This article on Snapper was originally published in the August 2018 issue of Street Machine magazine
SEARCH ‘Snapper and Frank’ on YouTube and you’ll find a little flick shot near Inverell, NSW, featuring an FX ute with a little bit of plumbing coming out of the engine bay. It’s had over 740,000 views, no doubt due to the fact that Frank (the ute in question) became world famous as Cranky Frank in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Snapper’s engineering brilliance marries an old Holden six, ’box and diff to a ‘fully airconditioned’, all-weather hoist. It works, and helps keep Snapper warm in winter
It all started when Snapper – or Colin John Macey to his mum – “got a little carried away”. A couple of Snapper’s old mates were approached by scouts for the Mad Max film, and they reckoned Frank would impress them. It did; the film guys thought it was such a cool thing, they bought it. Director George Miller had wanted everything in the post-apocalyptic Fury Road to be made from repurposed found objects. “Just because it’s the wasteland, that doesn’t mean people stop making beautiful things,” he said at the time of the film’s release in 2015. So Frank became Cranky Frank and went on to worldwide fame, leaving Snapper having to build another mud-run showpiece.
Read next: The cars of Mad Max: Fury Road
Snapper recalls growing up around Bonshaw, near the Queensland border, and going to school in an old Morris J2 bus. In his teenage years he remembers a local wrecking yard where he used to find bits to keep his motorcycle and scrub car working. The strange thing is, he now lives on the site of that old wrecking yard, and most of his futuristic-design builds come from the yard’s scrap. The only problem is that the wrecks had been bulldozed down the hill into the creek when the yard closed; Snapper has to drag the chosen few back up the hill. Green credentials? Yep. He’s helping to save the planet.
Snapper, design guru, in his ‘studio of ideas’ surrounded by the weathering old shells he has dragged up the hill from the creek. Reusing most things he finds, the man has green credentials in spades
Ever since the year dot, Snapper has looked closely at cars, always with a critical eye, trying to figure out why some looked the way they did. Why didn’t they put a sweep there? Why not use those boxy front guards there? “I’ve always had an eye for styling,” he says, “always thought most cars could look better. Very few are perfect. I’ve always wanted to do a Chrysler Royal. Slope it a bit and extend the fins; that’d do the trick.” But then, by his own admission, Snapper does get a little carried away.
Watch the video: Chopped and channelled Fiat Topolino rat rod
Introducing Frank n’ Stein! This is Snapper’s early tinkering with the FX ute that would eventually became a star of Mad Max: Fury Road
His first legal runabout was a Prefect panel van. It was not exactly original, as he added a Holden grey motor, Vanguard diff and Holden front end. Over the years he’s had plenty of motorcycles and other hotties, but their improvements were purely mechanical. It took a long while for him to get the bravery pills out and actually chop up a car. He was a bit timid in the early days. “Lacked the confidence, I suppose,” he says. “Then I thought I’d give it a go.” That ‘go’ became Frank. “Frank got a bit out of control,” Snapper chortles. Not a bad first attempt.
His affection for the FX and FJ is clear when he shows you his road car, a slightly altered orange FJ ute. It’s been in use for years, with a set of triple Webers to deliver a better supply of fuel to the straight-six. A trim has been given to the roof height, there’s been a little beefing up of the original’s flanks, and the bonnet’s been pancaked. On the tarmac it has a presence, but sitting beside his latest work-in-progress, the one he refers to as ‘FQ’, it looks positively mild.
Snapper loves his old Holdens. The road car (left) provided inspiration for his latest project, a slightly widened ute he calls FQ, which will run a 350 Chev and ProCharger for extra oomph
FQ is another thing altogether. It’s wide, it’s low, it’s flat and it’s an eight. The donk is a 350 with four-bolt mains and aluminium heads with a ProCharger sitting off to the side, well within the confines of the yet-to-be-made bonnet line. It won’t be seen when the bonnet’s closed – just heard.
The early days of Snapper’s ‘FQ’ project, showing the widened roof and his thoroughly modern workshop support systems: a couple of 44-gallon drums
Out Snapper’s way, things take time. During his creative contemplation of FQ, he also created a work of genius now known as The Sloper (SM, Nov ’16), the 2016 Uralla Dust-Up styling exercise that went on to steal the show at Summernats 30 when old mate Paul Cundy cruised in it all weekend and proved you don’t need to be all gloss and polish to shine.
