It is almost unbelievable to think that the movie classic, American Graffiti, debuted at cinemas around the globe 45 years ago. It doesn’t seem right somehow. The year was 1973 and a local Perth bloke, Neville Riseley, was one of the lucky people heading to the premiere at the iconic Perth cinema, the Piccadilly. It was something that everybody was busting to see.
“I was working for Hitachi at the time, and in the same building were MCA records, the company who had produced the soundtrack. All of my mates were asking for the 8-track version of the album, as that format was the king at the time,” laughed Nev, he continued “I managed to get everyone sorted and of course, I went on the lookout for tickets to the movie for me and my mates. The movie was a really big deal back then. Years later I collected it on VHS and then of course, I had to get the movie again when it was finally released on DVD. The film really resonated with me because of the cars and the music – it has been a part of my life for a long time now and obviously still is.”
When the movie came out in ‘73, Nev was punting a ‘three on the tree’ HK Belmont around the streets of Perth, so after seeing all the amazing American steel on the big screen, it was no surprise that a hot rod would ultimately enter his life in the future. “I looked around at cars for a long time and eventually settled on a great looking T-bucket that the legendary Steve Iggelsden had built. It was the first legally registered bucket in WA and it was a real head turner.”
That car remained in Nev’s possession until he was transferred with the army across to the Eastern seaboard back in the early 80s. The car was sold in WA, as Nev wanted it kept as a West Aussie car. It does still exist today but its condition and whereabouts are sadly unknown.
For Nev, The hot rod bug never really left. He was still buying magazines; attending shows and helping mates build their own dream cars. It was around four years ago that Nev decided it was time to finally complete his own dream car – a tribute car to the Yellow ’32 in his favourite movie. “I was 58 at the time and the plan was to give myself an awesome 60th birthday present. It didn’t go as planned, so I ended up finishing the car two years after that, but as I was told by everyone, ‘that’s hot rodding’,” laughed Nev.
After reading all of those magazines, it was a Deuce Customs ad that he spied which really got his mind ticking. “The chopped body had the perfect dimensions for me – so it was a no-brainer to order one of those to get the build cracking. It was an exciting time for me.”
Chassis wise, it was the dangerous duo of Alan Smart and Craig Clements at Armadale Auto Parts, that got the ball rolling with the Rodtech rails Nev dropped off. From there, Craig Clements fabbed up the rest of the required bits, fitted the SoCal suspension stuff and got the car up and rolling, so it could be delivered to Deuce Customs, who then fitted up the body and returned it back to Nev ready to finish off.
Choosing the right yellow for the body to be bathed in was a big choice, Nev decided on the fantastic hue of GM Holden Hazzard – it fit the bill perfectly. It was good mate Ron Weary, who was responsible for the fantastic paint job. “It took Ron ten weeks from start to finish to get the car done right. Where it was possible, minimal filler was used and any defects in the fiberglass body were repaired with fiberglass.” The paint job certainly was on the money too, as the gorgeous coupe picked up Best Standard Paint at the recent Hot Rod & Street Machine show as well as Runner up Top Coupe. Out on the road, the car can’t be missed!
Inside the car, Phil Wall from Old Skool Custom Trimming, kept everything neat and simple, the way it should be in a rod like this. The USA Glyde bench seat and door cards were trimmed in black vinyl, with the hood lining completed in GM Velour Platinum. An Ididit steering column places the Mooneyes twirler into Nev’s hands perfectly. To the left of his line of sight, are a handful of gauges. Fold the dash down and you are blessed with the brake booster and incredibly neat wiring job, thanks to the skills of Rory Smith.
With drivability and reliability high on the list of priorities for Nev, the motor and gearbox combo were scaled down a tad from the movie car. “I had always said, right from day one, I wanted a car I could get in, turn the key and just drive away in. I didn’t need bulk horsepower, just something that sounded good and went well enough to blow the froth of the cappuccinos along the main drag in Freo.”
With that in mind, Nev grabbed a 350 Chev, added some Edelbrock heads along with sprint car-styled headers and a mild cam. The movie car had four carbies on it but that was a little bit of overkill for Nev, so at first he opted for single 4 barrel Holley but thankfully changed his mind for the much cooler-looking Stromberg 97s. The finned rocker covers and neat air filters finish off the right look.
Instead of a manual ‘box, like the original car had, Nev opted for an auto so the car was much nicer to drive around. The ever-so-smooth TH400 was rebuilt by local transmission guru Brian McDonough (who also added plenty of technical guidance and hands on help during the final phase of the build.) Power is sent backwards to a Currie 9-inch with 3.0 gears. 15-inch reversed, chrome wheels cover the upgraded brake components.
The thing that strikes you the most about the car is that gorgeous stance – it has just enough rake to add some attitude and it really helps to accentuate the lines on the car too. “The stance just happened by chance, we dropped the rear shocks in and the car just sat like that, everybody loved the look of it and told me to not touch a thing!,” laughed Nev.
It has to go without saying, that the car would never have been completed if it wasn’t for all round legend, Mick Thomson, who is most definitely a part of WA hot rodding royalty. “The car left Armadale Auto Parts as a rolling shell chassis and drove out of Mick’s home garage as a licenced street car. What he did was amazing and I couldn’t be prouder of what we achieved together. I never set out to build an exact replica of the movie car, just a tribute to it and by the look of the people I pass on the road; they enjoy it just as much as I do. I’d like to extend a big thank you to everyone for their support and encouragement throughout the journey of the build – it has been quite the experience.”