Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director, Composites Australia Inc.
Zeta is a marque of automobile that was produced in Australia from 1963 to 1965 by South Australian manufacturing company Lightburn & Company Limited. It was a large industrial company employing over 500 people, that manufactured a raft of products from the “Lightning” brand concrete mixers, washing machines and spin driers, wheelbarrows and boats.
The first Zeta model was introduced in 1963 at a price of £595. The company’s founder, Harold Lightburn, had ambitious plans to sell the Zeta sedan runabout and its sister models, the Zeta Sports, Sedan Deluxe and Utility throughout Australia. He also had his eyes on South-East Asia, a market which he believed would benefit from the non-corrosive properties of fibreglass.
Billed as “Australia’s own second car”, the fibreglass bodied Zeta Sedan was a front wheel drive with independent rear trailing arms and powered by a four speed 324cc Villiers engine. The chassis was steel, with a fibreglass body enclosing a large and spacious interior. Windows were perspex except for the front windscreen which was laminated glass. Many would claim that the form of the Zeta sedan resembled the washing machines with which it shared a factory. Its unsophisticated features included a gravity feed fuel system from a tank behind the dashboard. The fuel gauge reading depended on whether the car was traveling up or down a hill.
In 1964, Lightburn entered a Zeta in that year’s Ampol Trial, a two-week 7,000-mile rally that tested the integrity of the 151 entries. Of those 118 that finished, all but 12 suffered structural damage. One Zeta finished in good shape while the other two Zeta entries didn’t fare well.
Sadly, the Zeta’s commercial success was limited and production ceased in 1965 with Lightburn’s ambitious dreams amounting to total sales of fewer than 400 vehicles. Despite its shortcomings, the Lightburn Zeta is considered one of the most unique Australian vehicles ever made and recognised by Australia’s National Museum as an important example of our national industrial heritage.
By the 1960s, suburbs were expanding along with car ownership, roads and urban infrastructure. Lightburn’s progressive vision was to make goods for the post war demand for inexpensive and reliable Australian-made goods.
This 1963 small grey painted fibreglass-bodied two-door ‘Station Sedan’ motor car was an economical and reliable vehicle to readily adapt to every family’s needs. The rear seats could be removed to provide space for children, parcels or prams. The front seats could be reattached to the roof to provide grandstand views at sporting events.