The 11th running of Dunlop Targa New Zealand was a milestone for Mike Lowe’s ENZED Abarth team — with Barry Kirk-Burnnand retiring his Lotus Cortina, the Fiat became the only car to have competed in every Targa. Of course, Barry Kirk-Burnnand didn’t retire from Targa, he just shifted mounts to a BMW M3. Indeed, Barry and Mike are the only drivers to have competed on every main Targa NZ event since 1995.
2005: “She was trying to tell us something!”
The usual team was back for 2005 — Phil Sutton co-driving, with Gary Finemore and Dave Jowett on spannering duties. For the prologue stages, the day dawned bright and sunny — the theme all week, with absolutely amazing weather and not a drop of rain. At least this gave Mike a chance to test out the new Dunlop tyres they’d use this time around. Day one saw the Targa field head from Auckland to New Plymouth — a long day with eight special stages and 370km of touring. The first stage at Glen Murray was a bit of a tester — including the route-book caution for ‘Mike Lowe’s Corner’ — one the Fiat took carefully! The rest of the day saw the team maintain a steady pace. Striking out for Palmerston North on day two, the stages included those with the big jumps that had caused problems for the Fiat in 2004. The consensus this year was to slow down at every crest and not risk damage. However, at the afternoon service stop a clunk from the engine was diagnosed as a loose flywheel. An unsuccessful attempt was made to tighten it up from underneath, but the bolts had sheared — time to pull out the engine, again! But the team lost only two stages doing the repair. Later, while followed through a stage by the official camera car, Mike managed to spin the little Fiat, and while he finished the stage, it turned out a 41-year-old pin in the throttle pedal assembly had simply worn away. Time for a tow back to Palmerston North for repairs. For day three’s trek to Feilding, the team hoped for a trouble-free run and a chance to claw back time — and at the Taihape lunch-stop Gary Finemore once again (unsuccessfully) attempted to win the gumboot-throwing title. After that, all seemed well until special stage 24, when the Fiat’s engine simply died. That evening the team found the crank nut had gone, jamming the timing chain. Once that had been replaced, the engine fired up. Mike hoped for a better time on day four, the trip to Hastings. All went well until the start of SS29, when he noticed that the oil pressure light had come on. The car was pushed to the local Pongaroa Service Station, and work began to secure the oil pump bolts, which had loosened. With everything seemingly fine they set off, but 2.7km from the garage the oil light came on. A nasty noise from the engine signalled that the replacement crankshaft was stuffed! The service crew and the team ended up at Pitstop in Hastings where Dave, the owner, greeted them like long-lost friends. They’d lost another five stages, but as the motor was removed there was a collective sigh as everyone spotted the cracks running through the front of the block. No wonder bits were dropping off the engine — she was trying to tell them something. She was officially dead, although 11 years and some 30,000km of hard flat-out driving wasn’t a record. Time for the 50-buck replacement engine … again! Finally, the car made it to the finish in Hastings to the applause of the crowd — 11 from 11 — although the 2005 event was an expensive one for the ENZED Abarth team.
2006: The Best Year Ever
The most important job was to find a new engine. The quest proved a long one but, finally, a brand-new crate Abarth engine was located in Germany along with a complete used engine as a spare. Then a new Targa wrinkle, the inception of the Targa Seria Campione — a new championship covering a series of Targa events culminating in the annual six-day Dunlop Targa NZ in October. The ENZED Abarth Team were determined to give it a go. With the new engine still en route from Germany, the team tackled Targa Bambina with the 50-buck engine, saving the new one for the second Seria Campione round at Rotorua. Team ENZED Abarth were back in force for the main Targa, with Gary, Dave and Phil — and thanks to Steve Cox at Taslo Engineering in Rotorua, the team were able to service in style from a brand-new Iveco high-top van. On Targa’s Shakedown Stage, the Fiat went well and, for the first day, Auckland to New Plymouth, wet roads worked to the Abarth’s advantage. All went swimmingly until the fourth stage, when the engine started to misfire. Apart from that hiccup, the car ran strong and fast, with absolutely no problems. Crossing to Palmerston North on day two, more rain was in store. For two years the Fiat hadn’t made it to the end of Targa’s second day without a major problem — would 2006 see a reversal of fortune? Another tradition for Mike is spinning whilst being followed by the event’s camera car — this year he did it again, spinning off into a ditch. It was good enough to make the national TV news that evening! Approaching the Manawatu, the roads became more challenging, with the day’s last stage another long one, but after only six kilometres the Fiat’s engine let out an almighty bang and the car coasted to a stop. After a long wait for the service crew, the car was repaired and on its way. On the leg from Palmerston North to Fielding the field again visited Taihape for yet another gumboot-throwing competition. After years of failed attempts, Gary finally won the gumboot toss — for him, the rest of the rally was probably incidental! Day four, and on to Hastings in warm, dry weather, with the team travelling past the little town of Pongaroa where the old Abarth engine had finally cried enough last year. This time, everything went well. The final day saw the Fiat’s clutch begin to play up, and on one stage it became impossible to select a gear at standstill — though they made it to the next service stop and the ceremonial finish in Hastings. At the following day’s prize-giving, Mike was awarded the inaugural Peter Brock Memorial Trophy for the Spirit of Targa, and a well-deserved Best Service Crew Award for Gary and Dave. As for the Seria Campione — the ENZED Abarth scored top honours, winning the inaugural championship trophy.
