Bryan Jackson was a preserver of New Zealand heritage, a collector and restorer of veteran and vintage cars, an entrepreneur, a wheeler-dealer, and a chap who squeezed 10 lives into one. When Elton John visited New Zealand, it was Bryan who chauffeured the pop star about Auckland in his 1932 Rolls-Royce. The British singer was so impressed that, when he returned for a second tour, Bryan drove him about in the superb 1933 5.4-litre straight-eight Studebaker sedan that he had owned for 45 years.
Bryan, who passed away at the age of 82 in September, may not always have got what he wanted, but he put a huge amount into life and didn’t like taking no for an answer. Growing up in Orakei, he was nothing if not ambitious, trading bicycles while still at school, forming his own company in 1950 at the tender age of 18, building a significant caravan business in the Auckland suburb of Mount Wellington, and attempting to establish museums packed with memorabilia.
He was also something of a legend in buying, often restoring, and regularly selling vintage cars— upwards of 120 vehicles, all told, something of a New Zealand record, although the most his Museum of Sound and Light housed at any one time was 15 vehicles. This museum was located at his Marua Road factory, where he had operated a successful caravan business since 1958. Unlike the caravan trade, the museum didn’t make any money, and he closed it down in October 1973.
Initially, Bryan bought and sold caravans before building his own, and went on to sell more than 7000 of them. He also designed and built three Caracat catamaran powerboats, one which won the 100-mile Auckland powerboat race in the early ’90s.
Like many clever people, Bryan was a touch eccentric and certainly a person who enjoyed life, even when times were far from happy. In the early ’90s, the then–Devonport Community Board was unimpressed when he deposited a pair of red telephone boxes on the roof of the old Devonport Post Office building, which he had acquired not only as his home, but as a convenient location for his museum.
He spent a considerable sum on this project, only to find it wasn’t financially viable, and, when that museum closed in 1999, he auctioned 30,000 items ranging from music boxes to wheel caps.
Some wonderful vehicles passed through his hands, including a 1932 Rolls-Royce Phantom II sports tourer that appeared in the September 2010 edition of NZ Classic Car, a 1911 Cadillac, and a 1926 Hupmobile open tourer.
His 1913 Star Gentleman’s roadster was sold to a US airline captain, who popped it onto a jumbo jet and flew it back to America. The 1911 Merryweather truck was a full-on restoration and is believed to be the second-oldest fire engine in the world. It now resides at the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Auckland, along with a 1909 singlecylinder Brush that was also part of the Jackson collection. Bryan had a way of seeking out ‘barn finds’, and once located a 1915 Sunbeam ambulance in Kerikeri. The Sunbeam was so bad that it had a tree growing through the engine block, but Jackson soon had it restored.
Bryan also had a 1930 Packard hearse, a similarly aged Packard two-door tourer, and once acquired a large collection of 18 Model A Fords in one hit.
Bryan Jackson had four wives, and is survived by his children Ashley, Alex, Rosalind, and Mark, who recalls a memorable 1973 South Island vintage car rally sitting in the magnificent Rolls-Royce with his dad at the wheel.
Appropriately, his beloved 1933 Studebaker was in attendance at his funeral at the Wilson Home in Takapuna, along with a 1913 Ford Model T and a 1967 Cub caravan that Jackson designed and built especially to be towed behind the classic Mini.
The world needs more colourful characters like Bryan Jackson, who are not only innovative, but also prepared to challenge authorities when they believe they are right.