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12 weirdest cars ever built in Australia

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    Bolwell built nine different models between 1962-79, with the most successful being the MkVIII Nagari. Photo Gallery

We've certainly built some weird and wonderful machines.

galleryWith all the recent news about local car manufacturing, you could be forgiven for thinking Australia has only ever built Fords, Holdens and Toyotas. But in fact, we’ve got a long, varied – and often quite weird - car building history.

From a bugeyed oddity spawned by a company who honed their skills on washing machines and cement mixers, to a car co-designed by a motoring journalist, there are a host of strange vehicles lurking in our past. Here are some of the best…


Adayer Sportif - Based on the VH Commodore, Melbourne firm Classic Car Craft created the two-door Sportif by using off-the-shelf panels from the German Opel Rekord on which the early Commodores were based. Painted black with era-correct gold trim, the Sportif also boasted a plush interior and ZK Fairlane headlights as a unique design touch. CCC described the Sportif as “the car GMH should have built” but probably realised why they didn’t after building just 12 examples.


Bolwell - The Bolwell brand is best known for the production of low-volume sports cars between 1962-79. Nine different models were built during this time, and wore the names MkI-VIII, with the most successful being the MkVIII Nagari with 118 units built. Mechanicals were borrowed from several manufacturers, including engines from Ford, Holden and Volkswagen. An all-new Mark X Nagari was revealed in 2008, but with a starting price north of $200k, most buyers seem to be choosing Porsche 911s instead.


Bufori - Bufori started building the VW-engined Madison in the garage of three Sydney brothers in 1986, and expanded to the Commodore V6-engined V6i and MkII, before shifting production to Malaysia in 1998 where the curiously styled LaJoya and Geneva models are built today. An acronym for Beautiful, Unique, Fantastic, Original, Romantic and Irresistible, we’d politely choose unique as the most applicable term for the current models.


Bullet - Bullet made its name building rotary-powered re-chassised MX-5s in the mid-90s, and graduated to extreme versions with supercharged Lexus V8s in the 2000s. The company now specialises in supercharger kits for numerous models, but has a new supercar in the works – without the timid MX-5 styling this time around.


Giocattolo - Perhaps the most ambitious of our low-volume products, Giocattolo Motori produced the mid-engined Giocattolo (Italian for toy) as a genuine challenge to the expensive and notoriously difficult to drive Italian exotics of the 1980’s. Just 15 were produced between 1986-88, and were designed to suit the same Group B rally regulations that brought us the Ferrari 288GTO, which were outlawed just as production started.

The work of entrepreneur Paul Halstead and former F1 designer Barry Lock, the Giocattolo married an Alfa Romeo Sprint glasshouse and cabin with kevlar body panels and a bespoke mid-engined chassis with a HSV VL Group A SS-related twin-throttle 5.0-litre Holden V8. Among the several other local components were Simmons alloy wheels and a mini bar-sized bottle of Bundaberg rum and a pair of shot glasses in the tool kit.


Goggomobile - Sydney auto trading magnate Bill Buckle imported the German Goggomobil microcar chassis to Australia between 1957 and 1961, and fitted them with locally-formed fibreglass bodies.

Saloon, Coupe, Coupe-convertible and Light van variants were produced with 300cc and 400cc twin-cylinder engines, and the brand reached fame in the 90s thanks to the memorable Yellow Pages TV ad. The “not the Dart” Dart roadster has gone on to be the four-wheeled face of Shannons Insurance.


Hartnett - The Hartnett Motor Company was formed by former Holden boss Lawrence Hartnett in 1949, after encouragement from PM Ben Chifley to challenge Holden’s market dominance (how times have changed).

The Hartnett that resulted was based on a French design by Jean Grégoire, which was produced from 1951 to 1955 in Tasman sedan and Pacific convertible form, but some station wagons were also produced. Chifley was famed for declaring the first Holden as “she’s a beauty” and helping it to best-selling status with that accolade. But his pet project Hartnett wasn’t so beaut. Supply issues plagued production and the company pulled the pin in 1955 after building just 120 cars.


Lightburn Zeta - The Zeta was built in Sedan, Utility and Sports body styles between 1963-65 by South Australian washing machine and cement mixer manufacturer Lightburn and Co. Aside from the roadster-bodied Sports, all were fitted with a 324cc twin-cylinder engine, while the Sports scored a big-block 498cc unit.

The Sedan version lacked any rear storage opening – early Corvette style – and only the Sports featured a reverse gear. All other models needed to be switched off and started in reverse to travel backwards, effectively making its meagre top speed achievable in reverse. Fewer than 400 Zetas were produced.


