Coca-Cola/3XY Freedom Roller CF Bedford van – flashback

Let's return to that hallowed time when there were two cool meanings for the word 'flares' and you could win a custom van by slapping a sticker on your mum's 180B

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

BACK in the 70s, shit wasn’t done by halves. Giveaway cars were properly customised vans, not a Barina Sportsgirl or Maloo that copped a few sponsor stickers and cheap mags. And some of the awesomest giveaway cars of the era were the Coca-Cola vans built for competitions on the coolest stations on the wireless – bumper sticker promotions that boosted awareness of the vanning lifestyle and gave away sweet new rides in several Aussie states.

This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of Street Machine

The Freedom Roller signwork was handled in-house by John at Racepaint/Fleeting Image, and continues the crossover theme of the Bedford build. The pearl white paint was applied by John’s apprentice Jake Alexiadis and was his first-ever full paint job!

Coke’s four-van Denimachine promo was a massive success in ’76, with thousands of hopefuls slapping on that sticker across Australia in the hope of winning a denim-styled Chrysler panel van.

It was sadly too little too late for the ill-fated Chrysler van, but for Coca-Cola it was a gigantic boost to their already-healthy brand recognition. So in 1977, the Melbourne arm of Coca-Cola Bottlers joined forces with radio 3XY to back it up with a similar Victoria-only promotion. This time it was decided to do a single build and limit the manufacturer input so it could be wholly created as a “vanners’ van”.

Thus the Coca Cola/3XY Freedom Machine was born, based around a larger, more user-friendly CF Bedford and built in the workshops of Vanmakers Australia. A young John Evans was the man in charge, responsible for much of the design and fabrication of the new build. “I knew some of the DJs at 3XY,” John says. “We rode dirt bikes together so they knew my background and figured I’d be the man for the job.”

A set of Manta flares, made famous on John’s HQ van Tangerine Dream II, were adapted and combined with XC Fairmont headlamps and a custom grille for a truly unique appearance. Black, yellow, orange and red stripes were laid over the white base, while K-Mac suspension, Sunraysia rims and a Garrett turbo for the 202 were added to downplay the ‘commercial’ roots of the van.

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True to form, the Freedom Machine promotion went off like a loose propeller and Coke decided to up the ante, offering the competition in several states once more. John, now set up in partnership as Vancraft, was again chosen to design and build the new black vans.

Three fresh Bedfords were built side-by-side. Dubbed the 3XY Easy Roller in Victoria (as the white Freedom Machine was already established there) the Freedom Machine name was kept for the other states.

The original 173 donk remains, but it is slated for replacement with a stout 202. “It is dramatically underpowered,” Don laughs. “You need to send out a written invitation to overtake someone!”

The exterior styling was stepped up a healthy notch with a full custom bodykit and new black paint featuring red, white and blue graphics. Fat-width Aunger Hotwires were fitted all ’round, while the rear was decked out like a mini-disco featuring a TV, bar and couches, all lavished in red crushed velvet.

The 3XY Easy Roller in its heyday. It survives in the care of James Ellis

“We busted our arses to meet the deadline, working five days straight in round-the-clock shifts,” John remembers. “I remember sleeping on a pile of rags in the corner and having to virtually cut the ’glassed-up shoes off my feet!”

This later incarnation is probably the best-remembered of all the Aussie giveaway vans, but sadly only one van from the entire Coca-Cola program is known to still exist. The original Valiant Denimachines are all MIA, the first white Freedom Machine was spotted in a Byron Bay wreckers around 2001 and later scrapped, while the WA-based black Freedom Machine was reborn as the custom, Black Magic, which, like the last Freedom Machine, has since disappeared.

The sole known survivor is the black Easy Roller, currently being rebuilt by James Ellis (also a previous custodian of Jade) and will hopefully be back in the public eye at the Victorian State Van Titles later this year.

Happily though, Don Hailes and, once again, John Evans, have just completed this tribute van named Freedom Roller, a clever morphing of the original Freedom Machine and Easy Roller vans.

“I was obsessed with the Coke vans back in the 70s,” Don says. “I wanted one so bad. I was 16 or 17 at the time and had handfuls of those bloody stickers! I owned a few vans in the early days and have another Bedford that John and I use in the Variety Bash.

“We became great mates quite by accident – I walked into Fleeting Image to get a work van sign-written and came out two hours later with a new bandmate – we love music – and Bash partner. When he first told me he built the Coke vans I was like: ‘Bullshit!’ We’re like an old married couple now!”

Don picked up a tidy, low-mileage Bedford back in 2012, fitting an Easy Roller fibreglass kit to pay homage to those teen memories. “I just wanted a neat Beddy with mags. It was always meant to be black but as John’s painter asked for my final colour choice, visions of keeping a dark van clean were running through my brain and my mouth just said ‘white’. There’s a heap of pearl in it though and I love it. Definitely no regrets.”

With the Bathurst Van Nationals just weeks away, the blokes decided to stripe the exterior. “John thought it was too plain but I liked it that way. I headed overseas for business and left the design in his capable hands, making it crystal-clear he couldn’t get annoyed if I removed them after Easter. I needn’t have worried; the stripes are staying. It looks fantastic and mixing the two Coke vans was a genius move. The outside was so cool that the rest looked crap; I said to John: ‘You son of a bitch. Now we’re going to have to do the interior!’”

Don got busy decking out the rear in a mix of coloured vinyls, wrapping laminated timber chairs and fitting a round-top table covered in Coke livery. A JVC Videosphere TV was gutted, filled with a flat screen monitor and painted candy red by John, who also blew the dust off his bubble-window skills and whipped up a pair of red versions for the barn doors.

The Freedom Roller was a huge hit at the Nationals, picking up 6th Top Lifestyle Van, and draws plenty of attention on the streets. “A lot of the comments come from ‘era-correct’ ladies,” Don says. “It’s great that the van and long-gone 3XY name are the source of fond memories for many people.”