Home » Here’s How ‘Project Cactus,’ Formerly The Most Hopeless Car In Australia, Is Doing Six Months After Achieving The Impossible

Here’s How ‘Project Cactus,’ Formerly The Most Hopeless Car In Australia, Is Doing Six Months After Achieving The Impossible

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It’s hard to believe it has been six months since Project Cactus was kicked off, with our favourite rust enthusiast David Tracy flying Down Under with a shaky plan and a bag over-filled with parts, tools and his trusty head-torch. What followed was an endurance-testing 23 days on the spanners, grinders, welders, paint-guns and even a paint-broom to turn a nearly-bare shell of a vehicle that was originally built over a half-century ago by a perpetually third-place manufacturer that hasn’t produced anything in Australia for over forty years. The highs and crushing lows of the build process have been documented on here and Youtube, so I won’t recap the journey of putting together Project Cactus and the trip to Deni Ute Muster. What I am here to tell you is how Cactus has held up these past few months since my Christmas update, and how I am preparing for another road trip that is shaping up to be even bigger than the Deni tour.

First, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the incredible tale of “Project Cactus,” watch the video below and/or read this.


Since that crazy adventure shown above, Cactus has been here with me near Dubbo, New South Wales. It’s been handy for doing “Ute stuff’” (like going to “the tip,” which is what we call the landfill) and giving “Lenny,” my 1970 Valiant Ute a break. I have finally moved all my panels and parts over to my shed from mum’s farm, so the place looks a bit less bare than it did in the Youtube series. There is still much organising and arranging to do, but having my parts-stach in one place at long last and in my own shed is a great feeling.

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In case you missed it back in January on DT’s Instagram Stories, Cactus is now digitized as a livery in both Forza Horizon 4 and 5 for the Chevrolet El Camino so you can now have a virtual Project Cactus of your very own!

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It took some late nights fiddling with the in-game livery designer, but I am quite pleased with the results. The Share Code on FH4 is 129 847 440 (old version 1.0 FH4 code is 659 497 423) and 150 100 349 is the code on FH5. 

[Editor’s Note: Holy crap that’s incredibly accurate! Laurence, how’d you get the lichen on the hood right? And the faded paint on the door! And the A on the hood! It’s amazing! And the paint job on the quarter panel! Amazing! -DT]. 

I always laugh during the loading screens on Horizon 5, seeing such a busted-looking ute on a stage with cheering fans has me chuckling every time.

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I have managed to attend Dubbo Cars and Coffee twice this year, and both times people remain dumbfounded that this ute runs and remains running. The 245 ‘Hemi’ six just keeps on keeping on with plenty of power. Re-tuning the ignition timing has made a big difference, and feels like we’ve gained an extra cylinder [Editor’s Note: That’s amazing, because I found it rather powerful as it was! -DT]. Shed-skids are almost too easy now (*allegedly*).

The replacement steering box is a huge improvement over what DT “drove” to Deni, which resembled an over-acted movie scene to stay on the road at 100km/h (62mph). The replacement box is also quite worn, and the ute is still not quite as stable at highway speeds as Lenny, but I am hoping a fresh alignment at a highly-recommended shop in town will further improve matters and make long-distance driving a little less of a chore.


After fixing up the shifting mechanism and replacing the steering box, things were going well, and then the shift linkage decided to act up again, so First gear and Reverse up and left suddenly. Turns out the problem was the rubber bushing on the gearbox shift-lever for 1st-Reverse decided to finally retire, and the excess slop was large enough to make shifting into those gears impossible. I have replaced the bushing with some rubber hose for now, and will investigate possible urethane or soft-Delrin solutions as new rubber bushings seem to be non-existent.

Here’s Lenny so you can see what this should look like:

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Here’s Project Cactus:

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I have added a pair of mechanical gauges, one for coolant temperature and another for oil pressure. Currently none of Cactus’ factory gauges work, but it is nice to know that the big-block V8 radiator is doing a good job keeping the inline-six cool, barely rising over 185F on this Bosch unit.

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Oil pressure is a nice 45 or so psi at cold idle, and about the same at highway speeds (approx. 2500rpm at 100km/h or 62mph). Hot idle is mildly concerning, with pressure dropping on the gauge to 15psi or so. I will keep monitoring this, as oil pumps can be a weakness in the Hemi-six. 


