CAR building is a tough mistress. It has a long and bloody history of chewing up and spitting out many promising and talented builders. That’s what makes Shepparton’s Shane Rowe and his business Southern Rod & Custom so remarkable. Having celebrated 30 years of operation in 2018, Shane and SRC have done more than just survived; they’ve pretty much been the benchmark since opening the doors back in 1988. Want proof? Contemplate these stats: 18 Street Machine feature cars and six cover cars! There have also been several world-class builds and restorations that have graced the covers and pages of other magazines. Furthermore, Les Lawry’s 1930 Ford Victoria (SM, Mar ’03) and Chris Retzos’s 1957 Chev (SM, Oct ’09) are two of the winningest show cars ever built in this country. With a track record like this, we decided to strap Shane to the SM interrogation chair to find out what makes him tick.
This article was first published in the March 2019 issue of Street Machine
SRC incorporates a 595m2 showroom, which always has a ton of interesting machinery on display. It sits right next to the fabrication/final assembly shop, with the body shop and paint booth located in the adjacent shed
How did your life of custom cars and metal sculpting kick off?
School was never my thing. I left at 15 and started knocking on panel beaters’ doors, as knew I wanted to work on cars. Eventually I went to work for Garry Collins Car Repairers in Deniliquin. Garry was into vintage cars – we brought many A-Model Fords back to original. After about five years, I started working from home before Wendy and I opened SRC in 1988.
Read next: 604ci Hemi-powered 1974 'Cuda by SRC
Full-chassis cars like Rob Guljas’s ’67 Chevy Impala are becoming more common with SRC’s customers. The radical nature of builds like this demand such custom work
Modified or restored – what’s your preference?
Definitely modified. But we could never have survived just doing that. SRC has done a lot of general paint-and-panel work and countless full concours builds. I don’t think anyone can survive just specialising in one type of work. I believe our diversity, whether that be rust, paint, assembly, sheet metal and even traditional fabrication work for outside businesses, is what’s kept us going for 30 years. Heck, I even built loads of chopper frames at the height of the craze. Long ago I learnt a tough lesson: It doesn’t matter how good you are; you can be the absolute best at what you do – but when that bit of work dries up, what do you do?
While plenty of incredible builds have rolled out the doors never to be seen again, others, like Anthony Trefilo’s XP, periodically come back for routine maintenance and updates – a new four-barrel intake and carburettor in this case
What’s kept you going through the rough patches, then and now?
Well for starters, if wasn’t for my wife Wendy, there wouldn’t be a now. She’s not only kept the business together for 30 years, she’s also kept me together. And it’s all paid off for us, as the business has exploded this past year. There’s plenty of talent in Shepparton and SRC currently has the best crew it’s had in 30 years. They’re all very talented and they all work well together – even with me! The amount of work the six of us get through used to take 10 people. We’ve got 22 projects on the go, 12 of which are full-on builds.
There seems to be insane, mega-dollar builds underway all ’round Australia – what do you think is driving this?
Money, basically. Also, a number of our customers are not what you might consider hardcore car guys. Sure, they’ve owned nice cars, but they’re typically successful businessmen who have the means, but never really thought about having a high-end car built for them. Then there are the traditional car guys who maybe had the means to fund a full-on build but were a bit uncomfortable doing so. The intrinsic value of the cars these days helps a lot. This makes the budget that’s necessary to cover the cost of all the parts and the thousands of man-hours a lot less scary than it used to be. Financially, they’re a lot more comfortable diving into big, expensive builds.
SRC has done countless full-concours restorations, and the team’s work is also particularly well known in the Shelby Mustang community
What’s the future of car building?
3D printing. The technology is so good now; they’re even printing titanium aerospace parts. What we’ll see on cars over the next few years is going to be incredible – we’re looking into buying a professional machine. The types of things you can make are limitless and the finish is so good – it’s production quality. Dash knobs, interior pieces, you can print any material you want – I’m even designing my own wheels. The key is the CAD design stuff – I’ve got a good handle on that side of things.
What sort of CAD stuff do you do?
Pretty much everything now. We’ve got a five-axis CNC and our plasma-cutter almost never stops. My main focus is growing Chassisworks Australia into a separate business. I do all the design work and suspension systems in CAD. This wasn’t always the case. I never wanted to go that way, as I reckoned I could do simple brackets and things faster by hand. But once you get good at CAD, you can make 10 in the same time, all exactly the same!
Despite this neat Dean Weldon's ’66 XP coupe being completed for Summernats 2015, he is still yet to see it in real life. “It was our longest-ever build,” says Shane. “We were on and off it for over 10 years. Whereas with Chris’s ’57 Chev and Les’s Vicky, I pretty much worked on those cars solo for five straight years each
What other trends do you see in the future?
With all the online tutorials, along with the first-rate metalworking classes being hosted around the country, there are a lot of really talented metal guys out there. So I think we’re going to see a lot more metal art developing, a lot more handmade stuff going into builds. Things like custom dashes, consoles, door trims and, of course, custom bodywork.
A number of your latest builds feature fully fabricated chassis – do you see that as another growing trend?
Yes. In certain states they’re getting a lot more comfortable with full-framed cars. Look back 10 years ago; there’s no way they would allow these chassis out of the US in Australia. Now they’re at least willing to look at them. It’s all about being able to back it up with engineering paperwork, which the certifiers can use to show the rego authorities it’s safe.
SRC has customers lined up at the door – what’s your secret?
With any customer, we sit down and have a really good talk about the type of car they want to build. Want a show car? Then let’s go. But what I see a lot of are cars that get started and never finished. More often than not, it’s because they started out as a driver and turned into something radically different – the budget blows out and all the funds get chewed up before it’s finished. Once we’ve come up with a solid plan, I send them away to really think about if that’s the type of car they want to build. Builds will always change along the way, but big changes in direction always cost a lot.
The powerplant in John’s ’69 Mazda RX-2 may be the traditional turbo 13B, but the custom suspension, big rubber and massive fabrication are more high-end hot rod. There’s not a single stock element left on Darren’s EH ute, dubbed VQ37EHTT, due to its VQ37 Nissan 370Z V6, complete with a pair of mirror-image HKS turbos. This wicked ride also sports a stretched cabin and hand-formed rear quarters, with re-contoured wheelarches. Naturally there’s a Chassisworks chassis underneath, along with trick suspension and monster brakes. Roger’s ’70 Camaro is a full pro tourer, with Detroit Speed underpinnings, LS engine, six-speed, big brakes and Forgeline wheels
If authorities allowed you to amend a few modification rules, what would they be?
Obviously full-chassis cars. The other big one for me is handmade, fibreglass bodies – one-off ICVs. You can buy a repro Jaguar body and get it registered as Jaguar. So if someone wants to make a copy of a Duesenberg, Packard or 60s Chev, with a new chassis and a blown Chev – why not? As long as you make it safe. Even something like the Mulholland Speedster that Troy Ladd at Hollywood Hot Rods built.
Chassisworks Australia is a company that Shane is looking to build up as a separate business, fabricating high-end, one-off chassis with cutting-edge suspension systems
What are Shane Rowe’s other pet hates?
One thing that used to really irk me was, you’d build a car to drive and the owner never used it. Also, there were plenty of other cars that would have been great magazine fodder, but they drove out the door, never to be seen again. I built a baby blue ’32 five-window – magic car, would have won most shows it went to – but no one ever saw it. Chicken Man’s roadster, a yellow ’34 roadster with a blown 392 Hemi – it too disappeared. I’ve come to accept this just happens.
SM readers will remember Chris Retzos’s ’69 Dodge Coronet Hemi R/T in bare metal from the Feb ’13 issue. This ballistic Dodge features a 2000hp twin-turbo NRE Hemi and has been almost finished, bar the interior, since 2014. “It’s been sitting around for so long, it’s lost a bit of its edge,” says Shane. “We’re giving it a freshen-up and aim to have it finished soon”
What’s something you’ve always wanted to build, but never have?
A ‘Bandit’ Trans Am – that was my dream car. Ryan Carter drew one for the Street Machine Expression Session a few years ago; it was just like I’d wanted to build. I always hoped someone would walk into my shop and ask me to build one for them – the SRC way, of course.
What about your own personal rides?
I’ve never been afraid to sell my toys to prop the business up. This includes the red ’62 bubbletop Chev I sold to Chris Retzos, and an attention-grabbing, gold metalflake ’65 Riviera. I even had to sell my F350 Dually and 997 Porsche GT3. However, for the first time in 30 years I’m actually going to finish a car for myself: my black ’65 Caddy. The SRC ’32 I’m currently working on is also mine.
You’re 58 years young; how have you managed to achieve so much?
Years of experience of learning how to do a lot in a short time. However, in reality, you need to plan well ahead, get the work done and don’t get distracted. One thing we’re really proud of here at SRC is our ability to consistently put out top-level cars, year in, year out.
The SRC team (L-R): Shane Rowe, Mark Smitten, Scott Briant and Billy Cowcher. Key team members not shown include Shane’s wife Wendy Rowe and new guy Jason Lewis
SRC HONOUR ROLL
- Mark McIntyre - 1957 FJ van - SM, Apr/May 1998 cover
- Les Lawry - 1930 Ford Vicky - SM, Mar 2003
- Rick & Glenn Madgwick - 1957 FJ - SM, Jun 2004
- Neville Brodie - 1967 Mustang - SM, Dec 2006 cover
- John Kreskas - 1967 Firebird - SM, Nov 2007
- Stavro Dascarolis - 1959 Buick Electra - SM Hot Rod 2009
- Paul Davey - 1950 Ford single-spinner - SM, Jul 2009
- Chris Retzos - 1957 Chev Bel Air - SM, Oct 2009 cover
- Tony Aquilina - 1937 Ford slamback - SM Hot Rod 2011
- Stuart Appleby - BMW ute - SM, Nov 2011
- Anthony Trefilo - XP ute - SM, Mar 2012 cover
- Tim Horewood - 1967 Firebird convertible - SM, Jul 2012
- Chris Retzos - 1969 Dodge Coronet - SM, Feb 2013
- Chris Retzos - 1960 Chev Impala - SM, May 2013
- Dean Weldon - 1966 XP coupe - SM, Jul 2015 cover
- Chris Thomas - 1932 Ford coupe - SM, Oct 2015 cover (inset) and SM Hot Rod #16
- Shaun Braybrook - Holden HK Monaro - SM, Jul 2018 cover
- Anthony Atkin - 1974 Plymouth 'Cuda - SM, Jun 2018