ANYONE who has built a car knows things rarely go to plan. We hear all kinds of horror stories: engine failures, shop closures, dodgy parts. But the number-one complaint seems to be about panel and paint. Steve Azzopardi certainly had reason to be a little peeved after he stripped his XB sedan back and sent it off for paint.
“It was there for close to two years,” Steve says. “And that was just to get it to the primer stage. It was a reputable paint and panel shop, but they f--ked it up more than when it went in there.” The problems started when his trimmer Michael checked out the primered body and said: “There’s something wrong with this.” He advised Steve to get paint and body maestro Drago Ostric to give the car a once-over. “Drago came and looked at the car and said: ‘Basically this car needs to go back to bare metal’, so that’s what I did. “I think I removed 12-15mm of polyester and primer. The paint and filler was so thick that the clips for the door locks wouldn’t go on.”
Steve originally bought the car from Canberra. It was clean, straight and rust-free – the perfect start for a tough streeter. After driving the car home to Sydney, he used the six-pot column-shift cruiser as a daily driver for six months before parking it in his parents’ garage. If Steve had known the Falcon wouldn’t hit the road for another seven years, he probably would have set fire to it right then. “There were a few times where I was going to pull the pin,” Steve admits, but he’s glad he stuck with it. “I never imagined the final result would be this good, never in my wildest dreams.”
After wasting two years – and at least $17,000 – on the paint shop detour, Steve changed the focus of the car. He admits having Drago provide help and advice along the way was the only reason the XB turned out so good. “I can’t praise Drago enough; if it wasn’t for him, that car wouldn’t be here today. It’s as simple as that. He really went out of his way to help me,” Steve says. But if you think Steve just handed the car to Drago with a thick wad of cash, you’d be mistaken. “We bare-metalled the car and I did the bodywork at my house,” he says. “But we sort of got carried away with all the extras.”
Originally the plan was to tidy the engine bay, tub it, fit a rollcage, paint it and then drop in a serious motor. So the tubs, ’cage and engine bay were all done before it went off to that first panel shop. While it was there, Steve had Trick & Mansweto build him a 700+hp screamer. Starting with a 351 Windsor, the boys took the donk out to 418 cubes and topped it with a pair of custom-ported AFR heads. With a seriously lumpy bump stick and a 1150 Pro Systems Dominator, the big-cube small-block punches out 718hp at the flywheel. Steve decided to back that up with a bulletproof reverse-pattern C4, 5500rpm Dominator converter and a 40-spline nine-inch rear end. So let’s call that ‘driveline sorted’ – tick.
But the body was another issue. So, with the XB stripped back to its birthday suit, and Drago whispering in his ear, Steve started massaging the metal. While he earns a crust laying bricks these days, Steve originally started his trade as a sheet-metal worker, so he’s not afraid to cut and weld. But once the cutting and welding started it never seemed to finish.
“You look at the list of what’s done, and then look at the car, and it doesn’t look that modified,” he says. “But when you get right in there you start to notice what’s been done with it.” Starting at the reshaped front bar, Steve made a custom grille out of steel, fabricated new eyebrow moulds out of sheet metal and cut down the scoop to size. In the engine bay he re-sheeted and smoothed everything, reworked the bonnet latch, made a new radiator support cover, flattened the firewall, smoothed the underside of the bonnet and hid the bolts for the front guards. Moving behind, Steve deleted the wiper panel vents, smoothed every door jamb, deleted the fuel filler, welded the rear valance to the rear quarters and sectioned the rear bar for a tighter fit. And that’s just the tip of this Falcon-shaped iceberg.
If there was an edge Steve smoothed it; if there was a bodyline he sharpened it. No detail was ignored, no matter how small. So it may surprise many that Steve Scotchgarded the underside. “Originally it was just going to be a clean 10-second street car, with nice paint and a few body mods – nothing like the level that it’s at now,” Steve says. “But now it falls into the category of a Street Elite car. It’s definitely still a street car though; I’ve already done over 1000km in this, and hopefully I’m going to race it as well. Not every weekend; just to see what it does.”
Unveiled at Summernats 27, the car’s second-to-none build quality was immediately apparent, and the judges scored it accordingly. Even with the street-spec undercarriage, the big black Falcon scored a spot in the Summernats Top Ten. “I was wondering if the car would make the Top 60, I had no idea it would make Top Ten. I didn’t think it was that level of car,” Steve says. “I’m really happy with what the car’s done now, and just want to enjoy it. I’ll do a few shows, but mainly I just want to drive the car and take it down the track.” Sounds like a good plan!