Story: Motor sport

Page 4. Production- and saloon-car racing

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Production and touring cars

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ became a familiar saying among New Zealand car dealers from the 1960s onwards. They recognised that if a production car’s performance was demonstrated on the racetrack, it was more likely to be popular with ordinary car buyers. A range of racing events and classes was developed for production cars. In general, production-car racing has given drivers access to high-performance motor sport at a much lower cost than the purpose-built racing cars used in Grand Prix racing.

Saloon cars are production cars with a closed body and a separate boot (trunk); they are sometimes known as sedans. More heavily modified vehicles are known as touring cars.

Early modified saloons

The longstanding New Zealand tradition of DIY (do-it-yourself) invention and modification provided an early incentive to would-be racing drivers. From the 1920s mechanically minded improvisers such as Aucklander George Smith swapped engines between different vehicle bodies and suspension systems to find a winning combination. Smith’s homemade Gee Cee Ess Special, with a powerful US-made V8 engine, remained a strong competitor into the 1950s. Other bizarre New Zealand ‘specials’ included the Cropduster, powered with a 6-litre aeroplane engine, and the Morrari (a Morris Minor body on a Ferrari chassis).

In the 1960s fast and exciting US road cars such as the Mustang appeared on New Zealand racetracks. However, more modest road cars such as the Mini Cooper could sometimes take the national title. This era of production-car racing was later revived by the Pre65 racing class, restricted to vehicles produced before 1965. This class pitted giant V8s against six-cylinder Holdens and smaller Minis and Cortinas.

Benson and Hedges 500 and V8 Supercars

New Zealand's premier production-car competition in the 1970s was the Benson and Hedges 500-mile (later 1,000-kilometre) race, held at Pukekohe. It was dominated by Valiant Charger vehicles.

An annual round of the Australian V8 Supercar race was held at Pukekohe Raceway from 2001 to 2007, and at the Hamilton Street Circuit from 2008 to 2012. By 2012 the V8 Supercars series attracted more interest from fans, television broadcasters, drivers and teams than any New Zealand-based motor-sport series. By 2021, New Zealanders Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin had both won the Supercars series twice.

Street racing

Street races, in which production cars race around a circuit of city streets, have proved among the most controversial forms of motor sport. The Nissan Mobil 500 Wellington Street Race, a 500-kilometre touring-car race was held along the capital’s waterfront from 1985 to 1996. A proposal to revive it failed to satisfy the requirements of the Resource Management Act.

Other racing classes

Other championship classes included Suzuki Swifts, Porsche cars and V8 utes. The New Zealand V8 championship, the most glamorous of the touring-car events, was raced at circuits in the North Island – Pukekohe, Taupō and Manfeild – and three in the South Island – Invercargill, Timaru and Christchurch.

How to cite this page:

Jim Webber, 'Motor sport - Production- and saloon-car racing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Jim Webber, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Apr 2016