For Simon Pickrell, a childhood trip to Exhibition Park in Canberra cemented his passion for tough, top-quality Blue Ovals. “I first went to Summernats 25 years ago,” the 46-year-old recounts. “I’d always had a love for cars growing up and a soft spot for Fords, but when I got to the ’Nats for the first time, that’s when the bug really hit. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to build an Elite-level street car that I could take.”
First published in the September 2022 issue of Street Machine
But as many of us have learned, life has a habit of getting in the way, and it would be another couple of decades before Simon could realise his dream. “This build has been a 25-year itch that I’ve only just scratched!” he laughs. “The concept was really quite simple; it’s not a GT or a tribute, or a purist’s resto – it’s just my vision of a tough streeter.”
The build kicked off in early 2020 with Simon scouring the nation for an ideal canvas. “I spent about six months and endless kilometres searching and inspecting cars to no avail, until I found this XW listed on Marketplace,” he says. “I flew into Sydney and hired a car, drove to a small town just outside of Camden and met a guy named Gino. He was a super-nice bloke and had a couple of interesting-looking cars lying around, and more parts in his shed than you could possibly imagine.”
The XW in question was in reasonable shape, with a non-running 351 Cleveland in the engine bay. “After a bit of negotiating, we struck a deal and I was back on a plane on my way home and sending a truck to pick it up.”
Once the car had landed in his garage on the Gold Coast, Simon got stuck into stripping the Fairmont before having it blasted and primed. It was then hitched to a dolly and handed over to Yatala’s Rust Rat Kustoms for the full treatment.
Mark Sugars from Demon Mechanical was roped in to assemble a killer mill. While a 408ci Cleveland was initially on the table, the allure of big-block cubes became too strong for Simon to resist. “It didn’t take long before I changed my mind,” he admits. “Mark has a long history of drag racing his own cars and engines at Willowbank, so if you need a bulletproof engine, that’s where you go.”
Built on a 460 Ford block, the bottom end is packed with a Scat crank and rods, pushing JE pistons for a hefty displacement of 544 cubes. It breathes through Kaase Boss Nine semi-hemi aluminium heads and a Boss Nine 4150 manifold, topped by a Holley 950 carb.
A Comp cam runs the Ferrea valves, with exhaust gases removed through custom two-inch HPC headers and a three-inch twin system. A Melling oil pump draws from a custom sump to keep everything slick, and a PWR radiator with twin 13-inch thermo fans handles cooling duties with aplomb. “Mark and Dallas from Demon nailed the brief for the engine and delivered exactly what I was chasing, given I intend to do a lot of driving,” Simon says. “It’s the perfect balance to send at roll racing on the weekends or do a school drop-off on Monday morning – you can feel the anger under the throttle, but it doesn’t misbehave in traffic.”
Our photoshoot meant Simon had to reschedule the Fairmont’s dyno booking, but by the time you read this, it should have a dyno sheet somewhere in the region of 700hp at the flywheel.
The big-block is paired to a manualised C6 with a 3400rpm converter, hooked to a custom three-inch tailshaft and Strange nine-inch third member with a Truetrac 3.5:1 centre and 31-spline billet axles.
All the while, the Rust Rat team were pouring countless hours into the Fairmont’s bodywork and interior. The rear guards were stretched and mini-tubs were welded in to handle 20-inch Simmons hoops, a new boot floor and walls were fabricated, and the transmission tunnel was raised. Up front, the firewall was smoothed and the K-frame was turfed.
A set of fabbed engine bay walls and a custom radiator support were also installed, and the shock towers were deleted to help free up real estate for the hulking big-block. Further touches include a shaved fuel filler, and cut and tucked bumpers for an ultra-neat look.
It’s capped off with a coating of PPG Designo Magno Selenite matte grey, laid on by Eric at Rust Rat. It’s a tint usually seen on late-model AMG Mercs, not 50-year-old muscle cars. “It was hard to paint it in a black or red or green, just because there’s so many killer XWs and XYs out there in those colours, and I wanted something that would stand out,” Simon explains. “So I’d pretty much picked it out before I bought the car.”
