This cafe in a Citroen

Donna McIntyre
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Picture / Ted Baghurst

Picture / Ted Baghurst


You drive a 1967 manual Citroen H van?

It’s gris metalic, French for metallic grey, the colour it was painted in the factory. The aluminium disc with the Citroen paint colour code is still riveted to the dash. The vans were designed in World War II and the panels are similar to German Junker aircraft — thin steel that is light but the ridges make it strong. As it has only three gears, flat out on the motorway is 80km/h. Great around town, though.

When did you buy the van?

I was looking for a retro van to use for my coffee and icecream food truck and a suggestion to look at the H vans from Mike of Kokako Coffee started the idea rolling. I bought it in June 2014 from Europe. Originally it was an artisan carpenter’s delivery van in Provence.

What modifications have you made?

Once the van arrived in New Zealand, it became apparent that rust had taken a strong hold over the previous 50 years. Things weren’t much better mechanically. Dave from Auto France, who did most of the mechanical work, suggested the previous owner had worked on it with “knives and forks” rather than the specialised Citroen tools needed for H vans. It was basically a 10-month nut-and-bolt restoration. Tony Katterns from Custom Metalshapers worked on the body and rust. To give more headroom we lifted the roof by 170mm (using replica metal panels from Europe) and installed a large serving hatch. The inside is fitted out as a miniature cafe with sinks, hot and cold water, fridge, water and waste tanks and it’s plumbed and wired accordingly. We insulated the walls and roof before lining the van. The coffee machine is a shiny new La Marzocco FB80.

Where do you go?

We’ve served coffee at Karekare beach, the Best of British market and expo on Queens Wharf, Splore Festival and Auckland City Limits ... and we were part of the Citroen stand at the Intermarque Concours at Ellerslie Racecourse. I’ve driven the van as far as Alan Gibbs’ sculpture farm on the Kaipara and trailered it to Hahei and Rod Millen’s Leadfoot event.

Do you have music?

We stream music from the iPad that doubles as our till/point of sale.

Who else drives your van?

So far, Dave, the Citroen mechanic. It’s tricky being left-hand-drive, the old gearbox doesn’t have a synchro in first gear and the other two gears take a little massaging. I have promised my wife Vicki a lesson in it.

What do your customers say?

Customers love the van. Car events attract the most interest. People from Europe often talk about their childhood memories of seeing the vans around. A retired guy from Rotorua had a steel Dinky toy model of an H van, from the 50s, he’d got from Europe. He thought I would appreciate it more and swapped it for a coffee and hot chocolate.

Do you have any other vehicles?

A Ford Ranger ute — I needed something big enough to tow the van on a trailer to out-of-town events.

First car?

A MkI Escort, set up as a club car. I used that to get to work plus I did a few club motorsport events. That eventually led me to getting another Escort and setting that up as a purpose-built rally car.

Your dream car ...

A 50s Porsche 356 Speedster would be cool.

Who taught you to drive?

My dad, on the suburban back roads near our family home in Papakura. I fine-tuned the parallel parking between two shrubs on our front lawn.

Great day trip out of Auckland?

Matakana — nice countryside, beaches, food, coffee and wine.

Do you judge people by what they drive?

Not so much, I love cars and there are plenty I wouldn’t like to be seen in (I struggle with driving my wife’s Suzuki Swift) but I don’t really care what anyone else drives.

What irritates you most about other drivers?

Cigarette butts being thrown out of the window at the lights.

Auckland’s congestion issues?

More trains to more locations and dedicated cycleways away from roads and cars would both help. If the convenient options are there, people will start to use them.

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