It’s more than a decade since Rob and Lyla Cowley sold their business servicing “half the cars in Raglan”, but on their Hamilton lifestyle block these days life’s still as much about motor vehicles as anything else.
And the avid hot rodders wouldn’t have it any other way.
When they made the move to their three acres over the divvy — from Whale Bay where they’d lived for 25 years — the couple built not only a house but also a 200-square metre shed so Rob could indulge his passion for working on vintage, resto and classic cars.
The car nut from way back now has a “very low key” working day with more like one or two customers on the go at a time instead of the forecourt full of cars that awaited attention most days at Bow Street Motors, he laughs.
The couple built up Bow Street Motors from 1984, having arrived in town from Hamilton with their young family in tow a few years earlier. “We set out to do 20 years,” Rob says of the business, which was formerly known as Raglan Central Garage.
They were busy years with Lyla working as accounts manager and receptionist while Rob, who’d done his apprenticeship in Hamilton, tended to the mechanical side of things and took on local staff as needed.
But all the while Rob was slowly putting together the 1935 Ford Coupe in which the pair now enjoy travelling about the country.
It took 15 years to build the hot rod in his spare time, he reckons, as he squeezed the labour of love in between family life, surfing and a burgeoning business. He started the project from the garage of his home in Whale Bay, but finished it off at Bow Street Motors’ workshop at weekends.
Rob and Lyla are now both active members of Hamilton’s ‘Riverside Rodders’ and Rob is also currently the club’s president. “We go to swap meets and hot rod runs all over the country,” says Lyla of their shared passion.
When the Chronicle caught up with the pair they’d recently returned from two weeks’ touring in the South Island. “We drove down along with seven other cars from our club,” says Lyla of the road trip whose ultimate destination was the Pre 49 Nationals at Omarama in Central Otago.
It’s a passion which can also take them overseas, and two years ago they were part of a hot rod group which toured parts of the United States including a memorable stint on the famed Route 66, described as “the main street of America”.
The couple — married as teens 47 years ago but now grandparents in their 60s — still work, although Rob describes himself as semi retired and is happy just “cruising along”. He’s taking his time currently, he says, turning a custom truck into a hot rod for a customer.
“Yeah these jobs take a while,” Lyla chips in lightheartedly of the venture, which has already been a year or two on the go.
Lyla works four days a week as an admin assistant at LJ Hooker in Hamilton. After leaving Raglan she commuted and did similar work for about nine years at Raglan Real Estate Ray White, directly across the road from her old stomping ground.
The couple still have friends in town, but admit they don’t get back here as much as they’d like. And the surf’s not been the drawcard it once was after Rob hit the rocks and injured his left shoulder muscles some time ago. “It stopped him being able to paddle,” Lyla explains.
Rob grew up in the Raglan district, on a Te Hutewai Road farm. From there he went to the old school in Stewart Street, then on to the district high — now Raglan Area School — in Norrie Avenue, where coincidentally his own two children were also later educated.
Rob and Lyla’s move over the diivvy came after married daughter Caroline “got crook” more than 13 years ago. By shifting nearer to Caroline in Hamilton, they could help her husband with the care of their toddler Deveraux.
“You never know what’s around the corner,” says Lyla of the circumstances which dramatically changed all their lives.
While Caroline died of the cancer and her husband eventually moved away from the Waikato, Rob and Lyla still regularly see their now 15-year-old grandson. And there are other “grandies” around too to delight in the lifestyle block with its sheep, hens, cows and garden.
Living on Hamilton’s doorstep also has some practical advantages for Rob’s work: it’s so much easier, for example, being able to “pick up parts close by” for his hot rod projects.