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Dave Young – Naturally Curious

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A perfectionist by nature, Dave Young’s worked on a huge variety of machinery, but his skills, knowledge and experience mean even a 1950s hardtop convertible resto project doesn’t daunt him.

The life path of a mechanic is never certain. Once qualified there’s vast scope for different work in seemingly endless locations, ensuring jobs and life need never be predictable of boring. Take Dave Young, who started his career working on forklifts in Brisbane and now is a fly-in fly-out drill fitter working in Newman, West Australia.

The variety of mechanics jobs he’s undertaken is impressive, and in recent years he’s been drawn to the tempting classic car restoration game in his spare time. Not an arena to dabble in lightly, but Dave proves that core mechanical principles, experience and learning from others are key to success.

His current hobby is restoring a quite magnificent – and huge – 1957 Ford Fairlane Skyliner. These two-door finned giants were only the second series production cars to feature a retractable hardtop. And while many would recoil in horror at the thought of the potential wiring and mechanical gremlins that could occur with a 1950s hardtop convertible, Dave refuses to let such thoughts bother him.

Perhaps it’s his natural perfectionist nature. As the Fairlane restoration is on his own time, he’s building it on his terms.

“Solving A Problem Others Have Stumbled On, Or Watching Someone Else Solve It And Learning From That Is So Valuable.”

And if that takes a long time, so be it. It’s a job that has to be done right, and Dave finds the process relaxing and rewarding. Well, except for the really frustrating aspects, of course.

Growing up in Brisbane he was naturally curious about how things worked. “As a kid I was pulling everything apart, be it the vacuum cleaner or lawn mower,” he said. “That was my first foray into mechanical stuff, but wasn’t really good for mum and dad.” When his own wheels were involved– namely bicycles – he could explore his talents and curiosity further. “Every week I’d strip down my bike, re-grease the bearings and have everything spinning perfectly. I didn’t like any creaks or noises, and I suppose that’s when I realised I was a bit of a perfectionist.”

Dave served his apprenticeship on Komatsu forklifts, and says the fundamentals he learned served him no matter the mechanical task. “In those olden days we’d learn how to fix a water pump rather than replace it, and that’d be the same if it was on a Komatsu or a Toyota or Ford,” he said. “People get tied up on whether you’ve worked on something specific before. But if you work on or are diagnosing a ten-tonne forklift or a Toyota Corolla, seeing what it’s doing and when, the principles are the same.”

As a hobby Dave rode, raced and prepared motocross and road racing motorcycles. “I’d make sure I could get everything I could out of the bike mechanically,’ he said. “I’d read a lot of books, try different things and make minor adjustments. If I could find a quarter of a second in a mechanical way, that was preferential to riding harder. Although I admit I did do that too!”

His mining career has seen him work on trucks, dozers and graders with complex electrics, so little wonder he was drawn to a more old school mechanical project. “I wanted an older British motorcycle or a 1950s Harley or Indian, but they were expensive wrecks, and would have been very pricey to do up to the standard I wanted,” Dave said.

A classic car seemed a better value choice, and he could share the driving experience with passengers. He was tempted by a Jaguar E-Type, but again project cars were restrictively expensive, so he looked to America, back when the exchange rate was very favourable.

He spotted the Fairlane with its six seats, clever electric hardtop and striking style on the East Coast, had it inspected and then bought it ready for shipping to Australia. “It was meant to be a fixer-upper as I drove it,” he explained. “The body from the outside looked fine, the interior was spotless, but the chassis needed lots of work. I removed the rust, put about eight metres of steel into it on both sides, then had it sandblasted and powder coated.”

Dave stripped the 292cu in (4.8-litre) Y-block V8 – the correct type of engine but this one probably out of a Ford Thunderbird – fitted aluminium heads and new Holley 600 carburettor, and ensured every original bolt that could be salvaged was sent away for zinc plating. He re-did the differential with new bearings and seals, added brand new drum brakes and rebuilt the suspension. “Trying to stay motivated when not seeing much progress is hard, especially when you have to stop work while saving up for the next part,” he said.

Perfecting the body is his next task, but again, Dave seems undaunted. He’s been able to use his skills working on friends’ classics, and the old buzz of successfully completing a job has never left him.

“If you look at a finished job and know it’s perfect or as good as you could make it under the circumstances, you have to be happy,” he said. “Solving a problem others have stumbled on, or watching someone else solve it and learning from that is so valuable. I’d advise anyone to listen to other people’s opinions for a particular job – it may be wrong or not as good as another way – but you’ve heard their ideas. If you can’t solve a problem, the guy beside you may have solved the same thing a week before. Sharing knowledge will benefit you in the long run.”

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