CAN NEW ZEALAND’ S ONLY MASS-PRODUCED MOTOR VEHICLE BE ACCORDED CLASSIC CAR STATUS? DONNA ND ER SON PONDERS AFTER REMEMBERING THE FIRST LENGTHY ROAD TEST OF A TREK K AT O CAPE RE IN GAIN THE SUMMER OF 1967…
Classic car enthusiasts have widely different preferences — one person’s gold is another’s scrap metal. So, ignore financial returns or investment advice when choosing what you wish to admire and own, and take no notice of those who say they know better when they probably do not.
Lengthy research and due diligence go without saying, as does carefully checking ownership of any car you fancy. Of course, it pays to settle on the best possible example while staying within your budget. Trust no one, and keep it original, for you are looking after the vehicle for the next generation.
Which brings us to the Trekka that I drove to Cape Reinga precisely 50 years ago, never dreaming that one day anyone could think it anything like a collectable item. But though the Trekka is basic and utilitarian, it deserves special status not only because it was the highest local-content motor vehicle ever made here, but because it was also New Zealand’s first and only massproduced car.
Turner, managing director of the Motor Holdings Group, told me the idea was his. The Kawerau prototype was sent to Motor Holdings in Auckland, and Risbridge anticipated his company would have a share in the project.
But the Bradford was never likely to fly. Its side-valve flat-twin 1.0-litre produced a miserable 14kw and gave the van a top speed of 85kph. That made it barely faster than walking, though it was a useful load-carrier, as I found out when my father ran two for his electrical business in the early ’50s.
The other myth — which is clearly more fiction than fact — is that Motor Holdings found itself with a bunch of half-finished Skoda Octavias that were missing many parts and decided to cobble together a basic workhorse and thereby use up said bits. According to those who know, this is nonsense. A simple prototype was built in 1964, but this was a far cry from the production reality. George Taylor, who had worked for Rolls-royce and a coachbuilding company in Britain, as well as on commercial vehicles in New Zealand, was assigned the task of turning the prototype into a commercial proposition.
In those days, Skodas had a rather unenviable reputation for shoddy finish and poor reliability, but Turner could see the potential for a low-cost practical vehicle in a market starved of new ones. The Volkswagen Beetle was the cash cow for Motor Holdings, but the company also had the franchise for the communist Czechoslovakian brand, and the durable 1221cc Octavia four-cylinder engine, which also served commercial vehicle purposes in the homeland, seemed an ideal power source.
Additionally, the Skoda platform was a good choice for an all-purpose ute or van, although, in 1966, I was apparently misinformed that there were minor modifications to alter the wheelbase. In fact, the 2400mm wheelbase is identical to that of the Octavia saloon built from 1959 until 1971, as is the Trekka’s overall length of 4065mm. Overall height, of course, is greater at 1867mm — 437mm more than the Octavia, and Dunlop Roadtrak tyres were fitted to the 15-inch-diameter steel rims.
It had independent swinging half axles, and modifications were made to the rear suspension, while the four-wheel independent suspension was perceived to be a good sales feature. Yet, while Motor Holdings lauded a design that was specifically suited to New Zealand conditions, the lack of four-wheel drive was something of an obstacle to farmers, local bodies, and industrial or contracting businesses needing back-up vehicles to supplement their heavy equipment. The vehicle apparently originated from a converted Jowett Bradford van built by Peter Risbridge, who had an engineering company in Kawerau, although, at the launch of Trekka production Noel
Body stamping was completed by HJ Ryan, and contracts were let for local manufacture of a multitude of components.
When the Trekka was unveiled in December 1966, it was the first Kiwi-built production vehicle to contain 80 per cent local content, and the retail price was a little more than a Morris Minor and slightly cheaper than a Ford Cortina 1200. The base price of £899 ($1798) increased to £950 ($1900) when it was specified with a limited-slip differential (LSD). The Trekka was never going to provide the 4WD answer to the Land Rover or Austin Gipsy, which were subject to import licensing and always in short supply, but the Kiwi-built creation was about £600 ($1200) cheaper.
There’s a motor sport connection to the optional LSD that was, unfortunately, missing from my North Cape test example. Ray Stone was a talented mechanic, who, with his Performance Development company in Manurewa, worked with such prominent racing drivers as Johnny Mansell, Bill Thomasen, Paul Fahey, and Roly Levis. Ray tested several versions of an LSD for Motor Holdings on farmland near his South Auckland home, and came up with a modified part, dubbed ‘Balanced Traction’ by Motor Lines’ general manager Colin French — hence the ‘BT’ badge on the rear of those examples fitted with what was really an essential option.
