It’s always the quiet ones that you have to watch, you know. Peter Herbstreit hales from Victoria’s Gippsland region and during his time at home from his offshore job in Bass Strait, he’s been bolting together this ’34 Ford that is hard to ignore. The coupe is Pete’s first hot rod, and it’s been executed to perfection. Only a handful of other vehicles have been the apple of his eye and he’s fortunate to still own a couple of them.
“My first car was a Mini 850 which I drove from Bairnsdale to Melbourne every week to work as a fitter and turner,” says Pete. “I sold it to a mate before buying a Mini Cooper S. The Cooper S went through many stages, including fitting a T03 turbocharger. It took a lot of engineering to keep the A series engine alive with 30psi of boost, but I had a lot of fun frightening the local boys with their V8s!”
The Mini Cooper is still in his possession, as well as a Stephens Tunnel Runner to which he fitted a Crower-injected big block Chevy and went drag boat racing for almost 13 years.
“We had a baby on the way, I thought I’ll buy a boat now otherwise I’ll never get a boat! We towed it all over the place, racing it as the kids were growing up. It was a 100mph boat over the quarter. I never hurt myself but had a few close calls. I built it all myself and had a lot of fun knocking off people that had spent a lot of money. That was a buzz for me.”
As the kids got older, the boat was put in the shed and Peter rode life’s rollercoaster for a few years until the time was right to embark on a new venture. The catalyst was a steering wheel at the local auto parts store.
“I was at the Autobarn in Sale and I saw this beautiful wood grain steering wheel with brass rivets. I bought it and that’s what started the whole thing.”
Peter could envisage the wheel set against a matching dashboard in a hot rod coupe. Yearly jaunts to the annual Bright Rod Run, where he would rendezvous with a mate from Wagga Wagga, had cemented his appreciation for full fendered ’34 Ford coupes. Soon after, Deuce Customs and Lewis Chassis were invited to participate.
The ’34 was never going to be a rush job, Peter satisfied that it would take just as long as it took, his patient demeanor evident in so many aspects of the build. He built his own four bar rear suspension, shortened the nine inch diff and made the complete exhaust system, extractors included. He built his own pedal box, steering column, indicator stork, inside door handles, shifter and more. Spotted the tail light lenses yet? Don’t bother looking for them in a catalogue. In fact aside from farming out the final paint and trim, this elite level coupe is very much home built.
It’s difficult not to get a little excited about the old school speed gear used in the build, like the Crower staggered stack mechanical injection and the Mickey Thompson tappet covers. Even the 15” Weld Draglite wheels could almost be considered nostalgic by today’s standards. The wheel and tyre proportions scream tough streeter, the M/T tappet covers are polished to perfection, and the Crower injection has been converted to EFI for hot street performance. Not that 540 cubes of Merlin big block need too much of a helping hand.
“It was always in my mind to have a big block with a manual behind it,” says Pete. “When I built my race boat, parts in those days were mostly used or reco’d. These days, new race parts are everwhere and made better and stronger. I purchased a Merlin block new, what a lovely piece of gear they make!”
Converting a mechanical injection like the Crower unit to isn’t complex in theory, but Peter makes it sound too easy. He’s had experience though, he performed similar mods to the injector in his drag boat, although he used VN Commodore electronics back then instead of the M48 Motec ECU in the ’34. Intake modifications include making bosses and welding them to the intake runners. Pete used the original barrel valve and braided fuel line to deliver gasoline to the special stainless steel fittings he made to fit the top of the injectors.
Helping the mountain motor breath is a set of headers also built by Peter. “They’re manufactured using aircraft bends with 2 ¼” primary through to 4” collectors, then twin 3” to the rear. All the welds were polished to produce a clean looking pipe, then HPC coated. The system took me some time to make,” he concludes casually.
The manual gearbox referred to is a Tremec 3650 five speed. Fitting it required Peter to make his own adaptor plate, spigot bearing, speedometer pickup and a remote shifter to relocate the stick shift forward around 10”. He made the lever and knob too, of course, sneakily including a button for a line locker.
Continuing inside, Pete had already installed the Glide seat, extended the dashboard lower to mount the AC controls, modified the window garnish moulds to mimick the dash and made a host of custom pieces before handing the car over the Emmanual at The Trim Shop. Peter had a few prerequisites, like the stitched inserts that define that this is a two seater, and the rest they worked out between them. “He didn’t like the armrests that I made, so we threw them away and used some of his design,” he grins.
The final hue was applied by Carmine at CAD Customs, but not before Peter took the bodywork as far as he could. That included smoothing out a few unneeded body lines, building the number plate recess and aligning everything to perfection. Dubbed Phantom Purple, you might recognise the colour from a Ford Falcon XR6 brochure. “I always liked the old GTs with Wild Violet, this is similar with a bit more sparkle,” says Peter. Matt Egan applied the contrasting pinstripe that finishes in a scroll behind the rear fender.
“It’s come out better than what I thought, the paint and interior really topped it off for me,” concludes Peter, adding that partner Tracey loves the car just as much as he does… almost. “She loves it, though a little bit scared of it. A bit noisy and too much power she reckons! We’ve had fun building it though, together in the shed at night time.”
“The car took about 9 years to build. It may have been longer if not for my daughter coming to me about 12 months ago and telling me she was getting married. Her heart was set on me taking her to the wedding in this car, so I had to pull my finger out and go like hell to finish it! I drove it out the front gate about two days before the wedding. It worked a treat! I took my son Michael for a ride and it frightened the feathers off both of us when I put my boot into it!”
Peter debuted his ‘Herbalicious’ coupe at the 50th Victorian Hot Rod Show. Against tough competition, it failed to score any tinware, but certainly won the hearts of those who reckon that hot rods should be loud, tough and driven accordingly. Kudos for getting it this far goes to Mick, Zac, Crowey and of course Trace and the kids.
“Throughout the build my mates would ask if I was putting a stereo in it. I would ask them, isn’t 540 cubes at 7,000rpm sucking through 3” injector tubes music enough?”