Dave and Lyn Keen's chopped & slammed '55 FJ Coupe is an intoxicating mix of style, tradition, horsepower and craftsmanship
This article was originally published in the November 2013 issue of Street Machine
THERE must be something in the water on the mid-north coast of NSW, a magic tonic that inspires stunning works of automotive craftsmanship good enough to put this beachside paradise on the cover of the custom car atlas. DownTown Kustoms and Hills & Co Customs both operate in the sleepy town of Taree, but the cars coming out of these two shops are genuinely world class.
Hailing from Nabiac, just south of Taree, Dave and Lyn Keen were perfectly placed to make the most of this local cell of metal creativity when creating their stand-out FJ coupe.
“I wanted to get the project moving along without having to send the car to Sydney, so being able to pass it on to these local guys made it a lot easier,” Dave recalls. He had already spent a few years toiling on the FJ but wanted to kick it up a gear. “If I didn’t get it happening, I’d be still working on it in 10 years time.”
The FJ didn’t start out as Dave’s project; his mate John Ebers pushed it aside to concentrate on his ragtop Caddy and Dave persuaded him to part with it.
“I’d been trying to get it off him for 15 years and I finally got it,” he explains. It was on its way to becoming a big-block drag car but Dave immediately put the project on a different tack.
“The idea was to keep it looking like an FJ but bag it and chop the roof,” he says. “The way it’s turned out is exactly how I visualised it.”
John had already widened the ’guards and he continued to have a hand in the project with Dave. Along with Ian Conner, they chopped the roof 3½ inches and lengthened it four inches so that the windscreen remained at the right angle. The rear doors were welded up and the B-pillars were moved back to create the coupe body shell. The front doors were stretched six inches and the quarter vents removed to give a clean line with single-piece glass.
“The only panel that is original is the bonnet, everything else has been modified,” Dave says. “Getting the shape right was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I came close to digging a big hole and burying it.”
John also introduced Dave to Graeme Brewer at DownTown Kustoms who did a lot of the work to get the stance right. As Dave explains: “We took it in to Graeme and he cut out the floor and started from scratch.”
“Dave wanted big drag tyres under it but I had some 20x10s in the workshop. We sat them under it and changed his mind,” Graeme said.
John already had the body sitting on a cut-down HQ chassis and DownTown tied it all together with fabricated tube crossmembers and its own parallel four-link rear end, with custom control arms and rack and pinion steering up front. DTK also fabricated the floorpan, boot floor and firewall to sit over the contours of the new chassis, as well as the wheel tubs to cover the monster rubber.
The rolling shell was then shipped up the road to Hills & Co Customs who finished off and painted the chassis, made provisions for the lines and exhaust, fabbed up the pipes and invested months on the final body preparation before applying the paint.
Dave’s plan was always to paint the car orange and Justin Hills suggested House Of Kolor Tangelo early in the piece. But it wasn’t until countless other colour samples had circulated around HOK’s Owen Webb, Dave and Justin that they finally came back to the vibrant candy.
Trik Trim in Forster joined the network striving to complete the FJ to show standard. Scott Braggs did the interior fit out, making the rear seat from scratch and using Hyundai Excel buckets as the basis for the fronts. They were covered in tan leather, along with the rest of the trim.
A late-model LS1 V8 gave up its modern fuel injection for some old-school cool in the form of dual Edelbrock quads sitting on an Edelbrock intake manifold.
Yet another member of the mid-north coast crew, Mick Scott, squeezed some more juice from it by fitting a Lunati cam and valvetrain, and porting the factory heads before assembling the mill.
“I was gonna put a blower on it,” Dave says, “but every time I opened a magazine I saw all the cars have blowers on them these days. I’ve had blown cars before but I wanted something different. When Mick suggested we go this way with the carbies, I said let’s do it.”
The FJ debuted at MotorEx in 2012, scored Top 10 spots in Brisbane and Mackay and became a Superstars finalist at this year’s MotorEx. “The last show for it will be MotorEx in Melbourne next year,” he insists. “I can’t wait to drive it. I never built it to go to shows but things got out of control.
“The best compliment I’ve received was from Rod Hadfield. We were at the Brisbane Hot Rod Show getting it ready and he came over and told me it was the best looking FJ he’d ever seen. It doesn’t get much better than that.”