Now, if you’re keen to get into the projects, just keeping clicking the menu. But, if you’ve got the time, let me take you back to where it all began. And you’ll get a better understanding of the madness that has become Don’s Jeep Garage… read on
I blame my mum! For birthdays, Christmas, visits to the dentist or barber shop when I was a good little tacker, or when I probably pestered the begeezus out of her, I was given a Dinky Toy. Farm tractors, bulldozers, trucks or army vehicles, anything I could excavate the dirt down in the chook yard. Before the old house was sold I scavenged around and rescued a few that had survived being handed down or hadn’t been nicked by the neighbour’s kids. The Massey Harris tractors and implements were probably my favourites, but alas, no grandsons to pass them on to. Just four girls….. Belinda? Serrica?
Fast forward to 1966….. Enlisted in the RAAF and on the base there was a shiney grey CJ6, kept under covers at the MT section. White upholstery, chrome rails around the back for the AOC – Air Officer Commanding (Top Brass) to inspect the troops on his annual parade. With fresh driver’s licence in hand I went into Wagga Wagga to fantasize around the car yards and ended up at the local Jeep dealer. A brand spanking CJ6 could be had for a tad over two grand, without the optional passenger seat, spare wheel or canopy. With an apprentice paypacket of $20/week I figured it would take till I was 40 to be able to afford one. Although we were fed, accommodated and clothed, I still had to buy toothpaste and undies. The issued Drawers-pop (poplin?) where like “cloudland” pants for those of you who remember the old Ballroom in Brissy.
So, car#1, a Morris Minor “low-light” with 6 months rego, for $50 was going to be the chick-magnet (not) down the main street of Wagga to the Union Club hotel or Romanos. That little chugger made it to the peak of Mt.Kosiousco before snowfall but on the way down it decided to go bush, sideswiping a large boulder, neatly pushing the rear mudguard flush with the body. Thankfully there was enough side play in the rear springs that it didn’t damage the rim or axle. With two days registration left I drove it to the wreckers in Wagga and sold it for $8. Taxi fare back to the base was $7 so I had enough to buy a strawberry milkshake from the canteen on my return.
Enter car#2, a ’56 FJ Holden, that’s the last year of that model, a 225 with the button upholstery and an extra piece of chrome around the turret to body joint so they could be painted in two-tone…. woop! woop! This was another $50 wonder because it had a defect notice on the windscreen for rust holes in the subframe rails, and could not be driven on the road till it was repaired. A few nights in the hobby hanger with oxy-acetylene and few bits of sheet metal got it sorted, and after taking it over the pits at the transport department where the inspector told me it was the best rust repair job that he’d seen…. Wow, this car-fixing stuff is a piece of piss.
Effie made it from Wagga to Brisbane (750 miles – pre metric era) a few times on leave, but on the first run she stripped her timing gear somewhere between Tenterfield and Warwick. So I changed into uniform and hitch-hiked home where my brother suggested we flat tow it back with his FC ute… about 100 miles. The tow rope snapped several times and on the down hill run on Cunningham’s Gap, I passed him in “angel-gear” and we met up at the bottom. On one leave she got a new “jam” paint job… Chocolate brown roof, cream body, chrome dress rims and line white wall tyre inserts. After a year or so, on a posting to Amberley, I sold it to a mate for $250.00, thinking there’s bucks to be made in this car restoration stuff.
Note : Add a couple of zeros to the value of those Effies today.
With no wheels and on the search for car#3, a friend told me about a mint MGB, powder blue with factory hardtop and softtop, and chrome wires. At $3,000.00 I needed to get a bank loan and needed my mum as guarantor… easy! But, due to an MG jockey leaving the highway and going through a barbed wire fence not far from our home meant no way Jose. Because of his small Brooklands windscreens, his decapitation meant I had to buy a “proper” car. There were Datsun Bluebird SSS and other makes around, but everyone else in the family were driving Kingswoods so it was – Be Australian, buy Australian, be a sap and you’ll buy Jap. With a bank cheque for $2,150.00 a HR Premier was the next beast. 186 six-pot, two speed sludge-o-matic and an optional bench seat rather than the standard buckets meant it was good thing for the passion pit. An MG would have been a bit awkward at the drive-in anyhoo.
