TOMORROW, a piece of Australian custom car history will go over the block at Lloyds Auctioneers & Valuers.
Dave Johnson’s FJ was featured in the Oct/Nov 1987 issue of Street Machine and it was a cutting-edge show car for its day. The creativity, the detail, the craftsmanship were second-to-none. To 1987 eyes, Jigsaw was outrageous, but to someone seeing the car today for the first time, it may be hard to understand. To grasp where Dave was coming from, you need to see Jigsaw in terms of Aussie custom car-crafting history. In the US, the 1949-1951 Mercury was – and remains – the quintessential basis for a custom car build. The Australian equivalent was the FX-FJ Holden.
In 1960s suburban Australia, custom car building was a bona fide craze – much like the panel van era that followed it, but without the widespread media attention. In back and front yards all over the country, countless FXs and FJs were given the custom touch, ranging from mild to wild. Some of the most famous cars included Tony Andrew’s Blue J, Bob Moule’s Bobcat and Lance Simmers’s Draggin Coupe, as well as the many cars built by Sydney’s Dale Fisher.
This is the history that gives background to Jigsaw – and the car that came before it, a blue FJ sedan that featured an inverted LJ Torana grille, 929 sedan headlights, continental kit and a way-out custom console and blew my mind as a young teenager.
With his cars, Dave was continuing an Aussie tradition that had almost died out – and with Jigsaw he took the concept to its logical conclusion. It could have been the last great custom FJ, but thankfully others took up the cause in later years, including John Katsanis, Aaron Bray with his FX coupe, and of course, Holden itself with EFIJY.
You can watch the auction live from 12pm Queensland time, and in the meantime, enjoy the original Michael Stahl story from 1987.
THEY never warned us about this in journo school. They never told us that someday we’d cop a story and run out of superlatives. That we’d be sitting at the keyboard, trying to invent new words to describe something so utterly, monstrously, mind-roastingly awesome. Soon as I finish this, I’m signing up for dentistry or something.
There just won’t be enough space to run through all the thought and elbow grease Dave Johnson has put into Jigsaw and get all the superlatives in at the same time, so we’ll just have to play it straight. Dave is a panel beater. Jigsaw was a ’55 FJ Holden. Dave has modified the ’55 FJ. Dave says it best: “Just grab your pen and tell me when to stop.”
It took two years of after-work hours and solid weekends to bring the pieces of Jigsaw together. Some 18 months of that was spent purely on the body. And like others of that rare breed of perfect street machines, it has a squillion tiny touches that are discovered only by trained eyes.
Dave sees a lot of new cars coming through the doors of Perfection Bodyworks in Brisbane. He’d already built a blue FJ streeter, sold it and found he couldn’t live without one. The sketches for Jigsaw were underway when Dave started measuring up components in the new cars at work. Dave likes old cars, but he’s smart enough to figure that new ones are quite a bit better in some important areas.
Like headlights. His original idea had been to slot in pop-ups form a Mazda 929. They turned out to be too big. He bought new JD Camira units instead. Then designed and built – all in metal – the complete front end. No grille looked just right, so he built one himself. Out of brass. Take a look at the windscreen – it’s been cut from an Acco truck screen and flush-bonded! Dave had to make the rubber moulds himself to vulcanise those windows. The side glass was made from armoured plate glass. No more quarter windows at the front. What’s more, they’re electrically sealed.
See how the whole turret section has been smoothed where it joins the main body; gone is the hard ridge, for example, at the base of the C-pillar. Door handles from a Camry have been grafted in.
The rear wheelarches were dropped six inches simply so they’d match the chrome arch trims. Dave won’t say what they’re off, but we can tell you it’s exotic. The rear quarter panels had to be pumped up and widened to accept the tail-lights, which suit an ’84 Ford Laser. All these parts were bought new, over the counter. You like the rear wing? Go make your own. Bumpers at both ends are LH Torana.
And it doesn’t end with the pearlescent paint, which Dave applied himself with red tint and a drop of this and that. Like, there are stainless-steel inner guard shields. The chassis rails aren’t from an FJ sedan, but an FJ ute. The fuel tank is a GA Galant item, with 10 gallons’ capacity and a recess for the spare wheel. There is a full belly pan underneath to protect it all. Need we say that all the seams have been joined and welded?
All the brake and fuel lines are stainless-steel items, centre-mounted and concealed. “It’s totally clean underneath,” Dave says. A fearless, full-on effort under the house, this one. No corners cut, not stones left unturned. Look at the interior. The TF Gemini dash had to be shortened three inches and colour-matched. No sweat for Dave, who also made the steel centre console that extends right through the back. Yep, there is a CD player and it’s a top-dollar Mitsubishi item. A mate of Dave’s recalibrated the instruments, so the speedo now reads to 260km/h. The vacuum gauge is now a boost gauge. But we’ll get to around to that in a minute.
A trip to the Nissan parts counter secured the front seats and steering column from a Datsun 200B. The window winders are LH Torana, the interior door handles TF Gemini. See, Dave has been eyeing the various bits on cars that come into work and drew up a shopping list. The complete interior is colour-matched and trimmed in red velour and creamy-white vinyl. Dave called in the outside help of George Bayada & Son to stitch it up, including the rear seat, which is an FJ original.
Something else that started as a Holden part is the engine, but check it out now! It is a 138 side-plater out of a ’63 EJ. Dave went for this because it is the only legal motor you can run in an FJ north of the border. The block has been completely linished and painted. Inside, it’s all been balanced, but the crank, rods, pistons and rings are all stock-spec. The bumpstick is a Corish blower grind, the pushrods are chrome-moly, with double springs. Dave’s dad happens to be a mechanic, you see.
Cosmetically, there’s a heap of work under there. That trick alloy rocker cover is a Dad and Dave design. They made up the mould, had it cast and engraved. They also made up moulds for the 48mm Weber’s baseplate, the water pump pulley, breathers on the tappet cover, the finned sideplate, the sump and the tensioning arm for the 4/54 GM blower that sort-of dominates the view under there. Graham Bevis Custom Exhausts made the headers and exhaust system, while the rest of the engine plumbing is Earl’s braided hose. All the wiring is hidden.
This piece of art drives through a Trimatic auto with a Starfire converter and a B&M shifter topside. The rear end is all LH Torana with LSD and 3.55 final drive. At the ends are LJ Torana drums, while EH drums are fitted up front. Dave says the four-wheels drums are man-enough for the job, and they’re helped along by an HR booster.
Suspension is lowered three inches. The package of Lovells springs and Monroe-Wylie shockers was put together by Fulcrum Suspension, who do Dick-no-relation-Johnson’s racers. It rides real pretty on polished Dragway Champs, 14x7 at the front and an inch wider on the back with Dunlop Le Mans all ’round. In fact, Dave says it’s one of the nicest cars he’s ever driven – the blower lets it rattle V8 Commodores something fierce. Dave’s driven it to Adelaide and back no sweat and a few weeks ago ran it in the FX-FJ Holden Club of Queensland’s dirt motorkhana…
He what? Dave asks why shouldn’t he? After all, the fact that all the inner guards are stainless and the underside is so tidy means that it is easy to clean. Jigsaw gets a run at least twice a month.
The real beauty of Jigsaw is that the idea was right in the first place and the execution has been spot-on since. It’s a puzzle that’s come together with the sort of devotion that remains a puzzle to most of us. It’s excellent, it’s exemplary, it’s superlative.