Custom-built scale model a head-turner

Preston Wheeler has another 14 years to wait before he can get his driver's licence, but he is already up to speed in his own Ford XE Coupe - a scaled-down replica of his father's car.

The 20-month-old Dunedin lad was behind the wheel at the Cromwell Classic Car and Hot Rod Festival on Saturday and caused a few second glances as he drove his Ford, towing a tiny trailer containing a mini motorbike. The special Christmas present was made by his father, Aaron Wheeler, to match Mr Wheeler's vehicle.

Powered by mobility scooter running gear, Preston's car was built from scratch and took more than a year to construct.

''There were lots of early morning starts and it took well over a year to build, so was a very well-planned Christmas present, '' Mr Wheeler said. Based on his car, the miniature version is painted the same colour.

Mr Wheeler works as a salesman at Bearing and Engineering Technologies in Dunedin and said he was grateful to be able to use the company's gear to build the vehicle. Preston loves driving the car and was annoyed when his father switched it off while he was behind the wheel for a photograph.

''He'd rather be on the go.''

Fashioning the Ford was a labour of love for Mr Wheeler, who said cars were a ''hobby and a passion''.

As for the cost of the car?''I would hate to think - maybe $1500 to $2000,'' he said. The festival, organised by the Southland Ford Falcon Club, attracted a record entry of 743 vehicles from throughout the South Island, filling the Alpha St reserve. Acting club president Peter Herrick, of Otautau, said more than 3000 spectators viewed the display.

''Every year this event just grows and I reckon the park will hold a total of about 1000 vehicles comfortably, so we can expand a bit more on this year's record number.''

Mr Herrick said the feedback from spectators and exhibitors was that the club ''put on a good show'' and many people planned their summer holiday in Central Otago to coincide with the event.

''It's a good location, it's always good weather and we have a wide range of vehicles and word of mouth means more and more come along every year.''

The event involved about 40 club members and was the club's major fundraiser for the year, with the proceeds going towards financing the club's activities, Mr Herrick said. All kinds of vehicles are displayed, from top-of-the range motorcycles through to classic cars like a 1961 Cadillac Coupe or ''everyday'' trucks and cars, all someone's pride and joy and all polished to the maximum.