Magoo's goes from Masterton to take on world

19:43, Jun 27 2010
US SUCCESS: The roadster catapulted the name Magoo's into overnight success when Lloyd Wilson became the first outsider to win  the Stroker McGurk Trophy.
US SUCCESS: The roadster catapulted the name Magoo's into overnight success when Lloyd Wilson became the first outsider to win the Stroker McGurk Trophy.

It was a business that began as a young man's hobby, but now Masterton's Magoo's Street Rods has muscled its way into the international market.

For more than three decades, company founder and owner Lloyd Wilson has been passionate about hot rodding.

It's through his business, which started as a part-time backyard enterprise eight years ago, that he now makes his living indulging that passion.

"I grew up in Levin originally with motor racing and then as a teenager I saw a hot rod in a magazine and I thought these are pretty cool. I want one of these myself and it just grew out of control from there."

The company, the reputation of which is fast spreading, is now the biggest builder of custom-built hot rods outside the United States.

With a fulltime staff of six, a part-time specialist and two other workers who are contracted, annual turnover is now more than $1 million and business is fast expanding overseas.

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There are mail-order components supplied to the New Zealand, Australian and US markets as well as the car building and restoration side.

The degree of finish ranges from "turn-key" – ready to drive – to doing the hard bits for do-it-yourselfers.

"It is a real family affair. My wife and I, when we first got together, we went to night school together to learn metalwork and basic mechanics and as the kids have grown, they have all become heavily involved," Mr Wilson said.

It was the unthinkable that happened in 2008 that thrust the business into international spotlight.

Mr Wilson and a couple of mates part built a 1930 Ford roadster pickup in Masterton and finished it off in the United States, where it was used as a push car for a Kiwi racer on the salt lakes in Bonneville.

The roadster catapulted the name Magoo's into overnight success when Mr Wilson became the first person from outside the US to win its most coveted hot rod prize – the Stroker McGurk Trophy.

Back home, it is a niche market, but one that attracts people who have discretionary income and want a toy. New Zealand was still very very strong in hot rodding and, per head, on a par with the United States, Mr Wilson said.

But the "toys" don't come cheaply. In the past eight years, Magoo's has built from scratch 23 cars, three of them for customers in Auckland, Taupo and Wellington who paid $250,000 a piece for a drive-out-of-the-door custom-made rod. Dozens of projects are on the boil.

"For a "turn-key" it can take anywhere from 18 months to three years. We have been working on rebuilding a 1966 Pontiac Catalina that we imported from Chicago for a lawyer in Auckland for six years now. It's almost finished and he hasn't even seen it yet."

The company's growing profitability came down to letting customers have control over their accounts and how much they spent and when, Mr Wilson said.

"We work purely on a credit system. Each customer starts with a deposit and as we work down that deposit they just keep topping up their accounts.

"It's our financial safety net as well."

Despite tougher economic times, Magoo's is in for the long haul. The company had weathered the uncertainty in the economic environment, huge variations in currency exchange rates, rises in petrol and shipping costs and other challenges, Mr Wilson said.

"Our sport is still growing and while people are undoubtedly being prudent with spending, hot rods and hot rodding will never go out of fashion."

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