New Zealand Classic Car - - Kits And Pieces - Words and pho­tos: Pa­trick Har­low

Af­ter com­ing here on hol­i­day from Eng­land, Andy and his wife Les­ley de­cided that this was the place they wanted to be. In 2008, they packed their bags and made their way to pic­turesque Anakiwa, a lit­tle set­tle­ment in the Marl­bor­ough Sounds, just 25km from Pic­ton. Andy and Les­ley were not strangers to long-dis­tance re­lo­ca­tions, hav­ing lived for a short time in the US. While there, Andy pur­chased a ’97 Pon­tiac Trans Am, which he took back to Eng­land with him. At one stage, he also owned a C3 Corvette, but he even­tu­ally de­cided that left-hand-drive cars did not suit Bri­tish roads.

Back in Eng­land, he and some friends started go­ing to the Stoneleigh Park Na­tional Kit Car Mo­tor Shows, one of the big­gest kit car shows in Europe. He fondly re­mem­bers a rather rapid trip to Stoneleigh in a friend’s Ronart, a ’30s-style open-wheeled tourer pow­ered by a mod­ern Jaguar V12 en­gine. Af­ter see­ing the wide range of cars, he started to pon­der the fea­si­bil­ity of build­ing his own, and even went as far as buy­ing a Granada as a donor car for a Pil­grim Co­bra. Sadly, the Co­bra never even­tu­ated, as he al­ways seemed to lack the time and money to get into it.

Andy de­cided to re­tire in 2014 and, once again, thought about build­ing his own car. His key cri­te­rion was that it had to be a semi-prac­ti­cal car that could be used ev­ery day with­out fear of it break­ing down or of the roof leak­ing. In Andy’s mind, ‘semiprac­ti­cal’ meant that it had to be a coupé, which ruled out all the open-top cars that are avail­able in New Zealand. He turned his eyes to Aus­tralia but saw noth­ing that he re­ally liked, which took him back to the coun­try of his birth.

One car that had started to grow on him was a ve­hi­cle he had seen at his first Stoneleigh show called the ‘Phan­tom’. Orig­i­nally, the Phan­tom had been de­signed for a sin­gle donor car, the Rover 800. But, with the demise of Rover, over the years, many Rover parts be­came un­avail­able, and other man­u­fac­tur­ers were called on to pro­vide the nec­es­sary bits and pieces, those which the small com­pany deemed to be too ex­pen­sive to man­u­fac­ture it­self. One com­pany that sup­plies parts Phan­tom was not us­ing got in touch, but not to of­fer any parts: that was Rolls-royce, and the com­pany had taken ex­cep­tion to use of the ‘Phan­tom’ name. To pro­tect the Rolls-royce brand, the tiny com­pany was po­litely in­formed that it did not have the le­gal right

to call its car a ‘Phan­tom’, and could it please de­sist us­ing it im­me­di­ately. The words ‘or else’ were never used, but the small kit car com­pany got the drift! Hence, the name was changed to ‘Vor­tex’ in 2008.

Long-legged su­per cruiser

The Vor­tex GT-T has been around in var­i­ous guises since 2005. Richard Ham­mond, of Top Gear fame, re­viewed the car in 2005 and called it, “A long-legged su­per cruiser”. He be­lieved it would hold its own against any ex­otic car any­where in the world (go to Youtube and search for “Richard Ham­mond Takes a Look at the Phan­tom GTR Kit Car”). Since its in­cep­tion, the ve­hi­cle has been in on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment. What this means is that al­most ev­ery one of the 27 cars man­u­fac­tured so far is bit dif­fer­ent to the pre­vi­ous one, as the de­sign has evolved to keep up with the times and the tech­nol­ogy avail­able.

