The Golden Woodie Part 1

Every car show has a gem buried at its heart. These are sometimes flagged by the show organisers and sometimes you just have to find them for yourself. This year at the Perth hot rod show I found the golden woodie. It is for me a true evocation of a custom car.

Just a moment for two asides – if you go to the motoring bookshops you can find very nice illustrated books of the classic 1950’s and 60’s custom cars from North America. Lots of famous names – Barris, Winfield, etc. Sometimes there are colour photos of the cars, though at the time the colour processes were both expensive and rare…and we miss out of seeing some of the images. I like to think that there are 35mm Kodachrome and Kodachrome II slides out here in private collections that still do show the colours of the time accurately. Maybe not taken with all the skill of a pro magazine shooter, but first-rate records nevertheless. If anyone comes across old car photos of any kind they should never throw them out – someone will benefit from them right now.

But the second aside…well a couple of the books I have show some pretty extensive customising done in California in those eras but they are painfully blunt in showing what are some pretty awful design choices. I know, I know – each to their own taste…but if that is the case then some of the tastes evinced by home builders were pretty bizarre. And not just home builders – the big custom boys sometimes reached out for novelty far further than aesthetics could follow. It’s the same with music and clothing tastes of that time and the place – some cause nostalgia and some cause rectalgia.

But enough of the asides. They only serve to point up what I really want to say about this car; it is a truly delightful design and very well executed. I should have wished to see it displayed on a plinth in a compound of its own.

The sign board identified the original chassis as a 1946 Ford Sportsman. It’s been chopped, sectioned, re-engined, and re-suspended. I’ll let you read the sign yourself. And thank you to Valmae and Peter for summarising it at the show – it makes it all the more enjoyable if you know what the bits are.

Okay – wooden bodies – particularly New Guinea Rose Wood ones – are not all that common in the car parks around Bull Creek. Probably just as well, considering what the local drivers can do with the doors of their Toyota 4WD’s. I can only imagine that it must take some rather special maintenance even in the country to keep up the smooth shine. Full marks as well, for the colour paint decision – the rosewood with varnish wants delicate treatment in the metal areas to keep it looking elegant – this Aztec Gold cum bronze is perfect.

Likewise, the temptation to stripe, scallop, flame, or fade is one that every hot rod or custom builder must face. Some give in to siren song of the colourful side and throw decoration at every panel that will hold paint. It’ll work in some cases, but in others they risk losing sight of the lines in the conflicting paint patterns. This car is perfect for the flowing scallop that you see here – indeed square fender Fords of the period nearly always look good with straight scallops. It just seems to echo with our memories of those custom car magazines of the 50’s…I mean the good ones.

Whoops. Is that the time? I’ll have to show you the details tomorrow…



The Mercury That Wasn’t

Ever since the late 1940’s the Mercury sedan or coupe has been a constant subject for the custom car enthusiast. From extremely mild to extremely wild, the Merc has been chopped, channeled, frenched, rolled, tucked, decked slammed and ratted everywhere. So much so, that when you see a body that is sleek and low but has a domed appearance in every direction, you instinctively think that it is a Mercury.

I saw this one at the NSW rod show last month…and I was wrong.

I had not looked at the notice board beside the car, but was just admiring the full-on traditional lead sled style…when I noticed that the characteristic Mercury step in the side line was missing. Thinking that this must have been a hell of a job to cut out and fill in…and why would you want to, anyway…I finally got the clue when I saw the shape of the grill area. Not a Mercury – a Hudson.

Equally fine heritage, equally cool old school style – but a lot fewer of them in the field. And as a right-hand conversion in Australia…even rarer.

Please take time to notice the smooth side skirt enclosing the rear wheels and the use of the chrome trim strip to unify the body. Also please note the frenched aerials and the bumper shrouds front and rear. There would have been a temptation in some customisers minds to get rid of the heavy chrome bumpers – or if it was the early 60’s in California to make up horrible bent-tube things and try to blend them into the pans. Thank goodness this builder did not give way to this. Big bumpers were a real part of the Hudson heritage and a look that deserved to be preserved.

Likewise, I am glad the builder decided to keep the Hudson hubcaps rather than just go with generic spinners or bars. Moons would have been traditional, but these are all the better for being so specific. And with those rear skirts, you only have to find two good ones…

As far as the interior and dash, I don’t think that you could find any European woodpile dashboard of the time…or even a modern swoop and splatter design – that could be as elegant and stylish as this Hudson. The two-tone is superb. I do note some modern ait conditioning vents, however.

