Street Machine - - Contents - WIL­LIAM PORKER

EVER heard of a V8-en­gined VW Beetle? No? Well, Dick Ver­meulen built just such a mon­ster 52 years ago. The then-20-yearold from south­ern Queens­land de­cided to slam one of Henry’s flat­head Fords into the back of the Ger­man ‘peo­ple’s car’, us­ing a bor­rowed oxy-acety­lene weld­ing set to cut out the mat­ing plates to fit the stock transaxle. Sure, this cast-iron lump hung way out be­hind the back wheels, cre­at­ing an arse-heavy prob­lem, but Dick solved that with a cou­ple of solid sand­bags up front in the boot. Went real well, too, un­til a TD Cortina fin­ished up on the VW’S roof!

I have known Dick and his wife Fran for a very long time, when we both got into old-car rac­ing. I have huge re­spect for this in­cred­i­bly tal­ented self-taught en­gi­neer. He be­gan as a baker, but grad­u­ated to build­ing race cars at the rate of one ev­ery five weeks, work­ing long 14-hour days with his in­cred­i­ble stores of en­ergy.

All of these flat­head-pow­ered, two-seater race cars are called Hen­rys. Each one takes 500 hours to build, but are now rac­ing all over Aus­tralia, al­lowed to com­pete in his­toric events by CAMS, since they were all made us­ing pre­war pieces. There are now 19 of them, with a replica road­ster half-built al­ready to make 20.

Dick be­gan this new project three weeks ago – out of bed at 3am ev­ery morn­ing to start work in his self-built shed. “I had a cou­ple of 1934 chas­sis rails, an en­gine and a gear­box, so I fig­ured I had bet­ter put it all to­gether be­fore I died,” he rea­sons.

Dick ad­mits to be­ing on the wrong side of 70, but makes al­most ev­ery damn thing for his cars him­self, in­clud­ing mod­i­fied me­chan­i­cal stuff and the sheet-steel bod­ies, which are mostly culled from pan­els with the right curves that he finds at the lo­cal wreck­ers. Things like truck mud­guards to form tail sec­tions, and a Volvo roof to make door pan­els for the new road­ster.

As a side­line, Dick cre­ates mo­torhomes and re­fits car­a­vans, and builds big sheds when he needs them. In one shed bay sits an­other VW, al­most un­recog­nis­able as a cut-and-shut bare chas­sis. It was built 25 years ago when he needed a ma­chine to cut his prop­erty’s lawn and couldn’t buy a de­cent ride-on mower. So he made one – which then turned into sev­eral – short­en­ing the plat­form chas­sis and mak­ing a cen­tre-pivot front axle to fit 12-inch wheels. Then he cut a foot out of each rear axle to fit Kombi step-down hubs, adding two seats and a small bent-pipe steer­ing wheel. The un­der­floor cut­ting head is driven via an ex­tra crank pul­ley and a long belt. He de­signed all that him­self, and still uses this to cut his grass.

A few months ago, Dick di­ver­si­fied into mak­ing a stro­ker crank for yet an­other flat­head Ford en­gine. “I just wanted to see if I could do it,” he ex­plains. “You can buy new stro­ker cranks now, but I fig­ured I could weld one up and make my own.”

He be­gan by mak­ing off­set cen­tres to swing the heav­ily coun­ter­weighted, 3¾in-stroke cast-iron crank in his old belt-drive lathe, mak­ing the foot­long cut­ting tools to clear the coun­ter­weights and tak­ing half an inch off each paired big-end jour­nal on the in­side, be­fore build­ing up each pin with weld. He used a MIG ma­chine feed­ing high-car­bon wire to build up a quar­ter-inch-thick layer of new metal around the pins, aim­ing to in­crease the stroke of the old crank out to a full four inches, stretch­ing en­gine ca­pac­ity from 239ci to 286 with an 85.95mm bore size. This job took four full days from start to the com­pleted lathe-fin­ished off­set pins, with the fi­nal fine­ground bear­ing-ready sur­face com­pleted by a lo­cal en­gine re­con­di­tion­ing shop.

Ford’s stock con­rods were clear­anced with an an­gle grinder to miss the coun­ter­weight cheeks, then bal­anced on a set of scales that Dick bor­rowed from a paint shop. The crank went into a bored side­valve block, Dick adapt­ing VW 1600 pistons to suit the longer stroke by ream­ing the gud­geon bushes 7thou over­size and fit­ting Te­flon but­tons.

Breath­ing was im­proved through a set of 289 Fal­con in­take valves and an Isky 400 high-lift cam; a pair of decked finned-al­loy 9:1 Edel­brock heads got bolted on; and triple Stromberg 97 carbs on an Edel­brock man­i­fold fin­ished off the newly re­built en­gine.

It’s al­ready been in­stalled into the ’34 road­ster chas­sis. Be­hind it is a cut-and-shut Ford Blitz bell­hous­ing bolted to a mod­i­fied three-speed Fal­con ’box, con­verted from a col­umn-change to a floor-shift, the drive go­ing back to a pre­war Ford diff, mod­i­fied to take 28-spline Fal­con axles and 12-inch brake drums.

Dick and Fran now live in his par­ents’ old con­crete-block house. “Mar­ried Fran 50 flam­ing years ago,” the en­gi­neer­ing ge­nius laughs, “and I’ve been putting up with that old bag ever since!” Long-suf­fer­ing Fran hits him and smiles, while Dick just laughs and rolls an­other smoke.


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