The two street rodders were all over the Monaro, devouring every detail. “Mate, it’s Cal style,” one almost shouted to the other. “This car’s built like a rod!” And they didn’t stop there. Between them they reeled off the details that knocked them out. The handmade alloy grille, bumpers, bonnet hinges and removable steering wheel. The remodelled dashboard, complete with colour-coded digital instruments, the incredible engine bayhousing that beautiful, fat, tunnel-rammed and injected 427 Chevy big block and heaps more. Yep, these two boys were definitely impressed!
First published in the Apr/May 1997 issue of Street Machine. BILLET would go on to claim the SMOTY trophy later that year.
Bill Murfin was out of earshot, deep in-conversation on the other side of the big judging hall, and didn’t hear any of the praise being heaped on Billit, his Mango Mist HT Monaro. That’s a shame, because those were exactly the words Bill needed to hear.
Bill did hear the weekend’s other good news, however — a Summernats Top 10 plate and runner-up Pro Mod. Not bad, you’d have to say — especially for the car’s debut at the nation’s best car show. And just what the doctor ordered for a guy who spent most of November in bed with a killer dose of glandular fever.
“I was virtually doing two jobs at once while I was building this car, and I got incredibly run down,” Bill says about the illness that laid him low, robbing him of a huge chunk of valuable Summernats lead-up time and leaving him skinny and weak for the countdown to Canberra. “I was really sick, believe me.”
Luckily, by that stage most of the major work in the two and a half year build was complete, although there was still a lot to be bolted on and a billion detail jobs. Which explains why Bill worked pretty much round the clock in Canberra to get his car in front of the judges. Even then, there was still a lot to do.
“It’s a rough diamond,” Brisbane coachbuilder Bill said after the trophy news had settled in. “I haven’t even cut and polished it yet.”
Believe it or not, the Monaro is Bill’s first build – although he’d built it twice before it got to the Mango Mist stage you’re admiring now. “I bought it 10 years ago from a bloke on the Gold Coast who’d bought it from a mate of mine who’d owned it since new. It was origially Daytona Bronze, although it was Burgundy with a set of daggy mags on it when I bought it.”
Bill drove it to his first car show like that — the very last Easter Nationals in Canberra before the first Summernats — and saw fellow Queenslander Wayne Pagel’s black GAS 69 HK. “Wayne’s car was one of the first Pro Streeters in Australia, and I just fell in love with it,” Bill says. “It made me realise I could turn my Monaro into something special.”
In his coachbuilding job Bill’s a jack of all trades. “Basically, I start with a pile of metal and finish up with a bus or a train carriage,” he says. “I fibreglass, trim, do panel work, make frames, make chassis — you name it.”
The first rebuild of the Monaro was fairly modest by his standards.
“It was really just a tidy up. I painted it pale blue and took the interior back to the original houndstooth.” The second build, which started a couple of years later,was more serious. “I got hold of a 427, Bill says. “It had been built as the basis for a Pro Stock race engine, and I finished it off with my mate Mick Zafos, using the best gear I could get my hands on.”
The finished engine spec is basically what you see here, including Crower injection and manifold, a set of small port, closed chamber heads given the Benny and Joe Gatt Superflow treatment, solid Crane cam, lumpy top Manley pistons for a 13:1 comp ratio on Avgas and heaps more. Bill made up his own extractors, with 2-inch primaries dumping to 3-inch pipes.
“The rest of the build was going to be fairly tame but I got carried away when I started looking at a set of mini tubs,” Bill says.
Behind the 427 went a full manual TH400 running a 4000rpm TCI convertor which pumped through a four-inch tailshaft to a shortened and braced nine inch diff with Funny Car-style Strange titanium centre and 4.77:1 gears.
Bodywork included painstaking radius jobs on the rear guards, the door handles and windscreens, and the car was dropped closer to earth via tubular A-arms up front, two-inch lowered stub axles and two-piece hubs. “I tossed up between a ladder bar or a four-link rear but went for the four-link because I wanted a back seat in the car,” Bill says. Everything in the suspension is rose jointed, brakes are Ford XA rotors turned down to HZ diameter and running HZ callipers, and the master cylinder’s a Wilwood twin-cylinder setup without a vacuum booster.
Wheels are Welds: 15x15s shod with 29×18.5 Mickey T Sportsmans at the rear, and 15×3 with Michelin 155s holding up the front.
