Kiwis Rule! Meet Brian Ford of New Zealand and his Sonata Laboratories Special

Hi Gang…

More and more we are covering Forgotten Fiberglass stories from lands far, far away.  Today I have the honor of introducing you to our newest friend from New Zealand – Brian Ford.  Welcome aboard Brian!

In the last several months, Brian and I have corresponded via e-mail and have also talked by phone.  My “late at night” is his late afternoon – about 18 hours difference as I recall – but we have a great time talking up the cars.

And as with our friends in the UK, the Winston Churchill quote applies to our new friends in New Zealand:

“Two Nations Divided by a Common Language”

Some of the words and phrases we toss about don’t always translate – but that makes it all the more fun (and challenging!)  (Note: For those English language scholars out there, the quote above has been also attributed to Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw – but it still applies here nicely *grin*)


Meeting Brian Ford:

When we first started talking, Brian shared with me some fantastic work that he completed in creating a sports car based on a modified Mistral body – a car he calls the “Briford.”  More about those in future stories here.  But the source of today’s story has to do with his most recent find and acquisition.

Let’s turn it over to Brian and see what he has to say

Hi Geoff,

My latest acquisition believed to be one of 3 only cars made by Sonata Laboratories here in Christchurch, New Zealand. It has Ford 10 E93A running gear and a homemade ladder frame. If you look in the background you’ll see the Briford Sports and the sprint car I’ve been building.


Brian Ford








I asked Brian for a bit more information, and he sent the following along:

Hi Geoff,

I’ll just tell you what I know and leave it up to you to use what you want. I got hold of Kelvin Brown, he wrote a book on NZ (New Zealand) Ford 10 specials and owns a Buckler. He thought the car could be a SPF10 – 1 of 4 built (article to follow.)

I’ve discounted this as the body has a different grill/front and the tail/rear fenders are the wrong shape. Kelvin supplied a letter sent to him about the Sonata Laboratories car and from what I can gather this is what the car is. They were never named, only made 3 bodies and ran Ford 10 running gear.

He supplied a couple of photo’s which I’ll email you of the car painted white, red and how I brought it green. It also had the Austin A30 grill which is awful and won’t be used in the restoration. Anyway the spec’s are as I know them.

Built late 50’s, E93A 1172cc Ford 10 motor, 3 speed gearbox, diff, front axle, steering box and wheels. Mechanical brake’s, simple ladder frame using the original Ford front and rear cross members and the gearbox cross member welded to 2 1/2″ exhaust tube runners to form the ladder chassis.

Wheel base 85″, track 47″, 500×16 4 ply conventional tyres, tail shaft shortened about 12″ to bring the motor back in the chassis and improve weight distribution, and of coarse the 1 of 3 fibreglass body’s. Little cars like this weigh in at about 1100lb and with the Aquaplane twin carb inlet, high compression alloy head, and 4 branch exhaust (headers) manifold as they called them, this type of special would be capable of about 90mph.

Hot cam, ported, good valve springs etc. and they would exceed 100mph. Overhead inlet valve conversions like Wiliment power master and Elva were also available and 1172cc racing was very popular in Britain, New Zealand and Australia. Aquaplane still produce racing parts for these engine’s to this day. I’ll email you another couple of magazine articles supplied by Kelvin for you.

My intention is to restore the car back to how it was built but add an alloy Hogan head which were made here in NZ and make my own grill to fit the opening far neater.

Kind regards

Brian Ford

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This sounds like a great project and I look forward to sharing more with all of you as his restoration progresses.  We look forward to hearing from you Brian 🙂

So as you can tell, Brian is “all-in” and an enthusiastic supporter and participant of Forgotten Fiberglass.  And I’m excited that he will be sending in more stories concerning some of his cars and history that is unique to that wonderful new land of Forgotten Fiberglass that we’ve now discovered – New Zealand.

Be sure to post your comments below and welcome Brian to our group.  You’ll be hearing more from him, his cars and his thoughts here at Forgotten Fiberglass.

Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…

Glass on gang…



Kiwis Rule! Meet Brian Ford of New Zealand and his Sonata Laboratories Special — 39 Comments

  1. I have just purchased what I believe to be a Ching Ford 10 from Motueka. It was previously in the Wellington area before being purchased and move to Motueka some 9 years ago. I was told the motor had been reconditioned by the Wellington owner. The aim is to hill climb and historic race it. We are currently preparing it with roll bar race seat and a 105 E Anglia motor and 4 speed gearbox.This is to replace the Ford 10 motor and 3 speed gearbox.
    I am based in Christchurch and would be interested in any feedback on this particular vehicles history.

