For those of us who have built our own cars, we know what a budget is. It’s that financial figure we conjure up after estimating the value of the build minus the chunk on top that we present to the department of war and finance in the hope we get the go ahead to build our dream machine knowing full well our estimated budget is set to be blown to smithereens in the process!
But not Dale, he’s right onto it especially since his skills and experience allows him to take care of the majority of the manual labour himself. Dale, a home renovator by day, has had no less than 26 automotive dream machines come through his garage seeing them leave in a better finish than when they arrived.
Dream machines such as XY Falcons, Cortinas, EJ and HR Holdens, classic XL Falcons and an XM ute with a stroked V8. He’s gone kustom on a 57 Hudson which he chopped and bagged and even had a Cruzin cover car back in March 2007 with a suede baby blue 28 Tudor highboy with a blown side valve! So as you can see, Dale’s wealth of experience in the car building game gives him enlightenment especially when it comes to DIY and financial purchases.
With such an eclectic taste in automobiles, why a 54 Chevy four door? “I saw a nutty brown 53 chev about 10 years ago at the Queenscliff rod run and I thought that had a really cool shape to it and one day I’d like to build one myself. I finished the XA Fairmont factory K code and hadn’t built anything for a couple of years and I was starting to get itchy fingers to do something. I started looking around for something and the Chevy came up. The car was a total rust bucket when I bought it but I thought I’ll just put it in the garage and just tinker along. If it takes me 10-15 years, that’s cool as it gives me something to go to in the garage and play with. But I couldn’t help myself! Impatience sets in and you can see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and before you know it, time takes over and in a couple of years you’re done!”
This Australian built 1954 Chevy 210 is the 26th vehicle to spend time in the garage with the talented tradie! While she looks the part now in her deep blue hue and kustom make over, the stock 6 cylinder three on the tree rusty relic had seen better days with all previous parties passing on the mammoth task of resurrecting the Chevy back from the dead. Located out the back of a factory in Oakley, south east Melbourne, the sedan had failed to find a bid on Ebay leaving the door open for Dale to work up a good deal for himself and the dejected seller. A bunch of Chevy spare parts were thrown in on the deal but their condition didn’t fare much better than the car itself.
Looking down the barrel of a time consuming schedule just to get the body back up to scratch wasn’t an issue for the new owner. While many of us struggle to find the time to get out to the shed on a regular basis due to work and family commitments, Dale has a plan of attack that works well for himself and his family. “It’s like people who come home at the end of the day and go to the gym or play sport. For me, I come home, have dinner and do the family thing and then 8-9 o’clock, go out to the garage and work on the car. The way I see it, if I spend 4 hours a night five days a week, that’s 20 hours, the same as half a week’s work!”
When it came to planning out the custom project, Dale had a rough idea of what he wanted to do before firing up the angle grinder. “Originally I was going to two door it along with the chop. I was going to move the pillar back and weld up the back door. Then I thought no one chops a four door, everyone chops two doors. I mean it’s more work with more doors but I thought stuff it, I’ll take the challenge. Even when I looked at other 54 Chevys on the Net, I preferred the look of the four door to the two door.”
The roof chop itself is the biggest modification on the vehicle with Dale removing 3 ½ inches out of the front and 5 inches from the back. He also moved the rear roof line forward 120ml balancing out the proportions of the altered side profile. As with all custom work, one treads an unbeaten path when it comes to sourcing suitable parts to blend in with our vision and Dale’s new roof line required a custom rear window to fit the updated opening. “I looked at Volkswagens, Vauxhalls, Mini Minors, anything with a small back window, 39 fords, 41 Willys and even considered the split rear windows but figured it wouldn’t look right. My mate Carlo, the trimmer was at the Bendigo swap meet. He rang me and asked if the back window area had a contour and I said it had a slight one. He said I’ve got an FJ Holden window here and it’ll fit perfect. It came with the moulds and all as it had been cut out of the roof and was for sale for $20! It was the perfect fit!”
Other custom mods include shaved door handles with electric poppers, frenched headlights and the factory two piece bonnet welded together and peaked. Four round port holes were added to each guard to break up the miles of deep blue paint. The sixties style graphics laid over the roof is another new skill added to Dale’s arsenal of talents having never attempted them before. “I’ve painted plenty of cars over the years. I used to paint trailers and sheds for my Dad because he used to build them. When I was 13-14, I used to come home from school and get stuck painting red oxide on industrial sheds, etc for the rest of the day. I figured I’d give the graphics a crack and worst comes to worse, I’ll just send it to the panel shop to be fixed. I wanted the lace work but not too much. I spent a whole day trialling various designs on the roof till I was happy with the layout and then started laying down the pin striping tape and masking tape. I painted the whole roof silver before masking it all up and painting the graphics. It took a couple of days to complete.”
