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Loud & Proud – 1964 Ford Fairlane

5 May 2023

When it comes to cars, James Davey likes them loud and he likes them angry. When he first laid eyes on this 1964 Fairlane it was neither loud nor angry — but it sure is now!

Words: Shane Wishnowsky Photos: Cam Leggett

Like a lot of Kiwi ‘car families’ who tend to gravitate toward one favourite car event, the Davey family’s event of choice is the annual swap meet and car show held at Kumeu. James says, “We love to camp on the swap meet side of the event and immerse ourselves in all things petrol.”

January 2018 was no different; it was during this holiday that James and co were “enjoying the grease and the dust” in their 1973 XA Falcon sedan they had at the time. One night, over a few frothies, they got talking to their campground neighbours, telling lies about cars and car stuff. James had already spied the 1964 Fairlane their new friends had parked in front of their tent but thought nothing of it other than that it was a nice car. 

Sometime during the night’s conversation, the subject of a car swap came up. James thought it was a joke at first and wasn’t sure how he felt about giving up his Falcon – little did he know that his wife had already floated the idea earlier in the evening. With this new development, the two families decided to take the conversation a bit more seriously, and by the end of the night, not only did the Davey family have a new car, they also had a caravan they’d had their eye on too. Might as well go full-send, huh?

Not long after arriving home from Kumeu, James started fiddling with the Fairlane. “I got rid of the big chrome wheels it drove in on and replaced them with Weld Draglites. After that it was just superficial stuff, lowering it, tidying up the interior, and making the car more my style.”

As has been mentioned before, James likes his cars to be heard before they are seen, and the Fairlane was no different, and he wanted the soon-to-be family of five to arrive in style at any event they attended. A “less restrictive” exhaust system was whipped up, and a can opener was deployed to hack a hole in the hood to accommodate the tunnel ram and twin carbs he’d just purchased, which wouldn’t fit under it. After watching endless hours of ‘how to annoy your neighbours’ YouTube clips, phase one was complete, and the Fairlane was beginning to look and sound a lot more to his liking.

While all this was going on, the caravan was also starting to take shape. With a planned date of Beach Hop 2019, the race was on to get it finished. James worked with his good friend and skilled painter Garry Vare to prep the caravan for painting. Of course the two had to match, so off came the glovebox lid and a batch of paint was mixed up to squirt all over the freshly prepared panels of the van. However, what they didn’t realise was that the interior colour of the Fairlane was a slightly different shade compared to the exterior colour, and when the two were lined up together, they didn’t quite match. James says, “We did rectify this later, and it wasn’t by respraying the van!” The car towed the caravan flawlessly to Beach Hop that year and thankfully kept everyone dry given that it rained constantly for the entire event that year!

With winter approaching and James getting itchy feet again, he decided to make use of the winter break and change things up again. He’d always liked to have a ‘pro-street’ vehicle at his disposal, so it was back on the internet to do some more research. The rear of the car was already maxed out with a 7-inch wide rim, and that just wasn’t doing it for him any more.

Not surprisingly, the ‘how to tub a Fairlane’ videos just weren’t a thing; if only he had swapped his XA for a Galaxie because there were a plethora of those! Not wanting to admit defeat, though, he called on his good friend Rob and the two of them put their heads together and explored their options. Before a ‘death wheel’ came anywhere near the car, a pair of 15 x 10-inch Welds with a decent negative offset had been purchased at Rebel Roundup in Pukekohe; now all they had to do was make them fit! The factory tubs were sliced and diced and brought closer into the chassis rails; the leaf springs were relocated inwards as well; and the diff was shortened by 10-inches. James’s pro-street dream was finally coming to life.

Heading into the 2020 event season and things were looking great. The still miss-matched colour combo attended Kumeu with only a couple of issues: the factory drum brakes were starting to become a bit sketchy and a brake caliper fell off the caravan, making for a slower than usual trip. The plans for Beach Hop that year, however, came to a screeching halt due to old mate Covid making a much unwanted appearance, ruining everyone’s lives in the process. Thinking that the world was going to end, James briefly listed the pair for sale, “but a clip round the ears from my wife and a flurry of messages from my friends and family snapped some sense back in me within the hour”. With the for sale ad hastily withdrawn, James had a ‘when life hands you lemons, make lemonade’ moment: “If we couldn’t go anywhere, I may as well work on the car,” he said.

