MO­TOR SPORT FLASHBACK

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New Zealand Classic Car - - Editorial -

he best way to de­scribe Brian Main is as an artist who hap­pens to have a pas­sion for clas­sic cars. Over the years, he has owned many, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of Elan Plus 2s, lots of Citroëns, and even an Alvis Grey Lady. He once pur­chased an MGB road­ster as a trailer-load of parts that was then care­fully re­built. Other projects have been a Mor­ris 8 sports spe­cial, up­graded with mod­ern Ford parts, and a Tri­umph Her­ald chas­sis re­built with a beau­ti­ful al­lal­loy body as a ’30s road­ster. A high­light was when a 1951 Sun­beam Tal­bot that he had re­stored won a cup for the best Tal­bot in New Zealand.

With this pedi­gree be­hind him, it is no sur­prise that Brian bought one of the many unique cars built by Jim Ben­nett of Dunedin. While Jim has a rep­u­ta­tion for restor­ing and mod­i­fy­ing cars, he is per­haps best known for his Furis. These cars were built from the ground up us­ing parts that other peo­ple would have no use for. The chas­sis of many of his cars are in­spired by the Lo­tus Elan, which is ba­si­cally a strong cen­tral back­bone with out­rig­gers to hold im­por­tant bits like the sus­pen­sion in place.

Num­ber seven

Brian’s car is Furi num­ber seven, and is one of about 16 scratch-built cars com­pleted by Jim. One of the most in­ter­est­ing of these, at least in my opin­ion, is Furi num­ber 13, which was a replica of a Mor­gan. Many will prob­a­bly won­der what was so in­ter­est­ing about that. Well, it was built to half scale and pow­ered by a 12-volt wheel­chair mo­tor so that Jim’s grand­chil­dren could drive it.

Furi num­ber seven was well known on the Dunedin rac­ing cir­cuit. To make it more com­pet­i­tive, Jim added a su­per­charger to the lit­tle Fiat mo­tor, and this proved to be more than ad­e­quate — so much so that, un­for­tu­nately, when Brian bought the car in 1994, Jim de­cided to keep the su­per­charger for a fu­ture project. In spite of this, the car still

ap­pealed to Brian, as the Furi was not a kit car but a one-off spe­cial. He liked the fact that it had a lot of in­di­vid­ual parts that had been hand­made by Jim.

The car weighs only about 550kg, so the stan­dard Fiat 1600, mated to a five-speed Cel­ica box, was very ad­e­quate for com­mut­ing around Welling­ton. So much so that Brian used it as his ev­ery­day car for the next eight years. Not hav­ing a garage, it spent its nights parked on a New­town street, where the only dam­age it suf­fered was a ding to the front due to a neigh­bour’s bad park­ing skills.

For some rea­son, Jim opted to not in­stall a ra­di­a­tor fan on this car, and this be­came a con­stant nig­gle and caused some con­cern to Brian in Welling­ton’s oc­ca­sional stop-go traf­fic. Al­though it never over­heated, some days, the tem­per­a­ture gauge be­haved like an el­e­va­tor nee­dle.

Pro­tec­tion from in­clement weather, un­less it was se­ri­ously rain­ing, never ex­tended fur­ther than a ton­neau cover and a woolly hat — if you are not im­pressed by this, clearly you have never driven in Welling­ton on a wild and wet day. A leather jacket was the only sup­ple­men­ta­tion that Brian was pre­pared to add to the hat; any­thing else would have been con­sid­ered a lit­tle bit wimp­ish.

Dur­ing this time, Brian started mak­ing a list of the jobs he would have to do to get the car back into pris­tine con­di­tion.

Makeover

By 2005, Brian’s cir­cum­stances had changed. Once again, he had a rea­son­able-sized garage, so he de­cided to tackle the items on his now-ex­ten­sive list. These were crossed off by do­ing a chas­sis-up re­build. The first thing to go was most of the body. Brian re­placed the fi­bre­glass bits such as the scut­tle and fron­topen­ing bon­net with hand­made alu­minium ver­sions of the same. The new bon­net was raised and hinged in the mid­dle to bring it in line with clas­sic ’30s-style cars. The doors were given a deeper curve and re-skinned in alu­minium, as the old doors were deemed to be too flat look­ing. The boot was raked on a steeper an­gle, with a curved lip at the bot­tom to give the car the il­lu­sion of speed even when sta­tion­ary. The new alu­minium nose cone was given a split grille rem­i­nis­cent of ear­lier BMW sports cars, while the orig­i­nal Mor­ris Ma­rina dash­board was tossed out and a new, more pe­riod-look­ing Smiths sys­tem was in­stalled. One job that was of a high pri­or­ity was the in­stal­la­tion of a new elec­tric ra­di­a­tor fan.

To get back some of the per­for­mance that the car used to have with the su­per­charger, the sin­gle car­bu­ret­tor was thrown away and re­placed with not one but two twin-choke Stromberg car­bu­ret­tors from an Alfa Romeo. A su­per­charger is still on the to-do list, but

Nat­u­rally, there will al­ways be things to tin­ker with, but, for now, Brian is more than happy to be out on the road, en­joy­ing the coun­try­side

this will have to wait un­til a suit­ably priced one falls into his lap. The steer­ing had al­ways been a bit of a chal­lenge, as the car dis­played a fond­ness for bump-steer with more than a lit­tle bit of twitch­i­ness. This was fixed us­ing the time-hon­oured method of trial and er­ror, with quite a bit of er­ror fol­lowed by more tri­als un­til the car reached the point where it was quite pre­dictable for round-town driv­ing.

The mud­guards and run­ning boards were two of the last items to be fit­ted, as the orig­i­nals were dam­aged and very tacky look­ing. Not want­ing to spend too long wor­ry­ing about is­sues of sym­me­try and know­ing the time it would take to make them by hand, Brian went to kit-car-maker Al­mac of Up­per Hutt. Al­mac was able to use the orig­i­nals — which re­mind Brian of the early MG TD — as a pat­tern to re­pro­duce a set of fi­bre­glass in­te­gral mud­guards and run­ning boards. The orig­i­nal Ford Rostyle wheels were re­placed with gen­uine wire wheels. With the car fi­nally look­ing the part, the last job left to do was the re­paint­ing.

Sunny days

The en­tire re­build took just nine months to com­plete. These days, the car is safely garaged and driven on sunny days, al­though Brian in­sists that he is not get­ting soft. He says that Welling­ton is the ideal place to drive this lit­tle sports car, as there are plenty of bendy, twist­ing roads, with coun­try roads less than 10 min­utes away in any di­rec­tion. The Furi, with its good power-to-weight ra­tio, is a nim­ble and quick car to drive.

Nat­u­rally, there will al­ways be things to tin­ker with, but, for now, Brian is more than happy to be out on the road, en­joy­ing the coun­try­side and the unique fun that this style of car pro­vides.

These pho­tos were taken at Car­lucci Land, which is, ap­pro­pri­ately, sit­u­ated in Happy Val­ley, Welling­ton

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