The write stuff . . . Ashley Milliken with his 1926 Buick and the writing award he received for his account of restoring the car. PHOTO: CLAIRE ALLISON

by Claire Allison

Restoring his 1926 Buick was a years-long labour of love – and money – for Timaru man Ashley Milliken, and now his achievement has been acknowledged world-wide.

Mr Milliken was surprised recently with a Buick Bugle Literary Award for an article he wrote about the restoration that was published in the December issue of Buick Bugle magazine.

Featuring a selection of photographs of the restoration process and a detailed account of the work of buying and restoring the car, the show-stopping photograph was one of the Buick parked on the side of Lake Pukaki on the way back from a Labour Weekend Mt Cook Rally.

Mr Milliken said that in June each year, the Buick Club of America – which has about 6000 members world-wide – held a meet somewhere in the United States for Buick enthusiasts.

Last year, because of Covid-19, it was a “virtual” meet, with members sending in photographs of their cars instead, and while Mr Milliken missed the deadline for that, the editor of the Texas-based Buick Bugle was keen to learn more.

“He said, ‘we love your car. Could you write something about it?’.

“It was quite an honour to be asked to write something, so I leapt at the chance, really.”

Receiving a copy of the magazine that featured his article was exciting enough, but to have the award arrive was a real surprise.

“It was the first time I’d sat down and written the story of the car from go to whoa. And I didn’t think it was a particularly good photograph until I saw it blown up.

“If I was to write another article, I think I’d probably write about the things I wish I’d known before I started .. . not to expect it to be a five-minute job, and to know your limits.”

While the Buick is Mr Milliken’s pride and joy, he does have other cars, and has nearly finished restoring a Mini with his grandson.

“There’s a hell of a lot the restoration books don’t tell you, heaps of stuff that novices wouldn’t know.”

Mr Milliken said the Buick restoration probably cost about $45,000 – while he was able to do a lot of the work himself, he outsourced paint, panel and upholstery – the latter alone was 140 hours’ work.

But the car is not a museum exhibit, and the Millikens will often take it out for a spin, especially during summer.

“In South Canterbury, we have fantastic back roads that aren’t heavily travelled.

“It’s probably the most interesting roading network in New Zealand in my view.

“So we take it out as and when required, winter not so much, but in summer we use it a lot, go out somewhere for afternoon tea.”

The Buick has also had a number of trips to Mt Cook, in fair weather and foul – the winds so strong some years the hood had to come down to avoid getting wrecked.