Daily Grind: a fat-fendered Master Deluxe

Posted in Cars, People

NZV8 magazine isn't just about fully modified vehicles — we also look at cool daily drivers too! If you're passionate about it, and you drive it to work every day, we can showcase it. We recently caught up with Rick Ballinger and his 1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe.

NZV8: Hi Rick, that’s a very cool daily you’ve got. What inspired you to go for the Chev over a more ‘sensible’ type of car?

Rick Ballinger: Well I’ve always been in love with the big fat fenders, curves, and the style of these cars. When I bought this one, it was just a bodyshell. I can’t see the point in spending all that money on a car and only driving it once a week — I drive this one as much and as often as I can. 

It sounds like you’ve got the right attitude towards owning this type of vehicle.

Well, you kind of have to, considering this car cost me an arm and a leg. Well, more of a leg, actually. The reason I drive the car as much as I can is that when I was building it, I actually did lose a leg. I had a tumour inside my heart and my whole body just shut down as I was carrying the engine — I thought I was having a heart attack. The tumour was what’s known as a ‘myxoma’. There were absolutely no symptoms, I just picked up the engine, and … gone. I woke up 15 days later from a coma, like, “What hit me?”.

So, the result of all that is that the car really did cost you a leg?

Yeah, when the tumour burst, a sort of jelly-like substance went through and blocked all my arteries off. This leg, being the first one, was too blocked, and they couldn’t unblock it. They were going to cut my right leg off as well. At this point, I’m still the only person to live through the tumour bursting. It should have killed me instantly.

Hell … looks as if you’re back in business now, though.

Well, I wanted to get it finished, and, with the help of good friends, I did. It took five years for us to put it together. I’ve actually had a little book made up documenting the build, which I keep with me in the car. 

Obviously, you haven’t let it beat you at all; you stayed hands-on in the build?

As much as possible, with not being able to lift stuff any more. I just did a lot of the nana work on it. There were a few times I was ready to give up, but everyone just kept on my case. I was told I would never drive again, but cars are my life, they’re my passion, so I just had to prove them wrong. 

So what sort of drivetrain are you running in it?

It’s got a 5.0-litre (304ci) fuel-injected SS Commodore motor and TH350 transmission, and an HT Holden front end with HQ calipers and rotors. It has a Commodore disc-braked rear end. It was a three-speed column-shift manual, so I kept the column shifter for the automatic transmission to keep everything looking original. The only thing I had to change about the body was the glass. It’s all custom glass, I don’t like tinted windows — how they scratch and bubble — so I had blue glass cut and it’s all certified.

What made you go for the 304 over anything else?

Well, I was going to put a 350 Chev engine in at the time, but a mate of mine had one of these Holden engines just sitting at home. Apparently the car had only done about 10,000km, and the guy had written it off. I rebuilt the engine, because it had been sitting around for a little while, and it worked out costing me about what it would have just to buy a 350 Chev. I’m quite happy with the 304 — it’s got enough grunt. Cold mornings, it doesn’t matter; just get in and start her up. It drives like a dream. 

I got what I wanted out of this car — it’s not a race car, it’s a cruiser. She cruises on the motorway, and everyone gets to have a good look at it. I’m really happy with it. 

Being your daily, how do you find getting in and out of the car all the time?

With the suicide doors, I can just pop the wheelchair up onto the back seat. It’s actually easier for me to get in and out of this car than it is with a normal one.

Have you got any plans for building anything else, or are you happy with the ’39?

I’d like to build a rat rod, but at the moment I just want to enjoy this as much as I can. It was certified just before Christmas last year, so I’ve had it on the road whenever I can. 

Have you managed to attend many events in it?

Yeah, anything I can go to. I’ve made a couple of trips to Hamilton, been to the Kumeu show a couple of times, and people are starting to notice it now. 

No plans to change anything on it?

There are a few little things we’re changing, like we’re going to touch up all the paint. As far as changing or doing anything to the car, just cleaning up the engine bay is all that needs doing. I’m very happy with how it is.

How are you finding it as a daily-driver, as far as the boring stuff like fuel economy is concerned?

It doesn’t cost me any more than it did to run my V6 Mitsubishi when I had that. It’s a bit more economical on the long runs, though.

Thanks for showing us your Chevrolet, Rick, and thanks for taking the time to talk to us!

This article was originally featured in a previous issue of NZV8. Pick up a copy of the edition here: