Words & Photos: Mike Ryan
Hosted by the Victorian Hot Rod Association (VHRA), the annual Victorian Hot Rod & Cool Rides Show has become something of an institution for hot rod owners and aficionados alike.
Held over the Australia Day long weekend, the show has been running for more than 50 years and its testimony to the work of the VHRA that they manage to pack the floor of the historic Royal Exhibition Building with an amazing array of traditional rods, custom cars, street machines and other special vehicles year after year after year.
Adding the ‘Cool’
While hot rods remain at the core of the event, the inclusion of ‘Cool Rides’ in 2017 has seen the display vehicle offerings expand to include cars that don’t fit the hot rod mould but are nonetheless interesting machines and well-appreciated by showgoers.
So, whether you’re a fan of old-school hot rods, street rods and more modern takes on the category, street machines and pro touring-style cars, custom motorcycles and even factory-spec classic cars, there’s always something to admire.
This writer had been unable to attend the Vic Hot Rod Show for the past couple of years, so was presented with lots of new metal at the 2019 show.
Even before stepping inside the Royal Exhibition Building, there’s plenty to see in the grounds outside the main entrance on the eastern side.
A lineup of traditional rods, street rods and a few classics outside the entrance is standard fare, but the cars here usually change each day of the three-day event, so you’re likely to see something new each day. The day this writer attended, Noel Inman’s 1922 Model T rod, aka ‘Tall T’, joined the display.
Part of the hot rod scene for years, the amount of stickers adorning the windows of this eye-catching machine show that Inman isn’t afraid to get it out and about. But what may not be immediately apparent is that Inman loves putting Tall T’s 302 V8, C4 trans and Jag rear end to the test on the dragstrip, too, taking it to meets up and down the east coast. With its potent driveline and fibreglass body, wheelstands are usually guaranteed when Inman hits the go pedal!
Amongst the outside display cars, you’re likely to find vehicles for sale, too. This year was no exception, with a ‘bagged 1960 Chevy Impala and tidy ’32 3-window coupe looking for new homes.
Last year, a new element to the Vic Hot Rod Show outdoor displays was introduced when the western end courtyard was opened up for display cars. Combining this display with live music, a bar and shade-covered seating, there’s now a space to kick back and chill out for a while before getting back to the real business – checking out the cars!
Stars on Show
Ask a dozen people what their favourite car was at this year’s Vic Hot Rod Show and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers. That’s a reflection of not only the quantity but also the variety of vehicles that were on show this year.
The judges this year favoured Wasyl Rosati’s 1950 Mercury coupe that has been a trophy-winner since its debut on the show circuit last year.
At the Vic Hot Rod Show, this seriously-customised Mercury won Top Radical Custom, Best Engine Compartrment, Best Interior, Best Standard Paint and was one of the judge’s Top 5, topped off with also picking up this year’s ‘Coolest Ride’ award.
Sitting on an Art Morrison chassis, Rosati’s Mercury – called ‘Black Diamond’ - is powered by a supercharged 572ci Keith Black Hemi V8 producing more than 2,000hp (around 1,490kW). Custom-built Curtis Speed rims, gold brightwork throughout, a full custom interior and Charley Hutton paintjob only scratches the surface of what’s gone into this big-dollar, big-impact custom.
Just as radical was the ’38 Fordson E83W van of Jack Zee of Johnny Z’s Hot Rod & Custom Shop (see the breakout). Another Top 5 recipient, this custom van, called ‘Speed Box’, also won the top Street Rod Commercial award, while Zee’s ’32 Ford roadster was judged as this year’s top Street Rod Roadster.
Peter Olver had a foot in both camps, with a very tidy ’32 Ford pickup backed up to his Pro Touring-spec ’64 Holden EH sedan that had been built in Tasmania.
Powered by a 5.7-litre LS1 producing around 375kW, this EH also features a custom chassis, fully channelled and lowered body, mini tubs, custom roll pans and a full VY SS Commodore interior as part of its spec. Olver’s EH was another Top 5 recipient, as well as top Street Machine Sedan, while his ’32 pickup was judged best Street Rod Pickup.
Tony Wilson’s ‘CHOODA’ may be familiar to some readers from its “burgundy” phase, but this ’32 Ford Tudor now wears new shoes and a new gunmetal grey dress, the latter courtesy of Charley Hutton.
Since it made its debut with its updated look last year, CHOODA has been travelling to plenty of shows, including Meguiar’s MotorEx, where it was one of the Superstars qualifiers for a second time.
At the Vic Hot Rod Show, Wilson’s Tudor was judged top Street Rod Tudor and picked up a Best Undercarriage gong, as well as a slot in the Top 5. The fifth and final member of this year’s Victorian Hot Rod Show Top 5 was Mike King’s ’64 Ford XM Falcon coupe.
Built by Deluxe Rod Shop and trimmed by North Central Motor Trimming, this coupe may have looked stock in its PPG Vibrant White paint, but had custom-made rear quarter panels, custom door skins, mini tubs, a raised bonnet hump, flush-fit bumpers and more.
There was a lot going on under the skin, too, including a Pav-Tek 363 Windsor V8 putting out more than 400kW, hooked up to a 5-speed Tremec transmission and 9-inch rear with a 4.11 diff ratio.
The front seats were lowered, while the mini-tubs required a reshaped back seat, trimmed in black leather that was also fitted to the fronts and even extended to the dash. The radio looked original, but was Bluetooth compatible and even had voice activation.
As well as the Top 5, King also picked up the top Street Machine 2-Door award with his Falcon, beating out a pair of Dodges, one of which was a second car entered by Rosati.