Mazda Roadpacer - The Holden HJ and HX Premier-based Mazda Roadpacer that was sold in Japan between 1975-77, with the big Aussie six or V8 replaced by a 13B rotary engine. Power was on par with the 202 (3.3-litre) six of the day, but the rotary’s sizeable torque deficit meant it was as slow as a wet week, and won few friends among the luxury buyers it was aimed at. Just 800 were produced, and hold the distinction of being the only rotary-engined GM product to date.


Mitsubishi Sigma Peter Wherrett Special - Mitsubishi built 1000 examples in 1981 that bore the signature of the late Australian motoring identity Peter Wherrett. Legend has it that Wherrett was challenged to create a better car after complaining of the basic Sigma’s handling to a Mitsubishi engineer, and the Peter Wherrett Special was the fruit borne from this. Can you imagine a Paul Gover Cruze or Joshua Dowling Aurion today?

According to Wherrett, he converted the Sigma into “one of the great family cars of the decade”, with extractors fitted to the standard 2.6L four to lift power from 72.9-76kW, a five speed manual, revised shock tuning, discs all round, 15 inch alloy wheels with Pirelli tyres and all were painted red with specific striped decals along their flanks. The transformation was completed by Recaro front seats and an autographed Momo steering wheel.


Overlander 4WD - Long before the Holden Adventra, Launceston-based Vehicle Engineering and Modifications built the Holden HJ-HZ-based Overlander 4WD models. Between 1976-89, 120 examples were built, using Holden mechanicals and a Dana transfer case and front and rear off- road axles, wheels and tyres and suspension. The conversion was created in conjunction with Holden, and could be had in either wagon, ute, or one-tonne ute body styles. Like the Adventra, it seemed a great idea at the time, and also like Adventra, most people bought LandCruisers instead.


Recaro Mystere/Arcadipane Taipan - The Mystere started out as a Sydney motor show concept in 1977, built as a joint venture between Recaro and former Ford designer and Mad Max Interceptor collaborator Peter Arcadipane.

The Mystere was based on an LX Torana hatch with a chopped tail, shovel nose and wheelarch flares designed by Arcadipane, with a lavishly trimmed leather Recaro interior.  A plan for low volume production didn’t add up, and the body bits were then sold as the Taipan kit through Arcadipane’s coachbuilding business, even without Mel Gibson’s assistance.

This reporter is on Twitter: @Mal_Flynn


Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 23 comments

  • would appreciate more info regarding adayer sportif, I owned since 1989

    JB Posted on 05 April 2014 8:46pm
  • Takes me back...I worked on the Eureka and other cars that Purvis built...They were a credit to him...

    Malcolm Mccoull Posted on 21 February 2014 5:57pm
  • Joss supercar? Loved that thing

    Tim of Australia Posted on 13 February 2014 5:30pm
  • Have we missed the 4WD XW Falcon Ute, the OKAY, Vanguard, John French's GT Centaur Waggot and others

    Just Cruzin of Brisbane Posted on 13 February 2014 1:51pm
  • You missed the best one -Purvis Eureka I rebuilt an F4 with a WRX engine on a 1968 VW chassis.

    Grant Delahoy of Mooroolbark Posted on 13 February 2014 1:48pm
  • If you buy an imported car, don't have a bingle because you could wait up to a month for body parts. Yes, I know of 2 people it happened to. One was unroadworthy because lights were broken and panels were loose amd sticking out. The other one, an earlier Colt was OK to the extent that he could keep driving it.

    Blossom Posted on 13 February 2014 1:21pm
  • Evelyn; as a dedicated bicycle rider, motorcyclist and long time petrol head, I strongly refute your churlish comments. Obviously you belong to that loud minority who would impress their ways on all those they disagree with. I doubt your mother and father rode a bicycle to the hospital of your birth! 'Nuff said!

    Nrmoz of Sydney Posted on 13 February 2014 8:21am
  • I raced a MkV Bolwell kit I bought second hand for $1200. with a Holden red motor and twin carbs, Hr suspension it was the best. Then a Nagari for a while, both good cars. I can understand why Bolwell stopped making kit cars as the finish was pathetic on some of the Mk Vs on the road. Not Bolwells fault either, just slack builders. But an absolute fun set of cars.

    Den of Melb Posted on 12 February 2014 10:59am

    Sir Evelyn De Rothschild Posted on 11 February 2014 5:40pm
  • HOONS!!!!!!! LOCK EVERYONE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Sir Evelyn De Rothschild Posted on 11 February 2014 5:38pm
  • What's the point of Carsguide in OZ? Buy a bicycle.... driving here is almost now illegal. Nanny state turned ORWELL 1984. Keep going Australia... we're in a global economy.

