‘Garagenalia’ going under the hammer

Garagenalia, or vintage roadside relics, is a big deal for collectors these days.

And this winter, when Oamaru’s Geoff Omnet, owner of Smash Palace, puts his collection up for a live auction, it could draw collectors from all over New Zealand, possibly even Australia, to the North Otago town.

A vast array of ‘‘garagenalia’’ will be auctioned off in Oamaru at the start of winter, as Smash...
A vast array of ‘‘garagenalia’’ will be auctioned off in Oamaru at the start of winter, as Smash Palace owner Geoff Omnet says goodbye to a collection he has gathered over 40 years, including many rare vintage petrol pumps. Photo: Hamish MacLean.
At the heart of Mr Omnet’s collection are 40 vintage petrol pumps, some of which would be difficult to find anywhere else in the world.

"I tell people I’m having a pre-deceased estate sale — hopefully 20 years before I die," Mr Omnet said.

"Part of collecting is the thrill of the chase if you like. Getting out and about is part of the fun. Sitting behind a computer, that’s not part of the fun.

"But going to an auction, meeting people, perhaps even paying more than you want for something —  but you get it — because there’s no others ... I’ve got pumps where there’s probably only two in the world — that rare."

The first piece of vintage machinery he picked up was a 1945 Field-Marshall tractor, which he bought more than 40 years ago. It would go under the hammer on July 1 at the Proctor Auctions sale, in the former Stringer and Co building in Thames St.

His 1957 Ford Fairlane convertible would go too, as would his 1970s Concord classic caravan.

These days he was replacing his retro machinery with more modern toys, and he needed the space, Mr Omnet said. Only his licence plate collection would remain on the walls.

He built a bar in his garage 20 years ago and, naturally, he required a petrol pump to add "some character". He picked up a 1950s Palometer petrol pump locally and restored it; that’s when he started collecting the filling station fuel dispensers.

"You can’t have a collection of one," the self-described petrol-head said.

Mr Omnet’s collection grew to 50, but last year, he sold his duplicates.  Taking the Otago Daily Times  on a tour of his collection this week, Mr Omnet pointed out the variety of technologies on display and rattled off the various brands — there was an American, a Lighthouse and, of course, the well-known Bowser.

"That’s an interesting thing ... That’s actually a brand," Mr Omnet said.

"It started as a brand in 1910. So hasn’t that been careful marketing? We still refer to them as a bowser even though it’s a petrol pump."

The rarest was his American, a towering blue pillar  a friend found for him in Argentina.

"It’s very ornate ... Huge castings, cast iron — it’s as heavy as hell."

And while lifting the giant might be almost impossible, finding another one could prove impossible.

"There’s one in a museum in Holland and there’s one here and we don’t know of any others," Mr Omnet said.

His petrol pumps, which dated back to the early 1900s, predated cars in New Zealand, and could fetch  $2000 and up to $20,000 for the rarest among them. The day of the auction would have a bit of a party atmosphere, he said.

"Really, I’ve had fun collecting, and now I think it’ll be fun to sell up. It’ll certainly be interesting."


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