Saturday, June 22, 2024
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INGLORIOUS BASTARD – CRAIG CLEMENTS 1925 DODGE COUPE

Well that’s one way to look at this unusual little hot rod coupe. For owner and builder Craig Clements, it has been an adventure in creativity and ingenuity at an affordable price.

“I wanted to build something that people would look at and think that it was an original car that someone had hot rodded!” stated its creator. With that in the forefront of his mind, Craig embarked on the project as a father and son deal.

“I got started about seven years ago when my boys were 15 and 19 with the intention of using what we had or could obtain cheaply, but after a while they got busy with their lives so I just kept at it.” 

The main components that the trio kicked off with consisted of a 1925 Dodge cowl with the rear front seat of a Tourer that was picked up for a mere $10, and an original grille shell. He hand made the rest.

“My first attempt was to use the original Dodge windscreen posts and a pair of hand fabricated roadster doors, but about halfway through I realised that I really wanted a roof. I built a roof, but it didn’t match up with the front posts or the back of the seat frame, so I made new ones. Then I looked at the roadster doors that I had already made and they looked like crap. After throwing them in the bin I made a new higher set, but because I changed one thing, it affected everything around it.”

Although Craig was utilising what he already owned or could buy for a handful of beans, he didn’t discount his objective to captivate the original manufacturer’s style by retaining all the related seams and swages. The ribbed roof skin was sliced from a VC Valiant before being shortened and reversed. “The real trick was to create the two compound curves over the windscreen,” he explains. “That was a bastard!”

Also on Craig’s wish list was a set of 1932 Chevy-style flutes on the bonnet sides, so he made them… naturally. He also fabricated the entire chassis out of RHS incorporating a UC Torana front and rear end. That way he could keep all of the factory master cylinder, brakes and suspension without needing to re-engineer the entire package. “It all works together because it was made to by the factory,” he remarks with validity. 

The unusual 1939 Vauxhall headlights were purposely chosen to help cover the spring towers. The grill is original and measures two inches wider than a Model A, providing room to fit a factory HZ six cylinder radiator. An XJS Jag steering column provides height adjustment options while seated in a hand crafted bomber seat… also by Craig. 

“I was watching what Jamie Jordan from the Hand Made Seat Company was up to and thought that I would give it a go myself. I got some new dies for the bead roller and just went wild. My objective was a full steel interior and not just the seats. I didn’t want stuff in there that you could just go out and buy. I wanted to make as much of it myself as I could and provide as much space and storage inside the tight cab as possible.”

Back when this all started, Craig was enthusiastic to build the Dodge along the lines of a theme car inspired by vintage aircraft and his son’s Air Force Cadet involvement. He even collected quite a number of aero gauges and military castoffs, but with over population of this style in recent years he refrained from using them. “I stepped away from the theme approach and tried to inject a stealthy style of darkness,” he concludes. 

The stealth look that Craig was trying to emulate prevailed when a friend said that it looked like something that the Nazi’s would have driven in the movie Inglourious Bastards. That was it and it stuck.  It’s now emblazoned on the dash by Craig’s son, Ben.

One of Craig’s bucket list appointments for the finished coupe was to join in on his club’s festivities, Cranksters Cruise Nagambi… or bust! The event is held in Nagambie, Victoria and attending in his own wheels means a 7,000km round trip from Craig’s home in Perth.

“The trip was f*#king fantastic. I busted my arse seven days a week after hours for the last three months of the build, which proved worthwhile after I received rego, just nine days before the trip. The luggage trunk (which cleverly slides into the tow hitch for travelling) was another thrash, ending with just two days grace before hitting the road east.” 

With John Hall joining Craig on his ambitious journey, the two set off in their home built hot rods on Sunday morning reaching Frazer Range by nightfall, totaling 900 kilometres in their first stint at the wheel. “I had already lost a mudguard by then,” Craig laughs. After narrowly avoiding the shrapnel John retrieved the wayward guard for re-fitment at a later date. This is nothing new for seasoned pilot John and his Miss Stick Shift roadster, as they have endured the massive road trip together in the past.  

“We got to the Nullarbor Road House late one afternoon, thinking we might do another couple of hours, but on restarting the car after a brief stop a distinctive rattle told us otherwise.” 

With the valve cover off the weary duo could see that one of the roller rockers had rolled off a valve and forced the pushrod off centre, allowing it to wear a groove into the pushrod guide, preventing the rocker from staying on top of the valve.

“After wanting to call it quits, John’s voice of reason came through saying ‘It’ll be alright… will fix it.’ We were in the middle of nowhere and after three months hard yakka, I was over it!” reflects Craig. “John’s like a real MacGyver so we figured out that we could drive it on five cylinders and travel 140 klms to a mechanic at Nundroo the next day. As we rolled out our swag to bed down for the night, a couple of locals with a few too many under their belts asked of our problem.

“Hey mate how’s ya night… how’s ya going?

“The cars f*#kd,” I said.  

“Is that the hot rods?” 

“Yeah.” 

“What’s in em?” 

“Just a 202.” 

“Really?… I’m a Holden man, you’re a Holden man, that’s f*#kin cool. You driving them across the country?”

“Yeah,” I replied again.

“Well, I got a welder.” 

“What… do you live here?” I replied, gobsmacked that anyone did.

“I’m Mick the maintenance man. I’m a f*#kin Holden man. Come and see me in the morning. I start at 8am and we’ll fix it.” 

“We thought sweet and hit the sack. During the night we could hear him as he wrote himself off in the pub with his mates. At 8am we headed over to the pub and no one has seen him. After about an hour he comes in looking like shit and mumbling something like sorry guys. He took us to this vehicle graveyard where we bought a full set of standard rockers thinking that it would be an easy fix. That was until we looked at the roller set up with the machined posts. Mick reminded us that he had a welder so John went with him and plugged the worn spot in the guide while I cleaned up the push rod,” Craig recalls. 

“It was the world’s crapiest MIG welder and a helmet that I couldn’t see through, but I got it done,” John adds.

“After we rearranged the positions of the rockers we got it going and it never really gave us any trouble,” Craig chimes in. 

“We got this one joker a real pearler,” John recalls laughing at the time. “This hippy with a broken down Transit van was standing over our shoulder, gabbing on while we were trying to see what was going on with the rocker cover off. We fired it up and this stream of oil shot straight out of the pushrod all over him. We were pissing ourselves laughing and all he could say was, ‘Lucky you didn’t get me shirt, me mate just gave me that.’ It got rid of him though!”  

“We sat on about 120 kph consistently for about three hours at a time and she was fine. Once we got to our mate’s place an hour outside of Melbourne, after five days on the road, that was a relief,” Craig admits, “It was almost a 4,000 km shake down run.” 

From the outset, without hesitation Craig stated; “I wanted it to look different, be reliable and cheap!” In our opinion he succeeded on all levels!

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK STUDIO
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