Five cars that have disappeared from Kiwi roads
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Thursday Five: commonplace lost for Kiwi relics
The New Zealand car scene is much like our food scene; it’s kind of non-existent.
What is Kiwi car culture? Ask yourself the question. Of course, we love our cars as much as the next member of the Commonwealth, but you would have a hell of a time trying to sum up a definitive ‘Kiwi car culture’.
Here, we have a bit of everything. There is a thriving Japanese scene, classic cars are still held in high esteem, and given our geographical and ideological proximity to those shrimp-loving buggers over the ditch it’s no surprise that we love the V8. Throw in the high number of European sports and supercars that live here and you have an incredibly diverse four-wheeled gumbo. In my opinion a gumbo that’s more diverse than any other on the planet.
The thing about having a car culture like this, as wonderful as it is, is that it means that certain cars can fall out of trend and suddenly become completely forgotten — fading from notoriety to obscurity faster than a bald Britney Spears.
Here are five cars that were once prolific on our roads, that are now mysteriously almost completely gone.
My family's first ‘new’ car after I was born was a 1996 RVR Sports Gear. As a kid that loved cars, the fundamentally silly Sports Gear with its rugged aesthetic appealed to me — but I never really knew what a beast it really was.
Underneath the bonnet was Mitsubishi's coveted 4G-63 engine, the same as what powered the Mitsubishi Evolution and as a result the odd little RVR had a heck of a lot of poke. It also drank gigantic gulps of petrol, but nobody's perfect.
The RVR gained popularity here at the turn of the century, as importing cars from Japan independently began to take off. And soon they were absolutely everywhere.
In South Auckland, you still find a healthy handful of the things, but out in West Auckland where I reside there are hardly any of them.
Why? Well in our experience it was reliability. There were numerous instances of ours simply not starting, and eventually it was sold off. Which in some ways was a shame. The RVR is a forgotten thing, but it was one of the first crossovers ever made (it pipped the Toyota Rav4 by about three years). And that's something it should be remembered for, given the popularity of the crossover today.
A product of the fuel crisis in the ’70s, the Hillman Avenger became one of several nuggety little motors to clock successful sales worldwide; including in New Zealand.
Over an 11-year period they were sold by Todd Motors in Petone and Porirua, available as both a sedan and wagon (then quite weirdly towards the end of the run, a van). Later in life they were also rebranded as ‘Chrysler’ Avengers, in an era were literally everything was badge engineered.
Unfortunately for the wee little Avenger, it was one of many cars from the period that was built with papier mâché and bubble gum; and subsequently plenty of examples turned to cud over time. Despite being one of the most popular cars of its time in the UK, for example, just a mere 260 still exist on their roads today.
Oh ‘they don't build them like they used to’ alright.
Spiritual successor to the Cortina, the Ford Sierra it quickly earned itself the nickname of ‘jellymould’ among those who weren't fans of its rounded styling.
But as its chief rivals started to age quicker than a smoker with a P habit, the Sierra stayed fresh, which was one of the reasons that Ford made them for 14 years with very little in the way of change.
Then towards the end of the ’80s came the RS500 Cosworth, which led to the model's peak. The turbocharged weapon, complete with comically large rear wing, became the car to have in Group A touring-car racing. The biggest names in the sport raced them, from Andy Rouse in the UK to Dick Johnson and even Peter Brock in Australia. This gave sales a further kick, as well as helping establish the Cossie as a future classic.
Oddly enough, while New Zealand gobbled up Sierras — particularly the wagon — by the truckload, Australia never got them.
The first examples sold here were assembled here, and don't underestimate that fact. Once the Sierra was canned when the Telstar station wagon arrived on the scene, Kiwis largely turned their noses up at it. Sales proved hard to replicate, with many believing that the Telstar's Japanese (Mazda) roots held it back. Naturally Ford caved and brought back the Sierra for an encore performance.
Growing up in the early to mid ’90s, I couldn't set foot outside my house without seeing a Sierra wagon. Yet now there are hardly any. The other day while shooting Honda's new all-wheel drive HR-V we drove past a black Sierra XR4x4 with a teal stripe taped around it. It looked a million bucks.
If you're reading this, and that was your car, please take care of it.
Triumph 2000 Mk2
In a similar vein to the Sierra, the Triumph 2000 Mk2 and each of its subsequent follow-up models used to be an incredibly prolific car in New Zealand.
Hell, Sir Robert Muldoon even had one. He even worked (drinked?) in it from time to time.
But you already know where I'm going to go with this point ... While the 2000, 2500, and so on proved popular, they also proved rather fragile — a distinct Triumph trait. What used to be a daily sight up to the early ’90s is now a rare delight saved for the occasional cars and coffee event.
Any original Japanese car from the ’70s or ’80s
Photo / Heritage Images
Unlike pretty much everything else on this list, this final entry wasn't hampered by reliability issues (save for any of the triangle-powered ones).
While ‘any’ is probably a slight hyperbole, this is probably a comment that goes for a surprising majority of cars that in their time were once considered plebeian nanna transport.
See, the world has gone full circle for cars like these. The rise of ‘JDM’ fandom worldwide has seen all sorts of odds and ends from the era earmarked as being vogue. KE70 Corollas, ‘Kenmeri’ Skylines, and pretty much every rotary Mazda ever made are now sought after platforms by the hip and the cool, leaving original examples to be an increasing rarity.
As unloved as they all once were, they're now an integral part of the modified scene's nexus.