Bolwell Mk. VIII Nagari

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Bolwell Mk. VIII Nagari

1969 - 1972
Ford 8 cyl.
302 or 351ci
4 spd. top-loader
Top Speed:
Number Built:
4 star
Bolwell Mk VIII Nagari
Bolwell Mk. VIII Nagari
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4


On Graeme Bolwells return from a working holiday in the UK (with much time spent at Lotus), work soon commenced on the MK VIII. In fact this new model was released in 1969 while the MK VII was still in production! The fish mouthed "E-Type" front was replaced by a redesigned wedge-shaped nose.

Graeme acknowledged that the rear screen was very much like the Lotus Europa and that the doors were similar to the Lamborghini Muira, but the tail was pure Bolwell - although the shape had to be tempered to take proprietary tail-lights (similar to the Aston Martin DB6).

Ford Power

For the first time a Bolwell had protection with the bolt-in front and rear bumpers, a design breakthrough by Bolwell. But the biggest change came with the power plant and other components. The MK VIII moved from Holden to Ford power, utilising a 302 or 351 cubic inch V8 engine to propel the 920kg body and its occupants - a very light-weight, very high powered car.

Other changes were just as significant. The new vehicle was given a name, the Nagari. The whole vehicle was produced in the factory to turn-key finish, and became the best known Bolwell. The transmission was a Ford top-loader. The MK VIII design came initially from the Mk VII body, which they first reinforced so that it would hold its shape and then built up into the new shape they wanted.

At manufacture stage, the body of the Nagari was made in one piece, just like the Lotus, unlike the previous technique of making sections in individual moulds and glassing them together. In 1972 a convertible was introduced and this had its "Y" forked chassis strengthened and steel reinforced.

The End of Bolwell

The end for Bolwell, and the Nagari, occured on November 8, 1974. On that day the Bolwell Nagari died, a victim of the credit squeeze. When the Bolwell brothers, Campbell and Graeme, announced the end of 11 years of sports car manufacture for "economic reasons", sports car enthusiasts were aghast. But the end of the Nagari didn't mean the end of Bolwell, the company simply redirected its talents into more profitable areas - and another model would eventually surface, in the Mark IX Ikara.

Sports Car World Interview

The economic downturn was the beginning of the end for Bolwell. In 1973 it was making - and selling - one Nagari a week, but in 1974 it sold only 12. And as finance became harder to get, buyers became scarce. The very last Nagari sold for just under A$10,000, but the reality was that it couldn't be made for under $12,000 because of the sharp reduction in production numbers. In an interview conducted by Australian Sports Car World, Campbell Bolwell was quoted as saying "We developed the Nagari particularly with the American market in mind because this, undoubtedly, is the big sports car market. We'd geared all our components to the Ford V8 because we expected that at some stage we would get into the American market.

"We developed a left-hand-drive version, but at the time we had all the design regs [regulations] stuff coming and the picture was looking worse and worse for getting into America. It became obvious that we needed some big backing. We tried to get backing through government and private sources, we tried the development banks and the AIDC (Australian Industries Developement Corporation) and other semi-government sponsored financial institutions as well as a local private institutions and private individuals. The response was negative. The government wasn't interested. One of the comments was that sports cars were a risky product. At that time we held $250,000 worth of South African orders ... an order which subsequently fell through because of South African government legislation.

The South African Deal Falls Through

"But it was an indication of the overseas market potential of the car." (Bolwell had arranged a manufacturing agreement in South Africa, but the deal fell through when the South African Government wouldn't grant a licence to assemble Bolwells there because it would mean another locally produced sports car and it was trying to reduce the number). We have one of the best insurance ratings in Australia - the Nagari is only in Group 3! - and our safety record is excellent. And cost of repairs to fibreglass is low, too.

"The end of the Nagari has probably come abruptly to other people, but not to us. We made a policy decision that if we couldn't get backing this year then we would cease production in Australia because we weren't building cars in sufficient numbers to make them an economic prospect. Our main enterprise is industrial fibreglass contracts and our retail and service organisation. That's really our bread and butter. We have been supporting the Nagari because it's been to our advantage as far as creating an image of quality fibreglass. It has certainly given us a name we can sell industrial and repair work on."

"The end of the Nagari doesn't mean the end of Bolwell. All our design and expertise is still available for after-sales service. We've lost no one, no one at all - we've simply re-directed their talents into more profitable avenues," said Campbell. "The price of Ford's V& engine has been stable for the last couple of years, and other components have only slightly increased. We've been hit hardest by rising prices almost doubling in the last year, and rising labor costs," said Campbell. "But these increases were not the major problems."

The American Bolwell

The Bolwell brothers did not rule out the possibility that the Nagari might have been resurrected, but in 1975 they felt that it definitely wouldn't be made in Australia. They were still looking for backing to market the car in the States: "We have a few irons in the fire and with this in mind we might enter the American market. But we won't resurrect the Nagari unless we can market it internationally." The Nagari was geared for America, and Bolwell had researched the market, talked to distributors, and had outlets available. "We know that we could market and sell the vehicle in the States for around $US9000, which is cheaper than here, because of the numbers we can sell. It would be around the price of a Jensen-Healey, and just below the Lotus Euro pa.

"We're using the V8 motor, and so we have a car which is closer to the American idea of a performance car than the four-cylinder imported sports cars. We have a lot going for us. We have performance which is hard to match even by the very best Corvettes, all because of our light weight and V8 powerplant. Also, we'd be using American components so the after-sales and spare parts would, if anything, be better than Australia. This would be a big advantage. And don't forget, the Nagari was developed with air-conditioning and the other luxury items taken for granted in the US" .

To sell the Nagari internationally at a competitive price, all the labor intensive items - and there are a lot of them in the Nagari - were to have been made in Singapore. There, labor costs were about a quarter of what they were locally. Assembly, however, would have been in America. Bolwell thought they could import their cars back to Australia for around A$9000, a significant saving. These days everyone looks to overseas manufacture in an attempt to save costs - even the all-Australian Bonds undies are now Chinese manufactured. So perhaps the Bolwell brothers were pioneering - and to our mind their endeavour was, at the very least, designed to ensure the security of their then current employees - and that we applaud. After all, only around 1000 Bolwells ever managed to see the light of day, and only 140 were Nagaris.

But perhaps the final words should go to Campbell Bolwell, from his Sports Car World interview. "I'm disappointed about it (end of production), naturally. What disappoints me most is the lack of backing we've been able to muster in Australia. When Australians do come up with something that's accepted internationally it's very difficult to get your own countrymen to back you. Unlike the United States or Japan, where the financial institutions do show imagination, Australia's don't. They really are apathetic. I think that a lot of good designers, a lot of good designs and technology have gone out of Australia because of the lack of imaginative financial backing to ventures that have proved themselves."

True to their world, Bolwell continued to service and repair Nagaris, and set aside plenty of parts - although we doubt they would have anticipated their creations would still have a loyal following into the next century. In total, some 127 coupes and 13 convertibles were manufactured.

Text and Images courtesy Bolwell Car Club:
Bolwell Nagari

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