Vintage corner: Junk to funk

By: Peta Stavelli


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Vintage corner Peter with a matai table made from saved timber Vintage corner
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Vintage corner Peter Bunting with his waste stream Woody panel ’van Vintage corner
Vintage corner An airbed fits perfectly in the back Vintage corner

If you do what you love, you’ll love what you do. At home or work, Peter Bunting is happiest when he’s turning trash into treasure. His weekend wagon is a glowing testament to the craft.

Vintage corner: Junk to funk
From junk to funk

It's not often you find your next story at the junkyard, but that is exactly where I was directed to find a unique vintage caravan made entirely out of the waste stream. That caravan and the remarkable Woody convertible Peter is rebuilding to tow it are still works in progress. They will be a future story in themselves.

Meanwhile, Peter has already completed another extraordinary rebuild — a 1938 Ford Woody — refashioned and repurposed from the junk pile.

In his day job as the sales administrator for Waitakere Transfer and Recycling Station, Peter is charged with retrieving anything useful and selling it online. He also looks for timber destined for the trash which might be made into furniture.

"It's so satisfying to get a piece of old timber that's gnarly and covered with paint and run it through a thicknesser — and it just comes up looking beautiful," Peter says.

On the day of our visit, there's a stunning outdoor table with two bench seats and a matching coffee table he has made from matai, which very nearly went into the waste stream. While that awaits new owners, he's refurbishing a couple of natty cupboards which are so on trend they are bound to find a new home soon.

His endeavours not only save space in the landfill — around 90 tonnes per year — the dollars earned go towards the operations cost of the plant. It's an inspiring story which will be music to the ears of any Auckland ratepayer. But perhaps the person getting the most out of it is Peter himself, who is living the dream doing what he loves best: working with native timbers like kauri, rimu and matai, which are increasingly hard to find.

"Some modern timbers are so boring and bland. I have always loved getting something old and distressed and turning it into something beautiful. I've just got a passion for recycled timber."

Peter started out his working life completing a four-year apprenticeship as a bookbinder. He's also enjoyed long stints lawn-mowing, and 15 years running a second-hand shop, which led to another 15 years making recycled furniture. Somewhere along the line he's also fitted in a few years set building at TVNZ and Prime and a period running Off the Rails, Henderson's quirky railway café.

He brings his considerable skills to the current role, which returns him to his great love of furniture building. It also affords him the opportunity to work on his pet projects during lunch breaks (which co-incidentally involve the glorious repurposing of scrap timbers).

He was delighted to find the 1938 Ford in a friend's garage, where it had resided for around 12 years. Although, it would be fair to say his partner did not, in the beginning, share his enthusiasm for the project.

"The look on her face as I came up the driveway said it all," he laughs. Now the couple uses it at every opportunity. The couple are frequent attendees of Whangamata's annual Hop, where the vehicle always draws admiring glances.

"I love The Hop. At first we went for the cars, now we go for the atmosphere. I'm hoping to have the caravan ready for next year."

Peter says he's not really a petrol head. "I just love old cars, particularly 1930s — '40s Flathead V8s. I'm not into performance. I love the way they sound and the basic engineering that went into them."

The former Kingseat Hospital fire engine was converted from a four-door sedan sometime in the early '50s. Peter rebuilt it from the ground up over a two-and-a-half-year period. The biggest challenge he faced was applying the three-ply canvas roof.

"I used contact glue directly on to the moulded frame. I hoped I'd get it right first time because it wasn't going to come off."

There were numerous other difficulties, but for Peter another major challenge ("to the hip pocket") was reconditioning the flathead V8 motor, which cost around $6500.

Peter estimates the total cost of the rebuild was around $25,000. Now it's reluctantly for sale so he can finance the completion of his other projects.

"Letting go can be the hardest part. But I console myself with the rationale that I can't drive two cars at once."

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