Joseph Valore has just returned home to Sydney from the annual Chopped Rod and Custom carnival in Victoria. The three-day festival is of retro hot rods and chopper motorcycles, involving rock and roll and old-style dirt drags – much like an all-American 1950‘s hop-up fair. Valore is part owner and sommelier at Porteño and Bodega restaurants in Surry Hills, and was visiting Chopped as a spectator and food vendor as a part of the Porteño output. However, like the thousands of fanatics who attend this festival each year, Valore has a passion for pre-1965 custom cars, and restores and rents out classics under the name The Hills Classic Cars, a business he owns with his wife Anabella. broad Valore’s love of vintage cars started at a young age. “I would look through magazines at newsagent stores, dreaming of owning a classic,” he remembers. He pored over publications like Australian Classic Cars and watched documentaries about 1950s hot rod speed meets on the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah. Rolled up white t-shirts, denim or camel-coloured coveralls, slicked- back hair and flame decals – the Bonneville races were a true vision of ‘50s American car culture. Valore also cites films like Mad Max, The Cannonball Run and Sylvester Stallone’s bullet shaped ’50 Mercury in Cobra as having encouraged his antique automobile fixation.
“I learnt to drive manual on my grandfather’s Holden EH Special,” says Valore. “I would drive it in and out of the garage – that’s one of my earliest memories of loving cars.” Classic Holden aside, his first ‘real’ car was a ’65 GT Mustang, shipped across the Pacific from the US. The seriously cool coupe is a creamy Wimbledon white with deep red stripes and was purchased from the president of the US Mustang Club. “Now we call it my wife’s car,” Valore smiles. “For this reason I was able to buy more... now she enjoys cars as much as I do.”
Valore started The Hills Classic Cars with his wife Anabella as a way of sharing the couple’s growing collection of restored classics. The fleet currently includes a black 1950 convertible Cadillac, a ruby red 1949 Buick, a 1955 Buick and a 1966 GT350 Mustang Fastback with navy blue speed stripes, as well as the Mustang coupe. The cars are available to hire for weddings, TV commercials, movies, music videos and special events throughout Sydney at an hourly rate.
It’s the coupe that is Valore’s favourite, if he has to choose. “My ’65 GT350 with a 347 Stroker – it's loud and low,” he declares. “Close behind is the ’55 Buick, which was built by Justin Hills at Hills & Co. customs.” The sleek convertible Cadillac was also built by Hills & Co. “The saying ‘you get what you pay for” is very true in this industry,” Valore says. “I always purchase my cars from reputable builders, so our fleet is all of the highest quality.”
Sourcing rare parts for engines that haven’t been made for decades isn’t easy, but Valore says that more distributors are opening in Sydney with larger collections of parts, while most parts are still available from the US and can be air freighted to Sydney in a couple of weeks.
While we chat, Valore admits he has a passion for all kinds of cars, and will collect anything from a GM to a Ford if they are unique, but the focus at Hills Classic Cars is on those vehicles produced during the fifties and sixties – cars with engines that still hum with that low, nostalgic purr of decades ago. “I love models from this era because of the detailed curves of the panels and all that chrome and steel,” says Valore.
One of Valore’s dream cars is a ’51 Chevrolet Taildragger powered by a Big Block with vintage 8 stack Hilborn Injector coming out of the bonnet. The car is impossibly low, long and mean looking – an all-original, all- American gangster. Valore is in the process of making this dream ride a reality. The car is currently under construction at Lucky’s Speed Shop in Alexandria and has been painted by Gene Winfield, “...one of my idols of car builders,” he adds.
While he’s constantly on the hunt for new additions, Valore’s fleet at Hills Classic Cars stands as an exhibition of his knowledge and passion to date – each car has been restored with supreme precision and attention to detail. “I have a very long list of dream cars,” he says, “I am just slowly working though them all.”