THE OWNER

The Riverine Herald - - ECHUCA MOAMA AUTO -

Any­one who was around in in the 1980s would be fa­mil­iar with the Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion se­ries Knight Rider.

A big hit in its day, the crime-fight­ing show fol­lowed the ad­ven­tures of the epony­mous hero Michael Knight (played by David Has­sel­hoff) as he fought for the un­der­dog against the evil-do­ers of the world with the help of an ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent car named KITT.

KITT was vir­tu­ally in­de­struc­tible and car­ried an arse­nal of tech­no­log­i­cal wiz­ardry that would put even the most ad­vanced James Bond gad­get­laden car to shame.

In re­al­ity, KITT was a mod­i­fied Pon­tiac Trans Am Fire­bird and this is where the hero of our story — Phil Candy — en­ters the pic­ture.

Phil’s jour­ney to the own­er­ship of a KITT-type car has oc­curred after a flir­ta­tion with a va­ri­ety of other ve­hi­cles.

His first car was a Holden LC To­rana two-door hatch­back which he had at age 18.

‘‘Then I had a HQ Holden wagon and then a Ford XC V8 panel van,’’ Phil said.

‘‘When I got mar­ried we had a HX Holden Pre­mier with a 350 Chev in it.

‘‘It dawned on me re­cently that I sold each of those cars for no more than $2500, but if I had kept those four cars I would have $100,000 sit­ting in my shed.’’

Phil works in the milk in­dus­try and is the pres­i­dent of the Echuca Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion.

Through­out his work­ing life, he al­ways seemed to be driv­ing a com­pany car.

‘‘So I never re­ally needed to own my own car as such,’’ he said.

‘‘Buy­ing this (the Trans Am), I just love sit­ting out in the shed at night mak­ing re­pairs.

‘‘I’m no (me­chan­i­cal) ex­pert so that’s why Google and YouTube have be­come great friends.

‘‘I’ve got the car to the point where it’s re­li­able and run­ning well. Be­ing able to do the struts, ball joints and shock­ers your­self adds to the joy of own­ing it.’’ the front like its TV coun­ter­part KITT had, but it is still one cool look­ing piece of ma­chin­ery.

Phil’s Fire­bird has the orig­i­nal 350 Chev V8 en­gine un­der the hood and has been con­verted from an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion to a five-speed Toy­ota Cel­ica gear­box.

It also has the orig­i­nal Pon­tiac Trans Am al­loy wheels.

‘‘When I bought it off an old Ital­ian guy it was run­ning on LPG gas,’’ Phil said.

‘‘So when I drove it back from Mel­bourne, the first thing I did was rip off all the gas fit­tings and the gas tank.

‘‘I’ve put a new clutch in it and re­built the car­bies which had been dam­aged after run­ning on straight gas.

‘‘It is bizarre to own a quick, light V8 car and then fit it to run on LPG gas.

‘‘In my view if you can’t af­ford the fuel, don’t own the car.

‘‘I had the en­gine con­di­tioned, com­pres­sion test­ing and ev­ery­thing and the mo­tor is rock solid.’’

Phil said the Trans Am Fire­bird was a pop­u­lar model in the United States.

‘‘It was twinned with the Z28 Ca­maro,’’ he said.

‘‘It was pop­u­lar among col­lege kids. It was very af­ford­able and a lot of them were made, but not many found their way out here.

‘‘For some­thing that’s com­ing up 40 years old, it must have been pretty cool in its day.’’

Echuca Sig­narama put the fire­bird em­blem on the bon­net.

When re­leased in 1984, the car came with the op­tion of em­bla­zon­ing the fire­bird.

‘‘The yel­low colour is quite sub­stan­tial and I wanted to break it up a bit,’’ Phil said.

Phil did in­ves­ti­gate trans­form­ing the car from its fac­tory colour Yel­low Glow to the black of the Knight Rider model and it seemed the best op­tion was a vinyl wrap.

