Looking Back

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Looking Back is the first comprehensive, retrospective view of our hot rod heritage that graphically shows New Zealand’s unique way of life that only existed here in this country. The absolute home and beginning of hot rodding is known to be the USA. Its roots date from the early thirties and as such, the people, places, cars, events, industries and even the past speed shops have all been documented, published in book, magazine, video and now museum formats. All have been acknowledged and applauded as true and correct for the USA. New Zealand’s story, however, has been told in snippets and kept alive via word of mouth, until now, that is, and a superbly detailed account of the heritage has resulted at the first attempt.

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Black deuce, a Model A roadster with triple carbed 1942 V8 engine. Photo Trevor Howse

Researchers have scooped up the small shoe boxes of photos that only existed in individual collections in pockets of the country. The result of Looking Back is 270 all-original black & white photos never before published, depicting NZ’s hot rods as they really appeared from 1948 to 1967. It includes the people, dates, places and the cars, all vital ingredients of the mix that created the beginnings of the hot rod society of New Zealand.

The years covered predate NZ Hot Rod magazine’s first issue published in April-May 1967 and as such, is the only formal record of our past. Geographically it covers New Zealand nationwide with contributions coming from Auckland, Hamilton, Hawkes Bay, Taranaki, Wellington, Nelson, Westland, Christchurch and Dunedin.

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Severely channelled '30 A coupe in Auckland, during the early sixties. Photo Lennie Smithers.

Many of the important Milestone cars are seen for the first time, as they were when originally created. Channelled, full fendered and highboy roadsters and coupes lead the hit parade with many fine examples to ponder over, leaving the reader to wonder if we have progressed or regressed.

This book is for all who have a passion for hot rodding. From those senior white haired crotchety sages who were actually there in the glory days, to the post-war boomers now 40-something who were covetously imprinted by those mentioned above, and finally to the youth movement of today who we could have given up on, except for the few inspired individuals who have carried the torch, unasked, through to today.

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Left - The 'Vulture' Trevor Howse's '34 Tudore
Right - Dennis Downey with his channelled 1934 Fordor sedan in Hamilton's main street, 1958. Photo - Bob Comer collection.

In Looking Back, several white haired participants walk the reader through life as it was during that important era, telling their unique stories of how they got involved and what they did get up to, stories that actually could be published.

"That Christmas we came home from holiday and one of my mates arrived; he announced that he’d just seen a Hot Rod up the valley. We jumped on our bikes and located it at the local swimming hole. It was a 30-A roadster with a flathead, oxide primer I couldn’t believe my eyes... " Bevan Bennett.

On the fifty-second run up Queen Street a policeman waved us down with his flashlight and proceeded to tell me: ‘If I came down Queen Street one more time he would arrest me for being a public nuisance.’ Wayne Unkovich.

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Eddie Jensen's 28 roadster in Warkworth. Photo John Willis.

When you take the time to study the backgrounds in the photos they reflect a simpler time. You notice the lack of fences (a time now gone, where once, windows could be left open and doors unlocked at night) and the numbers of cars on the streets are sparse compared to today’s overpopulation. Oh for that simple life again, and the chance to buy that thirty-something Ford we dream of.

The book is an excellent read, right from the beginning. The inside cover depicts one of NZ’s finest early hot rods, the Black Deuce, parked behind a 1936 Ford roadster. The photo in sepia tones is published as found, faded and with torn and frayed borders.

‘No bonnets, no fenders, plenty of power and you could pull a doughnut with ease. God it was great!’ Ian Stewart.

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Kopuku dragstrip. Auckland's Bob Rossiter at right, winning from Saunders & Lucas dragster from Hamilton Club, 1967. Photo Rob Campbell Collection

History now shows us the cars that were absolute Milestones and totally unique to New Zealand, cars like Wild Honey, Black Deuce, Misty Blue, Wild Thing, Chizler, Exterminator, Sugar, Apache and Pink Panther were the result of unique individuals making a creative statement in a mobile automotive art form. The names they gave to their rods signified their style and helps those who came after, to remember these past legends and pass along memories to mates and siblings. In more recent times these stories have led to a resurgence and recreation of past hot rods with new ones that copy the style and construction of the 50s, in a mode we now refer to as Nostalgia Rodding. Perhaps it could be said that we went off-track, building cars that others’ opinions said we should build, rather than follow those pure creative urges to build what we really wanted.

"The bug was irresistible, especially to those who carried the creative seed. Those who were hooked on power and speed with a yearning for mechanical freedom and the mid fifties was the time for the seed to sprout and manifest itself." Rob Campbell.

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Peter Lodge from North Shore Rod & Custom Club driving the 'Egg Yoke Special' the Alan Smail and Lodge team coupe. Note the duals on the rear. The car is seen here in 1965 at the Scoria Quarries at East Tamaki. Photo Rob Campbell collection.

Through it all, you not only gain an appreciation of the way hot rods were built in the 50s, but also for the way life was lived through the clothes we wore and the places we lived in. Looking Back is especially important for rodders who embrace the nostalgic traditional look, or who want to learn more about what Hot Rodding was all about in the 50s and 60s in New Zealand. It is, after all, our roots and it is natural to seek them out, and to know what went before.

A 112 page soft-bound pure nostalgia trip that is a must for every home hot rod library. A line has now been drawn in the sand, that will set the standard for many years to come. Paul Grace.

LOOKING BACK costs NZ$39.00 plus NZ$5 post & pack (NZ$14 P&P overseas): East Bay Rods, PO Box 89-041, Torbay, Auckland, New Zealand. Or order on line

This review has been reproduced courtesy of New Zealand Hot Rod magazine


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