DREAM SHED BEN AND RAINY'S FANTASYLAND

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NZV8 - - CONTENTS -

Tucked away on a beau­ti­ful two-acre block of God’s own in North Can­ter­bury is the home of well-known lo­cal car guru Ben John­son and his part­ner, Rainy Stevens. To say that th­ese guys love their cars would be an un­der­state­ment. With three large sheds and a cou­ple of lean-tos spread out on their prop­erty, many treats await those lucky enough to be given ac­cess to look around. On be­ing asked how long he has had petrol cours­ing through his veins, Ben replies, “I’ve been into cars for as long as I can re­mem­ber.” A me­chanic by trade — which is quite handy when you are a petrol­head — Ben ran a garage work­shop in Ka­iapoi for many years, but sold it about five years ago to move on to other things. The plan was just to work around home on some of his many projects, but things don’t al­ways go as planned, no mat­ter how well you set your goals. Not long af­ter Ben sold the busi­ness, peo­ple started calling with jobs they wanted done, and it’s never re­ally slowed down. “I usu­ally take on a big job, and, once that’s done, I will do some smaller stuff,” Ben ex­plains. “It also gives me time to work on some of my own projects as well.” Asked about the types of things he does, Ben replies, “Mostly me­chan­i­cal and rust re­pairs.” Point­ing to a Ford Mus­tang sit­ting on the lift in his work­shop, he says, “That one had had an en­gine-bay fire, so it’s in for all the me­chan­i­cal stuff like en­gine, box, brakes, etc.; fairly straight­for­ward — parts are easy to get, un­like some of the stuff I work on.”

A case in point would be the Mk3 Ze­phyr he built — now that was dif­fi­cult, as there isn’t much around in the way of good sec­ond-hand parts, which means that it is of­ten a case of making some­thing from two or three items. Over the years, Ben has taken many hol­i­day trips to the US. Al­though he takes in the odd show, his real passion is find­ing and vis­it­ing old junk­yards. “I like to go look­ing for bits and pieces that I need, but usu­ally end up buy­ing a car or two,” he tells us. On his trav­els, Ben has also col­lected a vast ar­ray of signs and other garage mem­o­ra­bilia, as ev­i­denced by a look around the work­shop. Mag­a­zines are ev­ery­where, and model kit­set cars are spread through­out the work­shop and in cab­i­nets. An in­ter­est­ing long-term project in the work­shop is a 1927 Lea Fran­cis that has been in the fam­ily of Ben’s cus­tomer since 1939. Started by Richard Henry Lea and Gra­ham In­glesby Fran­cis back in 1895, the com­pany was formed to build bi­cy­cles. It branched out into cars in 1903, with mo­tor­cy­cles be­com­ing part of the busi­ness in 1911. “At present, I am just fit­ting it back to­gether to see what parts are miss­ing or bro­ken,” Ben ex­plains. Af­ter a long look around the work­shop, we move out­side, where we spot a very cool Buick wagon. “This is my ’57 Buick Ca­ballero, which came out of Mon­tana,” Ben says. “I found it ly­ing in a pad­dock, so I’m slowly tin­ker­ing away on it.” The 401 Nail­head that the wagon now runs is slightly larger than the en­gine it left the fac­tory with. Be­side the Buick is a lean-to con­tain­ing a ’37 Willys coupe that Ben built to get around Mus­cle Car Mad­ness in, but the pickup is what catches our eye. Look­ing a lit­tle rough around the edges, the ’57 Dodge Swept­side turns out to be a very rare ride in­deed. Dodge built around 1200 of

th­ese pick­ups be­tween 1957 and 1959, with each year be­ing dif­fer­ent. The pick­ups were built as a ri­val to Chevro­let’s Cameo, but they never re­ally did ex­cite the buy­ers, as ev­i­denced by the sales num­bers. The ’57 in Ben’s pos­ses­sion is one of only 76 built that year, and was not easy to come by. “I first spot­ted it a few years ago in Fresno, California. I tried to buy it then, but the owner wouldn’t sell it,” Ben re­calls. “I was over again a cou­ple of years ago, and the guy was hav­ing a big clean-out, so I asked if he would sell me the pickup, and, to my sur­prise, he said yes. I couldn’t get the money out quick enough!” The Ca­ballero now awaits its turn for a birth­day. It will probably be kept close to orig­i­nal, with a baby Hemi of the same year go­ing into the en­gine bay, as the fac­tory mo­tor is miss­ing. A walk down to the back of the prop­erty takes us to an­other large shed, where Ben and Rainy keep most of their cars. With the doors flung open, it takes a minute to get our breath as we feast our eyes on the vast ar­ray of au­to­mo­tive eye candy. “I’m not loyal to any one brand,” ex­plains Ben. “Dif­fer­ent horses for dif­fer­ent cour­ses. While the Dodge is a cool cruiser, the Ca­maro is a great sports car.” With so many cool rides, all hav­ing in­ter­est­ing sto­ries be­hind them, it would take this en­tire mag­a­zine to ex­plain each, so, for the sake of space, we will just touch on them briefly. Ben has owned the ’58 Im­pala for some time. Pur­chased out of Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, the stock­look­ing car has had its orig­i­nal 283 and Pow­er­glide re­placed with a 350/350 combo. Next to it is a ’58 Chrysler 300D, pow­ered by a fac­tory du­alquad 392 Hemi. Pur­chased from a Christchurch col­lec­tor, this rare piece of au­to­mo­tive his­tory had not been run­ning since 1969. Ben has now got it run­ning, with the ex­haust and brakes next on the list of re­pairs.

“It’s a work in progress,” he tells us. Sit­ting be­hind this is a ’59 Dodge Coronet. This beauty is run­ning a 361ci V8, and came out of Ari­zona. Keep­ing it com­pany is a ’59 Im­pala that came from nearby Reno, Ne­vada. This is a very orig­i­nal car, still re­tain­ing its fac­tory 348 and Pow­er­glide. The ’51 Cadil­lac coupe was a junk­yard find. “I couldn’t help my­self,” ad­mits Ben. “I should have left it there. When I grabbed the pul­ley, it moved a bit, so I thought [that] it would be all right. Turned out [that] it had a rod hang­ing out the side and a bro­ken cam.” The next ve­hi­cle is a stun­ner — a 1959 Ply­mouth Sports Fury. This all-orig­i­nal car came from Huntly and has a 318 four-bar­rel en­gine, push-but­ton auto, and power-as­sisted steer­ing and brakes. Mov­ing right along, we have an LJ To­rana GTR. This was a Trade Me find and is all fac­tory ex­cept for the Toy­ota five-speed gear­box. It looks a lit­tle out of place with all the Amer­i­can iron in the shed, so we have to ask Ben why it is there. His ex­pla­na­tion: “I had one when I was young, and I just like them” — as good a rea­son as any! Next up, we have one of Rainy’s cars — a black ’68 Dodge Charger. Run­ning a 318 and 904 trans, the orig­i­nally poo-brown car came out of Mel­bourne. Steve Al­lan then stripped it and gave it a new coat of black. Kim Mitchell was re­spon­si­ble for stitch­ing up the black in­te­rior. A ’57 Cadil­lac Coupe de Ville re­sides next to the Charger, and was an­other junk­yard find that is await­ing its turn on the birth­day list. We then move on to a ’58 Sedan De­liv­ery, which was an­other car to come from Ari­zona — this time a Craigslist find — pur­chased as a rolling body. It’s now mo­ti­vated by a four-bolt 350 and TH700, sit­ting on drop spin­dles and disc brakes. The clean shell was taken back to bare metal and painted brown, with sign­writ­ing by Elvis. Then, next to Rainy’s lit­tle 1300cc Mini is a ’57 Buick two-door hard­top. Run­ning the fac­tory Nail­head en­gine, it’s just a nice, clean, orig­i­nal car that is wait­ing to have its run­ning gear sorted. Bring­ing us to the end of the shed tour are Ben’s ’67 Ca­maro RS and ’73 Cuda — both red and both very nice ex­am­ples. The Cuda was bought five years ago out of Ari­zona and is a match­ing-num­bers car — 340, 727 trans, Ral­lye dash, and slap­stick auto shifter com­plete the pack­age. The Ca­maro was a good, clean car out of California, al­though it has since been

stripped and painted by Steve Al­lan. It is pow­ered by a 327 and TH700 trans. We now en­ter the large shed be­side the house, and what a cool shed this is. The en­tire floor is cov­ered with car­pet. Tak­ing up park­ing space is Rainy’s ’51 Hud­son Hor­net, done up to look like the Hud­son out of the Pixar/Dis­ney movie Cars. Elvis ap­plied his skills to the paint­work to give the im­pres­sion that it’s an old Nas­car barn find. It’s still run­ning its big old straight-six en­gine. With a bar and large seat­ing area, many a party has been thrown in this shed. Saturday morn­ings see Rainy run­ning scrap­book­ing classes, which are very pop­u­lar, and it doesn’t take much to move a few things so that the ta­bles can be set up. The rest of the shed is full of toys, pedal cars, mag­a­zines, signs, and one of the most ex­ten­sive col­lec­tions of model cars we have seen. Asked if they have room for any­thing else, Ben tells us that there is al­ways room for more. Well, af­ter a tour of Ben and Rainy’s prop­erty, we’re left with no doubt about that!

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