The owner of a Rotorua panelbeaters is counting himself lucky after a fire broke out in his workshop containing several rare, old cars.

Firefighters smashed their way into Central Panelbeaters on Maisey Pl concerned there may be someone in the building. While no one was inside, they found a rare 1955 Mark I Zodiac on fire.

Owner Mark Lysaght said because his work boots were just inside the front door, firefighters had been concerned there was someone inside. They told him, anyone inside would not have survived.

Mr Lysaght said he believed a spark had gone up underneath the front seat of the Mark I Zodiac, one of seven cars in the workshop, and just smouldered away.


He had spent about two or three weeks working on it and the restoration was complete.

He said if the fire had been left much longer, both the workshop and the attached car paint shop could have been lost. The workshop had no windows so no oxygen could come in to fuel the fire and that had saved them, he said.

Mr Lysaght said he had cars from all around the North Island in the workshop being restored.

Phil Mansel with his fire-damaged 1955 Mark I Zodiac. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
Phil Mansel with his fire-damaged 1955 Mark I Zodiac. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

"There's some very rare cars in there so I consider myself very lucky with what I've got away with."

He added he was also "very lucky all the old English wheels and body-building equipment wasn't damaged". When he got a call about the fire, his partner originally thought someone was having them on.

It was not something he expected to ever happen, he said.

Firefighters did a fantastic job of not damaging too much of the building, he said, although they had to break the glass of a door to get in when they arrived about 8.30pm on Wednesday. Mr Lysaght intends to set about restoring the firedamaged Mark I Zodiac again and asked that anyone with Zephyr parts contact him.

He said they now had to try to clear the whole shop out to get it clean, which would take about a week.

Owner of the Mark I Zodiac, Phil Mansel, said Mr Lysaght rang to let him know about the fire on Wednesday night. He said he had been planning to get the warrant of fitness next week, and then get the car back on the road. Mr Mansel said he would have spent more than $5000 or $6000 on it.

Owner of the attached car paint shop, Rick Ensor, said he was "pretty happy to have my workshop still here".

Rotorua Senior Station Officer Richard Anastasi said although his crew contained the blaze within 15 minutes the situation had the potential to be much worse.

"If it had been left another half an hour or so the whole building would have been ablaze," he said.

"We are conscious of fires in commercial buildings with the presence of chemicals and fuels, etc."

None of the other cars - some of which were rare classics -were damaged.