A Life In Cars

The life story of Dickie Sutherland


Getting back to life in South Australia

Setteling back into Adelaide, need a Job, need a Car and cars were the focas.

Most of my mates were either settled into married life or otherwise committed.  I met up with my cousin Bobby; he had recently left the Army and getting into the Adelaide scene.  I had work at Walkerville crash repairs, although my skills, are not quite to their liking.  Roger, who had advised me not to go back to work before Christmas, suggested I wait until the New Year, suggesting he may get me into Clearview Crash where he was working.

Clearview Crash, the boss, Colin a Spray painter by trade, took any work that came in the door with a lot of work from a couple of Used Car yards that provided him quite a few jobs that were of the rough out, plastic fill and paint cheapies. 

This introduction to plastic filling as an art form was quite an education for me.  Working was on older cars, lots of plastic filler to keep costs down for the customers.  One customer bought ex-Army Land rovers through the Government auctions, they were tizzy up for the used car yard, and that type of work was another education in repairs.  I was shown how to use a Rupes orbital sander, the best tools, and methods to mix, apply and shape plastic filler.  The occasional car of interest came that came in were the Bentley and Rolls Royce Mr. Morgan brought in.  More tart-ting up, as these cars were imports from the UK, had been “bogged up” to get through the MOT (required for registering the car) in the UK.  Yet another lesson in used car refurbishment.

Austin Lancer series II 1960

Reliable Transport for a young man with a low budget

I needed a cheap car to get around and there in the Saturday paper was a $100 special, Austin Lancer series 2.  Good condition apart from a slipping clutch.  With help from my friend Ralston, he sourced a new clutch plate and pressure plate, two hours of work and I was away.  The Austin proved very reliable, low-cost motoring that served me well until I spotted a car in need of a rebuild at a very reasonable price.  Friend Roger bought the Austin from me, his Dodge at 10mpg needed an economical runabout to share the running costs with.

Left-Hand Drive.  Pontiac Firebird 1968, Mustangs

Clearview Crash cars of most interest were American cars those not generally available here, Mustangs, Pontiac Firebirds, and left-hand drive cars imported from America.  Cars that were bought cheaply overseas, imported with the intention of converting to right-hand drive, and sold.  How cool was this Firebird, I gave it some consideration however the lack of money made it a dream too far.  It was a consolation prize being able to work on these cars, feel their shape marvel over the styling, I learned how to repair steel bumper bars, reading them for chrome plating. The requirements for conversion to Right-hand drive.

Pontiac Firebird a dream to far

Holden Torana GTR 1970

Darryl sold the Morris Minor 1000 more Cubic Inches

Out of the Army, National service completed, Darryl Horner my best friend bought himself a Torana LJ GTR, 161, four-speed quite the sporting coupe, 100 miles per hour plus, two-door four-seater.  Why the Holden, not the Morris Minor?  “There is no substitute for cubic inches”. 

The suspension was quite stiff with not a lot of travel and the front-mounted steering wrack was a driving technique I had to learn.  Supercar, super fun to drive.

EH Holden Station Wagon 1964

EH Holden Station Sedan, no motor or gearbox in need of refurbishment.

Project for late 1972, no motor, no gearbox, no rust only in need of a respray and more. I bought a motor and gearbox from the wreckers, motor was great the gearbox shagged, can I have another please, thanks you.  Painting by Roger in the carport at Mum and Dad’s. 

EH Painted the Original colour on the road at last

Soon the EH was on the road.  A set of Nylon tires ex Darryl’s Torana the red line neat, on the sidewall, all very good stance. First day out, on quite a cold morning I drove down Robert Ave and turned right onto Regency Road then all of a sudden both front wheels began shaking badly, bouncing up and down out of sync.  The car was not drivable at any speed.  The nylon tires had flat spotted from standing for a long period, when the two were in sync it was good but out of sync was bad, very bad, particularly with worn-out front shock absorbers. Quickly dash home and get the bike and off to work.

When I first met Carolyn not long after I came calling regularly Carolyn said the EH could be heard coming for miles by the squeaking front suspension.  Speaking of front suspension! 


My employment with Clearview Crash Repairs gave me an insight into secondhand car repairs. Roger introduced me to the import of American mussel cars, body modifications and auto painting.

Part way through the year my best mate Darryl asked me to look after his Torana GTR as he was heading into the outback with the BMR team as their drive/mechanic for 3 months. while he was away the Dept of Supply workshops at Woodville North offered me the position of Panel Beater, (my old job) I accepted and was working there when Darryl got back from his Out-back Oddessy.

The Torana GTR a supercar bread for the Bathurst 500 mile car race, it was the car most suitable for a trip to Port Lincoln in June 1972.   I was driving the GTR  out on the open road with speeds creeping up to 100mph, yes open road speed limit, taking a left-hand bend the GTR jumped across the white line into the other side. Owweee let’s slow down.  Yes, the suspension is very stiff and the travel up and down is quite short. Harsh, no I didn’t say that, unforgiving maybe.


Mercedes Benz, Wedding cars.

Carolyn and I married in 1974, and our wedding cars were Mercedes Benz.  A car fit for my bride, apart from the Organ music, our celebration needs to be happy, lively, thanks.

Wedding cars 2 Black Mercedes Benz

The EH began married life by towing, a caravan for the honeymoon, trailer loads of stuff regularly, and many holiday camping and towing camper trailers. 

Honeymoon in Tasmania, camping along the way
Our first camping trips were with the EH wagon and the 2-person tent (a well-used tent from the European travels from 71).