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I also bought a cheap GPS-speedo online, because New South Wales Highway Patrol doesn’t muck around and mobile speed cameras are becoming more frequent on major roads around here so guessing the speed could become an expensive hobby.

The Next Big Roadtrip

This latest round of improvements has been in preparation for Cactus’ next big roadtrip. On Thursday 16th March I am heading down with a few Valiant friends from Dubbo to the New South Wales-Victorian border for the biggest Chrysler show in Australia, if not the Southern Hemisphere, “Chryslers on the Murray,” which is held in the border cities of Albury-Wodonga.

If you are nearby, it is well worth a visit on Saturday or Sunday morning. If you come up and say g’day I might even give you a sticker!

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I have been going to this event on-and-off since 2008, and it has been the place where I have met and made many friends in the Aussie Chrysler scene, purchased parts to restore my Charger and keep my other Valiants running.

There are just-under 1000 vehicles usually entered in the show, from early Dodge Brothers products to imported (and RHD-converted) Hellcat Challengers. 

I know that’s not even half of the likes of the American Carlisle Chrysler Nationals, but with one-twelfth the population it’s a significant event and brings in cars from all over the country and occasionally vehicles from New Zealand have made the trek over.

The event also welcomes AMC vehicles, most of which were built as CKD (Complete Knock-Down) kits by Australian Motor Industries (AMI) which I must write about sometime as there are some Australian-only oddities dictated by the distance from Kenosha HQ as well as Australian government regulations of the time period.

I hope to have a report on the trip down and the show (and after-show activities) down the line for you all.

From there I am headed to Sydney for Monday night as Bek is going to  see My Chemical Romance with a friend like it’s 2006 again, so keep an eye on the Autopian socials should I end up planning a meet, likely somewhere near Homebush but ideally not involving Sydney’s worst roundabout!

All up this road trip will roughly equal the Deni Ute Muster adventure, at around 1,500km or a little over 900 miles.

With the biggest issues either sorted or improved since we went to the Ute Muster, I am pretty confident that Project Cactus should do well on this road trip. Who knows, maybe I will find something down at Chryslers on the Murray to take this project to the next stage. I have been keen to try forced induction on an old Hemi six!

Dave still plans to come back for another road trip sometime, but I know he has a lot on his plate right now so I will just keep on making improvements to Cactus and keep on doing ‘ute things’ with this machine that narrowly survived the fate of so many others.

Maybe we could recreate the  i3’s “Giga-World” interior; isn’t the timber in there Eucalyptus? My brother just took up timber milling as a hobby…


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39 Responses

  1. David, you know you should import both this car and your German monster back to the US and put them in the Autopian Shitbox Showroom. (ASS)

  2. I only wish I had the time to get my S-Series in shape for a road trip to COTM – haven’t been to one in several years. And my ute is a LOT further away from being ready, although not quite as bad as Project Cactus was!

  3. Maybe 3D print a new bushing from TPU? Not sure how it would hold up, just spitballing here.

    Good to hear that Cactus isn’t totally cactus (am I using that correctly?) and is living its best life back doing ute things.

  4. Thanks for the update Lawrence! Asa fellow Aussie autopian I’d be keen for a Sydney meet up! I live 10 mins away from Olympic Park so let me know if you need me to scope out some areas!

    1. I’m another Sydney-based Autopian not far from Olympic Park, really looking forward to this!

      I know a few organised car shows happen at the Silverwater Park car park, maybe it’d be a good place (but not sure if council rangers would kick out impromptu meetups)

      1. Cheers fellas, it will be the Monday night if it happens so nothing too much. If there’s just the three of us hopefully NSW HWP won’t think we’re a gang of hoons or something haha

    1. Thanks! I’ll try and get some good AMC content from the event. I’ve wanted an AMC for some time, even have a workshop manual on the shelf for a ’68 Rebel!

  5. I went and seen My Chemical Romance twice this past year, the first time was the day after my birthday and then again a month later and I totally ugly cried both times lmao. So hope everyone has fun!

  6. The thing I noticed about the roundabout are the idiots who, when they have an opening, DON’T GO. The chaos is their own fault. They are blocking traffic by NOT using the roundabout as intended, a place to MERGE, not a place to PARK and wait for a gigantic opening. Sheesh.