    • Hi Very interested to read all about the Noel Ching special.
      In 2001 I met a lovely lady in Auckland and after a few weeks of courting her she told me she had a old sports car in her mums shed in Takapuna and so on New Years day 2002 I decided we better go see her mum and introduce myself…sure enough in mums boatshed was that same little red car that is in the picture at the top of this thread… the pic that shows a car with spot lights and fabric top. I read that they are all based on Ford 10 however this car is fitted with a Mitsubishi GTO 2000 engine and 5 speed with a cut down Holden rear end. It is pretty wild to drive and becomes a little unpredictable once sideways but for now I am waiting to have a garage built so I can get it out of storage and bring it back to life.
      I would interested to find more info on this vehicle too.

  2. To all that have sent reply thank you very much. I don’t look at this sight very often so feel free to perhaps ring me Brian Ford 03 3849087 I don’t mean to ignore your comment’s I just don’t know there here

  3. Dear Brian Ford,

    I’m hoping you can help Ivor Coster from the Ashley Sportive website and myself to track down some history to the Frank Cantwell Puma registration DH 1681 that you owned and worked on. I much loved and owned the car in the mid to late 1980s before selling it to a gentleman in Tauranga. I purchased the car from a dealer in Nelson (lived in carters beach Westport in those days) and whilst in my care her little engine 105E anglia with twin throat weber was reconditioned by my mechanic boyfriend.

    I picked up an article regarding your mistrals on the NZ classic car magazine website and there was a pic of my old girl featured at the start of the article. The pic was black and white so I am wondering if you bought the car early in her life and possibly from Frank Cantwell himself, but am really really hoping that I’m wrong and that there is some possibility that you have the old girl in storage. She is currently deregistered and Ivor and I are still trying to trace what happened to her once she was sold on to a young man in Auckland (some time in the late 90s). We so hope she did not end up in a wrecker yard. Would you have any knowledge regarding the car. I have some great pics of her and would love to know where she ended up. Please if you have any info could you kindly let me know.

    many thanks

  4. I can’t attach a pic but hopefully this link will work. Taken in the early 1980’s at Pukekohe in NZ.


  5. Awesome history thank you to all involved, great links from Paul Jaray and Graham Vercoe. Very interesting, now I wonder is my chassis a Neil Ching or Alan Watson? I’d presume its a Ching from what I know of it and the fact the back fenders aren’t cut out to finished, or are they? It has an Aquaplane twin carb manifold and I have a Hogan alloy NZ made high compression head for the little E93A engine, a 4 speed Morris series E gearbox which in the process of fitting will convert it to open tail shaft but I’ll still retain the rod brakes.

