I suppose the best way to start today's post is to explain how the fuel gauge works in a Lightburn Zeta Sedan. The tank is mounted under the dashboard, feeding fuel (with the help of Ms. Gravity) down to the engine.
What a convenient location! All you'd need to do for a fuel gauge is give the driver a clear tube so he or she could watch the fuel slosh around, and…
The fuel gauge was a clear tube.
A road test by Wheels magazine in 1974 said of the gauge, "…it read anywhere from full to empty depending on gradient, throttle and probably Greenwich mean time."
Further to the terribleness: there was no rear hatch; access to the rear seats or cargo hold meant "easily" removing three seats. So was the Zeta Sedan terrible…or awesome in a few weird ways?
The story of the Zeta is well-told in a number of places (so be sure to read the sources if you're interested in learning more) but at the most basic its creation is down to a businessman, Harold Lightburn. Lightburn was convinced—rightfully so—that becoming a manufacturer of goods would not only turn a tidy profit, but become an important employer in Australia.
On this point, many people say, "Why would you want to buy a car from a company that also makes washing machines?"
That's oversimplification; they also made concrete mixers, electric rideabouts, fibreglass boats, trailer axles, hydraulic jacks, industrial wheels, power tools, spin dryers, wheelbarrows…
…and were the Australian Alfa Romeo importer.
To be introduced in 1963 and designed in just 12 months, Lightburn wanted to take fibreglass technology for the bodywork and ensure the Zeta was an affordable second car for Australians. Underneath, its surprisingly rugged construction didn't help the driving experience but at least made the car reasonably sturdy.
It was sturdy enough to compete in a 7,000 mile trial through some of Australia's harshest terrain in the Ampol Trial, and was a support vehicle for one of Sir Malcolm Campbell's Bluebird Land Speed Record attempts.
The marketing for the car was extensive, and hilarious—including one bit of copy that counted the advantages of your kids sleeping in the rear cargo area as "They're perfectly safe, too – They can't fall from rear windows* or doors**!"
* Because they didn't open!
** Because there are no rear doors.
Twelve reasons to own a Lightburn Zeta
- Costs less to own. It's the lowest priced new car on the market!
- It's easy to park. Needs less space, less gear changing, too!
- Has amazing versatility. Is really three different vehicles in one!
- It never needs water. Has no radiator or hoses to look after!
- Costs less to register. Lowest 4-wheel vehicle rate in all States!
- It's easy to clean. Perfectly flat floor can be swept out in seconds.
- Has proven reliability. Tested over 1,000,000 miles and won award in Ampol Trial.
- It has front wheel drive. Gives better traction, better road holding!
- Costs less to maintain. Has fewer working parts to look after!
- It's backed by service. Service and spare parts available everywhere!
- Has more carrying space. 17 sq. ft. or 62 cu. ft. with 3 seats removed!
- It's made in Australia. Built by Australians who aim to please you!
Ok, ok, enough marketing copy. Power came from a 324cc Villiers 2-cylinder air cooled engine, with front wheel drive. Sadly, the matching four-speed manual transmission had no reverse gear, so like a few other microcars you had to turn the engine off and re-start it "backwards" to move in reverse.
Doing so meant you also had four reverse speeds—and a top speed in reverse not far from the speed you could do travelling forward—which I'm sure in some cases led to an involuntary cracking open of the rear bodywork.
With fewer than 350 made in total, the Zeta Sedan is rare and sought after by microcar enthusiasts, along with its 'Ute sister car (only 8 made!) and Sports—which was essentially an updated Meadows Frisky Sport.
Why were so few completed? Remember up top where I mentioned it was designed to be an affordable second car for Australian families?
Do you know what car went on sale in Australia at essentially the same time? The Morris Mini…for about $100 more.
That was the end of that.