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Dennis Campbell's Bristol Hot Rods Garage Crawl (August 2008)
Meets, Shows and Events
From our recent visitor from Australia, Dennis Campbell: I became aware of the Bristol Hot Rods in 2007 after traveling from OZ to England for the birth of my third grandson. There are just so many things a Pop can do so I was filling in time trawling the Internet to see what was happening in the world of Hot Rods in the UK. I found the Bristol Hot Rods site, but it was a little too far away for a quick visit. My daughter subsequently moved to Bristol and to our surprise became pregnant again. This called for another trip to the "motherland" and the opportunity to catch up with these guys in the Bristol Hot Rods.

After a few emails to introduce myself to Phillip Mitchell, we arrived at his home in the outskirts of Bristol. I was quite surprised to see his full on grass routes style hot rod. Phil has a cool yellow three window deuce coupe running a "nail head" Buick. The coupe has a nice stance with stock headlights on a dropped headlight bar adding a good balance. I have to like his Torque Thrust II wheels (they are the same as mine).
Phil was good enough to take us on a garage crawl to check out some of the local rodders and their rides. First port of call was to Mike Taylor's place where his '40 Willys Coupe was shoehorned into his garage (that is three inches wider than the car).

Once out in the daylight Mike's coupe looked ready for the drag strip. Powered by a small block Chev with a 671 puffer on top adorned by two 780 Holley carbs and the obligatory bug catcher, positioned about mid screen. The original Halibrand wheels really completed the image of a nostalgia drag car. The coupe was finished in a really nice blue metallic paint (the same as mine). I am starting to develop the conclusion these English rodders have real good taste.
After a cuppa we moved on. Next we called in on Bob Jeffries. He was up to his armpits in grease. We interrupted his removal of a small block out of an old Camaro. Bob has a little Deuce (Doctor's) Coupe (three window) cloaked in a deep metallic gold. The coupe sports a moon tank mounted on the front spreader bar and a nice rake due to the four inch dropped and drilled I beam axle. The front spindle mounted 12 spoke wheels set this little coupe apart from the rest.

Along side of the coupe is a work in progress 1949 Chev pickup truck. The engineering on this beast is superb. The cross members have been replaced with custom tubular members. The suspension is air bagged so it should sit real low. A mock up small block Chevy with tri power sits in the engine bay. The front clip of the old Chev lifted off in one piece (set up for a future tilt front, I believe).
To keep faithful to the Chevy's age Phil intends to leave the body as supplied (barn fresh). And in keeping with this theme he has had some very artful sign writing on the doors restored to maintain that 1949 look.
The old truck will run hungry boards to keep prying eyes from seeing its cargo. Other than the height of the old truck, it'll look like something out of the hills running moonshine or just taking some chooks to market … way cool!!
While we were visiting Bob, the rain didn't stop Phil Thomas from cruising over (maybe to check out what a hot rodder from the penal colony looked like), Phil's coupe looks as if it just came out of the American Graffiti movie (minus the extra two windows).
Bobbed rear fenders and no front fenders gives this little car real hot rod appeal. So far, I had seen not only high quality rods but true street rod attitudes to using them whatever the weather.
Phil then took us to see Carl Firth at his country B&B. It was straight down to the shed … Mate! … I was blown away the moment I walked in. Carl's long term project '34 coupe looked like a gasser coming off the line at peak revs. The front suspension is high giving the coupe an aggressive pose. The first thing that hits you is the Hemi motor set back about 10 inches, an unpolished 671 blower with two large (can't remember the brand) carbies sitting on top. Then you can start to see the detail. The body was in bare metal so you could see the quality of workmanship.

The top is chopped about three inches, the roof was filled (hammer welded and file finished). Then looking a little closer the rear quarters have "Fire Power" stamped in them. I wandered around the car and another innovative surprise  …. the steering is from a sprint car but the pitman arm is hanging out of the lower front of the door. This was cleverly done by removing the bottom corner of the door and covering the sector shaft and pitman arm with a stylized scoop.
The interior and the boot followed the WW2 aircraft style with sheet aluminum and lots of rivets. The fuel tanks (2) were mounted in the boot, they were made by Carl from large diameter stainless steel tube with spun ends. The tanks were located by WW2 style webbing straps. The innovation in this car was a delight to behold. E.g. the front perch pins had a grafted mounting for a straight sway bar. There is heaps more I could say about this car … basically, I absolutely loved it.
When I was dragged away from the coupe Carl showed us his brother in law's rat rod. This appears as another well engineered car. The 30 Model A coupe has had the treatment. Four inch chop, channeled about 8 inches, patina paint and bare metal. The tires are rag bags (cross ply) with the rear tires higher than the deck lid, oh yeah with white walls. The motor is a small block Chev with six 97s feeding the fuel in. The exhausts are straight zoomies unmuffled. You would hear it coming but you would have to look down to see it. The interior like Carl's is beautifully made formed aluminum. And the dash for a bit of tradition is out of a '40 model.
In the back of the shed there was another project. A '40 model pickup. This also had a small block Chev for a power plant. The interesting thing about the pickup is it is all shiny underneath and as you would expect a sixty eight year old work horse to look like on the outside. If you want patina finish Carl and his brother in law have developed the technique … it looks pretty authentic.
From here we traveled further into the countryside, fields of sheep and wheat and very narrow roads until we turned up at Bob Wellstead's. Bob has an immaculate house in a beautiful rural setting. So after introductions it was into the shed. Did I say shed? I think it would be more aptly named a Gallery. This place is immaculate with Ford blue floor, white washed walls, adorned by selected photos and memorabilia, two cars sit under raps and a third segregated by a plastic wall. That is the finished car section and the work in progress section.
Bob's pride is his 36 three window coupe that would do well in any concourse event. And his other car a '40 model Ford Pickup. Both cars are very shiny black.
The coupe has red leather interior while the pickup is adorned with a brilliant Mexican blanket. So what was behind the plastic? Bob had recently acquired a '36 roadster body from Canada (I think). The roadster may have been oversold. However Bob was certainly getting into it. The body had been stripped to bare metal to reveal the naked truth and Bob had it mocked up to check the fit of all the body panels. There was a lot of work to be done, but from the other examples of Bob's work, this is going to be a very nice car.
Finally we were off to see Merv Barnett. Now, I am told that Merv has had a hand in nearly every hot rod in Bristol in one way or another. So upon our arrival at Merv's themed garage it became obvious … this guy has been around since the sixties and has been involved in rodding both in UK and the US and maybe other parts of the globe.

The walls of the shed reflect his interest in rodding and rock and roll with classic posters and memorabilia. Merv's gold 39 Willys is a testament to his engineering skills and ability. I said that I had never seen a Willys two door sedan before and was told that is what Merv made it. Lengthened doors and all, and very nicely proportioned. How he stuffed the Chevy motor in the stock engine bay without cutting the firewall is quite amazing in itself. The car has a drag racing theme with sign writing and the big Hurst Shifter logo on the doors.
Unfortunately the day came to an end. I was staggered to see hot rods of the quality and believe that what I saw would compare with any I have seen in Australia, Canada and the US. It was a great day and I would like to thank Phil Mitchell for his time and hospitality. And to the guys whose places we invaded a big thanks for sharing the passion.

Yours in rodding
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