    1. Gauges here can be either system.

      We still use PSI for pressure measurement in most everyday cases, the temperature I went with Fahrenheit so I could compare with the 180F thermostat.

      And since this ute is over half a century old, nothing in it is metric anyway so why start now!

  7. I now want an article “What David packed for this trip?” everytime he goes travelling! Would it be a steering box by hand carry? a literal spare tire around his waist when he goes through the fully body scanner? 10mm sockets along with his spare change? Inquiring readers need to know!

  8. Can you use brass/bronze for those bushings? Probably last a good long while.

    I remember making brass bushings out of old .45 shells for the Z-bar on my Mustang. There’s something deeply American about that and likely wouldn’t be quite as easy to do in Australia.

    1. That’s also a great idea! I could use brass for the outer, and use 5/16 fuel hose for the inner and provide some rubber cushion.

      As for acquiring old brass cases, let’s just say I live in the country and leave it at that…

    1. It’s just missing a word.

      Maybe we could recreate the i3’s “Giga-World” interior [in Cactus]; isn’t the timber in there Eucalyptus? My brother just took up timber milling as a hobby…

  9. Coming soon to a video game platform near you, “David Tracy’s Shitbox Challenge”, a driving game whereby all of the cars are rusty and barely run at all. A big part of the game involves staying up all night wrenching. After you advance through the levels, you get a used-up BMW i3, but there’s a minigame that nets you a fresh battery replacement.

  10. Laurence is the guy you call when Mad Max becomes reality. It will probably begin on a Tuesday, because that’s how these major changes seem to happen. Yet no worries, Laurence got you.

    1. Thanks Mate! I hope to get back over to your part of the world someday and sample some Eastern Bloc vehicles.

      You know, it’s Tuesday here in Australia in fifteen minutes….

  11. “I have been keen to try forced induction on an old Hemi six!”

    Next Laurence headline on the Autopian:

    I Tried Something Not Even David Would Do, and Now I Am Dead

  12. Hopefully this inspires fellow Autopians to find forlorn, unappreciated auto carcasses sinking into the soil across the world and rehabilitate them back into functional and storied conveyances. It’s also a great excuse to drink watery beer, get to know your friends better and meet new ones: a win – win!

    1. Were money no object, I’d save every single Little British Car I could, and frankenstein it with either EV, diesel, or V8 swaps, plus aerodynamic mods, and turn it into something that could be used as an inexpensive-to-operate fuel-efficient daily that one could troll supercars/hypercars with.

      But alas. I barely had the resources to save the one that I have.

      1. I feel you, if I had a chance, I would love to rebuild various Saabs, but between the house and the exiting cars, never enough capital.

        Love this update and look for ward to more.

        1. Thanks guys! There really is nothing quite like working on a car with mates.

          I should find a way to incorporate all the farm-find ‘car-casses’ I stumble upon with my job into a regular feature here….

        2. The early Saab 96 and 1st and 2nd gen Saab Sonett are the most worthy choices, IMO. Especially if you can’t find an engine and decide to make an EV out of it, or want to swap in a more modern/efficient engine. Their aerodynamics hold up well aainst modern cars, except they have smaller frontal areas and greatly less mass. A 2nd gen Saab Sonett, just before it got the ugly wedge styling, could make a 180 Wh/mile EV or a 50+ mpg fuel miser if you put a modern fuel-injected 4-cylinder in it, and it wouldn’t need a lot of power to keep up with a modern Honda Civic SI, maybe 180-200 horses or so.

          1. My dad grew up on a dairy farm, (of course in Wis.) and when I was growing up he used to always say ‘no car needs more than 100 hp’. Reflecting on why he might have said this I think it was bc of two primary reasons.
            1. He was an English sports car enthusiast, most of which were pretty low hp compared to even ‘normal’ American cars of the time.
            2. Exactly b/c he grew up on a dairy farm, tractors even of 30-50 hp would be quite capable machines.
            Personally (when I was a kid) he had a purple (original colour), 74′ MG B GT as his daily that we Spring – Fall, which of course we all called ‘The Grape!’. Every year it would get tucked in to the garage until after at least the 1st rain (to wash off the road salt) the following spring.
            The Grape now patiently sits in my garage waiting for 1 rocker to be replaced bf getting her running again, which will happen this year!

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