The car almost went to Summernats 8 like that until Wayne Pagel — who’d become good mates with Bill after that first meeting in Canberra – took one look at it and pronounced it not good enough. “It was on the trailer,” Bill says. “Then Wayne said, ‘You can’t take it like that — it’s a piece of shit’. He told me there were a lot of inconsistencies and I hadn’t paid enough attention to details. Things like, I’d taken out most of the body seams but left some in.Stuff like that.”
So Bill went back to the drawing board, ordered in a heap of aluminium sheeting and solid billets and got out the TIG welder. “I took out most of the standard parts and copied them in aluminium, intentionally putting in the mill marks as I went,” he says.
The results are plain to see, everywhere, from those handmade bumpers and grille to the seat side panels, door scuff plates, wiper arms and heaps more.
The interior got a rework, too, while Bill worked on the body and that deep Glasurit Mango Mist paint. He also hand made stuff like the 60 litre drop tank, feeding a two-gallon surge tank upfront. And he didn’t like the standard HT radiator’s height, so he made his own, giving him room to pull the front cowl down. Funnily enough, the fans are painted but look like they’re alloy, too.
James Carrol was appointed to redo the interior in VP Commodore-style tweed, including the narrowed VP rear bench and ultratrick handmade features like the layered door trim work and the one-piece fibreglass hoodlining.
That’s the format in which the Monaro made it to Summernats 10. And the rest, as they say in the classics, is history.
Although the engine hasn’t yet been dynoed, Bill says it’s incredibly smooth. “I’ll never build an engine without fuel injection again,” he says. “It’s so responsive and so smooth, it’s unbelievable. It’s also unbelievably scary to drive hard. It has absolutely no traction unless you nurse the throttle.” That’ll be real interesting when Bill starts racing the car after he’s shown it for a couple of years!
And what about these Cal-style comments and the rodder interest Billit got in Canberra?
“Those guys were right,” Bill says. “I aimed to build the car like a rod because I admire the way rodders do things. And I like their attitude a lot more than a lot of street machiners I’ve come across. The rodders seem to understand that if they stick together and do the right thing they’ll be able to keep their sport growing. Unfortunately, a lot of street machiners only think of themselves.”
Bill’s so much into the rod side of things, in fact, he’s looking at trying to get involved in hot rod shows and rod runs, even though the HT Monaro’s officially too modern to be classified as a hot rod.
And, even though it’d stand out among the High Boys, T-buckets and Tudors, we reckon Bill’s Billit is right up there in the spirit of rodding. And street machining at its very best.
BILLIT – WHERE IS IT NOW?
THE last time we saw BILLIT in the flesh was at Street Machine Summernats 27, in 2014. Boris Viskovic spoke to both Bill and the current owner for their take on the famous HT:
MIKE Duggan’s BILLIT Monaro should be familiar to long-time readers of Street Machine. Built by Bill Murfin, it was featured back in SM, April/May ’97 and also won SMOTY that year. Not long after it was sold to the US and has only recently come back to Australian shores. It’s pretty much unchanged from those glory days and is still in remarkable condition, but Mike figured the engine needed a little updating. “It’s just something I had laying around under the bench that used to be in a BMW drag car. It’s a 542-cube Rodeck block with Brodix heads and a Littlefield 14/71 on top. I had a carbon fibre Big & Ugly hat on it but I changed it to an old style Enderle hat to keep it as old school as I could but got rid of the Hurst Lightning Rods because I thought they dated the car a little bit,” Mike says.
The engine was built by Paul Sant at Pro Flo Performance and freshened up for BILLIT, so you know it’s got as much go as show. The 10.5 Outlaw Nova Mike debuted last year was also built by Paul and he’s planning on getting that on the track by the time you read this.
And rumours that Bill Murfin was at Summernats are unfounded. He was kicking back in Queensland, and although he hasn’t seen the car, he had heard it had been changed and wasn’t entirely convinced it was the right thing to do. “It’s not my car anymore, so it doesn’t really matter, but I don’t like blowers, they’re for trucks that haul heavy loads.”
After doing the show scene for a couple of years back in the late-90s, Bill ran into problems with storing the car and ended up selling it to someone who was heading to the US and wanted a car to drive. It ended up being sold into a private museum and was never seen.
Since then, Bill’s been heavily involved with the Variety Club in Queensland and has built 18 cars to compete in Bash events that raise money for underprivileged kids. He’s about to embark on a new career in project management, and, if the funds ever allow it, his idea of the ideal car is a custom ’41 Willys with an AWD Audi S8 driveline underneath. One thing is certain, Bill Murfin is still thinking outside the box. BV