This humble scribe has been lucky enough to come into contact with thousands of high-quality feature cars over the last 15 years or so. The average gestation period for a decent build seems to be around five years, give or take. But some take longer ... much longer!
For Aussie Bill Sharkey, the journey to trophy-winning completion took a whopping 21 years, with a lot of literal chopping and changing along the way. The story begins with a rusty hulk of a rolling shell that needed plenty of attention.
“I’d wanted a ’55 since I was a young fella,” Bill says, a panel beater by trade. “I couldn't afford the car I wanted so I went looking for something I could afford.”
That search took Bill to South Australia where he found a bare rolling shell at Joe’s Golden Gasoline Classics. It may have fallen into Bill’s budget at the time, but it was missing everything and it was carrying plenty of rust, too.
Luckily, Bill could handle all that kind of work himself and he got busy in his spare time cutting out the cancer from the doors, sills, fenders, floorpan, and trunk. When he wasn’t repairing the rust he was scouring catalogs from Danchuk and Classic Industries, making lists of all the myriad parts he’d need to build a complete vehicle.
As it turned out, a friend of Bill’s happened to have a right-hand-drive dash, firewall, and floor section that he could graft into the Chevy, repairing rust patches and converting the steering in one go. Although it was the roof that Bill says probably required the most work to get right ... having been previously slathered with filler, which had begun cracking out. Bill tapped out all the damage before file-finishing it baby-ass smooth.
As you can imagine, styles change over time and as the years rolled by, Bill found himself with some parts that started looking decidedly dated. Things like Billet Specialties rocker covers and air cleaners and billet interior pieces were sold off and replaced by newer items. Even the quarter-panels that Bill had spent hours getting straight were cut off and replaced by fresh repops. Same with the outer door skins.
“The car got better as the build progressed,” he says. “I just wanted to make it as good as it could be.”
Another area where Bill was able to save some time and money was when he heard about a complete chassis for sale ... complete with RideTech front end, Aldan coilovers, triangulated four-link rear and 9-inch. “Glenn Rulach from Air Ride had built it up for coilovers but then decided to go for airbags, so I had someone check it out for them and I made a deal. It’s great! It gives the old girl just the right stance.”
Bill added to the recipe with a neatly relocated PBR booster and master cylinder setup that clean up the already spotless firewall. This controls the mirror-finish Wilwood calipers at each corner, lurking behind those gorgeous 17-inch Schott Mod wheels.
Life—and a couple of other personal build projects—got in the way of the project for a handful of years before Bill returned to the ’55. Around the end of 2015, Bill and wife, Penny, decided to draw a line in the sand and set a solid completion date for the car. This gave them just over a year to get the car done, just in time for Summernats 30 in January 2017.
One part of the build that didn’t change with the passing of numerous stylistic fads was Bill’s choice of color scheme. Even 20 years ago he had a clear vision for how the car would look. “I’d seen this combination of PPG Vivid Yellow and Cream on a vintage Harley-Davidson and thought it would look good on the Chevy,” he says. The two hues go so well together that Bill says he intends to paint the next project car (an FC Holden for Penny) in the same colors, only reversed.
Like the flawless exterior, pop the hood and an equally beautiful sight will greet you. It’s all centered around a 400ci small-block, many parts of which Bill received as payment from a job he did for a friend. Another mate, Trev Hutchins, was given the task of bolting all the parts together. Filled with Scat rotating guts along with SRP pistons and a Crane cam tickling a set of Jesel rockers, the big-inch small-block is topped with a Weiand 142 roots blower and a Holley 750 XP carb. Coated Pacemaker headers are bolted to the AFR heads to vent the spent gasses out the 2.5-inch stainless exhaust.
“I told Hutcho that I only had enough money to build it once so it had to be right the first time,” Bill says. This was particularly pertinent considering the Weiand 142 blower that Bill had ready to go on top of the combo. He probably doesn’t need to worry, given the stout list of internals included in the modified mill.
“I drove a blown car many years ago and it made my hair stand up,” he says. “I wanted the same. It’s also Penny’s favorite aspect of the coupe.”
While the ’55 looks all-show, it definitely has plenty of go to match the show, and Bill backed the 400-cube combo with a Turbo 400 and 9-inch with 31-spline axles, Detroit Truetrac LSD and 3.50 gears. The car doesn’t have many miles on it yet, but it’s been built to cope with plenty of cruising as well as the odd excursion to the strip, should Bill ever feel the need.
In the last six weeks of the build, Bill worked himself to the bone to get the car ready for the Summernats deadline. While he made a pact with himself to hold off on working on customer cars at his Dubbo, New South Wales, body shop in mid-December, he ended up continuing to work on customer rides as well as his own. As a result, he found himself at the shop from as early as 4 a.m. each day until midnight.
One of the last parts of the build to be completed was the interior, which due to deadline pressure, was completed piecemeal between Bill and the trimmer Shaun at Trims by Shaun. While Bill was still working on the car, he sent the seats to the trimmer to be worked on, with Bill handling the roof lining himself. At the last minute, he sent the car to Shaun for final work and installation to be done, including the custom door trims and custom-fit BMW carpets.
Things got a little scary toward the end of the project. Bill wasn’t sure he’d see the Dakota Digital VHX instrument cluster in time so, just in case, he borrowed an earlier model he’d previously sold to a friend. It didn’t look like the radiator would make it in time either, so he bought a PWR unit from a friend’s Holden Torana, modifying the top and bottom tanks to fit the Chevy.
Bill got so close to the deadline that the only driving the car did before powering itself into the Summernats judging hall was a quick lap around the block to make sure it was going to work. The first real cruise Bill and Penny got in the car was the trip to our photo shoot location and a couple of laps around the area before heading for home!
The plan now is to finish off the odd small details and enter it in a few more shows before committing the car to a lifetime of regular cruising. We do wonder if it will take another 20 years to finish Penny’s FC Holden, though!
Photography by Ben Hosking