    • Hi Brian, Ken Flashman here. I am a bit late getting on the bandwagon here but i built one of these when I was about 17 yrs old 1959 ish, similar to a “C” type Jaguar style, definitely the Ching model shape but…….I have a very different story to tell. I am from Auckland, One Tree Hill at the time I “discovered” a female mold in a local, to me, back yard. It was in not too good a condition, four pieces that bolted together to allow one to take a male mold from it. The female mold was made from fiberglass, the inside smooth of course, the outside rough fiberglass. It apparently had lain in this back yard for quite a few years as it was covered in gorse and undergrowth. After a lot of hassling, I managed to “procure” the female mold. With regards to what I am reading about these bodies and where they originated from maybe I am about to put the cat among the pigeons. I was told by the person whose yard this mold lay in for years that he didn’t own it, he had taken it, not necessarily stolen it, because of moneys owed to him or something along those lines. In the end, the guy in “possession” of the mold let me have it on the understanding that i was to take one male mold only from the female mold and when I was finished I was to cut the female mold up into small pieces and put them in the tip, which I did. The plot thickens. Much as I have read that an Alan Watson had originally made the “original” mold and after taking some molds off it he then on sold the original mold to a Mr. Ching of Nelson and somewhere Sonata Laboratories of Christchurch got their hands onto a female mold and produced more bodies. So what am I going on about??? I was told by the guy I got the mold from that it was a Ferris De Jong body, a well known sports car fiberglass body designer of the time. There seemed to be some thing going on behind the scenes that I wasn’t privy to, something to do with who owned what and who could use what!! We are talking 1958/9 here when I got my hands on it. I put it to whoever that one would think there was only one “original” mold to start with, was “my” female mold the original?, which it looked like it would have been at least five or six years old at the time, making it 1953/4 when it was made. I wonder who did what. Did “someone” have a mold taken off the “original” maybe, who knows. It was all pretty clandestine at the time, taking it home i had to cover it up and then having to destroy it later. Yes I built my Ford 10 Special, based on a 1935 C type Pregnant model Ford 10, wire wheels and all. I had to use a 1952 Prefect chassis because the original was rotten, but they were essentially the same all those years later. I used all the mechanicals from the original, axles, suspension, brakes [rod], it was fitted with a Prefect E93A motor. I am interested in your car as far as you mention an alloy Hogan head, the same as I had fitted to my car, they were rare, I ran the standard three speed box though, I see yours might have been a Series E. I don’t suppose your one could be my original one!!!!!! by any chance.I had put doors into it, had “rounded the bottom “sides” “underneath” somewhat, didn’t like the straight sides from the “original” if there ever was such a thing as an “original” one???? I raced and hill climbed it in Auckland for a couple of years with the Auckland car club. About five or six years later I “found” another mold, this timea “male” one which I “threw” a whole 52 Prefect at and in six weeks flat I was competing in all the Northern grass track meetings and hillclims etc ion. The first car took me a year to build, the second was a replica in every way to the first in construction apart from the “updated” use of later model parts.
      To finish up I am now 75 years old, the “bug” is still with me, if anyone knows where either of “my” cars are I would love to know, I want one back, even another one, or just a body, I don’tr care who might have made it originally. Thanks, yours, Ken Flashman.

      • Ken, I think the guy you refer to as Ferris De Jong is more likely to be Ferris de Joux. There are quite a few NZ Bucklers with either de Joux Mk 1 or Mk 2 fiberglass bodies. I have example photos of these bodies but can’t see a way of including photos.

  6. I owned one of these cars around 1960 – it was a Ching-Ford, one of four sports and 1 single seater made by Noel Ching in Nelson. Mine was actually based on a Ford Y chassis with Ford Y wheels, an Elva OHV Ford 10 motor. Unfortunately I had a kissing session with a water-filled 44 gal drum at Ardmore and the FRH corner had to be extensively repaired.

    • Hi Graham I’m sorry it’s taken so long to respond to this article but life threw me a couple of curve balls in the form of a factory fire that wrote my building off. None of the toy colllection was damaged which was a blessing but it disrupted an already very busy life. I’m very great full to everyone that’s replied to Geoff Hackers listing on Forgotten fiberglass with in days we found out everything we needed to know about the cars heritage which is wonderful. Hopefully this year will see some progress in its restoration back to its former glory. Regards Brian Ford

  7. I’ve just found a couple of pics of a very similar car (if not the same!) in an old New Zealand magazine from 1968. Are you still looking for info about this car?

    • Maybe five years too late for a reply but I would be VERY interested to know anything about the C type Jaguar looking Ford 10 Special. I built two of them [!959ish and 1967 ish]. I raced and hillclimed, grass tracked, everything in motorsport, in these cars.I would love to have one back in any shape or form. [I might be now 78 years old My first car had doors, something most of them did not have. I think it was last seen in the Whangarei area being raced by, I think, Brian Scudder in hillclimbs etc. I might be now 78 years old but I would love to have one back in the garage. Any info would be greatly received. Thanks, yours, Ken Flashman

      • Hi Ken, it’s never too late.
        I read your story about the cars you built and it’s very interesting. It seems the story wasn’t that clear after all. I’ll keep my eyes open in case I spot any Ford 10 Special of this kind!

      • Hi Ken, I have one stored for 11 years. Just sold my house and on the move soon. Might sell, I am 70 with other unfinished projects to do, as well as get a house built.