The running gear in this Aussie born machine keeps with the Aussie born and bred theme but not intentionally as the plan was to go with a 350 small block Chev. Dale explains further. “A mate of a mate had a VQ Satesman that got t-boned and written off. He bought it back off the insurance company and my mate was going to put the 304 motor into a Nissan Patrol but it never quite happened. By chance, I was chatting with him one day about the Chev and he said why don’t I put the injected motor in it. I said “Nah!I don’t want an injected motor in the Chev!” At the time I was looking for a stock 350 Chev but by the time you buy one, pull it down, do the heads etc, it owes you 5 grand! He said you can have motor, box, diff, pulleys, fans, looms, computer, aircon, power steering pump, rack and pinion steering, the whole lot for 500 bucks! How could I go wrong! The car it all came out of had only done 107,000 kays!”
Dales utilised as much of the Statesman running gear he could including the Turbo 700 4 speed auto, Commodore diff with disc brakes, power steering, air conditioning and rack and pinion steering. A new cross member was required to accommodate the updated steering as well as the change of engine from stove bolt six to electronic injected V8. Another financial win for Dale was finding out the original kingpin front end was also used in the 55-56 Corvette front ends and there’s an aftermarket adapter kit available to convert the old hair raising drum brakes to peace of mind discs brakes. “I bought the conversion kit from the States that comes with lowered stub axles, cross drilled and vented 14 inch rotors, twin piston calipers, pads, bushes, bearings and hoses and it all just bolts on and cost $489 delivered to my door! I couldn’t believe it!” An Accu air ride system with self-levellers keeps the cool cruiser at legal height when on the move.
The four door cruiser is built with family in mind and Dale’s good friend Carlos from Reservoir Motor Trimmers was given the green light when it came to upholstery styling ideas. Dale’s only stipulations was that the inserts be of a hardy nature for daily use and chose the colour from a number of samples. Carlos went for a tweed material commonly found on long haul truck seats and proven to handle the wear and tear before covering the factory bench seats with rows of pleats.
The dash retains the original speedo but a laser cut polished stainless panel houses two Smith Warner gauges replacing the worn out rectangle factory units. Early chrome Mustang switches replace the aging Chevy items while a heater from an XT Falcon keeps the winter chills at bay. When it comes to summertime cruising, an under-dash air conditioning unit from a 1959 Dodge hooked up to the VQ Statesman compressor keeps the interior cool as a cucumber as Dale found out after a recent trip to the Kustom Nats at the height of summer. “We went to the Kustom Nats and it was 34 degrees! We had the windows up with the air con on and stuck in the traffic for half an hour and the temp gauge just sat on 160 degrees without a problem. It works great!”
That towering shifter dominates the interior and is another of Dale’s custom modifications along with the accompanying hand brake lever. “Originally I had the normal handbrake out of the commodore in the car but it didn’t look right. I saw the billet unit on the Internet and thought it’d look grouse in the car so I purchased it. But then I needed to match the shifter to the handbrake and I didn’t want to use a Locar shifter and by chance found the billet shifter in WA.” Dale proceeded to cut the top off the B&M shifter and affixed the billet extension before attaching the old style microphone head on top to complete the ensemble.
Dale attacked the wiring work himself as another challenge to take on but found today’s aftermarket wiring kits to be a walk in the park thanks to good instructions and labelling. “I bought a 12 volt wiring harness kit from Sydney. It has a 29 fuse circuit and you just bolt the fuse box in before running all the wires out, they’re fantastic! I hadn’t done wiring before and thought I’d have a crack! Worst comes to worse, I’ll just take it to the auto elec! The hardest part of the wiring was the commodore computer as I had to bypass antilock systems, etc. I went up to the local commodore wreckers and he’s an old drag racer and good mate of my upholsterer and showed me which coloured wires go where and bingo, she fired up straight away!” To add the final touch to the wiring project, a Shell Oil esky was gutted and converted into an eye catching battery box for the boot as a nice touch of colour.
Dale’s rapt with the end result of his 26th build and the merging of both Aussie built American classic with Aussie built luxury. “It’s probably one of the best cars I’ve ever had as far as reliability and driving. It doesn’t overheat and is great on fuel! I just turn the key and go!” So, are we keeping it? “I never wanted to sell any of my cars but everything has a price. I’m already starting to think about something else. I don’t know what yet but I’m getting itchy to get something on the go. Problem is I don’t have much room in the garage with the Chev and a couple of custom choppers. I can’t sit still long enough and it’s a passion, I love doing it.”
Dale would like to thank his wife for her patience and understanding throughout the build process.
Check out the cool custom work on this 60s gasser rod!