Hues of pink, red and orange neon dot various sections of the massive 12-cylinder engine. The alternator belt whips into action and 450 horses roar through cast iron so clean you could eat off it.
Greg Craven smiles behind the wheel of a British 1956 MGA, fitted with a Lincoln Zephyr V12 motor and a four-speed Muncie transmission – clearly he is at home.
“My father had an automotive shop in the 40’s and 50’s, so I come by (my passion for mechanics) genuinely. The oil runs though my veins,” Craven says. “At a young age, when all my friends were interested in baseball and hockey or things to do with the outdoors, I was more interested in what made the lawnmower run.”
The retired mechanic’s enthusiasm hasn’t ebbed a bit since. In fact, it may have grown, like the “man cave” in his Langford home.
Stained glass, painted gas station logos, and an old army motorcycle accompany neon signs and the greasy tools adorning a garage, creating as much fashion as function.
“I love antique vehicles because they’re so unique. They’re a reflection of my personality. I don’t drive in a mundane vehicle, I don’t lead a mundane lifestyle. They don’t write songs about Volvos,” Craven says.
“Anything that has a piston engine, wheels, tires, I’ve got some sort of interest or intrigue.”
The self-proclaimed gearhead’s tinkering in his hobby garage turned into long hours for this project, following a phone call from his cousin, Chris Webb of Victoria.
Webb had invented a kit that could turn a traditional small-block, overhead valve Chevy motor into an eight-cylinder or 12-cylinder flathead (side-valve) he nicknamed the Webb Flatty.
A few months later, a team of 10, including Craven, joined more than 50,000 buyers and sellers who gathered for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show in Las Vegas.
“He did a fantastic job,” Webb says of his cousin’s efforts. “I put him under a lot of pressure, because I was under pressure. The poor man, I had him working 12 hours a day. He was a saviour, you might say.”
The group showed off Webb’s converted MGA, a car he bought as a teenage and later ran as a drag race car – it was appropriately dubbed Stripteaser.
The now-patented engine conversion was showed off to tens of thousands attending one of the biggest automotive trade shows in North America. The little sports car with the big engine took eyes away from the best Italian automobile makers that typically steal the show.
“Greg is a real character, a fun guy to be around. He has a sense of humour you wouldn’t believe from an old-school kind of guy,” Webb says.
“They don’t make them like him anymore. He is just living a bohemian lifestyle doing his own thing and enjoying life to the fullest.”
Craven says getting the car to SEMA was a team effort, pointing to work done at the Aichenbach Foundry in Langford, as well as hard work from the rest of the team.
He calls the appearance at the “Holy Grail of automotive shows,” the biggest jewel in the crown of his career, one that isn’t over just because he happens to be retired.
“I will never really retire, I will always work in my garage on something,” he says. “(I’ll be) fabricating something, making something, repairing something, inventing something, painting or doing one of my many hobbies … I’ll continue doing this until they carry me out of here feet first.”
For more information on the vehicle visit webbflatheads.com