I was lucky enough to locate a small cache of parts left over from the Hino Contessa dealer, Federal Motors, of Christchurch, New Zealand in 2000. I was able to acquire them without outlaying a great deal of money (nobody wanted them) but on close examination very few consumable parts were included.
Subsequent discussion with car enthusiast friends in New Zealand meant I got to hear of a supposedly Ňas-newÓ white Contessa 1300 sedan which had been owned by a Christchurch resident for many years. My wife and I holidayed in New Zealand in 2001 and just before we left to return home I made contact with the owner of the fabled white Contessa. At that stage, I had no intention of purchasing another Hino - I was just interested in having a look at another example for comparative purposes.
The owner was a most pleasant gentleman, and invited us around for coffee and to view the white car. The rumours about the car were not totally accurate, although it certainly had lots of potential as a restoration project. The car had covered only 35,000 miles (56,000kms) from new, but had suffered from a minor bump on the front left hand corner. This had been rather amateurishly repaired and some parts had been removed for chrome plating, polishing or painting. The car was a cream colour with light blue seats - an unusual but attractive combination. The interior of the car really was as new and most of the paint was original but faded. It was difficult to inspect the Contessa properly as it was tightly boxed in at the back of a garage by two other cars.
To my surprise, the Hino was for sale, as the owner had lots of other automotive projects and he had basically lost interest in the Contessa. He valued it very highly however - so there was never any question of my being able to acquire it cheaply.
To cut a long story short, I couldn't get the car out of my mind and I eventually negotiated a purchase price and imported it to Australia in 2001. My intention was to restore this car to as-new original condition and maybe sell the other one as a usable classic in due course. Restoration involved stripping the car, panel repair, repainting and reassembly. Major challenges started from day one. Only 85% of the car actually arrived in Australia! Many of the missing parts had been removed and misplaced by the owner over a period of eight years.
Luckily, I had previously acquired a Contessa parts book and was able to conduct an inventory of missing parts immediately. Eventually, the owner located most, but not all of the missing pieces and sent them to me. It was obvious that some critical parts of this car would never be found. This had the unfortunate consequence of me having to steal parts from the red car - rendering it unusable - at least in the short term. For example - I had to use the fuel tank, radiator, carburettor and exhaust system.
By using these parts from the red car, I got the white Contessa running and drove it around for a short time without bumpers and other trim parts. It was like new to drive. This inspired me to commence the major restoration which has now been underway for over 18 months.
I am finding the restoration of the white car unusually difficult - but this has been more by bad luck and perhaps my bad decisions rather than anything inherent to the car. Also my rather poor health of late has not helped.
The first step was to strip the car to a rolling shell - so that it could be repainted in its original cream colour - unique to the New Zealand cars and thankfully identical to a locally available Toyota colour. I repaired the metalwork on the front corner myself and then contacted a well know restoration shop to arrange a high quality two-pack paint job inside and out, following a strip back to bare metal. The shop was too busy and put me off for six months. This led me to another person who professed to be able to carry out a top class job. I asked to see samples of his work and I was impressed with what I saw.
Another problem which arose was the media blasting shop which was going to blast the car back to bare metal had gone out of business and sold its plastic media machinery to another firm. This firm did a terrible job of blasting the car - missing many areas and refusing to lower the pressure to do the underside of the opening panels. The painter wasn't concerned at all about this - saying that he could sort it all out - no problem.
Well - that was not to be. He also did a terrible job of painting the car. The result of all this is that I am out of pocket for a substantial sum of money and I really have to start again with the body. This time I am using my own hobby equipment to strip and blast the paint off the underside of the panels and inside the boot and engine compartments. It is a slow job as I have to shift the old paint and the new paint but I know I will not damage anything and that the work will be done properly.
The original restoration shop will take over when I have stripped those parts and they have agreed to do a quality two-pack job. So that is where the project is at the moment. I have stripped and blasted the underside of the bonnet and boot lids to clean bare metal and I am about half way through blasting the engine compartment.
Most of the chrome work (bumpers, light surrounds, hubcaps etc) has been done and all of the stainless trim has been restored. The engine has been fitted with a new sump and all the removable engine ancillaries have been rebuilt or replaced and have had new gaskets fitted. I have cut most of the gaskets myself. From my drive in the car, I know that the engine runs perfectly, does not overheat and is mechanically silent so I thankfully do not have to carry out internal work at this stage. This is just as well, as I am not sure that I could get bearings, thrust washers, liner seals and other such parts which would be required for a rebuild.
Having the parts available, I have fitted a new distributor and oil filter housing. The water pump and fuel pump have been rebuilt. The rocker cover has been glass-bead blasted to achieve the original finish - as has the intake manifold and other bare alloy parts. The whole engine has been painted a mid grey colour to exactly match the original NZ shade.
I have imported a set of white-wall radial tyres from the US in the correct size for the car (155 80 x 13). This will ensure that the Contessa looks and drives correctly and also, importantly the spare wheel with fit into its cradle. I have found that the spare wheel cannot be secured if fitted with an even slightly larger tyre.
There are still many challenges to overcome and as I proceed I hope to add some more updates to this site - hopefully this information may help other Contessa enthusiasts.