Historic Car Brands
Zeta is a car brand that was produced in limited numbers, from 1963 to 1965, by South Australian manufacturing company Lightburn & Co. The company should have stuck with making fibreglass boats, cement mixers and washing machines.
Harold Lightburn had the quite reasonable belief that Australians would buy a second ‘town’ car if the price and running costs were right. A lightweight, front-wheel-drive, all-independent-suspension, two-door could do the trick. Unknown to him, Alec Issigonis at BMC was working on the same idea, with the forthcoming ‘Mini’.
Lightburn & Co bought the design rights to the British Anzani mini-car and then created a fibreglass body shell for it.
Lightburn built the cars in its factory in the Adelaide suburb of Camden Park. The first Zeta model was introduced in 1963 at a price of £595 ($1200).
Lightburn Zeta sedan – Peripitus
The Zeta Sedan (Runabout) and Utility had then-advanced front wheel drive, with coil spring and wishbone suspension, plus independent, rubber-sprung rear trailing arms and Michelin 125 R12 tyres.
They were ‘powered’ by a 324cc, two-cylinder, air-cooled, two-stroke Villiers engine that put out an asthmatic, claimed 16.5bhp at a dizzy 5000rpm. No torque figure was claimed, but it wasn’t much.
Fuel was delivered by gravity feed from a tank behind the dashboard and the fuel gauge was a plastic pipe running from the top to the bottom of the tank, with a graduated glass tube section visible on the dashboard. As a Wheels road test put it: ‘It read anywhere from full to empty, depending on gradient, throttle and probably Greenwich mean time’.
The sequential, four-speed, dog-clutch, Villiers Engineering gearbox had no reverse, so the engine had to be switched off and started backwards to provide four reverse gears! In true motorcycle transmission fashion, there was only one neutral position in the sequence.
The bike box was quick-shifting and it needed to be, to let the Zeta keep up with speedsters of the time, including Hillmans, Morrises and VW ‘Beetles’.
The Zeta chassis was pressed steel, mounting a fibreglass body that enclosed a large but sparse interior. Rear windows were perspex, but the windscreen was laminated glass. The doors were steel, with sliding perspex panes.
The Sedan was not equipped with a rear hatch, so access to the cargo area required removal of the front seats, the ease of which was advertised as a positive feature.
Zeta Utility – GTHO
The mechanically identical Utility was the rarest of the Zeta models, with a total of only eight produced, of which some were in Sydney City Council’s Hyde Park fleet.
The two-seater Zeta Sports was introduced in 1964, with body styling based on the Henry Meadows Sprint version of the Frisky microcar, designed by Gordon Bedson and Keith Peckmore, although Lightburn attributed the design to Michelotti.
The fibreglass-bodied car weighed 400kg and ran on 10-inch wheels, with all-around drum brakes. Like the Goggomobil Dart it lacked doors and bumper bars.
The Zeta Sports was powered by a German ZF Sachs FMR 498cc, two-cylinder, two-stroke engine that produced a claimed 15.5kW (21bhp). The engine, with 70mm bore and 67mm stroke, was originally used in the FMR Tg500 microcar.
Lightburn Zeta Sports – Peripitus
The Zeta Sports was fitted with a four-speed forward and one-reverse sequential gearbox in unit with the engine. Only 48 examples were produced.
The Zeta models’ lack of power, weird styling, poor interior finish and odd ergonomics almost certainly doomed the Lightburn venture, but the vehicle’s unfortunate timing could hardly have been worse: released onto the market at the same time as the Morris Mini that was only £60 more expensive.
The styling issue was addressed by the much better looking Series II for 1965, but by then it was too late. Total production of fewer than 400 Zeta vehicles ceased in 1965 and the last vehicles were sold in 1966.