Roll on 2020
The VHRA have been adding new features to the Vic Hot Rod Show each year, so it’ll be exciting to see what they have planned for 2020. If you’re like this writer and haven’t made the Australia Day long weekend pilgrimage to this show for a while, make sure you break that drought and go next year - it’s sure to be a ripper! Go to: hotrod.com.au
Stuff We Liked – 1938 Fordson E83W van
In terms of custom jobs, ‘Speed Box’ was as about as big as they come. The handiwork of Johnny Z’s, this van started with a 1938 Fordson E83W: a humble delivery van known as the Ford Ten-Ten here in Australia.
From the factory, these vans were powered by a 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels through a 3-speed manual gearbox. In its place, Johnny Z’s fitted a supercharged 383-cube Chev V8, hooked up to a Turbo 400 auto and driving the rears – much larger than the original factory wheels! - through a full-floater 9-inch diff.
Changes to the running gear and rolling stock tell only part of the story, though, as the bodywork has been comprehensively modified, with a widened body, hugely-reworked front end, suicide doors, massive rear wheel tubs and custom tailgate included in the more than 300 body modifications.
The van’s interior was also comprehensively remade, with modern bucket seats, custom gauge pod, centre console and floor. To illustrate the work put into Speed Box, Johnny Z’s presented an unmodified ’38 Fordson van alongside.
Stuff We Liked – 1932 Ford Roadster
Michael Morris has owned this ’32 roadster for 15 years, but its history goes back much further – to the very early days of hot rodding in Australia.
Morris traced the car to Gary Wright, a Queenslander who bought it in 1962 and turned what was a Hi Boy into a deeply-channelled (9 1/2 inches) roadster, adding a Ford Y-block V8 with triple 97 Strombergs, a ’39 Ford gearbox and diff, reversed Mercury wheels, 3-inch Moredrop axle and mixture of Ford and Holden mechanical and trim parts.
Painted in Gulfstream Blue and trimmed in black vinyl, Wright won a bunch of trophies with his low-slung roadster before selling it to another rodder, who changed the engine, paint, wheels and trim. Subsequent owners added their own flavour, too - keeping some parts and removing others.
When it came to Morris in 2004, the roadster was little more than a body and shortened grille, but he nevertheless spent more than a decade restoring the rod to its C1965 spec. Some parts from its time in Wright’s ownership were found, but many others were lost, so period-correct replacements were used.
To say the finished article is amazing is an understatement. It’s also remarkably authentic to Wright’s original creation.
Stuff We Liked – 1964 Holden EH Panel Van
When you understand this EH panel van was built by professional motor trimmer Adrian Morgan of Kool Trim, it explains why the interior was so stunning.
A custom-trimmed pattern for the bench front seat was repeated on a second bench that had been added to the van, making it a kind-of two-door station wagon. The perfectly trimmed and fitted carpets were matched by the impressive full-length headliner, side panels and load floor trim.
Supplementary gauges had been added to the dash, along with a custom centre console, but Adrian’s work didn’t end with the interior…
Major work under the bonnet included a 202 red motor bored out to 208 cubic inches and fitted with triple 45mm Webers and extensive manifold porting as part of a long list of engine modifications. A Celica 5-speed and VN Commodore diff completed the driveline.
A highly-detailed flame job ran the length of the bonnet and the body, while a custom touch some show visitors may have missed was that the EJ tail lights – which were standard on the EH panel vans and utes – had been replaced with EH station wagon rear quarters and tail lights.
Stuff We Liked – 1954 Volkswagen Beetle Panel Van
Yeah, yeah, we know this isn’t a hot rod, but is certainly ticks the ‘cool rides’ box! While it looks like a modern conversion, this panel van version of a classic VW Beetle is actually more than 60 years old.
If you wanted a load-hauling VW in the 1950s, you had the Type 2 - aka Transporter, aka Kombi - to choose from. Nevertheless, enough people wanted their load-lugger to be based on a Beetle that a small number of European coachbuilders produced them.
These panel vans were built in very small numbers to suit an equally small niche market. The body is all metal and is not a cut-and-shut of a Kombi back end. In fact, the only Kombi parts on this creation are the tail lights.
The owner of this unit saw it advertised on Facebook in 2018 and was determined to have it. The fact the van was located in Norway didn’t deter him from chasing it down, purchasing it, then shipping it in its own container to minimise damage from other freight. And before you ask, the answer is ‘No’, this super-rare panel van is not for sale!
Stuff We Liked – 1968 Chevrolet C10 Pickup
The tri-tone paint scheme on this ’68 Chevy C10 pickup is new, but it’s not custom. It’s actually an option Chevy offered in 1968 to celebrate 50 years of truck manufacturing.
The gold is more of a yellow metallic on this example, but the white-gold-white combo was standard on the 50th Anniversary option package. What is custom on this slick pickup is just about everything else, starting with the 20-inch Rally alloys, which are connected to a drop spindle front end and airbag rear end.
Most of these 50th Anniversary option packages were powered by a 327 V8 (although they could be had with any Chevy truck engine offered in ’68), but on this example, a 350 Chev V8 is under the bonnet, matched to a Turbo 400 trans and Camaro 10-bolt diff.
Inside, the 50th Anniversary option package featured a gold dash, dash pad and visors, as well as white seats with gold inserts. In this example, that’s been replaced with a custom leather trimmed in saddle brown leather-look vinyl with diamond quilting, with the same treatment applied to the door cards and dash top. This unit was for sale at the show and had sold before the weekend was over.