    Sir Evelyn De Rothschild Posted on 11 February 2014 5:38pm
  • What about the Purvis Eureka?? There were a few hundred of those built and were a full build not a modified mainstream production car.

    Cars 'r' not us anymore of Australia Posted on 11 February 2014 1:36pm
  • Dissapointed the Purvis Eureka didn't make it onto this list. Unlike alot of these cars, it actually looked good.

    Jamie Holt of Wollongong Posted on 11 February 2014 12:52pm
  • Nothing weird about Bolwell, they are worth a fortune for a today. I would like the earlier one with the Holden 2002 straight 6 and thripple carbies

    chris of ashburton Posted on 11 February 2014 12:40pm
  • I agree with Wayne Sinclair, so hopefully now that all the local manufacturers are gone we will see cheaper cars. I bet we don't.

    T.Abbott Posted on 11 February 2014 9:23am
  • The closure of the Australian motor vehicle manufacturing (which should have happened many years ago) will save us the expense of maintaining a corpse. Australians are the most resiliant people in the world, able to develop and adopt new products, services, and technology. The result will be a smarter, more profitable Australia, if only our Government will stand out of the road, and stop interferring. The closure of Ford, Holden, and Toyota will have less negative effect than over regulation.

    Ray Murphy of Australia Posted on 11 February 2014 8:28am
  • Well , now the pain of subsiding crap made and totally inappropriate and not wanted Aussie cars is finally over , when is the Federal Government going to remove the KRudd 17% luxury Car Tax that was imposed to protect Holden and Ford ? After all , now Australia has no Car Manufacturing industry to support . None . It is finally about time purchasers also got some real valve for their dollars spent . Cars are just far too expensive to buy new in Australia . Why ?

    Mad Max of Australia Posted on 11 February 2014 6:35am
  • You have a different definition of weird than I do. I would have given my left one for a Nagari when I was a kid. Still would, actually. Don't know that things like the Bullet qualify as cars built here. It's a hotrod, a pretty good one from what I've heard, but still just a hotrod. Never heard of a Giacattolo, but I wouldn't mind getting my hands on one. The only things I can see that might make this weird are Bundy in the toolkit and the pushrod V8/ proper handling mid-engine chassis combo. Bit like a DeTomaso really. Ive used an Overlander in the past. Bloody good thing. Does what it says on the label. A real Aussie, drinks a lot, but will always get you there and back. I don't think that there is enough local input to qualify the Goggomobil as a locally made car/ I don't see the Wherrett thingy as any weirder than a Goosemobile or Cobra. I'll give you the Zeta and the Roadpacer.

    Alan Royle of Australia Posted on 10 February 2014 7:08pm
  • There was the Buchan fibreglass body kit that was often planted on a Triumph TR chassis. Some did very well in sport car competition in the late 50,s and 60,s. Certainly a bit "weirder" than a Holden 4wd.

    ben schepers of Geelong Posted on 10 February 2014 2:56pm
  • Unfortunately history will continually repeat itself unless we learn its lessons. 1919 or 2014 it does not matter what the production costs are, if the public won't buy your product, you will fail. Current talk of a consortium to build GMH's SA or Ford's Geelong site to continue vehicle production is nothing but hot air if the end product is not better than the current offerings from either place. The Aussie car market is far too small to support local specialist production

    Grumbles of Way West of the Divide Posted on 10 February 2014 1:24pm
  • What about the Purvis Eureka? How could you leave that one out?

    Stevo of Melbourne Posted on 10 February 2014 12:10pm
  • The Australian systemic culture of industry being subsidised has sent us broke in real terms. The protected manufacturing environment with Government being asked to solve all financial issues with big subsidies and tariff protection has meant that we, the consumers and tax payers, have been saddled with much higher costs. Wage and cost blow-outs get swept up in these items and then we reach the end of that cycle. Wake up Australia.

    Wayne Sinclair of Brisbane Posted on 06 February 2014 7:58am
  • Australian six produced from 1919 to 1925, 500 built at Ashfield Sydney from local and imported parts. 3.7 litre straight 6 engine, 3 speed crash gearbox, 1.52 tonnes, 21kW, 13L/100km, top speed 64kph. Excellent economy, performance and build quality during the early 1920s. It was a better car than my father's 1924 Essex imported from USA which also had the the Rolls Royce shaped radiator.The company was forced to shut down due to high local construction costs. Fast forward to 2014, does history repeat itself ? Holden and Ford will shut down due to high local construction costs.

    Brian Ridley of QLD Posted on 28 January 2014 6:54pm
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