Happily living amongst the gum trees on 35 acres around an hour from the steel city of Newcastle, Brad and Lisa Holmes have plenty of space to build, restore, entertain and even race his abundance of classic projects and finished cars. He admits he never set out to corner the market on old Chryslers… it just turned out that way.
Brad grew up in the northern beaches of Manly and became intertwined into the tapestry of grass roots Aussie rockabilly. Teddy Boys, Rockers, Skins and Rude Boys were all part of the landscape culture and gangs were pretty serious back then. “Things were a lot different then if you were walking the streets on your own,” he recalls, “they were crazy days.”
I remember Stray Cats coming out to Australia and I have been in the scene ever since. Just after I left Sydney, the rockabilly movement were swaying towards the Country and Western look. When I moved up here and started my business I knew nobody! So I investigated what Newcastle had to offer… that’s when I met Lisa.”
They both giggle as they recollect the experience and divulge that they met on a blind date. Obviously they were well matched as proof is in their two beautiful daughters, Clare aged 11, and Jessica age 14. While Clare loves to twirl in her vintage skirts and plaid dresses, big sister loves to sit and listen to her music, which I am ascertaining is a major feature in the Holmes household. Although Brad found his style as a teenage adolescent, quiff hairdos, Gretsch guitars and smelly old flatheads were all new to legal secretary Lisa. Now she embraces the culture, fashion and lifestyle.
“As a kid I grew up with an EH Holden and when I bought the property my new next door neighbour had a ‘47 Plymouth and he was moving out and wanted to get rid of it,” Brad explains. It just so happened that he was in the mood to purchase another old car and a deal was struck. “I told myself that I wanted it on the road within two years. Once I started chasing parts, I soon learned how hard it was to find early Chrysler pieces and I ended up buying another car to restore the one I had,” he says shaking his head. That set precedence for other cars to follow Brad home. “I ended up cornering the market for rusty old Mopars,” he laughs.
On the eve of their 15 year wedding anniversary, I am encouraged to follow Brad on a personal tour of their beloved belongings.
For this enthusiastic couple and all things retro, this is their life! There is no dress-up, no fad costumes in the closet and no signs of ever changing. Even Brad’s daily driver is a mid-sixties survivor with no Commodore in sight. “We are living the dream but it’s a shame we have to work in between the good times,” he says with a smirk.
Relaxing on the front lawn under a massive gum tree, Brad and Lisa take time out to reflect on the ordeal that produced the pair of stunning white sedans that share their special time.
The sedan behind Brad is the ’47 Plymouth that started it all. The ’47 Dodge behind Lisa was later located with the intent to use the pair as wedding cars. Both cars were completed simultaneously for a wedding that was pre-booked under the guarantee that they would be ready. “We sent photographs of the cars in black and white because they were two different colours. They were rebuilt on site without a shed and painted in two pack,” Brad recalls. “We only had minutes to spare in the end but we made it to the church on time,” Lisa adds, “It was ridiculous!”
“When we came home from that wedding and parked the cars, I don’t think that I touched them for six months! says Brad.
Interestingly, the Dodge formed the base for all the other models including the Plymouth of that year. Allegedly the jailbar style grill was one of the biggest differences and it was the only thing missing. With his ear to the ground, Brad had been informed of the distinctive grill doing the swap meet rounds.
“I was told a Chevy guy had one at the Ballarat Swap. I went and saw him and he said that he didn’t bring it this year as he had lugged it every year and it never sold. He said if I was interested, give him $100 he would ship it to me. When it turned up it was mint and had never been on a car. It was the best $100 bucks I have ever spent.”
The Dodge was purchased in primer, running a 218ci flathead six. Brad enlisted the help of a local panel beater to do most of the body prep, picking out the best panels from his stock pile where needed. Everything was blown apart except the body which stayed attached to the frame during the rebuild.
All the chrome and stainless was repolished on both cars and all of the die cast chrome was sent to South Australia for replating. Brad and Lisa recall polishing all the components in the dining room. Ahhh, fun times! After extensively researching DIY woodgraining on the net, Brad can now add another skill to his woodworking tool box.
While content with his growing crop of Chryslers, Brad found that the flat sixes were struggling to keep up with his V8 powered club members. This factory right hand drive 1958 Plymouth Belvedere would be the ultimate solution.
“I bought it from a guy at the Wintersun Festival in Queensland and just finished it off with spats, white walls and such. It was my dream to own a Belvedere that inspired me all those years ago in the movie, Christine. It’s the original colour and I am the third custodian. It was purchased from the original owner out of Mt Isa by a mechanical engineer. The body was in good nick and the drive train was better than expected. All I had to do was detail and personalise it to my taste. There are not many of them around and they were an expensive car back in the day.”
A pearled steering wheel complements the beautiful original interior, highlighted with a sprinkling of new chrome items. As stunning as the ’58 is, Brad just couldn’t be content with just the vehicle and hunted for a perfect companion for his new found love.
Being a woodworker Brad always longed to own an old plywood caravan. He located one on Gumtree, this 1961 vintage Charlwyn, constructed in Sydney by Tom Charles and Elwyn Williams, hence the name. “They kept every receipt, every brochure and all its history. The most interesting thing is the jockey wheel, or more correctly named, ‘The Jones Dolly Wheel’ that is in continuous contact with the road, taking the weight burden off the rear of the tow car.”
Since in Brad’s ownership, it has been treated to a full respray, rot repairs, new floor covering instead of the marine carpet and a general tidy up. Laying the replacement vinyl flooring is a subject that Brad has taught at Tafe. Taillights are of unknown origin but combined with the Chrysler V emblem, adds a touch of vintage hot rod flavour. Gas fuelled interior lights are all original as is the gas fridge, but Brad is hesitant to light either! Most of the accessories on board are period correct and colour co-ordinated. Fortunately most came with the van.
“It’s a little cramped but we use it at runs,” Brad says. It is truly a step back in time and when hooked to the Belvedere they are an instant hit wherever they cruise.