The Ampol Rally in 1964 was a baptism of fire for an unknown car, newly born, barely christened.
It was the Zeta – the lowest priced, lowest powered car ever to enter such a long, gruelling reliability trial, not just in Australia, but in the world.
The Zeta team finished the punishing 7,000-mile course without any damage – one of only 12 to do so in a field of 151.
They’d proven their reliability but it still wasn’t enough to make them sell.
Designed and manufactured by Lightburn and Co. Ltd in Adelaide, the Zeta was launched in three models – a runabout sedan, a sports model (pictured) and a utility.
All models featured reinforced fibreglass bodies fitted to heavy duty steel frames and were powered by two-stroke air-cooled engines.
In fact, the Zeta had such a tiny engine that salesmen never took the whole family for a test-drive because they couldn’t be sure the car would make it.
The runabout sold for £595 while a deluxe version (with special interior trim) sold for £615. Both were available in blue or white tonings.
The sports model (featuring a doorless body designed by Michelotti of Italy and a high-performance 500cc two-stroke rear-mounted engine capable of a top speed of 75 mph) was available in bright red or white and sold for £699.
The Zeta utility had a payload area of 5cwt, was powered by a Villiers two-cylinder engine and was priced at £585.
The method of engaging reverse gear was unusual in a Zeta. The motor had to be turned off, the ignition key depressed against a spring loading, and then turned on again.
This reversed the polarity of the starter motor and, in effect, the engine then simply ran “backwards”. In this way, the driver could use every gear in “reverse” and theoretically travel backwards at 50 mph!