Steve Key’s obsession for collecting memorabilia has resulted in an art gallery full of rare and valuable pieces
I always wanted to have our cars inside the house,” says Steve Keys. A statement that I’m sure many of us agree with. Despite being a hot rodder, drag racer and car lover from way back though, that dream didn’t become a reality until just over two years ago.
“We happened to be browsing through the Saturday paper and saw Moorfields was for sale, so we decided it was worth a look,” explains Steve. Moorfields is a house that was designed and built complete with a dedicated art gallery area and artist accommodation apartments.
While at the time there was no vehicular access to the gallery area and the apartments needed a makeover, Steve knew it was just the type of place that could make his dream become reality. Better still, he and wife Sue had long thought of opening a bed and breakfast, and the artist accommodation was just the thing!
Located around 15kms from Auckland Airport, the accommodation business has steadily been gaining momentum, although as yet fellow car guys and girls haven’t really been the main clientele.
You can only imagine the impressed look on guest's faces when they walk into the gallery area, of which the private suites are off. One whole side of the building is lined floor-to-ceiling with a wide range of automobilia, including some items that are amazingly rare. From enamel signs, tether cars, tins, bottles, pumps and more; you name it and you’ll find it in the collection.
Steve’s been collecting for over thirty years now, mainly just looking in New Zealand, but occasionally searching abroad too. And it’s not just Steve who has found some of the rare items, as Sue’s equally as responsible for finding hidden treasures. What’s more, being close friends with Tom Andrews, owner of the recently opened Classics Museum in Hamilton, Steve and Tom often swap pieces they find, to help make each other’s collections more complete.
When asked what the prize pieces of the collection are, Steve rightly replies, “All of them.” But the stuff that’s harder to find would be items such as the Sternol, Valvoline and Sinclair oil bottle collections. Equally as impressive though, is that he’s gathered every type of glass oil bottle that was ever available in New Zealand.
As well as the smaller items, Steve’s a big fan of old petrol bowsers and has an impressive collection, many of which are not as yet on display. “The place is constantly about 60-per-cent complete,” he says of the ever-growing plans and collection. While many of the bowsers are in original condition, Steve’s become experienced at restoring them too, as he has with many smaller items such as oil tins and the old-style tyre ashtrays.
“Collecting is a bit like a disease, like drag racing. I don’t think it ever goes away, you just manage to suppress it,” he says … which is why the long-since-retired drag racer is currently building a ’64 Ford Thunderbolt clone to take to Drag Week in America.
The car runs a worked 427 Side Oiler, which Steve’s hoping will be enough to push the car into the high 10-second zone, and it’ll be street legal, of course.
At the other end of the speed scale, but equally as cool, and even more talked about, is the 1951 Ford F5 cab-over transporter. While it was off-site when these photos were taken, the truck is very well known around Auckland, and always turns heads and captures imaginations. Under the skin is a 1972 chassis and big block Chev, which see it get along nicely, no matter what may be on the deck at the time.
He’s owned the black ’40 Ford for around five years now, buying it essentially as it is, to replace a maroon version that was a bit too angry. The car runs a 327 small block with a 350 trans, although plans are in place to give it a bit of a birthday, which will include pulling the motor in favour of an alloy-headed small block.
The 1928 Auburn Model 88 Victoria is one of the only eight-cylinder Victorias known to be in existence anywhere in the world … and Steve bought it with the intention of turning it into a Speedster. Thankfully though, that plan has changed and the car will be staying as it is, although with a slight freshen-up.
The car was painted back in the ’70s, however, the interior is completely stock, and it’s the interior that makes the car quite unusual. Essentially built as a chauffeur-driven car, there’s only room for one passenger in the back seat, as a built-in hatbox takes up some of the available space. A small, foldaway dicky seat in the front is the only other seat besides that of the driver.
Also along the vintage lines is the restored 1936 Ford roadster, which is a New Zealand–new right-hand-drive car.The ’32 roadster in the collection is an all-steel bodied car that has been on the books for some time, but has stalled along the way due to so many other projects taking priority. However, the Mustang on display is simply being stored for a friend.
New Zealand’s first 10-second drag car, the Fiat Topolino known as ‘Baloo’, is currently sitting in the collection too, however Steve’s just looking after it for owner Carl Jensen. Steve did mention there are plans to get the car out on the strip again shortly, although due to the other projects and business commitments Carl currently has they’ll be approached time permitting.
“I’ve got an overactive thinking gland,” laughs Steve, referring to all the ideas he’s got for other cars and the changes he’d like to make to the displayed memorabilia. But I’m sure you’ll agree that what he’s done so far, and the collection that he’s amassed to date, would be more than enough to keep anyone happy.
Even after spending a good few hours just looking at the items on display, we kept finding more and more everywhere we looked, each and every item a genuine, original piece. There’s really no way to take it all in, as there’s just so much cool stuff everywhere you look — unless, of course, you book a room at the B&B and spend a few days just chilling out and absorbing one of the most impressive collections you’ll ever come across. To book yourself a getaway you’ll never forget, visit www.moorfields.co.nz.
This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue No. 101 — to get your grubby mitts on a print copy, click the cover below