SOME blokes I know, who are working on a budget to create exactly what they want, manage to cut big chunks out of their build-it expenses by thinking outside the usual square and finding innovative ways to get stuff. They do this either through a lot of countrywide junkyard-searching and haggling down the bargains, or by sticking their necks out and being in places – often after midnight – where they’re not exactly appreciated and have to get the timing dead right.
This is the story of one such group of blokes: the Phantom Pipe-Pinchers Party.
It all began when they reworked a 1935 Ford three-window coupe. The body was scrounged from a tip out past Roma where there had once been a farm. It did have a chassis – accidentdamaged to the point of being useless – but there were enough axles and wheels for it to be hauled onto a flat-bed trailer. On that same trip, in a burntout patch of scrub, was the chassis and grille of a ’36 sedan, so they stuffed that on the trailer as well, knowing that at home base there was a 390 FE Ford big-block that would fit real well with this lot. All their trip cost was a few tanks of fuel, and pub meals.
Their 390 had been inherited from an old guy who used to play with rods, along with a good Top Loader cogbox and a cut-and-shut nineinch.
He’d got too old to care much anymore, so they swapped all this for a dozen bottles of OP Bundy Rum.
So they ripped into the build with a blaster and plenty of after-hours yakka, and it didn’t take long before the main bits were installed, the coupe was on its wheels and beginning to look wonderful.
They got cheap wheels and tyres from another failed project, but they were running out of money so the necessary flame paintjob would have to wait.
But they could do other stuff in the meantime, and a big one on the whiteboard was building a decent set of headers. They knew a guy who would fabricate these and the main exhaust pipes out of stainless steel, as he worked in a shipyard where they used a lot of this stuff. But he needed a pattern, and as this was going to be a freebie via the back door of the yard, somehow the patterns had to be got and none of them had bent pipes before. They had a welding kit and lots of enthusiasm though, so it was decided that they would form a phantom pipe-pinchers party, and start hunting after midnight.
The plan was simple. Go out and raid likely looking industrial bins in the yards of metal works and muffler shops, armed only with torches and hacksaws and bent bits of wire. After opening gates and scaling fences where they could, one guy got nominated to watch for security driving their rounds, and with them all wearing dark blue stuff they didn’t have to hide often and only had to make friends with guard dogs twice.
So some bent bits of pipe of the right size got taken away and fitted in daylight, then they were back again over the next few nights for more of the same, cutting and shutting and using welding tacks to hold the growing pipe sets together.
Sometimes there had to be a rework when the prototype pipes wouldn’t come out easy, like around the right-side steering box and over the rear axle, but after some sweat and a fair few beers, they got everything right. And hadn’t got caught.
Just over three weeks later, they smuggled the new stainless pipes out of the shipyard when no one was watching, or interested, adjusted the position of a few drilled holes with rat-tail files until the bolts went in, added clamps and holding brackets, and finally the system looked real good. Mufflers would come later when they had more cash.
Eventually they were able to fire up the 390 FE and go for a quick rip around the block, without lights when it was late. Any spare bodies that couldn’t fit inside the coupe hung on outside and cheered.
They got away with that one. Lights were going on as they hammered past the houses, but in their dark phantom pipe-stealers gear, not many neighbours knew what was going on and seemed pretty tolerant. They didn’t do a single burnout, didn’t use ear-shattering revs, didn’t meet any other cars going the other way and had the garage doors shut when the local law cruised by.
The cops knew, of course, who these guys from ‘Midnight Motors’ were, but as long as the short quick cruise was only that and wasn’t happening every other night, they went on to other jobs and probably laughed as they were going – coppers were once young and human too.
The three-window coupe is finished now, in pearl and flame, rolling on whitewalls. The guys take turns in driving to the shows, where the result of their imagination, scrounging what they could and not stretching their budget too much gets more trophies than most big-budget rods.
A small brass badge screwed onto the ’36 grille brings plenty of questions, too. It reads ‘PPPP’ – Phantom Pipe-Pinchers Party! s