Thursday, November 30, 2023
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AUSSIE BUILT ORANGE CRATE – CRAIG PRESTON 1934 CHEVY CUSTOM WOODY

The term “dare to be different” has over the years been pretty well used up! But on certain occasions I believe it still has merit. Just like this one off 1934 Chevrolet woody wagon created by owner Craig Preston, simply because he wanted one. 

Armed with skills and knowledge gained from constructing and restoring horse drawn vehicles Craig set about combining his passion for the  bowtie marque and the earthy soul of timber.

“I like being a little bit left of centre,” he divulges, “and I have always loved Chevs and wanted this one to be different. I believe working with wood is a dying art. Everyone asks; ‘How did you do it so well?’ I reckon if you’re not frightened to have a go, you will get it done.”

Craig joined the rodding fraternity just five years ago but before that he had restored a ‘65 Belair and a ‘46 Buick. Although he gained immense pleasure from showing his harness horses and attached piano box buggies and Sydney brass sulkies, the restored car scene didn’t excite him. He took on the woody project as a challenge that would require all of his prior experience and skills.

His first step was to put down on paper the images that were racing through his mind so he grabbed a copy of Cruzin and found a picture of a ‘34 Chev, photocopied it and proceeded to cut the body off and designed his own. Pen and paper is one thing. The reality of constructing your own body from scratch can be very daunting for experienced hot rod shops let alone the home builder.

Undeterred by the task ahead, Craig considered purchasing a cowl to build from, but after much research of what was available he decided to fabricate one in steel. “I looked at buying a fibreglass one but they were rounded at the cowl and didn’t suit the design I was going for, so I made my own,” he says with a nonchalant tone. Craig constructed the cowl to complement the angular lines of the body and squared window openings with a purposeful absence of round corners including the windscreen. The firewall is the only curvaceous component where it sweeps from side to side forming a recessed arc behind the motor.

Happy with the result Craig positioned the cowl onto a ‘34 chassis that has been strengthened with mirror imaged top and bottom X-member and boxing plates. With the frame supported Craig embarked on the massive undertaking of constructing the timber component of the build. Contrary to most people’s perception of the body, the beautiful Tassie Oak structure is affixed to a steel skeleton. 

“I built the steel frame first and then attached the timber to it with hidden fasteners,” Craig explains. “It’s been on the road now for five years and hasn’t moved,” he says proudly.

As you can imagine Craig did all the timberwork, infilling the main structure with marine ply. The whole box and dice has been triple coated in PPG two-pack clear for ultimate water protection inside and out. He also divulges that he could strip the timber body in about four hours if he ever needed to and that it doesn’t leak even after a pressure wash. An experienced eye will discover that all of the glass on the wagon is consistently on the same level from the base of the front window where most woody’s drop down from the windscreen. This is one area that Craig was adamant to achieve but easily overlooked. Hard to believe but the entire body was constructed in just nine weeks at home. The most difficult part was achieving the curved roofline, which was accomplished by constructing it in two halves with the B pillar leaned forward to accentuate the curve. When the saw dust settled Craig filled in the window gaps with custom cut glass all round with power mechanisms in the doors. 

Surrounding the timber perimeter is a full set of fiberglass guards and running boards with the rears modified to suit their application and tyre size. To avoid having an unsightly gap under the tailgate Craig fabricated a panel in sheet steel that joins the two rear guards together, nicknamed the duck bill. It’s also the perfect place to attach the befitting personalised licence plate. Nestled between the front guards, a glass ‘34 grill surround is highlighted by an owner made tubular insert flanked by headlight stanchions that are also owner made and repositioned rearward for improved visual alignment. Once all the panels were gapped and in place they were blown apart and given to Danny McGinnes for a stunning coat of ‘Poppy’ from the PPG Vibrance range. I am told that the striking exterior changes its intensity depending on the light source and apart from the interior, it is the only other component of the woody not completed at the home garage.

While the panels were off site, the chassis was also colour matched to the exterior before final assembly. Handling front suspension duties a Mitsubishi L-300 front end was narrowed 100mm and connected to a VB Commodore power rack and pinion that is directed via a LH Torana column and Saas wheel. Under that neat duck bill a limited slip Borg Warner diff was also shortened and braced before it was attached using a triangulated four bar. Jag springs and shocks provide bounce control while all round disc brakes are more than adequate for red light moments. Completing the rolling stock Boyd Coddington Wheels were given the nod to balance the exterior bling with 15”x6” and 15”x8” five spoke hoops.

Craig states that his main aim for the drive train was to keep it simple and reliable but to the casual observer the crowned jewel in the sano engine bay resembles anything but! What started out as a humble blue block 253 liberated from a forlorn VH Commodore was brought back to life by Craig adding a Cain intake topped with quad Webers, worked heads, a stage four cam and MSD ignition. Backing up the revamped Holden he attached a Trimatic that he also rebuilt with billet modulator and slipped in two extra clutches into each gear. A Hurst shifter engages the 1500 stall converter spinning 2.92 diff centre that’s set for highway mileage. Not being able to help himself, Craig then fabbed the oversized rocker covers and carby tubes that thrusts the shotgun style air cleaner high into the sky. He relishes the fact that most people can’t pick what the motor is and that it goes like a scalded cat. 

Turning our attention indoors the unique interior is both commercial and contemporary at the same time. Look up and the exposed Tassie Oak headliner is exceptional and pays homage to its woody linage while the modified Mazda 626 seats are smart and modern. The final upholstery appointment was wrapping the exterior roof in Tawny vinyl for a distinct appearance against the traditional black.  

After 18 months hard work Craig achieved his goal of creating a Woody like no other stating that the most challenging thing was to stay ahead of the build and complete the vision in his head.

“I love Woody’s and I guess I love the two materials of metal and wood. To combine the two into my own version of a woody really inspired me.”

“The picture I started with is exactly what you see here. Some people don’t get it but the ones that do, really love it,” he concludes.

We get it. Mission accomplished.

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS JOHN ANTONIW, FULL FEATURE CRUZIN #170

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