The Trekka had not been subjected to a pre-delivery check and was showing just 50 miles on the clock. Four of us were setting off on a 1227km … run that would mark the first time that a Trekka had ventured that far north
French, who was a driving force behind the Trekka project, became general manager of another division of Motor Holdings — Mazda New Zealand — in 1972, and steered the Japanese make through a critical growth period until a sudden heart attack in 1989 resulted in his untimely death. He labelled the Trekka the ‘2-10’, with all the early production painted green and sporting a canvas top. White fibreglass canopy tops made by Fibreglass Mouldings soon became a popular extra — unsurprisingly, given the amount of time required to erect the soft-top single-handedly, with fastening clips difficult to locate. Running changes included improvements to seating, although we found the early seating comfortable, with plenty of padding and good adjustment. But, with four adults aboard, this meant moving the spare wheel from behind the passenger seat to the rear load compartment. However, more critical problems would soon annoy owners.
No fewer than 32 dealers were franchised to sell the new vehicle, and, with parts and servicing presenting no problem, there was high interest in the local creation. Yet, as the Trekka went into service, some owners were dogged with poor reliability. One couple from Marlborough bought a new Trekka in 1967 and reported problems with the exhaust system, fuses, and general quality. Owner Margaret Philips launched a campaign to force Motor Holdings to buy back the Trekka, towing the vehicle to Auckland where a part settlement was reached. But most problems experienced by owners were minor, and the Ministry of Transport claimed to have few failures with the 180 Trekkas in its fleet.
Initial sales were good, and Motor Holdings had expectations of achieving 1000 registrations for 1967, the first full calendar year. The final tally that year was a stillimpressive 708, enough to claim a 15.6-percent share of the light-commercial market. Trekka never improved on this penetration, but the best year for numbers sold was 1969, with 724 units, after securing 14 per cent the previous year.
After three years, dealers were finding it difficult to sell the vehicle, and share of the light-commercial sector was down to nine per cent in 1970, with 409 retailed that year, 236 in 1971, 176 in 1972, and 24 units in 1973, the final year of production. Just one straggler was sold in 1974.
A few were exported to Fiji and other Pacific Islands, and there were ambitious plans to sell 750 Trekkas a year to Australia in return for an equal number of import licences for Holden. But the vehicle did not strike a chord with our trans-tasman cousins, and fewer than 100 were sold there. Plans were also put in place for a completeknockdown (CKD) programme in Indonesia, but this collapsed in 1971. Five Trekkas went to Vietnam with the New Zealand forces in July 1969, and, in 2003, Taranakiborn Michael Stevenson took one to the 50th Venice Biennale — probably the only example to make it to Europe. Total production over the seven years Trekkas rolled out of the Otahuhu plant was around 2800 — a generous number, if not as good as what Noel Turner had planned. Turner did not survive to see the end of production — he died on October 17, 1971, the same weekend that he was working on a deal to sell his company.
Rewind to early 1967, and the Auckland Skoda Centre had difficulty securing a test vehicle for Motorman magazine to road test. We ended up with a Trekka that had not been subjected to a pre-delivery check and was showing just 50 miles on the clock. Four of us were setting off on a 1227km (700-mile) run that would mark the first time a that Trekka had ventured that far north.
So, was the trip trouble-free? Well, not exactly.
With the 50-litre petrol tank topped up, we set forth from Auckland, confident the under-stressed wet-sleeved Skoda motor would see us through, despite the modest 35kw (47bhp) at 4500rpm output and low compression ratio of 7.5 to 1. It was reluctant to start from cold but otherwise quite willing. While the windscreen wipers had a good spread, they continually went on the blink during our few days of driving and eventually stopped altogether. The steering-column boss loosened and worked its way down the column, and, by the time we reached Whangarei, we noticed an oil leak. This was simply a sump bolt that needed tightening, but we were glad to find the standard tool kit contained a comprehensive array of tools. Most owners probably found the toolkit to be a well-used item.
The interior was clearly well designed, if conventional, with instruments from the Octavia comprising a 90mph (145kph) speedo, water-temperature and fuel gauges, and a lined pocket to the left of the facia. The
indicators were not self-cancelling, but at least both doors had two side pockets, the upper one lined, and the door windows were sliding like those of a Mini. Unlined bench seats were fitted either side of the rear compartment and incorporated four unlockable storage compartments which were difficult to open. Rubber mats lined the floor up front, and the starter control was floor mounted.
