Robbie’s final ‘cheerio and happy motoring’
Powell Montague [Montagu] Robinson, motoring expert: B Gisborne, 1920; m Alwyn 1s 1d; d Napier, August 31, 2003 [1 September 2003]
ROBBIE ROBINSON, 82 when he died, dispensed advice to car owners in a radio programme broadcast weekly for 41 years.
When Motoring With Robbie signed off in 1990 with Mr Robinson’s signature “cheerio”, it marked the end of an era in which do-it-yourself car maintenance had been driven off the road by the increasing complexity of what went on under the bonnet.
“People tell me they don’t make cars like they used to,” he said. “It’s a good job, too.”
Mr Robinson had long bowed to improvements brought on by Japanese makers, having switched from British or United States-engineered cars in 1970, when he bought a Toyota Crown.
On his retirement, the former Transport Ministry vehicle inspector said “cars are technically too sophisticated now. In fact, I’m reluctant to open the bonnet of my own car”.
Mr Robinson became a much-loved broadcasting and motoring icon who represented gentler, less complicated times.
From 1949, Saturday morning listeners began hearing a cheery “hello and welcome to this week’s motoring magazine” as he passed on service and driving tips, replied to readers’ letters and finished off the show with his traditional, and anticipated, “and now this week’s story”.
Later in his broadcasting career, his easy-going, comfortable and friendly nature made him the ideal partner for National Radio’s Wayne Mowat and the Nostalgia show.
With his trademark wide grin, he once remarked that his Saturday morning show (which originally ran for 15 minutes but was later cut to six minutes) was aimed at do-it-yourselfers who, with a bit of advice, could work on their cars “without doing too much damage”.
Mr Robinson started his working life as a message boy with. what was then the Post and Telegraph. After service with the New Zealand Air Force in World War II, he became a vehicle inspector with the Transport Ministry in Gisborne, then in the late 1940s began part-time broadcasting with radio station 2XG.
He did two or three nights a week, then, after a local garage suggested it would be good to have a motoring session it could advertise with, the wheels of Mr Robinson’s career began to roll. The station manager came up with the name “Robbie”. He reckoned Motoring with Monty did not sound right.
The show grew into national syndication and Robbie became a household name. He broadcast from the Napier studios of 2ZC after settling there in 1957 when he was promoted to senior vehicle inspector with the ministry.
He took his role as a motoring troubleshooter seriously, and admitted he was never confident in the role. “I knew there were a lot of mechanics out there listening.”
For his work in the motoring industry he was honoured with the Queen’s Service Medal in 1986.
Through the years he owned about 38 cars, his first a 1930 Rugby Four, which he bought in 1947. The Rugby Four was a North American Durant, renamed for the New Zealand market.
By 1990 he figured the original concept of the show had disappeared.
“I got the feeling the day would come when I’d be tapped on the shoulder and given the word … so I thought I’d beat the gun,” he said.
What had begun as a weekly 12-minute session broadcast over 24 stations had shrunk to a six-minute spot heard over just six.
As well as his radio work, his syndicated columns and car tests resulted in responses from as far afield as Australia and Fiji. He retired from the Transport Ministry in 1980.
Compiled by Peter Kitchin. Sources: Dominion Post library, NZPA
Photo caption – DIY mechanic: Robbie Robinson’s radio career spanned four decades.