It was the reformed fender arches combined with the wheel and tyre selection that really incited my intrigue as to who was responsible for this creation. Further visual inspection revealed unusual overall proportions mixed with a random concoction of components, uncommon for conventionally built hot rods. Then there was the metal fabrication on display with total abandonment of ridicule.
Was this almost bare metal creation an inaugural attempt at constructing a hot rod on a budget with limited skills… or a ballsy, in-your-face rebellion of confirmative street rodding? I had to know. The more my eyes consumed, the more enthralled I became. My mind conjured virtual images of potential initiators, from mad scientists inspired by Doc of Back to the Future fame, to young punk Goth rockers. Thankfully I have friends who know people, who know people in the know. You know!
After initial enquiries, a meeting with the owner was set in motion, only this was almost as unusual as the pickup. This was going to be no ordinary garage drive by. Instead, I was scheduled to meet with the owner’s publicist and arrange an interview. ‘“Ok this is different”,’ I thought to myself.
Seeking further education from my Perth residing friends, Ben and Alan, I discovered that the peculiar pickup was pieced together by highly respected and world-renowned artist Stormie Mills. A name not unfamiliar to my ears, through brief conversations with Ben and Al, but largely undetected by my hot rod radar.
In a fortuitous twist of fate Ben, a boiler maker by trade, was installing a fabricated front gate at Stormie’s home the day of my visit, creating a perfect informal introduction with the famed artist, on literally… home soil!
With pre-approved access to the family abode, I met with Stormie and enjoyed my first in-the-steel look at his solitary automotive creation. He was almost too shy to discuss his rolling artwork but I was instantly at ease on common ground. After a quick once around the pickup, talking notes as we walked, we arranged to reconvene and shoot the Chevy at his gallery/studio/workshop where its rebirth transpired.
Situated in the city suburb of Northbridge, Perth, Stormie shares the impressive space with his lovely partner Melissa, who is the driving force behind the creative agency, Magenta. As the huge gallery walls display a modest sampling of Stormie’s inspiring and thought provoking art in their finest, I was really looking forward to getting behind the scenes and out of the public eye.
As I am led away from the small brood of immaculately dressed ladies engulfed in phone conversation to the rear of the facility, coffee is offered and I emerge at Stormie’s studio workshop. For lack of a better term it’s a pretty cool man cave, complete with two custom Harleys and lined with original personal artwork and pieces by talented peers and acquaintances.
From our earlier conversation, the pickup was conceived by Stormie, but constructed with the help of friends that would meet in the workspace every Tuesday.
“My friends knew that I would be working on the car and they could come and go as they wanted,” Stormie explains. “Some would come and help and others would just hang out and bring food.”
Good friend Tass, who greets me with a cigar box and three shot glasses, is one of his main allies that was in for the long haul. Out of a cigar disguised cylinder he pours us shots of grappa, just to kick things off. As the last drop of lightening fluid slides down my throat, it’s time to spotlight the pickup and its creative collaborator.
To truly get your head around the completed vehicle, it helps to have an insight into its re-creator. As you are probably aware, ‘Stormie’ is not his birth name, and came about after his multiple brushes with authorities capturing the wild within.
“I first went out and painted walls in the streets during the early 80s,” reflects Stormie. “I was getting into a bit of trouble and my parents sent me back to Wales for a bit.”
Back in his homeland, the free spirit didn’t stay grounded for long and saved enough money to buy a one way ticket to New York. Alone, he ended up lodging with a busker and met people riding the trains while studying the graffiti art that adorned them.
“SoHo was just an artist’s space at the time, filled with those that lived and breathed what they loved,” he recalls.
“I went there to study graffiti. Because Perth is so isolated, everything I understood from living there was lost in translation and reality was so different. It was a bit like trying to learn to speak Japanese without going to Japan, or without a Japanese teacher.”
As a 16 year old it must have been one hell of an education. In 1993 Stormie relocated back to Perth and his parents eventually moved back to Wales. During those halcyon days of illegal expression sessions he was inspired to use aerosols from a pop culture music video and create characters of his own.
Living in a warehouse and showering at the closest train station, he was a Hollywood stereotype of a true artist. Following his dream, he devoted all his efforts and skills to others and a meagre pay check.
“I had an amazing friend Reg Bolton, a circus performer who came over one day and we were discussing life. At the time I was getting fed up with doing everyone else’s art projects. I got to a point where I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. His advice was to quit. He said: ‘Do your own thing. Love what you do and do what you love. The money will come!’”
Thankfully for Stormie, he had a good support network of friends who shared his passion and within six months after quitting his day job, he initiated his first solo art exhibition. With a successful debut behind him, he has never looked back.
“I met Melissa in 1993 when she was heading a campaign to paint the city bus shelters and was looking for artists. I got the job, but the girl was a lot harder to land,” he laughs. “This is the next chapter in my journey where I feel I’m heading full circle, back to when I was a kid and just wanting to paint.”
Back when Stormie was about 19, his daydream set of wheels was a 1955 Chevy pickup. Now in a position where he can fulfil that tasty desire, he embarked on a treasure hunt for automotive gold. After enduring numerous dead end leads and broken deals, he took matters into his own hands.
“At one point I was about to transfer the money on a deal and they pulled out, so I thought stuff, it I’ll build one myself. There were never any rules with what I do and my art is better for the experience. This hot rod is a bit the same, art without rules. It’s your car, build it how you want to.”