In no time it was blown apart in preparation for a full panel and paint in the correct shade to match the caravan. All the rust repairs and steel work were done at home in the family shed and when he was happy with the repair-work, good mate Garry was called on again to smooth the four door lines and splash on some fresh new paint. The engine was also removed to be given a lick of paint along with an engine bay tidy up. While it was out, James couldn’t help himself — the small block Ford was given a freshen up and a mild cam added to adjust the exhaust note a little more.

The car was then put back together. It was running great and for all intents and purposes the car was “finished”, until the day he was reunited with his old XA. James had connected on Facebook with the guy who had bought his old car. Doug, who is now a good mate, popped around to see what James was up to. “The minute I heard the sound of that engine rolling down my driveway there was no turning back. I missed that sound, I needed that sound, and I needed it bad!”

Out came the recently installed camshaft and in its place a much more aggressive Comp Cams Thumper cam was slipped in. AFR aluminium cylinder heads also found their way onto the engine to increase the lung capacity of the small block, Scorpion roller rockers, and Manley pushrods were added to the mix to give it the kick up the arse it deserved.

Finding some headers to fit the heads was proving to be a bit of a nightmare. James reached out to Dale from Automotive Design and Development in Waiuku to sort that out for him. He zapped up a set of custom, tuned length stainless headers and bolted them onto a bespoke 3-inch twin system running the length of the car. Also while he was at it, a set of Mustang brakes with slotted rotors were added – “much to the wife’s relief” – to make towing duties a bit less frightening for the family.

James says that about halfway through the process a spontaneous decision was made to uproot the entire family and shift to Taranaki for a new life. Every waking hour was spent on the car, piecing the engine together during the day, painting the car during the night, and packing up a lifetime of memories in the gaps between. “We certainly had dished ourselves a mammoth task.”

The day before they were due to head south for their new life, they still didn’t have a house to live in – everything was packed up and jammed into a storage locker. With just the essentials packed into the caravan, it was time to hit the key for the first time. “Straight off the back of a night shift with only an hour or two of sleep, stressed and excited, we made a fatal mistake. We forgot to check the head to valve clearance on the new heads. What we ended up with was nothing less than a catastrophic failure.” The car was locked up and the family made their way to Taranaki without it, living out of the caravan until a family home was found.

A sleepless week ensued and James couldn’t take it any longer. At this stage he still had no idea what had happened and how bad the engine damage was. The Fairlane was loaded onto a trailer and taken to Diesel and Turbo in New Plymouth, where the engine was torn apart. It was bad; really, really bad. Bent valves, witness marks on all eight pistons, the crank and rods were junk, and metal shavings were everywhere metal shavings really shouldn’t be. The only option for James was a complete heart transplant, he says. “Many choice words were heard all through the caravan park over those few days.”

He decided that as he had to start from scratch he might as well do it properly; this time putting the tools down and handing it over to some professionals. A brand new virgin 302-inch block was bought, along with everything else needed to punch it out to 347 cubic inches. The block and Scat stroker kit were sent to Hawera Automotive to be pieced together properly. He also ripped out the third member and shipped it east to Geartech in Palmerston North for them to fill it up with unbreakable stuff. He was also getting sick of rowing gears, so put an order in with Kaspa Transmissions in Auckland for a C4 transmission filled to the brim with aftermarket everything and backed by a 3000rpm converter.

After “an excruciating few months” he got the car back and sent it to Ross Honnor at Top Tune for the first start-up. With sweaty palms he watched on as he turned the key. Thankfully this time there were no horrible noises. Shane and the team had done a great job and the exhaust note and added power was everything he had hoped for and more.

To say James has learned his lesson is a bit of an understatement. He says he doesn’t think he will be “pulling anything apart again anytime soon – at least I’ll try”. The Fairlane has certainly tested his patience over the past few years but now that it’s finished, it’s time to enjoy it. 

We could suggest you camp by yourselves next time you take the family to Kumeu – it might save you a whole heap of money, time and heartache … but where’s the fun in that?

This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue 213