‘‘You can buy the KITT dash and steer­ing wheel and front end, but ev­ery­one as­sumes I’ve had my mid-life cri­sis and to take that ex­tra step would be just ridicu­lous,’’ Phil said.

The car also has a sim­i­lar ap­pear­ance to Bum­ble­bee from the Trans­form­ers movie.

‘‘In the movie, Bum­ble­bee is this car which trans­forms into a gi­ant robot but when it’s a car, it looks like my Trans Am,’’ Phil said.

‘‘I can be driv­ing along and I can hear a kid yell out: ‘Mum, look, it’s Bum­ble­bee’.’’

WHERE DID YOUR CAR COME FROM?

Phil’s Trans Am was built in Detroit, Michi­gan in the United States and shipped to Aus­tralia in 1987.

‘‘There’s a Trans Am web­site you can go to and type in the VIN (ve­hi­cle iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber) and find out where and when it was made and ev­ery­thing else,’’ he said.

Be­ing an Amer­i­can car, it was a left-hand­drive but was con­verted to right-hand-drive in Queens­land in 1992.

Phil has owned the car for four years, hav­ing bought it off a pri­vate owner in Dan­de­nong.

‘‘The old guy who had it had arthri­tis in his knees and could no longer op­er­ate the clutch,’’ Phil said.

‘‘I took a mas­sive chance when I bought it be­cause it had a sub­stan­tial oil leak and I was hop­ing ini­tially it might have been the rocker cov­ers.

‘‘But when I got down fur­ther into it I found it had non-match­ing head gas­kets left and right. So I cleaned up the block and put new head gas­kets on.’’

Phil also had to read­just the seat track po­si­tion­ing in the driver’s seat.

‘‘The floor well in the front pas­sen­ger seat is ac­tu­ally less re­stric­tive be­cause it was de­signed to have the room for the ped­als for the left-hand­drive,’’ Phil said.

‘‘When it was con­verted to right-hand-drive, they just did a straight con­ver­sion so it was quite re­stric­tive.’’ only about 15 inches off the ground, which is why it han­dles so well.

‘‘And there are very few of these in Aus­tralia. They’re quite lim­ited, there’s not many around and I love that I own it.’’

SO WHAT’S YOUR PER­FECT CAR?

Phil’s dream car would be a 1977 an­niver­sary Trans Am model as seen in the high-speed chase movie Smokey and the Ban­dit.

‘‘But that model has been pushed out to $35,000 to $40,000,’’ Phil said.

‘‘I had a Har­ley-David­son mo­tor­bike but that’s a bit self­ish and I thought we would get more en­joy­ment as a fam­ily if I bought this (the Trans Am).

‘‘That wasn’t the case be­cause when we crammed the kids in the back seat their knees were up around their ears.

‘‘I wasn’t able to af­ford the ’77 an­niver­sary model, but at least this got me into the Trans Am own­er­ship.’’

AND WHAT’S NEXT?

Phil is do­ing up a 1971 Mini Moke which is near­ing com­ple­tion.

‘‘All the hard stuff’s done, I’m just down to the body work,’’ he said.

‘‘The en­gine’s done, the front and rear sub­frames are done. It’s just a mat­ter of re­plac­ing the floor.

‘‘Typ­i­cal Mini Moke, tra­di­tion­ally they rusted out in the floors.’’

And con­tin­u­ing the theme, the colour of the Mini Moke will be ca­nary yel­low.

‘‘We’ll get to the point when I say to my wife when we’re go­ing into town, ‘are we tak­ing the quick or the slow yel­low car?’,’’ Phil said.

Un­til then, Phil is happy to just drive the Trans Am around in sum­mer with the targa roof off and feel­ing the wind through his hair.

He also pulls up to bas­ket­ball matches — in his role as pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion — in the Trans Am, even it it does mean cop­ping a fair bit of flak and some good na­tured rib­bing.

‘‘Ev­ery­one asks me if I’m hav­ing a mid-life cri­sis,’’ Phil says, ‘‘or an­other one is ‘who do you think you are — Michael Knight?’.’’

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