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Behind the scenes with doctor detail Ian Neary

26 December 2014

Ian Neary’s passion for his cars and the hobby is showcased in both his ’59 Ford Skyliner and his 1968 Plymouth GTX project. You will have seen the ’59 at most events, where Ian is certainly not afraid to go the extra mile in car care and vehicle preparation. Call it showmanship, call it passion, or call it whatever you like, he’s a car guy with plenty going on, so we thought we’d take a behind-the-scenes look into Ian Neary’s world. 

NZV8: Ian, how did you get started in cars? 

Right from the age of 12, I was driving Mum’s Mini up and down the long driveway we had. Then at 15, I became an apprentice mechanic but only did it for two years, as the money was too tough compared to the family plastering business, so I went into that instead. 

I’ve always been into cars; when I was 17 I raced a TQ midget at Western Springs. I did that for about four years and then that had to go when I bought a house. I raced a kart at one stage with some good success too. Then in my late 20s I got into older cars: a ’38 Ford, ’77 Camaro, ’56 F100. I really just played with them as project cars but never completed them, as life, family, and kids took priority and I couldn’t get the yardstick to finish these projects as I never had the finances. I had some pretty cool old cars though.

NZV8: When did the ’59 dream start?

When the kids were a bit older and more finances were available. In 2002, I bought a ’71 Pontiac Catalina convertible out of Christchurch. I’d always liked the freedom of a convertible, the wind in your face and hair, and the enjoyment in the sun. In around August 2002, I was doing a plastering job and my offsider spotted the ’59 Skyliner in the guy’s garage. It was covered in dust and I just dropped to my knees, as I had heard about these Skyliners, and here was one in the flesh. I spoke to the owner, who told me it wasn’t for sale, but I owned it later that night.

NZV8: Persistence pays off, right?

[Smiles] Yup!

NZV8: What drove you to build the car to the level you did?

When I got the car, I had to get it running, as it’d been in the country for four years but it’d never been complied. Once it was running and legal, I used it for about 18 months and really enjoyed it, but it was very tired. For Christmas ’03 we took it on holiday up north, and we were cruising through the campground when the heater core blew on the floor and burnt our feet with the hot water. It was a bit of a mess, so we sorted that out and temporarily bypassed the heater hose, only to lift the carpets to dry things out and oh my god! 

With holes in the floor and a transmission that also needed repairing, we knew when we returned from the holiday that something had to be done. Pulling it off the road hurt (especially my kids), but it gave me the opportunity to do a rebuild however I wanted to do it. I knew I wanted a high standard, so that when I looked at it, it made me feel good. That was the criteria I went with for the build.

NZV8: Were there any influences or inspiration from people or things you had seen to build a high-level car?

Yeah, I think probably the big inspirations for me obviously come from the home of hot rodding, the US — from [Troy] Trepanier, Chip Foose, and Bobby Alloway. It’s the style, the design and build quality, which gives you the wow factor. Their builds always look fantastic, and they were all an inspiration for my build.

NZV8: Did you have any problems with businesses or people not sharing your vision back in 2003/2004?

I learnt very quickly that to do what I wanted to do, I had to do a lot of it myself. So it was a very steep learning curve. I had to learn how to design and build things to the standard I wanted. And when I couldn’t get the info I wanted, it was a matter of researching the internet, reading books, and studying things. There was a lot of hard groundwork that I had to put in, as a lot of people couldn’t see what I was trying to achieve.

NZV8: Who were the major people that shone through in contributing to the end result of the car when it first debuted?

Steve Levine was the main one for the actual finish of the car. He saw the vision of colours, and as warped as I am, he understood the artwork aspect. A lot of people don’t understand the name of the car ORGAZM. It’s about the internal warmth you get when you look at the car, that’s why it’s called what it is. So it was probably only him, everything else was of my own doing. Some people didn’t see or understand what I was doing on the car and thought it was wrong, but to my satisfaction, I guess I was right with the end result.

It’s a pretty cool feeling to get feedback from people on their very first impressions of the car, and even two to three years later, the same people often ask if I have driven it since, as it has that same initial impact. It’s such a neat buzz to see people’s reaction to the car.

NZV8: The car’s presentation and your interaction with people have always been a strong point of yours, why is that?

Yeah, I just love looking at the car, and when you’re prepping the car you make sure it’s always at its best. I get a lot of enjoyment from seeing people enjoy the car, so I put a lot of time and effort into making sure it always looks that way, and always take the time to talk to people who are interested.

NZV8: Run us through what car preparation you do for an event.

I plan not to use the car for one to two weeks prior to a big event. It’s not about spending all that time polishing, as it always looks this good. It’s more about going over the little things: clean underneath, the body itself, spending the time on simple things that people don’t think of — like to use cotton buds around your bezels and badges — and that’s where you get the glow and the shine.

NZV8: You’ve become known as a bit of a Mothers Polishes representative — how did that come about? 

