I Dominic, Kaspa is a name we’ve seen in the transmission industry for a long time. How did you get into working with cars?
I started working for a guy, Bruce, when I was 15, down in Papatoetoe — in those days, we were wrecking a lot of American V8s, and doing a lot of Mk1 Zephyr manual gearboxes. When I was 19, we moved over to Otahuhu, and the house that we were working out of burnt down one night. After that, my brother and I bought the place off the guy — we paid $5000 for what was left of it. That was in 1976. We bought a property in Kaka Street, Otahuhu, around 1977–’78, and we moved into a yard there. Then we bought the property next door, and, around 1987, we built our first factory. Where did the Kaspa name come from — your original building wasn’t haunted, was it? We were originally on Caspar Road, Papatoetoe, and when I bought the business it was already called ‘Kaspa’. We went from Caspar Road to Huia Road, and a few other places, before we bought the place in Otahuhu. The name always stayed, though.
The Kaspa name is associated with automatic transmissions. Do you just do autos, or will you work with any transmission? We’ve been pushing the auto side more than the manual side, but our business is probably 30 per cent manual; the rest auto. We do things like diffs as well, but that’s another part of our business. We do basic transmission services through to full transmission rebuilds — we deal with transmissions only, so we don’t do vehicle servicing or anything like that. On the American V8 side of things, generally, we’ll custom build the transmission for the vehicle. We don’t tend to have a transmission just sitting on the shelf. We import used transmissions from America, and then, when somebody wants one, we’ll talk to them and find out what they want from the transmission: what their engine is, what cam they’re running, diff ratio, weight of the vehicle, and what they want to do with it. We’ll build the transmission they need, rather than just grabbing something off the shelf and saying, “Mate, this will do it!”. Certain transmissions can be made up to certain horsepower, but you’d have to stop there and move on.
Since you’ve been dealing with transmissions for so long, how do you find keeping up with all the recent advances in transmission technology? We’re constantly going overseas, doing seminars or courses — I’ve been to conferences in the States and Aussie, but, because of the way European and Japanese imports are in New Zealand, we see a lot of stuff they don’t see in Australia or the States. We find ourselves working with stuff they don’t really get over there, but we adapt to that — it’s still a mechanical thing you’re working with.
Do you see a place for modern-style, dual-clutch transmissions in the American V8 market? I think they’re going to take off. The concept is great — you don’t get the wear on the gearbox because you’re pre-selecting the gears. So, rather than going ‘boom!’ and pushing on a synchro, causing wear and tear, your next gear is already selected. You still get bearing wear, and wear in the dual clutch, but the technology is getting better and better. They’re complex things, but we’re lucky enough to have good knowledge and information sharing — someone will work with them, so it may as well be us.
What is currently the most popular transmission in the V8 scene? For us, in the Ford range, it’d be the AOD and AOD-E. The AOD comes with an overdrive, and has a cable for timing and pressure. The AOD-E comes with a little computer, and
has an overdrive and lock-up torque converter. It’s got two modes, ‘Power’ and ‘Economy’ — I’ve actually got one in my T-bird. In our GM range, the biggest would be the 4L60E and 4L80E, rather than the TH350 or TH400, because, again, they give you the overdrive. Better fuel economy, saves the engine, and less noise — why wouldn’t you?
Speaking of the T-bird — how long have you owned it? I’ve owned the ’64 for about three years, and I’ve got an ’07 Mustang signwritten as well. I bought that brand new. The ’57, though, I bought that around 1987, I think. This guy came into work around the time of the share market crash, and he’d heard we were into T-birds — my brother and I both owned T-birds. He said he was buggering off to the States, as he’d lost his money here, and gave a price for the car. I bought it — didn’t even have to look for it; it came to us.
Have you always had a passion for cars? Yeah, that’s really how I got involved in the industry. I had a Mk1 Zephyr, but since then I’ve owned probably 20 or more V8s. I bought an F100 for $1500 when I was 16, so it was a pretty quick step up into the V8s. I’ve had a 1970 Mustang 428 Super Cobra Jet — it was fast! The engine from that is in my brother’s ’64 T-bird now.
Is there a family involvement with the business? My brother and I originally bought the business together, then, after about 20 years, he went his own way and now runs his own transmission place. I own the Kaspa brand, and Mike, who is my brother’s son, and I are partners in the Glenfield branch. My son is working here as well. Vange Pervolianakis, who bought the Otahuhu branch around 10 years ago, had been working with me for about 10 years, and he knew exactly what he was buying. Our Glenfield branch is partners with Silverdale, which is run by Brian ‘Bluey’ Mcclennan. Bluey and I are old mates — we’re leaguies, mate.
So you’ve got a bit of a background in sport as well as in cars? Yeah, Bluey was the Kiwis coach and the Warriors coach. I played league back in the ’80s, and coached Auckland for half a dozen years. Being a coach is like being a boss — the qualities we look for in guys at work are the same qualities that we look for in players. Around 2000, I was coaching this kid — a really nice kid — when he was 18; I got him working for us at Otahuhu, and he’s still working for us. I knew he was a good guy, and good people can turn their hand to anything. I’d rather start with a good person, and build them into what they can be — you can’t change the person.
That’s a great-sounding philosophy, Dominic. Thank you for your time.