CASEY JOHNSON

> WAGGA WAGGA, NSW

STORY SIMON MAJOR

WITH both his father and grandfather being dyed-in-the-wool Ford fans, it was always a safe bet that third-generation hot car guy Casey Johnson would follow suit. Growing up on a diet of hot rods and V8 power left a lasting impression on the 36-year-old that has inspired his own journey down the Blue Oval road. From car shows and street cars to speedway and drag racing, Casey has dabbled in all manner of projects and shenanigans. Let’s take a walk through his early years – but stay tuned for his current collection next issue! 01: WHEN Casey was seven, his mum took him to the shops to get his dad a Christmas present. “I bought him a Ford magazine that had Mark Sgaravizzi’s infamous 88NATS XD on the cover,” he says. “I was growing up around hot rods, so it was my first introduction to the whole street machine thing and the concept that a reasonably new car could actually look so cool.

Mum’s daily then was a V8 XD Fairmont Ghia, so the penny dropped when I realised they were the same model. I saw Mark’s XD in the flesh at the Wagga Nats in 1988 and was starstruck by the injection trumpets – sporting tennis balls – and just how tough it looked. Sadly our own XD got stolen from Parramatta Speedway and was never recovered; it used to wear the HOT351 number plates I have on my XR today.” 02: ‘FAST’ Fred Cavasinni’s PRO034 Ford three-window coupe is one of Australia’s most iconic hot rods and made a huge impression on a young Casey during family trips to the Valla Rod Run. “I loved everything about it,” he recalls. “It was blown, injected and tubbed, and just sounded so cranky. It looked tough in both its white and black guises, and I distinctly remember Fred tearing it around the Valla go-kart track one year, which was awesome. It later raced Wild Bunch and I think it may have slid through the traps at Eastern Creek on its roof! I heard it was being rebuilt and I truly hope it is; it’d be cool to see it make a comeback. You cannot look at a car like this and not respect it.” 03: CASEY’S folks owned a transport business back in the day and gave him this Morris 850 to tear around the property in. “It was 2.5 acres of heaven!” he laughs. “I started driving at eight or nine and would spend hours in this thing, sometimes with a German Shepherd riding shotgun. Minis are such fun cars to drive and this was a real early one with the sliding windows, long gear stick and starter button on the floor. The exhaust fell off early in the piece, which I thought was pretty cool, but I did clean up a fence in it once, too. It sat there for years after I’d finished with it and Dad eventually sold it on to a local Mini nut.” 04: DURING high school, Casey worked parttime for a signwriter and this was their shop car – a two-owner Nugget Gold XY GS Fairmont with a black interior, 250 2V and top loader. “My boss planned on turning it into a historic race car, but at 17 I bought it off him to use as my first car. The paint was original and it had the best XY bodyshell you can imagine – dead straight with zero rust. By the time I was on my Ps I’d swapped out the 250 for a stock 302 Windsor; it didn’t go any quicker, but did sound heaps better! I’m such an idiot, I should have kept it. I

sold it a few years later to a RAAF guy stationed at Wagga and never saw it again.” 05: CASEY was a keen go-kart racer as a young bloke, so his dad, Eric, built this XF speedway car for them to share-race at the local Wagga track. “You could compete there once you had your Learner’s,” Casey remembers. “The class we raced was popular enough to have two heats, so we raced in one each and the quickest out of me and Dad went on to race the final. It ran a pretty hot 250 crossflow with a single-rail, and Dad was always trying to move the wall at Turn One so we got really good at replacing lower control arms!” 06: THE XF never looked too flash, so when Casey replaced it with this Cortina, he went to a lot of trouble to make it nice. “I was working as an apprentice signwriter by then so had no excuses!” he laughs. “We bought it out of Canberra as a going race car, but dropped in the crossflow out of the XF and fitted new ’glass panels. It ran Commodore brakes and a Commodore diff, and its lighter weight made it perfect for the Wagga track compared to the much heavier Falcon. It was a heap of fun but I got shunted into the wall in 2002 and it needed a fair bit of repair work so it got pushed aside.

We sold it to a mate in 2007 who fixed it up, and apparently it’s still being raced now. The Wagga Speedway was eventually closed, which was such a shame; it was a fantastic track and we have a lot of great memories from those days.” 07: CASEY picked up this XY ute in the late 90s, and split daily driver duties between it and his gold XY GS sedan. He eventually sold the sedan to focus his energies on the 351 Cleveland-powered parts hauler. “It went heaps harder than the GS, which made it an easy choice,” he says. “I tortured that open-wheeler BorgWarner diff and would slip on one new retread every couple of weeks! The ute factor suited my lifestyle better at the time; there was always parts to haul around or drag to and from a swap meet. I fitted the shaker and added the flame job, mainly to help disguise the terrible bodywork – I’d bought the ute off a chef and I reckon he trowelled on the bog like he was icing a cake! It’s funny, I learnt how to paint flames from a [well-known US painter] Craig Fraser book on custom painting. We shared that book between a bunch of mates and all ended up with crazy paintjobs! 08: HOW neat is this? In 2004, Casey spotted an ad in the local rag for a ’64 Falcon ute. The 221 and three-speed ran okay, but the body was fairly battered. “It had scored a pretty dodgy rear quarter repair, so I enrolled in a TAFE night course to learn some panel-beating skills. Every Wednesday night I’d drive it in and fix a little more. I was planning to do a killer job of the body but changed my mind, so opted for the all-hiding flat black with flames,” he laughs. “The 221 popped a head gasket, so I slotted in the 250 2V out of my old XY sedan and it became my daily driver for the next decade. In 2010, we drove it to Busselton for the Hot Rod Un-Nationals – this pic is at the Great Australian Bight – but broke a piston ring at Margaret River and had to train it home. I swapped in a 302 Windsor to solve that problem and eventually sold it in 2014, replacing it with an XM hardtop.” s