World-class Kāpiti car museum is home to rare treasures
Southward Car Museum is the story of how one man’s passion for cars turned into a fascinating legacy all can enjoy
Tucked away amongst park-like surroundings on the Kāpiti Coast is something astonishing.
Inside a cavernous, purpose-built exhibition hall, chrome and steel glints in every direction, while the smell of polish and leather permeates the air. For here, in the unassuming Paraparaumu suburb of Otaihanga, is one of the most remarkable car collections - not just in the country - but in the world.
Southward Car Museum is the result of one man’s vision and engineering expertise - a labour of love and legacy rolled into one. Sir Len Southward was a pioneering marine engineer who liked to drive things fast. He initially founded an engineering company and along with his wife Vera began collecting cars in the 1950s, beginning with a Model T Ford. Going on to establish Australasia’s largest private car collection, he was later knighted for services to the community after having purchased the Kāpiti site to open the museum in the mid-1970s.
Today, the museum houses rare and treasured vehicles of all descriptions, including an 1895 Benz Velo, imported to New Zealand in 1900, a 1915 Stutz Indianapolis race car, a 1934 Cadillac that was once owned by American actress Marlene Dietrich, a 1939 Mercedes-Benz that was intended as a gift for Edward VIII after the planned German invasion of Britain, a four-tonne, 1950 “gangster special” Cadillac complete with genuine bullet holes, owned by gangster Mickey Cohen and a Back To The Future DeLorean - the only one on public display in the country.
The kids didn't want to go until we walked in there and they absolutely loved it and I couldn't get them to leave. Such a great collection. We're very privileged.
Jenny, TripAdvisor review, January 2021
Alongside these notable examples from the late Sir Len’s original core collection, there are also hundreds of other vehicles of every shape, size, make and purpose - from motorcycles to carriages, traction engines to tuk-tuks. All are cared for by an active team of engineers in several large on-site workshops, where servicing and maintenance is carried out.
The legacy Sir Len left behind is one of the Coast’s true treasures, and a testament to the enduring fascination the man himself had with every type of vehicle. This was evident right up until his passing in 2004, aged 98, with locals saying they used to see a certain elderly gentleman parking his own tiny white car in a regular spot on the side of the highway near the museum, in order to watch all the vehicles driving past. Now the tiny white car is gone, but luckily, the life’s work of the man who drove it is still very much in existence.