2007: Team Abarth Win Again
Prior to the 2007 event, the Fiat underwent repairs to replace a snapped suspension upright, and chassis damage had necessitated a major rear-end rebuild. The car was also kitted out with brand-new Campagnolo wheels shod with Dunlop ‘squigglies.’ The Targa organizers had arranged for the team to make a TV appearance and they had a ball with Geoff Bryant. Mike’s model Abarth and the 2006 Seria trophy were great props on the interviewer’s desk. Prologue was not a breeze — the Fiat suffered gearbox problems. After working on it the weekend before, none of the team had greased the input shaft when the gearbox was re-installed! The fix meant the engine had to come out. Once again, day one meant a long haul from Auckland to New Plymouth, with the Fiat starting out fairly conservatively. Back as service crew, once again, were Gary and Dave. All went well until the Abarth was flying along the edge of a harbourside road and suddenly lost throttle. They pulled over mid-stage to check — the throttle linkage had apparently broken at the pedal end. They fitted the spare cable to the carbs and ran it into the cockpit, where Phil became Mike’s throttle-man. This meant seriously scary progress for the remaining 10km of the stage. Meeting up with the service crew solved the problem. Day two was a short day with only four stages — although two were 39km each and ran to and from Whangamomona along State Highway 43, the ‘Forgotten Highway.’ According to Mike, this was the best Targa stage ever. Into the third day, with Feilding beckoning, the first stage was the infamous Inglewood 2 and its series of four jumps. Not tempted to push the Fiat, Mike had a relatively drama-free day, with the final stage being a blast around the track at Manfeild. Day four — Feilding to Hastings — lots of fast stages, lots of rain and lots of wind, with the first stage through Windmill Alley, the wind farm on the ranges outside Feilding. Although the Fiat experienced a few close calls during the day — especially with wind that soon blew gale force — the team arrived safely at Havelock Domain at day’s end. Despite a misfiring engine, the Abarth completed all the final day’s stages, cruising back into Havelock North for the finish. At the prize-giving, Team ENZED Abarth gained Targa plates for finishing every stage, and winning the Historic Category for the second year in a row.
2008: Three in a Row
With the usual team on hand and the Abarth ready to go, all was set for another Targa, run under new ownership after Peter Martin took over from founder, Mike John. Day one, and the big tour down to New Plymouth, with everything proceeding well until the team came upon a huge traffic jam on a one-lane bridge after another entrant had spun, and become jammed sideways between the Armco, effectively halting everyone’s progress. Once going again the Fiat began playing up, but the little beast kept on motoring. At the final service, a problem with the car’s Weber carburettors was recognized and sorted. Day two and, like the previous year, the main stage was the trip to and from Whangamomona. Rain started to fall, giving Mike the chance to try out a new windscreen wiper set-up — but then the wipers slowed, and the cabin filled with choking black smoke. Fortunately there was no fire, and a spare length of cable replaced the burnt-out wires. At service their fears were confirmed — the Fiat’s wiring was stuffed and an auto electrician was required: that would have to wait until the end of the day. That evening, Lionel at New Plymouth Auto Electrical toiled for almost three hours rewiring the car — only taking $50 for his troubles. Day three, New Plymouth to Wanganui and another long one. Apart from a close call on Stage 15 — home of the infamous ‘Cop’s Corner’, where a few years ago a cop car went off into the creek — the day flew by with no problems at all, boding well for the fourth day and the trip down to Wellington. After a few days of dry weather, the heavens really opened up for the last day with gale-force winds and driving rain. The morning stages included Paekakariki Hill. The roads were slippery and the day’s last stage, the run around the harbourside at Shelley Bay, was cancelled as the sea was so rough waves were breaking over the road. The cruise to the finish at Wellington’s Taranaki Wharf ended the event, and at prize-giving the following day, the team once again won Targa plates for finishing every stage, and the Historic Category for the third year in a row.
