By ROBYN BRISTOW
Mike Lilly was nearly in tears when he saw his old car parked up in his son’s garage recently.
It had been over 40 years since the Kaiapoi car enthusiast had seen the Pontiac Venturer, powered by a 350 cubic inch V8, that arrived in Christchurch in the mid-70s in the belly of a Hercules aircraft.
Mike bought the flame-red car from an American Deep Freeze worker in about 1976, and sold it a few years later.
In the years following the sale, it had several owners and amassed a colourful history.
“It was only about three years old when I bought it,” he recalls.
“The Deep Freeze blokes brought cars over in those days, and drove them around New Zealand before selling them when it was time to go home.”
As soon as Mike set eyes on the “beautiful” car, he knew he had to have it. It was also admired by the lad next door, Walter Kinley, who babysat for the Lilly clan on occasions.
Walter told Mike he was going to own the car one day.
Circumstances changed for the Lilly family and the car was sold when Mike shifted to Bluff to go fishing.
“I was gathering funds to do something else, and always regretted selling it. I had owned Chevvies before that, but this was a big car. It was left-hand-drive and the nicest I ever owned,” he says.
It fell into the hands of gangs after he sold it, and it was from there that its incredible survival story began.
Former babysitter Walter spotted it for sale on Trade Me. A woman had ended up with it, and by the time Walter finally got to own the car it was minus its powerful engine and gearbox.
He had become a car enthusiast over the years, and set about restoring the Pontiac to its former glory.
‘‘Walter Kinley rang me one day and said he had something to show me,’’ Mike recalls.
Walter had restored it but immediately sold it to Christchurch car sales, Muscle Cars.
‘‘I didn’t get to see it when it was finished. I went to the car sales (yard) three times and every time it was away getting something done to it.
‘‘The last time I went, it was away getting a windscreen in it. I gave up on it.’’
Mike said he would not have bought his Holden Camaro if he had been able to get his hands back on the Pontiac.
Unbeknown to him, family had spotted it on Trade Me for sale at the Christchurch car lot, and the wheels began to turn to bring it home to Kaiapoi.
Son Reuben Lilly was in cahoots with the car yard, and when they knew Mike was on his way in to look at the car, it was taken off the lot. Staff had a story concocted to explain why it wasn’t there.
Reuben just had to have the vehicle he had cruised around in as a young fellow. He went before his dad, had a look, and bought it for more than $40,000.
‘‘I used to have the latest Holden Commodore and sold it because there was too much money tied up in it.
‘‘Go figure. It (the Pontiac) just pulled on the heart strings,’’ Reuben says.
He parked the Pontiac in his garage and invited his dad around for a beer.
‘‘We talked about the car and were reminiscing. After a couple, I told him I had something to show him.
‘‘He just about teared up when he saw the car,’’ says Reuben.
Mike has been allowed to take it for a run, but admits to nearly coming to grief when he had to stop in a hurry because of a traffic problem ahead of him.
‘‘There were stones on the road. I had a hell of job stopping her. I thought ‘here we go’.
But I managed to stop. I got a bit of a fright,’’ he says.
Reuben says the Pontiac will stay in the family and become an heirloom.
‘‘It will only increase in value,’’ he says.