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Rodfather Rob, R.I.P.

Rob Campbell (17 Jul 1938–17 Sep 2018)

by Greg Stokes

New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine’s Rob Campbell passed away 17th of September 2018. Rob Campbell, to me earned his title “Rodfather Rob” due to his influential role in the formation of organised hot rodding in New Zealand.

Rob was part of the small team which started the New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine in 1967 but prior to that Rob was already an avid hot rodder when hot rodding first began in New Zealand during the fifties. Based in the Ellerslie area of Auckland, his club of similar like-minded mates was called the Ellerslie Hot Heads. When the New Zealand Hot Rod Association was formed around 1960 as an extension of the Auckland Hot Rod Club, Rob was at the forefront of what was happening. In 1962 things stepped up as the association tried to promote themselves with clubs popping up on the North Shore, Hamilton, Hawkes Bay and Wellington. By 1967 the time was right to provide a nationwide platform for New Zealand hot rodding to become professionally promoted.

The New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine became the voice of hot rodding and while the magazine was published after hours and in the weekends, it was only natural that it would become a full time thing. Many considered Rob as one of hot rodding’s original personalities in the New Zealand scene and it’s very hard to argue that he wasn’t. Rob did it all and he played a huge role in not only the promotion of the New Zealand Hot Rod Association but also the promotion of organised drag racing in New Zealand. From Kopuku Drag Strip, to closed street drag racing at Kerrs Road in Wiri to the formation of Champion Dragway in Meremere, Rob and the New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine promoted all aspects of it all to enthusiasts and sponsors alike.

Whether he realised it at the time but when Rob launched the “Project T”, a magazine built Ford T-bucket in the early seventies, this car would be another aspect to the flourishing New Zealand hot rodding scene. To give some perspective, with the magazine first published nationwide in 1967, the hot rodding hobby grew literally overnight as it joined the fraternity together. Then within just a few years, Project T was announced. The completed car was shown in the July 1973 issue after showcasing the build each month to the readers. This concept showed how easy it was for Joe Blogs to build his own T-bucket hot rod at home with basic skills. It encouraged readers, showcased products or services from the magazines advertisers and again literally overnight the “Project T” was as influential as the magazine itself.

The “Project T” evolved over the years and Rob used it to the max. Other project cars were built but it was “Project T” which kicked off the industry as we know it today where we take it for granted of the many hot rod shops all over New Zealand. It was 2004 after 37 years the New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine was sold to Paul and Liz Grace. Up until that time Rob and his brother Owen had still been designing the magazine with the old “cut and paste” method. New ownership of the magazine meant a switch to the new digital format of publishing but much effort was made to remember the magazines heritage and Rob was an integral part of the new age of the magazine.

On a more personal note I didn’t know Rob as well as many did but I had the unique opportunity to join him and his brother Owen for a “work experience” day to see how the magazine was put together. That would have been around the early to mid-nineties and it is something I still recall to this day. The magazine was all typed out by hand with yep – typewriters. The use of a computer or a smart device is something we again take for granted. My path with Rob crossed again when I went and worked at the New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine working in advertising sales and journalism duties in 2006. Rob was the proof reader and you never questioned his corrections! I was very fortunate to work for the magazine and enjoyed the times I caught up with Rob and I always had questions of things in the past as we enjoy the nostalgia movement of hot rodding these days.

We are in an era now where we are losing these icons of our history like Rob Campbell. His funeral service was a large one as it was to be expected. While he is gone, his significant and pioneering foot print on New Zealand hot rodding is not forgotten. RIP Robert Lorne Campbell and our sincere condolences to the Campbell family and friends.

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