C HRIS Borg’s dad Mario had a lot of cars – “GTs, hot rods, stuff like that,” Chris says – but it was the FJ ute that always stuck in his mind. “It’s just the curves, the shape and that tilt front,” he says.
Thumbing the remote in his hand, the roller door in front of us clatters slowly skyward. It makes painfully slow progress; after almost three decades, I just can’t wait to see this machine again – part historic show car, part modern streeter.
Ducking down, first I spy a 20-inch Showwheel, then a rolled rear pan. The smoothed tailgate is next, then the hard tonneau.
Finally, there she is in all her Blue Candy glory. But the ute looks a bit different to when it featured in SM, Oct/Nov 1991. For a start, back then it wore Vermillion Fire orange, not blue.
“It’s been in my family since I was a kid,” Chris says as we circle the ute. “My earliest childhood memories are of me, my dad and this ute at the Victorian Hot Rod Shows. Happy memories.”
It stands to reason; Mario hit the show scene hard, usually with Chris in tow. “Every time he won a trophy, he’d let me collect it,” Chris says. “And I’ve still got ’em all.”
It’s clear that Chris regards this FJ with great reverence, but his ties to the past have not bound him from updating the ute.
“Even when I was a kid, we agreed that once everyone got to know the car, we’d put it away and do a makeover one day.”
Back then, the ute already rocked the tilt-front and 327ci Chev V8, but was backed by a Muncie four-speed and, believe it or not, drum brakes all ’round. It had been sitting for a decade when Chris received the keys, so he knew it would need work.
“Instead of just fixing it up, I took the opportunity to upgrade everything. Those brakes had to go; that’s the first thing I did when I got the car!” Chris laughs.
Not that Chris jumped straight under there attacking everything with a 13mm spanner and a head full of ideas.
“I’m very meticulous and this car is very special to me, so it took me around a year to find the right person.” That person turned out to be Peter Bauer, who not only handled the brakes, but all mechanical areas.
Chris reaches down and presses a button on the guard, then moves around and does the same on the other side, releasing the big flip-front bonnet. With the hot downlights blazing above, the chrome-laden engine bay lights up like a disco. The 327-cuber presents in classic red for the block and heads, with things getting shinier the further north you go, culminating in an Edelbrock 650cfm carb and dominating Assault Racing Products shotgun intake.
While it was at Peter’s workshop, Chris set about looking for someone who could handle the body, applying the same fastidious selection process as he did with the mechanical work. After scouring endless websites, making many phone calls and meeting plenty of fellas, Chris settled on Daniel Cassar at Fast Lane Speed Shop in Ballarat.
“We’re about the same age and both grew up in the car scene; once I got speaking to him I knew he was the right guy,” he says.
Chris had the car shifted straight from Peter’s workshop to Fast Lane, along with a simple plan. “I told Daniel that it had to have that nice, clean look, sit low to the ground and have big wheels!”
Daniel’s first task was to create some low, ditching the traditional springs for an Air Ride airbag system, with the phone and associated plumbing hidden up under the bamboo tray.
Three settings were programmed in, allowing the ute to sit nice on the road, get over speed bumps where necessary and hit the weeds when parked.
The required clearance for the big Showwheels brought challenges, with Daniel pumping the front wheelarches outwards for the 17s and re-profiling the rears to swallow the 20s. I circle the car in Chris’s garage looking for telltale bulges or other deviations from stock. The mark of a great custom job is that, without a standard FJ sitting alongside, I can’t find where the FJ ends and Daniel’s genius begins.
After Fast Lane mini-tubbed the rear end and relocated the fuel filler to the tray, Chris brought the ute home again to save for the next step, but all was not right. Mario had been watching his son’s progress on the FJ with keen interest, but had been diagnosed with cancer and his health was getting progressively worse.
“It sat at home for about three years, bodywork done but not painted,” Chris says. “During that time, I got Peter Bauer back in to do the steering upgrades.” On New Year’s Eve 2013, Chris caught up with his old man to talk about the build. “Dad was okay at the time; every time I showed him photos of the build, it brought his spirits up.
“New Year’s Day...” – Chris hesitates – “he was gone.”
Mario’s passing steeled Chris’s resolve to finish the build; the ute went back to Fast Lane for a custom dash, paint, sanding and polishing. “That’s when we had the fun of putting it back together,” Chris laughs, recalling his daily driver racking up many miles between his house and
Daniel’s workshop in Ballarat.
Although Mario was gone, he was never far from Chris’s mind as the build neared completion. “I remember the goosebumps I got when he gave me the car. I got those same goosebumps the first time we started it, and I get them every time I’ve started it since.”
Chris ducks back into the car, turning the key. After a brief clatter from the fuel pump, the 327 blurts into life, settling into a lumpy, gear-driven idle. He gives it a blip as it warms, a smile sliding across his face.
After a minute or two, Chris shuts off the burbling FJ and the garage is silent again. “It was my dad’s life accomplishment to get this car in Street Machine back in 1991, and it’s been mine to get it back on these pages 26 years later,” he says.
“I will never sell this car, I will live on the street first; it’s my father’s legacy.” Chris clears his throat. “Who knows, maybe my boy Isaac will get it back in the magazine again in another 26 years!”
With a history like yours, Chris, there’s no doubt. s
CHRIS BORG 1955 FJ HOLDEN UTE Colour: HOK Blue Candy GRUNT Engine: 327ci small-block Chev Intake: Edelbrock Air Gap Carburettor: Edelbrock 650cfm Heads: Ported Pistons: ACL Race Series Crank: Standard Rods: Standard with ARP bolts Rings: Hastings Cam: Solid Sump: Standard Oil pump: Melling high-volume Radiator: Four-core Aussie Desert Cooler Ignition: MSD billet with Street Fire control module Fuel pump: Mechanical Exhaust: Stainless-steel block-huggers SHIFT Transmission: Turbo 350 with TCI components Converter: 2800rpm Diff: Mustang 8¾in 3.50:1 LSD Tailshaft: Modified Mustang BENEATH Brakes: VT slotted rotors with AU twin-piston calipers (f), XF slotted rotors with XF calipers (r) Springs: Air Ride ’bags (f & r) Shocks: SoCal Speed Shop (f & r) Steering: Shortened Torana Rear end: Four-link ROLLING Rims: Showwheels Streeter; 17x8 (f), 20x9.5 (r) Rubber: Bridgestone; 205/45/17 (f), 245 /35 R20 (r) THANKS Peter and Dylan Bauer for the mechanical and fabrication work – I couldn’t have done it without them; Daniel Cassar at Fast Lane Speed Shop for the ’bags, bodywork and paint; Paul at Inmotion Metal Finishing for all the chrome work; Mark at Griffs Trim Shop; Allan at Blitz Custom Exhaust; a big thanks to my family and friends for their support. In loving memory of Mario Borg:1956-2014