On one excursion through the Blue Mountains in the middle of winter the HR hit some ice and decided not to go around a corner. Being out in the boonies it was some hours before someone came along to tow me out. A forestry worker in a Jeep happened along and got me out of trouble… was this an omen? Next stage was a posting for around three years to RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia so the HR was sold, at a loss… bummer.
Malaysia, circa 1970, was not that long out from British control. Race riots from a few years earlier meant there was still a nightly curfew in place, midnight to 5.00am, I think. There were still a couple of mooka RAF blokes on the base, but Penang was over-run by Australian Air Force blokes and their families and the odd European oil rig worker on R&R. Married blokes (Baggers) who wanted a car had the choice of Hillman Minxes or Hillman Minxes. The local taxies were Indian made Mercedes Benz or Morris Oxfords, so the Chinese millionairs drove Holden Premiers. Single blokes had motorbikes, mainly 250cc, which were considered “big” by the locals on their Honda step-throughs.
This is where I get my induction into the world of two wheels, bike#1, a second hand Snoozooki T250. I hooked up with a mate from Wagga, Pete Caudwell, who was a wizz with bikes. He rode in the Malaysian Grand Prix one year while I was there as the official motor club photographer, sliding past me on his arse when he lost it on a corner. He didn’t sit down for weeks after that. Pete helped me strip the bike down and rebuild the engine complete with hand porting and polishing of the head with Brasso, but wow, it was good for 100mph after that….. weeeeeeeee, watch out for that sacred cow!
Hansome bugger, eh? Look at dem chicken legs.
A year or so into my stint one of the blokes was due to be repatriated back to Oz and he had a ’63 Trumpy TR4 for sale. Sorry mum, but I’m now several thousand kilometres from home and I will break it to her gently via the mail. Now the proud owner of car#4, at around 2,000 Ringit (A$700.00) the TR was about to embark on some epic adventures. First to Songkla on the east coast of southern Thailand where you didn’t need to go through customs or country borders. This area was known as “no man’s land”, still occupied by the rebels, but safe on the eastern side. On the western side of the Thai/Malay peninsular there were two check points about 50km apart, one manned by the Thais and the other by Malaysian forces. This was no man’s land on the main highway (goat track) from Malaysia to Bangkok.
I decided that I would ship the TR back home when my stint in Malaysia was finished, so the clue was to rebuild everything because parts and labour was so cheap. Approx 1,000 Ringit, say A$350.00, got a new paint job inside and out, full trim done, the little Fergy tractor, wet sleeve engine rebuilt as new and a brand spankin’ new pair of SU carbies. Apologies to the TR concourse officialdom for the orange colour.
During the period of the rebuild I needed wheels so got another bike. bike#2, a 47.5cc Yamagucci, about the size of a Honda step-through but with a big bike clutch and four speed gearbox. It died. No one knew where to get parts as it was probably the only Yamagucci in the world. So now bike#3, a 250cc BSA single…. no not the Bantam, this was the next frame size up, probably shipped from England to Malaysia by some RAF dude in the ’50s or 60s. Now this Beeza is a bike I wish I owned today, fun to ride, safe to fall off and at 50mph you could still count the piston strokes firing from that single pot. Just a bastard if the timing was out when you went to kick start it…. still got the scars on my ankle today.
The RAAF Butterworth Motor Club, one of many social clubs to keep us air farce boys occupied, was very active through the early ’70s, organizing what is now the North Malaysian Rally, Scrambles (that’s Motocross to you newbies), Gymkanas, The Penang Hillclimb and Grass Track circuit races. Yours truly was the official club photographer, magazine cartoonist and signwriter. Photographer – because I had a camera, Cartoonist – because I could draw, I will dig out some to show you one day, Signwriter – because my brother was one??
I will see if I can find some more photos.
Now the “EPIC” trip! Three weeks leave… Let’s go to Thailand! The plan – Drive to the Burma border and Changmai in Northern Thailand, then slowly sightsee our way back so we don’t run out of time and get charged with AWOL. So with Greg Gow and Greg “Gravelguts” Granville we set off. With three in a two seat car is was convenient not to be Monsoon season because we wouldn’t have been able to put the roof up. From Malaysia to Bangkok was a three day drive and for most of the trip we stayed in villages where there was only one makkan shop, combination general store, bar and brothel. We slept on grass mats on dirt floors or the posh ones had sling beds made out of hessian bags, but at each one they would want us to park the TR inside their building foyers or bars.
