Words: Penn McKay
Photos: Jared Clark
“A driver’s car pure and simple … Everything about it is quality … predictable and sure-footed ¦ awesomely quick ¦ breathtaking ¦ a style and distinction all its own ¦ acceleration figures that will leave you boggle—minded.” Sports Car World, 1969
Sporadically I make missionary forays to the West Island — that large lump of land that completes the triangle of North Island, South Island and West Island. Recently, I made one of these trips, and drove from Melbourne to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road — a very distinctive route because, unlike most Australian highways, it has a whole series of interesting twists and turns, allowing Aussies to practice proper driving skills.
To illustrate my point, on the return trip via an Australian transworld highway, we easily averaged 100kph for well over 600 kilometres. Whenever there was a little curve there would be a plethora of signs emphasising the fact that the road was no longer perfectly straight, and it was time to slowly turn the steering wheel.
But the Great Ocean Road is a real drivers’ thoroughfare. I gather that local car enthusiasts frequently have club runs along this road, stopping overnight at a motel where we also stopped. Consequently, we found ourselves joining a party of friendly West Islanders who were enjoying driving a group of very attractive sports cars which were totally new to me.
A mixture of coupes and convertibles from the same marque, Australian-designed and built and badged as ‘Bolwell’ — the collection included variations on the theme, illustrating how Bolwell Cars had developed its line of cars.
I’d never heard of them, let alone ever seen one, but I must say I was very impressed — not just with the looks but also with the specifiications. Clearly, Bolwells progressively became more beautiful — to my Italian-biased eye — but all came equipped at the very least with a large maroon Holden six or a chrome-topped Ford V8. Both are engines I have a lot of respect for. Heaps of potential, simple, strong and totally reliable just how I like my motors.
I’m not one to idealise Australians, but since they are close relatives we have to give them the cognisance that that status deserves, and that includes admiring their toys. — made clear that this car deserves lots of respect. I’m very inclined to the thought that the only real limitation to the marque’s reputation concerns the smallness of total production — less than 1000 Bolwells all up and a mere 130 or so Nagaris were produced.
But, as you’ll read elsewhere, Bolwell is returning this year and very much as a The particular toy featured in this article — a MkVIII Bolwell Nagari — is something that excites my very considerable jealousy, and I’d look at one of them, no matter what the condition, if it came up for grabs. Style, looks, simplicity and performance all combine to give cause to envy our younger brothers for a change.
Indeed, I would even marry one of their (Nagari-owning) women. When it comes to naming a marque of car, I get the feeling that Bolwell is one of those names that doesn’t stir up much in the way of male testosterone — not like emotively loaded blasts from the past such as Jaguar, Ferrari, or even MG. However, Bolwell never made a car that didn’t have sporting aspirations.
Consequently, a morning spent with our featured Nagari — owned by Simon Peryer swept-up reincarnation of the classic Nagari. In any case, even with the older versions it wouldn’t take long to get emotionally tangled up with this Australian beauty and want to own one. Simon Peryer’s Nagari is believed to be the only example in New Zealand, and it’s presented in a prime Concours condition — exciting seriously lustful interest. It’s not a putdown to term Simon’s Nagari as a poor man’s Ferrari — mind you, Simon also uses a ’65 Mustang as an everyday car, so he must have a V8 fixation — and the economics to indulge it.
History behind the marque
Campbell Bolwell was an enthusiast from early on, and spent his youth in the ’50s putting together cars and helping his brother, Graeme, build up a Jaguar-Healey special. A third brother, Winston, was also into making cars when in 1960, the brothers produced in succession a Bolwell MkI, MkII and MkIII, leading to their fi rst production kit.
This kit — the MkIV of 1963 — was for a Clubman-type racer made to take a Cortina or Peugeot 1.6-litre engine, or even a Zephyr or (grey) Holden six. The Bolwells made about 220 cars from 1961-’65, selling more than 50 kits for enthusiasts to build up at home. Some of these early cars are still out there — it’s believed that some are still unfinished. These were not your everyday models — a dozen hardtop variations had gullwing doors, As a footnote, it appears that the car experience built up the Bolwells’ business as specialists in glass fi bre construction, a medium in which they would become very big, and still are — many of the giant truck units in Australia are equipped with Bolwell-made cabs. Today, the firm is substantial, successful, and currently behind the proposed re-launch of a new version of the Nagari.
