‘Grease hasn’t killed me yet’: New Plymouth motor man sells out at 83

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Kerry Clark and her business partner sell

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Kerry Clark and her business partner are selling “because of our age and health and not being able to get the qualified staff we wanted”.

At 83, Kerry Clark reckons a life of fat and engines has treated him pretty well.

He has worked on everything from classic cars to trucks to quads to the cylinder heads of support vessels while building Maui’s offshore platforms.

But it’s the end of an era for the experienced rebuilder as earlier this year he and his business partner Keith Standen decided to shut down their Engine Rebuilders New Plymouth business.

“Grease hasn’t killed me yet, I guess.”

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The air in his workshop has a metallic hue, tools line the walls of his workshop, and a large amount of machinery is found in various parts of his workshop.

The Molesworth St workshop has a wide range of machinery ranging from a special oven that can cook engines for hours, to a fryer-like contraption that allows them to remove grease from engines.

Around the corner is the other side of their business – Classic Components Engine Parts, a brainchild of Standen, which has shelves stacked with over 60,000 parts.

Kerry’s career began at age 15 when he landed a five-year apprenticeship with Ibbotson Brothers. He described his boss Mel Titter as a very smart and patient man.

Clark loved fax machines.  Computers, not so much.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Clark loved fax machines. Computers, not so much.

“We did all kinds of work…when the oil rigs first came to Kapuni, we overhauled the cylinder heads for them, they were pretty dirty. They had just arrived from South America and I think they must have run them on used oil or so.

“There was a lot of work for the city bus depot that once stood where the Richmond Center now stands.”

He stayed with the company until 1960, then worked in Canada in a machine shop for 18 months, after a few years working in New Zealand he was lucky enough to become a business owner.

The air in Clark's workshop has a metallic hue and tools line the walls.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

The air in Clark’s workshop has a metallic hue and tools line the walls.

Repco had decided to focus on parts rather than labor, so Kerry and his business partner Athol Rowe bought the place, using their homes as collateral for a loan.

“Luckily we had a good turnover, we managed to pay everyone.”

When Athol retired from the business, Kerry brought in current partner Keith Standen.

Although the variety of the job makes it interesting, Kerry says her favorite part of the job is meeting people.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Although the variety of the job makes it interesting, Kerry says her favorite part of the job is meeting people.

Keith handled the book side, while Kerry didn’t use computers – “as soon as the fax machines are done, I’m done”.

Each engine presents its own challenge, and while the variety of work makes it interesting, Kerry says her favorite part of the job is meeting people.

“Over the years you’ve worked for people and then for their sons and daughters, it’s pretty amazing.”

The guys who have worked for the company have continued to do well, Kerry says, one owns a car agency, another does underwater equipment for offshore rigs, some work in natural gas and others went to Australia.

“None of them ended up in prison,” he laughs. “I guess that’s something I’m proud of – people.”

He says the workers who came through their doors each had their own specific skills and many have hobby projects they work on on the weekends, one built a “really cool” sports car, another built a “particularly good” Lexus V8 for the speedway.

Around the corner is the other side of their business - Classic Components Engine Parts, a brainchild of Standen, which has shelves stacked with over 60,000 parts.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Around the corner is the other side of their business – Classic Components Engine Parts, a brainchild of Standen, which has shelves stacked with over 60,000 parts.

And of course, there’s always a bit of a joke between the guys who like Fords and the guys who like Holdens.

“It never stopped.”

Kerry “sort of retired” about 10 years ago and only worked Wednesday afternoons, but returned after one of the employees left.

“We are selling now due to our age and health and not being able to get the qualified staff we wanted.”

People told him they were sad to see the place go.

“I hope everyone was happy with what we did, I think the guys were very happy working here.”


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