Blown 289-cube 1933 Ford coupe – flashback

This gorgeous GT-powered coupe was a cutting-edge rod in 1969, and it can still teach us a thing or two about style today

Photographers: Cristian Brunelli

This article on Rod Henderson’s ’33 Ford coupe was originally published in Street Machine’s Hot Rod magazine, 2007

1969: In the Sydney suburb of Carlingford a young Dick Bushell sold his ’32 roadster to his younger brother. The car had been Dick’s first attempt at a hot rod and he felt he’d missed the mark a bit. Nothing daunted, he immediately started work on a ’33 Ford coupe. This one was different: it was finished off with all-Falcon XR GT running gear that was less than a year old, white upholstery and a brilliant red paint job that made it stand out in any crowd. Small wonder the car would become one of the cutting edge rods of its day. Not only was it quick, it was a practical street rod, doing duty on everything from rod runs to slogs through heavy traffic during train strikes; but it was also a show stopper, winning a number of trophies.

The coupe has all the hallmarks of a typical cutting-edge rod of ’60s Australia, including the 5in channel and bobbed rear fenders

Fast forward to 2000. South Australian hot rodder Rod Henderson is in the process of buying a channelled ’33 coupe out of Brisbane, sight unseen.

“I figured the worst I could do would be to sell it on to someone,” Rod recalls. “When it was delivered to home, it was in a pretty agricultural shape. I put some trade plates on it and drove it around the block, and quite frankly, I knew then that it was going to need a serious rebuild.

“I let it sit in the garage for a while, and various rodding friends dropped around to take a look. One of them suggested that he knew the car. He thought it was Dick Bushell’s old coupe from the late 60s. I had a bunch of old magazines, and we dug around and found pictures of it, and sure enough, that was what I had.”

Dick Bushell originally made his own taillights from a pair of conrods and pistons, but Ron opted for a set of ’50 Pontiac units instead

Rod found this once-pristine example of the hot rodder’s art was in a bad way, with odd wheels on each side, dings in the body, springs sticking through the worn upholstery, broken window glass, and just 30 years’ worth of general wear and tear. Rod and his mates – including a neighbour from up the road, Paul Grossi, who walked into the garage one day after seeing the hot rods around and asking if he could help – started pulling it apart.

“I figured that the work on it would be fairly straightforward, and I could still sell it on, maybe even more easily, if I had fixed some of the faults,” Rod explains.

Rod’s other…err….rod is this fully fendered and unchopped American ’34 pick-up

But the coupe began to grow on him. More and more people heard of the car and came to have a look. One of its previous owners, who had been trying to buy it from the guy in Queensland, tracked him down and began asking questions. People made comments, like, “Gee, this is the car that got me into hot rodding”, and “Wow, I remember seeing this car in shows back in 1970”.

Rod figured he had something more than just an old hot rod, so the decision grew on him that the right thing to do here was to rebuild this car completely, into a true 60s-style machine.

Restoring it to the exact state it was in when Dick Bushell had first built it was not something he wanted to get into: Rod didn’t want a restoration, he wanted the style.

The car had been through several repaints since its departure from Bushell’s hands, to purple, when it was known as Purple Passion, and then to black.

Those areas inside the cabin and the boot that had not suffered could be left as they were, which helped to simplify the repaint. However, the rest of the body went through a full restoration at the hands of Grant Robinson, who plied the body rebuilders’ craft to remove the dings and prep it up to the stage of primer. The final coats of straight black were applied by Ashley Ward.

The front end is a 3in drop ’33 Ford and transverse spring, with four-bar radius rods, Austin 1800 steering and Rod-Tech shots

The floor and the firewall remained the polished aluminium which had originally been fitted by Bushell. They just needed a tidy up.

The suspension was badly in need of repair. The springs needed to be retefloned, the bushes replaced and the worn old Mini shock absorbers that had graced all corners for the past 30 years were swapped for stainless steel Rod-Tech units. The front axle remains a three-inch drop ’33 Ford and transverse spring but now with four-bar radius rods replacing the split originals. The Ford transverse spring remains at the rear, along with the ¾-inch steel radius rods and swaybar.

The steering is still the original Austin 1800 rack and pinion – an unusual fitting for a 60s hot rod – simply with a rebuild.

The rest of the car’s mechanicals are GT Falcon, including the 289 donk, close-ratio four-speed, diff and brakes. The car’s exotic driveline came courtesy of a friend who had a brand new XR Falcon stolen from his place. The car, dumped minus the motor, turned up a few weeks later, and the remnants were sold to Dick. Then, a few weeks later, the engine appeared, and since he had the rest of the car, Dick also bought that, and used all this as the source of so many of the bits he fitted to the coupe.

These days, the coupe has a few more herbs than the factory intended. “The internals were mostly Isky, but after I’d agreed to buy the car, the guy told me the car had these huge Mickey Thompson tyres and rims on the rear, and a GMC blower. I told him I didn’t want the rear rims because they were so big, but I thought I’d take a punt on the blower. It turned up in a separate box. To be frank, it was pretty terrible, painted in silverfrost and in need of a lot of work.”

Don Morna got to work polishing it, before a custom-made manifold was machined up by Phil Taylor in Adelaide, then Grossi got it ready to go.

Cooling is still provided courtesy of the Mk II Zephyr radiator adapted for the purpose, and sitting behind the ’32 grille, all by Dick, although Rod had the radiator recored.

