Iconic Australian custom Fords & Chryslers

Wrapping up our iconic customs series, we look back on seven Aussie-delivered Ford and Mopar builds from the 50s and 60s


While Holden was the maker of choice for many budding Australian customisers of the 1960s and early 70s, Ford and Chrysler products from the preceding decades were also popular and cheaply available once they had a few years under their belts.

A number of builds from the Aussie-delivered Ford and Mopar stables left an indelible mark on our show scene and captured the hearts of many, so for our final instalment on custom builds of this era, we remember a few icons that flew the flag for the Blue Oval and the Pentastar.

First published in the August 2023 issue of Street Machine

1. George Clark’s 1939 Plymouth coupe

Sure, all hot rods are basically ‘custom’ by default, but it isn’t overly common to see pre-’48 models treated to body mods like headlight, grille and tail-light changes. George Clark was one builder who opted for touches more commonly applied to post-’48 builds, and his 1939 Plymouth Coupe was pioneering in many ways.

These three-window coupes were an Australian-build-only TJ Richards & Sons bodyshell, so they were already a rare car when George commenced the build in 1957. He added slightly canted International truck headlights along with a custom grille and tail-lights, while the original flathead six-cylinder was extensively modified and fitted with a ‘six-pack’ triple two-barrel carburettor set-up that George developed in 1960.

Virtually every part that could be unbolted was chromed, including the brake drums and leaf springs, and the Plymouth’s original Tangerine paintjob was later replaced with a purple metalflake respray by George’s brother, Alick; it’s rumoured to be one of Australia’s first ’flake-painted hot rods.

George and the ’39 were no slouches at the strip either, and this drag racing connection offers a clue to the car’s fate: it was this very ’39 that was later purchased and rebuilt into an iconic black pro streeter by the late, great Mario Colalillo. And it has just received a makeover at the hands of Mario’s son, Andy.

2. Tony Alessi’s AP5 Valiant

Tony Alessi’s AP5 Valiant sedan was barely two years old when it nabbed the cover of The Australian Hot Rodding Review for September/October 1965. Built into a fastback and modelled loosely on the ‘big-window’ Plymouth Barracudas of that era, Tony’s Val had the factory tail-lights mounted vertically rather than horizontally, and the custom rear screen was shaped from Perspex and covered a boot area that opened up to the interior.

The AP5 retained slant-six power, was resplendent in bright red paint, and rolled on chromed reversed rims, while the front end was tastefully customised with twin headlight assemblies from a Toyota Stout. The Val was later relocated from NSW to Brisbane, but sadly, by the mid-1970s it was seeing out its days in a local wrecking yard.

3. Vin Boyle’s 1959 Dodge Custom Royal sedan

Calling Vin Boyle’s 1959 Dodge Custom Royal sedan ‘radical’ would be a serious understatement. Vin kicked off the build in the mid-60s by sectioning the bodyshell a full six inches before trimming the doors and guards to suit. The front bumper was recessed well up into the stone tray area to form the custom nose and offer some crash protection, while the usually pronounced rear fins of this model were trimmed right down to create a hipline for the quarter panels.

The Dodge was later purchased by Bruce Andrews, who altered it from what you see here by adding US Racing five-spoke mags, a new rear bumper using two Austin Freeway units, and a boldly revamped grille featuring unmissable DODGE lettering and chromed tube bars. Mechanical performance was often an afterthought in the custom scene, but this Dodge had ample go thanks to its 350hp, 361ci Chrysler V8 sporting a Wade solid cam and twin Carter four-barrel carbs.

Thankfully, this amazing Mopar survives in the hands of custom aficionado Leigh Russell, who purchased it in 1976 and is currently preparing it for a return to the streets.

4. Dave Andrews’s 1953 Ford Customline

The ‘Top Custom of Australia’ gong for 1967 was awarded to Dave Andrew’s 1953 Ford Customline. Dave’s wildly restyled Cusso was built at his brother Tony ‘Blue J’ Andrew’s Kustom City and, later, Mag Wheel Centre shops, where Dave worked as a paint and panel man. He began by welding up the rear doors, frenching a pair of aerials and adding air scoops to the rear quarters and bonnet, before creating a custom nose that used canted Toyota headlights and a handcrafted, chromed copper-tube grille set above a rollpan.

