Devotion to Beetles remains undimmed

Ken Berry has got the bug and he can’t stop.

The Dunedin mechanic turns 80 today and the Volkswagen(VW) specialist has been working on the brand’s famous Beetles as long as they were in production.

Well aware you are meant to retire at 65, not work for 65 years, Mr Berry has no intention of putting his feet up any time soon.

"I don’t know how a person can get up and wonder what they are going to do with the day. It’s just waiting to die, isn’t it."

He still works full-time, though only "9-5 in winter", from his Balaclava garage work-shop, where he has run his business for the past 43 years.

Starting as a 15-year-old apprentice in 1955, Mr Berry learned his trade at Commercial Motors in Great King St, before starting Berry’s Service Centre in North Dunedin in 1967.

Mechanic Ken Berry displays his German-made Volkswagen Beetle, lovingly rebuilt over 16 years.
Mechanic Ken Berry displays his German-made Volkswagen Beetle, lovingly rebuilt over 16 years.

In 1970, Berry’s moved across the road to a bigger workshop at 1 Moat St, and seven years later Mr Berry sold and moved home to focus on engines, gearboxes and rebuilds.

Over the years, there had been many cars — some chopped up, some put back together, some totally rebuilt.

Stand-outs included the speedy "Little Black Truck", described by Mr Berry as "easily the nicest looking VW pick-up anywhere."

He built it in the late 1960s from the front half of a VW beetle 1300 that had been neatly sliced in two in a train-related incident, a Vauxhall Victor rear window, a 2.8 litre Chevrolet Corvair motor and customised panels.

Another favourite was a Mercedes Benz 300 SEL 6.3 bought in 1979, one of only a few in New Zealand and said to be one of the fastest four-door passenger cars in the world at the time.

He also hand built a black pick-up Beetle combo to look as if it could have come straight from...
He also hand built a black pick-up Beetle combo to look as if it could have come straight from the factory. PHOTOS: STEPHEN JAQUIERY/ODT FILES

"It had a sticker on the petrol flap that read: For sustained speeds above 200kmh increase tyre pressures by 6lb per square inch. I used to love showing people that."

Today, a snazzy 1981 VW Golf pick-up brought home from a trip to the United States in 1988 and one of the last Beetles made in Germany, which he rebuilt between 1996 and 2012, are his pride and joy.

Volkswagen also became a way of life for the Berrys. Since 1960 Mr Berry, most of the time with wife Margaret, has attended and judged at many national meets, attended functions in the United States and Germany, visited VW factories around the world and made many friends.

The main thing that had changed in 65 years on the job was owners wanted more changes made to their engines. Next week, he is working on a VW being converted to electric.

Aside from VWs, Mr Berry has two main loves — his family and Elvis, who joins him on the workshop stereo every day.

Covid-19 thwarted a long-awaited visit to Graceland this year, but he says he will make it there yet.

Yes, his family does sometimes suggest he takes his foot off the accelerator, but he has a response at the ready: "I’ll review the situation at 90."

debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

 

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