One man’s quest to build a fleet of badass
For more than a decade, Grant Walker has been on a mission: a mission to build cars that stand out from the crowd — stuff that others only dream of or do nothing more than talk about. His workshop, GT Refinishers, is associated with a long list of machinery that has landed in these pages, including countless cover cars.
It comes as no surprise that a man so immersed in building customers’ cars has put his own dreams of custom builds on hold. This is often the case with tradies: the lawnmower man has the longest grass at home, the builder’s own home remains unfinished, and the car painter always has that long-term project gathering bog dust in the back corner of the shop. But, in recent years, Grant has managed to find enough time to piece together not one but four builds. There’s one for every occasion; from trips to the mall with the kids to a slow creep along the waterfront boulevard, or, if he ever gets the time, a blast around the track on a Sunday. And, as we found out, the man is far from finished.
The intention was only ever to build it as a track car, so the spartan interior was a must, with a pair of buckets, a Key’s wheel, and some body braces
A side effect of spending your life absorbed by custom car culture, as Grant has, forever seeking inspiration and forever trying to do something new, is that you can’t help but form a list of builds that you’d like to play a hand in. As long as he gets to carry out the build, Grant doesn’t care if it’s his own or a customer’s car — which is lucky, because his wish list is long and extremely detailed. This is why you’ll currently find four steeds in his garage, or, perhaps by the time this article hits the shelves, one or two fewer, if those go off to new owners, freeing up space for the next project on that list, which lurks somewhere inside his head.
“No car is a forever car; I just have cars that I want to build,” he says. “I don’t care if it’s mine or a customer’s, and once it’s done, I’ll never do another.” Take the 240Z of past editor Peter Kelly: a 240 was always on Grant’s list, and, now that he’s worked on one, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever build one of his own.
For Grant, it’s always been about the styling, and he’ll openly admit that driving fast doesn’t interest him one bit, which is why the current quadruplets have little focus on speed. Sure, two have had engine transplants, but obtaining dyno crushing figures was never his intention.
“It’s always been like that; you can’t legally drive fast on the road, so why bother? And I’m way too busy working to take time off to race at a track,” he explains. It’s been this way since he was a young punk rollerblader, customizing his second car, a CRX; de-springing numerous Mercedes; or shoehorning sounds into any number of Hondas and Mazdas. But all that had to stop when he was building up his business, and, for close to a decade, he went without a personal build, until he found a few spare moments, in between working 60- to 100-hour weeks, to get back into building cars like his old Datsun 620 or that rear-wheel-drive Civic.
His current crop was kicked off with the Benz wagon and a trip to the 50th state, Hawaii, for its biggest import event, known as ‘Spocom’. “Everything was bagged; I had never bagged anything, but wanted to give it a go on my wagon,” Grant says. “The day I got back, I figured out what I’d need and ordered everything.”
1993 Honda Civic EG
Engine: Honda H22A, four-cylinder, 2200cc, four-into-two-into-one stainless headers, stainless exhaust, chipped ECU, alloy half-size radiator
Suspension: D2 coilovers, Ultra Racing arms, Honda Prelude front brakes
Interior: NZKW Bride race seats, Key’s Racing steering wheel, Ultra Racing X bracket
Exterior: Pandem widebody, Pandem wing, respray in VW Tornado Red
Wheels/Tyres: (F) 16×8-inch Rota Madrid, 225/45R16 Toyo R888, (R) 16×9-inch Rota Madrid, 225/45R16 Toyo R888
Like any semi-sane man, Grant never intended to build four cars at once. Even so, one by one, they filled up his garage space, and he was damn sure that he wasn’t going to leave them stock. When Kei Miura from Rocket Bunny released the Pandem kit for the E46 BMW, the want was real — and when Grant’s painter, Ben, needed a car after his 86 blew up, it was all the excuse needed to build one.
One might wonder why a man who makes custom steel widebodies for bread wouldn’t just build his own kit. “I did my own on the Lexus, but the number of hours that go into it is insane,” he says of his decision. “To make a set of fenders, you’re looking at 100-plus hours. Look at that as an hourly rate and that’s $10K, when I can buy a kit and just bolt it on. I like the Pandem style, so I’d only end up making something similar, anyway. They design theirs on a computer, and when you make something by hand, you make it, stand back, and, if it’s shit, all that work is going in the bin to start again from scratch.”
