A blast from the past that we dig in spades…
BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK STUDIO, FEATURED CRUZIN #221
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” Those infamous lyrics were sung by bearded country crooner, Kenny Rogers in the hit song, The Gambler back in 1978. Just ten years earlier, a young bloke named Roger Brockway took on his own gamble to build a hot rod from a bunch of mismatched pieces. It’s a wager that continues to pay off to this very day.
“Back then I had an A Model roadster on a ’34 chassis. I never finished it though,” Roger recalls with a chuckle whilst trying to remember what became of the collection of parts. “It was a bit of a basket case and then my best mate, Paul Cattach and I bought a pair of ’34 Ford coupes to muck around with. We were only 16 or so at the time.”
Roger enlightens that one of the coupes was fully fendered with a Holden front end, and the other was stripped of its original sheet metal, channelled and fitted with suicide front suspension and a wooden floor.
“Paul took the channelled one and I had the other,” he adds.
Just for kicks the two larrikins penned a letter to the Aussie hot rod magazine of the day stating that they were starting a hot rod club and that they already had members in arms.
“We really started it as a joke,” confesses Roger. “We were about 16 and 17, we said we had a few members but it was just us in my home at Surry Hills. There were the Coachmen, Southern Beaches, Thunderbirds… all the big ones, but we just felt like doing it. ‘What are we going to call it?’ Paul questioned. ‘I don’t know… the Spades!’ What the hell, we just needed a name.”
Unfortunately not long after their now historic club inauguration, Paul was drafted into the Army, or NASHOS as they were more commonly referred. With Paul serving his country, Roger became custodian of both cars and eventually parted ways with the fendered coupe and continued to tinker away at the channelled Ford.
“I missed out (on the draft) thank heavens. He wrote me a letter stating, ‘Whatever you do, don’t get dragged into this thing!’ It was full of expletives. I picked him up at his first break… man that was a long time ago.”
Thankfully Paul was one of the more fortunate who returned home and later, he and his good buddy Roger found another distraction that tickled both their fancies.
“We met two girls who were twins when we were still teenagers. He ended up marrying Carrol, and her sister Yvonne and I went together for a while. We broke up, married other people and eventually got back together and have been married now for over 26 years.” “I was a bit of a rat bag back then,” he laughs. “He was my best mate at the time and then we became brothers-in-law. He’s still married to Carrol, backed off from hot rods for a fair while, but he’s just completed a really nice flathead powered ‘41 tudor and started on a ’38 coupe.”
But before we get to present day and the super cool coupe gracing these pages, we have to venture back into the past to learn of its future.
Work progressed on the coupe, albeit slowly, but time passed at a rate of knots. Years flew by like tumbleweeds in a windstorm. Now refitted with stock front and rear ends painted in bright orange and a flathead V8, the old ’34 had to settle for second place to youthful exuberance and the coming of age.
“The car didn’t hit the road until about ’79 but it almost didn’t make it at all,” reveals Roger. “I was working on it at our house in Mooroolbark, Victoria when the acetylene bottle backfired and blew the gauge off. The coupe was up off its wheels when the bottle caught fire which ignited the engine dust covers. I dragged the burning covers off before everything on the wooden bench went up, and grabbed the garden hose from outside. I stood at the back of the car hosing the bottle down until the firies came and thankfully put it out.”
Roger married at a young age and with son in tow, sold their house, bought an old Landover and nomaded around Australia for a couple of years.
“I worked when I could up north Queensland and South Australia where we bought a house in Adelaide and settled down. I ended up splitting with her and moved back to Melbourne.”
A self-taught fitter, Roger worked in the quarries on and off but with a sniff of working offshore, he wasted no time in bettering his employment odds.
“I was heading to apply for this job offshore when I wrote my Fairlane off,” he confesses. “I went back home and really needed a job and new wheels. There was an ad for a welder just around the corner so I applied for that, got it and started work for a furnace company.”
With solid employment for the time being, Roger learnt to lay bricks for the kilns, wiring and got a handle on every aspect of the vocation.
“That was about ’78 and the coupe had been sitting at my parents’ house all that time. I got stuck into completing the car and finished it just in time to take it to the Albury Nationals in ’79. It had an orange engine but I can’t find any photos of it. I remember it took about eight hours to get to Albury because it kept stopping. I couldn’t work it out until I had time at the Nat’s to investigate, where I discovered that the magneto was overheating. On the trip home we rigged up a hose and funnel through the windscreen, wrapped a rag around the magneto and kept pouring water onto the rag to keep it cool. It never failed all the way home.”
“After the Nationals good mate Peter Quaife and I built a ’32 roadster in 1982 that we still have. It won Top Open Car at the Nationals at Mildura, Top Roadster at Valla Park in the early 80s, Top Open Car at the Castlemaine 50 Years of the Deuce, and we took it back for the 75 year anniversary.”
With a new topless roadster to go cruising, the ’34 coupe was regulated to second place again for quite a number of years. Then a ‘33 roadster project took precedence as more years ticked by.
“When you have one to drive, you don’t bother about the other one,” quips Roger.
With a reliable Windsor between the rails of his ’33 ragtop, Roger concentrated on work, relationships and fun with old cars and his club members from the Spades when he disclosed that it was time to redo the ’34.
“I built that car when I was only 17 or something,” he digresses. “I know now that we started with the wrong engine; a 1939 Merc flathead that we had for a sedan. It had a 3 and 3/16th bore that we bored out to plus 30. We polished all the rods, added big valves, short guides and a Wade cam with twin carbys and a ’39 box. It went really well. I ran it for a lot of years until I bought a stroker motor out of Sydney. That was the engine that I planned to reuse until the Ardun intervention. The stroker motor is now in my ’34 stock car and the old Merc flatty that we put some rings in just last year is in Pete’s stock car.”
