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Here’s a car that played no small part in defining a whole era of car modifying… Henry Hirise lives!

Late evening on a weeknight in April 1979, and half the population — slumped on the sofa in front of the TV, in a semi-comatose state after a fish supper and bottle of pale ale — are suddenly jolted awake by the sight and sound of a bright yellow, customised Mk2 Consul driving through a big banner with the words, ‘Street Machine — the customising magazine’, emblazoned across it.

henry hirise

The 10-second TV advert clearly left a deep impression, as the next day tens of thousands rushed off to the paper shop to pick up the very first copy of Street Machine — featuring the car in question, Henry Hirise, on the front cover. With welded-up rear doors, a massive raise in ride height, huge 10Jx15 rear wheels, and an insane-sounding, supercharged Chevy V8 up front, few outside of the custom scene had seen anything like it before.

Thankfully Henry Hirise has survived, and after many years laid-up partially dismantled, has recently returned to the road thanks to the current owner, Bryan Whitfield. Even though he’s only owned it for around 18 months, Henry Hirise has had a big effect on Bryan — one that’s lasted over 30 years.

“I went to the Street Rod Nationals in 1979, and we heard it coming through the bottom gate,” he recalls. “Everyone was cheering and clapping — no-one ran a blown big-block on the street before then.”

henry hirise

Star Turn

Originally built by a guy called Stuart Vallance, who was one half a company called Slick Tricks, Henry was already a legend on the hot rod and custom scene, but the TV ad and feature brought it into the general public’s consciousness, and to this day, it is still one of the most-recognisable classic Fords ever created.

“It was everywhere back then,” continues Bryan. “You’ve got to remember that hot rods and customising were massive at the time. Everybody bought the first issue of Street Machine for the Henry Hirise feature.” Even by today’s standards, the performance of the Consul was electrifying. Street Machine recorded a 0-60 of 4.4 seconds and 0-100 of
8.9 seconds for the feature — all this from a car which wasn’t exactly featherweight.

After Vallance had done what he wanted to with Henry Hirise, the car passed through various owners (and underwent several engine changes) until in 1988, it ended up in the garage of serial custom car owner and builder, Keith Killick. By then it was in a pretty bad way, and Keith elected to have a full chassis built for it. “Previously, it had a pair of rails coming forward with bars tied to the bulkhead,” explains Bryan, “so the chassis is a much better set-up.”

Terry Barrow was the man responsible for the chassis build, and it was all done at Keith’s house, ending up as a rolling chassis in 1993. However, with too many projects on the go, progress on the Consul slowed, and striking while the iron was hot, in 2009 Bryan made Keith an offer he couldn’t refuse. Most importantly, he promised to do the car justice.

henry hirise

 

Busman’s Holiday

Fortunately, Bryan is in the right place to do that, as he runs his own bodyshop — Roberts Motor Bodies — and has built more than a few race cars over the years. “I enjoy doing stuff like this, so the rebuild wasn’t that hard,” he admits.

“Keith and Terry definitely did me a favour. 75-80 per cent of the chassis was finished, and the new floors and tunnel had already been cut, ready to fit, and Keith had cut out the recessed bulkhead and started making a new one. The body was a state in some areas — the rear arches were made of filler, and the roof was terrible. It was built in the ’70s though, and quality standards were a lot lower, then.”

Henry originally featured a complete glass fibre front end with removable bonnet, though Bryan has since made this one-piece, and the front doors, originally factory steel, are now Old Ford Autos’ excellent glass fibre items. “My bodyshop foreman, Bob helped me out a lot,” adds Brian. “When we were trying to track down the original colour, he found some unfaded yellow inside the rear window frame, and we were able to get a good sample off it.”

henry hirise

 

Bryan has tried to retain the original elements of the car, including recreating the decals and signwriting it wore in the Street Machine feature, as well as the distinctive drop-tube front suspension, which gives the Consul its High-rider status — and the 61-inch long ladder-bars!

“These were all made by Ed Wimble — a prolific hot rod designer who went on to do development work for Chip Foose, and the like,” Bryan explains. “They were such an important part of the car for me, that I had them chromed to show then off.”

Unbelievably, the whole car was rebuilt in just eight months, and that includes reworking the big-block Chevy. “It came with that engine when I got it off Keith,” Bryan says. “It was a stock 454 — basically a heavy-duty truck engine. It’s been bored 30 thou’ to give 468 cu.in.” That’s over 7.6 litres!

Raised Volume

With the Consul sounding as good as it looks, Bryan is more than happy to use the fully road-legal car despite its history. “Incredibly, it had never been up the strip, so I had to correct that,” he grins. So far Bryan’s run a best of 12.5 at 120 mph, with a less-than-ideal set-up. “I only had first and third gears, and those rear tyres are 30 years old. On my first pass I smoked the tyres all the way down the track. It’s a bit of a handful — you need to keep it on the gas all the way, or it’ll do the death wobble — but I enjoy it like that. I like overpowered old cars.”

Disaster struck at a show over the Summer though, when part of the supercharger was stolen. “The guys on Rods ’N’ Sods saved the day. They got a pot going, and bought the car a new one,” says a clearly touched Bryan. 

In fact, Rods ’N’ Sods forum members have been incredibly helpful in providing information and history on the car, and Bryan is the first to admit that he’s had a huge amount of help with getting Henry to where it is now. “Sometimes I feel like I’m just the car’s custodian,” he adds. “I’m just taking care of it for future owners. I do like driving it, though — I took the missus to Waitrose in it the other night. It’s a far more refined version than it ever was before, but I wouldn’t want to drive to London in it.”  

henry hirise

This feature on Henry Hirise first appeared in the February 2011 issue

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