Travelling in the South Island in style

Mention Fiat motorcars and most would immediately think of Fiat’s cheerful 500 super-mini and not the gracious 1920s touring car at Olveston.

Mention Fiat motorcars and most would immediately think of Fiat’s cheerful 500 super-mini and not a gracious touring car from the 1920s.

The Theomin Family’s Fiat 510 Tourer is a 1921 model with a four door open body and substantial canvas folding top and side screens. It was the largest car in the post-First World War Fiat range and was equipped with a six cylinder motor. Fitted with a light weight body as this one is, these powerful cars were capable of traveling sixty miles in the hour. There were few roads in and around Dunedin where this would have been advisable. Even so, the big Fiat would have made easy work of the city’s steep hills.

The choice of a large and fairly expensive product of Italy as a family car showed David Theomin’s interest in the finer things of life. The McIndoes, of printing and plastic surgery fame, enjoyed a Minerva from Belgium. Fine cars were imported from a number of European manufacturers before punishing import duties introduced in the 1930s restricted the range to products from the British Empire.

Mr Theomin took delivery of a brand new Fiat 510 Tourer in 1922. This limousine was a classic example of elegant European motoring. 3.4 litres of driving pleasure, the car was used by the Theomins for many journeys into Central Otago, scenic tours to Mount Cook and the central lakes, and up the east coast of the South Island.

Some 72 years after it was purchased, the original Fiat was discovered, standing axle deep in water, in a derelict farm shed a short distance from Dunedin. The vehicle had not moved for over 33 years.
In 1994 it was transported to Christchurch, New Zealand and fully restored by Auto Restorations Ltd. The work took over 2 years. The Fiat was returned to Olveston in 1996 and is now maintained in tip-top running order.

Today, the Theomin’s Fiat 510 Tourer has pride of place in the garage at Olveston that was built in 1914. The garage incorporated a heating system, a pit for servicing and a carport at the rear for the chauffeur to clean and load the car for any long journeys.

Nothing but the best was good enough for David Theomin, the house itself was too built to the highest exacting standards. Gifted to the city of Dunedin in 1966 – today, the Fiat and the Theomin’s extraordinary collection of artworks, antiques, furniture and other artefacts are displayed  for visitors as they would have been when Olveston was a family home in the early 1900–1960s.

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