Made it to Bangkok, probably the tallest building in those days had about 6 floors but we found a hotel that had sheets on the bed and a shower. Next morning we set off early, it was going to take two days to get to Changmai. Hooting along that northern highway we could not believe the standard of the road surface, better than any we had driven on in SE Asia. Speed limit was 110kph, but the TR and my brain worked in mph. I did not know at the time but the speed limit was reduced to 40kph at any road junction, even dirt tracks into the jungle, so I paid little attention to the approaching Jeep (another omen?) until he turned across my path and I collected him in the left rear wheel. The occupants of the Jeep were in uniform and packing “heat”….. shiiiitttt! The front left mudguard was wrapped around the wheel of the TR but we managed to pry it off, meanwhile we couldn’t make our local language phrase book understood, but soon got the message that we were to follow them down this dirt track. One got in the car beside me and the two Gregs were ushered into the Jeep.
Arriving in a village there was a concrete building with a Chevrolet Impala parked outside, painted in maroon and white like the American patrol cars, with a rotating beacon on the roof about the size of a five gallon drum. The Thais liked to project a big boy image and this was undoubtedly the local police station. Inside we were greeted by…. let me paint you a picture in words; imagine actor Yul Brenner – tall, shaved head; imagine Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes – calf high jack boots; now imagine Roy Rogers – a pair of chromed six-guns in carved leather holsters…. he was obviously the top cop, but again no English and the phrase book now in the rubbish tin. We were lead into a cell but they left the door open, to remain there for the whole day until nightfall when an Australian army waller poked his head through the door and said “What have you pricks been up to?”
He had come up from the Australian Embassy in Bangkok and was stationed there as an interpreter. Turns out that they wanted me to pay for the damage to the Jeep, a small crease behind the wheel arch, hopefully they didn’t notice the buckled wheel that I saw as we followed them to the village. The amount was 500 baht… 7 baht = 1 malay ringit, 3.4 ringit = A$1…. so for twenty bucks Australian, they let us go. Army waller #whatshisname says we shouldn’t drive on northern Thailand roads at night and should return to Bankok, where we stayed for the next few days while he took us on a tour of all the “Traps” Bangkok had to offer.
Heading back north again we drove straight through Changmai thinking it was just a large village, there were no tourist advisory signs to tell us otherwise and we ended up at a checkpoint on the Burma border. Back in Changmai we found some digs, bought some obligatory wood carvings and spent a few days looking around. One day we drove up to the hill tribes who were know for their poppy fields and value adding to the crop, but were under protection from the government. These days the Thai government pay them to grow potatoes but I reckon there would still be plenty of hootch growing out in the jungle. There was this white powder stuff laid out on tables everywhere. One family invited us to stay for dinner but we politely declined because they we going to show us how to kill a monkey with a crossbow fashioned from bamboo. The rest of the trip was pretty well as planned and we made it back to Butterworth before our leave passes expired.
Took this pic in Bangkok…why a Jeep? There’s a good looking ‘Stang parked behind it…These omens are starting to get spooky
Asian “holiday” ended around 1972/73 (forget) and I returned on a posting to Williamtown with the TR4, a trunk load of Malay/Thai souvenirs, the latest Akai reel to reel stereo system built into a hand made teak cabinet, Pentax camera gear, tailor made flower-power clothes, enough photos to put the family to sleep on a number of slide nights, and, almost forgot, a Chinese/Thai wife. We haven’t been O/S since, the flight back to Australia was our honeymoon and we are still on it… or that’s what I tell her.