This is no trailer queen, either – look at the panel near the accelerator – feet have been down there pushing that pedal, presumably to the metal. Let’s hope there were some floor mats, too.



The 0691 Nedloh Sedan

My visit to the New South Wales hot rod show at Rosehill Raceway in Sydney a week or so ago was a complete success. The show is different from the VHRS one held on Australia Day and different again from the WA Street Rod spectacular that is later in the year. But every bit as charming…and with features that they other two do not have.

My attention was arrested immediately upon entering the lower pavilion floor when I saw this 1960 Holden. I must confess it took me a while to comprehend what I was seeing, and then I pored over it all over again to see the details of how it was done.

At this stage of the game I would invite my readers to Google up the standard 1960 Holden and see what all the fuss is about. Then sit and contemplate what sort of drinking session could have started the whole idea off. I cannot even imagine what was going through the builder’s mind.

Done well? Absolutely! A delight to drive? Well, that’s hard to say, but the value as a head-turner is incalculable. Unfortunately by now the owner has probably heard every joke and pun imaginable re. his custom and has come to dread the look that people get in their eye just before they come out with the tired witticisms. I shall leave him in peace.

I will say this much. I’ll bet the builder was tempted to reverse the side chrome accent strip and stars, but resisted it.

Flames In The Frame


Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable, throw in undependable too.

But I’m undeniably mad over flames.

Not, you understand, to the extent that I run around setting fire to paddocks. I mean flames on hot rods. They are such a part of the look, the style, the culture – they reward nearly any car that sports them. And I hesitate to say that about a couple other aspects of the genre…but more on that in a future post.


The first thing that drew me to this blue Chevrolet were the flames on the bonnet and fenders. Faded, lined, and accented, their warm tones complement the cool colour of the body perfectly. they break up what might otherwise be vast stretches of curved sheet metal and serve to introduce the car to the viewer as something more than just a restoration job.*


At the same time, this builder has been conservative enough ( …conservative flames…) to leave them on the bonnet and fenders and not extend them to the entire surface of the car. This can be done and I can think of one Victorian Shoebox Ford that is renowned for it, but you have to know where a curve fits.

Note to self: Must enquire if we see more pre-war Chevrolet  cars here in Australia as rods or as restorations? Do they have as many in North America? Logic says yes, but are the figures distributed evenly? Are they tougher restorations than similar-era Fords?


Well anyway, this is no trailer car – this one drives beautifully – that interior is everything that a man could want in a car, and the stylist has not fallen into the skull and decal trap. But that is another post…

  • Nothing wrong with a restoration – I also go to the Australia Day RACV car show in Melbourne and have a glorious time.


All You Ever Need To Know About Style


Here, children, is the greatest lesson that General Motors ever delivered on the subject of automotive styling. It is the closest that they ever came to selling a custom car straight out of their dealerships. In four images you can see why the Buick Riviera of the middle 60’s was what it was all about.

I took little notice of the marque in Canada because when it was fresh, we were out in the woods and away from the people who would have driven them. Oh, we were Buick owners ourselves once, but had fallen on hard times and were driving a ’57 Chevrolet 4-door for about 7 years.


Well, my eyes were opened when I came to Perth in ’64 and saw what motor vehicles in Australia looked like. After the initial shock of the EH Holden and the Morris Minor had worn off and I could sit up and take nourishment, a family friend arrived in town with a gold-coloured 1964 Buick Riviera. It had been converted to RHD at who knows what cost, and was driven around the streets of Midland by the wife of the family. As they lived the next street over in Greenmount, my Mum and I hitched rides down to town frequently.

The effect of that Riviera in Midland was electric. I once scored a ride to Governor Stirling High School in it and the value of stepping out of it and waving the diver off was incalculable. I did top it once with a Triumph Spitfire but that is another story.

Okay – THIS Buick Riviera was seen at the Victorian Hot Rod Show this year. For the life of me I cannot think why it was not inside on show display instead of just out in the side visitor’s lot. Perhaps the owner delivers pizzas in ti for Dominos and couldn’t spare the three days on display…Whatever, it was worth going to the show for.

As far as the extensive customising needed to make it into the fabulous shape you see, I suspect that the owner has:

a. Thrown away the boot badges.

b. Lowered the thing on bags and new rollers.

c. Repainted it. And a lovely paint job it is too. No-one can complain about not seeing it on the road. They probably see it in Queensland as a glow on the southern horizon…

d. Filled it up with petrol and cleaned the pizza boxes out of the back seat. And drove to the show.