Our first home, living in Para Hills I would pass by Wingfield  Metal Scrape yard, on the way home I found there were cars and car bodies left behind the Scrape yard, not worth the scrap value.  Many Holdens, EHs, and EJs were there for stripping, I soon found quite a few useful bits and pieces I could use.  Along with an education on what moldings and trims I could use on my EH. 

One very notable find was the steering column bezel, the earlier EJ model was cast aluminum, unlike the EH plastic bezel which would distort in the summer heat.  More on that later.  I also collected steering wheels for another project. 

Things you find out when you least expect it.  The HD HR Holden wagons had a few different mouldings around the tailgate window, some painted some polished stainless steel. Yes, I love rummaging around in the wrecking yard looking for bits that would meet the diverse range of needs.

Over the years I made a few subtle modifications. The dash binnacle was cast aluminum, by cutting and welding 3 together, forming one piece over the instruments to right across the full width including the glove box.  Remade the glove box lid providing a big enough space for a Radio, tape player and amplifier.

Two flame thrower lights were mounted to the front bumper bar giving a duel headlight effect.  Inside were curtains for the windows, for privacy, when camping, a homely touch by Carolyn.

 Darryl spotted a four-speed close ratio gearbox for sale at a pretty good price initially for the EH then I suggested to Darryl if he wanted it I would buy his gearbox for the EH.  The Torana had a more spirited performance and could get more from the close ratio all synchro box, the much lesser power of the EH the Torana’s Opel gearbox would do.  OK, let’s do it, Darryl got all the extra bits needed to convert the gearbox to suit the Torana and we set about fitting it.  The EH needed a hole cut in the floor to receive the floor change and a new clutch bracket.  The column change lever was removed along with linkages and yes I welded the hole in the bezel, and sanded it down to a smooth bezel, very neat.

One lesson comes to mind.  Out on the open road cracking along at 55mph I noticed the accelerator had lost connection with the Carburet.  The EH was just motoring at 55 as if on cruise control.  Stopping at a roadside garage, shut the engine off lifted the bonnet and pondered the problem.  The linkage from the accelerator at the Carby had unscrewed itself.  There are locknuts to prevent that, anyways I got the spanners from the tool roll, which I always carried in case,  refitted the linkage tightened the lock nuts, and that was that, never happened again. 

1975 Roger Bonnett started his own Panel shop on Adam Street Hindmarsh.  Roger’s business was based on Crash repairs with an accent on converting left-hand drive cars to right-hand drive as if they were factory options. A couple of stories from those days, notably one summer’s day, HOT day Roger and 2 others were running a car with Air conditioning, so cool, they locked the doors to keep me out. Hot and bothered I found a pressure pack of Air freshener, a loverly ‘sickly’ flower scent and sprayed it into the Air intake vents. Sick. The second story, with converting the Left-hand drive cars Roger removed the rear Lap seat belts from one of the more expensive brand cars. The belts were Lap only and Retractable. Regarding retractable belts, the suggestion was to fit them in the rear of the EH wagon to improve safety. Retractable they were, this meant they would adjust to the person in the seat for added safety. Well retract they did, every bump in the road caused the belt to retract a little more. No, no release as an inertia real seatbelt in today’s cars, only retracts, to prevent from being retracted into the seat while trying to cut the occupant in half only by undoing the buckle would the occupant be released.

Roger introduced me to auto spraypainting,  when he resprayed the EH wagon in a yellow, Yellow Sands, with a Cyan blue strip across the bonnet and down the sides.  Pretty slick combination that got a lot of comments. 

Spite approved

Sally wasn’t saying!

Photo was taken in a Victorian forest near Lakes Entrance on a trip with Ian, Raelene and Nichole from Adelaide to Yandian Queensland via the coast.
The Yellow sand and Cyan paint job by Roger on the EH wagon. Photo was taken near Yandian Queensland. Epic trip

As the years passed and the time came when I needed to do quite a few rust repairs to the wagon, bottom of guards, doors, tailgate all the usual places Holdens of that era were rust buckets.  Yes, I tried fish oil and Techtil all the good rust preventative with little advantage.  In the 1980s I had been repairing and spray painting cars in the shed at home and the time came once again for the EH to have the rust repaired yet again, while deliberating on what colour I eventually settled on a Honda Civic metallic blue.  Part of my colour decision was to use paint that I had over from my neighbors Allan and Cheryl’s Honda Civic.  I had over-ordered, so I bought the excess paint from Allan and Cheryl. 

The colour shade was very similar to the original Holden blue the EH left the factory with.  Yes, I was a novice at estimating how much paint was needed to respray a Honda, incidentally, I became very good at painting acrylic lacquer at home, with the tips and techniques I had picked up from Roger and Tommy all put to good practice. (Spike the cat checking for Oil leaks!)

The repair and re-paint became a general upgrade, by fitting bucket seats from a Renault 16, a very comfortable seat, rear sway bar, heavier front sway bar, chrome wide wheels, and de-chromed the panels by removing the stainless steel moldings, which very slick.  I had my Diamond Dot Astor radio in its cradle until a sound system was upgraded when I found something suitable.

Photo of one last epic trip, the EH towing our second Camper trailer, we did the trip with Tony and Helen.
no, no, the cat belongs to the Caravan park in Sydney

This one last rust repair and respray I made the decision to sell the EH wagon while it was looking it’s best.

A young lad looking to buy, was so chuffed he could hardly contain himself, $1100 was too good to pass up.  Yes for the day it was near its top dollar, first to view bought it, as they say.  Taking the cost of the work out of the sale, I believe I could have made more money by selling it as is, however, I did have the satisfaction of restoring the EH and maybe it would go on for many years to come.

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