When I had just about finished the car, I was worried about looking after the paint, as there was a lot of time and money invested. I emailed a car care–product company three times and said, “I want to use all of your car-care products on my car, where do I start and what do I need?” and they fobbed me off. So, by chance, a few days later at a show, I asked the guy at the Mothers stand about their products. He was very honest in saying that he couldn’t help me himself there and then, but the best advice for a show car like that was to come in and meet with the New Zealand distributor, Peter Ellmers. I duly took up that offer, hit a good chord with Peter, bought some product there and then, and visited over the following two to three months with tech queries about the products and procedures, and a great relationship stemmed from that. Then, as the car was finished, I had some serious issues with the Alpine head unit, to the frustration of the installer, as Alpine wouldn’t stand by it. This was around the same time as Peter had just secured the Kicker brand of car audio for New Zealand, so Peter suggested I put some Kicker in it. From there, the relationship just grew. Now I’m an unpaid employee of Mothers/Kicker [laughs], which has led to a great relationship. 

NZV8: This has also led to you attending the SEMA Show with Mothers USA, is that correct?

Yes, that’s correct. In early 2008, Jim Holloway, one of Mothers’ owners, spoke to Peter, as he was looking for a judge from the southern hemisphere for the Mothers Shine Award. Peter duly put my name forward, and assured Jim I was the most passionate guy they could offer. So I attended SEMA 2008 and was completely knocked out by what I saw. It was my first trip to the US and I’m now one of the 12 international judges for the Mothers Shine Award at the SEMA Show each year.

NZV8: A pretty impressive achievement! Speaking of achievements and the ’59, are there any particular milestones that stand out for you?

Yes, one thing that stands out is when I debuted the car at the 2007 Kumeu Hot Rod Show, where I won People’s Choice. Four days later, I was at the BP Autobahn Drury for the Mega Cruise to go to Muscle Car Madness. There was a guy who got the shock of his life when he saw this car pull in behind his Thunderbird. He’d been laughing with his mates that it’d never see the road. Over the next few days we saw rain, hail, and storms on the road before we arrived into Rangiora. Unfortunately, the paddock was that bogged in mud that I didn’t take the car in there, so I spent the afternoon back at the motel doing a complete clean and polish. A couple of people said you’re gonna miss out on the voting for the prizes for judging, but I didn’t care about that one bit. I just wanted to show my car. As it turned out, quite a neat thing happened. Quite impromptu that afternoon, a lot of people who are now good friends all gathered around, and while I was polishing my car, we had a drinkathon; it was fun and that’s where the ‘Dr Detail’ name came from. The best trophy I’ve received in that car to date was won the following afternoon. It was the Rodder’s Choice trophy, and chosen by my peers.

NZV8: You can’t get any better than that!

No, and so that’s the one that really stands out for me.

NZV8: You talk about showing it and driving it, and there have been a lot of other things you have done with the car — what do you get out of that?

Well, there’s a bunch of satisfaction to be had and it’s great to see others enjoy the car. It’s one thing to own it, but it’s great to see the enjoyment it brings to others. I’ve done a few weddings; and also for what it’s given my three children — I have a special-needs daughter — so I do some charity work, and not just with her, but with friends and family too. It was also great to be a lead car in the Hero Parade. I also wanted to put the car on the drag strip and see what it’d do. When I was 15, I had a Mk1 Cortina with a Halliday Racing Developments 1500 in it. I could crack 14s in it, which was pretty special at the time. All the Skyliner could run was 15.95, as the thing weighs over 5000 pounds [2200kg]. That wasn’t good enough for me, so in went some nitrous [laughs]. It’s very hard to skid the tyres, despite the 390 in it, but now with the nitrous it runs 14.1, so it’s a thrill for a big old car. I have also enjoyed racing it around a grass paddock and three-wheeling it as well! 

NZV8: How do you find the time to fit everything you do in?

First and foremost, find the irreplaceable woman in your life that fully understands your passion. Every single person on this planet has the same amount of time, but it’s up to each and every one of us as to how we use it. I’m self-employed, passionate about my cars, and love my family, so it’s about finding a balance. My days are busy with work, organizing the car projects, and sharing the family and household duties. On Thursday nights the family goes out for dinner and to the mall, and on the weekends we enjoy a family-cooked breakfast. Each night I work right through to midnight or 1am, and in the weekends I just go from about 9am to 11pm both days. The most critical thing with work is I never sit down for lunch — I do that on the run, between jobs. That way every minute at work equates to more time in the shed.

NZV8: What advice would you give someone who aspires to have a car of a similar standard, but becomes scared of the car because of the investment?

The advice I would give, is that the money to build a car is really irrelevant. That might sound a little callous to some people, but it’s not about the money, it’s about achieving your dream. That car there I take to the shops or we go for dinner. On sunny days the top is down, you don’t worry about locking it, just enjoy it and allow others to do so, too.

NZV8: You’ve recently rebuilt the car, why was that?

