Great New Zealand Archetypes: The Used Car Salesman


I recently visited one of those great New Zealand institutions: the Greenlane car yard.

This one was intimate and very close to the interchange. A small Gottage with a sliding door, an electric kettle and a clunky desktop computer formed the annex of this operation.

It was raining.

The water beaded off the cars, and the Greenlane roads roared with near-weekend traffic. Several yard workers pored over open bonnets. It was very quiet out on the lot.

I’d previously worked on a car yard as the office lady. I’d seen the processes around selling cars and it never got stale, because there was always a fresh platitude.

The system, as far as I could tell, was sometimes long or sometimes very quick, much like sex.

There was a lot of ego stroking and massaging before the sale. The client would be coaxed into the heated seats, and the requisite acceptable mainstream rap music would be turned up—not so loud, though, that you couldn’t hear the delicious V8 or (shudder) V12 engine roaring under pressure from the gas pedal.

The potential buyer would take the car out on a test drive, and sometimes they were encouraged to keep it for the night.

Later that night, they would reverse their usual horrible old shitter out of the garage leaving it in the hoarfrost to make way for the new automotive lady-friend.

They might then close the garage door and stand next to the potential new car, quietly downing nine beers to calm their nerves about the finance, and chamois her down—gently consummating the new relationship.

The next day they’d arrive back on the lot with their cheque book out and write out figures I’ve never even earned and away they’d go like a neglected long-suffering husband after a drunk weekend in Vegas, slightly wobbly on their feet and broke but very, very happy.

But that was not the style of this car yard.

It was 10 minutes before anyone noticed they had a customer. After a time, a guy emerged who resembled Del Boy crossed with Richard O’Sullivan. He was like a lounge bar incarnate. There was velvet, leather, and a heavy fragrance with notes of musk and a touch of:

God. I am still drunk from last night.

As he strode out, holding his pottery mug of International Roast, he struck me as a man at the top and also the bottom of his game. He was not desperate make a sale. He would make me wait.

I pointed out the navy Alfa 156.

“I’d like to take a look at that one”, I said. With my wrongly placed Eurocentric capitalist outlook, I felt I was giving him hope, and a blacker balance sheet.

“I think that one took a knock in the yard,” he chuckled. “Someone backed into it. We’re packed in pretty tight here”.

I scanned the yard. He was right. It was sardine-packed with cars with room only to edge crab-like between them.

We were off to a good start, with a light shunting here, a few bangs on the panel work there, and a possible chassis realignment, what was there to complain about?

An assistant was summonsed. It was his job to slalom the other cars around the blue Alfa to free it up for the road test. It was also his job to jump start the car.

It started.

And off I finally went, full of hope and a dream of owning a proper car-yard car, not just one off Trade Me. Pretty soon my dream withered into panic, however, as the car went into limp mode on the busiest road in the Southern Hemisphere.

Once the rescue mission was over and the car back in the yard, the team gathered around, shaking heads and holding coffees.

Del Boy broke the silence.

“We’ve never really started it or driven it, actually,” he mused, sipping.

New Zealand is built on this kind of retail experience. These guys will never have heart failure from stress, it seems.

This wasn’t the exciting sales pitch I’d seen in my former job. I’d got nothing by way of sexual innuendo, not even a tepid cup of java.

All I got was limp mode.

I drove off and left them fucking around with the immobiliser. I can still hear it now, as I write.


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The rain had stopped, and the Gottage shone in the breaking sunlight as the salesmen ambled through to the hot kettle.

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