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Time for motoring maestros to hit the brakes

Time for motoring maestros to hit the brakes
Roger Hart and Bernard Egan, the Guardian's Motoring Men for more than 20 years, with a car they'd love to review, a 1022 Rolls-Royce Ghost.

With a parting quip about ‘owning an EV is like driving a fridge’, Roger Hart and Bernard Egan have retired from contributing reviews and colour pieces for the Ashburton Guardian. It’s time someone else stepped into the driver’s seat.

“The time has come to step aside,” said Roger Hart.

“It’s time to do other things,” added Bernard Egan.

Both Roger and Bernard have put their feet firmly on the brake and stepped down from their motoring roles with the Ashburton Guardian.

For more than 20 years they’ve contributed columns ranging from a review of an exclusive $320,000 Mercedes to the car that achieved immortality when its occupant, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, received the bullet that triggered World War One.

Roger’s task was to evaluate cars leaving Bernard, the storyteller, to deliver colourful stories about enthusiasts and their vehicles.

Roger was in the right place as Public Trust manager, next to the Guardian’s former premises, when the newspaper needed a motoring writer.

Chief reporter Chris Mole, who reviewed a few cars, had moved north and editor Sue Newman agreed to give Roger a try.

It was a wise move. He came from a motoring family and knew his spark plugs from his steering wheel.

His love of vehicles started 70 years ago. At the age of four, he grabbed the hot exhaust of his dad’s Norton motorcycle. It burnt his hand but started a lifelong fascination for vehicles, both the two-and-four wheel kind.

With the Guardian recognising his potential, he quickly joined the Motoring Writers’ Group, the accredited body to which companies sent their cars for assessment, to upskill his writing.

Immediate he did something valuable that reviewers should do.

“I asked people what they wanted to know about a new car and ensured I included the replies to their questions in my write-up,” he said.

His first car, back in 1996, was a Subaru Outback with ABS brakes and 1000 vehicles later, he finished with Nissan Qashqai SUV.

Roger won’t be drawn about his favourite car. Diplomatic to the last, he said “they’ve all been favourites because they’re special to their owners.”

Neither will he identify the worst cars he’s assessed.

“There are one or two I didn’t like driving, but I won’t say what they are,” he said.

In every case he set out to enjoy the vehicles and relate them to his audience and Mid Canterbury requirements.

But he did admit he tried them out.

“I took them everywhere around Mid Canterbury, up to Hakatere Station and on a variety of surfaces,” he said.

Sometimes he reached speeds that would make police salivate.

He’s driven a Bentley, the Mercedes at Christmas which he “tried to trade for a sleigh” and has pitched his copy from around the world.

Roger recalls hand writing reviews from Tahiti, Wyoming and Thailand with Guardian media producer, Donald Hurst, inputted them from his computer.

During that time he prided himself on never injuring a vehicle. The only real damage was sustained when a gate smacked against the side of a ute he was driving. He puts that down to an Act of God rather than an Act of Roger.

He’ll miss the relationship with local dealers and their groomers who present the vehicles in “showroom condition” and his contact with Guardian staff, in particular Donald Hurst and Steve Devereux.

He’ll also miss those locations in Mid Canterbury that provide the best cheese rolls, milk shakes and coffee, but he won’t miss deadlines or the journeys to Christchurch to pick up cars to review and return afterwards.

Often when Roger demanded a vehicle strut its stuff, he took a passenger with him. There was no-one better than Bernard Egan.

“He often made comments that helped me, especially from the back seat,” Roger said.

“As a driver it’s difficult to know what the comfort and view is like behind the driver.”

Roger and Bernard knew motoring, worked together at the Public Trust and stayed in touch when Bernard was employed by New Zealand Post/Rural Post, managing contracts for 50 rural drivers.

With a new millennium, Bernard was asked to write a “personality piece” on motoring for the Guardian.

He agreed, but wanted to make it different from Roger’s reviews.

“I saw my role as being a counter to what he did,” he said.

Bernard had a reputation as a storyteller, and the Guardian saw his contribution erupting from his life with people, cars, owners, rallies, dealers, industry giants, anything vaguely motoring related.

Hundreds of stories came to mind and Bernard recalled them, stored them, often experienced them and told them over a 23 year period.

One of his favourites was about Rover collector, Ron Winchester. Ron hitched around Europe and remembers being picked up by Rover owners, out for a jaunt. He became so impressed with the cars he owned several during his lifetime.

When, in the 1960s, he visited Goodwood Racing Circuit, he helped four young, long haired musicians pull a vehicle out of the mud. They were so grateful they invited him to have a drink.

It had been a “hard day’s night for them” and they’d called “help”. Later he discovered they were called The Beatles, relatively unknown at the time.

There were stories about the Graf and Stift, the luxurious Austrian car that carried Archduke Ferdinand on the fateful day he was assassinated. It now resides in a museum in Vienna. Under the headings Sock-et to Me, Blokes and Garages. Motoring and other Matters and Tales from the Back Seat he’s written about everything that moves on wheels and their owners.

He’s been a careful driver himself even when he took part in the Energy Wise Rallies as co-driver.

“He’s had more parking tickets than speeding tickets,” Roger quipped, but savoured the time when Bernard’s car went over a bank at the Sign of the Takahe.

While Roger had Bernard to help, Bernard had his wife, Janice.

“She was always faithful as my proof reader. She read my final story from her hospital bed and died before it appeared in the paper,” he said.

Bernard has trained as a celebrant and that’s where he directs his energies but he’s not giving up the laptop quite yet.

“I’ll keep writing and contribute the occasional article,” he promised.

As well as being a storyteller, he’s also a fund of information.

He’s the person you turn to when you remember a person or an event but don’t know their name or where it was. Bernard champions the information that’s only a distant memory to anyone else. He’s google and an encyclopaedia rolled into one.

The meeting with them both presented the chance to ask about electric cars.

Roger wasn’t impressed.

“It’s like driving a fridge,” he said. “It’s soulless, there’s no humanity.”

They both wondered “where the electricity is going to generate enough EVs” but agreed they’d use less fuel than the Prime Minister’s back-up Boeing 757.

In the end they agreed a hybrid would be the ideal answer for Mid Canterbury motorists, a car that’s part fridge, part washing machine.

But don’t get them agitated.