SOMETIMES, disasters happen that make you weep. Met this bloke who was still looking real sad at a swap meet, telling me he had put in a couple of hard years on his Bel Air Chev, which had been sitting out in a western paddock until he bought it and turned this into a street machine. Fitted a worked big-block eight with a top-mount blower, hung discs all ’round and added Ford’s nine-inch rear axle, lowered the suspension until it was just legal, spent hours hiding all the wiring and sanitised the engine bay. He chose candy apple red for the colour, bought his wife a couple of 50s-era outfits to go with the age of the Chev, and almost had the machine ready for a rego inspection when they suddenly had to move house.
Temporarily installed in a tiny unit while a new house was being built, the bloke had to load his shiny street machine on a trailer and tow it to sit in a hayshed on his sister’s farm. She raised horses and cattle; the shed had a roof and was enclosed on three sides. He was there every other week to check on the state of the Chev in its new accommodation, snug under a car cover and seemingly quite safe.
Months later, after a new, lockable three-bay shed had been built beside the bloke’s new home, he towed the Chev’s trailer over and prepared to fire up the 454 eight in order to move his pride and joy to a central, concretefloored bay. Turned the key, nothing happened. No noise.
So he went out and bought a new battery. Made no difference. Then he rang his auto sparky mate who had done all the wiring and electrics, saying that everything was dead and could he come on over and have a look as to why this was so.
Gary fronted up, asked if there was fuel in the tank to feed the 454, ran a volt meter over the new battery, which read 12.6 volts, and then told the owner guy to sit in the steering seat and see if the engine would somehow crank over. He hit the key and held it; then there was black smoke and fire from inside the engine bay, and the sparky fell off the trailer. There was instant panic and a rush to find a working extinguisher that would kill this sudden electrical fire, but that took long minutes and the candy apple paint was already blistering. The worst was up inside the left front mudguard, where a fat bundle of insulated wires had been run.
When all the screaming and shouting was over, they began to have a serious look as to why this fire had erupted so suddenly. Didn’t take long. Rats. Starving rats inside the shed, deciding en masse that plastic-covered wiring under the car cover of this Chev was quite tasty, so they gnawed at all that until copper wire was exposed and shifted to where bunches were touching the steel of the body. This had activated and shorted when they had tried to start the big mill, fizzing through a plastic fuel line and creating a fire that would take months to repair. And after all this, somehow this bloke doesn’t like rats anymore!
Just as the Bel Air Chev man had finished his story and walked away, I met another guy who was ready to relate his own horrific tale.
He had put in many months working with an enthusiastic team to build a street machine out of a rescued Ford Skyliner. Built in the 1950s by Ford America, these now-rare units were twotone convertibles built on the base chassis of the 272 V8-engined Customlines, and only a handful came out to Australia.
They worked long hours to keep this barnfind mainly original, installing a 292 Ford truck eight, buying in chrome side trims and stuff, and blowing on the right-colour paint.
The last job was to be a new hood and upholstery. Although old-technology vinyl had originally covered the bench seats, the team decided that expensive Scottish leather was really what the Skyliner needed.
So they paid the large lumps of money, and when the almost back-to-original restoration was finished, the celebration was to take adults and kids on a day out to a local show. They all laughed on the rides, and the kids ate Dagwood Dogs and fairy floss until they were stuffed and glad to go home in the evening.
Once home, Dad didn’t bother to roll up the windows and close up the new hood of the Skyliner because it was late, and didn’t check on the convertible inside its shed for a few days.
When he did go out to roll it into the sunshine, prior to giving the paint and chrome a tub, one of his kids asked why there were all these holes across the leather of the rear seat. Panic stations. There were new scatterings of 20-centpiece-sized holes eaten clear through into the underlay, just where the fairy-floss fingers of the kids had wiped across the expensive Scottish leather hide.
Turns out hungry rats like sugary fairy floss, and had chewed away the leather with it!
WHEN HE WENT TO ROLL THE SKYLINER OUT INTO THE SUNSHINE, PRIOR TO GIVING THE PAINT AND CHROME A TUB, THERE WERE ALL THESE HOLES ACROSS THE LEATHER OF THE REAR SEAT. PANIC STATIONS!