And that is it – all the style and grace that you see was built into it new. I can’t swear about the interior. That wild yellow and velour is likely a refurb, but perhaps not. The walnut inserts for the doors are real, and the rest of it is fabulous. A killer in bright weather, though as the dash reflects up into the windscreen. You can always put a bar towel on it…


All the effort, restyling, leading, shaving, frenching, chopping, nosing, decking, and footling around that custom builders have done over the decades is unnecessary on the ’64 Riviera. It is truly a show machine out of the box. I can only hope that there are more of them in Australia to show up…surely the gold RHD Riv must still be somewhere, if only for the sake of my nostalgia.


And The Winner For 2016 Is…


A Packard.

This is quite frankly the most glorious find on the 2016 Victorian Hot Rod Show. Parked on the outer circle on a sunny afternoon.


The shape is reminiscent of so many other cars – Porsche, Mercury, Tatra, etc. without giving way to some of the funny little quirks that they can have. You are looking at 40’s styling, of course, and it looks to be 1948 – 1949 – or 1950. The original vehicle is so close to a custom to start with that the decision to lose the rear bumper and round the pan goes almost without saying. Mind you, if the rear bumper had been given the same body-colour treatment as the front one, it could have stayed on.


You will also have noted the body-colour headlight rims that leave the massive streamline plus upright chrome grille to carry the front alone. As this is such an unusual car, the builder has wisely elected to allow the grille styling that Packard did to stand alone. Vintage car enthusiasts will recognise the Packard shoulders to the vertical grille carried into a streamline.


I am still trying to research the tail light shape and to see what relation it has to the shapes of the day. Some internet pictures show originals with small flat oblong lenses as well, though in some cases they are surrounded by more chrome. This set is probably more visible than the original style.



The interior is a concerto rather than a symphony. There is nothing overstated – it is minimalism in a luxury car. I should have looked upon a wood dash in there as a monstrosity – fortunately the designer had more style than that. The upholstery says luxury without raising its voice.

And the choice of colour is at once bold, refreshing, and historically plausible. I have found a similar two-tone style on the net in fawn and warm brown so this two-tone is perfect. And not a skull, eyeball, or smoking woodpecker decal to be seen – a blessed relief sometimes.


The last picture is sad. Sad for the owner who will part with this beauty – sad for me because I don’t have that kind of car money. But I am so glad I got to see it.



Last Of The Two-Eye Chevys


I have a deep affection for 1957 Chevy sedans – it was our family car in Canada from ’57 to ’63. I am surprised at the short space of time that encompasses – 7 years – when I compare it to the length of time that I have kept my own cars here in Australia it seems piddling. I got 15 years out of the Ford Ute and it would have still been going if I had cared to root out the electrical bugs. 7 years is just getting started.

Yet…we went all over Canada, the US and Mexico in that ’57 Chevy and more or less wore it out at the time. I wish I could have been more attentive in those days as there are questions I cannot answer as to the engine or drive train that I’d like to know now. I do know that when you are a little kid you can sleep sideways on the back seat for hours on a long drive. And the car track is exactly 4 feet eight and a half inches. We found that out by lowering the tyre pressure and then straddling on the main rail line of the Canadian Pacific Railroad outside of Calgary and driving along with hands off the steering wheel at 60 miles an hour. It sounded smarter at the time than it does now, eh?


Well, 57’s are seen quite a lot at Perth and Melbourne shows. I guess there is enough of a trade in their parts to allow for extensive rebuilding or maintenance with authentic bits. Of course that should not really be a hindrance to the dedicated car person – they will find ashtray springs for 1943 Hupmobile ambulances if they really need them from somewhere. Still, it is nice to have a selection of good stuff.

Every time I see a ’57 I indulge myself with the whatif’s and mentally plan how I would change what I see. It’s not disrespect for the cars or the owners as such – it is just the inveterate tinkerer and designer in me. I’ll never have the dough nor the time to do it, but the mental exercise is nearly as much fun.

I don’t think I would go though the exercise, however, with this red two-door ’57. It seems too nice and too complete to need any more fiddling. The owner tells me that the engine is a standard small block – though we didn’t get to see it open, I’m willing to bet it looked nice.


He was able to open the passenger’s side door for me, however ( That is always a kind act, hint,hint…) and the interior is just as rewarding as the outside. There is a style and flair in there that you just cannot see in a modern black/grey/silver plastic sedan. 1957 lived larger than now.

I wonder if they would let me sleep on the back seat?

Tech note: Car is a little redder than that – the Fujifilm camera mode is Classic Chrome and it dulls the colour slightly. But it’s authentic to the look of 1957.