The Bri­ford Sports


New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents -

Brian Ford is no stranger to build­ing cars. In fact, cars had been part of his fam­ily his­tory right from his child­hood, when his fa­ther would bring home vin­tage cars to re­store. As soon as they were old enough, Brian and his brother, Kevin, were in the garage, help­ing Dad with his projects. As a boy, Brian de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in mopeds and started to tin­ker with them. Even now, decades later, he and a few friends meet in his work­shop on Satur­day af­ter­noons, once a month, to re­store and cre­ate mod­ern mopeds in­spired by clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cles. But that’s an­other story.

By the time the boys be­came teenagers, petrol had long re­placed blood in their veins. If it moved, they had to make go faster. They even man­aged to con­vince their dad to start build­ing hot rods or, more to the point, help them hot-rod their own rides.

Brian’s first real build project was when he pur­chased a unique Christchurch car called the ‘Puma’. It was one of about six cars man­u­fac­tured by Frank Cantwell dur­ing the late ’50s. This very rare lo­cally man­u­fac­tured

Trail­ers and hob­bies

Af­ter build­ing some trail­ers in his fa­ther’s garage, at the ten­der age of 19, Brian started Bri­ford Trail­ers, and, to date, his com­pany has man­u­fac­tured over 40,000 of them. By the 1980s, the business was steam­ing along at such a pace that Brian de­cided he could af­ford to spend some of his spare evenings on his hob­bies. Again, he pur­chased a lo­cally made car, this time one called the ‘Mis­tral’. Hav­ing heard of one be­ing sold for $100 in Dunedin, he could not be­lieve his luck and bought it sight un­seen. Af­ter driv­ing to Dunedin to pick up the car, though, he came to the con­clu­sion that his luck needed a good kick­ing! The body and chas­sis were in such a poor state that he had prob­a­bly paid $100 more than it was worth.

The most sen­si­ble idea would have been to put the whole thing down to ex­pe­ri­ence and take the car to the tip, but Brian was not one to let good sense get ahead of en­thu­si­asm.

Dur­ing the 1980s, there were over a dozen kit-car man­u­fac­tur­ers in New Zealand. In­spired by the Devin SS and AC Co­bra, and on a tight bud­get, Brian de­cided to pro­duce an AC Co­bra–ish car to his own unique de­sign. In do­ing this, he blended two plans — that of the Mis­tral and the Co­bra. The car which even­tu­ally emerged was named the ‘Bri­ford Sports’.

Bet­ter idea

Be­cause the Mis­tral’s orig­i­nal body was in such poor con­di­tion, it needed a lot of work, and, with hind­sight, it would have been a bet­ter idea to start from scratch. But then hind­sight is never around when you need it!

Start­ing with the rough Mis­tral body, he widened the rear wings in a sim­i­lar style to the Co­bra, made a big­ger boot, and re­shaped the rear of the body. The front of the body was cut off, as it had de­te­ri­o­rated to the point of no re­turn. The dis­tinc­tive air vents in the wings were re­tained to set the car truly apart from other kit cars that were on the mar­ket. Brian also raised the bon­net height, changed the sill line, and low­ered the front wing height. Af­ter ap­ply­ing 210 litres of bog, a lot of mask­ing tape, ex­panded foam, co­pi­ous amounts of sweat, and the manda­tory mut­ter­ing, even­tu­ally, all this work pro­duced a shape Brian was happy with. It took three full years to fin­ish the plug be­fore moulds could be taken off it — which is not bad for some­body who had to learn on the job. Brian con­structed a lad­der-frame chas­sis with roll bars and in­tru­sion bars for added stiff­ness and safety. For­tu­nately, the chas­sis was a more straight­for­ward job than the body­work be­cause of Brian’s ex­ist­ing skill in work­ing with tubu­lar steel.

Hairy beast

The car, which was first reg­is­tered in 1989, is a hairy beast. If asked to de­scribe it, I would say it is an out­ra­geous track car that just hap­pened to be road le­gal. Brian had com­bined his love of the clas­sic sports car and the best of ’50s and ’60s hot rods in one pack­age. Ex­am­ples of cars of this era that were sim­i­lar are the Chee­tah; the Devin; and, of course, the Co­bra.

