SOMETIMES, living with and working on old cars gets very curious, and you find things that are totally unexpected.
A bloke I know had built a few street machines and rods, and decided to get stuck into something more out of leftfield – a 1956 Ford Zephyr Mk2 sedan.
He went out looking around western Queensland, where the dry air generally keeps the rust bugs away, talking with graziers and anybody who would stand still long enough about what was still there that was worth a second look, hopefully mostly intact and available for a trailer ride back to home base.
On his third day out and yarning with locals at the only pub in town, he heard about this old guy who was living in a fallingdown house with a shed alongside. He had been a timber worker and now was just about stuffed, crippled with oldage arthritis and almost ready to move into a retirement village, with a nursing home attached.
His name was Keith, and the car hunter found him out the back chopping wood to stoke up the kitchen fire. Yes, he had to stoke up the kitchen fire. Yes, he had an old car that he didn’t need anymore, a Mk2 Zephyr he had bought new from a big-smoke dealer after he had a good year with the timber. He hadn’t used it all that much as he generally got around in his International timber-hauling trucks. But it was resting in the shed with the chooks and the hay, and if the bloke was interested they could go out there and he could fire it up – if the battery wasn’t totally dead – and maybe drive around the yard.
Chooks, all right – bloody White Orpingtons crapping all over the paint, and loose hay from the bales over the back of the car, which still showed the original two-tone finish. But the chrome was good and the tyres were flat and Ford’s built-in rust ants of the era had stayed away.
The price was high as they talked over a couple of beers, until old Keith relented and decided he wasn’t going to get rich quick and chopped the asking in half. That settled the deal, so a tyre pump made the rubber look respectable and a spare battery and a slosh of fuel got the six-pot engine running. Well, enough to drive the Zephyr out and away from its home with the hay and the chooks, up onto the new owner’s trailer and – after yet another beer – leave in a drift of dust.
The plan this bloke formulated through the long drive back was to keep the sharp-edged body styling mostly original, fabricating wide wheel tubs and dropping the ride height as far down as the front struts and rear leaf springs would allow, and ripping out the 2.6-litre six with its manual three-cog ’box to slot in a small bent-eight. Or maybe a turboed V6 with a five-slot steel-case Celica to drive the fat rear rubber – he’d learnt to respect these bulletproof Toyota ’boxes and preferred to cruise with a manual.
But there would be buckets instead of a front bench and a proper period Candy Apple Red with pearl accents over the classic sheet-metal body.
Full of new enthusiasm for his brand new project, the bloke ripped right in after cleaning off the chook souvenirs, reaching the stage where he could begin dropping the fuel tank and cutting into the boot floor to make room for new wheel tubs. That was when he put a hand down into the right rear mudguard well, and amongst dead spiders and layers of red dust, there was an object. About 40mm wide and 150mm long, smooth and heavy. It wasn’t jammed in there, just loose and sliding about, and when he lifted it out and washed off the dust, it looked like an old grey bar of lead-based wiping metal.
You see, BB – Before Bog – factory-inflicted small panel dents that would take too long to hammer out were filled in by expert workers using welding torches, liquid flux and hand tools to heat-wipe this almost solder-like metal over the dents, before filing the patches smooth and sending the body down the line for prepping and painting.
The method was slow and you really had to know what you were doing.
But how that half bar of wiping metal finished up inside the boot of this ’56 Zephyr, the new owner really wanted to know.
So he decided to call Keith on the So he decided to call Keith on the dog and bone, figuring he could get him at his new retirement unit, ringing after dinner to explain what he had found.
“Aye Keith. What do you reckon? Did you ever use this stuff, and maybe left a piece where it fell into that boot space?”
“No mate. Not me. Never used anythink like that in me life. But that car always had a bad rattle back there, and I took it back and back to that there dealers, and nobody ever found out what it was.
Reckon some bugger at Ford dropped it in there and fergot about it, and it’s been rattlin’ around ever since!” s