Released in 1964, the MkV Bolwell was a distinct step forward, and standardised the use of Holden components. This car showed that Bolwell Cars was serious about producing component cars with a wide range of options, and suitable for road or track use. The MkVII, released in 1966, established the company’s reputation for offering quality yet affordable sports cars. What happened to the MkVI? Well, only one was made, a mid-engined car that looked a bit like a Lotus 23 but was deemed too expensive for production.
The MkV’s Lotus 23 looks are not too surprising because, around this time, Graeme had just spent about six months working with Lotus and Colin Chapman, so it’s hardly surprising that Bolwell took some cues from that experience — notably with the final development of the Nagari.
Bolwell Cars had already been taking design cues from Lotus, and Graeme was able to bring Chapman’s philosophy on design and performance back with him and adapt it to local requirements. However, while agreeing with the general concepts established at Lotus, he didn’t entirely agree with some of Chapman’s ideas.
Nagari — Aboriginal for ‘flowing’
Soon after his return from the UK, Graeme started to modify a MkVII body very much in the light of his recent Lotus (and, by implication, European) experience. For example, the bonnet on the MkVII was a fairly flimsy affair, but the Nagari’s has a solid feel to it, due mainly to the deeply rolled edges and the fitting of hinge pins directly into the bonnet.
The MkVII had been built around Holden components, and the whole car was constructed on a sheet metal backbone chassis similar to that used by the Lotus Elan.
When I met club members at that Australian motel, I was very taken with the classic red Holden straight-six motors sitting in the earlier Bolwells. I also noted that the engines were well set back in their engine bays — whether Holden six or Ford V8. For the Nagari, Ford was to provide most of the mechanical components, and the chassis was lengthened and modifi ed to accommodate Ford’s V8 range of engines — even then the Ford V8 was 30 per cent lighter than the Holden motor of the MkVII. The Nagari’s standard engine was originally Ford’s Windsor 302 V8 (at 4949cc), but that was replaced with the Cleveland 302 within a couple of years. Importantly, the engine mounted as far back as possible gives a weight distribution close to 50:50.
In standard form the Windsor V8 put out 179kW (240bhp) and 474Nm of torque — enough to propel the 927kg car to 161kph in 15.9 seconds with a top speed of 209kph. Standing quarter-mile times of 14.9 seconds were recorded as standard.
Sports Car Quarterly magazine compared the Nagari in 1969 with a Morgan Plus 8 (standing quarter in 16.0 and 0-161 in 22.0), a Porsche 911 T (16.6, 24) and the equally priced Lotus Elan SE (16.8, 25.0).
There were also a few cars produced with Ford 351 V8 engines (at 5752cc), which cut quarter- mile times to 13.8 seconds, reaching 161kph just a second later and continuing on to a top speed of around 241kph.
Suspension was by coil springs all round — independent on unequal length wishbones of Bolwell’s own design and adjustable dampers up front; while the rear used a standard Falcon GT live axle with two oblique torque arms, trailing arms and adjustable dampers.
Austin 1800 power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering helped with the damned corners. Stoppers were Kelsey Hayes 286mm ventilated front disc brakes and 254mm rear drums, each set run on separate circuits. Bolwell-designed 14×6-inch alloy wheels were supplied with Michelin XAS tyres.
Simon Peryer’s Nagari
I came back from West island determined to share with NZCC readers the delights of the Bolwell, although we didn’t have a reference car in New Zealand. Still, it’s no good getting older if you aren’t getting luckier, and that’s what happened. A returning Kiwi, Simon Peryer, contacted the editor, wondering if we might be interested in his freshly imported Nagari. The decision was easy. Simon’s car was bought sight unseen, and he had it driven to Sydney where he thought his job was taking him — following stints in Hong Kong and Singapore — but, more recently, his firm decided that as a good Kiwi it was time he had a recharge and so he packed up his Bolwell and came home.
He first ran across Bolwells in the same way that I did — meeting them on a club run and being instantly smitten with the cars. Also, like me, he’d never seen one before then. The Nagari’s unique styling got to him — unquestionably it’s a sophisticated design worthy of any high-end European marque.
“I think that the rear deck grows on you,” Simon said. But for me it was the best part of the designed appearance, andNZCC deputy editor, Tim Nevinson, believed that Bolwell had done this buttressed rear deck better than anybody else — there you go, youth and beauty agreeing with age and wisdom. Moulds for the Nagari’s glass-fi bre body are still available to club members so there are no panel problems and, in fact, many Nagaris (including our featured example) have been fi tted with new bodies which, of course, take advantage of more modern glass-fi bre developments. Prior to his return home, Simon decided that the Bolwell deserved some attention — the car used four litres of oil on the trip to Sydney. Additionally, Simon has a history with motor sport, having extensively raced a Datsun 240Z. He didn’t buy this very potent Aussie Express to give his granny a thrill.
