Whether it’s garden art or rolling art, John Baker knows how to turn old metal into gold


THE first thing you notice when you pull up to John Baker’s property, in the New England region of NSW, is the garden art.

Sometime around 2008, John had a few days alone at home, so he and his dad placed an old ’38 Bedford ute in the yard. John had long held a dream of building a ute based around a ’38 International D2 coupe, and the Bedford was a similar-looking thing, easily relocated and readily available. Over the next few days they extracted some bodywork from an EK wagon and pinned a set of rear guards onto the back of the Beddy. It looked good from every angle.

It sat like that in the yard for a while, and eventually Angela, John’s wife, decided this piece of sculpture didn’t look half bad, so a ’32 Vauxhall was soon added. It had to look the part, so it was given a five-inch chop and fitted with an old Ford flattie up front. To complete the work, a Riley grille was placed, artfully, to catch the morning light. Things grow well in this garden.

Further up the garden path, there grows another metallic plant: a shed. One of those proper-sized sheds that city slickers only dream of. Actually, it’s two sheds really; a second building adjoins the main workshop.

Inside the workshop, a two-poster hoist is nicely placed near a workbench, and the open back door allows plenty of light with which to work during the day. There is a metal-folding machine down at the opposite shutter, waiting for a little floor space to be cleared, but the prize is the old Purcell New Visby Mk3 long-bed lathe. This is one impressive piece of machinery, just waiting for someone to start working the magic it can achieve.

Hot rods have been a lifelong interest for John, ever since he was given his first runabout, a ’28 Model A Ford, by his dad when he was eight. In recent years John’s big toy has been his dirt rat rod. He rummaged through his beloved International Harvester surplus, came up with a nicely chopped ’38 International pick-up and plonked an LS1 and a Powerglide into it. This is one smile-inducing machine, and the Farmall grille really pleases the local farmers – they recognise it from their reliable old farm tractors. Fancy putting a tractor grille on a hot rod!

John is helped with his various projects by his “genius mate” Mal, who is currently putting the finishing touches on a ’32 Ford. This rod is owned by Sam, one of John’s two sons, and is an impressive piece of kit. Full metal, too. It has a Poly engine, slightly stroked to give it 388 cubes. Only time will tell how many neddies this mill puts out, but it’s a beautiful build.

In the adjoining shed there is a four-poster hoist, which currently supports John’s most recent project, a ’34 Plymouth. I’m sure there are practical reasons for the four-poster, but I reckon it’s really for John to show off the engineering under his cars! The powerplant of the Plymouth is a 408 Chrysler small-block, and the chassis comes from a ’37 Plymouth. The front end, however, is from a 403 Peugeot! I recall that a 403 Pug had won the Redex Trial; that front end must have been tough to do that. John’s Plymouth just looks so cool; it is one of those cars you just wish had looked like that from new.

As for John’s International D2 ’38 coupe dream, he eventually did find a real TJ Richards-bodied D2 coupe made in Adelaide, and got to work using his original ideas. The powerplant chosen was an LS1 coupled to a GM 4L60-E transmission. All the heavy bits are supported by a Jaguar front end, which also provides the steering rack. The tail is slightly different though; it uses much of the hind section of an old FB station wagon! To drive in this Inter is a pleasure; you get all the looks and plenty of comfort.

As for John, one suspects he’ll keep sitting in the yard pondering what to do next. What about a De Soto? There’s no telling what will grow when John Baker potters in the garden!