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Motoring: Lightburn Zeta -1963

The 1950s were years of great challenge for a world recovering from the effects of the greatest war it had ever experienced. There was a new optimism, especially in young, developing countries like Australia. The challenge was great but there was a shortage of both raw materials, manpower and money to finance the progesss that the dreamers of the decade planned on bringing into reality.

Such a dreamer was Harold Lightburn, whose Lightburn company at Camden near Adelaide, made tools, cement mixers, washing machines and fiberglass boats. Following the successful launch of General Motors Holden's first Australian made motor car, the Holden FX, in 1956, Lightburn was one of many who saw the need for a locally made, low cost small car. In Europe, micro cars such as the Goggomobile, and BMW Isetta were being released onto the market so it seemed obvious that, were his company to enter into the car manufacturing industry, it should be with such a vehicle.

Being a manufacturer of fibreglass boats, it was natural that Lightburn chose fibreglass as the material from which to build its car bodies. The rights to the British Anzani-built Astra car were obtained (see below), and a new fiberglass station wagon body which could be moulded at the Lightburn factory was designed for it. Called the Zeta, the car was a hideous assemblage of jutting, ill-conceived shapes and angles, with tailfins on the roof. There was no tailgate. In spite of its awkward shape, Lightburn was confident that the car would sell, particularly at the price point set which made it the cheapest new car ever to be released on the Australian market.

Besides its unusual shape, the Lightburn Zeta was very much a mechanical oddity also. It was powered by a Villiers 325cc twin cylinder two stroke engine which drove the front wheels. A novel feature was that it could go as fast in reverse as it could travelling forward by reason of the simple design of the drive train. It has four gears in each direction, which was hardly a safety feature considering it had a top speed of around 95 km/hr. . Neither was a fuel gauge - it was in fact a clear glass section of the fuel line that Lightburn marketed the car through a network of Alfa Romeo dealerships he owned.

The vehicle's commercial success was not only stymied by its unattractive looks, but also by the unfortunate timing of its release at the same time as the Morris Mini. Comparisons were naturally made between the two cars and in just about every area except price and fuel consumption, the Mini won hands down. The car was entered in the 1964 Ampol 7000-mile 14 day cross-country trial, and whilst it performed admirably, to most people it remained a curiosity only. The company showed a series II facelifted prototype in its last year which gave the car a more "normal" shape, but this promise of better things came too late to save the car and production ceased soon after.

The rights to the Meadows Frisky Sprint - a low, sleek Michelotti-designed sports car, were purchased from Raymond Flower at the time of his first company's collapse in 1959. Designer Gordon Bedson was persuaded to leave Frisky and join Lightburn at this time with a brief to develop the Zeta Roadster Sports. He bought with him the prototype Frisky Sprint as well as a supply of fifty motors by Fichtel&Sachs;, the 493cc engine from the legendary FMR "Tiger".

Zeta Roadster Sports

The Frisky Sprint did have doors - shallow bottom-hinged ones - but they were deleted for the Zeta Sports in the interests of body strength. The windscreen was changed, the tail restyled, and the final drive altered. The car did not meet New South Wales' lighting regulations, so some cars were fitted with additional free-standing headlamps on the hood to gain compliance. It seems most Zeta Sports were built in 1961, but the car was not introduced until the summer of 1964 for an unknown reason. Powered by a 494 cc 2-cylinder two-stroke engine which developed 20.5 BHP, the car had a top speed of 125kph, compared to the sedan's top speed or around 95kph. While Lightburn had his network of Alfa Romeo dealerships at the ready, they were underwhelmed with orders, and only some 28 were sold.

Lightburn Zeta models produced:

Sedan 2dr Man 4sp 325cc (1963/1965)
Sedan Deluxe 2dr Man 4sp 325cc (1964)
Roadster Sports 2dr Man 4sp 500cc (1964)
Total sedans sold from 1963 to 1966: 363 vehicles
Total roadsters sold from 1964 to 1966: 28 vehicles

The Anzani Astra - the car on which the Zeta was based

When its motor cycle production slowed, British manufacturer Anzani went into light car production and in 1954 a subsidiary division developed the Astra. This small utility vehicle had been designed and produced originally by JARC Motors of Isleworth and known then as the Little Horse but lack of funds meant the production rights were sold off. British Anzani immediately installed their 322cc motorcycle engine into the rear underfloor engine compartment, changed some of the design specifications, renamed it the Astra Utility and marketed it to 'tradesmen, travellers and service engineers'.

It had a load carrying capacity of 37cu.ft and it's 15bhp engine and three speed gearbox gave a claimed top speed of 55 mph with 60 mpg economy. It had independent suspension by swing axles, hydraulic brakes and it seated two in relative comfort all at an on the road price of ?347.16s.0d including purchase tax Towards the end of its existence it was also sold in kit form with or without body parts for home assembly. As sales slowed production was taken over by Gill Cars of Paddington who produced two new cars based on the Astra chassis and mechanical parts: a two seater coupe called the Getabout and a saloon. After a short and not very successful career production ceased in 1959 although there is evidence of sales into 1960.

Zeta Series II

Zeta Utility

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