Subsequently, the Nagari’s tired V8 was rebuilt to give 201kW (270bhp) — but even that wasn’t enough so Simon imported a 302 competition block with a stroker kit and petrol injection. The end result is 317kW (425bhp) at the fl ywheel — 246kW (330bhp) at the wheels. All that power travels, via a Ford top-loader gearbox, to a 2.9 Borg Warner limited slip differential. The car’s basic running gear is Falcon GT at the rear, Holden Torana up front.
Rear suspension is by a four-link system with a Panhard rod, coil springs and adjustable Koni shock absorbers. Konis are also used at the front, while AP Racing brakes provide the stopping power. In this form, this Nagari has now completed 10,000 to 11,000km. To me its a very beautiful car with loads of everything good built in, proprietary parts means no spares problems and, just to top it off, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable muscle car with dazzling performance and a top speed estimated to be around 257kph (160mph).
On The Road
Simon commented that when you’re in the Nagari, you’re low down as if sitting in a bath and you reach up for the gear lever. We have our own version of The Stig (Tim Nevinson), who takes over from us oldies when it comes to road-testing truly serious cars — and the Nagari is very serious!
Tim is by trade a development engineer and used to work for Jaguar as a development driver — he’s forgotten more about that sort of driving than most of us know. Actually, Tim’s usually sent on these road tests because I’m a devout coward and, anyway, his grin is so big that the cameras easily capture it when he’s behind the wheel of anything. That grin shows that he’s enjoying everything — either that or he’s using something mind-alteringly pleasant.
Tim commented that the Nagari’s very long throttle travel meant you could drive it normally, “If you want to really boot it, you’ve got to make a conscious effort to use the grunt — beautiful noise, too!”
I felt brave enough to passenger Simon in the car, and when he gave the Nagari its head the bellow of eight big pots provided sound effects to accompany the physical forces pinning you back in the seat — helping me understand Tim’s comments. I love this car; not only is it a giant-killer but you know that every part in it is simple and efficient and can be bought at the local dairy.
BOLWELL NAGARI COUPE
1974 Bolwell Nagari coupe
2006 Bolwell Nagari coupe
A$9,900 (when new)
4.9-litre Windsor V8
Welded box frame Carbon-fibre capsule,
3.0-litre Toyota V6
Five-speed manual, possible auto
Carbon fibre, fibreglass
A NEW BOLWELL NAGARI FOR 2007
The heart of the new model, expected to debut this year, is likely to be a transverse, mid-mounted supercharged version of the alloy, 24-valve quad-cam 3.0-litre V6 engine used in the superseded Toyota Camry. The worked engine in the Nagari is expected to produce 260kW, providing almost the same level of performance as the latest model Holden Commodore’s 6.0-litre V8 and on par with the Ford Falcon’s 5.7-litre V8.
Campbell Bolwell expects this urge should push the Nagari from 0-100ph in the low four-second mark. A carbonfibre centre capsule with a front and rear welded space-frame will give the Nagari its strength.
The prototype has a big front-mounted radiator, with Campbell’s design for a four-wheel independent suspension setup with a double-wishbone configuration.
Track-day racers are catered for, with adjustable Koni springs and shock absorbers planned for the production model. The high-performance brakes are vented and slotted discs — 330mm on the front and 295mm on the rear.
Design elements carried over from the original will include the swooping sill line running down the side of the car, and the deep flying-buttress pillars at the rear.
The shape of the windows on each door will also hark back to the original. Like the original, it’s still a family business.
Campbell is the director and head designer, brother Graeme is the technical manager, and Campbell’s sons, Owen, and Nagari co-designer, Vaughan, will look after marketing and production respectively.
Campbell says he never lost the dream that one day Bolwell would produce another Nagari, even after the company was forced into liquidation in 1974, weighed down by “onerous” legislation designed to stem the flood of high-performance cars taking to Australian roads.
I couldn’t have put this article together without the very considerable help given by members of this club — notably Maurice Alexander and Don Elliot. Both gentlemen took pity on my dearth of data and sent loads of material. Which has largely been regurgitated here in the article. Bolwell Car Clubs exist across Australia, and they constantly hear from people around the world that own a Bolwell — from Spain, and Germany to the United States.
Bolwell Car Club of Australia:
Bolwell Cars: www.bolwellcarcompany.com