Later in the test, we ran a set of performance figures that revealed a top speed of 111kph and indirect gear speed maximums of 32kph in first, 50kph in second, and 80kph in third. Owners were unlikely to label their Trekkas as ‘speedy’ when it took a good 25 seconds to accelerate from a standstill to 100kph. Even so, the low gear ratios made the light truck nippy, with good low-speed pulling power. Trekka pulled up most hills in third, although the large gap between second and third ratio was a small handicap. Our average fuel consumption over the entire route, which included off-road excursions, was 10.6 litres per 100km (26.7 miles per gallon).
The trim, unladen weight of 907kg and ability to carry a half-tonne load were always going to be a good selling point, and our payload of four adults and luggage were scarcely a burden. The Trekka showed no strain, cruising at 50 to 55mph, and, although firm, the ride was not uncomfortable, and noise levels were reasonably subdued.
The first evening stop was at Mangonui before embarking on the 112km run to the cape the next morning, with the sealed road soon changing to a twisting metalled strip. Our Trekka was taken off-road several times to negotiate narrow bush tracks, and, while its light weight was an asset, its lack of LSD clearly restricted our ability to keep moving in the rough.
With the canopy in place, motoring was reasonably draught-free, but the rear flap had to be fastened down on gravel and dry off-roads to avoid a dusty cabin. Soon the Houhora Hotel — New Zealand’s northernmost pub — was behind us, with the cape drawing nearer. A detour to the right led the Trekka to Spirits Bay, where our vehicle struggled on the beautiful sandy beach. On to the cape, where, unlike today, we were able to drive right down and beyond the lighthouse to the edge of the cliff, and peer 170m into the sea and the meeting of the Tasman and Pacific oceans. A perfect summer’s day, with the Three Kings Islands to the north-west and not a tourist in sight.
For the return trip, we planned to turn west at Te Paki and make the faster journey along Ninety Mile Beach. An AA sign said access to the beach was closed, but an inspection by foot of the upper part of the Te Paki stream showed the way to be accessible, and, throwing caution to the wind, the Trekka plunged down the river bed, making short work of the stream with its sandy base.
Once on the beach, our vehicle covered the 70km to Sweetwater effortlessly, although one large bump at around 80kph knocked out all the rubber suspension stoppers and almost threw the occupants into the sand. Back in Auckland, we pondered the fact that the Trekka as a van or a utility was clearly a compromise between a road vehicle and fully fledged off-roader, as well as being reasonably comfortable over long distances.
Todd Niall’s 240-page book, The Trekka Dynasty, published in 2004, is an absorbing tale not only of this utilitarian vehicle but also of Noel and Arthur Turner and the Motor Holdings Group. As Todd points out, the Trekka is a reminder that life in New Zealand was once very different.
Now that you know more about the Trekka, I am not supposing you’ll have fallen in love with it and be actively rushing out to buy one. However, spare a thought for this quirky little machine that has personality; was much loved by some, if not all; and is very much a part of New Zealand automotive folklore.
variant means the Ram is now a viable option for tradies at the top of their game and lifestylers with a need for torque.
As much as I’d love to tell you that Chrysler saw the opportunity to bring its trucks to the huge ute market that is New Zealand and Australia by retooling its Michigan plant, I’d be lying. Of course an opportunity was spotted, but it was more economical to produce the trucks in left-hand drive and put them on a ship to Melbourne for Walkinshaw Automotive Group, which has put together a re-assembly plant to convert the big left hookers to right-hand drive in conjunction with local distributor, Ateco, to convert.
Walkinshaw Automotive has spent countless man hours and millions of dollars re-engineering the Ram. Following all of this R&D, and the creation of efficiencies in the process, it now takes just 20 hours to complete a conversion. The ultimate goal of the swap from left to right was to produce an end product that meets Fiat Chrysler’s factory standards, and you’d have to say the crew has done a bang-up job of it, too.
Big is good
The Ram is available as both the 2500 and 3500 (which will require you to make a trip to your local licence centre to get your HT renewed) in the lands down under, with Walkinshaw building 90 per cent of its annual allotment as 2500s (apparently not much interest has come through for the 3500; it’s just too big, we reckon). Both trucks are best powered by the 6.7-litre Cummins diesel engine, but for the, um, bolder buyer, there is a petrol version, too. Power for the diesel version we tested was seemingly sedate at 276kw, but where it gets interesting, and suddenly begins to make a whole lot of sense, is in the torque figure: 1084Nm. The Ram is here to compete against trucks, mid-sized utes, and luxury SUVS, and with that torque figure, it might just be able to compete against all three at once.