The key to making any Pandem kit — which features radiused guards — look good is plenty of low. But, this time, Grant was a convert to airbags, thus the Merc received an upgrade and the old system was funnelled into the E46. All logical, right? Following the same logic, the big-body candy-dipped Fuga came about. The Merc suffered a common fault with its ignition, and Grant needed a car until the parts arrived. “I wanted something with some more power, so I searched Trade Me for three-litre-and-up sedans, and the Y51 popped up. I then Googled ‘bagged Y51’, as you do, and thought, yeah, these are cool,” he says.
A set of 20-inch Weds Sport Bazreias were sourced through Yahoo Japan and a new set of outer lips would bring them up to a more respectable sizing and offset. Over a period of seven months, parts were collected left, right, and centre, and, once the wardrobe was stocked with each and every piece, right down to the air-line fittings, the build was carried out very quickly. Like the other two, the Fuga runs a converted coilover with an airbag replacing the coil, along with some of Grant’s signature hard lines.
2009 Nissan Skyline 370GT
Engine: Factory VQ37, 3700cc
Suspension: BC coilovers, air coils, Air Lift 3P air management, Viair compressor, three-gallon (11.4-litre) tank
Interior: Dual Cerwin-Vega slimline 12-inch subs, Cerwin-Vega amp
Exterior: Motorsport front bumper, House of Kolor Brandywine Kandy
Wheels/Tyres: 20×10-inch Weds Sport Bazreia, custom lips, white centres, 255/35R20 Kinforest
Having always wanted a candy job of his own, a trip to the SEMA Show cemented his idea of dipping those big curves in House of Kolor Brandywine. A base of gunmetal, seven layers of candy, and six litres of clear later, and it’s the kind of job that has Grant scared to take the car out of the garage.
Also while at SEMA, reportedly after an all-you-can-drink episode and more Bubba Gump shrimp than is safe for any one man to consume, the Civic popped up on Facebook as an unfinished project back in New Zealand. It featured an incomplete H22A conversion and the Pandem kit still in its wrappers. Having wanted to build a Pandem Civic since Kei Miura’s renders surfaced, and with no one in New Zealand having yet built one, Grant pulled the trigger on something that he never thought he’d own: a track car, despite the fact that he never intended to track it. A flurry of activity over the coming months saw both the Civic and the Fuga finished and debuted at the Nationals.
2008 Mercedes-Benz C200
Engine: Merc 1800cc, supercharged
Suspension: D2 air struts, Air Lift V2 Digital Management, hidden hard lines
Exterior: BMW carbon front lip extension, graphics, tints
Wheels/Tyres: 18×8-inch Kudos, 215/35R18 Blacklion
2005 BMW 3 Series 320I (E46)
Engine: 2800cc, six-cylinder
Suspension: BC coilovers, air coils, AccuAir VU4, copper hard-line install
Interior: Recoloured factory trim
Exterior: Pandem widebody over-fenders, Pandem side skirts, blue mirror tints by ‘Rotavan’ Dean
Wheels/Tyres: (F) 18×10-inch SSR Fellini LS5 SL, 235/40R18 Zestino Gredge 07R, (R) 18×12-inch SSR Fellini, 255/40R18 Zestino Gredge 07R LS5 SL
With four completed builds, three of which are daily-drivers, one would think that maybe a break would be in order, but, as we mentioned earlier, none of these is a forever build. In fact, now that they are done, the boredom has set in, and Grant has found the muse for his next project: another build that no one in New Zealand has completed. All we will say is that it’s Pandem, will be on air ride, and will look damn good stuck in that Auckland morning traffic.
But even that build will be swift and ownership fleeting. “I really want to own two Ferraris, so I’ll just keep working my way through cars till I get there,” he says. It’s an ambitious goal, as you can bet that both will be chopped and dropped. But, in the meantime, Grant will just have to make do with a heavy rotation of fleet. There are worse morning decisions to make than which airbagged daily to fire into life, right?
Name: Grant Walker
Occupation: Owner, GT Refinishers
Thanks: Ben; Andy; ‘Rotavan’ Dean; Dustin; Shyam; Big Mac, for always putting me down; Nan at The Bling Co; James at 360 Link; Alex at Moonlight Racing; Adam from Speed Science; Scarles
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No 259 — click the cover below to get your grubby mitts on a copy