By Joe Roberts @jrobertsjourno
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Videographer / director: Kirk Pflaum
Producer: Joe Roberts, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper
David Jeffery, of Rolleston, has always had a passion for cars, but started making his own creations seven years ago, when he produced the award winning ‘BellaRat’.
Named after his daughter, Isabella, the vehicle took four months to build and wowed the crowds at the 2012 Beach Hop – an annual New Zealand festival and car show where BellaRat scooped the overall prize for top car.
David has since single-handedly produced five other incredible cars, including a converted Semi Truck, appropriately called ‘SemiRat’ which would lead David to yet more award success at Beach Hop 2016, where it too won the top prize.
He now specializes in building rat rods - the spectacular custom cars that mix old and new parts and often emulate the hot rods of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
David, 50, told Barcroft Media: “Building cars is just fun to create as you go, you don’t know how it’s going to look until you’ve finished and it’s the end product.
“I don’t like to copy what other people have. I like to build cars that are standing out from the others.”
The former transport operator sold his tree-topping business three years ago and has been working full-time on his custom car business since.
David now only owns two of his creations, but he has made four others to order, including a twin turbo Diesel which houses a 5.9 litre Cummins engine.
Elsewhere, he is working on a 1930 Rolls Royce rat rod, using a chassis originally built in New York and a 506 Cadillac big block to “give it a little bit of hooves,” as Jeffery says.
He said: “I like rat rods because they're different to what you see in magazines. With rat rods it doesn’t matter how much you spend, they are your own creation and they’re just fun to drive.”
Although he’s built the cars single-handedly, the mechanic has received a lot of support from his wife Suzanne, who remains incredibly proud of her husband.
She said: “It’s amazing to see what he does in the garage. It’s been great to be part of that. He puts a lot of time into it, a lot of effort and even when he is sitting still, he is till thinking in his head about certain aspects of the build.
“I am very proud of David. I think he has achieved a lot.”
Though David’s output has increased in recent years, it was BellaRat that started it all off, and it’s this original car that remains David’s favourite.
BellaRat is based on a 1928 Dodge, with suspension taken from a Jaguar to make the ride more comfortable.
And while David is sure it’s the fastest of all the cars he’s built, he has yet to build up the courage to push it past the 130mph he’s already managed to hit.
Elsewhere, David added shotgun shells near the front windscreen and a police-hat-wearing skull on the grille, as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the difficulty he has faced making his cars road-legal.
“[It looks] like it probably shouldn’t be on the road but it is fully legal,” he said. “The rules are quite strict so staying within the rules and keeping it legal but keeping the style that you are trying to achieve at the same time was the hardest part.”
Dramatic design aside, there’s a more sentimental reason why BellaRat, which he says cost around £6000 for the parts used, remains David’s favourite.
He explained: “My favorite memory would be my daughter. She was at that time about five, lying underneath the car passing me screwdrivers.
“It was a nice bonding time and that’s why the car is named after her.”
Aside from winning the Beach Hop award, BellaRat and the rest of the fleet have drawn attention from the general public, who often stop to marvel at David’s designs.
“Out in public most people actually appreciate the work done to them,” he said. “Even if they say they don’t like them they still stand there and keep looking so that’s quite entertaining to watch.”
But the Rolleston-native says he would never sell his first rat rod: “We have been offered some good money for BellaRat, but it’s a personal car and I want to keep it.
“Eventually it might be for sale, once I am long gone, but I enjoy driving it.”