Choosing the smell of petrol rather than his family’s passion for leather, Tony Jeffs’ shed shelters a collection that most would envy
Words and photos: Rod Dunn
Many of us can probably remember the moment that sparked our interest in anything automotive. It may have been the faithful old car our parents used to drive, or maybe it was spotting something parked at a show or in the street while in our youth that raised an eyebrow. No matter what it was that sparked that interest, I’m sure we all have a great story to tell, and memories that put a smile on our face.
For Cantabrian Tony Jeff, it came from what he describes as a poor family whose interests lay in rugby and league. “I tried playing rugby but it just wasn’t in me,” Tony explains.
Preferring the smell of petrol over leather, Tony grew up spending every cent he had on racing. Go-karts, motorbikes, and even dirt-track racing were where Tony was happiest. Later these interests led to him scoring an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.
The years of racing eventually led to an interest in cars, starting with Zephyrs.
“I’ve always been a bit of a Ford man,” Tony says, “although I did spend a bit of time with my name on some Holden ownership papers.”
By that stage, Tony was right into his bike racing but, as is usually the case, kids and life became more of a priority and the racing took a back seat.
“I had broken my arms and legs and the wife at the time said that I really needed to get out,” Tony tells us.
It was at this point that he got involved with pre-’65 Cortinas and raced for three or four seasons — very successfully, we might add. It was while Tony was watching a video called Year of the Cortina that he spotted a Galaxie racing with the Lotus Cortinas and announced that he needed to do a Galaxie. We are guessing he had no idea at that stage where this would lead him or the collection he would amass. The hunt soon turned up a ’62 that Tony proceeded to build up over the next couple of years; 30-plus years on, that Galaxie is still in Tony’s possession.
The car has an amazing history; the photos covering Tony’s shed walls, taken at many of the races he has taken part in, are testimony to its racing pedigree. Having raced at tracks throughout New Zealand, including the old Wellington street race, Wigram, and some tracks that don’t exist now, Tony’s end plan is to race it on the only two tracks it hasn’t been on: Hampton Downs and Highlands.
The distinctive red Galaxie is currently parked out the back of the large shed while having some work done on it. At its last outing, the Skope Classic, it was being driven by Tony’s son when the engine decided that it had had enough and threw a rod out of bed, leaving it only fit enough for a coffee table. The past few months have seen a new 427 side-oiler engine fill the space in the engine bay, sporting an extra 200hp. Power steering has also been added.
Standing in the doorway of Tony’s shed, one is left speechless for some time while surveying the abundance of early Japanese motorbikes, power cycles, and cars. The first in the line-up is a beautiful black ’62 convertible, which was purchased out of California. Tony first spotted it on Craigslist, but the owner wouldn’t sell to Tony as he thought he was being lowballed. It then turned up on eBay, where Tony was still unsuccessful in buying it for the amount offered.
“I then had a mate go and have a look at it since he was over there,” Tony tells us. “He was able to purchase it for me $2K cheaper than my offer.”
Sitting behind the convertible is another stunning black Galaxie, this time a super-rare 427 manual R-code car, one of only 3000 made for Nascar racing. In ’63, when they
first went racing, the cars were fitted with a 406, but, during the first half of the season, they simply got their arses whipped. Halfway through the season, the fast roof was fitted, and the 406 swapped out for a 427 with twin fours while still retaining non power brakes and non power steering. As you can imagine, a large number of these were lost in races, so now they are even rarer. How Tony came by this one is a great story.
While he was on a trip stateside with his brother, the pair visited an auction in Pennsylvania where one was to be sold. Unfortunately for the duo, they didn’t have deep enough pockets, and the car went to a different owner. Feeling very disappointed, the guys decided on a bit of a road trip, which took them to Vegas. It was there, in a museum on the fifth floor of a casino, that Tony saw his one. On loan from ex-astronaut Neil Cooper, the car was in ‘as new’ condition and Tony was able to purchase it to bring home. It is in remarkable condition for a car of that age and still has its 427 and manual box.
The ’62 wagon next in line has been called ‘Surfy Sam’. It was discovered in a 40-foot container by a mate, and Tony tracked down the owner but had no luck in purchasing it — at least, at that time. It was shipped to New Zealand from the US to be restored, and then shipped home on completion. Five years passed, and Tony received a call from the owner saying that he had been ripped off and asking if Tony was still interested in buying it. Not willing or able to pay what the owner had spent, Tony threw a number at him, which was quickly accepted. Two weeks were spent at the panel shop, piecing it together to bring home.
While building a new engine for the race Galaxie, Tony required what he refers to as a ‘test bed’ for the new motor, so Surfy Sam was enlisted. Having pulled a 17-second ET on the quarter-mile with its original motor, the new 427 engine saw this figure jump to an amazing 11.7-second ET, and that was with the front wheels off the ground. However, Surfy’s life on the strip was short-lived, as the engine is now in the race car and a 406 Tri-Power engine has been fitted, making the wagon a bit more manageable on the street, which is where it will now spend its life. Underneath, the bonnet is detailed and painted and a new interior spruces the car up, while the exterior will retain its patina. An auto trans, power steering, and power-boosted brakes will help with street duty.
Up on the ramp is a beautiful ’64 Fairlane coupe, which was brought into the country to make into a Thunderbolt since it is fitted with a 427. When the car arrived, Tony’s wife Pauline took a fancy to it. She now calls it hers and has been driving it ever since.
The black ’60 Starliner, with its awesome roofline, was the widest Galaxie built and the least popular. Tony has told his grandkids that it used to be Batman’s car, hence the ‘Gotham City Ford’ signwriting on it. Another very cool feature is the tail lights; they have the Batman signal in them, and it lights up when the brakes come on.
The ’66 Galaxie at the end of the line-up was bought out of the North Island and is simply a nice cruisy old car. With its original 120,000 miles on the clock, the car is fitted with a 390 four-barrel engine and C6 auto. The upholstery is factory original too.
Tony still has his love of Cortinas. The Mk1 GT two-door in the collection is used for hill climbs and the like. Its engine bay is home to a 1500cc motor complete with 1600cc head.
One’s attention can’t help but be drawn to the walls of the shed, as they are decorated with bikes from a bygone era. They all have a connection to Tony. There is a large number of rather cool-looking power cycles — something else for which Tony has a passion.
Out the back of the shed, next to the race car, is an old Bedford van that looks as though it’s seen better days. This thing is not quite what it appears, as mid-mounted in the back, behind the seats, is a 390 V8.
“This thing was scary to drive,” says Tony. “If you put your foot down, it would simply spin around.”
During its last outing, Tony was taking someone for a ride when they hit a tree. Now, the Beddy is just sitting there, its future uncertain. This is not the only Bedford
van than Tony owns. Sitting out in front of the shed is another one, set up as a camper and used a lot. Owned for 35 years, it has been repainted and during lockdown
received a bit more attention by way of a new clutch, distributor, and fuel pump. This outside space is also being shared by Tony’s recent purchase, a wee 100E panel van that still runs its side-valve engine. Tony has done the chrome on it and widened the rims.
With such a great collection, gathered over many years, and with each piece having a cool story behind it, you do have to wonder what will be added next — we’re sure there is still some room left on the walls.
This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue No. 186