After hitting the cyber swap meet, a rolling chassis was unearthed on Gumtree that he thought would be a great starting point. The partially fabricated frame sported a 307 Chevy V8, Torana front end, EB Falcon rear and wheels. With dollars down, he tugged the rolling chassis back to the studio keen to tinker. Taking stock of what he had just bought, he then paid a visit to Armadale Auto Parts to check out their inventory for what he might need to transform his roller into a cool cruiser. Once inside the well-stocked store, he was greeted by workshop manager Craig Clements who had already caught wind of Stormie’s project purchase.
“Craig said that he had heard of what I had bought and that he’d love to drop by and take a look.”
As luck would have it, Stormie’s studio was only a stone’s throw from Craig’s house and the two connected the first free evening.
Stormie recalls the moment when Craig took one look and said; “’Nup, that’s not going to work! You can’t have this and you can’t have that’…I was just thinking that’s fu*#*d as I just wasted all that money. Sensing my disappointment he said; ‘it’s not hard… all you have to do is this and that… blah blah.’ So that’s how it was for the next two and a half years, Craig would drop in once a week after work and say ‘Ok you can do this or that.’ We called him the Don,” he laughs… “we would all stand around the car and say; ‘what did the Don say?”’
Stormie got a lead on a suitable cab located just an hour’s drive from the city in Wundowie. Upon arrival though, it was clearly visible as a complete truck and once back in the tight confines of the studio, it was plucked clean of all relative usable items and the remainder disposed of.
Tass equipped the workspace with a welder and schooled Stormie with a crash course in welding before the boys fabricated their own fresh frame from dimensions of a similar vehicle, utilising all the previous suspension components. Under Craig’s tutelage, the chassis came together and was inspected accordingly. Supported by the existing wheels and fitted with the same small block mill, the Holden bodied cab was channelled over the new rails to about where it looked right.
“We took dimensions off my mate’s hot rod for the wheel base, but everything else was hold it up and see if it works. I wasn’t going to run guards and running boards, then I went to a car show and I saw a lot with cycle guards. They didn’t excite me and that inspired me to experiment with original ones. The car kind of designed itself.”
As time progressed, a new welder was added into the growing workshop arsenal of mainly hand tools, and friends offered assistance when they could.
“Craig’s advice and friendship throughout the build was fundamental in getting it done,” Stormie openly admits. “We didn’t get everything right the first time, but hey! I had a 20 minute panel beating course from Craig, bought some hammers and tried to remember what he said and went at it. The bottom of the cab was all corroded, so I made the replacement pieces and we welded them in. I’d ask Craig what to do for the exhaust; he would order something from Alan that would work. Once on the car we could see that they needed to be modified and we just did it.”
Loosely inspired by 50s custom trucks roaming the streets of LA in the 90s, Stormie’s other connection with that flamboyant era to be incorporated into the build was… a skateboard.
“I thought that the guards looked like Size 7 feet with Size 13 runners. I sat with a grinder and cut pieces out and reshaped them over the small wheels, a bit like a skateboard and low to the ground. I think I do normal things… but that’s occurring less and less.”
While the grinder was hot he also reshaped a random sunvisor to fit, and narrowed a ’55 pickup bed to aesthetically suit the earlier styled cab.
“Tass’ brother Theo has a ’41 Plymouth pickup that he imported from the USA. We took a cardboard template off his (bed) and made ours using similar dimensions.”
An unknown era tailgate was also narrowed to suit, but the grinder was silenced before remodelling the roof height in a display of restraint, and respect to the original factory design.
“My idea was to do the bare minimum to get it registered and start driving. Everything I didn’t need got crossed off the list. Most people ask if it’s going to be painted… it is… flat clear. A few people have said: ‘you’re not going to paint it are you?’ It’s a work in progress and it may change if I get a new idea.”
Stormie played to the strengths of the collective components by retaining all the original pieces in a relative as-found condition, while all new parts were treated with the same respect and left shiny in total contrast. With the as-purchased 307 connected to a Turbo 400 auto and positioned between the new rails, the little truck was almost complete. A modified repro ’37 grill topped with an angry duck shrouds a new radiator that’s monitored by a brace of modern gauges inside.
While the interior is sparse at best, Stormie was adamant that this was to be a regularly driven hot rod and he didn’t enjoy wayward springs poking him in wayward places. Tass supplied a Mazda something bench seat that they positioned in the cab, shut the doors and marked cut lines at either end before handing it over to be trimmed.
“I kept getting told that I can get parts cheaper on the internet, but I enjoyed the drive out (to Armadale Auto Parts) and the assistance that they offered. It’s a bit like do you want cybersex or the real thing?”
Wired and fuelled, it was completed to its bare minimum and ready to roll, just as you see it featured here.
Stepping back with the completed pickup in full view, I am certain that most rodders I know would not have built this car. Yes it’s unusual. It’s also quirky, cool as hell and definatly not a cookie shaped from the same cutter.
“I’m a glass half full type of person. I like how two strangers can stand in front of a piece of art work and talk about it, but really talk about themselves and how they see the world. Through that process of exchange, they know each other better. For me that’s a successful painting.”
Stormie’s impressive resume and global accomplishments can be researched at www.stormiemills.com.