Flashback: Draggin’ Coupe’s history and revival

The story of how one of Australian's most famous customs of the 60s came back, better than ever

Photographers: Matt Everingham

We revisit our 2013 feature on an iconic piece of Aussie custom history – the tale of the Draggin’ Coupe. Here’s the full story, as first published in SM Hot Rod magazine 10.

When we last checked in on John Trunzo’s FJ coupe (better known as Lance Simmers Draggin’ Coupe, SM Hot Rod Annual, ’08) John was well into a restoration of this Australian custom icon and we took the opportunity to interview Lance on the history of the car.

Since then, John has finished the car and it positively glows in its new Burnt Orange Candy over silver duco. The car has quickly secured a horde of new tinware to add to the treasure trove Lance amassed in the 60s and 70s, starting with the reborn coupe’s debut at the FX-FJ Nationals at Bathurst late last year, where it took out the Best Radical Custom gong.

It was a fitting reward for a car that has suffered some trials and tribulations over the past four decades. The car that was to become known as the Draggin’ Coupe was created by Ian Bradley of Wagga Wagga, NSW, who built four wild FJ customs. “I consider the first FJ I cut to be the best,” Ian says. “The body was completely cut around the floor pan and fuel tank. It sat on a shortened single-spinner Ford chassis, complete with all of the running gear.

“The next was an FJ coupe with a shortened roof but not lowered throughout the body. I drove that one; the car ended up in Perth.

“The mysterious and legendary coupe was nearly ready for paint when I sold it to Lance — in fact I helped him paint it. It was built in a shed at Stuart Auto Wreckers, where I cut an FJ body to lower it 7in and shorten it 12in. The same depth of cut was made across the centre pillars and doors so as to retain all the door fittings, locks and windows.

“The front door skin edges on the bottom and sides up to the cut were folded back and the lower sections moved up and the skin then cut and folded back around again. The same cut was made around the rear door panels and boot, with the boot panel reshaped.

The floor and sills were shortened to get the rear door panel as close to the centre pillar as possible. The roof was cut, lapped over and shortened.”

Underneath, Ian cut and boxed the subframes to suit an EK crossmember and fitted a complete EK driveline and suspension. Phew!

The last FJ Ian built was called the Red Baron for Brien Barklem, which had a lowered body but was unshortened.

Under Lances’s stewardship, the FJ became known as the Draggin’ Coupe and was a familar sight at shows, drags strips and in magazines. He treated it to a series of further modifications, such as replacing the EJ tail-lights for HD items, fitting a strong red motor driveline and converting the bonnet to a forward-opening configuration.

The coupe wasn’t just used for shows and drag racing; it also served as the family car but as his kids grew, Lance traded it for a new Ford Fairmont in 1973.

From there, the FJ suffered the indiginity of being converted into Bumper the Talking Car, with opening mouth, eyes and flapping ears! Bumper was a regular sight at fêtes and markets during the 70s, after which the car passed into legend.

Rumours of the car’s rusty demise circulated until it was found and rescued by John Trunzo.

“I didn’t know what I’d found until I dropped in on my brake guy, Alan Brackenridge. He came over to have a look at what I was up to and said: ‘Mate, this is the Lance Simmers Coupe.’

John was careful not to sanitise the car and remove part of its history

That didn’t mean anything to me, but I looked into it and my partner, Liane, started calling all the Simmers in the phonebook and found Lance.

“From that first call he was enthusiastic and supportive of what I was trying to do. He travelled down from Queensland a few times, filling in the gaps in the story.”

While parts of the car were in amazingly good condition, particularly the chrome, John’s standards meant the restoration was always going to take the car to a new level.

The majority of the build occurred in John’s humble two-car shed, with the assistance of his good mate Warren Haynes.

“Warren only came around to help with the tail-lights. He kept coming back for four years and is responsible for the awesome body and paint work. He is a perfectionist and spent a long time getting the panel gaps just right.”

The task was a daunting one — to get the coupe to modern show car standards without compromising its originality.

Underneath, the boys filled voids, replaced the floor and spring hangers, filled a ton of holes, plated the front end and boxed in the subframes. But John was careful not to go too far and sanitise the car.

“Inside the boot, you can still see where the EJ tail-lights and the original FJ fuel filler were welded up. I wasn’t going to smooth that out and remove that part of the car’s history. At one point I started deburring the gearbox Ron Barclay style, but I realised it was too much.”

The undercarriage, interior and door jambs were painted in John’s shed, along with 100s of individual parts. The car only went to a professional paint booth for the exterior paint.

“Warren spent a whole day masking the car, but the result speaks for itself,” John says.

New trim by Peter Quinlan, integrated accessory gauges, a set of Mawer mags and superlative engine bay details completed an extraordinary build.

“I’m glad it’s over in a way but I got a lot of pleasure out of building it. The best thing is finding people who remember the car from back in the day. At the FX-FJ Nationals, a truck driver spotted it, stopped his semi and came over. Turns out he used to ogle the car at Lances’s servo when he was a kid in Wagga.

“He was blown away to see the car and even more amazed to be able to speak to Lance in person after 40-odd years. That stuff is priceless.”

1955 Fj Holden Coupe
John Trunzo

Colour: Burnt Orange Candy

Engine:186 red
Carbs:45mm Webers
Box:Opel four-speed
Diff:HR 3.55:1 LSD
Front end:HR crossmember
Rear end:HR
Brakes:HR discs (f), HR drums (r)
Rims:Mawer, 13×6 (f), 13×9 (r)
Rubber:185/70 (f), 235/60 (r)

Warren Haynes, who is responsible for the awesome body and paint; my partner Liane who kept us supplied with coffee and conversation; John Brown and John Silcock for their expertise and especially Lance Simmers, who was so supportive from the first phone call right through to the car’s debut at the FX-FJ Nationals