“You know the one,” said Steve as he tried to better describe his old HQ. He’d owned the silver ute in the early nineties, put a stepside pickup back on it and slotted in a tough 350 to go drag racing . “It had the GT Falcon wing mounted high up at the rear, I took it to the Summernats once, in 1994 maybe.” I nodded politely but it still escaped me.
I’ve known Steve and Sue Doyle for quite some time, just as acquaintances in the car world, saying high and briefly chatting when we crossed paths. I always admired their tough ’56 Chevy, but even more so I admired that they took it everywhere and loved doing it. It was red and white back then and remained that way for a long time, until recently.
Rewind back to 1992 when Steve was regularly drag racing his silver HQ over Willowbank’s quarter mile. A shoebox Chev had always been on his hit list, a ’55 model to be precise, but he spotted an advert for a ’56 210 in Albury Wodonga. Sue had a lot to do with that decision. “Everyone’s got 55s and 57s, let’s get a 56,” she said. Steve thought it over for a bit, he was born in 1956 himself so it all seemed to make sense.
Neither Steve nor the seller wanted to get ripped off, so the seller top loaded the car onto a semi and sent it up to Brisbane where Steve went over and looked at it. Satisfied, he handed over the cash and took the Chevy home. The car was clean and the paint was good, there was no motor or box but that suited him fine. The first thing he did was to get underneath and give the floors a good clean and repaint before slotting in the 350 and Turbo 400 from his ute. His mate Monty assembled a nine-inch diff the old fashioned way, shortening up an F100 housing and using one stock 31 spline axle and one shortened. About a year later they retrimmed the Chevy in red and white.
The next 15 years or so was a blur, or at least the spectators at the drags were. This Chevy has done plenty of street miles but drag racing is a real passion of Steve’s and always will be. “It’s a race car,” he tells us, even in its new guise.
The catalyst for a rebuild came when Steve was knocking around with his drag buddies one meeting. Paul and Mark had ’57 Chevy’s and their engine bays were painted up nice. Everyone was looking at theirs, and mine was blown!” he quips. He decided that he would tidy up the engine bay, but then there’s that paint above the windscreen that’s peeling. The rest is a familiar tale.
When it comes to DIY, Steve is up there with the greatest. Aside from calling upon his engine builder (Steve Hagan) and trimmer (All Car Interiors), this is a total home build, plus Steve doesn’t have a trade to call upon. Steve likes to read… a lot. When it comes to self-education, Steve has found books and asking questions to work best for him. He doesn’t even own a computer. You might say that when it comes to the information highway, Steve is still using the back roads.
It’s quite incredible that Steve undertook the body and paint work on the Chev having no experience, but he just took his time and made sure everything was right before going to the next step and the end result is a real credit to him. As mentioned earlier the body was sound, only needing to redo some old repairs and weld up some unnecessary holes. “I tried panel beating for a while, read up about heat shrinking, I spent so long at it. I probably sanded the car 20 times more than a panel beater because I wanted it as good as I could get it.” Steve transformed his garage into a spray booth and with a little advice from a new neighbour, laid down the two-tone colour combination.
The colour choice has proved popular with everyone who sees it. “It’s all her fault, the colours, because she works in a paint shop,” said Steve with reference to Sue. The new paint job was always going to be two tone, Steve always liked the two tone paint schemes used on the tri-five Chevys, but his first choice was red and black. Sue vetoed the black, putting forth a BA Falcon colour called Ego. Those from the old school might call it Gun Metal Grey. The red wasn’t looking so attractive any more, so Sue suggested the Ford Focus orange.
“When we popped the lids off the paint tins, we knew it would look fantastic. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to says that those two colours just look great together. I didn’t want it out to far out there, but I wanted it different from the normal tri-five colours. Perhaps it’s a colour combo that should have been.”
After letting the paint bake in his garage for a while, he wheeled the Chevy down to a panel beater in Geebung to get it buffed professionally. “You did this yourself,” he looked at Steve suspiciously, before shaking his hand and congratulating him on a top job.
Inside is a lot more luxurious than before thanks to the VS Holden Statesman seating. Steve’s unashamedly old school, so he demanded a Z pattern on the door cards, a tribute to ZZ Top. The base of the Statesman rear seat was sliced horizontally and mated with the bottom half of the ’56 seat, so it slots into the factory Chev mounting points. The pleats on the doors were duplicated on the seats front and rear. I couldn’t help but ask Steve about his choice of bucket seats. “I was going for custom, the whole car to me is supposed to be a custom – custom bonnet scoop, custom grille, custom bumper bars, custom colour and a custom interior to go with it. That’s my theme I’ve gone with all through the time I’ve been doing it.”
Steve didn’t have to do much to the driveline this time around, most of that work has been done over the last 20 years. The Chevy might be a fat cat, but it runs mid 11 second quarters all day long, with a best to date of 11.18 at 116 mph. That’s with a four bolt 350, cast iron heads and a Fischer 4/71 blower. That blower sure does earn its keep, running 35% over! I asked him why he never stepped up to a six.
“I only wanted one carby, one’s enough trouble let alone two, plus I wanted to run the HEI distributor I had. In relation to weight and power, my research told me that the 4/71 will make enough boost to run 11.00, so that’s what I based everything on. If I wanted to go quicker than 11 seconds, I would go bigger, but I don’t.”
Steve has upgraded this time around with a Quick Fuel 850 carby, a Mallory retard/boost timing control, fresh cam and 3.9 gears in the 9”. He’s also adapted VS Commodore discs brakes at the rear. Most of his improvements over time have come from research and tuning. “I talk to a lot of people, get different ideas from people I race with.”
If you’re impressed about how low the engine sits, thank the Weiand 250 blower manifold (Steve made the adaptor plate) and the Adrian Seleenmeyer V8 engine mounts which Steve reckons are lower than most. As expected, the Chevy runs a decent set of pipes, what you can see are the cut outs just in front of the mufflers for racing. “Les at Fat Pipes is the only bloke I ever go to,” adds Steve.
All up the car was off the road for three years and Steve and Sue love it more than ever. Sue is by no means a bystander in all this, she even used to race it before it was blown and has been there for the whole journey.
“Sue is the only person that’s helped me build that car. That means hanging onto panels while I’m using angle grinders and god knows what else. Sue is as much credit to that car as I am. I could not have done it without her. Half way through the rebuild I said I’m selling this car, she said no you’re not. You know how you get, but it’s part of us, it’ll always be our car.”