A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
T First sight
A car with no name
The first big puzzle was to identify the car. The earliest registration data that could be found called it a “1985 Custom Built Edwards Puma”, and located it in Palmerston North. This information was found through the registration plate that remained on the car, but, due to its age, it is unlikely that this was the first time the vehicle had been registered. The plot thickened. The body was too clean and too well made to have been a one-off, which implied that it was a kit car that had been produced somewhere in New Zealand or, possibly, imported from another country.
His neighbour had said it was a Cantwell Puma, but Tristan quickly worked out that this was not the case, as the Puma was based on a British kit car called the Ashley 750; that was a smaller car and used Ford 10 running gear. The vehicle that Tristan had was wider, and the body design was clearly different — possibly influenced by an iconic car of the era, such as the Ferrari 250GT; the Maserati A6; an Austin-healey; or even an early version of the AC Ace, which eventually evolved into that iconic kit car, the Cobra. What Tristan was able to work out was that the car was (possibly) originally built with a Holden 2261cc (138ci) motor out of a 1957 Holden FE. The rusted gauges still in the dashboard were clearly out of a Holden FE.
After seven years of intensive research, he has still not been able to identify it, so, for want of a better name, Tristan has decided to call the car the ‘TJ Ace’. Naturally, the last seven years have not just been spent trying to identify the car. With the chassis and floorpan having rusted away, Tristan decided to rebuild it as a modern retro-styled classic.
Blood, sweat, and tears
The first big change was the decision to lengthen the wheelbase by 380mm to provide more leg room in what was a tight cockpit. Most of the extra length was used to increase the depth of the footwells by increasing the distance between the front wheels and the scuttle. The original doors had been lost sometime in the car’s distant past; consequently, the decision was made to use doors off another very well-known New Zealand car, the Almac Cobra. They have certified hinges and latches, which Tristan hopes will answer any tricky questions when it comes time to get the car checked out by a certifier for road use.
A lot of elbow grease, blood, sweat, and tears went into designing and making the new door apertures. The new doors were not only smaller but also had a different curve to the originals, so the body had to be flared to suit. Tristan says that he could not have done it without the help of Dan and Grant of Tsunami Surfboards. Sadly, Grant has since passed away, so will not see the finished car.
Once the body was lengthened, a new chassis was designed and made by his good friend Rod Atkins of Springback Automotive / Rodshop Custom Fabrications. Rod’s workshop is situated in the beautiful Rangiora countryside, and he has been a great help throughout Tristan’s build process, providing not only a great working vista but also the technical expertise to go with Tristan’s enthusiasm.
A strong platform chassis was constructed using the ever-reliable Mustang II suspension at the front and a four-rod trailing-arm suspension at the back, attached to a shortened 1995 Mustang diff.
Under the bonnet and set well back is a fully reconditioned 4949cc Ford Windsor 302 V8 fed by a Holley four-barrel carburettor, with the whole lot attached to a Mustang T5 fivespeed gearbox.
The States is the place to go for many aftermarket parts, and the internet has made the world a very small place. The loom he obtained is clearly labelled and came with all the fittings/connections needed to fit it into a modern scratch-built car. Wiring the car is the next job on Tristan’s to-do list, and, at this stage, he does not believe that he will have any problem with it.
Although Tristan has a long way to go, he is confident that he will have the car on the road sometime in 2017. From what we could see of Tristan’s work so far, this will be an impressive car when it is finished. Although he has done most of the work himself, he has not been afraid to call in the experts to assist at times when he has felt out of his depth.
Tristan still has a strong desire to discover more of the car’s history, so, if anyone reading this can help him out, please drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re sure that he will appreciate it.