KITS AND PIECES
AFTER ALMOST 20 YEARS IN THE BUILD, DAVID NATION FINALLY COMPLETES HIS I DEAL SPORTS CAR
In 1979, a small kit-car company called Sylva Autokits was started up by Jeremy Phillips. Based in Lincolnshire, UK, the little company focused on building 7-type cars, in kit form, for many years. The ‘Striker’ name first appeared in 1985 on a 7esque car. Later revisions were called the ‘Striker 2’ and ‘Striker 3’. When the Striker 4 Clubman first saw the light of day, in 1989, Jeremy had done away with the old body but kept the extremely competent chassis. On top of this chassis, he had produced a radical all-new enveloping body. Initially called the ‘Striker 4’, it later became the ‘Phoenix’.
With its improved aerodynamics, the Phoenix quickly started making a name for itself on the race track, and kits were going out the door almost as fast as Jeremy could make them. So, when Stuart Taylor Motorsports (UK) made an offer to buy the project, Jeremy was happy to sell it to him and went on to design several more cars before eventually retiring in 2015. These days, the Phoenix and the Striker (7 body style) are produced by Raw Striker Ltd in Herefordshire, UK.
All this must seem a long way away from New Zealand and the car you see in these pictures. But Michael Ripper of Manukau negotiated the rights to produce this pretty little car for Australia and New Zealand. Called the ‘Sylva Striker’, the car was produced initially by Michael from 1989 until 1992. John Gapes, a good friend of Michael’s son Hamish, had been involved with the chassis construction. Sadly, after Hamish was killed in a car accident, Michael lost interest in the project, and John took over manufacturing rights, with construction of more cars continuing from his Hamilton-based workshop. John developed the car further, and another five were produced. Production ceased during 1995 after 17 cars had been manufactured, most of which were intended to be road legal and race ready. It is unknown how many of these cars are finished.
When David Nation purchased the very last car built by John Gapes, what was intended to be a quick build took him two decades to complete. In 1996, when David was a lot younger, he was keen to go racing and had some spare cash. At the time he was living in Hamilton, and his good friend Liam Venter was keen to introduce him to motor sport. When he wasn’t racing motorbikes, Liam had a Sylva Striker that he had built purely for the track. David liked the lines of the car and approached John Gapes, who supplied him with a chassis. Enthusiastically, David started the build, and it was only a couple of years before the car was a rolling chassis.
A body was ordered from AC Fibreglass in Auckland, but it mysteriously disappeared. This was annoying, but, rather than getting all hot and bothered about it, he decided to cut his losses and order another body when it came time to fit it to the chassis. However, this would be a problem that would come back to haunt David in later years. As is so often the case, some kit-car builds can take years, even decades, to finish, depending on the availability of cash and time, and, in this instance, the additional distraction of a pretty girl.
During the third year of his Striker build, David met his future partner, Pene. She lived in Auckland, and David in Hamilton. As most
would know, a long-distance relationship is not conducive to car building, so it was not long before the car was covered by a tarpaulin and then what would eventually become several years of dust, as everyday life, a career, and a mortgage became higher priorities. David knew that he would get back to it someday; he just was not aware how long a gap it would be.
Haven on the North Shore
During 2011, David was made redundant. Fortuitously, on the way to his farewell party, he received a phone call offering him a job in Auckland. This entailed packing everything up and moving to Beach Haven on the North Shore. Although time was still a luxury he could not afford, he now had a little spare cash from his redundancy in his pocket. Finally, he could afford to put some of this into getting the car finished. After racing Toyota MR2S for many years, David decided that his racing days were behind him. The Striker would give him more enjoyment if it was road legal rather than track ready. Being a street car meant that it would have to look good close up, and included in this would be such luxury items as comfortable seats and carpet.
This, of course, meant that LVV certification, which had not been an issue when he started the car, now had to be obtained. Good news was at hand, though, as, just down the road in Beach Haven was a little company that knew all
about certification, and it had been in the carbuilding game for many years.
It was a good day when David popped down to have a chat with Scott Tristan, the CEO of Fraser Cars. Many people will have heard of the Fraser Clubman, a 7esque car that has more go than show. After some consideration, Scott said that only a few changes would have to be made to the Striker. Needless to say, David was quite thrilled when he learned that a street-legal version of the car was on the cards. The only major changes were new front wishbones and replacement of all the rose joints, as per the Low Volume Vehicle Technical Association (LVVTA) requirements.
So, with Fraser Cars now working on the chassis, there was still the problem of the body, which David had paid for but never actually received. By now, the car had been out of production for many years, AC Fibreglass no longer had the moulds, John Gapes had long ago sold the project, and it had vanished from sight.
It is at this point where our story once again deviates slightly to focus on Bruce Weeks, who had, many years earlier, finished a road-legal Striker. Bruce hadn’t been happy with the style of the original bonnet of the car. The bonnet is one of only four panels that covers the entire car and, as on an E-type Jaguar, incorporates the wings, the lights, and the radiator grille – it’s a big part of the car! A friend, Mike Shaw of MS Fibreglass, had a genuine nose cone from an older-model Ferrari. A mould was taken off this nose cone, and it was then narrowed and grafted on to the Striker. The car’s deep twin nostrils and accentuated front wheel arches became a distinctive part of the styling. Just in case of a future ding, Bruce had the foresight to ask Mike to make him a spare. By the time David was hunting for his parts, Bruce had long ago sold his car, but the spare was still hanging on Mike’s wall. As Mike had no need for the bonnet, he was happy to sell it to David.
Even with this major part out of the way, there were still a lot of body panels to source. David spent a few months scouring New Zealand looking for unfinished projects, but there were none to be found. Now having to hunt further afield, he was pleasantly surprised to find that the car was still in production by Raw Striker Ltd in the UK, albeit now as the Phoenix. Over the years, the styling had changed to keep the lines relatively modern, but he was assured by the company that all the panels would still fit his chassis and that his bonnet should line up perfectly. Hoping that he was not making an expensive wrong decision, David ordered the rear panels and side pods. When the parts arrived in the country during 2013, all that needed to be done was a little bit of tweaking to get the panels to fit perfectly.
Due to the success he had with the Toyota MR2 during his racing days, the engine he chose was a no-brainer: the extremely reliable Toyota 1.6-litre 20-valve 4AGE. The motor uses the T50 five-speed gearbox to get the power to a Ford Escort rear end, which, in turn, is held in place by a Woblink suspension system. Apart from the headlights, all exterior lighting uses LEDS, including a set of daytime lights — just in case other drivers miss seeing this bright green car heading along the road. The instrument cluster is a Dash2 Pro LCD assembly produced in the UK by Race Technology Ltd, but sourced from Tauranga.
Early in 2016, almost 20 years from the time he had started it, the car was put forward for final certification. It didn’t pass, as the exhaust was too noisy, but a simple modification to the baffle soon sorted that out. The car was then on the road in time for the heat of summer and proved itself totally ready for the purpose. To keep things simple, David decided to do without the complications of windscreen and wipers. Instead, he settled for a small wind deflector and “full in-the-face motoring”. He describes driving it as being similar to driving a very fast motorbike without needing a helmet.
Weighing in at just 640kg, the Striker has proven itself to be a very fast and nimble sports car. At the moment, David is waiting for an opportunity to see what it will do on the race track. He is sure that it will not disappoint. In the meantime, he takes it out as often as the weather will allow.
Liam Venter’s car that inspired the build