New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words and pho­tos: Quin­ton Tay­lor


Wayne and Cather­ine Holmes have learned to deal with many of life’s chal­lenges in re­cent years, and breath­ing life into a tired Amer­i­can clas­sic has been just one of them. As mem­bers of Dunedin’s South­ern Streeters Car Club, ca­ter­ing for post-1948 Amer­i­can ve­hi­cles, there was prob­a­bly no bet­ter way to cel­e­brate over­com­ing those chal­lenges. The com­ple­tion of an eight-year-long restora­tion project from a ‘sun­burned wreck’ has changed their 1954 Ford Vic­to­ria Coupe into a stun­ning ex­am­ple of what can be achieved when bring­ing a clas­sic back to life.

Wayne and Cather­ine are ob­vi­ously very proud of the re­sult of the sub­tle me­chan­i­cal up­grade of the 1950s sedan, en­hanced by its shim­mer­ing mica­green colour choice. The level of qual­ity work­man­ship avail­able in Dunedin en­abled them to achieve such an out­come.

On the road and cruis­ing

Com­pleted in 2016, it was also a fit­ting op­por­tu­nity for the cou­ple to cel­e­brate the suc­cess­ful end of Cather­ine’s long bat­tle with cancer by tak­ing their car on its first run as a spe­cial present. On Oc­to­ber 16 that year, they took part in Dunedin’s Rev ’n’ Ride event or­ga­nized by the Re­lay for Life team, help­ing to raise $5K for the Cancer So­ci­ety. A year later, when we meet with them at their home to see the Ford, Cather­ine an­nounces that she re­ceived the ‘all clear’ at a yearly check-up from her doc­tor a few days be­fore.

This is a spe­cial car for Wayne and Cather­ine, and it shows in the at­ten­tion to de­tail and the qual­ity of fin­ish, in sharp con­trast to the pho­tos of the car in its orig­i­nal state. Wayne ex­plains, “I guess we have had it for close to 10 years. We pretty well started on it straight away and stripped the paint off it, ready to go to the panel beater, Ac­tion Panel Beat­ers, where it sat for the next five years, off and on.”

Wayne also bought a sec­ond car, which was wrecked for parts. The chas­sis later proved use­ful for cart­ing the body around while he worked on re­build­ing the main chas­sis at home.

Get­ting back on track

Un­for­tu­nately, the owner of Ac­tion Panel Beat­ers passed away while the car was in the shop. Paul Hart, who had worked for the owner, took over the busi­ness. “He asked me what we were go­ing to do. [ I said,] ‘Let’s get it fin­ished’, so it was pretty well full-on from there,” Wayne re­calls. “Paul got his man Gor­don onto it full time and we agreed on a price.

“It was back and for­wards a few times round to Brodie at Broughton Street Auto Painters for prim­ing and fin­ish­ing. They, and Paul, pretty much did half the car each, and they made a mag­nif­i­cent job of it.”

Of the strik­ing colour, Wayne says: “When we said to peo­ple we were go­ing to paint it green, there were some funny looks, but we said we are go­ing to go with it. We are very happy with the re­sult.”

Wayne, a me­chanic, works for Ve­hi­cle Test­ing New Zealand ( VTNZ). Through his work, he had the op­por­tu­nity to study a num­ber of po­ten­tial colours on the many ve­hi­cles com­ing through, but they came to the fi­nal de­ci­sion across the ditch. “We were in Aussie, and Cather­ine and I were on a bal­cony look­ing down on a Mazda RX-8. I had talked to Cather­ine a few times about the green colour. There it was as we looked down on it with the sun on it. [ We] wan­dered down and had a look. We never changed our minds — that was go­ing to be the colour.”

The cou­ple doesn’t know much about the car’s his­tory. “I’m not sure where it orig­i­nally came from out of the States,” says Wayne. “I still have the orig­i­nal black plates. I think it may have been owned by a prison at some stage. It had been in­volved in an ac­ci­dent at some stage, in the driver’s door and left-side pan­els, which must have put it off the road, I think.”

This meant that the left rear of the car needed sub­stan­tial panel work to re­pair, as did the floor of the car, thanks to the rav­ages of rust. “They had to sort out the whole car re­ally,” he says. “It was pretty much ev­ery panel right around the car that had to be done. It was a lot of work.”

With the spare chas­sis en­abling the body to be carted to the panel beat­ers, Wayne re­built the main chas­sis at home, and, in what would be its fi­nal year, the project quickly took shape.

This is a spe­cial car for Wayne and Cather­ine, and it shows in the at­ten­tion to de­tail and the qual­ity of fin­ish

A big­ger heart, big­ger stop­pers

The Ford came with its orig­i­nal Y-block 239ci (3.9-litre) V8 en­gine and two-stage au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, as well as the orig­i­nal stan­dard dif­fer­en­tial. “It now has a 351ci (5.9-litre) V8 en­gine and C4 au­to­matic trans­mis­sion that orig­i­nally came from Ja­pan,” Wayne tells us. “I fit­ted it straight in, and I haven’t had to do much to the mo­tor at all ex­cept change the tim­ing chain. We also fit­ted a Dodge dif­fer­en­tial. The shock mounts were moved in­board slightly, and cross­mem­bers were al­tered. Ford Fal­con sway­bar mounts were all al­tered to suit, along with Holden Shocks on the back.”