2009: How to Make the Plays of the Week
This year marked the 15th Anniversary of Targa NZ, and the Abarth performed fine over the prologue stages, hopefully auguring well for day one, the journey down to Taupo. On the way there the Targa cars went for hot laps at Pukekohe and the newly-opened Hampton Downs circuit. The second day, Taupo to New Plymouth, started with a long tour and a bumpy first stage, with even more fabulous stages after lunch, including the famous Kawhia Harbour. Two days of hard driving meant a major ‘all wheels off’ service was undertaken that night — something you have to do when running an old car. As Mike puts it, “This is what the guys running modern cars don’t quite get: this is part of Targa! We beat the hell out of our old cars, and then fix them ready to do it again the next day. And we enjoy it!” Day three and back to Whangamomona before arriving for the overnight stop at Wanganui — and the day after it was all on for the trip to Palmerston North, accompanied by lots of rain and cold, slippery roads. By the time the team arrived for service at the sub-alpine township of Waiouru it was snowing. Needless to say, the Fiat tippy-toed around the next stage, and at Taihape for lunch, Gary once again went all-out to win the gumboot throwing — alas, he was well beaten this time. As the day wore on the weather improved, and the Targa field closed in on Cop’s Corner. As there are always plenty of cameras there, Mike planned to get the Fiat up on two wheels — allowing time for everyone to take photos. A good plan until, at about 46 degrees of angle on two wheels, it became apparent that the Fiat wouldn’t come back down the way she went up — the ensuing roll was caught on camera, providing Groundsky Photography with an award-winning shot. Fortunately no serious damage was done, and the car was quickly righted with the help of spectators and was soon back on its way. Following another tour around the track at Manfeild, the day ended in Palmerston North’s main square. The next day saw the Targa cars wend their way to Wellington, with the Fiat chasing an unreasonably rapid Ford Anglia for historic honours. The final day, with only 90km of special stages, started and finished with runs through Shelley Bay and, at the lunch stop, came news that the Anglia had stopped with a blown head-gasket. At the prize-giving — as well as winning Targa plates again — the team won the Historic Category for the fourth year in a row, plus the coveted Index of Performance trophy.
2010: Sweet Sixteen (photo on page 68)
This year’s prologue took place at Hampton Downs, a huge-power circuit that’s rather dull for small cars like the Fiat. In previous years the first day — Auckland to New Plymouth — had seen poor weather assist the Fiat’s progress, but the forecast this year was for sunshine and dry roads. The day ended without mishap ready for the second one, and the popular stage to Whangamomona. Unfortunately the boys forgot to refit the dipstick spring at service — at 8000rpm, the engine pumped out a bit of oil onto the exhaust that occasionally filled the cockpit with smoke. In addition, the Fiat’s clutch was playing up. A new clutch cable was fitted at Whangamomona and the return journey was completed a shade faster. Another big day beckoned with the leg from New Plymouth to Palmerston North. With drizzle on the first stage, it became apparent that not all was well with the Fiat’s cooling system. In desperate need of water, and 20km away from the next service stop, they luckily met up with the newly elected Mayor of New Plymouth and ex-Minister of Transport, Harry Duynhoven. Harry drove off, returning minutes later with a huge bucket of water and a siphon hose from his property just up the road. By the time the Fiat arrived at Wanganui, clouds of steam were emitting from the exhaust. Luckily, a new head gasket was all that was required. With everything hopefully sorted overnight, it was on to Wellington for day four and, despite everything, the Abarth was going well, getting to the final service stop in Martinborough. Day five and the Fiat’s brakes acted up during a touring stage — pumping the pedal gave some reprieve, but downhill sections were taken gingerly. At the lunch stop at Maidstone Park, the brakes were bled. On the run through Moonshine, Mike and Phil were presented with the most amazing sight they had experienced in all the 16 years of Targa — a totally naked girl cheering them from the side of the road! As well as winning Targa plates, Team ENZED won the Historic Category for the fifth year in a row and, following Index of Performance wins at Targa Bambina and Targa Rotorua, they also won that trophy again!
