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THE TIKI: NOT QUITE A KIWI ICON



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It was only when Jerome went to pick it up and saw the documentation the seller had with the car that he began to get an inkling that the vehicle he now owned was not just another fibreglassbodied backyard special. Instead, it was a unique New Zealand kit car, one that had been produced in small numbers during the late ’50s and early ’60s.

As he worked on its reassembly, Jerome continued to hunt for little titbits to add further colour to the car’s overall picture, but it would be nine years before he uncovered the full story.

The Tiki

Although Jerome’s car can trace its history back to the Ashley 750, an English kit car, this example was actually called the ‘Tiki’ and was produced in Dunedin by George & Ashton, a company that saw the vehicle as an interesting sideline to its fibreglassing business. In those days, the popularity of the Ford 8 and 10 meant that these were generally the cars of choice when it came to providing donor parts for automotive specials.

The body of Jerome’s Tiki was originally purchased in 1959 by Albert Johnston, and, thankfully, he had had the foresight to order it with some ‘luxury’ items — such as a windscreen and a hardtop. It was Johnston who amassed most of the key Ford components, the majority from a 1950 Ford Prefect, and he got as far as attaching the body to the chassis but, sadly, died before any real assembly work could be completed.

At that point, Ted George from George & Ashton bought the car back with the intention of finishing it, but, for one reason or another, the Tiki was consigned to storage for many years. Then, during the late ’80s, realizing that it was never going to get finished if it stayed in his shed, Ted donated the car to King’s High School in Dunedin for use as a potential workshop project. While at King’s, further work was done on the car, and, by the time it was put up for tender in 1994, the Tiki was driveable.

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Original 1962 Tiki ad

It was subsequently purchased by Keith Buckley of Rangiora, who wanted a project to share with his son. Keith got the car to the point of being able to fire up the motor, but, when that attempt was greeted with a cloud of blue smoke, he decided to completely dismantle it and start all over again. Alas, like the Tiki’s engine, the project stalled. Eventually, as his son had moved to Australia, Keith put it up for sale at the 2006 Vintage Car Club of New Zealand (VCCNZ) McLeans Island Swap Meet.

Rebooting the project

This was when vintage car restorer Jerome Mehrtens entered the scene. On the lookout for a new project, he began an investigation of the car. Initially, he could see most parts required to finish it appeared to be there, including such valuable items as a front and rear windscreens and, wonder of wonders, a fully reconditioned motor still in its plastic preservative wrapping. Some parts that were missing — such as door hinges, bonnet catches, and door locks — Jerome knew he’d be able to source from the parts shed operated by the Canterbury Branch of the VCCNZ. As he had a history of vehicle restorations behind him — including, among others, two Ford 8s — Jerome did not see himself having any major difficulties with this project.

However, his confidence began to wane in 2008 when he tried to get the car certified as being fit for New Zealand roads. The first problem was that regulations required it to be fitted with modern seat belts. Although the vehicle certifier had certified the car using standards that were appropriate for its era, he was not happy about the lack of belts. As this was a safety issue, Jerome was happy to comply. However, the task was made difficult, as the car had never been intended to have belts — so Jerome had to fabricate a steel framework that could be attached to the original Ford chassis to ensure a secure mounting for them.

The only other change he made to the car as he rebuilt it was to install a 12-volt electrical system — although the original six-volt starter motor has been retained. Like the seat belts, this was done in the interests of safety, as six-volt headlights are really too dull for modern-day driving.

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Once the car passed certification, he assumed that a trip to the local testing station would be quite straightforward. Rule number one — never assume anything!

Although Jerome had now dug up sufficient information to identify his car as a Tiki, as it was going to be registered for the road for the first time in 2008, he was told that it would have to comply with current new-car rules — and that would require another full certification, this time to 2008 standards.

Although Jerome could prove that the Tiki had been designed and built with parts that met the requirements of a 1950s classic car, the NZTA rule was unbending. However, preparing a car originally designed in the ’50s for compliance to modern regulations would not be an easy task. A simple example of the difficulties that Jerome would face is the issue of the Tiki’s windscreens.

Modern cars are fitted with laminated windscreens, a level of technology not readily available in the ’50s, when cars used toughened safety glass. A laminated windscreen is a legal requirement for a modern car, so, to comply the Tiki, Jerome would have to remove the front and rear glass without breakage and somehow get them remanufactured. The cost of manufacturing one-off screens is, as you can imagine, horrendous — that is, if you can find someone prepared to do the job. This is only one example of a whole list of tasks that would have to be completed before the car could be legally used on the road.

Cutting the red tape

Frustrated, Jerome parked the Tiki in his garage, rolled up his sleeves, and prepared to do battle with bureaucracy.

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For the next two-and-a-half years many letters travelled backwards and forwards between the NZTA and Jerome, with the government agency requiring documentary evidence that the car was actually a 1959 one. Ownership papers proving it had been registered for the road in 1959 would perfect — however, while the donor car would surely have been registered at one point, the Tiki had never been officially registered for road use. With all other avenues closed, Jerome decided to contact previous owners of the car in the hope of finding some form of documentary evidence that would satisfy the authorities.

Amazingly, around this time, Keith Buckley’s son had just returned from Australia for a holiday. When his father told him about Jerome’s problems, he was immediately reminded that he’d tucked away the car’s original ownership papers in a filing cabinet in the home garage all those years ago.

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As you can imagine, these papers proved to be worth their weight in gold. Thanks to the foresight of the Tiki’s first owner, Albert Johnston, the papers proved not only that the car had been first registered during August 1950 as a Ford Prefect but also that Albert, presumably anticipating trouble down the road, had got his local post office to change the car’s make on the papers to ‘Tiki’ on October 21, 1965. This effectively meant that the Tiki could be registered as being compliant for the standards that existed in 1965.

With this important piece of paper clutched firmly in his hand, it was back to NZTA for the next round — and this time Jerome won.

In 2014, 55 years after the Tiki’s body left the George & Ashton factory, it was entered in its first event — the Mount Cook Rally organized by the South Canterbury branch of the VCCNZ, held over that year’s Labour weekend. However, for Jerome, the highlight of his Tiki ownership so far came in June 2015, when he was awarded the Veacroft Trophy for Best Vintage by the VCCNZ.

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