MODIFIED car enthusiasts have always been a mixed bag. There are those that make a big splash on the scene before disappearing just as quickly, and others that come and go in waves as life commitments allow. Then there are car guys like Erik Johnson, who’ve been here since the very beginning and show no signs of slacking off. Erik has owned plenty of awesome rides in his time, and in this first instalment of a two-part Snap Shots, we take a look at his formative years, when hot rods, Cussos and early Holdens ruled.
01: ERIK’S parents owned Marulan Motors near Goulburn from 1950 to 1963. “Dad’s tow truck was a ’38 beer-barrel Ford and his daily was a 1940 Ford ute,” Erik says. “Dad raced dirt-track go-karts and my folks took me to the Sydney Speedway when I was two months old; Mum said I was never the same again! By the time I was 11 we had a ’56 Customline as a family car, and I’d be sure to spin the wheels every time Dad asked me to park it in the backyard.”
02: THE Johnsons moved to Sydney in 1963 as a part of a career change for Erik’s dad, by which time the youngster had been bitten by the hot rod bug. “At 14 I had a Mercury flathead motor tucked away, which Dad let me bring to Sydney,” Erik says. “By 1965 I was working as a diesel mechanic and started building my orange T-bucket. Well, it was kind of a Model T; it was actually 1925 Chev rails cobbled together with a Model A tourer back section and whatever else I could find – remembering this was in the days before fibreglass bodies. I bought US Car Craft magazine every month and followed their step-by-step ‘How to Build a Hot Rod’ series, which listed all the measurements and taught me how to ‘zee’ the chassis and mount the springs. I joined the Road Knights club in Lidcombe, who were all young blokes in the same boat as me, so together we managed to get this whole hot rod thing sorted out. It was finished for my 18th birthday and I took it straight to Castlereagh and raced it.”
03: WHAT a sight! A snap from a 1967 issue of Australian Hot Rod magazine shows Erik’s bucket front and centre at one of Sydney’s first swap meets. “I think this photo was taken at either Roselands or Bankstown; how would you like to get your hands on those grilles and guards now?! To the rear of my car you can see a Ford Anglia, which went on to become Paul Foley’s gasser, Hombre; at 70 years old, Paul still races that car and lives and breathes drag racing. Soon after this photo was taken, a group of us drove to Queensland in my bucket and Paul’s ’38 Ford sedan. It poured down the whole way, and with no roof on my car we got saturated! We couldn’t afford accommodation and couldn’t sleep outside in the rain, so we piled into the ’38 and slept in that instead.”
04: BY 1970, and with the orange T-bucket sold on, Erik was looking for a new daily driver and spotted a ’33 roadster in the Saturday paper for $350. “I zipped straight down there with $325 and had myself a new hack,” he remembers. “It was built as a hot rod a few years earlier and had juice brakes fitted, but the flathead was knackered and used a ridiculous amount of oil. I built a hot motor for it and added mags to the back only – I had to run the skinnies on the front because it was too low and the guards would touch. This cruising pic was taken at Brunswick Heads in the early 70s.”
05: IN 1972, the ’33 roadster was sold and replaced with this maroon 1956 Customline. For 250 bucks they got a very tidy car running a 272 Y-block and three-speed manual. Its condition was so good that Erik decided it was worth hotting up, so he shaved all the badges and resprayed it, added a set of US Racers, and lost the front bumper to give it the gasser look. Extended shackles got the back lifted, while Erik chose a tried and proven oldschool method to raise the front a couple of inches – yep, he stuffed tennis balls into the front springs! Then he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse and the tidy Cusso was sold on to a local bloke.
06: AFTER moving to Wagga in 1974, the next Customline to cross Erik’s path was this dark blue version. His future wife, Terri, learnt to drive in this car and it later served as their wedding wheels. “I took Terri to the 1977 Narrandera Street Rod Nationals for our honeymoon – as you do!” Erik laughs. “It was our family car for a few years, and this pic was taken at the 1981 Mildura Street Rod Nationals.” Mild Y-block power, a lowering job and chromies made for a clean daily driver, and the car was later sold and rebuilt by a subsequent owner.
07: ERIK Johnson Transport was established in 1976, and kicked off with a lone 1971 International C1640 rigid ex-farm truck that was progressively converted into a car carrier sporting a hydraulic deck and threecar capacity. “Driving trucks had been in the back of my mind since I was about four years old,” Erik says. “Our trailer size grew from your normal single into a longer two-car deck, and I later added a turbo to the Perkins diesel to speed things up a lot. We mainly hauled insurance write-offs from Wagga to Sydney and Melbourne, and this trip was for a battered HX wagon, an XR Falcon wagon and HK Holden, all lost to natural attrition. I did over 500,000 kays in that truck before selling it in 1981. It never left me much time to play with hot cars; you’d drive the truck all week then work on it all weekend just to be back on the road for Monday!”
08: ERIK has a soft spot for 1956 Fords, due to fond memories of his parents’ car. In 1983, he bought this light blue Mainline ute. “It was a low-mileage original car, but had been in a bingle, so I repaired and resprayed it, along with a lowering job and whitewall tyres. This photo of me and my son Casey [Snap Shots, SM, Feb & Mar ’18] was taken in 1990, both looking much younger! I still own this Mainline, but was keen to build a shop-style truck, so I bought another that I was happy to mess with – this one is just too good to chop and change. To this day, the original 272 engine has never had the heads removed and has covered just 70,000 miles.”