New Zealand Classic Car - - KITS AND PIECES -

hen John Mcgre­gor first started his com­pany back in 2001, this car was never in­tended to be just an­other Lotus 7 replica; al­though it would cap­i­tal­ize on the sim­plic­ity and cost-ef­fec­tive­ness of the orig­i­nal Lotus de­sign, it would be a dif­fer­ent car. Once three or four Mcgre­gors had been pro­duced, John de­cided to do a bit of qual­ity con­trol by com­par­ing his car with an orig­i­nal Lotus 7. Us­ing con­tacts in the Lotus Club, he found some­body who was pre­pared to lend him a gen­uine Se­ries 2 Lotus 7, from which he was able to take sev­eral mea­sure­ments. John had al­ready in­creased var­i­ous di­men­sions in his car, sub­tly but very ef­fec­tively, en­abling it to be driven by those greater than 1.8 me­tres tall and wear­ing street shoes. Al­though John Mcgre­gor played a huge part in get­ting the com­pany up and run­ning, this story con­tin­ues

Lotus fan

Robert Snow was not only an im­porter of hi-fi elec­tri­cal com­po­nents but also a huge Lotus fan. At the time that he met John, he owned two Lo­tuses: a ’66 Se­ries II 7 and an Elan+2. When he heard about the Mcgre­gor, he wanted to be in­volved and many hours were spent in John’s fac­tory in Aranui, Christchurch, with Robert giv­ing his time when he could spare it. This ar­range­ment worked well for sev­eral years. How­ever, dur­ing 2005, John’s wife started qui­etly in­form­ing her hus­band, now in his mid 60s, that it was time to se­ri­ously con­sider re­tire­ment. Even­tu­ally, he agreed, and, in July 2007, he sold the com­pany to Robert Snow, who had of­fered to buy it in

part­ner­ship with Mark Roberts. Safe in the knowl­edge that the com­pany was in good hands, John hopped in his Rover V8–pow­ered Mcgre­gor and re­tired to the North Is­land. Maun­sell Street, in Wool­ston. The con­crete floor was ex­cep­tion­ally flat, which made it ideal for set­ting up all the jigs for kit-car pro­duc­tion. By now, Mcgre­gor Mo­tor­sport had be­come known as the go-to place for re­pair­ing or restora­tion of clas­sic cars, es­pe­cially those made by Lotus. At one time in the fac­tory, there was a Lotus 18, Lotus 20, Lotus 22, and Lotus 23b sit­ting be­side an Elan and a Se­ries 4 Lotus 7, not count­ing var­i­ous Mcgre­gors be­ing con­structed, re­paired or ser­viced.

It was not un­com­mon to see kit cars from other 7 man­u­fac­tur­ers sit­ting on their hoists ei­ther, in­clud­ing Frasers, Leitchs, and even a very rare Wilco 7. Busi­ness was hum­ming, with a steady sup­ply of Mcgre­gor kits head­ing out the fac­tory doors.

It was in this fac­tory that work started on a se­cond kit slated for pro­duc­tion. Once again, they turned to Lotus for their in­spi­ra­tion, ex­cept, this time, it was a Lotus 11 — for starters, a one-off 11 that had been hand­made in Welling­ton and was pur­chased in an al­most drive­able state. How­ever, Mark de­cided that it needed a lot of de­vel­op­ment be­fore it would be al­lowed to carry the Mcgre­gor name, and set about de­sign­ing a new chas­sis for it based on the orig­i­nal Lotus de­sign. Even­tu­ally, it was deemed ready, and the first kit was built and sold; how­ever, that would be the only kit­set 11 to leave the fac­tory. Pre­vi­ously, John Mcgre­gor had built an 11 for him­self, but based on his 7 chas­sis de­sign.

was re­ally dam­aged. It was a dif­fer­ent story at 12.50pm on Fe­bru­ary 22, 2011, when the next big earth­quake struck. This time, it was quite a ter­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, with the fac­tory floor lit­er­ally ris­ing and crack­ing be­neath their feet: Robert was thrown side­ways sev­eral me­tres. Not only that, but also both Mark’s and Robert’s homes were dam­aged be­yond re­pair. Al­though they did not know it at the time, the quake was the be­gin­ning of the end of Mcgre­gor Mo­tor­sport.

It took a while, but even­tu­ally they were al­lowed back into the fac­tory and could sal­vage what was still us­able. That was the easy part. What fol­lowed was a long and ex­pen­sive bat­tle with their in­sur­ance com­pa­nies over their homes as they strug­gled to get the fac­tory back up and run­ning. Even­tu­ally, Robert de­cided to

bite the bul­let and buy a new fac­tory around the cor­ner in Broad Street. How­ever, there were many months with­out any in­come be­fore pro­duc­tion could restart.

When the pair did get the start-up un­der­way, they found that not only had the Christchurch land­scape changed but also the city had a whole new eco­nomic fo­cus. Peo­ple no longer had dis­pos­able in­come to spend on hobby cars. Work on spe­cial­ist cars also dried up as peo­ple strug­gled to pick up the pieces of their lives. Rather than wal­low in de­pres­sion, Mark and Robert used this time to re-eval­u­ate the Mcgre­gor de­sign. Though it al­ready had race­car han­dling, Mark be­lieved that it could still cor­ner bet­ter. The Sierra diff was ditched in favour of a Subaru one, which was eas­ier to get hold of and had a good range of ra­tios, as well be­ing lim­ited slip.

Laser cut­ting had now be­come very cost­ef­fec­tive for pro­duc­ing spe­cial­ist steel parts. This en­abled work to be done on a new de­sign for the front and rear sus­pen­sion, and also al­lowed Mark to re­design the trans­mis­sion tun­nel and gain an­other 50mm of space across the width of the cock­pit, along with greatly im­proved tor­sional rigid­ity.

De­spite all this de­vel­op­ment, though, there were still in­suf­fi­cient or­ders com­ing in. By now, Robert was well past the nor­mal re­tire­ment age and alot of money was be­ing poured into the com­pany, with no real re­turn. Mid­way through 2014, the tough de­ci­sion was made to sell the fac­tory, and Mcgre­gor pro­duc­tion ground to a halt in Jan­uary of 2015. Of the 40 or so Mcgre­gor cars that were man­u­fac­tured, five of them had the new chas­sis.

Con­tin­u­ing sup­port

To­day, the Mcgre­gor web­site re­mains ac­tive so that ex­ist­ing cus­tomers who are still build­ing cars can re­ceive sup­port and any spe­cial­ist parts to com­plete their projects, but no fur­ther cars have been made. Mark con­tin­ues to work as a fab­ri­ca­tor, al­beit for an­other com­pany, while Robert is en­joy­ing re­tire­ment just out­side Christchurch in West Mel­ton. He re­mains pos­i­tive about life even­tu­ally re­turn­ing to nor­mal in Christchurch and is con­fi­dent that, at some stage in the not­too-dis­tant fu­ture, peo­ple will once again want to build their own unique sports car. Robert hopes that it will be a Mcgre­gor; con­se­quently, he has re­tained not only the ‘Mcgre­gor’ name, but also all the en­gi­neer­ing draw­ings and data, jigs, moulds, and plans out­lin­ing all the im­prove­ments that have been made to the orig­i­nal de­sign. Th­ese are now for sale, and Robert can be con­tacted via the Mcgre­gor web­site.

Hope­fully, one day, this fine lit­tle car will be once again avail­able to the pub­lic.

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