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WIND OF CHANGE – JOHN BAKER 1928 FORD TUDOR

The “Wind of Change” speech, made by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa in 1960, will forever be retained in history books the world over. Since then the term has been coined by numerous musicians the likes of Eric Burdon & The Animals, the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys, Scorpions and Peter Frampton just to name a few. It has bestowed the cover of books (both fiction and fact) by authors for decades and was even the leading title of a British made feature film back in ’61. For John Baker the meaning is personal.

I met John about 8 years ago at a laid back little run in the New England area of Glenn Innes. He was having a blast at the gathering with his unconventional styled Model A roadster pickup. On closer inspection the brown suede RPU was as neat as a pin with cream wire wheels and white walls, matching hand fabricated hardtop with visor and cream firewall. The fully fendered A bone sang an unfamiliar song in a crowd of small blocks with a detailed four banger between the rails that was hopped up with twin carbies and a heavy foot. Boldly emblazoned with a windmill motif on the door that also adorned the polished moon style fuel tank in the tray, I just knew that there was more to the back story of its creator. Further investigation revealed Cadillac bullet taillights suspended from the home made timber bed and just above a pair of sparkling ‘29 bumperetts. Leading the way was a chromed front bar from a ‘34 Ford which shielded a quail topped ‘34 Chevrolet grill, complete with Ford script. Clearly the owner/builder had a sense of humour… or issues, but either way I was on a mission to find out. 

The door signage read; Bill’s Wind Powered Speed Equipment Est 1932, so as I approached the tall pirate looking man with identical T shirt to the door-art, outstretched my hand and said, “Are you Bill?” Of course he wasn’t… he was John. On the back foot I started to inquire about the car to which he politely informed me that Bill was his dad, and that the Model A had been part of his family forever. As I discovered more and more about the RPU, John’s infectious zest for life, old cars and somewhat bent sense of humour surfaced throughout our conversation, and I was increasingly drawn to his character. By the end of the weekend I had met all the family, sons Sam and Caleb, daughter Phoebe, beautiful wife Angela and Bill. A little bemused by my level of interest in the old family pickup amongst a corral of exceptional good stock entered for the run, he let me squeeze off some images of the pickup and I was more than happy to respond to a family portrait request… Model A included… naturally. 

Heading for home I knew we had made a strong connection and as the years past the Bakers have become good friends. We catch up when possible and at rod runs or over a bottle of red, and John is the first one on the phone to tell me of his latest project or old tin acquisition. John’s passion for vintage cars and uncanny ability to create notable vehicles that indulge individualism on a thrifty budget is truly inspiring, right from his first attempt at hot rodding, the Windspeed Model A RPU. Raised as a restorer, that honest A was John’s first toe in the water of this obsessive hobby that can easily flood the veins for life after that initial surface tension breach. Since then John has accomplished a string of cool cars including a unique ‘28 Model A sport coupe with pollyhead Chrysler power and currently terrorises Inverell in his equally distinctive, and Mopar motivated, ’34 Plymouth coupe.

Back in 1966, at just eight years old the roadster pickup was the first car John ever drove. It was originally owned by Charlie Dyer who purchased it new from Inverell Motors in 1929, as a four door deluxe phaeton. When Johns’ Grandfather Mac Baker bought it for the farm during the war, it (like so many of the day) was cut up into a ute. After farm duties ceased Bill bought if for his son. 

“Dad was the windmill man,” John explains “he devoted 57 years selling and repairing windmills all around this area.”

Bill was also a restorer and had collected quite a stash of early Ford parts, panels and vehicles over the decades. Lucky for John the old pickup had his name on it when the time was right. Before becoming a hot rodder John put together a neat restored Model A and he just hated it, launching the build of the sports coupe. Enduring difficultly locating body panels for the uncommon body style the project stalled and John became increasingly frustrated by not having his coupe on the road. A quick fix was to rebirth the old pickup. If you are wondering by now why we aren’t discussing the Tudor, hang in there, we’re getting to it. 

“I built that car because the coupe was taking so long to do and I just wanted something to drive. I threw it together on 16” wires with decent tyres and it went well with a counter balanced four banger. When the coupe was done it kinda lost its lustre with the four slugger (pissed me off really) so that’s when I put the flathead V8 in it.” 

In its next incarnation John stepped the rear rails by four inches and boxed the original frame. A Borg Warner 3.55 diff was located by ladder bars and hung with coil over shocks. To support the new old mill a ‘36 Ford I beam was swapped in on the stock spring and shock arrangement. The 239 cubic inch sidevalve was rebuilt near stock with new Egge pistons and an Isky Max 4 camshaft. Handmade extractors improved the breathing of the relieved heads and a MSD dizzy delivers reliable spark. The gearbox was a more modern approach with John installing a Chevy Powerglide, assisted with an adaptor from Mike Davidson and the brakes were upgraded from mechanical to hydraulic. 

From that point on John drove the rejuvenated pickup infrequently as the stable of cool rides expanded including a pretty neat ’58 Chevy Biscayne that was more enjoyable to drive. As the boys grew older and progressed into the hot rod fraternity with their own Baker-style builds, so did the amount of rego renewals in the letterbox. Also garage space was at a premium and John decided to thin the herd. One by one John’s pet vehicles found new homes leaving more space (and a little cash) for him to tinker with new projects. Motivated by the thrill of the build and inspired by the freedom to create rather than to be stifled by maintaining a perfect paint job and 100 point undercarriage, John is a true originator that finds respite at the workbench. More recently John has transformed his industrial size shed into his own fabricating workshop with the help of good mate Mal Reagn, where the two likeminded enthusiasts perform some very creative surgery on a regular basis. 

Which brings us back to the Tudor. A few years back Bill’s time at harnessing the breath of Mother Nature was done, and during his retirement the breeze that he understood so much lifted him to the heavens for a well-earned rest. In his absence, and the sale of the Biscayne John felt he needed to have a vehicle with enough passenger comfort for his mum to join in at any given time. Spurred on by a personal directive he decided to rebuild the old family pickup one more time… this time as a tudor.  

Many major components of this suede sedan are as detailed throughout this story with a few minor tweaks here and there, with the exception of the body. The ‘28 Ford was imported from Bakersfield by long time rodder Steve Philpot and purchased at Christmas 2012. John describes the original Henry steel shell as mint, and the best he has ever seen. Last registered in California, circa 1957 the gennie body still retained its own windscreen, black paint and revealed no dents or rust bigger than a 10cent piece.

After stripping the aged paint by hand John and Mal had the body ready for paint in just six weeks. That time frame included chopping that mint top by 3 ¼ inches and filling it with an insert carved from a Commodore wagon. With the roadster pick up body removed the ‘29 chassis was rolled out for its new adventure. Not wanting to go down the highboy route John left granddad’s original guards intact and relocated the ski boat fuel tank into its new position. As the Colourbond “Loft” brown was still in good nick on the frame the augmented tudor was colour coded and flattened to match with Alabaster cream metallic highlighting the new roof and louvered visor by Garry Fawcett.

Inside the lowered lid the sparse interior reeks of hot rods of the past, not newstalgia. Chromed stock gauge cluster reflects in unison with the metallic painted cowl fuel tank and dash surround while a chromed column supports an unusual Dodge Kingsway wheel acquired from Alan Smith. Greg Gardner stitched simple black pleats with white piping to cover modified Gemini bucket seats that allow easy access to the rear seat, salvaged from a ’64 Plymouth Sport Fury. Overhead stunning coach-built timber bows and plywood inserts are amusingly downplayed with rubber carpet supplied by Bunnings. 

Balancing all that suede brown applied by Scott Austin, a set of wide white walls from Coker wrap around 1953 Plymouth 15”x 5” steelies capped with baby moons. Current brake credentials list Ford XF discs, HQ callipers with Valiant 9” drums in the rear activated by an XY master cylinder, Gemini booster and Model A pedal assembly. Thankfully John finished the tudor by replacing the controversial Chevy grille with a chromed Model A and a paint brushed radiator, and he also found the stock bumper bar too.

John discloses that he has owned the car for 48 years and took one year to build. If you do the math you’ll know where he’s coming from.  He also believes that it is his biggest faux pas in rodding as he’s built it so many times. And in its latest incarnation he said; “I didn’t like it very much as it drove like a loaf of bread. What I wanted to do to it didn’t make sense so I sold it. Better off to get rid of the car and build a new one, as it would be cheaper in the end. I just was not going to do it again!”

As the tudor headed south in the hands of a happy new custodian one can’t help thinking an end of an era has just occurred. A wind of change that once filled the sails in John’s emotional connection with the old Model A had dissipated. As I anguished with the thought of the family Ford gone forever, he quietly informed me that he still has enough original parts to resurrect the roadster pickup… if he ever feels the urge. Rest in peace Bill.

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

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