A nice place to be
The capacious interior makes long journeys a breeze for every passenger. Rear-seat legroom is enough to accommodate the tallest folk, and it could easily accommodate three back there for the long haul, too. Practicality clearly hasn’t come at the expense of luxury, with full leather optioned in this Laramie version, along with heated and ventilated seats in the front, 10-way power adjustment for the driver and six-way adjustment for the front passenger, plus a heated steering wheel for those chilly mornings.
Other features include dual-zone climate control, an eight-inch touchscreen display with nine-speaker sound system plus subwoofer and Usb/bluetooth connectivity, and don’t forget the Kiwi three-point socket sitting conveniently within the centre console (toasties on the run, anyone?).
She’s a safe beast, too. There are six full-length curtain airbags and electronic stability control, rear park assist and a reverse-view camera, as well as a cargo camera atop the cabin to keep an eye on the load in the tray.
Tow, tow, tow your boat
The Borgwarner BW 44-46 transfer case for the Ram’s 4x4 set-up features responsive electronic shift, which can be controlled on the fly with three operating ranges (2WD, 4 High, and 4 Low) plus neutral. This impressive unit offers a reduction ratio of 2.64:1 for low-range use.
On the pintle set-up, the Ram 2500 can tow a massive 6989kg (more than double the Ranger) while the leaf-sprung 3500 can tow 6170kg, but makes up for it with a bed load capacity of 1713kg to the 2500’s 913kg, firmly targeting the fifth-wheel enthusiast, of which we don’t have a huge number here in New Zealand. Combined payload is the same for both trucks at 11,479kg — again, significantly more than any other ute available for sale with a factory warranty. This towing capacity opens up a world of opportunity for the number of Kiwis who have been looking at that multi-car garage to keep the team happy. As part of the 2500’s package, you’ll get the very truck-like exhaust brake, which will help keep your speed in check when there’s a big load on the back.
So, while the price tag isn’t for the faint of heart — at a tenner under $165K, as tested — the Ram offers space, power, massive towing capabilities, and a few creature comforts for those who live by the mantra that big is best.
A special thanks to Winger North Shore, Kennards Hire Pukekohe, and Peter Martin — Ultimate Rally Group.
How much can your vehicle tow safely?
Most vehicles have tow ratings given to them by the manufacturer specifying the gross trailer weight braked, unbraked, or both, that the vehicle can safely tow. Although the law does not require these tow ratings to be followed, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) recommends that they be taken into account.
The law does require that every light vehicle and trailer combination be capable of stopping within a distance of 7m from a speed of 30kph. In effect, this means that the maximum allowable weight of an unbraked trailer is limited by the weight and braking ability of the vehicle being used to tow it.
As a guide, the NZTA recommends that the laden weight of an unbraked trailer not exceed three-quarters of the unladen weight of the towing vehicle, and then only if the towing vehicle’s brakes and tyres are in excellent condition. A trailer heavier than this may prevent the vehicle combination from meeting the 7m from 30kph brake-performance requirement. To illustrate the increase in stopping distance when towing an unbraked trailer, consider a trailer with a laden weight equal to the weight of the towing vehicle.
This combination can be expected to have double the stopping distance of the towing vehicle alone, and even a towing vehicle with good brakes is likely to fail the legal brakeperformance requirement of 7m from 30kph. If the trailer is equipped with brakes, it may be possible to safely tow a trailer heavier than three-quarters of the unladen weight of the towing vehicle, but the 7m from 30kph brakeperformance requirement still applies.
Note: Remember that a car, utility vehicle, or light van is not permitted to tow more than one trailer or vehicle.
Tow bars and tow couplings
Although tow bars are not required to be rated and certifed on light vehicles, there are safety requirements. Your tow coupling and tow bar must be strong enough to safely tow your fully laden trailer. The tow bar must also be correctly fitted so that it transfers the towing forces to the structure of the towing vehicle without any distortions of the tow bar or the towing vehicle’s bodywork/structure.
In addition, when you are loading the trailer, make sure that there will be a downwards force on the vehicle tow bar at the point of attachment equal to about 10 per cent of the weight of the trailer plus load. Do not put too much weight at the back of the trailer. Ensure there is a downwards force at the point of attachment, to improve the handling characteristics when you are towing.
