HISTORY – How it started

The Trekka emerged as the ultimate response to policies pursued by successive New Zealand Government’s aimed at boosting the homegrown content of the local motor industry.

By making new cars scarce and expensive, policies which began evolving from the 1950s offered concessions to firms able to increase the local content of cars assembled inside New Zealand.

The Trekka was a locally-produced, steel body with canvas or fibreglass canopies, bolted to the chassis and engine of the Skoda Octavia Combi, which dated form the late 1950′s.

The Trekka concept was first explored by Phil Andrews’ Motor Lines firm, which imported Skodas. It was finally produced by Motor Holdings, an independent car assembler largely owned by the Turner family, and masterminded by its “rough diamond” managing director, Noel Turner.

The secret of the Trekka’s brief success was the high proportion of its content which was produced in New Zealand. This allowed a more generous allocation of import licence for the Czechoslovakian mechanical kit. The Skoda kit was bought at bargain prices from the then Communist state, helping to make the Trekka almost the cheapest vehicle available in New Zealand. It was also exported to Australia and Indonesia.

The Trekka for several years was a steady seller, but import restrictions relaxed from 1970 saw it swept aside by more attractive, largely Japanese, vans and utilities.
Progressive lowering of import tariffs saw the end of New Zealand’s once highly-protected, booming local vehicle assembly, in 1998.

1968 saw the start of what was hoped would be a major export drive, as the first of around 46 Trekkas were shipped to Australia.
Despite Government-level negotiations securing duty-free entry for the Trekka, a lack of expertise in marketing and managing a distant market turned it into a flop.
A surprising number have survived. Several are known to exist in Victoria and
New South Wales. In Western Australia, engineer and Skoda restorer Ray Petty has located 6, and has fully restored one.
A handful were shipped to various Pacific Islands, but it was Indonesia which held the greatest hope. A complicated deal was struck to export the Trekka in kit form, for assembly in Indonesia. 100 kits were shipped in 1971. Payment proved problematic and it appears fewer than one third were built and sold.
The deal was finally buried in 1973.

The most ambitious test for the Trekka came in 1979 when five examples were flown by the RNZAF to South Vietnam.
The Department of External Affairs gifted the Trekkas to a civilian hospital in Qui Nhon where a team of New Zealand medical staff were working.
The Trekkas were used for general transport and occasionally as ambulances in what was to prove a testing environment for them. A chapter of THE TREKKA DYNASTY is devoted to the Vietnam experience.
The photos are courtesy of Qui Nhon team members Denis Montgomery and Rob Meier.

This is Motor Industries’ first “concept” vehicle built around 1964 by the maintenance department at Otahuhu. It had features including dual handbrakes to lock one or the other rear wheel to improve traction. It had cutaway doors a la Mini Moke.

This was before the name Trekka had been thought up for the vehicle. It was soon superceded by Trekka number 2 which had shed the dual handbrake idea and was built along the lines eventually used for the production vehicle.

The original vehicle has been lost. It was last seen around Taupo in the 1970’s. Phil Andrews who first floated the idea of the Trekka had used it around Taupo as a runabout, before parting company with it.

Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) has done one of the most comprehensive Trekka restorations, on one of two pre-production models.
The hand built vehicle was produced in 1965, closely resembling the eventual production model. However it had features such as a US Jeep-style fold-down split windscreen, and smaller cab area. It also had a different treatment of the headlights.
This vehicle was used to gain feedback and experience, including a long weekend surfing trip by a teenage Peter Turner, son of Motor Holdings head, Noel Turner – which it is fair to say found out a few weaknesses!
Phil Andrews, whose Palmerston North company Motor Lines first developed the Trekka concept, owned for a while the other, earlier pre-production model which had features such as cutaway doors. It has been lost without trace.

The Trekka emerged from decades of obscurity in 2003, taking a place on the world art stage at the 50th Venice Biennale, the world’s biggest art expo.
Taranaki-born artist Michael Stevenson’s installation “This is the Trekka” represented New Zealand with a $600,000 project which attracted nearly 60,000 international visitors.
Stevenson’s Trekka came largely from West Auckland, with parts taken from one found in Hamilton, and was rebuilt to new condition before being dismantled and shipped to Venice.
The installation told a story of contradictions that existed in New Zealand in the 1960’s, a democratic South Pacific nation striving for industrial independence, but managing to create its own vehicle only through trade with communist Czechoslovakia.

Other elements included a wall of butter boxes and the Moniac – the world’s first hydraulic computer developed by New Zealand economist Bill Phillips – all installed in a round 17th century church, La Maddelena.

Michael Stevenson’s Trekka work returned to New Zealand, eventually bought by the National Museum Te Papa and displayed at Wellington City Gallery in an exhibition from July to October 2005.

“Trekka Goes to Venice” is a  half hour documentary recorded in Venice at the opening of Michael Stevenson’s exhibition in 2003, which represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale.

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