VEl Nil may not be the biggest name in the automotive scene, but his work graces hundreds of high-end restorations, street machines and custom projects across the country. He is one of a handful of gifted tradesmen capable of repairing or replicating the stainless and alloy brightware that has adorned motorcars since they were first built. Perfect paint and panels are one thing, but if the trim isn’t perfect, the end result can be very disappointing.
First published in the February 2008 issue. Street Machine
From the outside, Val’s shed looks the part of a tidy ’70s home but inside it’s got some pretty cool tricks up its sleeve. Standing aside EH is a premier like no other, and certainly one of Australia’s oldest customs. Val bought the car when it was four years old and set out to transform it into a unique custom that has served as his daily driver for 40 years. The idea was to create a car that people would recognize as an EH but with more modern styling. In doing so, he bucked the custom trends of the day and created a car that is generally considered a GMH prototype or export model – the ultimate compliment!
Val served his apprenticeship in the early 60s at a small local panel shop that did specialist work, such as building hearses and station wagons on locally produced custom line sedans. So his skills were honed on all kinds of custom fabrications at a time when everything was made in-house. The business later expanded into the construction of buses and luxury coaches, where he acquired further skills.
During this time he bought an FX sedan and customized it but after a few years he wanted to move on as there were places to see outside of Queensland, and wider experiences to be had, so he gave notice. With his severance pay and savings he loaded FX onto a boat and headed to New Zealand where he traveled and worked for two years.
He returned home without FX, that’s when EH came into his life. It became a base for him to showcase his talents but at all times his training, practical and work-based, dictated how he went about it.
One back to make J-Lo green with envy! Mods include a two-piece bumper, recessed license plate, and Valiant taillights grafted to the heavily modified rear quarters. The center panel is ribbed aluminum, anodized gold.
Brave taillights matched the height of the quarter panels and could be extended like full-width lights, matching the ’63 Dodge Phoenix indicators and reversing light. The rear light buckets were hand made, as were the modification parts for the upper and lower boot panels. Next, the quarter panels were split in half and new upper sections were rolled and folded to remove the swell line and ‘mess’ of the original taillight positioning. The result was an EH with a smooth, flowing shape from front to back.
The rear bumper was built using two factory units, cut and bolted to create two separate sections. A piece of ribbed aluminum was cut to fit the panel between the taillights, and then anodized gold.
“People often think I’ve cut off the back of a brat and welded it on,” he smiles.
The front end is based on the then new HK Brougham grille and headlights. The fronts of the original guards were cut off and new parts were made to blend in with the headlight surrounds and guard moldings. A new panel was also created to fit between the top of the grille and the bonnet.
The HK grille and headlights are easy to pick out but also note the new all-round cues and the way the bumper and beaver panel have been reshaped into a slight wedge, matching the bonnet.
Both the front stone tray and bumper were changed to match the new, peaked front. To finish it off special indicators are surrounded and chromed. The rest of the car is a beautifully preserved piece of Australian motoring history that has served its owner tirelessly for the past 40 years.
Another neat feature in the shed is Vale’s own body straightening system, which rivaled any shop in Brisbane at the time, yet hidden when not needed. The walls are covered in shelves with all kinds of moldings and artifacts hanging down, and containers of clips and special brackets that long ago became extremely rare beasts. On the benches are jigsaws and special hand-made tools used to repair or rebuild molds.
Many owners make Vale’s job difficult: “Most don’t know how to remove molds,” he says. “I’ve seen them use screwdrivers and scrapers, chisels and pliers. One bloke grabbed one end with a vice grip and started pulling from one end of the car to the other! Inside and behind the panels. Take a moment to look at the trims to see how the parts are holding up. I tell customers to call me and I will guide them but they come in quickly, often with damaged pieces. delivered where they cannot be repaired.” He even has a restorer folded in half for postage!
In the late 80s, the shop used Val’s expertise to repair some unavailable old moldings on a car that had been damaged in an accident. When other healers heard what was possible, people began seeking him out to work his magic.
After decades in the employ of other people, Val retired from the smash repair industry and has since focused on specializing in molding repair – a temporary move, which led to Australia has a recent interest in muscle cars.
It looks bland today, but Val’s FX is a great example of early ’60s Australian custom, with flush-fitting spots, Renault taillights and a custom flash kit adding some elegance and distinction.
Since every owner wants their car to be perfect, they have gone to work and developed special methods to restore many of the components. For others, he makes copies that no one could pick from the original.
These days he only specializes in muscle car molding and fitting and still has a two year waiting list! Retirement is on the cards – but he’s been saying that for a few years now.