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The cars of hit TV show Westside

2 January 2017


Outrageous Fortune was a smash hit, and its prequel, Westside, has gained even more fans thanks to its use of iconic Westie wheels. With season two just about to air, we decided to take a closer look!

Little did producers James Griffin, Rachel Lang, and Simon Bennett know when they started producing Outrageous Fortune back in 2005 that it would go on to become a global sensation, winning more than 50 awards. The show, set deep in the heart of West Auckland, featured a family of career criminals attempting to go straight, and was popular with young and old — so much so that after six years, when it came to an end, the decision was made to produce a prequel. 

That prequel showcases the West family in its prime, back when its members were always a step ahead of the law. With a well-known cast featuring names such as Antonia Prebble — known as Loretta West in Outrageous Fortune — now playing the role of Loretta’s grandmother, Rita West, and David de Lautour as Ted West, Westside became an instant success when it hit the screens in 2015.

In fact, it was such a success that it has recently been awarded a gold medal in the 2016 New York Festivals World’s Best TV and Films competition. In season one of Westside, each episode is set in a different year, progressing from 1974. Season two — which starts at 8.30pm, June 12, on TV3 — is set in the early 1980s, and follows the Wests’ week-to-week existence. Ted, Rita, and their crew are now entering a time in which their political differences are more pertinent than ever — as the 1981 Springbok tour divides living rooms all over New Zealand, the ideological clash between left and right ends up on the streets and behind barbed wire.

With the first season being so well set in the era that it portrays, sourcing era-correct vehicles was a key part of the show — and, of course, with West Auckland being the setting, plenty of iconic vehicles were required. In fact, 150 cars were used during the filming of the 10-episode series. While some were only required to be in the background, over the next few pages, we take a look at the cars that play a starring role in the show.

Sourcing the cars

Vehicle wrangler Eliot Naimie was the person responsible for sourcing the cars used in Westside, having followed his father into the film industry 15 years ago. Despite the first season of Westside being the first time he’d been responsible for locating vehicles, it was a role he thoroughly enjoyed.

“Sourcing cars for Westside was awesome,” he tells us. “The show is set in the early ’80s, so I was looking for cars from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, with the odd ‘new’ 1980–’81 RX-7, Range Rover, or equivalent.” The variety of cars available during the period the show is set in gave him an amazing range to choose from, so, to narrow down the selection, he’d get the scripts and discuss requirements with designer Clayton Ercolano and the Art Department coordinator, Liz Thompson-Nevitt. From there, Eliot would come up with a plan of what he was after and what was realistic in terms of time frame, budget, and availability.

“The biggest difficulties were probably sourcing mint, drivable furniture-removal trucks — Ford D-series and Bedford TK–type vehicles,” he states. Adding to this complexity was the fact that the trucks would need to be driven across Auckland city. “Let’s just say we did change the clutch line on one of them in a location!” Eliot laughs. To ensure the vehicles looked as they should, a few minor changes had to be made to the hero cars, such as hiding aftermarket gauges and modern stereos, or removing Beach Hop stickers and the like. 

“For most other cars, I tried to get original-looking vehicles, and I’d often ask for people not to clean their cars — who cleaned their cars in the ’80s, anyway?” While Ted West’s Holden Sandman was required for around 14 weeks, most of the other vehicles were only required on and off, although filming-schedule changes sometimes gave the owners as little as 12 hours’ notice. Thankfully, all the owners of the hero cars were a breeze to work with, and often Eliot would simply pick the cars up and drop them off again a day or so later. 

“Everyone was awesome. I would just let them know straight up what we wanted to do and how much we could pay them. Once that stuff was out of the way, it was really easy for them to decide if they were in or not. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, everyone was happy, and so friendly and helpful,” he adds. We asked Eliot whether he was always able to find all the cars he was looking for. 