The rear was shaved of any unnecessary additions before being outfitted with a matching rollpan, number plate recess and ’59 Cadillac tail-lights – surely one of the first cars to sport this mod in Australia along with the Pirotta/Caruana ‘Crimson Pirate’ Model A bucket.

The completed body was lavished in multiple coats of deep bronze flake and finished off with a set of Mag Wheel Centre ‘Kustom Mag’ rims. A hopped-up 250ci sidevalve V8 provided the grunt, backed by a British Riley four-speed.

The Customline was later sold so Dave could focus on other projects, and, like many other customs, has since been lost to time.

5. Neil Flynn’s XL Falcon sedan

This custom Falcon known as Delta has led an eventful life indeed. Built in the late 1960s by young Brisbane panel beater Neil Flynn, Delta was crafted from a written-off XL Falcon sedan and treated to Mustang-esque fastback styling from the A-pillars back. Once Neil had wielded his sheet-metal skills over the main bodyshell, he added an XP front clip and gold Amos wheels, and painted the car in Fire Red Candy with gold stripes and lacework.

A Valiant slant-six and Torqueflite were both lavished in metalflake paint and chrome, and the build scored People’s Choice, Best Interior and second in Radical at the 1969 Brisbane Hot Rod Show. Local policeman Cliff Crawford was smitten with Delta and bought it from Neil, using it as daily transport until 1973, when his ever-growing family struggled with the limitations of two doors. Delta ended up waist-deep in water during the 1974 Brisbane floods, before later being stolen and used as a getaway car for an armed robbery. It was back on the Brisbane scene by the mid-1990s sporting maroon paint and a Windsor conversion, before disappearing into the back blocks of a Chinese market garden and resurfacing again in 2012.

Happily, these days Delta is in the hands of another panel beater, Chris East, who plans to restore the car to its original 1960s guise.

6. Bob Hoskins’s 1955 Customline

Customlines were a popular Ford product here in the years before the Aussie Falcon and were often used for hot street, race or custom projects. However, none were quite as wild as this 1955 model built by South Australian Bob Hoskins.

An avid hot rodder and customiser, Bob was a skilled fabricator and initially considered a roof chop for the Cusso, but instead opted for a sectioned body, removing five inches from above and below the centreline before pancaking the roof an additional 2.5 inches to further lower its profile. Tube frames created the basis for the custom front and rear ends, while modified wheelarches, chromed reversed rims and Vermilion Fire paint with matte-black highlights and a gold vinyl roof completed the look. The matching gold vinyl interior was just as radical, with four bucket seats, a full front-to-rear centre console and a plethora of gauges and switches.

A warmed-over Y-block V8 backed by a Humber Super Snipe four-speed gearbox were just the ticket for Bob and the Cusso to clock up several thousand kilometres once it was finished in 1972. The car went through a number of hands and even a sinister flat-black paintjob before being stored for the past three decades, but it remains in Adelaide and has received a worthy restoration back to its Hoskins specification.

7. Ron Wickham’s 1952 Ford F100

An absolute showstopper both here and during its 1970 tour across the ditch, Ron Wickham’s beautiful 1952 Ford F100 was a radical custom indeed. Ron began the build in the late 1960s with a well-used ex-NRMA tow truck, shortening the chassis six inches and sectioning the cab a further six. The front was extended to create a trick Firebird-inspired nose, finished with a fibreglass bonnet, Toyota headlights and handmade split grille. The tray was from an XT Falcon ute and was shortened in length, width and height, and used two pairs of inverted HD sedan tail-lights to create a Mustang effect.

The Blue Wildfire paint was complemented by extensive chrome plating throughout, along with bright yellow and white detailing for the Chrysler 313-cube ‘Poly’ engine, which featured triple and later quad carb set-ups on Ron-built intakes. Unfortunately, subsequent owners of this Effy weren’t as caring, and by the 1980s it was languishing in a Newcastle wrecking yard. The remains were saved by a Brisbane fan, John Bishop, who began a significant and faithful rebuild on the truck before offering it up for sale as an unfinished project in 1985.

That is where the trail runs cold; it has been nearly 40 years since the Wickham F100’s last sighting, likely making it another Australian custom icon that we’ve lost.