A Family Affair: The Toowoomba Hot Rod & Custom Workshop

Words & Photography: Luke Ray.

One of the more interesting aspects of getting out and about around Australia is not knowing what to expect when you pull up at a photo shoot. You know the car(s) that you're coming for, but there are factors that can make or break a shoot such as the location, the people involved and the other photographically interesting goodies that may be available when you arrive. Luckily for me, the Toowoomba Rod & Custom shop pulled the hat-trick and had all three.

Location? The perfect spot was sitting in waiting in the block right next door to the shop. I even found it before I found the Wilkies, due to a GPS fumble dropping me one street short of where I was meant to be. So when we got around to discussing where to shoot.. I confidently announced “I have the perfect location”, despite never setting foot within 50 kilometers of the area before in my life.

People? Check. Toowoomba Rod & Custom Shop is a family affair, made up of Kerry, Warren and son Jarred. The shop has been in operation for around 8 years now. Warren has been a hot rodder through and through all of his life, and has been building cars for as long as he cares to remember, but it’s only for these last 8 years that he has been making a life-long passion a full time business.

The previous business was a smash repair shop, so there has always been motor oil running through the Wilkie veins. The blood line now extends to 19 year old Jarred, who has been at the shop full time for the last 3 years. With a hot rodding father, Jarred’s been literally brought up around modified American steel. “He was recognising the difference between a ‘32 and ‘33 Ford by the age of three says Warren. There is an obvious passion in this family that goes more than skin deep.

Other interesting projects? Plenty! The Wilkies have some serious metal lingering in the shop. I can see a Camaro hiding under a sheet, a Corvette awaiting attention, and numerous hot rod projects on the floor. Bare steel bodies, glass bodies, sets of chassis rails lined up like a production line all waiting for their next modification from the hand of a skilled father & son team. However, the two cars I really came for are Warren and Jarred’s personal projects, a 1932 Ford Roadster and a 1928 5-window Coupe.  

Jarred’s 1928 Coupe is his first full project. “Of course Dad has helped me through it, but it’s my first full build”. Jarred went through various welding and body repair courses in his early teens, and started on the ‘28 at just fourteen years old.

Warren picked up the body at the LA Roadster Show back in 2006. “It was $1600 on Saturday, $800 on Sunday morning. I offered the guy $400 on Sunday afternoon and he took it.” adds Warren. When Warren bought the body it only had one door and no window panels. Two window panels were bought from Ford Barn, Kansas and the rear window panel here in Australia.

Warren had a couple of doors in the shop in waiting, so they went on no problem. The guys made their own deck lid in-house and skinned and louvered it. The firewall is stock and the lower deck lid panel is a Roadster one, not a Coupe. “They’re a bit deeper and it makes the car look better across the back” says Warren.

Five years in the making, Jarred’s pretty happy with the result and just likes to drive it. “I don’t do too many shows.. there’s just too much waiting around. I like the cruises and runs, the more social events”. Jimmy Shine From SoCal Speed shop is a fan of the car too. Whilst over from the States recently, Jimmy dropped by the shop for a barbecue with some like minded folk. He even signed the dash panel.. a true endorsement from a fellow hot rodder of the passion and craftsmanship that has gone into the car.

Warren’s Roadster goes back a bit further. Warren built it some 20 years ago, and it has remained pretty much the same ever since. It looks the part. A perfect stance, clean lines, period racing numbers on the side, Halibrand wheels.. and a killer soundtrack when the 327 small block kicks in.

The body is a stock ‘32 Roadster. Louvered hood tops and a screen laid back and chopped 2 inches are the only major visual modifications.

Driving away from Kerry, Warren, Jarred and the Toowoomba Rod & Custom Shop, I felt like I had experienced something pretty special. This wasn’t just a workshop pumping out projects from 9 to 5. This was a family. A family with their roots firmly planted in Australian hot rodding. There was passion rolling out of that workshop, not just steel and rubber. We can only look forward in anticipation to the creations that are formed from that passion, and roll out of that place in years to come.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 09.

Follow Jarred: @jarredwilkie.