Any­body think­ing that this is a Ford 10– pow­ered Mis­tral would have that il­lu­sion shat­tered once they saw the hole that Brian cut in the bon­net for the air cleaner. That air cleaner is at­tached to a 350 Chevro­let V8 that had ev­ery pos­si­ble go-faster bit that Brian could think of squeezed into it. It was an out-and-out drag­ster that could go around corners as well as any Bri­tish sports car.

Right from the start, Brian in­tended it to be a pro­duc­tion sports car, or, at the very least, a cost-ef­fec­tive sports car body for peo­ple who wanted to build the same sort of thing. Still, he was quite pleas­antly sur­prised when Tim Gurnsey com­mis­sioned him to build a sec­ond car to rolling-chas­sis stage. With the help of Chris Coles, he built a new chas­sis — again of tubu­lar de­sign. How­ever, this sec­ond chas­sis was stronger than the first ren­di­tion, and gave ex­cel­lent im­pact pro­tec­tion. Look­ing into the fu­ture, he took the op­por­tu­nity to gear up and cre­ate a set of chas­sis jigs for mass pro­duc­tion. When the chas­sis was cer­ti­fied, it be­came known as the ‘Gurnsey Roller’, and it was used on seven of the 15 cars pro­duced over the next few years.

Bri­ford num­ber three

Ev­ery­thing was just start­ing to calm down when Brian’s wife, Sue, thought that Brian’s car would be a good one in which to take the chil­dren gro­cery shop­ping. Brian de­cided to go one bet­ter and build her a car of her own that would be more suited for ev­ery­day street use, rather than al­low her to use his car, which had been de­signed purely for rac­ing — and built for speed, not for slow. Not that this stopped Brian driv­ing around town in it; it just meant his arms got a work­out.

Hav­ing proven that he could build a hairy car he de­cided to prove that he could do the same again, but this time it would be sub­lime. The V8 would be re­placed by the el­e­gant Toy­ota 2.0-litre fuel-in­jected six­cylin­der en­gine, and it would be a smoothlook­ing street car with the air cleaner ac­tu­ally un­der the bon­net. This would be Bri­ford num­ber three, and it was started dur­ing 1990.

It could have been built quite quickly, but Brian be­came some­what dis­tracted. Be­ing the cre­ative sort, he found it very dif­fi­cult to build the same car twice. His in­ten­tions were good, but he had al­ways been cu­ri­ous about how a 350 Chevy V8 would per­form when used in a mo­tor­bike. So he built one. Sue proved to be very pa­tient, to the ex­tent that she did not com­plain even when Brian helped his fa­ther fin­ish his ’34 Chevy hot rod. At 76 years old, Brian’s dad was still play­ing with big cars but oc­ca­sion­ally needed help from the young­ster. Still, in spite of this and many other dis­trac­tions, he even­tu­ally got back to it, and Sue’s car was on the road for the start of the new mil­len­nium.

Brian still en­joys blow­ing the cob­webs off, and still owns and drives the very first Bri­ford sports car. On oc­ca­sion, Sue still does do the gro­cery shop­ping in her Bri­ford — al­beit with the grand­chil­dren these days. It is doubt­ful that these cars will ever be sold. Sue’s car is def­i­nitely the more man­age­able of the two and pro­vides all the ex­pe­ri­ences and sen­sa­tions you would ex­pect from a mod­ern sports car that weighs less than 1000kg. The gutsy six-cylin­der en­gine pro­vides it with a level of per­for­mance that keeps it ahead of the pack.

So, what of the fu­ture? Over the years, Brian has ac­quired sev­eral bits and pieces that are po­ten­tial projects. These in­clude at least two Mis­trals, plus lots of mo­tor­bikes and mopeds. He is just fin­ish­ing his lat­est project, a 350 Chevy V8 sidewinder mo­tor­bike — if it’s not cars, it’s bikes! The chas­sis was made by his good friend Tom No­vak, and Brian has been prob­lem­solv­ing the rest of it. Why would he do this, you may ask? Well, I did ask, and the an­swer I got was: “It has been done be­fore, but I wanted to see if I could do it.”

With a ware­house full of po­ten­tial projects, it is un­likely that Brian will ever put his feet up and just watch the telly.

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