In March 2010, I took my daughter and four of her friends down to the Beach Hop on the Thursday. It would’ve been around 7pm, at the back of Waihi, we were just cruising down this road, which dipped down and back up again. Two seconds later, I heard a loud bang, followed by a range of mechanical noises as the right rear ladder bar broke, as did the Panhard bar. The right rear wheel was trying to run under the car, so it started rocking as if it were trying to roll the car. It went for about 80 feet and stopped alongside the kerb. As we stopped, I asked, “Is everyone okay?” My 16-year-old daughter replied, “Are we still going cruising at the Beach Hop, Daddy?” “No, sweetheart, we won’t be.” The fire service and police turned up; there wasn’t too much of an issue, as it was all put down to failing suspension, and we got the car towed to a local panel shop. It punctured the fuel tank and really made a mess of the floor area that houses the retractable roof. The whole rear end was twisted; it was a real mess. My friend Laurie picked the car up at 6am the following day and I returned to the Beach Hop later that night. It was the worst Beach Hop ever for me personally, not having the car there.

NZV8: That must’ve been difficult to deal with for someone as passionate as yourself.

Yeah, it was. It took around three months for the insurance to come through, as it was a difficult car to estimate the price of the repairs, due to my involvement with the build and the attention to detail. In the end I got the car back plus the money to repair it, but I couldn’t face the car for over 15 months. It just sat in the corner with a cover over it. With my 50th coming up, it was actually my wife, Tracy, who said it’s about time to give it some love, and that was the kick I needed. So I planned the rebuild — or rebirth, if you like — and thought about who would do the work, and then considered ways to improve the car. Terry Bowden of Terry’s Chassis Shoppe was approached to re-engineer the car, particularly the Ford nine-inch rear end on a triangulated four-bar system with the airbags. This eliminated the suspension bind, which led to the accident in the first place. 

NZV8: What was the extent of the damage?

The right rear ladder bar snapped at its chassis mount, which broke the Panhard bar, which allowed the diff to move around under the car and take almost everything out. It destroyed the driveshaft, ruptured the fuel tank, tore the exhaust off, and ripped the airbag mounts from the car. The floor was a mess with the spare wheel well, right-hand-side floor and rear quarter, and back panels being damaged. The right rear wheel arch got taken out and right next to that is where the retractable roof sits, so there was quite a bit of work to do.

NZV8: Who carried out all of the repair work on the rebuild?

Well, Terry Bowden took care of all the engineering; he’s so talented and does an amazing job.
Under his guidance I fitted the rear disc brakes. As for the panel work, I did most of it at home with the Porta Power. I made up new floor panels and realigned the roof and other panels. What I couldn’t do, Patrick O’Keeffe sorted at Boss Panelbeaters on his Car-O-Liner. In fact, we straightened the chassis and then trial-fitted the body before sending it to Patrick, and now the chassis is within 1mm of the original specifications. Jason Swan helped me to totally rewire the car once we got the car back from Cascade Auto Finish, after John had done a simply outstanding job of the final prep before applying the paint. He’s lined up to do the next project too.

NZV8: With the rebuild underway, was there any thought of giving the car a totally new look?

Sure, there was plenty of debate regarding that, but I kept coming back to what I consider the perfect combination of plenty of chrome and stainless, red and white paint, and plenty of detail. I worked a lot with John Lisle at Cascade Auto Finish to refine the colours to brighten things up and enhance the overall package. I call this stage of the car ‘the rebirth’ or ‘second coming’, and I chose a newer model of lady for Dean Lovich to airbrush onto the trunk as well. To some, the car may look just the same, and to some extent that’s what I wanted, as I really love the way it looked before the accident, but I just wanted to achieve a higher level of detail the second time around. 

NZV8: For a while there you had a fairly busy schedule with everything while this was getting finished, didn’t you?

Yeah, that started when John Lisle approached me in October 2011 to see if I could get the car ready for the 2012 National Hot Rod Show, which was held as part of the CRC Speedshow in Greenlane, Auckland. I kinda put it all back on him, as I said I would get the car to his shop in Feb. or Mar., so you tell me. The show was in July and the car required further paint preparation, so it got tighter as time went on. It was five weeks before the show when I picked up the bare body from John, all painted. There were a few comments regarding how impossible it would be to reach the goal of putting the car in the show, but that made me even more determined. I also displayed my next project at the show in the Unfinished class. 

NZV8: Do you want to tell us a bit about your next project?

The next build is a true-blue muscle car. Everyone has a different opinion on what a true muscle car is; mine is the Nascar era of a B-body Mopar, which leads me to a 1968 Plymouth GTX. I was waiting for another project to arrive from the States — an Auburn speedster that eventually took two years to arrive — so I started looking around. I considered a 1970 Mustang, which my friend Ash talked me out of before suggesting the GTX on Trade Me. The GTX hadn’t sold so I traced the car and went for a look one Sunday, and then came back the next day to do the deal. As I waited for the Auburn to arrive, I put the GTX into storage beside the house. It was 4pm on Anzac Day 2008 when I decided to quit the Auburn project (it was a major mess from the US) and embark on the GTX project, with initial inspiration from the Troy Trepanier–built ‘Sick Fish’ ’Cuda. It’s been a five-year build so far, but is nearing completion.