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New Zealand Classic Car - - Kits And Pieces -

There, he met the very en­thu­si­as­tic com­pany owner, Gerry Hawkridge, and the seed that had been planted a few weeks ear­lier be­gan to sprout. Next, Steve took the op­por­tu­nity to take a ride in one, which was fol­lowed by a lot of re­search about get­ting one road le­gal in New Zealand, thus, be­fore long, the seed had grown into a proper plant! With his wife Ca­role on board, the de­ci­sion was made to buy one.

The next step was the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of all the ad­di­tional parts re­quired to build it. As the orig­i­nal Stratos was ba­si­cally a hodge­podge of com­po­nents from the Fiat em­pire, this was not too dif­fi­cult. Steve bought most of his parts new, but some hard-to-get items were pur­chased from a wrecker. For ex­am­ple, the tail lights came from the Fiat 850 coupé, the door catches and steer­ing col­umn from a Fiat X1/9, and the heater con­trols and vents from a Fer­rari. The 2.4-litre V6 Dino en­gine was left on the shelf, as that was deemed a lit­tle too ex­pen­sive for Steve’s rapidly thin­ning wal­let. A more re­al­is­tic Guy Croft–tuned Lan­cia Beta 2.0-litre en­gine was cho­sen in­stead.

Kit ar­rival

There was a great deal of ex­cite­ment when the kit fi­nally ar­rived, in Au­gust of 1989. It was quite com­pre­hen­sive and as close to the orig­i­nal as Gerry could build it. Gerry had de­cided to cre­ate the kit while he was restor­ing a cou­ple of orig­i­nal cars. Af­ter com­ing to an agree­ment with the own­ers, he’d been able to use their cars to make his pro­duc­tion jigs. The re­sult­ing ve­hi­cle is a good copy, ex­cept for the cen­tre tub, which is fi­bre­glass bonded to the fab­ri­cated steel-and-tube space­frame chas­sis, rather than pressed steel.

By the time the de­ci­sion was made to re­turn to New Zealand, in 1991, the car was al­ready a rolling chas­sis with all the body parts painted. While it was be­ing painted, Steve met Neville Grif­fiths, a man who owned a gen­uine Stratos. He was en­thu­si­as­tic about Steve’s project and al­lowed him to take dozens of pho­to­graphs of his own car from ev­ery con­ceiv­able an­gle. This car, and the pic­tures of it, be­came the model that Steve used to get the small de­tails right. When asked how easy it was to build the car, he said, “It was ba­si­cally just a straight­for­ward as­sem­bly job with no engi­neer­ing or mod­i­fi­ca­tions re­quired.”

On ar­rival in New Zealand, with most of the hard work done, the body pan­els, doors, and wind­screen were fit­ted for the fi­nal time. Dur­ing Novem­ber of 1991, af­ter nine months of week­nights and many week­ends spent on the job, it was fi­nally cer­ti­fied via the Con­struc­tors Car Club and reg­is­tered ready for its first WOF and maiden trip for dis­play at the MG Clas­sic Meet­ing at Man­feild.

Since then, this amaz­ing-look­ing ve­hi­cle has been ex­hib­ited at many car shows around the Welling­ton re­gion, and, in 1995, de­spite hav­ing no race ex­pe­ri­ence, Steve en­tered and drove it in the first Targa. No­body was more sur­prised than he when the Stratos came sec­ond in its class.

Dur­ing 2002, Steve de­cided to take the car off the road and give it some up­grades. One ad­van­tage of hav­ing a replica is that, if you mod­ify it, purists can­not com­plain about the ad­di­tions or im­prove­ments that make it more re­li­able and per­form bet­ter. As orig­i­nal Dino mo­tors had not be­come any cheaper or more de­pend­able, Steve de­cided to fit the biggest man­ual V6 that was avail­able in New Zealand at the time: a 3.0-litre V6 from Alfa Romeo. At 157kw, it had sim­i­lar power to the orig­i­nal Dino mo­tor. It came with com­puter-con­trolled fuel in­jec­tion, mak­ing it much eas­ier to ser­vice than the Dino mo­tor, which had We­ber carbs and re­quired tack­ling the com­plex task of balanc­ing six throt­tle bod­ies.

Ini­tially, it was go­ing to be a straight en­gine swap, un­til Steve dis­cov­ered that the donor Alfa car also had ABS brak­ing. This was too good an op­por­tu­nity to pass up, so he de­cided to up­grade the brakes as well — this task was more of an engi­neer­ing job. Fit­ting the V6 re­quired new en­gine mounts and a ma­jor over­haul of the plumb­ing and wiring. Along with the ABS brakes, an im­proved dual mas­ter sys­tem was fit­ted. The up­grade took about two years, as there were lots of small finicky jobs to com­plete. Once fin­ished, the car sailed through cer­ti­fi­ca­tion with only a cou­ple of sim­ple is­sues to fix. One cer­ti­fier com­mented that he thought it was a bit slug­gish to 100kph in third gear for the brake tests, but then re­al­ized that the speedo reads in miles per hour!

The leap from early ’70s tech­nol­ogy to early ’90s is, as you would ex­pect, huge, and the Alfa V6 made for an amaz­ing trans­for­ma­tion. The car now pro­duces a fan­tas­tic noise and sounds not un­like the orig­i­nals — but with 30 to 40 per cent more torque and power, and vastly im­proved fuel econ­omy on a trip, such are the ben­e­fits of mod­ern fuel in­jec­tion, a few sen­sors, and a com­puter. It will hap­pily idle around town and pull away in top gear from al­most any speed.

When you get into the car, the first im­pres­sion made is its small size — it was, af­ter all, de­signed to win ral­lies not for bring­ing home the gro­ceries, although it does have a cav­ernous boot (enough for two bags of golf clubs). With its short wheel­base, driv­ing it can be best com­pared to trav­el­ling in a road-le­gal go-kart with a sen­sa­tional-look­ing body. De­spite sport­ing a 1973 de­sign, the car still looks pretty amaz­ing. But those looks come at a price — on the av­er­age trip to the petrol sta­tion, Steve now has to al­low ex­tra time to ex­plain to the cu­ri­ous what the car is, and how he came to pos­sess it.

Th­ese days, as with all hobby cars, there is al­ways some­thing to tinker with. But now that he’s owned it for over 25 years, it is a clas­sic in its own right. Steve never in­tends to sell it, as long as he can still drive.

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