New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents -

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.

Sylva Striker

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.

Last one

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.

Road-le­gal Striker

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.

Fi­nal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion

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

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