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Car History

Enigmatic Expat: 1974-91 Purvis Eureka

Enigmatic Expat: 1974-91 Purvis Eureka - Car History

One of the things Australian ad man Allan Purvis had brought back with him from a holiday to Britain, among the trinkets and photos, was the rights to license build a car. The car in question was a cartoonish, Volkswagen Beetle-based sports car called the ADD Nova.

The Nova was the brainchild of a Southampton sign-writer by the name of Richard Oakes. Oakes began his automotive career by knocking around various British fibreglass and kit car businesses, which in 1970 resulted in a Beetle-based beach buggy called the Tramp, about 75 of which were built over an 18-month period, before Oakes got to work on something more modern. In order to develop what would eventually become the Nova, Oakes enlisted the help of childhood friend Phil Sayers, who had also been drawn into the kit car field. With enough financial backing, they were able to form Automotive Design and Development ltd, and by late 1971 the first Nova prototype was complete.

Mk.I ADD Nova showcasing its one-piece canopy. The bonnet vents were deleted from later models
Mk.I ADD Nova showcasing its one-piece canopy. The bonnet vents were deleted from later models

It was at this point the Nova caught the attention of a holiday-making Allan Purvis, who was sufficiently impressed by the little plastic wedge he ended up negotiating the rights to build it under license in Australia – before it had even gone on sale at home. Because of the difficulties involved with reproducing a low-volume kit car 10,000 miles from its country of origin, the Australian Nova, renamed Purvis Eureka and manufactured in Dandenong, Victoria, did not arrive until 1974 (during which time ADD had quickly expanded, and then shrunk just as rapidly due to the oil crisis). The Mk.I Eureka was essentially identical to the Nova, and so had the same 70’s-tastic styling, claustrophobic interior (accessed via a sleek, one-piece lift-away canopy), and Volkswagen mechanicals; Not being the sportiest of underpinnings, the Beetle platform meant that the Eureka had heavy, numb steering and potentially unpredictable handling. But, for the money, there was nothing else on the market even remotely as exotic, and the value argument was even stronger if it was had in VAT-dodging DIY form. It wasn’t even that slow; a kerb weight of only 700kg combined with an extremely slippery body meant that even the meagre 70bhp offered by its clattering flat-four could propel the Eureka to over 125mph.

In 1976 the Eureka was updated to PL30 specification, which was mainly an aesthetic tweak, with a smoother nose and slimmer rear bumper to differentiate it from the first-generation cars. The most significant introduction, however, was a small concession to comfort in the form of a re-profiled canopy, featuring a slightly more upright windscreen so as to provide a modicum of additional headroom. The new canopy was also now available with an optional electro-hydraulic operating mechanism, which (this being a 1970s kit car) quickly developed a reputation for heinous unreliability, resulting in some owners being trapped and subsequently cooked inside their fibreglass greenhouse.

Enigmatic Expat: 1974-91 Purvis Eureka - Car History

1977, as well as bringing a manufacturing expansion to New Zealand, saw the introduction of what would become the car’s ultimate iteration, the Eureka F4. While new model had a number of styling updates (including an extraordinarily tacky Lamborghini Countach-style wing and air intakes), the important introduction for the F4 was the option of a Ford inline four, available in either 1.6 or 2.0L form. While hardly any more powerful than the existing powerplant, the Pinto engine did at least provide a smoother alternative to the Volkswagen unit’s racket. Furthermore, a miniscule amount of cars were built with Mazda rotary power, which gave the featherweight wedge an impressive turn of speed, and has since become the most sought-after variant.

The Eureka F4, shown here with the optional fake-Lambo aerokit, would become the car's final iteration
The Eureka F4, shown here with the optional fake-Lambo aerokit, would become the car's final iteration

With the exception of a rather attractive targa top variant in the late 70’s, the Eureka did not receive any further major upgrades, a fact that did not help sales throughout the 80’s (which steadfastly refused to rise above a mild trickle). Inevitably, Purvis Cars became unprofitable in the hands of its creator, and so he was forced to sell the business in 1988. The brand changed hands a few more times, during which time a couple of short-lived open-top models were produced, before it finally ground to a halt in 1991, having built a total of 683 cars. While managing to make it further than many low-volume plastic sports cars past or present, the Purvis Eureka ultimately had to go the way of the Bricklin and DeLorean before it; that it managed to make it as far as it did is highly commendable.