His first real thrill in a car was being taken for a spin around the block, aged 9, in a friend’s uncle’s 1.5-litre Brooklands Riley Nine-derived home-built sports car. The second was being taken for a ride in the same person’s 1956 D-Type Jaguar, aged 12.
Educated in Papatoetoe, South Auckland, Des went on to study engineering at Otahuhu College and the Auckland and Manukau Technical Institutes, while serving a four-year toolmaking apprenticeship at top Auckland contract Toolroom.
In his early twenties Des went travelling, staying for varying lengths of time in Australia, Asia, England, Southern Rhodesia, and South Africa, finally returning to New Zealand after seven years, where he settled into volume production factory work specialising in injection moulding phenolic products – plastic mould design, manufacture and maintenance. However, after about seven years he was no longer happy doing this type of factory work, and took the decision to turn his hobby of building racing engines into a business, concentrating on 'the difficult things to do,’ such as the precision machining of parts for different competitors over a wide range of racing machinery. This was soon expanded to include suspension work, which led to innovations for several regular customers’ off-road and speedway cars, all in the name of better vehicle handling.
In 1980, Des began building his own 221ci small block Ford V8-powered sports car, with which he eventually enjoyed some racing success and, above all, learned a lot about car design – specifically, what not to do! Over five years, this car went through several redesigns due to errors and discoveries. He intends to rebuild it a final time, and make it go better than ever!
In 1995, Des began writing automotive books for Veloce Publishing quite by chance, and now has a total of 25 titles to his name. His first publication, one of the 'How To' series on Weber and Dellorto side-draught carburettors, is now in its third edition, and remains a best seller. In the late 1990s he turned his attention to writing car history books, starting with Coventry Climax Formula One engines of the 1950s and 1960s, and within four years had compiled a very detailed account of Cyril Kieft, called The Definitive History Of Cyril Kieft And His Racing Cars 1949-1955 – an obscure study, perhaps, but interesting nonetheless. His BRM equivalent of the Coventry Climax book has recently been completed – a long, complicated, drawn-out research process if ever there was one.
Although he built many types of engine over his working life, two dominated his career and remain of great interest: the English Kent four-cylinder Fords, and the small block Ford V8. Over the last few years, as it has remained his favourite since his teens, Des has concentrated mainly on writing the history of the latter.
When not writing, Des enjoys nothing more than tinkering with his cars – which include a red 1995 SN95 Mustang GT convertible, a 1967 Ford Anglia, a 1976 Escort, and a 1983 Thunderbird V8/John McKenna Thunderbird lookalike – and assisting friends with their similar projects in New Zealand and the UK.