Harris Performance Engineering NZ — A new name with a lot of history
IPhilip Pearce Alan Harris, Lynn Rogers, Philip Pearce
t all began in 1972, when a young bloke from Bucklands Beach managed to convince his fiancée that if they bought an old Mini he could tune the motor and win them a brandnew Mini — the prize for winning the Plastibond Cup, a new onemake series for Minis. The first round was at Levin, and the young bloke towed the Mini all the way from Bucklands Beach on an A-frame behind his future fatherin-law’s Torana. Our man duly won one race and came second in the other to another young bloke called Reg Cook, who was by then already a racing legend.
Success continued through the rest of the season, and our young bloke kept his promise by winning the series — and the Plastibond Cup. But, unfortunately, Plastibond went bust just before the end of the season, and the brand-new Mini never happened. However, the organizers came up with a $500 prize instead, which softened the blow. And, to round off the fairy tale, his fiancée — Viv — married him, and they are still together after many happy years.
The Plastibond Cup became the Mini 7 series, one of the most popular and enduring one-make race series throughout the world and still popular today. The young bloke from Bucklands Beach was called Lynn Rogers, and, over the next 40 years, he became one of the best-known names in New Zealand motor sport, with a legendary reputation for cylinder heads and complete race-engine building. Look in the classified adverts of this magazine, and you are sure to find those three little words which help to sell any performance car, ‘Lynn Rogers head’.
But reputations like this don’t come without a great deal of hard slog. Lynn Rogers Automotive started out in 1976 in the shed in the back garden at home in Bucklands Beach. Within a few years, the business had grown, so a modest workshop was acquired in Howick in 1981 and additional staff taken on. A dynamometer was purchased for testing every new idea to squeeze out those last few units of power, and many late-night test sessions followed, often running into the early hours.
Over the next 35 years, cylinder heads and complete motors built by Lynn Rogers Automotive won race after race at just about every level of motor sport in the country. A particularly close relationship developed with Toyota, which became the company’s biggest single customer for many years. This started with cylinder-head development on the 4AGE motors in the Formula Pacific series and head preparation for the Corolla in Group N racing. Engines for the Corona touring cars and later the championship-winning Altezzas followed, and, when the TRS series was first mooted some 12 years ago, Toyota automatically turned to Lynn Rogers to develop
the new control engine. For the first seven seasons of TRS racing, every engine was built, dyno-tested, and maintained by Lynn Rogers Automotive.
Other highlights of those years for Lynn are the long-term relationships with Dave Strong and Angus Fogg. Dave was also a Mini 7 champion before switching to a long and successful career in rallying, and Angus was another top contender in Mini 7 racing before graduating to the V8 series, and, with cylinderhead development and engine building by Lynn and his team, Angus went on to win the NZ V8 Championship. Less well known is Lynn Rogers Automotive’s involvement in race engines for motorcycles — it produced many heads for Ducati and Suzuki race engines and built the Aermacchi engines that won the NZ 250cc Classic championship in 2013 and 2014.
But, after 40 years at the helm, Lynn decided to semi-retire at the end of 2015. However, it is very much business as usual, with right-hand-man Alan Harris taking over and a name change to Harris Performance Engineering NZ. The premises in Howick are the same, and the people and expertise are the same. Lynn continues to be involved on a daily basis with advice and project management, so his 40 years of experience will still be available to customers for many years to come. Alan has worked alongside Lynn for the last 10 years, specializing in all aspects of cylinderhead development, especially porting, combustion chamber shape, and repair of damaged heads. The other key person at Harris Performance Engineering NZ is Peter Enderby, expert in engine building and machining work. Peter has also worked with Lynn Rogers for the last 10 years, and has spent his whole working life building engines, including a spell with Air New Zealand on aircraft engines.
As this article was being written, the team was busy with a complete rebuild of an Offenhauser Indycar engine and the building of an Alfa Romeo boxer motor with four valves per cylinder. To increase the size of the Alfa’s valves and still have enough metal for good heat transfer, the spark-plug holes were being reduced to 10mm, requiring extensive aluminium welding and re-machining. Also seen in the workshop having a full overhaul was the engine from a Ford Zephyr MKIII, complete with a very rare Raymond Mays aluminium cylinder head, a combination which was successful in both circuit racing and international rallies in the early 1960s. Turbo motors are another speciality, with a lot of work having been done on Mitsubishi Evo heads for both road and rally use, and the team has devised a solution to the common problem of valve-seat leakage after these motors have been modified. In addition, a very special cylinder head was developed for the Heat Treatments Nissan drag car to optimize turbo spooling and achieve in excess of 745kw (1000 brake horsepower).
Other services include full engine balancing for bike engines as well as cars, line boring, cam-profile measuring and recording, a flow-test rig for measuring and optimizing gas flow through ports and valves, and the repair of damaged cylinder heads, both aluminium and cast iron, which most people would consider beyond repair.
But don’t think that Harris Performance Engineering NZ is only interested in race engines — it also has a regular flow of cylinder heads and complete engine rebuilds from classic and vintage owners who want the work done by like-minded enthusiasts who understand classic engines. This work often includes hardened valve seats to enable classics to run happily on unleaded fuel. A recent example is the complete overhaul of the head from a classic Commer campervan, which is perhaps the least likely to ever see a race track of any vehicle this workshop has handled. To take the story full circle, today’s Mini 7 race cars have to use a control cylinder head, flow tested to ensure that they are within very strict parameters. Guess who developed the control head in conjunction with the Mini 7 technical officer? You got it, Lynn Rogers. And every cylinder head used in the series is flow tested and logged for the Mini 7 Association by Harris Performance Engineering NZ.
For more information, visit harrisperformancenz.co.nz.