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Anziel Nova - a New Zealand Car

A week or so ago the above photo appeared on Facebook.  The car is the prototype Anziel Nova, which appears to be at a motor race meeting at Levin, probably during our 1967 - 1968 summer.  It is not clear, but at the wheel is most probably one of the Gibbs brothers, Ian or Alan, who owned Australia and New Zealand Industrial Engineering Ltd - Anziel.  They were the men behind the Nova.  Ian was also well known in yachting circles internationally; Alan became notable for his Aquada, the amphibious car!  

The Gibbs' idea for the Nova was to manufacture it in New Zealand, eventually achieving 90 percent New Zealand-made componentry in it.  The project had it's beginnings in 1964, when Alan Gibbs learned that Britain's Reliant Motor Company was developing a car for Israel to manufacture, and a seed was sown.

Reliant was well established in Britain, but unknown in New Zealand at the time.  The Reliant name would become well known here for their Scimitar sports car.  The Scimitar used a Ford of Britain drivetrain.  Reliant and Ford already had a strong relationship, as was evident in the car for Israel, which used Ford's 1500cc Cortina motor and transmission, plus many other Ford parts.  The body was Reliant's own, of reinforced fibreglass plastic on a full steel box-section frame or chassis.

At that time the New Zealand motor industry was highly regulated.  Indeed, the entire economy was regulated, controlled by import and export licence requirements.  Yes - even if you wanted to export from New Zealand one needed a licence - that way, the government could ensure the proceeds were banked to a New Zealand account.  The main reason for all of this was to control New Zealand's balance of payments.

What Anziel was offering in the Nova was a motor car that was largely manufactured in New Zealand, thus saving on import costs, stimulating our engineering industries and improving the availability of motor cars for New Zealanders.

What could possibly go wrong?

Because of the strong connection between Reliant and Ford, and because the tale of the Nova closely relates to the New Zealand motor industry at the time, the full story is included in the book Ford in New Zealand - Driving Ahead.  However, here's some clues.

The Nova was revealed to the government in Wellington in September, 1967.  It was then heavily promoted to the public, which generated great interest.  One of Wellington's large department stores brought in their construction workers to remove a street-front display window and build ramps so as to get the car in to their store window!  I suspect the terrific colour photo above was probably taken during that period when the car was being heavily promoted around Wellington.  Everyone wanted to see this concept car - indeed, the whole Nova affair is a fascinating tale.

Unwittingly, this author knew the Anziel Nova really well.  When I was a boy, Ian Gibbs and his family were our next door neighbours in Auckland.  The Nova was usually parked at their home.  Later, when they were old enough to drive, Mr Gibbs' (as I called him, of course) two daughters, Angela and Susan, used the prototype car as their Auckland runabout!  I have been interested in the Nova concept car ever since.

But little did I know, as a wee boy, of it's importance to the story of the New Zealand motor industry and the way our economy worked back then. 

When Ian and Anne Gibbs retired they relocated to the Bay of Islands, and they took the Nova with them.  It became a familiar sight in the area - one photo of it parked at Kerikeri airport is well-known and was the cause of great speculation at the time.  When Ian Gibbs died, around ten years ago, the Nova was handed down to his brother Alan.  To this day the Nova is kept at The Farm, his property on the Kaipara Harbour.

And it does venture out from time to time.  Indeed in 2017 the Nova appeared at the Motor Trade Association centenary event in Wellington, where I managed to snap the appalling photos below....  

Sadly, by then the Nova had lost her original registration plate of DD5254 in favour of the personalised NOVA plate.

But the important thing is that this important and unique piece of New Zealand motor industry history has survived!

Contrary to what some believe, this is the only example of the Nova ever built.  Israel did begin manufacturing a version of the same base model by Reliant for their home market, but it was Turkey who really got into mass production of it.  Known in Turkey as the Anadol it was built between 1966 and 1975.

When I interviewed Alan Gibbs for the Ford book way back in 2006 on the Nova, he said to me that it was good that the New Zealand government turned down the proposed New Zealand-made car.  "We would've lost millions."  I asked, why?  It was because the government kept changing its mind and moving the goal posts (yes, and sometimes to places where they became so obscure they were invisible - but, I digress!).  Remembering that the raison d'ĂȘtre for the Nova was to overcome import licensing, from 1971 the government had begun removing restrictions on the economy - hence Alan Gibbs' comment.

But this is all covered in detail in pages 239 to 241 of the Ford in New Zealand book (see below).  The book explains - hopefully in simple language - all of the influences that governed the motor industry in New Zealand, from whoa to go.  Knowing why things were as they were was important to me as I researched the book - that'll explain why it took 16 years to produce, maybe.  But there was another book that, having read it and having set it aside to keep in my small library, convinced me of the importance of telling the full story.  That book was The Trekka Dynasty - the story of the Trekka, by Todd Niall.  For accuracy and ease of reading, I cannot recommend his work highly enough.  If one wants to really understand how things worked in New Zealand back then, one should read the Trekka book - and I can only hope my effort is up there with his.

The Ford in New Zealand book is definitely still available for purchase.  Click here to find out more.


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