We look back at a few builds that rocked our car world 30-plus years ago

Photographers: Alex Smits, Custom Vans & Trucks

HERE at SM we’re all about cutting-edge builds that feature the latest technologies and mind-blowing craftsmanship. But we also love old-school customs and harbour a great respect for our tyre-torching forefathers. We always strive to promote and defend our modified car history in an attempt to educate and unite generations of our sport. So strap yourselves in for a look at a few builds that rocked our car world 30-plus years ago.

Bill -cooper -holden -monaro -alex -smits1. Bill Cooper’s HQ Monaro was a popular show-winner that ran a blown 350 Chev, Turbo 400 and Detroit Locker nine-inch combo. The Monza Red body was treated to a mix of subtle and not-so-subtle mods, including a Commodore front, Manta-type rear flares to house 10-inch Keystone Klassic rims, and HJ sedan tail-lamps and rear bumper in order to ‘late-model’ the HQ two-door shell.

Hunchback -panel -van Alex -smits2. Hunchback is one of Australia’s most recognisable customs due to its unusual morphing of HT Monaro and HT panel van. A mammoth project undertaken by paint and body whiz Steven Wilson in the 70s and early 80s, Hunchback appeared in a number of guises, including gloss black with flames, candy apple red with murals, and finally silver with candy graphics, before disappearing from the show scene in the mid-80s.

Hunchback -panel -van -rear -alex -smitsExtensive full-steel modifications included a flip front, one-piece tailgate and guard flares, while the LTD tail-light conversion was one of the first to find its way onto a custom van. The tunnel-rammed 350 Chev was eventually fitted to the late Pat Fay’s Humpy Mekka FJ hearse.

Jim -vanarey -ford -falcon -xa3. Not all custom street machines were just for show. Jim Vanarey’s XA hardtop was good for a 12.6@118mph in full street trim at Castlereagh – a very quick road car for 1979. “I had Mickey Atholwood build me a 372-cube NASCAR Clevo, which was backed by a Liberty-shifted Top Loader and Dana 60 rear,” Jim says. “Originally the car was a Walnut Glow XA Fairmont I bought in 1977, running a lazy 302, C4 auto and BorgWarner diff; it was nothing special in those days. As an apprentice in the 60s we built a few custom FJs, so it was just in the blood, you didn’t leave anything stock. I owned a panel shop by then, so I fitted an XB GS bonnet and made the custom front using chromed brass rod and ’61 Chev headlamps and indicators, before laying down gloss black paint and flames. The wheels were Appliance wires I had widened to 15×12 on the rear and fitted with N50 Mickey Thompson tyres. It used to aquaplane like crazy in the wet; if there was one cloud in the sky you wouldn’t take it out! I sold it in ’83 to a young bloke and that was the last I heard of it.”

John -zeigler -ute4. If you’re thinking this ute looks familiar, cast your mind back to the Fat Nancy’s diner scene in Mad Max, when Goose black-tracks it out of the car park to join the Nightrider chase: Glistening in the background sun on this beautiful stretch of Highway 9 was John Zeigler’s HJ ute, resplendent in metallic green paint with endless line and patch panel detailing.

John -zeigler -ute -3The Mercedes headlights, double-length tail-lights and rear wing were retained for its later black incarnation (SM, Jul-Aug 1986), though the sail panels were opened up and the remaining body and paint toned down from its 70s guise.

John -zeigler -ute -4John was a renowned hot rodder and restorer prior to creating this masterpiece, and it’s still in his possession today. Just like the Interceptor hardtop and subsequent replicas, John’s ute seems immune to ‘wrecked a classic’ hatred due to its association with Max, but was a crowd-pleaser in its own right before being entrenched as a movie icon.

Gary -hopwood -convertible5. Gary Hopwood’s Falcon convertible was by far the best-looking and finished of any locally chopped Aussie two-door, and was built in conjunction with renowned custom guru Paul Kelly. ZH Fairlane Marquis front and rear styling added a luxurious edge to the build, while the grafting of a widened ’71 Mustang convertible rear bulkhead enabled the use of that particular US model’s glass and cloth roof. The pair’s attention to detail eliminated a design sore point often associated with similar Falcon conversions: the bulbous quarter panel peaks that are left once the roof has been cut away at the base of the rear glass and side windows. Gary’s Ford flowed perfectly and was often mistaken for a factory one-off.