One of the dubious joys of owning a car for over 30 years (34, but who’s counting?) is you are driving the world’s longest restoration project. And sometimes it’s the proverbial Groundhog Day because you end up doing some jobs several times over.
For example, take the Mighty Kingswood, a 1979 SL with the 4.2 litre bent eight in the snout, which we bought in 1982.
Over that time, we’ve had the body done and resprayed, about 20 years ago (and it’s probably due for a freshen-up), replaced the motor, and had the cabin retrimmed – twice.
We must have been flush with cash two decades ago, because we got the body and trim done about the same time. In both cases it was kept stock.
So the interior was done out in the finest vinyl, with matching velour inserts. Very 1970s.
This time around the interior was a sad case.
Miscellaneous rips and tears were in evidence (making you wonder if everyone sat in it with a pocket full of razor blades) while daughters Ms M jnr and Ms A were beginning to wonder if it was hosting new life forms. As they would put it: “Gross!”
The old dear really needed a clean out.
Enter Chris Takos, now ringmaster at Blackman’s Leather in Geelong.
Long-term readers may recall the name. He did the inside of Project HG, built by former Unique Cars Editor Greg Leech.
Chris is a craftsman. Nuts, in my view, because he throws his life and soul into the job, but damned good.
So we took the car down to Geelong and discussed the project. Any mention of vinyl and velour went out the
window in the space of a few minutes. He only does leather and, having owned a few cow-trimmed cars over time, I know they feel, look, smell and last better. Simple as that. It costs a whole lot more than vinyl, but there’s a good chance the interior will now outlast the owners.
Okay, so job done, right?
Err, not as such. The first of a series of phone calls started with, “Mate, since you’re going to all this trouble, how about letting me design a new interior – I want it to be a bit of a showpiece.” Had it been anyone else, I would have baulked, but spouse Ms M snr and I were in an adventurous mood, and we knew that giving him his creative head would pay dividends. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.
In a project lasting a year (there were extenuating circumstances) we’d get the odd call or phone message.
Such as, “Look! New design sketched on the old seats, whaddya reckon?” accompanied by a photo.
It was at this stage I coined the term Rococo Revival as a car-style movement. The slightly out-of-focus pic indicated that young Chris had gone out to the deep end, design-wise, and he clearly had a vision in his head which, at that stage, we could barely glimpse. What the hell.
“Go for it,” was the response.
More months and more calls rolled through the calendar. At some stage he decided to change the dash colour from fawn to black (much to the horror of our eldest unmarried). Then came the news about the roof and door frame linings. “It’s Alcantara,” he explained, “the same stuff they use in Lamborghinis!” Great. A Kingswood with a Lambo interior – does the term ‘as flash as a rat with a gold
tooth’ mean anything?
Meanwhile, during a visit mid-project, he explained the effect he was after with the seats. “A bit of Bentley,” he explained, “but with more style.” Yeah, I know, but was this the time to raise the point it was a 36-year-old Holden?
Somehow it would seem ungracious.
As the project neared delivery day, we got more frequent calls. “Mate, we have to do something about a stereo – leave the old radio in, but let’s give it some proper sound.
We can hide the head unit under the dash.” Okay. Then another: “Mate, the speakers are great but they need a decent amplifier to make them work, so I bought you one.”
Then there was talk of refitting the boot with a section perhaps monogrammed with LED lighting, that may have involved a remote-controlled lift for the spare wheel. He just might have been winding us up. Even if I was imagining the whole idea, I know damned well he was capable of it. I did say to Ms M snr, “We have to go down and take it off him, before he gets any more ideas.” (Weirdly, I’ve since regretted not leaving it there to see what would have happened.)
Okay, so let’s take a step back and look at what was done. Stage one was stripping out the old interior and using the door cards and seats as a sketching pad to rough out the new design. It was something I’d never seen happen before and was intriguing to watch.
Then he turned his attention to the sound-deadening, which is pretty basic in a Kingswood that age. In this case it had got to the point where the car was functional, but so goddamned noisy that it was wearing over a long trip.
So the whole floor pan, from dash and firewall through to the rear shelf, was carpeted in Dynamat – a premium sound-proofing product. Not cheap, but well worth the rent.
Then in went the carpet – not sure what it is (I think wool was mentioned), and I’ve slept on less comfortable beds.
The seats and door cards all got the design-by-Chris treatment, with a thick and supple leather. Of course the thrones were all resprung and padded – which wasn’t great even from the factory and had deteriorated over the years. The driver seat had got to the point where it was like sitting on a lopsided torture rack. Now it was luxurious.
Then the dash pad was sent out to the Dash Doctor in sunny Coburg (Vic) for a retrim in black. Meanwhile all the other components were painted.
Even the steering wheel
didn’t escape, with a painted centre and a bespoke leather hand-stitched rim. Speaking of hand-stiching, the flip-up lid for the centre console got a new leather cover.
Oh and then there were the Alcantara-covered sun visors – to match the roof lining, of course – which Chris reckons were the toughest part of the job. We also took the opportunity, since the doors were apart, to fit much-needed window rubbers (Rare Spares has them). The old set had been reduced to a jagged-toothed shadow of their former selves.
Though Chris was gentle with the bills, it was an expensive exercise. That wasn’t surprising since it was a hell of a lot of work. We persisted for a couple of reasons: he actually ‘gets’ cars (and is restoring a Falcon coupe as we speak) and takes a real pride in what he does. I think he enjoyed the project, as his bread-andbutter work is a straight swap of vinyl for leather in modern machinery. This was a much bigger creative challenge.
The end result? Stunning.
Even Street Machine magazine Editor Simon Telford, who resides in the office next door to mine, gave it a verbal tick of approval. High praise. Then he went on to suggest the old 253 motor might want a tickle-up.
“Ever considered giving it 1000 horses? I reckon we could do it,” quoth he. I’m still processing that information.
Watch this space… So, as flash as a rat with a gold tooth and/or the ultimate folly? Now that we’ve all calmed down a bit and used the car, particularly over a couple of trips, it has a new lease of life.
Before the refurbishment, I kind of dreaded taking the old rattler out for anything more than a few hours because it had stopped being fun. Think hell on wheels when it came to noise – just rattles, groans, road noise and stuff that has no charm – while it was plain uncomfortable to spend hours on the road. Okay, maybe I’m getting soft, but it got to the point where you’d think of excuses not to take it.
Since the retrim, we’ve done a couple of 1000km-plus trips down the highway, towing a motorcycle trailer, and it’s been a gem. Quiet enough so you can actually hear music or talk to the person in the co-pilot seat, and pretty damned comfortable. I’ll also admit to a sneaking joy in using the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
It feels good.
All of a sudden, we have a nice old cruiser – much better than the original machine, even in its heyday.
And, really, the only way we would have got the same result was buy another car for a whole lot more money.
Recycling at its best.
As for the cost, it was well worth it.