As a kid in the 1980s, I loved magazine project cars – awesome rides like the supercharged XF Falcon and Project Berlina in MOTOR; Street Machine’s iconic HQFORU; and Project Oval, a rotary-powered VW Beetle in Fast Fours & Rotaries. I was hooked on the processes, people and tech involved in making a car quicker, better and cooler.
So imagine my joy to end up landing a job at Street Machine, which saw me being involved in the build of not just one but two SM project cars!
The first SM project build I was hands-on with was a WB Holden ute dubbed Wild Child. The build had actually begun in the early 1990s, but by the time I’d joined Street Machine in ’95, this poor old WB was covered in dust at a Sydney TAFE college, where students had done some bodywork on it.
As many of us know, taking on an unfinished project is almost always laced with dramas, and yep, there were plenty of those.
The car had a transplanted VN Commodore 5.0-litre V8 and four-speed auto, which sounds simple and old-school now, but back in those early days of electronically fuel-injected engine transplants, there wasn’t much information on the internet about how to do it – mainly because there was hardly an internet back then!
Oh yeah, and that V8 had been modified, boasting squeezed comp, longer conrods and a lumpy cam, so not only was I dealing with a mess of hacked-up EFI wiring, but I also had an engine that could never run properly with the standard tune in the brainbox.
I can’t remember now if it took me six weeks or a year to get that thing running right, but crikey, was it a task! I was on a very steep learning curve with EFI and Holden’s Delco computer. Luckily for me, while doing a Crow Cams tech story for the mag, I’d met ‘Fast Eddy’ Vieusseux, who knew a bit about EFI. With his encouragement – and with his borrowed Holden workshop manuals – I sorted through the car’s chopped-up engine loom wire by wire to get the idle control, speed sensor and trans position inputs working.
However, even with everything wired right and a different chip on board, that modified engine never had the mojo of a standard Holden EFI V8. It was blaze-the-tyres strong above about 4500rpm, but comatose at street speeds. Still, I was happy to have fixed its stalling and stumbles, and the EFI knowledge I gained then has helped me immensely since.
All that spanner-work meant a fair bit of time away from the office. I remember one suit – who went home at 5pm and therefore didn’t witness my late-afternoon arrivals at the office for evening catch-up with the magazine’s production – pointing his finger at me about the ‘holiday’ that he hadn’t approved. Yeah, right.
Other aspects of that project were much less of a chore – including working with artist Jeff Haggarty and painter Owen Webb to get Wild Child looking terrific with those ragged graphics.
Just about every cool kid’s street car in the 1990s was an HDT or HSV lookalike ex-chaser Commodore. You’ve gotta remember, Ford had dropped its V8 option in 1982, so there was a 1980s-sized hole in the ranks of cool Fords in Aussie pub car parks.
Thankfully, the Falcon V8 made a return in 1991, and by 1996 or so, the first of these reintroduced V8 Falcs were affordable second-hand cars. Since street machiners could finally play with Ford V8s again, we decided to do our best to rekindle the flickering flames of Falcon passion by building a 1990s Ford hardtop with a high-performance bent-eight under its snout, which would come to be known as the Sony Scorcher.
Our car-art consultant Jeff Haggarty got the ball rolling with some brilliant renderings and sketches of a bright orange EA Falcon two-door looking tough over a set of huge five-spoke alloys. Yep, we can do this!
It was essential that this Falcon be 100 per cent street legal. My mantra as a car modifier is ‘do it right’, and, since Street Machine planned to give the car away once it was finished, we couldn’t have the winner receiving a defect-addled shitbox. That’s why engineer John Varetimidis was consulted, and months of planning went into every detail.
In addition to the two-door conversion, our plan was for a street-legal, 220kW 5.0-litre V8 with Edelbrock alloy heads and intake, backed by a Tremec five-speed, Hydratrak diff and a set of big brakes.
Ford Australia came to the party, providing us with panels, a V8 mill and a set of EL Falcon GT brakes, while Sony came on board as naming rights sponsor. Car-crafting guru Paul Bennett was commissioned to do the two-door conversion.
A decent red EA Falcon GL was bought for $5500, and so began the busiest 18 months of my life, coordinating and spinning spanners on a lot of it. As Bennett sliced into the car’s B-pillars, I’ll never forget thinking, “There’s no going back now!”
I reckon we were onto something with the ‘Aussie muscle car’ theme – at the exact same time the Scorcher was being built, Holden design staff were secretly working on the prototype Monaro for the 1998 Sydney Motor Show, and Ford Australia launched its Tickford T-Series sedans. Even the Scorcher’s fizzy orange paint was on-point for the times, with bright, breezy colours such as Holden’s Tiger Mica filling showrooms in the early noughties.
As proud as I was of our efforts, there were a couple of things that have always burned my arse about the Scorcher build. The first was the fact that I didn’t use a Ford V8 computer; no one could tell me with 100 per cent confidence that we could get our hottie donk running right, so I specified a Delco system instead. The second regret is that we didn’t ask someone like Dragway Engineering to exactly recreate those awesome Bathurst Globe-inspired five-spoke alloys that Jeff gave us in the concept drawing.
Happily, the Scorcher is still alive and well today, and was recently repainted by Drago Ostric at Sefton Concept Vehicles. The driveline has been altered, with a blown 351 Windsor, Powerglide and nine-inch in place of the factory 90s muscle-themed combo.