Clayton McCullough always wanted to recreate the car from Dick Johnson’s infamous crash through the trees at Bathurst — except that he had no need for four doors

 It’s amazing what inspires us gearheads to build the cars we do. In the case of the wild XE Falcon ute you see here, it was one man’s disaster that led to another man’s dream. 

“My favourite clip on YouTube is the ’83 Bathurst Shootout, when Dick Johnson went through the trees; the car looked and sounded awesome!” remembers Clayton McCullough.

Followers of V8 Supercars may recall watching Bathurst highlights of this famous crash, reminding us of an era of ‘run-what-ya-brung’ racing. For many, it was fun, and a time that was a lot simpler, and Clayton wanted a piece of that action — but the vehicle had to be for the street. 

This is Clayton’s first-ever custom build, and he thought he would do an easy one to see if he was any good at it! The goal was to build the ute in the guise of Dick Johnson Racing’s (DJR) ‘Greens’-Tuf’ Falcon, but to use it as a daily-driver. Yes, you’ve read that right; this magazine-quality, fat-fendered Ford ute is actually driven daily and takes loads of rubbish and lawn clippings to the dump as well as carries the odd load of firewood! We should add that it is daily driven with no power steering to assist those large, wide front tyres that bulge out of the body. This tough ute ticks many boxes in the typical gearhead’s mind. We are glad to see something so different with a refreshing slant on things. 

It was after returning from a 10-year stint in the UK that Clayton decided it was time to get into the project.

“I started looking for an XD-XE Falcon ute to turn into a street version of Dick’s race car, which I found out was a Phase 6 body style,” he says.

Clayton found this ute on Trade Me — strangely enough, only one kilometre from where he lives. He drove it for a couple of months while parts were collected. Clayton says it had a 351 Cleveland and a dodgy C6 transmission, which was slipping. He took it to a local mechanic for an oil leak in the engine to be fixed. During the trouble-shooting exercise, the ute slipped into reverse and took off across the workshop, punching the wall out by half a metre. Luckily, no one was hurt. The upside was that the incident kicked the build into action. 

As Clayton collected parts and researched, he learnt that Wayne Draper, the Ford designer responsible for DJR’s bodykit and snowflake rims in the ’80s, was still working in Australia under the HO Phase Autos banner.

“A few years ago, when I was planning my build, I spoke with Wayne about my plans. Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to start my project, he had passed away. I then made contact with his son, Rob Draper, who has taken over HO. He was excellent to deal with throughout the build,” remembers Clayton. 

The project commenced with stripping the ute down to the bare bodyshell.

“My dad helped me enormously with the build, with his practical help, skills, and knowledge,” says Clayton proudly.

HO Phase 6 bodykits were very high quality, but, in Clayton’s case, fitting one required the wheel arches to be opened up a lot to provide clearance for the larger wheels and tyres he wanted to run. Clayton tells us that the front arches were not too bad, but the rear ones were more difficult. The neat thing here is that he gave it a go and basically taught himself how to weld the inner guards and wheel tubs. From there, he reshaped the rear flares into one piece from two pieces, because they are normally attached to a door. On reflection, Clayton says it was a trial-and-error project, but he is more than happy with the results. 

With the Beach Hop 2014 deadline looming, the ute was taken to A & M Panel Repairs in Pandora, Napier, where Tim and the team went over it with a fine-tooth comb.

“They did an awesome job in making my work look good,” says Clayton.

Then Elliot prepped and painted the ute in a bright BF Falcon Ford green called ‘Dash’. The end result is both stunning and vibrant. Clayton remembers the calls and texts he got from mates who saw the car come home from the paint shop; in bright green, it really stood out!

While the ute was at the paint shop, Clayton got the mechanicals ready and detailed. With a clean-but-industrial look in mind, everything in the engine bay is now either satin black or polished alloy, and, contributing to this idea, the electrics have been run inside the inner fenders. Keeping with the DJR influence, Clayton opted to run a manual T5 gearbox from a 1984 Mustang instead of the tired automatic transmission. The plan for the motor was to leave it relatively stock, due to its intended use as a daily hack.

“The manual box makes it fantastic to drive; it really chimes through the gears. But I may have to look at power steering; it’s pretty hard to park with the 285s on the front, but it is good exercise for the arms,” laughs Clayton.

Clayton had just six weeks if he was to get the ute finished in time for Beach Hop. His mates, Walshy and Eddie, had nominated the ute to be the BBQ, tent, and gear hauler.

“I took the old bench seat up so we could park in the main street of Whangamata and watch the cars. I also built two cup holders into the tailgate, because there is nothing worse than spilling your can of Coke!” he says. “The ute was finished on the Monday, and we left first thing Tuesday morning for Beach Hop. Nothing like a five-hour drive to shake down a new build!”

“One of my pet hates,” Clayton advises us, “is guys with awesome cars who never take them out of the shed. To me, you have to get them out there and enjoy them.” Here at NZV8, we couldn’t agree more — and what a machine to drive every day! 

1983 Ford Falcon XE Ute

  • Engine: Ford 351 Cleveland V8, mild cam, 650cfm Holley carburettor, Offenhauser intake manifold, 2.5-inch four-into-one long extractors, three-core radiator, 14-inch electric fan, hidden wiring loom
  • Driveline: T5 manual, Ford 8.8-inch diff
  • Suspension: Super-low King Springs, reset leaf springs, shortened gas shocks 
  • Brakes: Disc front and rear
  • Wheels/Tyres: 18x10.5-inch and 18x14-inch custom snowflake aluminium rims, 285/30R18 and 335x30R18 tyres
  • Exterior: HO Phase 6 bodykit, four-inch flares
  • Interior: BF Falcon dashboard, ESP Fairmont Ghia cluster, XD Fairmont Ghia centre console, Nissan 350Z bucket seats, sports steering wheel, Hurst shifter
  • Performance: Untested