Be­fore go­ing too far down the Vor­tex track, Andy pur­chased a build man­ual, which was fol­lowed by many ques­tions back and forth via email be­tween Andy and Vor­tex. Once his ques­tions had been an­swered, Andy next checked with the Low Vol­ume Ve­hi­cle Tech­ni­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (LVVTA) to see if there would be any com­pli­ance is­sues that he would have to over­come to get the car road le­gal here. De­spite be­ing so far away, Vor­tex was very help­ful, send­ing the LVVTA all the pa­per­work/draw­ings that would be re­quired. This was a lot of work for one sale, but Chris Gre­ville-smith, one of the di­rec­tors of Vor­tex, is more of an en­thu­si­ast than a sales­man and would help out any­body keen to build one of his cars. Af­ter look­ing through the draw­ings and de­sign specs, the LVVTA said the only pro­duc­tion is­sue it could see was that the sus­pen­sion com­po­nents were MIG welded. To be com­pli­ant in New Zealand, they had to be TIG welded, and Chris was more than happy to en­sure that a TIG welder was used in the man­u­fac­ture of Andy’s com­po­nents.

Still, Andy was wor­ried about the wide va­ri­ety of cars that made up the parts bin for the Vor­tex. He even took a tem­po­rary con­tract job in Eng­land so that he could source the bulk of the re­quired parts. On re­turn­ing to New Zealand, he was still a bit ner­vous, but Chris gen­er­ously said that he would source any parts that Andy could not find in New Zealand, a prom­ise he kept through­out the build process when Andy found him­self in a sticky ‘un­ob­tainium’ cor­ner.

Re­as­sured, Andy placed his or­der, and a rolling chas­sis with a body tem­po­rar­ily at­tached was rolled out of a con­tainer in Nel­son dur­ing April of 2014. All the Vor­tex-spe­cific parts were in­cluded in the kit, and Andy got on with the se­ri­ous job of build­ing it. His kit was the first of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion to be pow­ered with the Ford 2.0-litre Ecoboost en­gine, com­plete with a six-speed gear­box.

Al­though Chris was very help­ful through­out the build, Andy soon found the ad­van­tages of be­ing part of a club like the Con­struc­tors Car Club. With for­eign kits, there is also gen­er­ally a one-make in­ter­net fo­rum on which pre­vi­ous and cur­rent builders pro­vide use­ful tips and ad­vice. On the Vor­tex fo­rum, Andy dis­cov­ered Ed Pre­ston, a Bri­tish res­i­dent who had built a Phan­tom many years pre­vi­ously. He was one of those en­thu­si­as­tic types who thinks that ev­ery­body should be build­ing or driv­ing a Vor­tex and will do ev­ery­thing in his power to en­sure that this hap­pens. He had all the an­swers to Andy’s tricky ques­tions and even went so far as to de­sign and build a wiring loom to take the re­vers­ing cam­era and sen­sors that Andy wanted to fit on the car.

There are as yet no cer­ti­fiers in the up­per South Is­land who are suf­fi­ciently qual­i­fied to com­ply a home­built car of this com­plex­ity. For­tu­nately, due to the num­bers of cer­ti­fi­ca­tions that are re­quired, cer­ti­fiers

based in Welling­ton, Palmer­ston North, and Levin make reg­u­lar trips to this neck of the woods and are gen­er­ally quite happy to make a de­tour to check out any projects which are in progress. Andy said that the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process was quite straight­for­ward, with only the seat-belt mounts need­ing to be changed — an easy fix.

The Marl­bor­ough re­gion is full of lots of small towns with small, sin­gle-owner busi­nesses. When it came time to paint the car, he had to do a bit of search­ing around, as some of the first peo­ple that he ap­proached were not keen to take on a project of this mag­ni­tude. Even­tu­ally, though, Andy found his way to a lo­cal boat builder, who di­rected him to Elite Refin­ish­ers. This com­pany had been paint­ing fi­bre­glass hulls for years, and, ef­fec­tively, the Vor­tex GT-T was sim­ply an up­side-down boat. The guys came out and had a look at the car, deemed it to be quite doable, and painted it a very nice metal­lic green.

This mid-en­gined car is al­most fin­ished, and, by the time you read this, Andy ex­pects to be driv­ing it around Pic­ton, on the many roads suited to this type of sports car.

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