The coupling on the trailer must have a manufacturer’s rating appropriate for the gross laden weight of the trailer and be compatible with the tow ball size.
There are two sizes of tow balls in use: • the older 17∕ 8-inch diameter • the newer 50mm diameter.
The tow ball and coupling must be in good condition and securely attached to the tow bar and trailer draw bar, respectively. When connecting the trailer to the towing vehicle, you must make sure that the tow coupling, electrical connection, and safety chain(s) are all connected correctly, so that they work properly. Remember that the gap between the vehicle and the trailer must be no more than 4m. Trailer brakes There are three types of brakes. 1. Service • Direct — this service-brake system allows the driver of the towing vehicle to directly control the trailer brakes from the driving position. This includes vacuumoperated brakes and pneumatic-over-hydraulic systems, controlled directly by the driver of the towing vehicle. • Indirect — with this service-brake system, the action of the driver applying the towing vehicle’s brakes causes the trailer to push against the towing vehicle, and this force indirectly controls the trailer brakes. This includes override brakes. 2. Breakaway These will apply themselves automatically if the trailer is accidentally disconnected from the vehicle. 3. Parking These brakes are applied by hand and are useful for holding the trailer when it has been disconnected from the towing vehicle. A light trailer may be required to have service brakes, parking brakes, breakaway brakes, or safety chains, depending on the gross laden weight of the trailer. The table at right outlines the requirements for the types of brake that must be fitted to light trailers.
Loads overhanging the vehicle or trailer
If the load (including equipment used to support or retain the load) extends more than 200mm beyond the sides of the vehicle or trailer, or more than one metre beyond the front or back of the vehicle, then you must attach suitable warning device(s) to it. During daylight you must attach: • flags (coloured white or fl uorescent red, orange or yellow, at least 400mm long by 300mm wide)
Securing your load
All loads, including those carried on trailers, should be properly restrained so that they can’t shift around while the vehicle is moving.
All objects should be restrained by being: • securely packed inside compartments that
are rigidly attached to the vehicle, or • held securely in racks or cradles or frames designed to fit that size of object and which are rigidly attached to the vehicle, or held by lashings (webbing straps, ropes, chains) or clamps securely attached to appropriate anchorage points (rails, hooks, or eyes) on the vehicle. When you secure a load, bear in mind that it will try to move: • forwards when you brake the vehicle • sideways when the vehicle turns • backwards when the vehicle accelerates • upwards when the vehicle goes over
or • standard hazard warning panels (coloured yellow/green with an orange stripe, at least 400mm long by 300mm wide). During the hours of darkness, you must have lights on the load: • at the rear and facing towards the rear, coloured red (if the load extends sideways or to the rear)
Lashings (webbing straps, ropes, and chains)
If you’re using lashings to secure a load, you’ll need to work out the strength of the lashings — known as ‘lashing capacity’.
Look on the lashing or its packaging for a figure (in kilograms) beside ‘lashing capacity’. If you see ‘breaking strength’ – then the lashing capacity will be half of this figure.
Fasten your load to the vehicle using as many lashings as required to achieve a combined lashing capacity equal to at least twice the weight of the load.
Note: A minimum of two lashings should be used to prevent the load, or part of the load, from twisting, rotating, pivoting, or slewing.
Secure lashings to suitable anchorage points (rails, hooks, or eyes) on the vehicle.
If your vehicle doesn’t have suitable anchorage points, investigate whether these can be fitted to your vehicle or use a vehicle that does have suitable anchorage points.
Tighten the lashings before beginning your journey. Check them during the journey and tighten again if necessary.
If possible, put the load against a headboard, sidewall, or other rigid part of the vehicle structure to help hold it in place. Note: • If your load weighs more than 500kg, refer to the Official New Zealand Truck Loading Code. • Remember to regularly inspect webbing straps and ropes (they can be damaged by wear, chemicals, heat, light, excessive knotting, bending, or chafing). • Ropes made of natural fibres (sisal and manila) may stretch when dry (allowing the load to move) and shrink when wet (which might damage the load).
Maximum vehicle size
Vehicles are allowed to carry loads up to the maximum permitted size (dimensions) for that type of vehicle (provided that the vehicle can be safely loaded that way).
If you’re carrying passengers, you must ensure that they ride in a position where they are not likely to be injured during the journey. It is against the law for passengers to ride in a caravan being towed.
Trekka negotiating Northland bush
Above: Driving to Cape Reinga in 1967 meant opening and closing gates along the way Below: Colin French — a driving force behind the Trekka Below right: Press advertisement from March 1967