While the ’34 was on the road, Roger replaced the stock suspension with a Falcon rear end and Hillman Imp coil-overs, a tube axle and four-bar front end set up retaining the stock drum brakes. The stroker motor he acquired from Sydney received a 4” crank and a set of pistons from the States that he recalls cost $800 for just a set of cast slugs.
“That was a lot of money back then,” he chimes in. “I put that engine together with finned heads and triple carbies, netting 276 cubes.”
As the rebuild progressed, Roger sacrificed the stock chassis that he modified and welded with an oxy torch back in the day for another set of ‘34 rails that he boxed and equipped with a double tube x-member for superior strength. This time a Ford nine inch diff was positioned under the rear with four-bars and high quality coil-over shocks from an aftermarket supplier. Up front, more quality reproduction parts from So-Cal Speed Shop were installed consisting of a chrome drop axle, tube shocks and transverse spring. At the time of our photoshoot, a pair of ‘40s juice brakes were enlisted to halt the engine heavy coupe, but Roger has since replaced them with finned Buick style drums concealing Willwood disc rotors and callipers, also from So-Cal.
“When it was two thirds done with the new chassis, body steeled out and all that, I bought a business,” confides Roger.
“I was thinking of giving it (work) away when the boss sacked the manager who screwed up, almost sending it broke. I thought I better hang around and help him out for a bit. He looked at me one day and said, ‘You pretty much run the place, why not manage it?’ I did that for quite a while until he got crook and I bought the company. I sold it later to get my life back.”
After investing over three decades in the same vocation at Tetlow Kilns and Furnaces, including eight years as owner, time had come for Roger to regain his life from the day to day grind but not before he handed the reins of his coupe rebuild to good friend, Peter Quaife.
“I was working like buggery and it sat for almost 12 months. I said to Pete, ‘Hey mate, how about you finish the car for me!’”
Picking up where Roger had left off was easy for the seasoned rodder, and he made great progress to where the old coupe was ready to be blown apart for paint when Roger threw him a curve ball from left field.
“I had a blower built for the stroked flathead, extractors made and it was ready to pull apart for paint. After some time having beers with Pete, I said, ‘Bugger it… I might get some Ardun heads for it!’ Pete’s son Paul was there and he piped up with, “If you’re going to do that, you have to put a SCoT blower on it!” Yeah right, so I ended up buying all that from H&H and had to wait for them to get it across from the States.”
With the rebuild almost complete, progress came to an abrupt stop while the new and improved parts arrived. In the meantime, the existing flathead that Roger had equipped with a blower was shelved for another project and he began the arduous task of deburring a replacement block before handing it over to engine extraordinaire, Pete Clara for a rebuild to suit the new head and supercharger specifications.
“He’s an old rodder from the Southern Hot Rod guys and a real gentleman. I gave him a block that I had ground up, but it turned out to be cracked through the cam bearing… damn!”
In his stride, Clara located an alternative block and proceeded to machine it to accept a full rotating assembly that Roger also acquired from H&H. After installing the 296 stroker kit into the refreshed vintage block, it was finally time to lower the huge hemi-style heads into position. As righteous as they are in their own magnificence, the engine bay’s crowning jewel has to be the fully polished reproduction of the famous SCoT blower. Topped with twin factory chromed Stromberg 97 carburettors, the complete ensemble is breathtaking. It also barks with a healthy note thanks to a custom set of headers fabbed by Pete Quaife, that snake their way to an owner made set of twice pipes.
With the ’34 rebirth back on track, all assembled body components were blown apart, prepped by Pete and handed to Stewart Woodman for final paint in a colour that is very familiar to Roger.
“The very first time we painted it we got this new paint out of the States,” Roger explains. “You painted the car white and then coated it in this translucent blue… cool! I was working night shift and had to go after it was ready to shoot, we were in Peter Gordon’s panel shop in Ringwood so he painted it without me. I saw it the next morning and he asks, “What do you think? “It looks shithouse!’ It was awful so we blocked it back, Pete gave me a colour chart and said, “Here pick one!” We repainted it Windsor Blue.”
Roger admits that along the way he contemplated chopping the roof and painting it black with flames, but after a long hard look he thought no, the car deserved to be what it was; Windsor Blue. During the first incarnation of the coupe’s rodding life, Roger was fortunate enough to be good friends with Bob Bear who was also a Spades club member. A talented man with the oxy torch and metal manipulation, Bob filled the coupe’s roof insert with donor metal from the centre section of an FJ Holden.
“I remember he put about 35 shrinks in it to get it perfect,” recalls Roger.
Sadly Bob’s life was prematurely cut short in a fatal car accident, but his skilled handiwork survives with the ’34.
One exception to the all Aussie steel sheet metal however was slicing out the flat steel firewall that was trick back in its day, and replacing it with an original factory offering he picked up in Sydney. It was an alteration prompted by Stewart who insisted on retrofitting before he laid down the eye candy exterior, and one that Roger now never regrets.
Keen to debut his old faithful coupe at the 2017 ASRF Nationals in Bendigo almost 50 years after its first public appearance, Roger and his crew of trusty club mates pulled out all the stops to achieve the goal. With new plates attached at the 11th hour and a fresh new mill tied to his right foot, the two hot rod survivors hit the road once again.
“Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep!”
Clearly Roger Brockway was listening!