When aged just 17 years, Greg Quinlan recalls being thrilled at the sight of a great looking and radical Ford B Model hot rod that occasionally passed by his house in the evening. Greg wished to have the opportunity for a close-up look thinking a ride in it would be too much to wish for. Now there are no magic Genies materializing in this story but Greg’ s wildest wishes came true and with it a chapter of Australian hot rod history that is now about to be reprised. We’ll let Greg kick off this astonishing story of an emerging Aussie icon and this 60s survivor T bucket.
At the time, I worked on the outskirts of central Melbourne at Ansett Airlines. Every business day, I caught a bus from Heidelberg to and from Ansett. On this commute, I got to casually know a fellow Ansett employee. We passed the time on the bus chatting on topics of interest, one of which was cars. One day, the work colleague mentioned he had a B Model Ford bucket and, from his description, I soon realized it was the very same car that I admired as it passed by home.
The colleague I met was Ian Splatt, who was destined to resign from Ansett and start his own company which would be named Dragaway (But that’s a whole other story). Ian invited me to stop by his parent’s home and see his B Model. So I not only got my wish to see the car up close, but got to ride in this fantastic vehicle as well.
At age eighteen, I purchased my first car from brother Terry, a 1952 Ford Prefect (probably the first time a Prefect may ever be named in this magazine). Thereupon, I began my work commute by car and would pick up Ian along the way. Some months of commuting in the Prefect passed when Ian suggested building another car together. He related that this would be accomplished in six to eight months. And so, Ian’s dad, a great guy – always supportive of his sons and their friends, was driving us through the countryside in search of a T Model Ford. We found one, well actually a cowl, windscreen pillars, four doors, and its rear still attached to a chassis. History says all T Models were black but this one was colour ‘rust’. Ian determined it was all that was needed, in fact, two doors too many.
Beginning the design phase, Ian recommended the car be unique and, instead of buying a chassis and chopping to suit, we would make our own chassis by purchasing lengths of boxed steel. Instead of leaf or coil springs, it would have torsion bars that would give the car the clean lines and the appearance of there being no suspension. The T Model could thus have an overall low profile, but what was not realized, was that it would be long. I purchased the boxed steel and had it delivered to Ian’s folks’ home, we then commenced our six month project that was ultimately accomplished five years later.
A couple months of progress passed when Ian announced he would be leaving Ansett to begin a business of building dragsters and hot rods, manufacturing specialty wheels and modifying Holdens and Fords of the era. Thus my genuine 1926 T Model became the first project of Ian’s venture, Dragaway, soon to change to the name ‘Dragway’.
At this point in time, I recognized that there are pros and cons to building a car rather than just buying one. A ‘plus’ is learning about the engineering aspects and meeting many people and making good friends. ‘Against’ is that one can’t drive the car while it is being purchased one component at a time.
We made steady progress, especially when another friend, John Howard, a giant of a man both in heart and build, joined us. During these two years, a range of components were purchased and became part of the car that was now beginning to have the appearance of a car. These included four torsion bars from Morris Oxfords, a genuine Ford T radiator cover, three speed with overdrive gearbox from a Studebaker, a steering box from a ’28 Chevrolet, fuel pumps from a Jaguar, disc brakes from a Holden and a diff from a ’48 Oldsmobile, – to list but a few. Our timeline was adjusted to complete the T Model Bucket by my 21st birthday.
However, conscription into the army on a lottery basis was introduced in 1966 and at 20 years, I became a private in the Australian army. The T Model project was effectively put on hold, especially when posted to the 1st and then the 6th Ord Field Park, of the First Australian Task Force, based at Nui Dat, Vietnam in 1967. I joined this small unit as a replacement person and remember that, on my first day with the unit on the hill that overlooked the surrounding rubber plantations, I met Hector Mallett, another car fan and a very fine person. Hector had seen Ian’s car in hot rod magazines and after his departure for Australia a few months later, wrote to Ian and purchased his B Model soon after his arrival.
In January 1968, I returned to Australia and realized I had better get the T Model completed if I was to have a car to get around. John Howard joined Ian and I to get the project completed. My recollection is that it was completed and registered in 1969 and we regularly drove the T Model throughout the ‘70s. In 1980, I moved to Los Angeles, planning to return permanently to Australia within three years and deciding to keep the T Model, I garaged it at my home in Melbourne. Here it remained in the garage under a canvas cover until 2012 when I received a telephone call from Ian Splatt, who inquired what had happened to the car. To his astonishment, I informed him that it was in my garage in Melbourne. Some months later, we met at Ian’s home in Brisbane and I agreed for Dragway to be engaged to return it to roadworthy condition.
It’s rather special to know that this T Model is the first of many noteworthy accomplishments of the very successful business venture of Ian’s, ‘Dragway’. For example, I fondly remember holding Ian’s baby daughter, Rachel, in my arms, the baby who grew up to drive top fuel dragsters at more than 300 miles per hour over the quarter mile. Nothing surprises me where Ian is involved, not even the hot rod outhouse he built!
With the car now in Ian’s possession once again, we were privileged to be invited to photograph the T in its “as found condition” before the commencement of its revival. With Ian at the helm and decades of experience to draw from the rod will retain all of its early character with upgrades available from an aftermarket industry that never existed when it was originally conceived. Giddy like a kid who has just found a long lost toy, Ian was transported back to 1963 when this all began at the sight of the unearthed T and has wasted no time in launching himself into the challenge ahead. Enjoy these never to be repeated images of a time when enthusiasm knew no bounds and ingenuity was the key to reaching your goals of owning a hot rod back in the day.