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Modern Classic

If a 1935 Chevrolet Coupe were to roll off the production line today, chances are this is what it would look and drive like.

Peter Fitzpatrick knows a cool car when he sees one. Even in its dilapidated original condition and showing every one of its 80-odd years of life, he could see serious potential in this early model Chevy. In fact, it turned out to be a very rare 1935 Chevrolet Sportsman’s (or Businessman’s) Coupe. Not only one of just 3000 made with three-windows and suicide doors, Peter says it’s actually one of just 17 built in right-hand drive from the factory! It’s owned by Kees Weel (co-founder of PWR Performance Products with his son, Paul) and was tucked away in Kees’ workshop when Peter first spotted it.
“I thought it was a pretty cool looking car. I was trying to work out exactly what it was while I was thinking it would look pretty shit-hot with an LS under the bonnet, painted black and dumped on the ground with a set of Centre Lines.”
After trying and failing to buy the unique machine, the multi-time Summernats Grand Champion was rewarded with the next best thing.
“Kees asked me if I wanted to build the ’35 Chev for him. My first question was, did I have access to PWR’s five-axis CNC machines and he said yes which meant that the quality goal posts shifted up a bit. Kees said he didn’t want to ‘hot rod’ it or ‘bling it up’. I would describe it as a reinterpretation where we modernised the entire car without making it look modern. From there, he basically left it to me, although I ran everything by him. Other than regular pictures, I think he only saw it twice over the five-year build. It has ended up being something super special!”
Once nestled in Peter’s Canberra workshop, one key task was to slot in a thoroughly modern drivetrain sourced from a wrecked late model C6 Corvette, including front and rear suspension, 6.0 litre LS2 V8 and automatic transmission. Despite this, he has gone to great lengths to give it a period look. Although the LS2 keeps its fuel injection, it features a hi-rise manifold made to look like it’s fitted with old-school Rochester carburettors, as well as early model rocker covers and an old-style oil filler tube in the middle of the valley. After deburring the entire drivetrain, it was capped off with a period-type PPG grey paint finish - think Holden grey motor or Massey Ferguson tractor. The chassis was also finished in PPG satin black powdercoat.
Not surprisingly in a car this age, rust reared its ugly head. Virtually the entire floor, from the firewall back, was replaced and a large proportion of the car was remade by hand, either in steel or aluminium. At the same time, Peter got to tinker with the classic lines and stance so it fitted snuggly to the Corvette’s on-road footprint.
“We chopped the roof by 50mm but I didn’t want to change the shape too much. Overall, it looks way fatter and way lower – side-on, it sits about 10 inches lower than a standard car. We removed the original dicky seat and streamlined the shape with a new boot and boot opening and new beaver panels. Other than that, we got rid of the quarter window so it has one big side window. The Corvette has a wide track so we had to fabricate four new mudguards from aluminium, as well as the bonnet, side skirts and running boards. One of the biggest challenges was getting all the body panels straight and with much tighter panel gaps than anything from that era. For example, the door gaps are as perfect as we could get them at about 5mm all the way around.”
One of the highlights of the entire job was the ability to use PWR’s sophisticated and precise CNC milling machines, complete with support from PWR engineers and, like a kid in a lolly shop, Peter went wild. While made to original specifications, the stunning grille has actually been produced from billet aluminium, complete with Chevrolet badge, and took almost 70 hours of machining. Look closely and there are exquisite pieces of billet eye candy scattered all over this car. The headlights and tail lights are billet, as are the wheels and hubcaps which are copies of the originals. Touches can even be found inside where the steering wheel is an exact replica reproduced from billet aluminium with a painted outer rim. “It’s a very cool service that not everyone has at their disposal when building a car”, said Peter.