“I found every vehicle or its equivalent that was asked of me, but due to schedules, time frames, and availability, they didn’t always make the screen. I even found a Saracen [six-wheeled armoured vehicle], but a mint-condition military Bedford RL was probably the hardest to find — it’s all about networking and spending time with people in the car game,” he explains.
With so many old cars being used, you’d expect a few issues with them to crop up along the way. But Eliot mentions that most of those related to alarms. 
“Then there was the VC Commodore — not Holden’s best car, but, hey, what do I know!” he slots in. 

Obviously, for action scenes, the cars needed to be driven, and Eliot is thankful that most owners were accepting of that. The situation was helped by the ability of modern cameras and filming techniques to make things appear faster and closer than they really are. Of course, not every scene can be faked — “Sometimes you can’t beat a good getaway, if you know what I mean …”

Eliot describes the experience overall “as a solid but sometimes demanding job that I could not have done without the help of a few people such as Ben and Neil from California Connection; Conrad and Jackson with their extensive Ford Transit range; Allan Hidich for his great military-vehicle collection; Shaun for the ’65 Galaxie ragtop; my grandad, Willie, for his 1948 Chrysler New Yorker convertible; and Chris Tingle for his ’57 Fairlane along with a couple of last-minute miracles he pulled out of his hat. Cheers guys!”

1978 Holden HZ Sandman
Owner: Dave Blyth

When I was a kid, the Holden Sandmans were the coolest cars around,” Dave Blyth remembers. Dave started off with the essential Escort panel vans, but a Sandman always seemed like a distant fantasy. The fact that he now owns one is definitely a big life goal crossed off the list. The opportunity to own his dream car arose around seven years ago, and Dave jumped at it. 

The Sandman had been restored in the ’90s, so it was in pretty good nick, and all the problem rust areas had been well taken care of. But the decals were fading, it was on the wrong wheels, and the engine bay contained far too many chrome dress-up parts. 
Tidying the Sandman up has been an ongoing mission for Dave, who has sorted a full set of original Holden Rostyle alloys; cleaned up the interior — note the aftermarket steering wheel, as Dave finds the original too big — refreshed the engine bay; and taken care of the bodywork, paint, and decals. 

“It’s a driver, not a show car,” Dave points out, and he’s never taken it off the road for any of the work he’s done to it. After all, it’s a slippery slope down into the obsessive realms of full restoration, and he’s got a genuine Falcon XA GT for that. 

The Sandman runs an original Holden 308 V8, with M21 four-speed manual gearbox and a Salisbury 10-bolt diff. Inside, the Sandman-spec GTS interior is all there, in very-well-maintained condition. The party area has been reupholstered, too, and has an integrated storage compartment as well as ample space for a kip. Dave’s driven the old Holden up to Kumeu a few times, crashing in the back, and it does just fine at that.

He was first approached by the producers for season one of Westside, but they only wanted the Sandman for some episodes, and Dave couldn’t justify the time or travelling required to bring the car to and from Auckland. So, Ted West started off in an old Escort panel van, much as Dave did in real life, moving up in the world to bigger and better things in season two, in which the Sandman is a permanent fixture. It might have taken Ted West a season to graduate from an Esky to a big-boy wagon, but at least Dave’s methods for acquiring his dream car were more legitimate.

Ted West

Kingpin of the gang, husband to Rita, and father to Wolf, Ted West is Outrageous Fortune’s Grandpa in his prime. A legendary safe-cracker and principled career criminal, Ted’s tempestuous romance with Rita is set against the background of great social upheaval in 1970s and ’80s New Zealand.

1972 Holden Torana LC
Owner: Robert Hay

Robert Hay has been a Torana fan since his youth, when mates owned them. So, when the chance came up to buy one around 12 years ago, he jumped at it. That car was a major project, though, and it was while chipping away at it that he decided perhaps he should purchase one that was already on the road, or at least closer to it. With that in mind, he purchased this four-door LC, which also turned into a project, albeit a simpler one. A painter by trade, Robert wasn’t fazed by the full panel and paint that was required. He’s owned the car for around seven years, and, as well as the bare metal paint job, has put time into the car’s 202ci straight-six engine. 

