THE first thing you notice when you pull up to John Baker’s property, in the New England region of NSW, is the garden art.
Sometime around 2008, John had a few days alone at home, so he and his dad placed an old ’38 Bedford ute in the yard. John had long held a dream of building a ute based around a ’38 International D2 coupe, and the Bedford was a similar-looking thing, easily relocated and readily available. Over the next few days they extracted some bodywork from an EK wagon and pinned a set of rear guards onto the back of the Beddy. It looked good from every angle.
It sat like that in the yard for a while, and eventually Angela, John’s wife, decided this piece of sculpture didn’t look half bad, so a ’32 Vauxhall was soon added. It had to look the part, so it was given a five-inch chop and fitted with an old Ford flattie up front. To complete the work, a Riley grille was placed, artfully, to catch the morning light. Things grow well in this garden.
Further up the garden path, there grows another metallic plant: a shed. One of those proper-sized sheds that city slickers only dream of. Actually, it’s two sheds really; a second building adjoins the main workshop.
Inside the workshop, a two-poster hoist is nicely placed near a workbench, and the open back door allows plenty of light with which to work during the day. There is a metal-folding machine down at the opposite shutter, waiting for a little floor space to be cleared, but the prize is the old Purcell New Visby Mk3 long-bed lathe. This is one impressive piece of machinery, just waiting for someone to start working the magic it can achieve.
Hot rods have been a lifelong interest for John, ever since he was given his first runabout, a ’28 Model A Ford, by his dad when he was eight. In recent years John’s big toy has been his dirt rat rod. He rummaged through his beloved International Harvester surplus, came up with a nicely chopped ’38 International pick-up and plonked an LS1 and a Powerglide into it. This is one smile-inducing machine, and the Farmall grille really pleases the local farmers – they recognise it from their reliable old farm tractors. Fancy putting a tractor grille on a hot rod!
John is helped with his various projects by his “genius mate” Mal, who is currently putting the finishing touches on a ’32 Ford. This rod is owned by Sam, one of John’s two sons, and is an impressive piece of kit. Full metal, too. It has a Poly engine, slightly stroked to give it 388 cubes. Only time will tell how many neddies this mill puts out, but it’s a beautiful build.
In the adjoining shed there is a four-poster hoist, which currently supports John’s most recent project, a ’34 Plymouth. I’m sure there are practical reasons for the four-poster, but I reckon it’s really for John to show off the engineering under his cars! The powerplant of the Plymouth is a 408 Chrysler small-block, and the chassis comes from a ’37 Plymouth. The front end, however, is from a 403 Peugeot! I recall that a 403 Pug had won the Redex Trial; that front end must have been tough to do that. John’s Plymouth just looks so cool; it is one of those cars you just wish had looked like that from new.
As for John’s International D2 ’38 coupe dream, he eventually did find a real TJ Richards-bodied D2 coupe made in Adelaide, and got to work using his original ideas. The powerplant chosen was an LS1 coupled to a GM 4L60-E transmission. All the heavy bits are supported by a Jaguar front end, which also provides the steering rack. The tail is slightly different though; it uses much of the hind section of an old FB station wagon! To drive in this Inter is a pleasure; you get all the looks and plenty of comfort.
As for John, one suspects he’ll keep sitting in the yard pondering what to do next. What about a De Soto? There’s no telling what will grow when John Baker potters in the garden!