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Retro: 1969 Bolwell Nagari – The art of glass

By Michael Stahl, 16 Mar 2017 Classic Wheels

Bolwell Nagari

Aussie sportster inspired by Lotus was a decent bit of kit

IN 1969, if you’d hoped to impress friends overseas with Australian cars, you’d have introduced them to the XW Falcon GTHO Phase 1, the HT Monaro GTS 350 and the VF Valiant Pacer. Not a bad bunch of brochures. But all three would have surrendered wall space to a low-riding, low-volume Aussie sexpot, the Bolwell Nagari.

Brothers Campbell, Winston and Graeme Bolwell had tinkered with home-made specials in the late-1950s, before the 20-year-old Campbell launched Bolwell Cars as a kit-car concern in 1963. The first model was a sports racing-styled roadster called the Mark 4, which, atop its steel-tube spaceframe, carried body panels in aluminium and newfangled fibreglass.

About 50 of the Mark 4 kits were sold, which encouraged Bolwell Cars – Graeme joining Campbell in 1966 – to develop subsequent models. The fastback lines of the 1966 Mark 7, designed for six-cylinder Holden mechanicals, predated the Datsun 240Z by four years. Almost 400 kits were sold.

The design matured into the Mark 8, the Nagari. And how: as the first Australian low-volume car designed for a V8 engine (Ford’s 5.0 Windsor), the Nagari was world-class in the construction of its ‘Y’-backbone chassis and one-piece fibreglass body.

A key element was the fact that, during 1966, Graeme spent six months in the UK working at Lotus during the Europa’s development. The Nagari’s body-over-backbone format mimicked the Elan’s, and the handsome Nagari shape likewise incorporated replaceable bumpers.

Its proportions were spot-on, with its 4013mm overall length and 2286mm wheelbase within a thumbnail of an AC Cobra’s, and overall height of the coupe a slithery 1118mm. A roadster, introduced in 1972, was every bit as handsome.

The Nagari was briefly offered as a kit, but Bolwell quickly insisted on building it in-house to control quality. A turn-key Nagari 5.0 ran the standing quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds, making this Aussie sportster equal to the XW Phase I in a straight line. Being a 915kg, front mid-engined coupe with claimed 50/50 weight distribution, it was somewhat more nimble everywhere else.

In truth, it wasn’t a cheap alternative: at $5490, the Nagari was almost $1000 more than the Phase I. The price was nearer to $7500 by October 1974, when new emissions regs demanded Bolwell spend $500,000 to homologate their stock, Ford-engined car.

“So we knew, to the day, when we had to stop building them,” Campbell said. Approximately 128 coupes and 12 roadsters – once described by Wheels as objects of “lust and desire” – had been built.

 

Bolly would

The all-fibreglass body was moulded in one piece and straddled the fabricated, sheetmetal backbone chassis. Front suspension was by Bolwell’s own wishbones with Falcon uprights and coils, while the Ford live-axle rear end was modified with Bolwell locating links. Wheels were Bolwell alloys, with Ford disc/drum brakes. Rack-and-pinion steering came from the Austin Kimberley.

Ford’s 302c.i. (5.0-litre) Windsor V8 and four-speed top-loader made a perfect fit, though many Nagaris were converted to 351s (5.8). Bolwell’s brochure claimed 164kW at 4600rpm and 407Nm at 2600rpm, and 0-60mph in 7.1 seconds and a 14.8 quarter made the ‘Bolly’ a full second quicker than similarly engined Falc XT GT. Fuel consumption, if it mattered to Nagari Man, averaged 12.8L/100km.

How and Y

With both Graeme and Campbell Bolwell standing more than 183cm, the Nagari was reasonably roomy. The tranny tunnel told of the Y-shaped spine beneath, and the woodgrain dash’s switchgear, vents and handles showed Falcon origins. Safety considerations (1969, remember) extended to a collapsible steering column, seatbelts (mandatory from 1969), seat headrests and ‘crash-padded’ dash and pillars … sissy stuff to Nagari Man.

 

5 Fast Facts

  1. Flow-on effect

Nagari came from an Aboriginal word for “flow”. In 2006, Mazda showed a concept named Nagare –Japanese for “embodying motion”

  1. Special interest

Campbell Bolwell built his ‘Mark 1’, a special based on a 1937 Ford V8, by wagging school. He failed Year 12

  1. Right clique

Individual Nagaris made their way to South Africa, NZ and Europe. The only LHD example built, for a US order, stayed here and became a RHD racer

  1. Backing up

Bolwell revived the Nagari name in 2008 for an all-new, mid-engined coupe with supercharged Toyota V6 power. Yours for $150K-plus

  1. High-rise

Nagaris were selling for $7200 when production ended in ’74. They’ve seen close to 10 times that figure in recent years