The 202 was already fitted when the car was purchased, complete with lumpy cam, extractors, and a bigger carb, meaning Robert’s essentially left the engine side alone, apart from altering the cooling system and making a few other minor tweaks. 

With his other Torana being built to be a bit wild, Robert’s plan for this car was always to have it as a sleeper, hence the rear-window venetian blind, sun visor, and sheepskin seat covers, which camouflage the fact that the car isn’t lacking in performance. Robert went as far as removing the mag wheels the car came with, opting for stock steelies and hubcaps instead. 
When the call was put out on Facebook for cars for season two of Westside, Robert thought he may as well give it a shot, and he was stoked when they came back saying they’d love to use the Torana. The only changes required for filming was to remove the personalized plates, and, as with all the other vehicles, fit a period-correct WOF sticker. 

While Robert didn’t really watch Outrageous Fortune, he did follow the first series of Westside, without ever thinking there was potential for his car to be involved. With the car’s lumpy cam giving minimal vacuum, the brakes weren’t the best during filming, but, thankfully, that didn’t cause the production team too many issues. 
Even though his coupe is nearing completion, Robert wants to hold on to this car, as it’s the
perfect stablemate. While he’d eventually like to tidy up the engine bay and add whitewalls to the tyres, for now, he’s happy just clocking up the miles in it as it is. 

Rita West

Wife to Ted and mother of Wolf, Rita is both outgoing and ruthless. She knows how to keep a secret, and has been known to poison people with lamingtons. Despite her sometimes-questionable choices, Rita does what she has to do to survive. She also makes superb sausage rolls.

1974 Ford Fairlane
Owner: Chris Patterson

Those with a keen eye or a good memory may have spotted Chris Patterson’s 1974 Ford Fairlane being driven by Lefty in season one of Westside
A friend of Chris’, who supplies cameras to South Pacific Pictures, told Chris that the company was looking for vehicles along the lines of his Fairlane. Being a fan of Outrageous Fortune, Chris was only too happy for the car to be used. With the Fairlane being in such amazing original condition, the only change required for filming was to replace the current registration and warrant stickers with the period-correct items.

Chris’ search for the perfect family-friendly Australian Ford wasn’t an easy one. He hunted for a year, only to purchase one that wasn’t up to his standards. Thankfully, a day before the first purchase was delivered by rail from the deep south, the car you see here came up for sale as part of a deceased estate. 

Prior to its coming into Chris’ possession, it was a genuine one-owner car, specially ordered in black — a colour the vehicles were not offered in off the showroom floor, as it was normally reserved for ministerial officials. The owner passed away six years before his widow, and the vehicle sat unused for that time. As such, it’s in remarkable condition, both inside and out — although the fact that it still has fewer than 100,000km on the clock also plays a part in that. With the purchase came all the vehicle’s original paperwork, including the original sales receipt for the sum of $7823.

Wanting to ensure that the car was reliable, Chris has added modern electronic ignition components to the 302ci engine, as well as an aftermarket carburettor and manifold. The factory exhaust was beyond saving, so an aftermarket system complete with headers has taken its place. Also helping to improve the drivability of the car are the aftermarket wheels, which are along the lines of the wheels a character such as Lefty would have fitted to a car like this back in the ’80s.

Chris has owned the car for three years and has enjoyed driving it regularly, to the point that it sometimes gets driven to work, although, due to its large size — the cars are built on an extended XB Falcon platform — and the tight confines of the office car park, that’s not an everyday occurrence.

Lefty Munroe

Ted’s right-hand man in the gang and husband to Ngaire, Lefty obtained his nickname because he only has one testicle. This obstacle hasn’t held him back, though — he loves the ladies and has had a string of affairs. Lefty is driven by his ego but also by his wife, who scares and enthrals him in equal measure.

