D

Ur­ing 1972, a Whanganui Post Of­fice em­ployee tele­phoned his boss and said, “I’ve got a gen­tle­man at my counter who wants to reg­is­ter his home-built car. It is called a ‘VK’. What should I do?” His boss replied, “Has it got an en­gine num­ber?” “Well, yes. A

New Zealand Classic Car - - Words: Photos Courtesy -

and, to en­sure that they got ev­ery­thing in pro­por­tion, Vince con­structed a 1/12th scale model of the fin­ished car. It was from this model — which Vince still owns — that the fi­nal body style evolved. Some spe­cific parts were fixed — for ex­am­ple, us­ing a wind­screen from a Hum­ber Scep­tre placed some ini­tial lim­i­ta­tions on the de­sign — but th­ese is­sues were not in­sur­mount­able. The orig­i­nal model called for a fast­back with a large glass rear screen, but, as noth­ing ap­pro­pri­ate was avail­able at the time, the pair opted in­stead to use slot­ted lou­vres to re­tain a flow­ing rear end.

As men­tioned ear­lier, for Vince, any prob­lems are only path­ways to a so­lu­tion, and this ap­proach couldn’t have been more ev­i­dent than when the plug for the body was fin­ished, and he was ready to make the moulds. Hav­ing never done any fi­bre­glass­ing be­fore, Vince started by read­ing a book. By the time he had pulled the moulds off the plug, he had learned how to fi­bre­glass — and also how much he didn’t like work­ing with the ma­te­rial. His so­lu­tion was to trailer the moulds to a pro­fes­sional fi­bre­glass com­pany, which pro­duced the first and only body for his car.

An in­ter­est­ing fea­ture of Nick’s de­sign is the in­clu­sion of gull-wing doors. How­ever, as this was be­fore the days of gas struts, Vince had to come up with a spring and

The Vampire VK

Around 1971, Nick pro­posed a cou­ple of ideas. The first was to call the car the ‘Vampire’ — a catchy name that would get more at­ten­tion than Vince’s idea of sim­ply call­ing his car the VK. Ini­tially, Vince didn’t care for Nick’s idea, but, even­tu­ally, the name grew on him, and the car be­came known as the ‘Vampire VK’.

Nick’s se­cond idea was to put the car into pro­duc­tion. He be­lieved that if they used the more pow­er­ful Cortina 1600 GT mo­tor, they could build ex­am­ples for about $4K. For a lit­tle ex­tra, the Vampire VK could even be of­fered with a 2.0-litre mo­tor. Vince was sold on this idea.

The Vampire was very much a con­cept car, and a lot of de­vel­op­ment would have to be done to fix some of its short­com­ings be­fore a pro­duc­tion model could be of­fered, not the least of which would be sourc­ing a spe­cial­ist rear wind­screen. As well, the car’s orig­i­nal gear-lever po­si­tion on the right would have to be moved to a more con­ven­tional cen­tre po­si­tion and, of course, those gull-wing doors still re­quired more work. With all this in mind, it seemed that se­ries pro­duc­tion was merely a pipe dream.

Mean­time, with the car well on the way

Show star

The lo­cal com­mu­nity had be­come aware of the Vampire VK even be­fore it was fin­ished, and the or­ga­niz­ers of the up-and-com­ing New Zealand Mo­tor Show wanted the car to be the cen­tre­piece of their event. This gave Nick a dead­line, and he had to pull out all the stops to get it ready for the two-week show sched­uled to take place in May 1972. To say it was a rush was an un­der­state­ment, and Vince can still re­mem­ber the ex­cite­ment of driv­ing the fin­ished car on the road on the way to the post of­fice to reg­is­ter it in April 1972.

Vince and Nick’s Vampire VK was some­thing of a sen­sa­tion with show-go­ers to what was billed as ‘The first New Zealand Mo­tor Show’, in Whanganui, who all wanted to touch the car. Vince says that if he had charged a dol­lar for ev­ery­body who touched it, he could have re­cov­ered all the money it had taken to build it.

How­ever, like all sen­sa­tions, it was not long be­fore the Vampire was re­placed with some­thing else, and its last pub­lic ap­pear­ance came just a few months later in Novem­ber, at the Auck­land Mo­tor Show.

Vince’s aim had been to build a car, and he had done it. That goal hav­ing been achieved, it was time to re­turn to his other pas­sion — mo­tor­bikes. He kept the car un­til the late 1970s, when it was even­tu­ally sold for less than it had cost to build.

To­day, the Vampire VK is owned by Bernard Matthews of In­ver­cargill. The lou­vres have gone, the car has aged, and Bernard is look­ing for a new mo­tor. Since 1972, the Vampire VK has only cov­ered 25,750km (16,000 miles), and, hope­fully, one day, this one-off Kiwi spe­cial will be re­stored to its for­mer glory.

Pa­trick Har­low Vince Keats

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