Slow burn Streeter



I grew up around FX-FJ Holdens and had one as my first car. I drove it daily for over 10 years. It was powered by an angry red motor and painted up like an Appendix J racer. But then disaster struck when I decided to become a motoring journalist. I felt the pressure to own something more modern.

Thus I sold my FJ and bought an early Mazda MX5, the darling of the motoring press. I enjoyed the reliability and it was a lot of fun to punt on the right road, but it just wasn’t me.

And it certainly wasn’t a car befitting Street Machine.

I came back into the fold thanks to a chance encounter with an EJ while working on a job at Paul Kelly’s Smooth Customs shop Brisbane. One of the guys had driven there in an EJ sedan and offered me the keys when it was time to get lunch. Instantly, I was transported – this is what I’d been missing!

I mentioned my enthusiasm when I returned, and less than two days later I woke to a phone call telling me that they had found me an EJ – not that I was looking for one! A good runner, with straight panels and only $500. The trap was set and despite this being exactly the kind of deal I warn other people about, I fell right in.

Of course it was a rust bucket, but the thinking was to fix that and build a rat – few subtle body mods, flat paint and lowered on the deck. Now, unless you are a certain kind of person (which I am most definitely not), these kinds of plans are near-impossible to keep.

Once the rust was repaired, it was time for the body mods, with Paul Kelly offering to get me started.

Now, when you think of customs, you tend to think of 1949-51 Mercurys, Ford single spinners, and other classics of the American canon. Yet we looked at the body style of the EJ, and how unique it was compared to other Holdens of the era.

We looked back to the Australian custom scene in the ’60s for inspiration. It was

huge back then, and most will remember the van craze that came after it, but the custom craze (for those old enough to remember it) had cars driving around with modified headlights, custom grilles and much more. It was a big scene, and a part of our automotive history that I dig.

It went the way of the dodo (due to the rise in popularity of hot rods and muscle cars), and so did a lot of ingenuity and originality that is hard to find nowadays. With Paul pushing me down this route as well, we settled on a mild ’60s-style custom.

Larry Watson had a heavy influence over some parts of the final design. A famous American customiser, he was integral to the ’60s custom movement over the pond. By that time, the trend was moving away from big body mods, with roof chops and such.

People like Watson discovered that you could shave off a few of the factory ugly bits and then lay down some radical panel paint or a set of scallops and, voila, the perfect wild car!

So we nabbed the idea for the paint from that, with Paul and artist Aden Jacobi collaborating to produce the concept drawings. Body-wise, we elected to remove the door handles and boot lock and extend the fins, while Paul built me some amazing custom tail-lights.

We ended up moving the indicators down to the pan front and rear to fit with the design. EJs also have this awful flat badge right at the front of the car, giving it a terrible snub-nosed look, so we scrapped it and extended the lines on the bonnet to make it more ‘zoomy’.

At that point, a life of panel-bashing had caught up to Paul, and his arm gave out, so we reached out to Lindsay Houston of LDI Kustoms. He finished up the body mods, and took care of the candy paint, metalflake roof and pinstriping.

Because I had invested quite a decent chunk of cash into the panel and paint, I decided to stick with the factory running gear, including the grey motor, three-speed crash ’box and drum brakes.

We didn’t leave the engine stock, of course. We had a few pieces of grey motor speed gear hanging up in the family shed, so I grabbed a twin carb manifold and finned rocker cover as a starting point.

I had McGee Cams grind up a mild bumpstick, just to have a piece of Aussie go-fast history spinning around inside my engine. A mate also gave me a set of Sonic extractors, which I had repaired and coated.

To finish off the build, we stuck some Hustler mags (survivors from my mum’s old Torana) on it and got the guys at Annvid Auto Upholsterers to create a ’60s Buick trim to it, and they did a stellar job.

My stepdad, Rob, and I put the car back together, and just in time for Street Machine Summernats 2006.

We registered it on the 31st December, and I drove it from Brisbane, where we had built it, to Canberra. About 20 clicks out, the oil pressure gauge started heading the wrong way. I’d popped a rear main seal, but I made it.

Since then, I have done millions of miles in it, from its first big journey from Bondi to Barcaldine, to this year’s journey to Alice Springs for Red CentreNATS. It’s become part of my identity, and I’ve had a lot of fun in it with family and friends.

While I was growing up my parents both had EHs and they were always the one to have, coming with the red motor. The EJ thing happened to me by accident, but now I really dig them and can see that the EJ was the cool one! One day I might fit a red motor and Trimatic for some extra go, but while the old grey keeps ticking, I’ll happily stick with it.