The Sloper’s long, low purposeful lines are a blend of Buick, Plymouth and Vauxhall, with V8 Chev power and mismatched truck turbos. An old Plymouth was dragged up from the creek and provided most of the Sloper’s roof
The Sloper is mostly a late-30s Buick that was given a trim by Snapper. Starting work with his old-fashioned CAD pencil – a five-inch grinder – he etched lines down each side, and, using the old adage ‘near enough is bloody perfect’, he started cutting. Once he was confident he had a good-looking profile, he cut the roof from an old Plymouth, augmented by part of an FJ’s lid, to make a final, beautifully curved roofline. Bits were tack-welded in place and the tops of the old doors were trimmed to fit. Sure, this was made as a ’Ralla Dust-Up rig, but it still had to impress; the lines had to be right. A late-30s Vauxhall grille and bonnet cover the 350 powerplant, which has a set of mismatched truck turbos sticking outta each side for balance. Never did the suits at Fishermans Bend or Detroit pen a cooler-looking rig.
The ’Nats crowd loved the Sloper, and it even nabbed some silverware
To enter Summernats, The Sloper had to go through scrutineering, which meant Paul had to install stoppers, lights, indicators and upholstery. At the ’Nats it carried heaps of lightweight aluminium ballast too; empty VB cans, colour-coded to match the paint, fell out each time a door opened.
I’m slightly taken aback when Snapper tells me he can’t panel-beat. “Nah, mate. I have the ideas and can cut, crease and weld those ideas pretty well, but I don’t have the feeling in my fingers to do that hitting rubbish good enough. I’ve got old mate Bob Rogers in town to do that for me. Dunno if he minds helping, never really asked him. But he’s pretty good.” Another ‘old mate’, Scott Austin, applies any proper paintwork to Snapper’s creations, as out his way the dust is rough and his shed is, let’s say, naturally air conditioned.
Steph Kenny captured Snapper working on his speedway EH during a meet back in the day. Snapper never travels anywhere without his trusty block-and-tackle
Everywhere you look at Snapper’s place, you see the fruits of his creative mind. Even his outdoor car hoist is a work of pure genius – or madcap derring-do. Electricity does exist out his way, but that would involve wires being hung in the bush or dug a metre down in the rock. Much easier to use an old Holden straight-six, gearbox and driveshaft running into a diff plonked so an ‘axle’ runs vertically to where the hoist’s electric motor should be, and hey presto, the load goes skyward. An adjoining tree provides a branch to hang the fuel can, and it’s never in use long enough to really need a radiator. Mind you, on a winter’s day Snapper relishes the warmth it provides.
Snapper never lets rust sleep. A week after SM visited his design headquarters, he had perfected the widened bonnet for FQ
Out back there is a Hupmobile that has an XJ Jag six sitting in the chassis. There is also an old Vanguard station wagon that Snapper put the grinder through. “Thought I’d see how it looks with a small chop,” he muses. “Definite possibilities, but I’m running outta time. You’d need eyes on the top of your head to drive it, as the slot to see through is so narrow.” There’s a Range Rover, an old FJ gasser he used to race, and a few scattered plastic Holdens – some on their sides for easy parts removal. “They’ll never rust,” Snapper asserts. “Too much plastic in ’em.”
This two-wheeled ’Ralla 2016 creation uses a Moffat-Virtue engine, handmade wheels and Model T axles for forks. Snapper calls it ‘Bob’
Motorcycles feature in Snapper’s creativity, too. For the 2016 ’Ralla Dust Up he created a two-wheeler using an old Moffatt-Virtue stationary engine. The old 2¼hp engine was made in Rosebery, Sydney in the 40s and runs at about 20rpm. Wonderful! Snapper made the wheels using old Chev conrods as spokes. The front forks were once axles from a Model T, the chain once graced a hay bailer, the sprung seat came from a tractor, and a trusty Holden V6 provided the turbo. Starter motor? Hand crank. It’s named Bob, and sits out in the open, “allowing the patina to develop”. In Snapper’s world you give things time.
Snapper is reviving his father-in-law’s old workhorse: a 1930 Morris Commercial R-Type truck
One of his more conventional projects is a1930 Morris Commercial R-Type truck. It’s in the ‘to-do’ queue, and was his father-in-law’s workhorse back in the day. He saw it for sale a few years back and bought it back into the family fold. It will keep its original sidevalve straight-six and get a new tray. It’s hard to think Snapper could be so reserved, but while it sits there, its patina is constantly developing, and that pleases him.
Another great shot by Steph: Snapper doin’ the cruise on Byron Street, Inverell in his HG Monaro back in the late 70s
As we walk around his studio of ideas – the acre or so of weathering (“patina-ising”, as he puts it) shells in the back paddock– he stops and points to a small fuel tank in a rusted chassis. “Just imagine that placed out in the open with the valance from that thing over there? Quick! We’d better get outta here before I get carried away. I’m getting far too bloody old for this shit.”