The brakes were changed to Ford Fal­con XF stub axles and disc brakes on the front, while the rest of the front sus­pen­sion was com­pletely re­built. A Mit­subishi Pa­jero power-steer­ing box light­ens the load of driv­ing through a re-splined orig­i­nal pit­man arm. This re­placed the car’s orig­i­nal unas­sisted and heavy steer­ing box. Bump stops were al­tered so the ride could be low­ered slightly.

To keep the in­te­rior con­trols in char­ac­ter with the 1950s pe­riod, Wayne used the Ford’s orig­i­nal col­umn gear-shift adapted to match the shift mech­a­nism of the new trans­mis­sion. They even kept the orig­i­nal heater — “The orig­i­nal heater sys­tem was re­built, and it’s fan­tas­tic. Ev­ery bit as good as our Mazda [dai­lyrun­ner] heater,” ex­plains Wayne. Wider 15-inch wheels from a Ford Fal­con AU were used and fit­ted with white-wall BF Goodrich 65 pro­file tyres sourced from the US. This ad­di­tion con­trasts nicely with the mica-green body colour.

Show­ing the colours

The eye-catch­ing in­te­rior was re­done lo­cally by Steve Moore of In­gram Up­hol­stery. The sec­ond car bought for spares had a good black in­te­rior, and the aim was to save a bit of money by us­ing this for the Vic­to­ria, but it was not to be.

“We put it into the new car, and it looked aw­ful with the green we had cho­sen, so onto Trade Me it went, and it’s now in a con­vert­ible in Christchurch,” Wayne says.

The seats were also re­trimmed and new pad­ding added, while the door pan­els were also re­fur­bished, with Wayne en­trust­ing Steve with the de­sign work: “Steve said to me, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘ That’s not my prob­lem; it’s your prob­lem,’ and he worked out all the door panel pat­terns and showed me. He asked me what I thought, and it looked great.”

The re­sult, along with the re­coloured dash­board, has cer­tainly given the in­te­rior a lift, as these ’50s Fords were usu­ally plain, with a lim­ited choice of in­te­rior ma­te­ri­als and colours avail­able at the time. Steve also came out to fit the new head­lin­ing, and John Lis­ter came out to put all the new glass in, while Wayne did all the side win­dows him­self.

Bumper Re­place­ments of Auck­land at­tended to all the chrome work, and

“They had to sort out the whole car re­ally,” he says. “It was pretty much ev­ery panel right around the car that had to be done. It was a lot of work”

Dunedin panel beater Rob Dou­glas, of Dou­glas Body­works, com­pleted all the stain­less-steel work, which was then pol­ished by Kieran El­liott.

Ford Vic­to­rias of the 1950s did come with the un­usual op­tion of a smoked Plex­i­glas half roof, but Wayne and Cather­ine de­cided against this, as they thought it would prob­a­bly have made the car too hot.

Now that all the work has been done, we ask Wayne and Cather­ine what it is like to drive. Both agree that the ef­fort put in to im­prove the Ford and up­grade the me­chan­i­cals has been worth it, and it drives very well.

“I haven’t driven it much so far, but I’m look­ing for­ward to driv­ing it more over the sum­mer months,” says Cather­ine.

As with many ma­jor projects like this, there are still some ad­just­ments to make. The plan is to re­place the front springs with heav­ier duty ex­am­ples to raise the ride height slightly, as it isn’t quite what they wanted. De­spite this mi­nor is­sue, Wayne says that the car starts ev­ery time, “and steers beau­ti­fully with the Mit­subishi setup. Brakes are mar­vel­lous, and, once the new front coils are in, it should be even bet­ter. It’s su­per cruisy — ef­fort­less, ac­tu­ally.”

From the start, the aim was to keep the look of the car as close to the orig­i­nal as pos­si­ble. “We never cut any­thing, and you can still put back the orig­i­nal Y-block en­gine if re­quired. Adap­tors were used so all orig­i­nal bits could go back in, and away you go,” says Wayne.

On the road again

Trips so far had been a lim­ited to a few around town, with one through to Lawrence be­fore sit­ting in the garage over the win­ter un­til the Dunedin Au­tospec­tac­u­lar.

There are still a few lit­tle touches to com­plete be­fore the car is com­pletely fin­ished. “There is still a wee bit of stain­less to fit around the roof, [and we need to] car­pet the boot and com­plete the sus­pen­sion, and that is pretty much it. We just wanted to brighten it up and keep with the green colour; the bright colour just lifts it,” says Wayne.

Sit­ting in the sun­light on a beau­ti­ful Dunedin evening, there is no deny­ing that the Ford looks a pic­ture, with the deep mica-en­hanced colour show­ing sub­tle changes on ev­ery an­gle. De­tail is ev­ery­thing, and the man­ner in which the trim parts have been pol­ished up and straight­ened re­ally caps off a top restora­tion.

It sounds the part, too, as it takes off with an im­pres­sive abil­ity to cover ground. A real cruiser!

Clean — per­fect shut lines and a very tidy back end

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