It is amazing to hear how rodders got their start in this great hobby. Kevin Johns is a case in point. I was regular buyer of the US Hot Rod magazine in 1961. I looked at sectioned Customlines and thought that a Holden FB was so similar that I too could do this,” recalls Kevin.
The young teenager drew up plans for a sectioned and shortened two door with a 2 1/2 in chopped top, at a time when an FB Holden was a near new car. Using his skills as an apprentice fitter and turner and eventual toolmaker, his part time work in a servo, as well as a very helpful father, he set about the build. The radical custom attracted the attention of other like-minded enthusiasts and they soon started to visit him to see what was taking shape in his parent’s open carport, and he joined the SA Rod & Custom Club as a result. He completed the build with the only deviation that the roof was not chopped, as the cost for a new glass was prohibitive. With a hot side plate from his street FC, the radical FB was raced at various meetings at Brooksfield and attended meetings at Calder, with the revs dialled down as he needed to drive the car home.
But Kevin’s engineering brain knew something wasn’t right with the cars handling, whittling away after hours to improve the incorrect Ackerman angle bought about by the shortened wheelbase. That backyard engineering knowledge was a godsend for other club members. One was a young fellow club member, Tim Bartrop who set out with Kev to fine tune the adaption of an Austin 1800 rack and pinion steering to early Holdens that worked correctly. That initial work and resultant publicity ensured this conversion went on to become a successful upgrade on Holden front end fitments for many years.
Kev’s backyard ability matched by his ability to be innovative. His 1934 Chevy coupe has now clocked over 700,000 miles and is still his everyday transport. Is that an Aussie record? Even if it’s not, Kev enjoys his hot rod and has travelled Australia in it with his wife, Pam to enjoy the lifestyle that street rodding brings. Needless to say the Chev has utilised various engine combos from a Blue Flame straight six to a 1200cc Corolla powerplant (because it was available) to a supercharged 283 and a gas fed 327 that still has plenty of grunt.
That innovation and backyard know how has certainly crept into his hot rod world in other areas. His involvement with the Technical Advisory Committee goes way back to 1972 where he was the club rep for a number of years, followed by a second term that commenced in 2006. 15 years later, Kev is still the club TAC representative, a role that has taken him afar to Whyalla, Barmera and other far-flung places.
“I enjoy it. I Iike to see what guys are building,” he says. “If I can save someone time and money with short cuts I have learnt, I’m happy.” Kevin is held in very high regard for his many years of commitment and work he puts in on the South Australian TAC committee.
That attitude has played dividends at the club level as well. He has been on the SAR&CC committee twice, but garnered “Club Man of the Year” award no less than six times. In the early days, he went to and participated in every event he could. That included hot rod shows, working bees on the Club truck while it was being built, and drag racing at Brooksfield and Calder.
Being a strong family man, he has helped his daughter put together two street rods for her to cruise in. He has built a number of street rods himself and is in the midst of yet another build, but the ex-Rowley Park speedway ‘34 Chev coupe stock rod that came with welded together doors and no floor is his keeper.
Kevin is a man who likes to be busy; that likes to participate and help out, and has been an innovative pioneer throughout the decades. He has earnt the credentials to become an ASRF Legend.
BY ROBERT RIGGS, PHOTOS SCOTT JOHNCOCK, GAVIN KELSO