Warbirds & Wheels houses New Zealand's best collection of classic cars and warbird planes and is a must-do activity in Wanaka. It has a unique collection of American cars found nowhere else in the world such as the 1934 Model J Duesenberg car owned by Hollywood legened Carol Lombard.
A rare 1924 Model C Rickenbacker Roadster is new to the attraction and according to official records is the only Rickenbacker outside of the United States.
One of only 101 ever made, the six cylinder automobile is unique as it was the first car model to have four wheel brakes, quite unusual in 1924 and is a right hand drive – believed to have been the only one of its kind made.
It’s equally famous for its namesake Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker a celebrated “Ace of Aces” American war pilot who served in WW1 as a fighter pilot and engineer and WW2 as a civilian.
The Rickenbacker on display at Warbirds & Wheels has been in New Zealand since the original owner purchased it direct from the Chicago factory in 1924 and has stayed in Christchurch, ever since with various owners.
The family of the current owner, the late Ted Aitken of Harewood, have loaned the vehicle to Warbirds & Wheels to enable “car lovers from all over the world” to view this “piece of engineering beauty”.
The car has some unusual features including 117” wheelbase, actual horse power of 58, four wheel brakes and the signature Rickenbacker insignia on the petrol cap, wheel cover and badge.
These cars were pretty advanced in their day and while they didn’t have the glamour or status symbol of say a Duesenberg, the four wheel brake technology and the fact that it was called a Rickenbacker made them the talk of the town.
Unfortunately some of the other car companies saw this as an unfair advantage and went to great lengths to discredit the car and its four wheel brakes, implying they were unsafe. After some other bad business decisions the company closed in 1927.
Eddie Rickenbacker was quite the racing car driver in his day – as well as a war hero - so the Rickenbacker name is very well-known. The car on display at Warbirds & Wheels is also believed to be the only right hand drive one manufactured making it even more special.
Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker was an American fighter ace in World War I and Medal of Honor recipient and with 26 aerial victories, he was America's most successful fighter ace in the war.
He was also a race car driver, automotive designer, government consultant in military matters and a pioneer in air transportation, as the long-time head of Eastern Air Lines and owner of the Indianapolis 500 Speedway.
Quite the character, “Fast Eddie” as he was nicknamed, cheated death over 135 times and has been the subject of a number of books and movies, and even wrote his own auto biography.
One of Rickenbacker's most famous near-death experiences occurred in October 1942 while on a tour of air bases in the Pacific to review both living conditions and operations.
After visiting several air and sea bases in Hawaii, Rickenbacker was provided an older B-17D Flying Fortress (s/n 40-3089) as transportation to the South Pacific.
The bomber strayed hundreds of miles off course while on its way to a refuelling stop on Canton Island and was forced to ditch in a remote and little-travelled part of the Central Pacific Ocean.
For 24 days, Rickenbacker, Army Captain Hans C. Adamson, his friend and business partner, and the rest of the crewmen drifted in life rafts at sea.
A US Navy patrol OS2U-3 Kingfisher float-plane spotted and rescued the survivors on November 13, off the coast of Nukufetau in Tuvalu. All were suffering from hyperthermia, sunburn, dehydration, and near-starvation.
Warbirds & Wheels will have the 1924 Model C Rickenbacker on display for the foreseeable future.