Sign Up

Our Privacy Policy identifies how we handle personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act. Read it prior to submitting your information.

By clicking “Register” you agree to our Terms Of Use and Privacy Policy.

New Zealand’s own prestigious series production race

Much like Australia, New Zealand’s car market was full of locally produced models during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, with these showcased in annual motor race – Pukekohe’s Benson & Hedges 500.

This race arrived at the perfect time as it was for standard production saloons assembled in New Zealand. Many manufacturers including Ford, General Motors, Chrysler turning later into Mitsubishi, British Leyland, Fiat, Renault Simca as well as Toyota and Datsun further down the line each had assembly plants located across New Zealand. Rules were changed to only include locally produced models in 1967.

Just like across the Tasman, the New Zealand marketplace was in the midst of a battle between Ford and General Motors split between not only Holden, but Vauxhall as well. Much like the burgeoning Bathurst 500 production car race, in 1963 the Wills Tobacco Company took naming rights for a similar event at Pukekohe of six hours duration.

As production car racing does, it sparked interest in the various models and classes competing for showroom supremacy on track leading to big crowds as brand loyalty began to grow.

After Jaguar and Ford had split the first five events, 1968 started a golden era for the event as the likes of Gary Sprague, Leo Leonard, Rod Coppins, Jim Richards and Wayne Wilkinson took the flag.

Leo Leonard took four wins a row from 1968 until 1971 with the first two in Vauxhall’s hot 3.3-litre six-cylinder Victor before the Chrysler Valiant domination began at the turn of the new decade.

Although underdogs across the Tasman, Chrysler grew to dominate the event winning each event from 1970 to 1978 as even a change to 1000km in 1975 failed to dethrone the Pentastar.

Leonard, Ernie Sprague, Richards, Coppins and Wilkinson all took wins during this period as Chrysler enjoyed success in both the Regal before 1972 bought the Charger to the scene.

Mazda’s RX-2, the Leyland P76 and further along during Chrysler’s reign the Ford Fairmont V8 all provided strong opposition, but failed to break the run of success.

Leonard was still winning races in the late-1970s in models such as the Volkswagen Golf, Holden VB Commodore and Ford Fairmont as the Benson & Hedges 500 turned into a race for high performance variants. Holden released a special SS version of the Commodore in which Peter Brock joined local David Oxton to race during the early-1980s.

This was not new for the race, as Datsun, Fiat and many more manufacturers produced limited run performance models to contest the event.

Soon the Benson & Hedges event was made into a series including Bay Park Raceway and Manfeild before adopting Group A regulations in 1984 as it was soon linked with the Wellington 500 street race.

Although restarted again in 2020, the 500km race at Pukekohe only lasted two editions as the circuit was closed earlier this year.