Car Restoration Projects
Paul’s last ride – 1927 Chevrolet Hearse
Historic Vehicles website co-editor Jim Gibson is a member of the NSW Milton Ulladulla Vintage & Classic Car Club, which was founded in 1991 by a group that included one Paul Ashby. Paul passed away in December 2020, just before the 30th anniversary of the club he helped found. However, he left a lasting legacy, including the 1927 Chevrolet hearse in which he took his last ride.
Paul Ashby was a master craftsman and particularly gifted at restoring old vehicles. Apart from rebuilding his own vehicles, including a magnificent Model T Ford, Paul waved his magic wand over many vehicles, including Ulladulla Funeral Services’ 1927 Chevrolet Hearse.
The hearse restoration project began in 2001, when undertakers Simon and Kayleen Law received a phone call from Kayleen’s uncle:
“ I know about an old hearse that’s residing in Bathurst,” said Uncle George. “ I thought you might want to buy it for your business.”
Thus began a series of phone calls with the vehicle’s then owners, who revealed that it was was a ‘star’ in Movietone’s film, Phar Lap and, before that was the hearse that carried Dame Nellie Melba, in her funeral cortege, back in February 1931.
Given that association the Laws called the Chev Nellie.
Simon’s father thought the asking price was too high, but Simon and Kayleen thought it would make a great promotional vehicle for their business and they went for the deal. The 1927Chevrolet hearse arrived in Ulladulla in November 2001.
It was obvious that the old girl needed some serious attention.
Simon knew of Paul Ashby’s reputation for vehicle restoration excellence and asked him if he would take on the task. Paul’s initial response was that he ‘was too busy with other projects’. However, after looking at some photos of the the hearse and planning some rejigging of his workload, Paul relented.
“Bring it over to Nev Storey’s shed tomorrow,” he told a relieved Simon law. (Neville Storey is another member of the Car Club and well known for his restoration of dozens of cars and trucks. His ‘shed’ is a huge workshop and garage that houses many historic vehicle treasures.)
No-one knew at that stage that Nev’s shed would be the Chev’s home for the next five years, while Paul Ashby worked his magic.
Paul started by removing the front panels and the woodwork in the ‘guest room’.
The metal panels were refurbished and painted in lustrous black by Tim Ryan.
The rear section’s interior woodwork was reused, or replaced where necessary.
Local mechanic Wayne Horsfall rebuilt the Chev’s overhead-valve engine.
Next was the driver’s compartment, where the old woodwork was replaced, before re-chromed hinges were fitted and re-aligned, to make the windscreen folding system work more effectively.
The steering wheel’s metal spokes and wooden rim were refurbished and new floorboards fitted.
Wherever possible, Paul Ashby rebuilt wood work, rather than replace it, to retain as much as possible of the original vehicle, but the original wooden-spoke wheels were too far gone.
He made replica spokes and fitted them to the rebuilt hubs and rims.
When the five-year journey came to an end, Simon came to collect Nellie and Paul made one stipulation: he was to be the first to ride in the back of the fully restored vehicle. That mystified Simon, who intended to put Nellie to work straight away. Also, he said that Nellie looked magnificent and couldn’t understand what Paul meant by ‘fully restored’.
Paul Ashby handed Simon a small, non-essential bracket that fitted into the ‘guest room’ and said the hearse wouldn’t be ‘complete’ until that piece was fitted. He asked that Simon fit it on the day of Paul’s funeral and they shook hands on the deal.
Sadly, that day arrived when Paul’s coffin was loaded into the back of Nellie on November 11th, 2020 and the last piece of the restoration was fitted, before Nellie conveyed Paul to the Ulladulla Civic Centre, where his life was celebrated by his friends.