On a trip back to Brissy on leave, in the TR, it was pissing down with flooding around the Grafton area. Driving through one section I forgot there were 3″ drain holes in the floorpans and the rubber bungs had never been fitted, so a geyser of water sprouted up between our legs. The rest of the trip I was thinking, I’m a bagger now, should buy a proper bagger car. Reading the car classifieds, as I always do in the Saturday paper, wanted section… some geezer is after a TR4. Next day I’m car-less but $2,800.00 richer. So, enter car #5, a ’69 HT Premier waggy complete with the “in vogue” filigree pressings in the upholstery. It’s a “tin-top”, mother will be pleased! (dog#2, Sinbad, the afghan)
At the base, I was transferred to the Matra missile section to service the homing heads. The only instrument fitter there, it was manned by armament fitters and radio technicians, however there is a changeover period where my predecessor had to train me… and guess who… old mate Pete “claude-balls” Caudwell. There was about 15 heads that needed to be serviced and Pete and I sorted those in the first month, so with nothing to do for the next couple of years we volunteered as the social club co-ordinators and Pete also had a car tuning business on the side. Social club duties meant a weekly trip into Newcastle to pick up smokes and booze that the troops could order through wholesalers, so we would time our trips to go to the damaged car auctions to see what’s around. We both lived down at Nelson Bay and I could see the opportunity to paint a few signs to make some dosh on the side, but I needed a ute. Enter car#6, an EH ute that was, for the preceding 10 years, my dad’s milk truck.
That’s dog#1, Susie, the bitsa.
The EH had a hard life carting a ton and a half of milk bottles around each day, two short motors, run up a lamp post, sideswiped by the garbage truck when parked on the wrong side of the road with no lights at night, driverless down a hill one night neatly through someone’s front gate to come to rest on an outside dunny, and the old girl now had a bad case of hind quarter rust. It was also missing the tailgate, rusted out, dad made the replacement out of timber. Driving along I saw an EH ute in front of a house with a written off front, obviously unrepairable, I offered $20 for the tailgate but the guy said you can have the whole thing for $25. Up from Williamtown on a few weeks Christmas leave I had a good front and a good back, so it was obvious, chop the bad ends off and do a “cut & shut”.
I wanted to get a HQ Statesman somehow, so sold the HT waggy and took a trade of car#7, a Falcon XW p’van. Doing signs for the local Retravision shop, the owner liked the look of the van. He was driving a HR p’van with a smoky engine so I offered him the XW complete with signwriting on a trade with car#8, the HR, along with a “contra-deal” on a colour TV, a fridge and a lawnmower. With a new paintjob, new piston rings, sold the HR and took a trade of an extremely hot V8, albeit dodgy otherwise, XT Falcon sedan. car#9. Doing signs for a local boat builder, he liked the look of Claude’s VC Valiant ute, so Pete sold it to him and I bought his 6’pot XW ute. car#10. Figuring out what to do with an XW and an XT, utes were more saleable, so did an engine swap, painted the ute metallic black and sold it for a good buck. While all this was going on, Pete and I would sit around on the dirt floor in my shed trying to think of ways to make an extra dollar and he knew of this wrecking yard in Taree where the owner would buy insurance write-offs from around NSW, find a matching car with the good bits then sell the pair to local panel shops. Together we bought car#11, a VG Valiant Regal hardtop, car#12, a Hillman Hunter GT, car#13, an undamaged Effie, and I got lucky car#14, a HQ Statesman that had been cleaned up by a cement truck in the back left wheel. Are these back left wheel prangs now becoming an omen too? Here’s the Effie, I painted it like old#2… looked good! The Statesman didn’t have a matching parts car but I figured that I could buy something to suit from the Newcastle auctions.
Sold the EH to a plumber and saw him a few days later with half a ton of galv waterpipe on the racks….. I hope the welds hold together. Found another ute car#15, maybe that should be “truck”, a $50 AA110 International, and you guessed it, a milk truck in it’s previous life. Good cab, springs coming through the seat, rotting timber body on the back. Three on the tree, a good Blue Diamond, bulletproof engine. Drove it to the garbage tip, unbolted the back and pushed it off, then did a tidy up… metallic red paint, reupholstered the seat, built a steel frame tray for the back and made up some linkages for a floor shift so it felt like driving a real trucker’s truck. Tyres next… heard about an air force bloke who sold tyres but you had to do the deal on a dark street corner at night. A new set of bar treads really made him sound like a trucker’s truck. A lady with a fencing business came along and liked it, the bar treads would be good for driving through paddocks. Bye bye Inter…. $2,500.00 in the bank. The money didn’t all stay in the bank for long, found a 12 month old HQ Kingswood wagon, car#16,at the Newcastle auctions for $1,100.00. Light side-swipe down the RH side but really low miles and it had GTS wheels… looked nice. Apart from the rear quarter panel, I had all the bits to fix it courtesy of the Statesman.
