It DUZGO!

I spotted this DUZGO recently, zipping about the streets of Rolleston and had to check it out. Little did I know the story I was about to uncover! This unique vehicle is one of just ten ever built. It’s a real number-eight-wire, kiwi, can-do story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did hearing it.

Back in 1975, farmer Rodney Giles needed a go-anywhere, all-terrain vehicle to get across tricky terrain on his farm in Whataroa, South Westland. Remember, this was in a time before 4-wheeled farm bikes were available, so he set about designing and building a vehicle for the job.

The first Duzgo was born – a single cylinder, dual gearbox machine with a 12hp Kohler motor. “It was designed for off road. It certainly wasn’t fast, but 13 gears gave it plenty of low ratio options, so it could go anywhere,” Rodney smiles.

“Before long, a neighbour also wanted one built, and then another, and another. The whole thing just snowballed.”

By 1979, working nights and weekends, Rodney and his brother Kevin had built ten Duzgo’s – the latter models powered by 2-cylinder 16hp Robin motors. Word spread even further. The brothers formed the Duzgo Manufacturing Company, with a plan to manufacture on a larger scale, possibly around the world. Kevin quit his job to work on the project full time, and they had 13 orders on the books with Briggs and Stratton motors ordered. Media got wind of the story – and so did the tax man!

Three ‘suits’ from the Customs Department in Wellington came knocking on the door, wanting 30% of what they’d sold. “I’d worked for Dad on the farm until I was 35.  I wasn’t a businessman, but they wanted me to go back to everyone I’d sold to, and add 30% sales tax. Well, I couldn’t do that.” It took three years to sort the issue. During that time production was halted and by the time they had everything cleared up, the opportunity for the Duzgo was lost.

Today, Rodney knows of at least five (there may be more) of his unique vehicles, still road legal. They would now be close to 40 years old! “The last one was built in 1979, so that’s a pretty good indication of their durability.” This sturdy wee workhorse has a dual-wheel option for the back, if and when they’re needed.

 

He still has his patterns (not the originals) for the bodywork, and says he’s restored four of them himself – one a full rebuild-restoration. “I lost the original book with all the patterns in a house-move a few years back, so I had to use my Duzgo to re-measure all the panels. The body is all gas-welded, so modern panel beaters are a bit reluctant to touch them.”

One Duzgo is still on the farm in Whataroa, a cousin has another one, Rodney’s brother in North Canterbury has another, and of course there is his own Duzgo: the one that caught my eye. He drives it everywhere. “I’ve put a 25hp Briggs & Stratton engine in, so I don’t hold up the traffic on the road, and it runs like a top.”

In November 2015, Rodney shipped his Duzgo back across the alps to Greymouth, and he and his cousin Alan drove it the roughly 320km’s from there to Haast, joining the celebrations of the 50 years since the Haast Pass Highway was opened, connecting the West Coast with Otago.  He and his wife Michelle have also driven it from Haast to Pigeon Bay and back home to Rolleston.

The first Duzgo sold cost the new owner just $1,500. In 1979, the last two built, cost $4,200 each. Rodney says he saw one listed on TradeMe recently for $16,000. “I don’t know if that’s what it sold for, but it must have been around that mark.”

Imagine. If the Duzgo Manufacturing Company had taken off unhindered, who knows where and what it may have led to. Rodney is unruffled. “I think we would have sold thousands, but it wasn’t meant to be,” he smiles.   It’s still a great motoring story.

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.