Home-built car goes full circle

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There is more to Eric Swinbourn’s silver, slim-lined hill climb car than meets the eye.
While working from his Naseby workshop, Mr Swinbourn provides a shortened version of the story behind the car, which he crafted as a 17-year-old.

The project came about when he was given a ‘‘burned out’’ 1955 Matchless motorcycle, while living in Whangarei.

‘‘Because I already owned a motorbike I wasn’t really interested in it as a bike, but I thought I can build myself a hill climb car using the motor and gearbox,’’ he said.

‘‘Over the next few months I built this car.’’ The year was 1968. By 1969 it was ready to race in various hill climb events, something Mr Swinbourn used the car for up until early 1972, the same year he sold it.

‘‘We had our share of successes with it — it won a number of hill climbs and got some seconds and thirds.’’ However, the time was right for Mr Swinbourn to sell the car.

‘‘I never heard anything about it again. I have no idea what the next people did with it, but in 1986, I think it was, I found the remains of it in a second-hand shop in Browns Bay, on the North Shore of Auckland.’’

‘‘It was purely by chance I walked in and was looking around and recognised the parts.
‘‘It’s a one-off. I recognised the parts because I made them. They were unique. There’s not another one like it.’’

He bought what was left of the car and has spent the past 30 years carting it around with him as a project to one day get around to.
During that time he collected a range of the parts he required, after some of the original ones had been lost.

He has since spent the past couple of years working on the car in his spare time, something that has become a reincarnation of sorts.
Mr Swinbourn has added some modifications, including the starting mechanism — and for good reason.

‘‘When I was younger I always had young mates to push-start me. My sister once helped me start it at the event. I didn’t realise it fired and she couldn’t let go. She bears the scars on her knees to this day.’’

The car now has a detachable electric start system.
While there are still some tweaks required, Mr Swinbourn plans to have it ready for the Central Otago Motorsport Club’s Cromwell Street Sprint race, taking place on February 23.

‘‘When this makes its appearance in Cromwell, it will be the first time it’s been run in an event for over 48 years.

‘‘This is not about times, it’s about nostalgia — it’s about seeing and hearing it go again after all of that time.’’