Then there was a bit of a calamity… I was posted to Amberley which at least was closer to home, but here I was… XT sedan with a sag to the left, HQ wagon with all the side cut out/missing, and 3/4 of a HQ Statesman + a house full of furniture. Knew I shouldn’t have sold the Inter but at least I had a flat deck tandem trailer, however the XT couldn’t haul it loaded with another car, so my brother drove down in his series 1 Nissan Patrol with another small trailer to the rescue.
Moved in with my parents and bought bike#4, a 250cc Honda Elsinore to commute to Amberley… about a one hour ride each way. Finished the HQ repair and sold it for a good number. Itching to get into a civvy street job I was discharged from this man’s Air Force (honourably) but a few weeks earlier did a clean swap of the XT+Honda for an MGB, car#17. He’d run it into a light pole but the repair job was a bit ho-hum and because of loose wheel spokes, it was a bit of a handful above 80kph. Fast forward a few months and I was in business with my brother manufacturing signs, in the meantime I’d bought car#18, a HQ p’van with a crap paint job but otherwise ok. I put the Statesman front clip on it and gave it a lick of paint. Now here it is…. car#19, my first Jeep, a brand spanking CJ7 Renegade. Traded the p’van… on road cost $10,400.00, about the same as an FJ40 Landcruiser, but the Jeep came standard with wide wheels, auto tranny….good for the beach, and a removable hardtop…. cool !
Here’s my first ever snatch…. first of many knee-sans rescued over the years.
It’s about now that I learn, Pete Caudwell has passed away. A respected member of 20th Apprentice Intake, “Squirrels” and a good friend. Served 1966 to 1978. R.I.P. Caudie
Here he is at the flat track races on his old naked Ariel. ( Circa 1970 – Kuala Kangser, Malaysia)
Ok, I will whip through the next lot of cars quickly so I don’t totally bore your pants off. Daily drivers – work cars; car#20 – ’81 Cherokee Chief, car#21 – ’85 Falcon Ghia, car#22 – C20 Chev truck, car#23 -’92 EB Falcon Wagon…. Fixer upperers; car#24 – HJ Holden ute, car#25 – WB Holden one tonner, car#26 – HX Holden P’van… School buses for my wife; car#26 – ’64 Morris Mini P’van (would only start if you held your mouth right so off-loaded it), car#27 – ’71 Holden Monaro (6 pot). Number 20 replaced school bus number 27, so “Chevvy” (named by one of the kid’s friends who thought all big forbys were Chevs) was our go camping and four wheelin jigger for many years until the Transport Inspectors may have defected him for rust, so he got parked behind the shed. He’s still there but donating bits to Project J10. On one trip to Fraser we took the Urangan barge to the middle of the island, and with nightfall approaching could only find a timber haulage track to cross to the beach on the eastern side. Old Chevvy was loaded with a ton of gear and hauling a Jayco camper and handled the deep powdery tracks with ease until the last hill… got halfway up. Amazingly easy to reverse back down the hill because the wheel ruts were so deep that the Jayco steered itself. After a couple more attempts, I unhitched the Jayco leaving wife and 7 year old son to stand guard and this time Chevvy took that hill with ease. Got to the beach and unloaded tinny, motor, ice box and other stuff leaving 9 year old daughter to stand guard in the company of another family. It was now dark and getting back to the van I found Al and my wife had crawled inside the Jayco. Apparently the howling dingos in the surrounding scrub were starting to spook them. Hitched up the Jayco, and took that hill once more without any trouble. I don’t think a Tojo or Nissan could have done that.
