A century behind the wheel

by Andy Bryenton

In 1917 the automobile was still a novel sight in New Zealand — a growing trend replacing the trusty horse, but nevertheless a futuristic machine. New cars came with complimentary driving lessons, and the state of the art was still defined by spoked wheels and hand-cranked starters.

One would have to have been a visionary indeed to foresee a time when every household had a car in the driveway, and when road transport stood behind a vast swathe of the economy. 

But two such people existed — Mr J Bett and Mr E Wackrill of Fielding. They convened a small ‘town hall’ meeting of early motor trade professionals in the local library, attracting fifteen contributors. 

From here the discussion went national, with a meeting just a month later in Palmerston North drawing a crowd of 52 early auto importers, repairers, servicemen and garage owners. Their intent was unanimous — a national organisation should be formed to ensure best practice, foster talent, engage with the public and the government, and make motoring in New Zealand an all round better experience.

Today the MTA — the Motor Trade Association — boasts a roll of over 4,000 members, spanning the nation. 

Their advocacy and oversight role means they are often called upon to weigh in on debates at a governmental level, while still speaking up for the Kiwi motorist. MTA apprenticeship programmes seek to grow the skills and confidence of a new generation of auto mechanics and technicians for the future. 

The ubiquitous MTA gift card has become New Zealand’s most long established stocking filler and birthday card addition. On all levels, the modern association continues to uphold the spirit of its hundred-year-old charter, ensuring a better experience from buying a car through to keeping it safe and reliable.

Massive celebrations this year have seen events unfold, such as a display of classic and rare automobilia in Wellington, and the publication of a book charting the rise of the automobile alongside the MTA itself. A special group of scholarships are being awarded to ensure even more talented young people can enter the trade. 

Now, in its 100th year, the local members of this long-established professional fraternity are more proud than ever to display the blue badge of their association — a guarantee of integrity for the future.