FEATURE CAR W
hen Tony Katterns was a kid, he remembers listening to adults talking about local car manufacturing and his grandfather saying, “Oh! The only thing New Zealand ever made was the Trekka, and it was a total flop!” Tony had absolutely no idea what a Trekka was at that stage, thinking it was probably some weird, snow-going vehicle used by the late Sir Ed Hillary to traverse the Antarctic regions. His grandfather was quite a placid person, but Tony clearly remembers the conviction of his statement — it was enough to cement the Trekka name firmly in his mind forever.
Our Trekka tale might have ended then, but during the late ’90s Tony was an automotive restoration student, and he and a friend — Don Wakenshaw, nicknamed Austin Don — decided to take a day trip down to Horopito for a look around the acres of dismantled vehicles and parts. Tony stumbled across a peculiar Land Rover– looking vehicle with a Kiwi on the badge and said, “What the hell is this thing, Don?” “Oh — that’s a Trekka,” came the reply. Because Tony considers himself one for the underdog, he couldn’t help thinking the forgotten little Trekka was worth restoring, and that it would be nice to save a couple of these things one day.
So, that’s where Tony saw his first Trekka — number 20 to come off the assembly line — and, believe it or not, that example is still slowly rotting away at Horopito.
Tracking Down a Trekka
Fast forward 15 years, and Tony decided to take the opportunity to restore a classic commercial, a vehicle he intended to use as a runabout for his restoration business. Due to the constant workload restoring customers’ cars, time would be in short supply, so the chosen project needed to be small, simple and readily available. So, he thought, why not a Trekka?
As a professional restorer, Tony knows the best way to save money and get a good result is to start with a good car, and with that in mind, he began to delve into the Trekka network. His first port of call was Todd Niall, author of the book Trekkadynasty. Todd was helpful with several contacts in Auckland who had Trekkas but, alas, none were available for sale.
At about that time Tony bumped into his old friend Don Wakenshaw, and asked if he knew of any other Trekkas around. “Yeah sure, I’ve got five of them!” said Don, who at that time was living in Morven and had collected about 100 Austins (hence his nickname). Tony wasted no time, paid for a couple of plane tickets to Christchurch, and the first South Island Trekka hunt was organized. After compiling a list of contacts and planning a bit of a road trip with Don as ‘Indian’ guide, they went calling on collectors they knew owned Trekkas in various states of disrepair.
“We stopped in Ashburton to visit an old-time car restorer. I got talking to his neighbour over the farm fence about Trekkas, and he invited me over to have a look at the four examples he had parked up in his farm sheds. He then sent us over the road to have a look at another sitting in a paddock. They weren’t hard to find, if you knew where to look!”
Finally, Tony found our featured Trekka near Dunedin amongst Larry Timpany’s small collection of classic cars. At one time Larry had worked for a Skoda dealer, rallying one of its cars during the ’70s. He’d bought his Trekka through a farm auction.
Tony was interested in buying this particular Trekka because it was running, totally complete and unmolested, with a live registration, and was the only restorable flatdeck version he’d seen. Subsequently, the Trekka was purchased and sent by rail to Auckland.
On a later trip to the South Island Tony purchased a couple more very good finds, choosing a sensible route by taking the time to look for ‘good ones’, as most of the Trekkas discovered were languishing in open areas, left to the elements and rusting away.
The Start of the Trek
After finding a good project, Tony’s next mission was to track down as many good spare Trekka parts as he could find. As luck would have it, he met John Bailey from Matamata, who had bought all the NOS Trekka/octavia parts from Gee Motors in Napier about 20-something years ago, and had been supplying parts to Trekka enthusiasts ever since.
After a couple of visits, Tony bought John’s entire remaining stock for the grand total of $1200. This included new suspension parts, carburettors, steering boxes, two dozen brand-new