IT’S not often that the most talked-about car at a car show is also the worst-looking one, but that was definitely the case with David Rawnsley’s bullet hole-ridden VG Pacer hardtop at this year’s Red CentreNATS. This thing had patina by the semi-trailer load from spending almost 30 years in the bush not far from Aileron, a little town about two hours out of Alice. “I moved to Alice Springs in 2002 and heard about a Mustard Pacer dumped north of town,” David says. “All my questions fell on no one knowing the car; then, in about 2009 a mate through Valiant circles mentioned his dad had seen one north-west of Alice in the 90s. In 2012 an article appeared in Australian Muscle Car magazine. I emailed the editor and asked them to send my details to the person who sent the image. A few weeks later a mate rang me and said it was his pic. He supplied a mud map and advised which cattle station the car was on.”
David then spent the next six months or so ringing the cattle station three times a week, until finally, on Christmas Eve 2012, they gave him permission to enter the land and remove the car. By Australia Day 2013 the car was back at David’s place – well, what was left of it. “It had a bootlid, front and rear bumpers, no tail-lights, no doors, no guards, the stone tray was there and the bonnet was on the ground folded in half,” says David. In effect, it was basically yard art at this point, but more on that later.
Ordinarily, the story of how these cars end up in their final resting place is lost to time, but David managed to dig up a bit of this Val’s history. Apparently it was owned by a bloke originally from Sydney who drag-raced the car in the early 80s, and one of his mates recalled that the car had run a four-barrel in the past, which requires the relocation of the wiper washer bottle, and there is evidence of this having been done in the engine bay. “The last probable owner worked on cattle stations in the mid-80s in the NT; he returned back to Sydney in about 1986 without the car,” David explains. “The story I got was that the car had a rear suspension failure on a backroad where it ended up either upside down or on its side. The left rear B-pillar was badly bent and the right rear spring front hanger had been torn out of the floor when I started working on it. It had been poorly repaired at least once prior to this.”
You would think with the way that David has brought this car back to life using well-worn but original parts that he’d be a Valiant nut from way back, but that’s not the case at all: “Back when I was a young fella in Melbourne, it was only the wogs that owned Valiants. My step-father was a race car driver, so for my first car he asked me: ‘What do you want in a car?’ so I said: ‘I want two doors, lots of carbies and lots of gears!’ He said: ‘Get a Charger,’ but they only had three gears, so at the time I had the choice of two cars. I could buy a $3000 E38 or a $3000 Datsun 180B coupe, and I bought the 180B in the end because only wogs buy Valiants!”
It was actually David’s wife that turned him on to Vals; she wanted him to build her a Charger. “I started collecting whatever bits I could find in Central Australia, buying anything that came up for sale,” he says. “At one stage, I think I had 32 Valiants in the yard. Lucky I’ve got seven acres!”
The initial plans David had for the car may make a few Valiant fans wince. In all likelihood, if it had’ve been an ordinary VG coupe, not a Pacer, it probably would have ended up in the garden as yard art or sliced in half and hung up on the shed wall! “I initially thought it was too stuffed, but I had a mate come over from Sydney and he looked at it and said: ‘Mate, this car’s better than 90 per cent of the cars people are restoring,’” David says. “We’re spoiled for choice out here in Alice Springs; there’s no rust out here. Apart from where the paint is gone from the bullets, there’s not a speck of rust in it.” With a project David was working on for a mate stalling around Easter time, it looked like it was finally time for the Pacer to cop a bit of love. Not too much, just sort out the mechanicals and leave as much of the car’s history intact as possible. The VG was pushed into the shed on 29 April, which meant there was a little over four months to turn the gutted shell into a running and driving car in time for Red CentreNATS. “I wanted it to be as close to a genuine Pacer as I could – that was full of bullet holes,” says David.
Fortunately, Hot Mustard was a pretty popular colour choice back in 1970, so David managed to track down the missing body panels in matching original, including an original Pacer front-left guard. The other panels just needed a bit of masking tape and flat black paint to replicate the Pacer stripe. Thankfully, David didn’t go to the extent of shooting the new panels up with a shotgun to make them an even more perfect match! David even managed to save the original bonnet, which was in really bad shape, although it took some fairly major surgery: “I straightened it out, but it had no strength in it, so in the end I cut the skin off it and glued the skin to another bonnet.” The other major piece of bodywork that was required was the left-hand B-pillar, which had taken a pretty big whack. “When I got the car the B-pillar was pushed in six-to-eight inches, so a back window wouldn’t fit in the car,” David says. “So we put a Porta Power in there to push it back out and did it without losing any paint.” The right rear quarter also needed to be pushed back out to fit a wheel under it, but very little was done to the rest of the panel. No point making it look too nice!
The interior has also been made a lot more liveable with a set of high-back bucket seats, carpet and door trims, and a genuine Pacer instrument cluster went back in. Powering the car is a rebuilt Pacer engine and three-speed that came out of NBA star Andrew Bogut’s Pacer after he swapped it out for a 360. At least it’s gone to a good home.
After making a splash – or perhaps a small dust storm – at Red CentreNATS, David’s plans are to get the car licensed and on the street: “Some of the bullet holes are exit holes, so they’ve got quite sharp edges and I’d probably have to belt those in. I really thought it would be driving sideways, but she drives dead straight. It’s quite a nice car to drive – except for the wind noise from all the holes in the firewall!”
Paint: Hot Mustard
Type: 245 Hemi
Inlet: Factory two-barrel Carb: NOS Carter AVS
Cam: E31 spec
Pistons: 9.5:1 Radiator: Not leaking anymore
SHIFT ’Box: Pacer three-speed
BENEATH Front end: Stock torsion bar
Brakes: Discs (f), drums (r)
Rims: 14x7.5 steelies (f & r)
Rubber: 205/70R14 (f), 235/70/14 (r)
Michael, Steven, Eddie, Adrian, Pete and Ryan – without your help with parts, questions or motivation I doubt I would have finished the car in time
Even 30 years in the bush couldn’t kill the unmistakable Pacer racing stripes