Amelia Earhart's last custom-built car on tour around NZ

NZ 12/02/2018

New Zealanders will get the chance to see the car that pilot Amelia Earhart never got to pick up.

The priceless Packard was custom-built for the aviation pioneer, but she left it at the airport in 1937 when she embarked on the around-the-world trip she never completed.

Its history took many twists from then on.

Ms Earhart mysteriously disappeared on the flight in 1937. The car too had disappeared, but its mystery has now been solved - both her initials, A and E, were marked on the bumper of the car.

Packard is the US' answer to Rolls Royce - two-and-a-half tonnes of luxury. One of just 12 of the model built in 1935, the Packard drives like a dream.

Ms Earhart garaged the car at the airport when she embarked on her ill-fated journey.

"Theoretically she got out of that car and into the aircraft, and this really was her last living asset in the world today," says owner Ross Marshall.

There are dozens of theories about what happened to Ms Earhart. Did she starve to death on a remote atoll, or did she spy on the Japanese military build-up, only to be taken prisoner?

"Had she got this information back to the government, Pearl Harbour may never have happened," says Mr Marshall.

Ms Earhart's widower sold the Packard to a notorious gangster before a judge got hold of it. He tinkered with it for 50 years. Then Mr Marshall, an Australian, offered to swap it with a Buick, even before he learned its story. 

"The car in itself is a treasure anyway, but to have such a history is just breath-taking," he says.

Mr Marshall shipped the Packard back to Australia and took 10 years to restore it.

"It was in a million pieces," he says.

The car had originally been hand-built specifically to fit the aviator.

The car will go on display at Ellerslie on Sunday, then Napier and Wanaka. It would now command a seven-figure price tag, but really it's priceless.

"You look up at the mirror and you say Amelia looked into that mirror, Amelia took up this steering wheel," says Mr Marshall.

"It brings tears to your eyes."