If there was an award for the lowest, sleekest hot rod at MotorEx, Mike Renfrey’s ‘HAND MAID’ would have won it hands down. Loosely based on a ’33 Ford Roadster, Mike spent more than six years and 7000 hours in his home garage making this stunning all-steel roadster from scratch – and I mean from scratch. The chassis was plasma cut from 3mm flat plate then welded together to form the flowing chassis. The body panels started as flat sheet steel, which was rolled, beaten and peened into shape – including the door frames and body structure. The dash was hand formed, the seats were fashioned from foam-covered wood and steel. Other than the basic driveline, front axle and Jaguar IRS, Mike has hand fabricated everything else.
Although a panel beater by trade (now a TAFE teacher), prior to HAND MAID, Mike had never tackled a project of this magnitude. “I’ve done lots of rust repair work,” says Mike. “But as far as building an entire body, that was a whole new learning curve, that’s for sure.” Which begs the question, why? Mike recalls, “I feel the sport is getting a bit stagnate, not a lot of people are thinking out of the box. Many rods are magnificently built and all, but not a lot of thought or imagination are going into their design. It seems to be more about, ‘what is the best bit I can bolt on.’ I’d seen a drawing in an ad which was pretty close to what I wanted. I was also influenced with what Foose was doing in the early 2000s. I drew up how I wanted the car to look but soon realised that modifying stock body panels wouldn’t give me what I needed, so I made the decision to build it myself.
Around Mike’s display at Meguiar’s MotorEx Sydney he had hundreds of photos of fashioning raw steel into HAND MAID’s sleek, sexy, lines. Every panel required a unique buck, which consumed hundreds of hours of fabrication time alone. This really is a build of epic proportions – and I repeat, it was completed in Mike’s home garage. All the custom parts were hand cut, welded and ground to form their finished shape. Mike states, “I’m especially proud of the fact that there are no billet or CNC machined parts. I think it gives the car that home-made feel.” “A couple of my work mates contributed plenty of advice, including Steve Crompton, who helped me out with the paint along with colour sanding and buffing,” says Mike, “while John Viles a member of my club [Easy Street on the Central Coast] covered the seats and all the interior panels I made, in Ginger leather. Another club member, Graham Marsh, gave me a much appreciated hand with final assembly to make the MotorEx deadline. Other than that, I did it all myself.”
To some people, combining an independent rear end with a solid front axle might appear to be an odd combination, however it’s a very traditional hot rod set up. Besides Mike didn’t want to make the car look too futuristic. “I think open fender cars look better with the solid axle,” says Mike, “which is why I didn’t go independent in the front. It suits the simple theme I was looking to achieve.” One of Mike’s favourite aspects of HAND MAID is the swoopy, laid back grille, which required several jigs and a couple of hundred hours to construct. Starting with flat, stainless steel plate, each bar was waterjet cut then individually bent into shape before being clamped in perfect alignment for welding. The surround started as an aftermarket fibreglass piece that Mike kept modifying until he got it looking like he wanted – he then took a mould from the modified one to fashion the final piece.
Behind this very special grille is 350 Chev crate engine topped with a pair of Edelbrock twin fours. In Mike’s words the engine is nothing fancy, just a bit of dress-up gear and a cam to give it a tough sound. Behind the Chevy V8 is a TH700 and a Series II Jag IRS. Not happy to leave well enough alone, huge hours were lavished on the Pommy rear end. All the unnecessary casting lumps and bumps were shaved before the rest was meticulously smoothed and polished to give the 35-year-old design a modern look. Propping up the corners is Foose 18×10, 17×8 rollers, while muscle car-style Auto Meter gauges fill the all-steel dash. The body side-moulds were fashioned from stainless steel, which Mike sourced from Scotland. After being painstakingly curved to snugly fit the body, lugs were added to bolt them in place. The posts for the one-off windscreen were also bashed and hammered from 3mm plate, before being welded, ground and chrome plated.
“I was very surprised at how big an impact the car had on a number of people,” says Mike about his experience of debuting the radical-looking, low-slung rod at MotorEx Sydney. “I’m very pleased with how it came out and was stoked just to get accepted to display at MotorEx. I was not expecting to win anything.” When Mike’s name was read out as the Hot Rod Pinnacle award winner, there were very few who didn’t nod their head in approval. It really had created quite a buzz at the show. It’s a very special looking rod that is detailed to perfection and built to drive – once Mike has finished showing it that is!