With Chevvy on blocks, Car#28 – ’73 Holden Monaro LS (current project) was now the school bus and as you can read on that Project page has now been put under covers. No longer needing a school bus, just a shopping trolly, or cool “nanny” wheels for the grandkids, the cook now pedals car#29 – ‘o3 Mazda MX5. Prior to that, and without a fourby, I went over to the “dark side” and bought a Knee-san. Car#30 – ’96 Nissan Pathfinder TI and I must admit it was an impressive little four wheeler. 1998 – Cape York expedition, 2000 – Kimberly expedition, 2002 – Flinders ranges and central Australia expedition. There are lots of stories I could tell you here, but this is an auto(mobile)biography, not a travelogue, so next car#31 – ’03 Nissan Patrol 3.0 four banging “oiler”. As part of the sign business inventory, I parted with that one when I went into business with Al spraying goop on WTP projects and such. Below are a couple of pics showing Pathy crossing the infamous Wenlock up to the door handles on Cape York. The main crossing was a let-down, only about a foot deep, but Stone’s crossing near the mouth on the west coast and the crossing on the eastern side were a challenge. Did about a thousand bucks in ripped off plastic bits here and on the Central Oz trip, a “Big Red” clipped the front RH corner, pirouetting down the side taking another grand worth of plastic bits with him. Note the “crocodile-proof” rooftop camper, better than having your toes chewed on sleeping at ground level.
Entrenched in the “Glincoat” business, I needed a truck so (truck) car#32 – Iveco Daily, a 2 tonner with a good size 4.5 metre tray back, still in use today and I am finding it hard to part with. It has a little turbo oiler with a delightful 6 speed box and can be driven on a car licence so my daughter uses any excuse to borrow it to play truckers. Sometime around car#30, going through a midlife crisis or male menopause, I got another bike, a Yamaha XVS750
DragStar.. “Drag Queen”, bike#5, great to drag your heels on roundabouts, but after seeing the dykes-on-bikes on TV at the Kings Cross mardi-gras… I thought maybe bike#6 would be more fitting. A Yamaha XVS1900A “Roadliner”. It’s a heavy hooer, but it’s got plenty of stick on the highway, just a bugger to keep your balance at low speed. Regrettably that day when I’m too old to throw a leg over two wheels is not too far away.
That’s about all that came and went, so we are now in the current inventory:- 8 Jeeps in various stages (including current DD, a plastic mastic it’s fantastic, wang-doodle, JK Wrangler), 2 MG’s, MX5, Monaro, The Roadliner, and various assorted work trucks.
Before I log off you may be interested how the gene pool has progressed. I had to get a couple of projects out of the way for the kiddelley-winks before I could concentrate on my own. Bel wanted a bug and Al was keen on a Vdub bus….. waaa the? chaffcutters!….. where were those genes coming from?…. then I remember their mother’s dream car was a Karmann Ghia. OK, so found a sick ’73 Superbug, poofed it up with a bright BellePR yellow, fitted a folding Webasco sunroof and she was ready to wave at all the hot Porsche drivers.
When my dad retired we pooled together and bought him his life long wish, a ’74 VW Microbus (auto). He loved it but the time came when it was a bit of a handful in the shopping centre car parks so we got him a little Nissan and used the bus as a back up service van in the sign business. Unused for a year or more and still with the empty milkshake mugs, remnants of Big Macs and a dead mouse inside, I took it home and ended up giving it the full treatment….. back to bare metal, two pack paint, full retrim including the rooflining in the correct VW vinyl fabric, and polished alloy bumpers. Al was going through his surfer, gnarley dude stage and loved it too, but I think he was drawing mental pictures of it’s sin-bin potential.
When they shook off their “bug” virus, they both ended up with really, really, really nice EH Holdens. Bel needed something newer to commute to her job so bought a TJ Wrangler, then a KJ Cherokee. Thank you Lord, the gene has kicked in. She has still got both but is making noises about getting a BMW. Waaaa?… a Barvarian taxi… she’d look better in a Grand Cherokee I reckon. Al moved from the EH to a bootza car, a Subaru WRX, then a Toyota Pus-Lux. He’s half way back now with a Jeep cousin, a Dodge Ram, but his virus has returned with a schmick ’65 Split window bus for his Sunday driver. Bel would also like to find some vintage gold with another EH, so at least the precious metal gene is still in both of them. PS: did you see dog#3, “Mindy” and dog#4, “Molly”, a pair of little ratters sniffing around Al’s bus?
Just before I wrap up, I thought I’d leave you with the Don’s Jeep Garage theme song – a firm favourite with the little grandies, especially when it’s played full blast while cruising in the Wrangler.
Now you can go and have a lie down but next time you visit, check out the projects…. or Don’s Jeep Garage on Facebook or Instagram…. bye!