1971 Ford Falcon XW
Owner: Shelley Ryan

An XW Falcon ute may not seem the most practical choice of vehicle for a mother of five, but it was Shelley Ryan’s dream to own a ute, so she made sure it became a reality. After purchasing the XW around 10 years ago, she’s enjoyed it ever since, especially since it was through the ute that she and her fiancé, Jason Coleman, became united. With Jason being a mechanic by trade, the ute has become a combined project for the pair. It’s also the means by which they’ve gone on to meet many more car-mad friends.

Shelley was originally after an XC, but, when no rust-free examples were available, she turned to the earlier-generation XW, and now she’s glad she did. This ute was purchased with the panel and paint work already taken care of and a full photo album of the restoration work undertaken. 

The ute runs a 302 re-cranked to displace 351ci, which Jason says has no problem in smoking the tyres when it needs to. While the engine itself is strong, Jason is always tinkering away at something on the ute, being careful to change only one thing at a time in the long, slow quest for perfection. The most recent project has been to work his way through the wiring on the vehicle, in the knowledge that one day it’ll be repainted and the engine bay de-loomed at the same time. 

Being self-confessed “Outrageous Fortune’s number one fans”, Shelley and Jason couldn’t believe it when the production team wanted to use the ute for Westside. They were even more blown away when they were asked not to polish the wheels or clean it.
Since the ute’s appearance on the first series, Shelley says it gets more looks than ever, lots of people stopping to take photos when they see it out and about.

Westside wasn’t the ute’s television debut, though; prior to that, it was used for a documentary on Maori Television. While Shelley wasn’t too fussed about letting the ute out of her sight and letting the crew drive it, being big fans of the programme, the pair took the opportunity to head along to watch the show being filmed a few times and were amazed by the experience. Shelley had previously met Xavier Horan, who plays Phineas O’Driscoll, so was stoked that it was him driving the ute on the show. She says her one piece of advice to him was not to drive it like a girl.

The couple’s long-term plan is to repaint the ute entirely, but, for now, Shelley and Jason are happy driving it as it is, continuing to work away at the mechanical side and take the notoriety that comes with the ute’s TV career.

Phineas O’Driscoll

One of Ted’s gang, Phineas is the muscle of the crew, but, although he appears to be threatening, he’s somewhat of a pussycat. Married to Rita and Ngaire’s friend Carol, Phineas is a sincere Catholic criminal and always says a “Hail Mary” before a job.

1974 Chrysler Ranger
Owner: Ryan Macfarlane

Ryan Macfarlane’s love of old cars has seen him own a wide range of marques over the years. After selling a ’77 F100, which was a bit too much of a bruiser, he was on the hunt for something a bit more cruisy when the 1974 Chrysler came up just over a year ago. 
Having had friends with the cars back in his school years, Ryan had long been a fan of the shape, and the car looked so good in its ‘For sale’ advert that he made the purchase sight unseen.

We all know how those purchases go, though, and this one was no different. Problems began as Ryan made his way from Cromwell back home to Auckland. After some roadside repairs, the car did make it home under its own power — just. Since then, apart from Ryan getting it running right, no major mechanical changes have been made to the 245ci straight-six.

The exterior, however, is a different story, with the car being stripped back and panelled before a new coat of paint could be applied. As with previous cars he’s owned, Ryan took the chance to do the donkey work himself, learning new skills along the way. The graphics that now adorn the flanks were added by the Westside crew; while Ryan wasn’t a fan of them at first, they’ve grown on him and he has decided to keep them.

Being a born and bred West Aucklander, Ryan has long been a fan of Outrageous Fortune, and, more recently, Westside, the old cars being part of the show’s appeal. Little did he know that his very own car would appear on screen. When Eliot — the car wrangler — came to collect the Valiant, the two realized they’d actually gone to school together.

With a day job working with the elderly, Ryan gets plenty of enjoyment from taking the car to work and letting the people see it, saying it reminds them of the cars they would have owned in years gone by. He also enjoys getting the car out and about for cruises whenever the opportunity comes up, be it locally or to events a bit further afield. 

