Murray Stephenson's Heron MJ1

Murray Stephenson's Heron MJ1, as it was when he bought it.

I purchased my Heron in February 2004. I hadn’t really intended to buy one. Many years ago, I owned a one-off New Zealand made sports car called the Acorn GT. I knew where the car was and thought of buying it back, but then I saw a Heron for sale and decided that it might be a better vehicle to “invest” in.

I can recall when the Herons first became available to the public. I read a magazine article at the time and I was quite impressed with the style of the car. “I wonder who the lucky people will be that get to own one of those”, I thought.

Many years later, and I have my very own Heron!

Or, I should say, I DID have a Heron. It is now a pile of bits waiting for a complete restoration and upgrade. More on this later.

My Heron is chassis number MJ1/1. It is however, the second car made, but “Chassis Number 1” has a nice sound to it. It was originally owned by Peter Guilford. More can be read about Peter – and his involvement in the construction of the Herons - in Ross Baker’s article on this website.

As with many of the cars, mine originally had a Fiat motor (north-south configuration) with a Skoda transaxle. I understand that Peter ran a turbocharged engine for some time. The car then found its way into the ownership of Berni & Allan Wichman. They used for the car for several years in its original guise, but got sick of clutch slip, oil leaks, and other problems. In 1990 they sent the car back to Ross Baker. They also bought a brand new Telstar 2 litre engine, with gearbox and subframe, and asked Ross to convert the car to use this running gear. It was 2 & ½ years later that they got the car back. Although the modifications were certified, the car was never finished off properly, and from that time on was hardly ever used. It fact, the engine has done less than 5000 km’s since it was purchased. The car itself has traveled a mere 33000 km’s since new.

The Wichmans sold the car to Bruce Ellwood, who owned it only briefly before selling it to Tony Walker (I bought the car from Tony). Tony purchased the car unseen, and it was only after buying it Tony realized that the work involved in bringing the car up to scratch was more than he felt inclined to do.

Quite simply, the car needed to be completely stripped and rebuilt. So, although the car was mobile – when I bought it – I have in fact never driven it. I trailered it home, pushed it into my garage, and there it sits.

If you read Paul McDiarmid’s article about his car – and the problems associated with using the Telstar drivetrain, and the subsequent problems with the front end (which is then too narrow with suitable wheels) – you’ll know that is just one of the many issues I will be rectifying. The car is now a bare shell – no interior, glass, wiring, dashboard, or cooling system, and the engine is also getting the heave.

I have purchased a “donor” car – a Mazda 626 – from which I am going to use the engine, wiring loom, dashboard/instrumentation, switches etc. The Heron never had things like windscreen washers – or a heater – so these will come from the donor car also. The engine is a 2 litre twin-cam fuel injected unit, and reputedly puts out 150-170 horsepower, depending on which book you read. This should provide good performance in a car the weight of the Heron.

I am currently deciding whether to widen the front end (as Paul McDiarmid did with his Heron), or change the front end to something else. Meantime the donor car is being stripped of the required parts; various new bits are being located for the Heron; and the bodywork is being repaired.

At time of writing this article (October 2004), I am guessing another 12 months to completion. Time will tell!

Murray Stephenson, October 2004