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Ratical Goals: David Jeffrey’s latest Bellarat creation (’27 Essex Custom)

7 April 2020



David Jeffery’s creations may be well known around New Zealand, but now he’s preparing to head stateside

David Jeffery and his wife Suzanne are not your traditional hot rod enthusiasts or builders. They don’t walk the same path as most, instead preferring to design and build their own idea of what a rod should look like. David is quick to point out that he isn’t really into shiny paint and chrome, which explains why the rat rod path was the one chosen by the Rolleston couple. Cars are in their blood, and David can recall his first build as a youngster: a 460 big block–powered Wolseley that he named ‘White Knight’. 

Things have come a long way since those early days, not only with the building but also the rules surrounding them. David has his own ideas when it comes to rat rods, with some fairly radical ideas coming out of his small home workshop. The first one, which was built over a four-month period in 2012, was his famous ‘BellaRat’, named after his daughter Bella. Starting with a ’28 Dodge, eight cars gave up parts to create the machine. Whether you love ’em or not, there was no denying the huge presence that this rat rod created when it first hit the road. Having built it simply to attend a local rod run, David soon made the decision that, after all the work that had gone into building it, he would jump through all the hoops and make it road legal. His reward for doing that was being awarded Top Car at Beach Hop in 2012. 

David then went on to build ‘SemiRat’, a six-wheeled monster that towed a custom fifth wheel trailer that carried BellaRat. Repco Beach Hop 16 saw this combo going on to win the top award once again. Over the years, some radical stuff has rolled out of the BellaRat Customs NZ workshop, not only for the couple but also for clients looking for something a little different. These included ‘DieselRat’ and ‘RollerRat’. 

Soon after appearing on an episode of Ridiculous Rides, the couple were approached and offered the chance to enter the International RATical Rod Build Off Drive Off in the US, starting from Los Angeles in October. The trip involves driving approximately 2500km from LA to Lincoln, Nebraska, where they will meet up with about 15 other teams, and then travelling another 2500km in four days to Las Vegas, where they will attend the SEMA Show, the largest automotive trade show in the world. Having never been to the US, the couple thought that this would be an exciting opportunity not only to take a holiday but also to take one of their radical rides over and expose Americans to a bit of Kiwi number-eight-wire ingenuity. 

When asked how on earth he came up with the idea for the vehicle that they’ll take, David says, “I had a number of ideas in my head and decided it would be cool to build a carrier. The original idea called for it to be built as a car carrier, but, knowing that I would be selling it stateside after the completion, and that the size of some of their vehicles could result in it being damaged, I changed the plans a bit to reflect their love of motorcycles by making it into bike carrier,” he explains. 

Like all projects, there needs to be a starting point, and this one got under way with a 1927 Essex body that has been radically altered, with the most noticeable mod being the roof chop. Since the wheelbase was to be extended, the body’s rear wheel openings were also filled. Deciding early on to go six wheeled, and, taking into account the fact that it would be required to carry a load and need a strong and sturdy frame, David used rectangular steel to create a four-rail chassis. When building from scratch, every area of the build needs to be considered, and, when it came to the suspension, David went with what he knows: an X300  Jaguar front fitted with air shocks, with a pair of X300 Jag rear ends complete with coilovers out the back. Brakes are standard Jag, using a Mazda booster and custom pedal to make it all work together, while the wheels are from Center Line and measure 18 inches on the front and 22 inches on the rear. 

Under the narrowed hood beats the heart of a 454ci big block Chev, with a GMC 700R4 taking care of gear selection. A custom two-piece driveshaft helps transfer the power of the engine to the rear, and a set of custom zoomies with removable mufflers lets everyone know that it is coming. 

Moving to the inside, one of the many sponsors that have come on board, Cover Me Upholstery in Wellington, did an amazing job of stitching up the new brown cowhide that covers the seats and door panels. While seated on the inside, one’s attention is quickly drawn to the floor, in particular, to the driveshaft tunnel, which is clear, allowing the occupants to view the shaft being lit by colour-changing LED lights. Another attention-grabber on the inside is without doubt the centre console, which has been fashioned from a modified motorcycle tank and houses an assortment of gauges to help keep the engine in check. 

The rear area under the deck contains twin 80-litre fuel tanks, and the side vents hide the twin radiators. 

The deck has to be the most radical part of the whole build and works exactly as David planned. Once lowered to the ground, the deck comes to a rest at about a 35-degree angle, allowing bikes to be either ridden or pushed onto it and tied down at several anchor points. The deck can carry either one bike on each side or a single bike in the central position. With a push of a button, the deck raises up, coming to rest with the front wheels of the bikes sitting just above the rear of the cab. 

As with David’s previous rat rods, the plan was to leave ‘Ratical Kiwi’ in its barest form but clear-coated for protection, but, this time around, something new was tried. Thanks to DNA Custom Paints NZ, the truck received a sandblasting and was then coated in DNA Mutant Crystal mask straight over the bare steel, followed by a few coats of clear. It was the first time this has been applied over bare metal, and the results are stunning. 

With the truck completed, the couple only managed to clock up 120km to iron out any bugs before it was loaded into the container. 

“The looks and stares it got while driving around were amazing,” says David of the drive, which was a mini tour around Christchurch, visiting their sponsors to thank them for their support. 

After seven months of hard slog, the car was finally loaded on 26 August, ready for its trip. By the time you read this, Ratical Kiwi will be stateside and could possibly have a happy new owner. Makes you wonder what ideas for his next rad ride David will get after a good holiday.

David Jeffery

Age: Feeling old
Occupation: Garage bum
Dream car: Street-legal funny car
Previously owned cars: BellaRat, SemiRat, ’52 Hudson
Why the hauler? Because that was what was in our minds to build
Build time: Seven months
Length of ownership: Seven months
David thanks: Howard Cams, Amsoil, Anything Hydraulic, Autoglass Canterbury, Cover Me Upholstery, DNA Custom Paints NZ, Holland Collision Centre, NPD Fuel, Safe R Brakes, Tyre General Christchurch, Insane Customs NZ, Uniweld Mufflers, Selwyn Auto Electrical, Sign Supplies Christchurch, Sign Network, Trulers’

1927 Essex Custom

Engine: 454ci big block Chev, 670cfm Holley carb, twin 80-litre fuel tanks, MSD ignition, custom radiators, custom headers
Driveline: GM 700R4 transmission, Jaguar diff, custom driveshaft
Suspension: Jaguar X300 front end, two Jaguar X300 rear ends
Brakes: Custom pedal, Mazda booster, one-inch master cylinder, Jaguar discs and calipers
Wheels/tyres: 18-inch Center Line front wheels, 22-inch rear wheels
Exterior: Too many body mods to list, DNA Mutant Crystal paint, custom airbrushing
Chassis: Custom rectangular hollow-section (RHS) chassis rails and cross members
Interior: Full custom trim, Jaguar steering wheel, custom dash, custom centre console

Performance: Untested