Despite usually selling vehicles after two or three years, Ryan’s become more and more attached to the car, so at this stage, he’d like to hold on to it. In saying that, however, the lure of owning another American car is tempting him. For now, though, his only solid plan is to rebuild the Ranger’s transmission and potentially put another carb on it to extract a bit more power. 

Bert Thompson

One of Ted’s gang, Bert is the youngest of the crew and the getaway driver. His other line of business is as a mechanic and expert in car chopping. He’s been known to get into some nasty fights about whether the FJ Holden beats the Ford Fairlane.

1980 Holden Commodore VB
Owner: Ben Askew

Over the years, Ben Askew has owned a few old Commodores, and when he purchased this 1980 VB SL/E around 18 months ago, he had no idea that it’d become a TV star. The previous owner had the car for around 20 years, which goes a long way in explaining the great condition it’s in — although, prior to Ben’s mate tagging him in a post on Facebook, saying that the producers of Westside were looking for cars, it never looked like this. In fact, it was the production crew that had the car repainted in a new coat of its factory colour — just the thing for making it look like an undercover police car would have looked back in the era in which the show is set. 

Apart from the paintwork, and slightly lowered suspension — which Ben added just before getting the call from Westside — the car is essentially as it rolled off the production line. Under the hood is the factory-fitted 308 V8 and Trimatic automatic transmission, although that may soon change, with Ben working on another motor to drop in. With Ben being a Westie himself, he has always been a fan of the show, so being able to play a small part in it is the icing on the cake!

Mike McCarthy

The scourge of Ted’s working life, Detective Inspector Mike McCarthy of the New Zealand Police would love nothing more than to catch Ted red-handed on a job. He does admire Ted, though, and has been known to have a beer with him on the odd occasion.

1975 Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO
Owner: Dylan Bult

This fantastically preserved ’75 Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO was, believe it or not, Dylan Bult’s first car — one he’s owned for around eight years, having bought it at around the age of 16. 
“I’d always wanted a classic, and had been looking at Escorts, etc.” he says, “until I spotted a red GTO on Trade Me.” 

Dylan was keen on the car, but bidding took it a little out of reach. Then he was contacted by a bloke selling a yellow GTO. He was asking less, and it was apparently in even better condition. The internet is awash with ‘too good to be true’ horror stories, but, thankfully, this did not turn out to be one of those — the GTO was immaculate, with an original 55,000km on the clock.
It has a healthy two-litre twin-carbed 4G52 four-banger, backed by a five-speed manual gearbox and the interior to match — yeah, the driver’s seat is obviously worn, but the rest of the cabin is beautifully original, and all the gauges work. Gauge-wise, it’s better appointed than just about anything else from the era, with factory tacho, oil-pressure, oil-temperature, and voltmeter gauges housed within an aircraft-themed dashboard. 

For two years, Dylan used the Mitsi as a legit daily-driver, but it’s seen a lot less use since Dylan got himself a rotary-powered ’73 Colt GTO for cruising around in and a Nissan Safari off-road basher.

Like many other Westside star-car owners, Dylan found out about the car casting over on Facebook, when a mate tagged him in the post searching for cars. 

“I sent through the pics, and they came back checking I did own the car, and were keen-as,” Dylan recalls. “Eliot would just collect the car whenever it was required. They made it very easy for me, and even took the car in for a service when they were done with it. They’re more than welcome to use it if they ever need to again.”

Ngaire Munroe

Wife to Lefty and nemesis of Rita, Ngaire bagged her husband as her means to wealth and power — after Ted West rejected her for Rita. Ngaire uses everything as a weapon — her friends, her possessions, even her three daughters. She does her best to turn a blind eye to Lefty’s dalliances.

This article was originally featured in NZV8 Issue No. 134. You can grab a print copy or a digital copy of the mag now: