Street Machine




FEW modified-car genres doubled as a lifestyle choice quite like the humble panel van of the 1970s. John Scanlon was wholly immersed in both the show and social aspects of the vanner life, when times were simpler and both freedom and imaginatio­n reigned supreme. This issue we take a look back at a few poignant snapshots from John’s memories of that time.

01: AS A young bloke, John loved immersing himself in hot rod magazines and going to the drags, and cars like the Pirotta/caruana ‘Satisfacti­on’ Mk1 Cortina, with its custom candy paint, really stood out for him. “It was the amazing effort with the colours and detailing that set them apart from the rest,” John says. “A plain-looking rail could be a tough and quick runner, but you’d see another with fade-away paint or the like and it just boosted them to the next level, forging a serious identity. That attention to detail is something that stuck with me as I started to build my own cars.”

02: JOHN’S first car back in 1974 was a mustardyel­low four-cylinder Capri that he later wrote off while street-racing an HQ LS Monaro. He replaced that with an orange GT1600 that he decked out with Hotwire mags, a Torana rear bobtail and a Falcon GT shaker for the bonnet. That was eventually sold to fund a green GTV6 in the mid-70s. “The V6 Capri was always underrated as a quick streeter. They make plenty of power yet are light and nimble, so they handle well,” John says. He picked up this fourth Capri (pictured) 11 years ago, after buying it sight-unseen from Sydney. “I’m one of the lucky ones who bought a car that was actually much better than it looked in the photos. It is a 1969 Mach 1 GTV6 that was in mint, restored condition and is still immaculate today. The metallic blue is actually a later-model Falcon colour but looks period-correct. I’ve got a 302 Windsor here ready to go into the Capri but haven’t got there yet – I don’t actually think I can bring myself to change it!”

03: WITH the Australian van scene spreading like wildfire in the late 70s, John was keen to get in on the action and traded his red Capri for a brandnew 1975 HJ Sandman. It started with the usual mods; the stripes and GTS wheels came off, and on went a set of Perry hornpipe sidies and slot mags – the latter eventually having fat Parnelli Jones rubber jammed on. An L88 Corvette bonnet scoop was added, while the 253 soon received plenty of chrome and paint detailing. It was John’s first foray into airbrush art, too: “I always loved those cityscapes you’d see, like San Francisco with all the lights and the Golden Gate Bridge,” he says. “I wanted the artwork on the van to tell a story. I named the van ‘Shaky Town’ after San Francisco being built on a faultline. Too often I’d see guys just getting murals done with no direction or overall vision for their builds – it was just a hodge-podge of random pictures that didn’t tie in as a theme. Unfortunat­ely, my ideas got lost in translatio­n with the artist; the side murals of San Francisco were okay, but the tailgate mural was supposed to represent the aftermath there following an earthquake – he made it look more like the Australian outback in drought!”

04: LIKE many cars and vans on the show scene,

Shaky Town was ever-evolving to keep it both fresh and competitiv­e. Further upgrades included a Vancraft Manta front spoiler and ever-popular XB GT side scoops, while wider, chromed Sunraysia rims meant that bigger rear meats were a better fit than on the old jellybeans. But John was soon hankering for more, keen to sink his teeth into a big van project that mirrored some of those he idolised from the US scene. Shaky Town was sold in Adelaide in 1978 and the search for a new build project began!

05: WITH an HR Premier sorted as a daily driver and money from the sale of the HJ burning a hole in his pocket, John was soon on the hunt for an Aussie-marketed big van, and picked up this ex-dry cleaners’ 1971 CF Bedford in 1978 for $3000. “I tried to do as much of the build as I could, mainly for the satisfacti­on of knowing I’d done it myself,” he says. “I converted the front sliding doors to normal swinging versions, using doors and hinges off a wrecked John Martin’s [defunct SA department store chain] delivery van. I did all of the custom bodywork in metal, including the flared guards, one-off side and rear doors, a bonnet scoop, tube grille and XW tail-lights, while the interior was treated to crushed velvet and timberwork. I tried so hard to kill its wheezy, Vauxhall-based fourcylind­er engine, but it just wouldn’t die! I thought my HR got along okay, so I lifted its 186 and Powerglide and donated that to the van.” With the bodywork finished, the whole shebang was treated to numerous coats of gloss-black paint, which on those large panels was the perfect canvas for some wraparound murals: “I was right into David Bowie at the time, and the ‘Major Tom’ theme came to me at about 1:30 one morning, so I scribbled it down. I drove the van to Melbourne, where vanning legend John Evans (SM, Oct ’11) weaved his airbrush magic, going to town with a space theme that covered the van like those that inspired me in the States.” Plenty of road miles and show success later, John had achieved most of his vanning goals and reluctantl­y advertised the Beddy to help fund building a house: “It was like losing my best friend – that van was my daily driver too, so it went everywhere and did everything; I was gutted.” Major Tom was sold to a bloke in Ballarat and has subsequent­ly been lost to time.

06: SCORING just one magazine cover spot is something most of us will never get to experience, but for John it was two for two in a matter of three years. “Eddie and Jeanette Ford’s Custom Vans & Trucks magazine was a bible for us in many ways,” he says. “It’s so easy now with the internet and social media to follow what is happening locally and interstate, and even overseas, that you forget how much we relied on magazines to keep us informed on dates for shows, what new vans were out there and where you could buy the latest stuff. The sometimes two-to-three months’ wait between issues was brutal!”

07: GONE but not forgotten: this cool clock hangs in John’s shed as a reminder of the years spent on the show scene with his wife Mandy, and was fashioned using one of the old Mickey Thompson tyres from his much-missed ‘Major Tom’ Bedford. “The years have just flown by,” John says, “but it’s great to have mementos like this to remind you of what you’ve achieved in that time.”

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