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B&H Returns to Pukekohe (Part 2)

“HOME GROWN”: NZ ASSEMBLED CLASSICS AT THE GREAT RACE THE BENSON & HEDGES 500/1000     1968-1978

 

CAR BUILDING IN KIWILAND, THE BATTLEGROUND FOR MARKET SHARE

 

This photo/journo story fired our imagination, intrigued us with the possibilities of what genuine N.Z. assembled production racing survivors, might still be out there in Aotearoa, possibly holed up in a barn somewhere or stuck at the back of a shed. We’re talking 1960’s Wills 6 Hours and 70’s Benson and Hedges 500/1000 cars here. When the magic of these races, was the battle for supremacy between locally assembled “production cars”, before it all went crazy post 1978, with exotic, limited manufacturing runs of imported high performance factory specials… Not that certain local manufacturers didn’t have this idea as well, witness the 1972 Fiat 125T and the later Datsun 1200SSS. But neither could live with the Chrysler Charger, but more about that later.

The era of local automobile assembly in N.Z. stretched from 1921 to 1998. Everything after that was imported in fully built up format. The removal of sales tax on new vehicles in 1998 cast the death knell on the local auto building industry. I’m picking that like Australia, pristine examples of surviving locally built cars will gain in value with the passing of time. They are truly icons of a past, when there was a thriving, buoyant local car assembly industry in N.Z.

With assembly of CKD (completely knocked down) vehicles, came the establishment of subsidiary industries supplying components to the major car companies. Over time the automobile industry and roading infrastructure that we take for granted today, evolved as a result of the increased car ownership – all a direct kickback of local motor vehicle assembly making vehicles cheaper and more accessible.

Early Toyotas and Datsun’s (despite the post war prejudice which viewed them as cheaply made, poor quality and unreliable) quickly established themselves as totally the opposite - even if the wider public perception took a while to change. With standard equipment that cast their English opposition into the shadows, the design and construction was excellent, but the masterstroke was the bullet proof engines that thrived on revs. Just perfect for racing!

The Benson and Hedges 500 endurance race for standard production locally assembled saloons, was perfect timing for the beginning of the Japanese invasion. However, through to the first oil shocks of the mid 70’s, the traditional auto manufacturer’s from Britain and Australia’s, locally assembled products were the mainstay of our national car fleet.

With Ford assembly based in Petone (Wellington) from the 1930’s, later General Motors, Vauxhall and Holden in Otahuhu/Mt Wellington (Auckland), Todd Motors were assembling Chryslers and other makes (Mitsubishi) at Todd Park in Porirua (Wellington) and in Nelson Triumphs, Rovers and Jaguars were being built. These were among the larger players, although Campbell Motors assembly of Toyotas and Datsuns would figure more prominently into the mid 70’s and beyond.

GM’s Holden and Vauxhall brands vied with their equivalent Australian and English Ford counterparts for supremacy of the local market throughout the 60’s and much of the 70’s. By the late 1960’s there was a wide array of locally assembled brands, which included some exotic Europeans such as Fiat and Renault Simca competing for market share. What better showcase than a long distance endurance production car race to advertise the quality of your wares!

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