success in his adopted country. His entrepreneurship guaranteed him and his family a prosperous future in New Zealand. As a lone pioneer from London he was remarkably successful, and has provided inspiration for future generations of his family. 

This essay was written as part of a Nelson College for Girls history assignment, 2009. It was the winner of the 2009 Nelson Historical Society Newport prize and will be published in the Nelson Historical Society Journal.

Updated: April 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Peter Kebbell Vining Interview, June 2nd 2009
  2. Vining P. & Vining R. (2001) Trail Blazing Motoring: The first car trip from Nelson to Christchurch Nelson Historical Society Journal 6(4), pp. 45-49
  3. Vining & Vining
  4. Wastney, P.V. & Wastney, N.L. (1982) Roads of yesterday: Whangamoa, Wakapuaka and Maungatapu [Nelson, N.Z.] : P.V. and N.L. Wastney
  5. Peter Kebbell Vining interview
  6. Vining & Vining
  7. Vining, P.K. (2008) Vining ancestry
  8. Peter Kebbell Vining interview
  9. Peter Kebbell Vining interview
  10. Vining & Vining
  11. Peter Kebell Vining interview
  12. Peter Kebell Vining interview
  13. Vining, P.K.
  14. Vining , P.K.
  15. Wastney & Wastney
  16. Vining, P.K.
  17. Peter Mark Vining interview, June 14 2009
  18. Peter Kebbell Vining interview

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  • You might be interested to know that we are restoring a small car that was reputed to be owned by the Pioneering Vinings, a 1903 Automoto. It is the only car of its type left in the world, and was a 'kit car' or bought as a kit of parts with an assembly instruction booklet.

    Posted by Kerry Griffiths, ()

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Further sources - Vinings of Nelson and the motor industry





  • Peter Kebbell Vining Interview, June 2nd 2009
  • Peter Mark Vining interview, June 14 2009  


  • Vining, P.K. (2008) Vining ancestry