Thursday, April 25, 2024
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GRAVE DANGER – GRAEME DANIELS 1959 FORD ZEPHYR UTE

“Our Land Rover Evoque doesn’t get as many looks as the Zephyr and it cost four times as much,” explains Graeme Daniels as he refers to his selection of daily drivers. 

You’ve got to admit, the Evoque is a sharp lookin’ bit of kit – modern, sleek, racy and raunchy. But for all the millions spent in research and development and the hefty end consumer price tag, it still lacks the soul and charisma of this custom Zephyr ute.

Anyway you look at it, this is one cool Zephyr ute. What makes it even cooler is the fact it pounds the pavement every single day – that makes going to work a much more pleasurable experience. Ever since Graeme acquired it some eight years ago, it’s been trudging up and down the Adelaide foothills ferrying Graeme to and from work. 

Graeme had embarked on the rebuild of another Zephyr ute, but body and paint mate Neil MacDonald politely suggested that he turf that one and find another. As you can imagine, they’re not exactly parked on every street corner so what were the odds of coming across one in little ol’ Adelaide, let alone one with a four inch chop? Timing is everything. 

Up until that point Graeme had toiled away on a variety of cars, which could be seen as inevitable as his father was a body and paint man for most of his life and his brother was into drag racing. Graeme recalls his brother Darryl taking his front engined dragster for blasts up and down the street. “That was a hoot. You would think most neighbors would complain but we’re taking Elizabeth here – they all loved it. The only who didn’t was mum.”

From his car chronicle one thing becomes apparent – the older Graeme has got, so has the age of his cars!  Prior to the Zephyr, of 1959 vintage, his daily driver was an EH ute.

The Zephyr’s previous owner had the ‘Dr Chop’ chopped ute lined up for some drag strip action and as such had mini-tubbed the rear but that was as far as he got. Thankfully for Graeme he had yet to extract the original 152ci Zephyr straight six so he acquired it as a driver, albeit not very glamorous with its coat of many colours. Nevertheless it picked up where the EH left off and began its new destiny as Graeme’s primary mode of transport. 

Building a daily driver is never easy as you constantly juggle car needs, your wants and transportation requirements. Graeme explains his approach; “I’d take it off the road for a week or two at a time, work on it so I could drive it again, then I’d wait for something else to do, take it off the road for a couple of weeks then drive it again.” It’s not the ideal way to build a car but Graeme made it work. 

The hike up the steep Norton Summit Road on a daily basis had the old 152 almost collapsing from exhaustion so a heart transplant was scheduled. Graeme opted for the venerable 250 crossflow for as he puts it; “When it stuffs up I can just grab a part from the washing machine to fix it.” Of course what he’s saying is that they are easy to maintain, simple to repair and when looked after will almost go forever.

For this one it’s simple, LPG goes in one side and extractors get rid of what’s left on the other and ten years on, it’s still going strong. As for fitment, a gentle massage of the lower firewall with a sledge-hammer to accommodate the starter motor was all that was needed.

The ex-XF engine is backed by a C4 while down the back Graeme’s demonstrated how the ‘it’s not what ya know but who ya know’ cliché works. Dave Henley and Andrew Haywood not only work at the Adelaide Rare Spares outlet, they’re the local brains trust when it comes to Zephyrs. Their experience told Graeme that a Volvo disc brake diff is a bolt up operation. Jackpot. He also slotted in some VL Commodore struts up front and completing the driveline upgrade are the rear Firestone airbags. A couple of weeks swinging spanners and the ute was again eating up the miles, and now the summit was scaled at a pace less akin to that of a snail.

A couple of years following this Graeme recruited good mates Neil McDonald and Graham Snaith to decrease the number of external colours and increase aesthetics. This was obviously chosen as someone’s build car because it had a good body and it had survived its subsequent years well. The guys straightened the panels, frenched an aerial in the right rear quarter, frenched the rear lights and squared off and lowered the rear tops of the tray and tailgate. Then they laid on the Sea Mist green on the lower half and topped it off with White-Silver. At the rear Graeme has cut, shut and bolted up a full width FC wagon bumper and long gone is the external tailgate handle.

Inside Graeme cruises around on Nissan Maxima seats that, along with the door trims and crash pad have been reupholstered by Adam and Claude in grey leather. The floor mounted shifter resides in a Graeme-built, full-length console while the stereo hangs out in the glovebox. Quirkiness includes the multi-coloured plastic knobs and the head hanging from the mirror. A more classy touch is the matching two-toned steering wheel.

Graeme’s motto is low and slow. However, one year Neil, Graham and Graeme were cruising to the Big River Nationals when the ute trio pulled out to overtake a truck. No big deal, but when they stopped Graeme asked how fast they were going.  ‘About 140’ was the response. He installed the retractable seat belts immediately upon his return. 

The ute has been such a big part of his life he seriously doubts he’d ever sell it – and when the time comes may make a return trip to the cemetery with him in the back!

BY WARREN DAY, PHOTOS WARREN DAY, FULL FEATURE CRUZIN #164.

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