Inside Southern Rod & Custom, Shepparton

Inside Southern Rod & Custom, Shepparton

Shepparton’s Southern Rod & Custom has been turning out showstopping rides for 30 years. Head honcho Shane Rowe lets us in on the secret of his success

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

Southern Rod & CustomSRC 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

Southern Rod & CustomFull-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?

Ford Falcon XPWhile 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.

Southern Rod & CustomThere 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.

Southern Cross & CustomSRC 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.

Southern Rod & CustomWhat 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!

Southern Rod & CustomDespite 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.

Southern Cross & CustomA 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.

Southern Rod & CustomSRC 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.

Southern Cross Rod & CustomThe 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.

Southern Rod & CustomChassisworks 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.

Southern Rod & CustomSM 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.

Southern Rod & CustomWhat 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.

Southern Rod & CustomYou’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.

Southern Rod & CustomThe 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

Follow Southern Rod & Custom’s stunning builds at southernrodcustom.com or facebook.com/southrod.

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

Pro Golfer Stuart Appleby’s Custom-Built 2003 E39 BMW M5 Ute

By Boris Viskovic | Photos: Dean Summers, 14 Oct 2017 Features

bmw m5 ute 1896

What does an Aussie pro golfer drive? Other than golfballs, that is?

Some people reckon ace golfer Stuart Appleby’s mad for cutting up a genuine M5. We reckon he’s a genius

This article on Stuart’s E39 M5 ute was originally published in the November 2011 issue of Street Machine

THERE is only one M5 ute in the world and you’re looking at it. It’s unlikely that there’ll ever be another one built as it was a monumental task and one that Australian pro golfer Stuart Appleby initially had no idea how to accomplish.

BMW M5 uteWon’t be too many bales of hay or engine blocks going in there; even the golf clubs ride in the front with Stuart!

“I had no clue. It was just pure luck that I read about Southern Rod & Custom in Unique Cars and saw that they were in Deniliquin, only an hour and 15 minutes away,” he says.

BMW M5 ute onroadMuted or M Uted? Extra marks for having a clever personalised plate

“I drive over and bump into this larrikin red-haired, tattoo-covered bloke and think: ‘What have I got myself in for?’ But he showed me around and I was pretty convinced he knew what he was doing — not once did he give me the ‘what the hell are you talking about?’ look.”

The easy option would’ve been to start with something less expensive, like your plain-Jane 5-series V8, but Stuart’s got a thing for M cars and plumped for the best M5 sedan in Australia.

BMW M5 engineThe legendary five-litre plus the new exhaust system is good for 440 horses

“It’s got a Hewland rear-end, the same as they use in the European touring cars,” SR&C’s Shane Rowe says. “That’s what you paid the extra for. They were basically a race car in street trim, but with really good air conditioning.”

BMW M5 interiorCobra race seats and Schroth belts are the main deviations from stock. Red leather adds a little colour and the dash is covered in Alcantara

After stripping the car down to a bare shell — and taking thousands of photos so that they could remember how it all went back together — it was put on a chassis jig and basically cut in half. This was done because the car needed to be lengthened 125mm to get it closer to the longer wheelbase typical of a ute. After that, the body was taken back to its bare essentials.

BMW M5 ute custom“From the dash back, it’s virtually all brand new,” Shane says. “We took the whole car down to the floor pan and built the internal structures. We built the car from the inside out.”

Throughout the process, Shane and his team were very mindful that they had to keep the core of what made the car an M5 and build it so it would look like it left the factory that way.

BMW M5 ute conversionGetting that Hewland rear suspension working took a lot of work and it didn’t hurt that Stuart had some connections with the right people

“On the standard car, the parcel shelf is the top shock mount, so we had to have custom struts made by Koni,” Shane says. “That stuff was quite expensive but we were lucky because back then Stuart was sponsored by Bridgestone, so he knew some people who could pull a few strings.”

BMW M5 ute trayOne of the highlights is the CNC-machined tower brace in the cargo area (above).

“We wanted to retain that and add a bit of wow and pizzazz when you opened the back,” Shane says. “We had a friend design the whole thing in a 3D modelling program and then went about machining it out of a huge chunk of billet. It was a 1200 x 300 x 300mm block. Forklift material! There wasn’t much left when it was finished.”

BMW M5Shane says they built the car from the inside out

Shane says they built the car from the inside outAs well as the extra length, the car was widened 45mm. Once again, this was partially for practicality but a lot more to do with giving the car a big-hipped performance look.

“Stuart’s got a Lamborghini Gallardo in the US. It’s got that really wide supercar look at the back and he wanted to transfer that into the ute.”

BWM m5 ute customThe biggest headache and the part of the build that had Shane scratching his noggin the most was the tailgate. The solution was to use a beefy single central hinge. This was necessary as there is quite a curve to the back of the tailgate and neither Shane nor Stuart wanted ugly hinges hanging out the back.

Colour choice is one of the biggest decisions anyone building a car has to make. Stuart had toyed with the idea of two-tone paint but Shane was adamant that it should be black, so they came to a compromise.

BMW M5 ute conversionAn eight-foot-long panel was rolled into the door and sides then blended into the station wagon rear quarter

Essentially the entire top section of the car has a carbon-fibre finish. The bonnet is a Vorsteiner GTR full carbon unit, the roof has been wrapped in carbon fibre and the rear tray cover was first fabricated in aluminium and then moulded from carbon fibre. It looks purposeful but when you put it up against gloss black ink by one of the best painters in the country, it can look a little grey and dull. So there’s a trick: “We used a PPG 2K clear and tinted it with a bit of black, which makes the carbon fibre take on a bronze look. It looks sensational with the sun on it.”

BMW M5 ute customOut in the sun is where Stuart will be spending a lot of time in it — this is no show pony.

BMW M5 ute custom“The weekend he picked it up, he was just going to take it home but he ended up going to Bright and doing the hillclimb and he gave it a flogging all the way home,” Shane says. “When we had it at Summernats, he drove it home from Canberra. He’s not afraid to drive it and he’s not going to baby it.”

Stuart ApplebyStuart Appleby
2003 E39 BMW M5 Ute Specs

Colour: PPG Jet Black

ENGINE
Brand: BMW 5.0-litre V8
Induction: Dual throttle-body
Camshaft: Dual overhead
Exhaust: Supersprint headers, high-flow cats, Kelleners exhaust
Dyno: Approx 440hp

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox: Getrag six-speed
Diff: Standard with 3.15 gears
Tailshaft: Extended
Clutch: Heavy duty

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Springs: Kings (f), Eibach (r)
Shocks: Koni (f&r)
Brakes: 380mm Brembo (f), 355mm Brembo (r)
Calipers: Brembo eight-pot (f), Brembo six-pot (r)

WHEELS & TYRES
Tyres: Bridgestone 255/35/19 (f), 275/30/20 (r)
Wheels: Custom DPE Signature S20 19×9 (f), 20×10 (r)

INTERIOR
Seats: Cobra Suzuka GT
Wheel: Standard
Mods: Alcantra dash
Trim: Red leather
Instruments: Standard
Seatbelts: Schroth three-inch four-point
Carpet: Black
Stereo: Standard

Fiat exercises option to buy additional 3.3% of Chrysler shares

Fiat today exercised an option to raise its stake in Chrysler by 3.3 percent.

The move is part of CEO Sergio Marchionne’s step-by-step purchases intended to lead to full control of Chrysler and the creation of a merged company that would be able to compete better with industry leaders Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen.

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