With driveability at the forefront of Simon’s mind, the Fairmont was never going to have lacklustre underpinnings. “It needed to handle like a go-kart,” he reasons. That meant a Rod Shop IFS front end, with power rack-and-pinion steering and Viking coil-overs. The rear end is a custom triangulated four-link deal, and a Wilwood boosterless master feeds four-piston Wilwood calipers over 320mm rotors on each corner.
A look inside the Fairmont reveals a similar ethos. “With the tough streeter vision in mind, the build had to tick a lot of boxes like having a fat set of wheels and a bad-arse stance, but it also needed all the mod cons for comfort,” Simon explains. Retrimmed four-way B-series XR8 bucket seats accommodate four, and there’s a 10.5in Alpine head unit tucked in the dash alongside reverse camera functionality and a remote central locking/immobiliser system.
An electric a/c set-up from Restomod Air makes Queensland summer driving a breeze. There’s a full-length centre console hewn from steel, which swoops up between the rear buckets and transforms seamlessly into the parcel shelf. The padless dash is a more subtle component and was cut and stretched to fit the custom-fabbed gauge surround.
“There’s lots of little things on the car that people don’t notice at first, but they’re probably some of my favourite bits, especially when people do see them,” Simon says. “I couldn’t be happier with the whole crew from Rust Rat Kustoms. These guys handled the entire build in-house, from the endless hours of custom fabrication, panel, paint, wiring and engineering to the complete reassembly of the car.”
As the build neared completion, Simon applied for a spot at Summernats 34. Before long, he got a call from head judge Owen Webb with an invitation to the Elite Hall as part of the Great Meguiar’s Uncover. “That was pretty damn exciting,” Simon beams. “It was also a bit nerve-wracking knowing I’d done something left-of-centre by choosing a matte-finish paint for an Elite build. But when the covers came off, the crowd loved it and the nerves were gone!”
In the end, Simon came away with a coveted Top 20 Elite finalist spot, and better yet, an approving family. “The wife and kids love it,” he says. “Full credit to my wife for her patience and understanding during the build. She only saw it as a stripped and blasted shell in our garage at home before it went to the shop to start the build journey, and the next time she saw it was when I drove it into our garage, completely finished with full registration two-and-a-half years later!”
The Summernats reception left him stoked, but Simon’s adventures didn’t end there. “After an amazing weekend, we loaded up the XW and were on our way back to the Gold Coast, but an hour or so outside Canberra the gearbox in my Ranger let go,” he says. “We were stranded on a freeway in the middle of nowhere with a busted-arse Ranger, pulling a fully enclosed trailer with the XW inside! We had to find a tow truck capable of carrying the whole load, plus four hungover and really tired dudes! We spent about four hours waiting for a tow, followed by a really long and slow 800km drive back home.”
The experience would have traumatised some, but Simon’s already got the feelers out for another project. “I’m keeping my options open at the moment, but I’m keen to get into a patina-style truck, so maybe an early F100, a jailbar or an International – something like that.”
1970 XW FAIRMONT
|PPG Designo Magno Selenite
|544ci big-block Ford
|Kaase Boss Nine 4150
|50L fuel cell, Aeroflow in-tank pump
|PWR, twin 13in thermo fans
|Custom 2in HPC headers, twin 3in system
|MSD distributor and 6AL box
|Custom 3in, Strange 1350 yoke
|Strange 9in Truetrac, 3.5:1 gears
|The Rod Shop IFS, Viking coil-overs
|Four-link, Viking coil-overs
|Wilwood 320mm discs, four-piston calipers (f & r)
|The Rod Shop power rack-and-pinion
|Simmons FR; 20×8 (f), 20×11 (r)
|235/35R20 (f), 285/30R20 (r)
Richard, Tony, Eric and the whole crew at Rust Rat Kustoms; Mark Sugars and Dallas at Demon Mechanical; Warren at WA Canvas & Auto Trim; Mark at Old Skool Auto Electrician; the crew at Headworx Yatala; Go-Pipes; Naomi, Harper and Ari; Ando, Seth and Saxon