Dick’s original header-type exhausts had long gone, and the mish-mash of pipes that came with the car were definite non-starters as far as Rod was concerned, so he fashioned a set of lakes pipes that look very appropriate.

Among the genuine GT items originally fitted to the car to have disappeared were the rims – the crummy unmatched steel rims that came with the car were one of the biggest put-offs of the whole deal for Rod. He had a set of Cragars, which would have both fitted and been suitable period-wise, but he wanted something unique. He’d seen a design in a magazine, which he had reproduced from CNC-machined billets, and the centres were then pressed into alloy rims, producing 14x6s for the front and 15x8s for the rear, for that “big-little” effect. The offset matched the track to the original ’33 Ford, as required by South Australian law. As one-off items they give the car a distinct look in any crowd.

Dick Bushell fitted his rod out almost brand-new XR GT driveline, now stuffed full of Isky internals and crowned by a GMC blower

For Rod, the final look of the car was critical, and much time was spent getting the ride height “just right”. A friend who ran a tyre outlet in Adelaide got in a bunch of different tyres, and these were in turn fitted to the rims and tried on the car to find just the right combination. In the end, though, Rod opted for a set of whitewall Avon rear tyres – in an unusual 255/65-15 size – which he already owned, along with a pair of whitewall Kumho 185/75-14s for the front, were the final parts of the combo.

Since then, the ride height has been adjusted up and down to get it just where Rod wants it, which offers a combination of both appearance and practicality.

As we explained, the interior was pretty worn when Rod received the car, so he measured everything up, and had the Morris 1100 bench seat Dick originally installed, and the rest of the interior, reupholstered in white in a diamond pattern by Wayne and Jeff’s Trim Shop, copying the design that Dick had done.

The rest of the interior was kept in the same 60s style, with Smiths gauges, the original 1960s Wattmaster stereo and speakers and, to top it off, a no-name aftermarket steering wheel that a friend just happened to have hanging in his garage. The friend donated it to the cause, and with a custom-made boss, it adapted perfectly to the car and the look is “just right”.

The finishing touches have left the car a little different in other ways from Dick’s initial version. The original Fiat tractor headlights had been replaced at some stage, by the small tractor-style units that Rod prefers. He’s since replaced the bulbs and modified them to work efficiently for safe use on the road.

One of Bushell’s own touches was a set of taillights, made from a pair of conrods and pistons, with the lights mounted on the piston tops and the rods attached to a chrome cross-bar at the rear. “They would have been easy to replace,” says Rod, “but they would be rather ugly for today. When I got the car, it simply had a pair of trailer lights. They were one of the first things I removed and threw into the bin.”

A pair of 1950 Pontiac taillights came from the States, but when they arrived found to be too large to fit between the bottom of the boot lid and the swaged lip at bottom of the rear bodywork. Grant Robinson spent a lot of time cutting into the swaging and repairing it in metal to get it right.
A year ago, Rod moved from Adelaide to take up residence in Castlemaine, central Victoria, because he liked the hot rodding culture there, and because of the lifestyle he enjoyed and the many friendships he’d made in the town.

The interior remains very close to ’60s spec, complete with diamond-pattern trim, Smiths gauges, Wattmaster stereo and Morris 1100 bench seat

These days, the car runs on street-rod registration in Victoria. “I don’t do a lot of miles in it,” Rod explains, “so I figured that would be the best option. I take it out to a few rod runs on occasion, and get it out sometimes on the weekend. My ’34 pick-up gets used all the time, so it has normal road registration. In fact, I’ve even had the coupe on a trailer behind the pick-up, and they looked pretty cool together.”

Having bought his car, Rod was understandably very keen to meet Dick Bushell, who is still very active in the rodding world, but kept “just missing” him, until a couple of years ago when he spotted a ’32 Phaeton with DB number plates at the Street Rod Nationals and ventured to pose the question, “Are you Dick Bushell?” The pair have since met on other occasions, and Rod has now taken the original builder for a spin in his old car – he was “suitably impressed”.


“Yeah, it was great, it brought back some great memories,” said Dick Bushell, when asked about seeing the old coupe he’d built and then driven for 16 years.

Bushell explained that he had been a bit distracted by his own problems when he was approached by Rod Henderson, who offered Dick a ride in his old ’33.

“We’d had a long trip, down through Broken Hill from Yamba, where I live now, and my car, a ’32 tourer, had been boiling the auto trans fluid. I had some work to do to get it home, and I wasn’t paying Rod my full attention.

“I think Rod’s done a tremendous job. It’s still a street-driveable car, the way it was for me.

“I hadn’t seen the car since I ran across it at the Wintersun Festival a few years back. It’s still a great car, and it’s neat to know it’s still on the road. We had some great fun in that car, but of course we were idiots. It’s nice to see it returned to its old glory.”


Colour: Schwartz Black

Type: Ford 289
Supercharger: GMC
Inlet: Custom
Carb: Holley
Cam: Isky solid
Pistons: Isky forged
Heads: Isky
Exhaust: 4in lake pipes

Box: 4-speed Top Loader
Clutch: Heavy Duty
Diff: 8¼in, 2.8:1

Brakes: XR GT discs and drums
Front suspension: 3in dropped axle, transverse spring, Rod Tech shocks, four-bar radius rods
Rear: Transverse spring, Rod Tech shocks, ¾in radius rods and sway bar
Steering: Austin 1800 rack and pinion

Rims: Custom billet 6x14in (f), 8x15in (r)
Rubber: Kumho 185/75 (f), Avon 255/65 (r)