From a childhood dream to a reputation as one of the most renowned hot rod builders in the business, John Reid’s story is one of hard work and dedication

Hot rodding since 1966, with five decades of national and international titles under his belt, John ‘JR’ Reid is showing no sign of slowing down. His business, Rods by Reid, which is based in Tauranga, will celebrate its 20th anniversary later this year. The Rods by Reid team, led by JR, includes his ever-supportive wife, Janet (aka ‘Flick’), and ace sheet-metal craftsman Nakija Klaus. What an outstanding time it’s been, as JR and the team have well and truly put New Zealand rodding on the world stage.

From an early age, JR was at the top of his game. His lifetime obsession with hot rodding — a mixture of hard work and dedication — has been acknowledged by his fellow rodders: a founding member of Hamilton’s Riverside Rodders, he has been made a life member of the club, an honouree of the Scroungers Hall of Fame, and an inductee of the LVVTA Wall of Honour. His achievements have also been recognized internationally.

To backtrack a little: it was the September 1964 issue of Hot Rod magazine (US), with the Big John Mazmanian Willys gasser, that lit the fuse for JR. As a kid, he would harass his dad to take him to the speedway — JR and Flick are still avid speedway fans. That, together with the inspiration of early speedway cars, kit-set model hot rod and dragster cars, and American hot rod magazines, set the tone for the quality level of the cars JR wanted to build. 

After leaving school at 16, JR bought a ’39 Ford coupe. He modified it a bit before stepping up to build a T-bucket of sorts. ‘Vandal’ was finished in 1971; to this day, in its restored guise, it turns heads. The wildly raked custom body and intricate fabrication and design were like nothing else on the scene. Winning its class, People’s Choice, and Top-Judged Engineering at its first show made for an impressive debut. Being on an apprentice wage as an automotive electrician didn’t deter JR; he knew what he wanted and finished only when he could call it just that. 

Vandal was later rebuilt and renamed ‘Black Sabbath’. It continued to be a national award winner through the ’70s. The car was inspired by an American-based car called ‘Jokers Wild’, which competed at the Oakland Roadster Show (the former name of the Grand National Roadster Show, or GNRS). Whether you like the Vandal or Black Sabbath guise, the car was, and still is, one of New Zealand’s most iconic hot rods. Based on a Dodge body and powered by a Ford Y-block engine, the car was driven up and down New Zealand — as is often the case with Rods by Reid vehicles.

Today, JR has sure come a long way from building Vandal in his parents’ single garage in Hamilton with limited tools and income. Over the years, JR built his own cars (after hours), including a flamed 1940 Ford pickup and ‘Elderberry Wine’ — a 1930 Model A delivery, which was a triple National Champion.

The luscious red delivery featured all the latest components of the era, including Truespoke wheels, chromed undercarriage, grey Dralon interior, and a Jag rear end. The car now lives in the US. Next up was the debut of ‘BILIT’ in 1992. BILIT was a 1930 Model A coupe, which again featured all the latest gear, including four-wheel independent suspension, much billet alloy, Webers on a small-block Chev engine, monochromatic paint, and full leather upholstery. 

As well as his personal rides, JR has wired many other top New Zealand rods, and friends have always commissioned him to carry out various engineering and fabrication jobs on their hot rods.  In 1994, JR and Flick opened ‘Rods by Reid’, a full-time hot rod fabrication shop based on their property in Te Puna, just north of Tauranga.

At the time, hot rodding was nowhere near as mainstream as it has become these days, and JR really deliberated about going full-time building hot rods. Would the industry grow to a point at which the shop could build on the Reid name both locally and internationally? Yep, it sure would! From those humble beginnings to today, JR has always said he didn’t want Rods by Reid to be the biggest hot rod shop in New Zealand but the best, with the motto ‘Do it once, do it right’. 

The official crowning of Rods by Reid on the international stage came when Steve Payne’s Reid-built cabriolet, ‘Speed 33’, was a Top Five finalist for America’s Most Beautiful Street Rod at the 2011 Goodguys West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton, California, and won Altered Street Roadster (pre 1935) and Outstanding Hot Rod Engine at the 2012 GNRS in Pomona.
As they celebrate 20 years in business, JR, Flick, and Nakija continue to offer world-class fabrication and parts.

They always have something exciting in the workshop, be it a turnkey build or product development. In 1996, Rods by Reid gained LVVTA Type Approval for its Lo-Ride independent front suspension (IFS), suitable for cars with pre-1935 bodies.

This was followed by Lo-Ride II, designed for fat-fendered cars. Then came Lo-Boy IFS, followed by a progression that was to include independent rear suspension based on a Winters quick-change centre section.

Just last year, the Wide-Track IFS was introduced, with a 61- or 59-inch wheel track suitable for larger American- or Australian-bodied street machines, classics, and muscle cars. The IFS systems have been used throughout New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the US, and are gaining a global reputation. 

Just as John Reid has played a major part in New Zealand’s colourful and rich hot rod history, so has Rods by Reid as a company, putting out some of the world’s finest hot rods. What started as a passion has resulted in JR and Flick truly living the dream, and we all benefit from what they’ve produced. 

This article originally featured in the August 2014 issue of NZV8 (Issue No. 111). You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the mag now: