PHIL and Ron Medlen are father-and-son farmers that somehow manage to build hot rods, muscle cars and the odd motorcycle while grazing 10,000 sheep and cropping around 900 hectares of land — with oats, canola and barley — that last crop being a key ingredient in life-giving and idea-inducing beer. If Ron’s son Alex chooses to be a farmer, he’ll be the fifth generation of Medlens to work the farm, and there’s a pretty good chance he’ll grow up to be a hot rodder too.
This article was first published in Street Machine's Hot Rod magazine #13, 2014
We caught up with Phil and Ron on the way back from Narrogin Revheads. It was a few kilometres off the main highway down a graded dirt road to Phil’s place and then a short and not-so-smooth ride — more on that later — down to Ron’s place.
How does a young farmer living in the middle of nowhere get into hot rods?
A bloke gave me a pile of Hot Rod magazines in about 1962 and on the cover of one of the magazines was a red ’27 T roadster, it actually had a Hemi in it, four carbs, cycle fenders and to me it just looked pretty trick and I thought: I gotta have one of them!
The muscle car thing hadn’t even started then. They were still starting drag races with flags and there were jokers running flathead-powered Model A coupes and the odd OHV engine was sneaking in by then, Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles and things like that. It was first hand back then, not this nostalgia shit!
Phil even keeps some of that late-model Model A stuff laying around just in case he runs out of projects
You must have been pretty young then, just a kid?
Oh shit yeah, I was still in school. In 1962 I would have only been 11 years old. Throughout high school I’d just dream about these hot rods and I knew where I could get a bit of a ’27 T and away she went. We ended up collecting a bit gear over the years — had a couple of goes at it — put it aside to build a couple of speedway cars, a modified and then a sprint car.
The Jag V12 has been updated with an EFI system since he raced on the salt. Home made, of course
How long has the T been on the road?
I had it on the road in 1974, that was when it was channelled with cycle fenders and full height windscreen. It had a 361 Dodge V8 in it out of a ’59 Dodge Custom Royal — I think. Had a three-speed stick and overdrive in it out of a ’38 Dodge, a Cusso diff, XT Falcon brakes fitted on to Chrysler stubs on a Ford axle at the front.
Phil found a gearbox back in 1970 for this '38 HD 1200 4-speed and then went on to find the rest
A real bitser!
We used what we had. It had $100 worth of chrome plating which would equal $1000 today, at least! I know that because when I re-did the car I had about the same amount of stuff chromed on it.
That's a Rolls Royce Meteor V12 with a couple of blowers sitting on top for laughs. Land speed monster, maybe?
It’s got a V12 Jag in it now, when did that go in?
After the 361 started to rattle I put a 302 Cleveland in it for a few years, never did a great deal of miles, but went to a few events. We didn’t go to many rod runs back then because they were always on at Easter time which was always when we were getting ready for seeding.
So what possessed you to put the Jag in it?
I had a Jag motor. I bought one at a clearing sale for $200. It ended up costing me a bit more than that before I got it in there. Jags you could pick up for junk back then, everyone was pulling the V12s out and putting 350 Chevs in.
Yep, and they went faster, used less petrol and didn’t overheat.
But they probably still leaked about the same amount of oil, or maybe a little bit less [laughs].
Has the red metalflake always been on the car?
It was always red metalflake but I re-done it again.
I suppose you do the paint yourself?
Yeah, rough as shit but it’s alright. I’m not into paying 10 grand for a paintjob. You can have a lot fun for 10 grand without it being shiny as a shit sandwich, can’t ya?
I’ve notice your car and Ron’s have pretty heavy duty rear-ends in them.
It’s a Jones quickchange. I bought it brand new for the sprint car and never used it. I put ’39 Ford ¾-ton truck left-hand axle housings on it. That’s what these old quickchanges were made for, for that old Ford stuff, in the early days. The hubs on Ronnie’s car are aluminium, they’re race car ones. They have the wide-five pattern similar to a ’36 car. They’re a lot heavier though because they’re full-floating.
Phil's got plans for everything in the sheds, it's just a matter of living long enough to finish them all!
If it was the 70s, how come you didn’t to a T-bucket?
I reckon they look better with the turtle deck. I was lucky enough to find an original, but it was pretty rusty, so I ended up copying it. I made all the rear quarters myself, but I didn’t put the wheel arch reveals in it because I wanted to shift the rear axle back a little bit.
You’ve got a fair bit kicking around in the shed, a SOHC motor, a Hemi, a couple of bikes. What’s next in line?
I’m thinking of building a ’34 two-door sedan to put the Hemi in. I was going to chop up an Aussie body and convert it. Everyone will tell you it can’t be done, but I’m sure it can — if you do it properly. I’ve got enough ’34 shit laying around to cut up that it’s not going to affect a good car. Problem is, I’ve gotta to live to be 200 to get it all done!
RON’s wicked black ’34 coupe packs a nasty Clevo and has run 11.28 at almost 120mph over the quarter-mile, not a bad effort for your first hot rod, an absolutely stellar effort for your first car!
I guess there was no escaping the hot rod life with your dad being so involved?
He was always keen to get me into it, which was a bloody good thing, because I learned a lot building the hot rod.
It was your first car?
Pretty much. I had the ’70 Mercury Cyclone Comet when I was 17. I had P-plates up on that because I didn’t have my coupe finished yet, but I also inherited a ’67 F100 but I crashed that, so we turned it into the ’57 that’s in the shed.
So when did you start building the hot rod?
Must have been Year 8.
Ron’s shed isn’t quite as full, but there are still some cool rides in there including his ’70 Mercury Cyclone Comet
It’s an Aussie-bodied ’34?
Yeah, it’s an Aussie body that we found out near Darkan, just the cab part anyway. It was actually a coupe ute, so I had to get some quarter panels made.
I swapped a ’39 Ford ute for Ren Farrace to make us up a set of quarter panels. I actually went up and did work experience with him.
Has it always had the cranky Clevo in it?
Pretty much. We built the car to fit a 460 and C6. As a kid you’re always dreaming of the biggest and most powerful thing and a blown big-block would have been it at the time, but since it was quick enough, I left the Clevo in there.
It runs very low 11s, so it must be fairly serious?
It’s not a roller cam or anything. Stock block, stock crank, 2V heads that I ported myself with a 4V intake valve and standard exhaust valve. It’s also got quad 48mm Webers.
You’ve got a Jones quickchange in your car as well, what gears do you run?
Yeah, but it’s got a Frankland hat on it, which probably fools a lot of people. It’s got the wings on it for extra oil capacity. It’s got 4.28s at the minute, which is a 4.11 ring and pinion geared down. It seems to run pretty good with those gears and the tall tyres.
You’ve got a few projects going, when do you find time to work on them?
Farming seems to take up most of my time as of late, trying to make a buck.
Bullitt inspired Phil to get this Mustang fastback, which he converted to RHD and painted in the shed
You’ve got to earn the money so you can spend it on cars!
Well, we don’t usually spend heaps on the cars. My coupe I probably got together for 30 to 35 grand whereas nowadays it would cost you quite a bit more than that. We just did everything ourselves — it took nine years to build — which is probably more an indication of how much it didn’t cost me in money but did cost me in time. It’s one or the other — you’re either time poor or you’ve got heaps of time and no money, you’re sorta snookered.
You must have picked up some good skills pretty young building the coupe?
It was a good learning experience. I learned welding, fabricating, panel beating, mechanics — I did my own gearbox — we made the tubes for the diff, they were a bit of Dodge truck tipper ram.
AND that’s what it comes down to. Use what you got and do as much of it yourself as you can. You could argue that the spirit of hot rodding is stronger out in the back of beyond, where parts aren't easy to get.
They might not be show winners, but they sure as hell are hot rods.
WE first spotted Phil and the roadster at Lake Gairdner during DLRA Speed Week 2004 and ran a couple of pics in our coverage of the event (SM, Jun ’04).
As if it isn't tough enough to get your car to the salt and race it, Phil drove across from WA, towing a trailer with all his gear and spares and proceeded to run 144.117mph. He then packed it all up and drove home and got back to work to pay off the $1200 fuel bill!
I made mention at the start of the story of the not-so-smooth road to Ron’s place. I managed to split my sump on a rock just out the front, so after checking out the shed, Phil towed me back to his farm where he proceeded to pull out the dent and weld up the split in my sump. He even had some Penrite oil and a new filter for me and the repair is holding up just fine. Hence, the rather greasy and dishevelled appearance in Simon Davidson's potrait.
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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