When David Jeffery debuted ‘BellaRat’ a few years back, it blew people away, so you can only imagine what happened this year when it was back — along with a custom trailer and tow car to match!

Picking standout cars at an event such as Beach Hop, where there’s vehicles of all shapes and sizes, is a tricky one. Regardless of whether you’re into Pommy classics, American muscle, or traditional hot rods, though, chances are that David Jeffery’s rat rods have caught your eye.
The original vehicle, named BellaRat — in honour of David’s daughter, Bella — wowed crowds at Sony Beach Hop 12, so much so that it won the overall prize for Top Car. Fast forward to Repco Beach Hop 16, and David would go on to do it all over again with his latest ‘SemiRat’ tow truck.

The idea behind the build was to create something with a bit more room inside it for the family, and something that could also double as a tow wagon if and when required. Just like BellaRat, David dreamed up the whole thing, and just started creating — no drawings, no plans, just a very clear and unique vision.

Knowing it’d come in handy at some stage, David obtained the body on which the build was based some years ago and left it sitting in a paddock until the time was right. The body itself is that of a 1927 Essex sedan.

However, there was no way an artist like David would leave it in stock form. Instead, it was out with the grinder, slicing it straight through the centre. Here, an additional eight inches of width was added before welding the lot back up. At the same time, five inches were sliced out of the pillars, bringing the roof height down to a far more acceptable level. 

A steel plate was then attached to create a new roof. The logic behind it is that, due to the thickness of the plate, it’s able to act as a seat-belt anchor point, allowing belts to be fitted in the perfect location.

That said, inside the rear of the cab, a custom roll hoop has been added to allow for lower belt heights. Earlier in the build, a Chev Suburban chassis was sourced, devoid of any suspension componentry, to which a Jaguar front end and twin Jaguar rear ends were fitted. Does the second diff work?

Well that’s something you’ll need to figure out for yourself. We can, however, tell you that attached to the front diff is a custom driveshaft linking to a Chev C20–sourced TH400 transmission.

Forward of this is a 454ci big block Chev that, like the rest of the vehicle, David built himself in his home workshop. Some flat-top pistons found their way into the bottom end, while oversized valves were fitted to the head. A Holley 600cfm carb was attached on the outside, and custom headers were created, leading to stack-style exhausts, which can be uncapped if required. 

Finishing off the metalwork is a Hudson front grille, which, like the cab, has been widened. This time, to add the required width, David added louvred panels, only finding out after it was too late that they were genuine Model A side covers. The steel drums, which now sit where the original rear wheel arches were, were originally intended to be fuel tanks. However, after realizing the consequences of them potentially hitting the kerb, David wisely scrapped that idea. Instead, a custom fuel tank now sits tucked under the fifth wheel set-up in amongst the twin diffs. 

At first glance, the whole lot appears to be bare metal, but it is in fact painted in three layers of clearcoat containing vintage gold gilding powder. The finishing touch is the hand-drawn lettering and pinstripe work by Stacey Roper, which was added just before the vehicle’s debut at Muscle Car Madness this year.

With the theory being for the vehicle to be able to tow, and David having worked for many years in the heavy-vehicle industry, he’s purposely over-engineered both the vehicle and the trailer, which is now attached. The custom trailer was originally two metres longer, but part way through its construction that extra length was deemed unnecessary, especially in the light of how much it added to the cost of crossing Cook Strait. 

Like the tow vehicle, the trailer wears load-rated rubber, and David remarks that the whole thing tows like a dream, despite using a fair bit of gas on the way from Christchurch to Whangamata. To help keep things cool while towing, he built the vehicle with twin radiators and twin transmission coolers. 

So how long did it take to build such a vehicle? Three years? Two years? Nope, try just eight months for the two of them from start to finish, 100 per cent road legal. Better still, being classified as a new, scratch-built, vehicle, it gets a three-year WOF — just the thing to shut up those who assume that such a wild-looking combination couldn’t possibly be street legal. 

Despite the condensed build time, David says, “It’s been a fun build, watching it slowly change shape with each step. That’s the great thing about building a scratch-built; there are no rules on how it should look, no instructions included, and it’s built for our liking and no one else’s.” 
What will he put his time to now that the whole lot is finished? Well, besides spending some overdue time with his family, he did mention that the advantage of a fifth wheel set-up is that it can be used to tow anything — anything, such as, perhaps, a custom camper? 

We’re guessing that whatever it is that BellaRat Customs NZ builds next, we’ll be seeing it at a Beach Hop event in the near future. 

LVV Semi-rat

  • Engine: 454ci big block Chev, flat-top pistons, oversize valves, custom cam, alloy intake manifold, Holley 600cfm carb, custom fuel tank, Carter fuel pump, HEI distributor, twin 2½-inch into four-inch collectors, twin Flowmaster mufflers, twin transmission coolers, twin radiators
  • Driveline: Chev C20 TH400 transmission, shift kit, XJ6 diff, XJ12 diff, custom driveshaft
  • Suspension: Jaguar front end, twin Jaguar rear ends
  • Brakes: Custom pedal assembly, Iveco truck booster, Jaguar discs and calipers
  • Wheels/Tyres: 18x7-inch and 20x8-inch Extreme Wheels, Hifly heavy-load rated tyres
  • Exterior: Widened 1927 Essex sedan body, roof chopped, plate steel roof, shaved handles, custom spats, Hudson grille, truck rear guards, clear lacquer with gold dust, custom pinstriping
  • Chassis: Chev Suburban chassis
  • Interior: Daimler front seats, XJ6 rear seats, Grant steering wheel, 1942 Chev truck handbrake as shifter, Dolphin gauges, rear roll cage, custom dash, alloy swaged door panels
  • Performance: 454 — need to say more?

Driver profile

  • Owners: David and Suzanne Jeffery
  • Car club: Custom and Classic Waimate
  • Age: Never grown up
  • Occupation: Transport operator, car builder, general engineer
  • Previously owned cars: V8-powered Wolseley, 1952 Chev, Dodge Ram, BellaRat, to name a few
  • Dream car: Not started building it yet
  • Why the hauler? We wanted a multi-purpose vehicle that was comfortable for the whole family and I come from a heavy transport background
  • Build time: Eight months, from nothing to fully certified
  • Length of ownership: Eight months
  • David thanks: A big thanks to my wife, Suzanne, for helping with most stages of the build, and my daughter, Isabella; my good friend, John Ackroyd, for his support and input

This article originally appeared in the NZV8 Beach Hop Annual 2016. You can grab your print copy of the special-edition magazine now:

Todd Wylie

Todd Wylie has been involved with NZV8 magazine since before the first issue was printed, and has been the editor for the last eight years. Growing up in the heyday of the Jap-import scene, he's not adverse to Japanese vehicles, having worked for NZ Performance Car previously, as well as owning a few well-known examples. These days he cruises at a slower pace in a 1956 Cadillac Coupe and dreams of building a Model A tudor.