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Drive Life : September 16th 2011
1HERSA1 F023 SPECIAL REPORT UTES, VANS & 4WDS A two-stroke of genius With a tiny engine, minimal space and a top speed of 60km/h, Australia's rarest utility is set to star at the Deniliquin muster, writes Clive Hopkins. Small world . . . Don Lock with his Zeta Lightburn. Photo: Bethanie Sessions Home-grown V8s usually hog the limelight at the famous Deniliquin Ute Muster but this year, a tiny two-stroke workhorse with a fibreglass body is set to be the star of the show. The Lightburn Zeta utility is guaranteed to stand out from the estimated 7000 to 8000 utes making the trip to country NSW on the weekend of September 30. With only eight ever made, and just three believed to still exist, the Zeta is Australia's -- and perhaps the world's -- rarest utility. Don Lock, a retired musician from Kyabram, Victoria, bought the Zeta in 1992. ''It was built in 1964 in South Australia by the Lightburn Company, which was better known for making fibreglass washing machines,'' he says. Having cracked the washing- machine market, company owner Harold Lightburn decided the car market couldn't be much harder. Lightburn Zetas were made as sedans, station wagons and a cute sports model that looks like it stepped out of a Jetsons cartoon. But it's the ute version that remains the real rarity. ''I spoke with the foreman who worked at the factory at the time and he confirmed that only eight of them were ever made,'' Lock says. The engine on the Zeta is a Villiers two-stroke twin-cylinder 324cc; basically, a motorcycle engine. Many components, including the fibreglass body, were manufactured locally and built by hand, meaning no two were ever quite the same. Lock recalls seeing Zetas in what might be charitably described as their ''heyday'' on the streets of Melbourne in the 1960s. ''They were always very unusual colours, like pale green or powder blue,'' he says. ''Washing-machine colours, I suppose.'' He then saw the first Zeta that he came to own while reading Unique Cars magazine. ''I saw the picture but it wasn't as I remembered them,'' he says. ''I phoned the owner, who was a farmer in Leongatha, Victoria, who insisted, 'It's got Zeta written all over it!' -- which it had. I think I was probably the only one who phoned about it. I offered him $1500, including for spare parts, and he seemed happy. He even delivered it to me.'' Lock worked on the vehicle to retun it to a roadworthy condition and solved a smoky-exhaust problem by reducing the oil/petrol ratio to one in 100. Melbourne in the 1990s was perhaps not the best place to drive a slow car. ''It would do 60 kilometres per hour on the flat,'' he says, ''and 75 down a hill. It was never an everyday car, just a fun thing to do.'' Having bought his first Zeta ute -- a Series II, as it turned out -- Lock went looking for a Series I and it's that one that's going up to Deniliquin. Over the years, Lock has also owned two of the sedans. Apart from its distinctive looks, the most striking feature of the Zeta is its four reverse gears. Being a two-stroke, the entire engine can be run backwards, using the same four forward gears. ''On the key start, you turn the key clockwise to go forward and anticlockwise to go backwards,'' Lock says. ''To reverse the direction, you need to turn the engine off, wait for a complete stop, then start again. The engine timing in reverse is a little out but it does work.'' Another oddity is that the fuel gauge is a piece of transparent hose with a direct connection to the tank, which, as Lock puts it, ''is fine when you're stationary but more difficult when you're going along''. Apart from owning a vehicle that looks so different from the norm, what else appeals about the Zeta? For Don Lock, it all boils down to one word -- humour. ''If I go down the street, I start turning heads long before I get there because of the noise,'' he says. ''Once they see what's coming, there's usually a smile and a wave.''
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