KITS AND PIECES

New Zealand Classic Car - - Words: Photos Courtesy -

to a time when Vince Keats was work­ing as an A-grade me­chanic in Whanganui.

The con­cept

Vince is one of those Kiwi blokes who is pre­pared to tackle al­most any­thing, some­one un­daunted by the moun­tain of prob­lems he may en­counter along the way — see­ing such prob­lems more as a path­way to the ideal so­lu­tion than a hin­drance.

So when the idea of build­ing a scratch­built car came to him one morn­ing in 1965, nat­u­rally, he just de­cided to get on with it. To make it more of a chal­lenge, he de­cided that his cre­ation should be mid en­gined — mainly due to the fact that one of his favourite cars of the era was the Ford GT40 and, no doubt, be­cause it seemed a good idea at the time. Any­way, he’d just fin­ished tidy­ing up his first house — a task that had in­cluded the build­ing of a new home garage and work­shop — and it seemed crim­i­nal not to get the floor dirty with a pro­ject.

With only a vague idea of what the com­pleted car would look like, Vince got on with the job of lay­ing out a chas­sis. Al­though it would have a sim­ple lad­der­frame de­sign, all the ‘fish-mouth’ joints for the tubu­lar struc­ture were ma­chined to a fine tol­er­ance, and solidly clamped dur­ing weld­ing to re­duce dis­tor­tion.

Con­ve­niently, Vince was help­ing a well-known lo­cal rac­ing driver, Graeme Lawrence, with his rac­ing car at the time. It was with Lawrence that he dis­cov­ered that a VW gear­box, when turned up­side down, is ideal for a car with a mid-en­gined lay­out. As Lawrence was rac­ing Cortina GTS at the time, Vince also de­cided to in­stall a Cortina 1500 GT mo­tor in his car.

Chance en­counter

It took about three years to com­plete the chas­sis and sus­pen­sion, but, as soon as the en­gine and trans­mis­sion were in­stalled and a jury-rigged ra­di­a­tor was plumbed in, the car was deemed fit for a ba­sic road test. It was on this first drive that an event took place that would per­ma­nently change the di­rec­tion Vince took.

At the time, the car had a bare chas­sis, so the driver was fully ex­posed to the el­e­ments, and, you guessed it, on that ini­tial run, Vince col­lected a wasp right up his trouser leg! Nat­u­rally, as any bloke would do in such a sit­u­a­tion, an emer­gency test of the brakes was per­formed, fol­lowed by a quick exit and lot of jump­ing and leg shak­ing to en­sure that the of­fend­ing in­sect got nowhere near any vi­tal ar­eas.

A bloke danc­ing around madly along­side a bare chas­sis would’ve cap­tured the at­ten­tion of most nor­mal passers-by, but Vince’s gy­ra­tions were not what stopped Nick Groten­huis, a draughts­man who worked for New Zealand Rail­ways. While the jump­ing around was cer­tainly a dis­trac­tion, what caught Groten­huis’ eye was the car’s chas­sis — not sur­pris­ing when you learn that Nick was a pas­sion­ate car de­signer: a few years ear­lier, he had shown some of his draw­ings to Bruce Mclaren, who evinced a lot of en­thu­si­asm for Nick’s ideas. In 1963, Nick had even sent draw­ings of one of his body de­signs to Rolls-royce as a sug­gested im­prove­ment for its cur­rent pro­duc­tion car. Rolls-royce took the time to re­ply, but pointed out that the eco­nom­ics of mo­tor-body build­ing did not al­low the com­pany to take much in­ter­est in free­lance de­signs. Cu­ri­ously, the next Sil­ver Cloud to come out of the fac­tory a cou­ple of years later seemed to re­flect many of his ideas.

How­ever, back to Vince and that pesky wasp. On the spot, Nick de­cided that he wanted to see one of his body de­signs on Vince’s chas­sis. At that stage, Vince had not com­mit­ted him­self to any par­tic­u­lar style, so was open to Nick’s pro­posal. This ini­tial road­side con­tact marked the be­gin­ning of a friend­ship that lasted un­til Nick passed away in the 1990s.

Pa­trick Har­low Vince Keats

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