NZ Automatic Washer History

Prior to 1984 NZ had import restrictions which meant that washing machines were built in factories around the country. These were often overseas brands assembled locally for domestic demand. There seem to have been three main brands produced:

Norge – locally assembled production of the US brand range. A range of models including twin tubs and top loading automatics. A friend of our family had one of the top loaders, very expensive and rare to see in the early 1970s. As I recall, Norge machines were not particularly innovative or reliable.

Champion – NZ company, their production appears to have included license assembled Thor models from either the UK or US. My grandfather had an older model semi automatic Champion top loader. Most of these throughout a series of models were of a unique suds-saving design that had some sort of internal tank to store the wash water for reuse after the spin cycle. Basically you would wash the load as normal for the wash cycle, then at the end the water would be pumped out, the machine would spin and stop at the end of the cycle. You then would remove the unrinsed washing and store it, then operate the controls to return the sudsy wash water for another load. Then once you had finished doing all the washing you would rinse all the loads one at a time followed by final spin. The storage of water internally meant that the capacity of these machines was less than other machines of similar dimensions.

Champion machines were otherwise unremarkable and of average reliability. In the mid 1980s, Champion’s operations were bought out by Sanyo NZ. This was about the time that Champion brought out its front loading design, a combination washer and dryer. They were very unreliable and only in production a year or two, but you still see them around in the second hand places occasionally. That was the end of the road for Champion; Sanyo sold their operations to Fisher and Paykel.

Fisher and Paykel – Started selling a local version of a British designed automatic washing machine (licensed from AEI-Gala as the back panel says). These machines must have been in production from the 1960s I should think. In 1985 the first electronic machine the ECS was released. A few years later this was updated to the Smartdrive design using much the same basic layout except that a direct drive motor is now used. (There are going to be several articles on F&P autowashers which will cover these in more detail)

Other brands – there were various Australian automatic brands as well as a few NZ ones. You do see the odd Bendix frontloader around the place as well as Hoovers, Simpsons etc. Many of the Australian machines of the 7os and 80s had suds-save capabilities providing that the water could be stored outside the machine (in the tub for example) and pumped back in as required. Hoovermatic twintubs were quite popular in NZ. There were endless models of wringer machines produced in NZ – the F&P Whiteway brand was just one, Beatty, Pallo, Airco are others that come to mind off the top of my head. Atlas was a brand of automatic machine that was only in production a short time so I would think they are fairly rare.