2011: What a Week
Long-time event sponsor, Dunlop, left the Targa fold, and there were two other major changes to Targa NZ this year. For the first time ever, the cars travelled north of Auckland for two days — and there were no prologue stages. Day one and new territory as the cars headed towards Whangarei. Alas, all was not well with the Fiat; its engine was misbehaving. The team attempted to chase this issue down all week to no avail. And last year’s brake problems returned, along with a gearbox oil leak. Luckily, by the third stage the brakes were coming good, but the oil leak was consistent and needed checking and topping-up twice a day. For day two, the cars returned to Auckland, with the first stage being the longest. Despite the oil leak the team returned safely to Auckland, with the next day featuring a more traditional Targa destination — Taupo. The day went well for the Fiat team, despite headlight woes and a panic run to acquire more gearbox oil. The following day the cars tackled the Desert Road, but as the Fiat drew into Waiouru the brakes went again — then across the road they spotted a fellow Fiat entrant’s 124. This team actually had Mike’s spare brake master cylinder! He reclaimed the unit, and the 124’s service crew bolted it into place. Despite a rash of electrical problems, the team made it to the day’s finish at a very wet Palmerston North Square — time to top up the gearbox oil again. For the final day the weather had cleared, and most of the stages were fast — putting the little Fiat at something of a disadvantage. The car appeared to be down on power, and trouble loomed on the third-to-last stage of the event when the Fiat’s engine dropped to three, sometimes only two cylinders midway through the stage. They limped to the finish and, at the service stop, found a blown head gasket between number two and three cylinders. With only two stages left, there was no time to swap the engine over, or even check the head. Anyway, having decided they must still make Havelock North for the finish, the car was towed to the end of the last stage for the final five-kilometre tour to the finish. They crossed the line on two cylinders, but after dropping two stages the team couldn’t claim Targa plates for finishing every stage. However, they still managed second place in the historic category, only beaten by an Alfa Romeo. Even better, the team won the Index of Performance title for the sixth time in a row!
2012: “At least we made it to the finish!”
With no prologue stages, it was right into documentation — and immediately the Fiat had a minor problem with a leaking water hose. If the team hoped it’d be good to get their bad luck out of the way early, that thought was soon proved wrong! So, into day one and the long trek to New Plymouth. Over the years the ENZED Abarth has had some pretty dire first days on Targa, and this time around things also looked grim when the car’s engine dropped to three cylinders during the second stage. It was time to withdraw and make a beeline to the workshop of fellow Fiat man, Maurice Thomson. Penalty times were applied this year for missed stages, so the team simply swapped to the spare engine to save time, and were back in the fray at stage six. All seemed fine until the day’s final stage when the spare engine began knocking, then refused to start after being stopped at Control. Eventually they made it to New Plymouth, but it was clear they had a long night ahead. With the engine out yet again, they found that number two had either run a main bearing, or bent a rod. Luckily, they now had enough bits to make one engine from two — the race bottom end with the spare cylinder head. For day two’s tour to Taupo, the car was going really well and the weather was spectacular. And then there was the classic Whangamomona stage — a real Targa favourite. Less well liked was the subsequent 20km tour on gravel to the start of the next stage, the first of many rough gravel roads encountered this year. There was a delay to fix a loose throttle linkage, while a suddenly non-functional tripmeter meant Phil had to revert to mental arithmetic. The third day was relatively short, with stages that included two runs through Marton, home of the infamous Cop’s Corner. Despite having to replace an alternator belt, the Fiat got to Palmerston North for the overnight stop. With only six stages on day four, the trip to Havelock North with one of the highlights being the Gentle Annie — the road from Taihape to Napier — but en route the Abarth left a pool of oil at the Taihape service stop, not spotted by Mike or Phil. As they were cruising up State Highway 1 towards the stage start, the oil light came on. Only when they’d stopped was the trail of oil spotted. A quick look below confirmed the complete absence of a sump plug! When the service crew caught up, a replacement plug was installed and with fresh oil all seemed fine on start-up and during the Gentle Annie stage, until the clutch cable broke, forcing them to finish the stage in fourth gear. Repairs were effected, but by the time the Fiat drew into Havelock North, the car’s gearbox was slowly becoming a problem. The final day, and another perfect one weather-wise, but the Abarth’s throttle problems returned — they’d broken another throttle pedal, meaning that the welding machine had to be sparked into action. Then, during a touring section, the Fiat’s windscreen was broken by a stone flicked up by a slow-moving entrant in a BMW. Amazingly, the team had a spare — indeed, it’d been in the service van for 18 years! It was with a sigh of relief that the little Fiat crossed the finish line. Despite all the penalties and missed stages, the team managed to finish 45th outright, 21st in the classic category, and first under-1400cc home. Even better, the team’s spannermen, Dave Jowett and Nigel Derbyshire, deservedly scored the prestigious Best Service Crew award.