        • HI Garry. Ken Flashman here. I would like to talk to you regards to the Ching sports car you Might want to dispose of. Still Got it? My phone number is 094263908. Where do you live? Yours Ken Flashman

  8. I,m away until early next week and will pickup the story then. Great info I now have a positive lead to follow. Kind regards. Brian

  9. Hi,
    cool car indeed. I knew there was a Ford special built in NZ by Alan Watson, Auckland, later known as the Ching Special, once sold to Noel Ching, Nelson. He (Noel) later build more of them.
    You can read bout them in Graham Vercoe’s ‘Historic Racing Cars of New Zealand’ and in Patrick Harlow’s ‘New Zealand Manufactured cars’. Those cars seem to be just like yours, and if you search online you’ll see that the red and the white ones are in some topics where the Ching is discussed…Peter Colmore-Williams’s company, Sonata Laboratories, run a production of moulded items in glass reinforced plastic, called Epiglass and in this line, beside boats and other stuff, there were some car bodies.
    Is there a relation betwenn the Watson\Ching Special and the Sonata? And was it called Sonata or they just produced the bodies for someone?
    I’m always intrigued by those specials and the info you find online are seldom trustworthy…

    Best regards,
    Paul Jaray

    • @Paul Jaray – Great info Paul – I’ve e-mailed Brian Ford to discuss further. Sounds like you may have fit the final pieces together for Brian – excellent work! Geoff

    • Hi Paul, thank you so much you’ve certainly hit the nail on the head with your knowledge of the little car. Great information and now I finally know that it’s one of Neil Chings creations. Looking the the photos it appears we can now say there were at least 4 made and probably the 5 mentioned in the Patrick Harlow link at the bottom of the page. When I was a kid I can remember a green fiber glass sports car in Sonata Laboratory building on the corner of Tuam and a Saxon Streets Chrustchurch. When I found this car I thought I’d found the car I saw and remembered as a kid on my push bike early 60’s.The late Dave Lester had a Mistral with an1725cc Hillman motor in it on the corner of Tuam and Phillips street and my dad had the car yard, Alan Ford Motors on the other corner. Cantwell Motors further up Tuams street toward town and Weltex Plastics just round the corner in St Asaph st. I’ve been interested in locally built fiberglass cars ever since. I’ve own 2 Cantwell Pumas, built 16 Briford bodies and brought the Mistral molds off Rodger Wilson and added to them hard top, and I can make the bodies without the recessed lights like they were 1st made four the flat 4 Archie Butterworth engine and the John Torjero designed chassis about 1954. Anyway I’m getting side tracked,thanks for your imput. Brian

    • Hi Paul – I’ve just found this thread and I’m interested in finding out more. My Grandad’s name was Noel Ching, he was originally from Nelson and moved to Christchurch and was a car salesman. I’ve never heard of the Ching Special but it sounds like this could be my Grandad!

      If you have any sources of info I’d love to find out more. My Dad is still alive so I’d love to be able to check some info with him 🙂

      • Hi Vickie,

        I apologize for this very late reply. I wrote the info I gathered in my first reply. I still have all my books with me if you want me to check anything else, but I don’t recall reading anything more!

  10. What a great creative car. I really like reading about the very unique and low production cars. I think I’d reinforce the ladder frame a bit. As it is, it would be a bit too flexible.

    I like his other projects also.

    Is the Sprint car body fiberglass? If it is, do a story on it. I restored a 1950’s fiberglass Sprint car. These Sprint bodies are as creative as the sports car bodies. I hope Forgotten Fiberglass includes all forms of fiberglass bodies.

    • Hi Bob, the sprint car body is hand beaten alloy and the running gear is all 37 Ford V8 with Eddie Meyer speed equipment on the 21 stud flathead. Its running 35 wire wheels Model T steering wheel and back spring. I’ve tried to keep every part of the car period correct for 37 and the build is only half the fun.

    • Hi Bob, thanks for the comments. The sprint car is alloy bodied hand made running flathead running gear, fun exercise. Since this article was written my factory burnt down so I’ve had a couple of ruff years. The new buildings up and running now so you might see some progress soon. I like the light weight flex chassis it’s how Neil made the cars and I think I’ll live well a lone. Cheers Brian

      • Hi Brian,
        The Ford special; forum is very interesting -from my point of view
        I built a Ching special in 65 while apprentice at MereMere power station..
        I had access to a machine shop etc and was able to considerably work the 1172,
        From the discriptions of the modification and benefits ,for my own peace of mind realize it really could do over 90.
        I no longer have it but would like to put up a discription to see if it still exists.
        The articles bring back the enjoyment we had with these homebuilts all those years ago.

  11. What a cool car. I’m not so sure I’d loose the original grille, though. It is a bit unusual looking, but to me (anyway), it lends a very distinctive appearance that “belongs” somehow. Regardless, a really worthwhile project!


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