Focus on: Rod Clifton

Rod with 1958 International AS 110 Series pick up truck
Rod with 1958 International AS 110 Series pick up truck

You could call Te Horo’s Rod Clifton the original boy racer. And you’d be right.

Rod has been racing cars (stock cars, saloons and super saloons) for around 50 years. “I’ve got three passions in life,” he tells me, laughing. “First is Joy, my wife, and then speedway. Tractors are third.”

Rod started racing stock cars in 1966 (aged 21) driving a Ford V8 motor, with a Ford truck chassis and Essex coupe body at Palmerston North Speedway, but says the first time he rolled a car was at Te Marua Speedway in 1970.

Later he went on to win the New Zealand Grand Prix in Palmerston North (the 1977 – 1978 season). However, stock cars turned to saloons like the Mazda RX 7 13B. The first RX7 saloon car in New Zealand, it was built by Rod who raced it to first place at the New Zealand Champs in Hastings (Meeanee, 1983 – 1984).

Currently Rod is driving a Mazda rotary engine but this sport is an expensive passion, and Rod says he’s on the lookout for a sponsor.

Rod with 1953 David Brown crop-master and 1957 FE 35 Ferguson “Gold Belly”
Rod with 1953 David Brown crop-master and 1957 FE 35 Ferguson “Gold Belly”

Collecting, restoring and demonstrating vintage farm machinery has been Rod’s hobby for more than 14 years, and he is president of the Horowhenua Vintage Machinery Club.

“It’s an addiction, not a hobby,” exclaims Joy. “They call it old iron disease!”

Rod explains that it all started with a man giving him a tractor to cut up for scrap.

“I looked at it and thought – I can fix this. And I was hooked!”

He has a sizeable collection, around 250 tractors, many in various states of disrepair, “dead or alive,” and says he often buys for parts, “three tractors make one tractor.”

Unlike many enthusiasts, who collect only one brand, Rod calls himself “a liquorice-all-sorts man” because he collects a variety of machines, often sourced from Trade Me, but usually by word of mouth, and although he’s had a large shed specially built to house his collection he reckons it’s not big enough.

He discovered his first tractor, the 1952 International Farmal Super FC, launching boats, and another machine, the 1946 grey Ferguson TE 20, a British agricultural tractor manufactured from 1946 to 1956, was “refused for rubbish at Kapiti Coast’s Paraparaumu rubbish tip.” Commonly known as the Little Grey Fergie, the model name was derived from Tractor, England 20 horse power, and the tractor is “a popular collector’s item.”

Wild poppies covering the hillsides in California created the impetus for the bright orange Allis Chalmers farm tractors, produced from 1929 onwards. The colour was known as ‘Persian Orange’, and the vivid shade was an attempt to attract customers.

Rod is a collector of Allis Chalmers (they’re known as ‘orange men’) and owns a now restored1948 petrol-driven Model B. Allis Chalmers designed the Model B to be lightweight and simple – it weighed a ton, and had a minimum of parts. It was powered by a four cylinder 15.7 bhp engine, and had a lengthy production run, from 1937 to 1957 (in 1938 pneumatic tyres were offered). More than 127,000 were built, and the little orange tractor became one of the most popular tractors (they were widely marketed), and a true farming classic.

Rod says he found his machine sitting on the front lawn of a state house in Porirua, but adds, “I’ve got lots of them now, including a 1941 Model WF. It had been sitting under a plum tree in Martinborough for 15 years – it’s now restored and working. And I’ve just bought another one from down in Winton.”

A red 1947 David Brown tractor (called a ‘honeymooner’ because two people can sit in it) was discovered in Turangi. Rod took it apart to paint and says he ended up with 90 bits and pieces, “not including nuts and bolts.”

Rod had to “get a roller licence” to drive his ACME 1920 Fordson roller. She’s a big girl, nine ton, and “hadn’t gone for forty years. She’s now fully restored and goes really well.”

Rod’s business, a vehicle rental, repair and servicing, and vehicle transportation operation based on State Highway One, keeps him pretty busy. However, he manages to squeeze three hours a day in his shed, working on various projects, like the recently restored 1958 International AS 110 Series pick-up truck, usually finishing up around 10.00pm. It’s a long day for a busy, passionate boy racer.