2013: A Well-Deserved Trophy
After last year’s engine dramas, a decision was made to build a new race engine — an experimental 1170cc ‘stroker’ unit. Built by Jamie Aislabie of Rotorua Tuning Services, the finished engine showed a big increase in power and torque over the Fiat’s old engine. As well, the old motor was rebuilt yet again so it could act as a spare. On day one, no sooner had the Fiat left the start than it spluttered to a stop with a dead fuel pump. A quick repair got the pump pumping again, and they reached the start of the first stage. By the time they hit the second stage, the car was going well and Mike was beginning to enjoy the new engine’s additional torque. Then on the long touring stage across Auckland and down south the engine started to run rough, finally dropping onto three cylinders. Time to call in the cavalry — and they found that a couple of pushrods had popped out from under the rockers. The tappets were reset and the engine was again running fine — for 20 kilometres! At Mercer, the Fiat was parked up and the spare engine was bolted into place. It took a couple of hours to complete the job, but with 160km of touring to go a call was made to trailer the car to New Plymouth and start afresh the following day. Sunshine was the order for day two, and the favourite Whangamomona stage. The team’s problems continued — the Fiat was shedding driveshaft bolts, the clutch was playing up, and by stage 12 the engine refused to start. For the second time in two days, it had to come out. Repairs were made and the car was trailered to the overnight stop at Palmerston North. Having now gained several time penalties, the team settled down to business for the day-three trek to Havelock North — they had an impossible task to recover those lost minutes, but still sought a good placing. Fortunately, everything hung together, and the team reached Havelock North without further drama. Day four and the journey to Taupo once again took in Gentle Annie. Without the ‘monster’ engine, this fast stage didn’t suit the Abarth. However, the Fiat made it to the final stage — a three-lap strop around the circuit at Taupo. All the penalties gained on the first day knocked the team out of class-winning honours, but the final results — even with those penalties — still showed that a 49-year old, 1000cc car can run with the pack. And for the second time they were awarded the Peter Brock Memorial Trophy as the team that had displayed the best Spirit of Targa.
2014: 20 from 20 — Time for a Rest
With last year’s ‘monster’ engine fettled and fitted to the Abarth, all was ready for the first South Island Targa event. After last year’s Targa, Mike threw down a challenge for another under-1400cc car to come and beat the Fiat — and, along with a cash prize, he also donated a perpetual Team ENZED Abarth trophy designed and built by Paul Lyons. Travelling in convoy to Wellington, the team took the Interislander over to the South Island and were soon on their way to the Targa start-line in Christchurch. Once there, the team were awarded with a certificate and watches to celebrate their 20th Targa start. Day one dawned for the drive to Dunedin, and out on the stages the Fiat team quickly realized their worst fears — no corners, and too fast! The poor little car was being thrashed from the outset — and both front kingpins were broken by the end of the day. Just to keep the team on their toes, gear-changing woes also appeared, putting even more pressure on the fresh engine. Fortunately the following day proved less eventful, although the roads continued to be fast and flowing. The trek to Invercargill on day three involved some massive tours between stages, and included a few stages around Dunedin and another over the bumpy, tight and twisty road to Larnach Castle. The last stage of the day was at Teretonga, where the boys had fun chasing Corvettes through the chicanes. Day four started with a very long tour. The Fiat was running fine until they got to Stage 25, Moa Flat, when the engine cried enough! The crankshaft had broken. Time for that spare engine … again. One day to go, and the first stage was the famous Crown Range up to Cardrona — starting with a very steep hill climb. The ‘monster’ engine would have been nice, but they got to the top fine. From there to Highlands Park, a fast and challenging race track, it was time for the last two stages along the lake-edge road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, run as an in-and-out stage. Reaching the finish was a truly emotional time for the ENZED Abarth Team, with its amazing record of 20 Targa starts and 20 finishes in the same car over two decades. The team missed out on a class win, beaten into second place by Clyde Walters and his 1400cc Ford Anglia. Mike awarded Clyde the Team ENZED Abarth trophy for the first under 1400cc car home. The team had one more important task to accomplish — after two decades of hard competition life, their famous Fiat — ‘Bartie’ — was taking a rest, with Mike proud to accept an invitation to retire the Abarth to the National Motorsport Museum at Highlands Park in Cromwell. The car was delivered as it finished the event — dirty, and with no clutch! And ENZED Team Abarth? Well, they’ll be back in 2015 with a brand-new car — Bartie 2: The Sequel — a fully factory-built Abarth 500R3T that will carry identical livery to the team’s iconic 1964 Abarth. Here’s to another 20 years of Targa!