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Mike Bowden’s 1949 Ford ute - SPINNA

By Carly Dale | Photos: Troy Barker, 13 Oct 2019 Features

Mike Bowden’s 1949 Ford ute - SPINNA

When he was 21, Mike Bowden created a Street Machine Of The Year-contending, salt-racing ’49 Ford ute. More than two decades later, he’s been reunited with his survivor build

MIKE Bowden’s 1949 Ford ute first punched into the scene way back in 1993, featuring in the Jan-Feb 1994 issue of Street Machine, and was later a Street Machine Of The Year contender. Mike’s Cusso, known as SPINNA, competed at Summernats 7 through to 10, placing in the Top 80 each time. The pair also blasted down Lake Gairdner’s salt to a top speed of 138.85mph; Mike and SPINNA still hold the XF/BGP (now XF/MP) and XF/PP records.

This article was first published in the September 2019 issue of Street Machine

Ford Customline ute

“I love the look of the ’49 and ’50 Fords, but you rarely see pick-ups because the wood tray floors helped them to rust away,” Mike says. Another reason is that there were apparently only 5000 built!

Yet the following two decades became a true tale of survival for the single-spinner, weathering the unknown at the hands of several owners yet somehow escaping relatively unscathed; unfortunately, that’s not quite the case for Mike – but we’ll get to that a bit later.

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Ford Customline ute

I’ll take you back to 1989 when the pair’s love affair first began, as a then 17-year-old Mike – who was a first-year apprentice panel beater – reckoned it’d be a great idea to resurrect a relatively rooted Aussie-built Ford ute.

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Ford Customline ute bonnet

“The sideways-opening bonnet made the car a pain to work on, so I had a second bonnet for the blower, which was held on by pins,” Mike explains. “I used that at the salt”

With help from his dad JB, Mike did a body-off-chassis build, hotted up the flatty and repaired the whole rotted lower portion of the Cusso from floorpan to sills. While he was at it, he also deleted the rear bumperettes, smoothed the rollpan and added aftermarket tail-lights, hinged the hood sideways, fitted a half-’cage, tightened the rear fenders and tucked the front bumper. “I just smoothed up a classic design,” Mike simply says. “As a teenager, staying motivated to get it finished was the hardest part. But it was worth it once I got it painted and all fitted up.”

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Ford Customline ute front

SPINNA was freshly minted in time for Hot Adelaide 3 in 1993, where it was spotted for an SM feature, and in a beautiful act of synchronicity the magazine hit the stands as the Cusso rolled into the Summernats Elite Hall. “After it was shot for Street Machine, I wanted it to look different for Summernats 7, so my brother Peter and I added the Wild Plum and black graphics, as that was the in-thing in the 90s,” Mike says.

Ford Spinner wheel

And after several years of showing, racing and cruising, Mike sold SPINNA in the late 90s – less motor, gearbox and number plates – to make way for his next project, a ’35 Ford roadster that would house the proven powerplant.

“Then in 2010 I got stomach cancer and was pretty crook – I lost that much blood I’d drained the hospital’s stocks and was seconds from death,” Mike says. A few months in Intensive Care led him to wonder where SPINNA went. “I started to look for it, without success – there were more false sightings than Elvis,” he laughs.

Ford Customline ute tank

Mike’s health improved before taking another dive, so he decided to track down his beloved pick-up come hell or high water. What he did know was that the ute was sold again in the mid-2000s and sported new mods, including different rims, deleted side trims, and frenched headlights and aerial. So, while Mike and his partner Flic continued the hunt, they also acquired the missing parts. “I said to a mate: ‘Now that I own the S-Pack rims and the side trims, the car will rock up,’” Mike smiles.

Ford Customline ute engine bay

A 302ci Windsor now resides where the flathead salt record holder once sat. Mike’s staying with the new set-up for the time being, keeping SPINNA as a road-going cruiser

And it did. “Earlier this year I put a call out on the Aussie Spinners Facebook page and was contacted by a guy who had joined the page two days before – he claimed to have the car, though it wasn’t for sale.” After photos confirmed the truth, Mike persisted to strike a deal to buy back what had become part of his DNA.

Ford Customline ute interior

Very little has changed in here since the pick-up’s original SM shoot back in 1993. I guess the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ still applies

“SPINNA was in Coffs Harbour; the bloke had always planned to modify it but never did. He kept up the rego and sat it in a shed; that’s why no one had seen it,” Mike explains as we stand beside the once lost pick-up. “It looks mostly unchanged, though it’s been repainted in the original colour and graphics – I can’t believe they kept it the same. Though I had a Wild Plum splash at the bottom of the door and that’s now gone. We have so many questions about what happened during those missing decades.”

Ford Customline ute interior

“The glovebox mural had been painted over, then rubbed back,” Mike says. “Apparently, someone had painted a naked grandma or something over the top, and the next owner began to remove it and noticed the mural beneath. So, he carefully took off the top layers to reveal the original artwork”

As it was sold less motor and trans, a 302ci Windsor backed by a C4 now motivates the Cusso, though underneath, the suspension and nine-inch remain as they were.

Ford Customline ute gauges

For now, Mike’s well and is reacquainting himself with SPINNA, with plans to make up for lost time. “I’ll leave the Windsor and C4, as that’s part of the car’s history now,” he says, though he’ll add more power if required. “I want to clean all of the red dust out of it – it’s still in there from Lake Gairdner – then I might re-hinge the bonnet sideways. But I just really want to get out and drive the bloody thing.”

Ford Customline ute

SPINNA had a lot of strings to its bow, including being a record-holder on the salt. Decades on, the car's XF/BGP (now XF/MP) and XF/PP records still stand. How good is the Street Machine Summernats 8 shirt!

Inside is all 90s-spec, from the ’89 Nissan Skyline seats trimmed in grey velour with aqua vinyl piping to the VDO gauges and a glovebox mural by Mike’s brother.

MIKE BOWDEN
1949 FORD UTE

Paint: Dulux Acrylic (then)

ENGINE
Brand: 276ci Ford flathead (then); 302ci Windsor (now)
Induction: 4/53 blower, dual 350 Holley two-barrels
Manifold: Custom-made blower intake
Heads: Offenhauser
Camshaft: Isky 400
Pistons: JP
Crank: 4in Mercury
Fuel: Avgas, Holley electric pump
Cooling: Stock radiator and fan
Power: 320hp

DRIVELINE
Trans: Four-speed Top Loader (then); C4 (now)
Diff: XT Falcon 9in, LSD, 28-spline axles

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: 3in-lowered springs
Rear: 4in de-arched leaves
Brakes: XY Falcon discs and HQ calipers (f), XT Falcon drums (r)
Master cylinder: XT Falcon GT

WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: EB Falcon S-Pack, 15x7 (f & r)
Rubber: 205/65/15 (f & r)

THANKS
Garry Felstead for looking after SPINNA and giving me the opportunity to purchase it back