Saturday, May 25, 2024
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CRATE ’48 – BRENDON DE RUYTER CUSTOM COUPE

When two cumulous clouds connect, it results in electrifying results. A display of stunning fireworks that light up the sky and wow onlookers. When an over exertive Kiwi made a connection with an Aussie old school automotive craftsman with a heart of glass the result is just as spectacular. But before we delve into the present of this very unique custom coupe we need to visit the past and learn a little about that old school craftsman, Denis Bedford of Copycat Cars.

“I was a personnel officer but I didn’t like office life and pursued a career in the marine industry, which ultimately led me to establish Copycat Cars. Back in the very early days (around the mid-50s) I helped my father who was constructing hardtops for MGs out of fibreglass, and I guess that was my first introduction to the material.” Although some of the resins and chemicals have changed Denis relays to me that the procedure has remained largely unchanged. “Gelcoats have been the one area that has really improved from the old days,” he says.

Trading under the name DRB sportscars in 1981 he commenced fulltime production of the Volkswagen based kitcar named the ‘Sabre’, this was the first in a rage of Volkswagon based cars that included the Magnum, Marauder, Aztec and the Sabre Mk 2. He progressed to a long history with AC Cobra clones, with over 300 bodies and chassis to his credit over the years. In all Denis has conceived and produced 22 body styles from his own moulds.

The ‘48 coupe is his latest creation that was customer derived until they decided to jump ship. Left holding the baby, Denis forged ahead and completed the brief, drawing inspiration from Holden’s ‘Efijy’ and customised Holdens that he worked on in his teens. Adhering to the tried and proven guidelines set by the ASRF (Australian Street Rod Federation), the accompanying chassis is constructed in house and reflects the cars 1948 origins.

That formula was the catalyst that brought Brendon and Dennis to form a bond that paid dividends for both parties. Well that and the fact that they work from facilities just two doors apart!

“I had a real nice ‘63 Chevy with an injected 350 and I sold it to buy the factory bay to establish Auto Perfection,” reveals Brendon. “I was feeling a bit hard done by and just wanted another car. I couldn’t just go out and buy something so I thought I would build a project and use it to learn new skills along the way, and pay as I go.”

He had started to modify an old Ford Prefect by widening the guards and adding about a foot of sheet steel to the mint body straight down the middle. From the photos I saw it looked like Moses parting the red sea.

“When Denis saw what I was up to he told me to forget it and build one of his coupes. When I saw what he had produced I fell in love with the shape and the stance and it went from there. Now that it’s finished I think it would put a horn on a jellyfish,” he laughs. 

What Brendon purchased was more than just a raw chassis and bare fiberglass body. Denis had already done a lot of the hard work like swinging the doors with Falcon door hinges, using Commodore hinges for the bonnet and custom made hinges for the boot. Brendon added early Corvette door handles and modified XD Falcon door lock mechanisms and reworked all the cables to make it happen. While he was at it he added an aftermarket power window kit. Incidentally the glass templates that Denis conceptualised are mirror images side to side which helped when the custom clear stuff was ordered. The laid back split windscreen is semi-permanently positioned with glue, as is the custom rear screen that mimics an exotic dancer that curves both ways.

Brandon’s pursuit for ultra clean lines resulted in moulding both the front and rear guards to the body. The floating grille is ‘56 Corvette, Brendon made the support bar while Denis whipped up a custom new surround that nails the look his young client was chasing. Flanking that distinctive toothy grin, ‘52 Chevy headlights are filled with 7” sealed beams while the parkers are stolen from a Morris Minor. Side mirrors are ‘65 Mustang.

Following the continuous lines of the curvaceous coupe rearward, simple universal parts store taillights have been frenched into the rear guards and dressed with laser cut bezels in polished stainless steel. Recessed licence plate in the rear roll pan and the cut reliefs for the exhaust tips exiting from a hand fabricated 2 1/4 twin system are all owner executed. With the body looking pretty neat it was handed over to Ferry Road Smash Repairs for a flow coat of Toyota maroon.

With the body out of the way, the bare chassis was sent to the powder coaters for a driver-worthy finish. When the coated chassis returned, Brendon reinstalled the XJS Jag front end and VS Commodore rear. VS brakes now adorn the big cat’s paws keeping all the braking components Holden.

When this hybrid coupe first hit the street it was powered by a near stock Holden 308. More recently Brendon yanked the Aussie V8 in favour of an injected LS1 complete with matching 4L60E box, and just like the previous motor install he made the motor mounts, gearbox mounts and wired it all from scratch with the aid of an aftermarket loom and a bit of knowledge. Cooling the 5.7 litre engine is adequately handled by a HQ radiator. 

When time came for creature comforts in the cabin Brendon had an ace up his sleeve. Cousin Steve deRuyter performing under the banner of SS Trimming is located just two doors up in the opposite direction to Dennis, but before Brendon pushed his luck with his extended family he carved out all the necessary panels to complete the sand suede interior.  That included hand forming the centre console, all door cards, all boot cards and the huge rear parcel panel that’s now occupied by a massive sound system.

Brendon slips behind the wheel onto modified 2008 Corolla bucket seats that bolt directly to the chassis with lowered frames while retaining their original on-board seatbelt mounting points. The unique head liner was crafted by taking a mould off the roof exterior and trimming it to size. It was then covered and is held in place by the upholstery bolsters rather than glued to avoid pull-marks in the glass. VT Commodore internal door handles keep the interior smart and in vouge with the modern styling. 

The unusual gauge surround was a culmination between both builders with Brandon adding fresh gauges to an AU Falcon housing that nestled into the dash crafted by Denis. The same AU gave up its steering column which mated to the Jag rack and pinion assembly without modification. Emergency stopping is also handled by a VS Commodore unit if the grip on the half wrap steering wheel gets outa hand. Steve and Brendon’s handiwork extends all the way into the boot area with the combo hiding the custom made fuel cell and battery compartment. 

Kicking the ultra-low stance skyhigh is a set of billet bling rollers by Boyd Coddington measuring 18”x8” at the nose and 20”x9” out back. Although the car looks incredibly low it boasts 120mm of clearance at its lowest point. “It gets over every speed bump that I have encountered,” Brendon says. The only bags in this car are for groceries.  

“The most difficult thing that I found throughout the entire build was when Denis locked his shed when I needed a question answered,” Brendon divulges, “but we got passed that and we are still good mates!”  

Out of the six bodies that Denis has produced this is the first one to see actual road miles. Brendon isn’t afraid of mixing it with the traffic either, only just returning from a scoot from the Gold Coast to Sydney and back where it received an enormous amount of comments from admirers and the general public along the way. But now that it’s done Brendon has itchy fingers and is on the prowl for a new project so the days are numbered for the cool coupe at its current address. 

I just can’t sit still,” Brendon confesses, “so I’ll put it up for sale and when it’s gone I’ll start something else.”

Now armed with valued experience and the confidence of completing a killer ride from scratch you just know that his next accomplishment will be just as impressive.

Next please!

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK STUDIO, FULL FEATURE CRUZIN #165.

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