Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director, Composites Australia Inc
There was a time when fibreglass was the new material of choice for progressive automotive manufacturers. The iconic Chevrolet Corvette C1, said to be the first ‘mass-produced’ GRP automobile was manufactured in the US with a fibreglass body from 1953 until 1962. Daimler, Citroën, Ferrari, Ford, Studebaker and a raft of other leading automotive companies followed with their own light bodied releases.
In Australia, a policy shift in import restrictions and local content rules in 1960 provided a window for automotive enthusiasts to have a crack at making their own cars using imported elements. While steel stamping tooling came with costly set-up costs, fibreglass was inexpensive and allowed for more design freedom and shells to fit nearly every imported sports chassis. It allowed competition petrol-heads to shed weight and build performance in a suburban garage; and auto-entrepreneurs to develop nifty fuel-savers to pursue the market forged by British Motor Company with the iconic Mini.
Fibreglass was a material to chase dreams with and gave birth to a number of auto start-ups which manufactured a range of performance muscle cars through to jolly cheap run-abouts from the early ‘60s to late ‘70s. They included the Bolwell Nagari, the Perentti, Goggomobil, Lightburn Zeta, J&S Hunter, Purvis Eureka, the Tontala, TD2000, the Elfin and the Buchanan Cobra.
A combination of ill-conceived dreams and Australian manufacturing policy saw to it that few of these companies, whether they produced whole vehicles or just bodies, lasted. The cars that survived are increasingly cherished by the collectors who own them.
The rollicking story (below) about “the Red Reek’ was emailed to me from Paul Patton, President of the Purvis Eureka Car Club of Australia. It demonstrates the many conversations I had during the course of researching these articles and the passion that collectors have for Australian fibreglass classics.
THE TALE OF THE PURVIS EUREKA
The red “Reek” in this photo was actually Shane Purvis’ car. His mate had bought one off his dad that he never finished I believe. Shane bought it, finished it and painted it red because the original black gelcoat had faded too badly. Shane sold it in 1996 when his life dictated that he needed a station wagon. The chap he sold it to, parked it outside his garage and went inside to get the garage keys but got distracted and forgot it was still outside until after dinner. It got stolen in the meantime and the police found it shortly after at the bottom of the street where the thieves had left it with the roof half up, hinges bent from being forced, broken side windows and some wiring butchered in a vain attempt to hotwire it! He put it in his shed and never touched it for years. Having retired in 2011, he contacted me to offload it. He hadn’t been in the shed for years and asked me to bring and angle grinder be!cause the garage lock was a bit rusty. The tyres were still pumped up, the roof was still half open and the whole car and everything else was covered in a thick coat of dust perfectly preserved! It sold very quickly and is now in NSW somewhere still in mint condition.