The interior is just as elegant. Apart from a few mod cons hidden away from sight – air conditioning, a Bluetooth equipped audio system and power windows – the rest is true to era. It features a bench seat sculptured for support and comfort and luxuriously appointed in high end distressed leather. For an extra touch of class, Peter engaged a furniture maker to hand-craft an American Oak timber dash and door tops. The minimalist dash houses a speedo and four old-school gauges, along with ignition, headlight and wiper switches.
When it came to choosing paintwork to match the fine detailing, Peter was adamant it would be PPG. “I contacted Tony Naughton (PPG NSW Business Development Manager) and said I want to do this ’35 Chev in PPG and he was able to help us from the start of the project to the end. Paint is the first thing you see and, if it’s not something special, people will keep walking. It’s where you create a bit of difference to others by starting with great products and going the extra mile to make sure the paint looks deep and wet.”
“After deciding on a colour scheme of blue with black guards, I asked Tony Naughton and Trevor Duke (PPG NSW Training Manager) to mix some samples. We didn’t want it too blingy so the blue ended up being a straight tinter with just a touch of white. It’s actually fairly transparent so we put a coat of black over the whole car first, as a groundcoat, and then applied five coats of blue over the top. Photos don’t do it justice – when you see it in real life you can really look through it so it has amazing depth. When the sun hits it, it’s a real vibrant blue. It’s beautiful!”
For the interior, Tony also formulated a caramel type colour that is period correct and is a nice match to the leather tone. The crucial task of taking the car from metal work to clearcoat was entrusted to the highly experienced Trevor Davis, from Trevor Davis Auto Refinishers in Dandenong, Victoria. Even up against the incredibly tight deadline, Trevor says the full suite of PPG products performed flawlessly.
“I got a great canvas to deal with but it was a massive amount of work to do in the shortest of timeframes. It meant asking the PPG products to perform at their best under real pressure but I followed all the instructions Tony (Naughton) gave me and they worked perfectly. I used two products on bare substrates – PPG Epoxy Urethane Primer which is an easy sanding epoxy and Epotec Primer Surfacer (from the Commercial Performance Coatings range). It keys well to metal, has a good build and is solvent and moisture resistant so it leaves an impervious barrier on the metal. This was also my first experience of working with PPG’s new VIBRANCE COLLECTION® range of primers and clearcoat and they worked like textbook. In particular, VCC 580 Custom Clear was just magic. Straight away, it was like an old friend – it was easy to use, it flowed nicely and has a beautiful rich gloss.”
As the project came together, Peter and Kees began to realise the car was on track to be something very special when it was complete. With the exceptional quality of the build and the extreme rarity of the vehicle, combined with Peter’s ability to effectively blur the lines between age old style and bang up-to-date steering, suspension and performance, the pair’s thoughts turned to where it would be officially unveiled and that got them dreaming … and they dreamed big! Not only did it see this iconic ’35 Chevy become the first Australian built car to debut at SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) it was also the first to be entered into the incredibly prestigious ‘Battle of the Builders’ competition. Although it didn’t win the ultimate prize, it did cause quite a stir at SEMA (see breakout) and that made all the effort worthwhile, according to Peter Fitzpatrick.
“I am really grateful that Kees trusted me to build this car for him and even more grateful that he shipped it to SEMA and entered it in Battle of the Builders. I was absolutely pumped with the way it was received. This ’35 Chevy is just so different. It’s not a hot rod, it’s not a street machine – it’s like a late model classic car that just looks really classy!”
Designer’s Choice
Amongst all the accolades at SEMA, one of the most coveted is the Chevrolet Designer’s Choice award and, this year, it went to the gorgeous ’35 Chev built by Peter Fitzpatrick and painted in PPG. “Getting presented with the award by five of the top guys in Chevrolet Design was pretty awesome. Apparently, even the head of Chevrolet loved the car! Although the Chevrolet guys knew about this particular spec of car, it’s so rare they had never seen one in real life. As the builder, the award came to me and it’s a very cool, billet copy of the shape of the new Corvette – it weighs about five kilos! It’s now sitting on my coffee table at home!”