Five Memorable Summernats Grand Champions

Summer is fast approaching and for many that means one thing; Summernats. Summernats plays host each year to Australia’s best show cars, street cars, burnout cars and more in a festival of cars, music and burnt rubber. Each year the elite entrants compete in a series of events to establish who is the year’s Grand Champion, with criteria stretched from the typical ‘car show’ presentation points to include a number of driving tests. A scroll through the list of previous Grand Champions is like a walk through one of the most impressive car museums you’ve ever seen, and in this article we’ll take a quick look back at some of our favourites.

Rob Beauchamp’s VL Commodore – Top Street Machine Overall at Summernats 1, 2 & 3

Rob’s Jaw dropping VL Commodore will be remembered as not only one of the meanest VL’s in the land, but as also a car that pushed the limits of the term ‘street machine’. Fitted with a Kinsler-injected 302 Chev at the time, the VL was a full blown drag car, capable of mid 10’s and barely suited to use on the street. It was the immaculate attention to details that won fans and judges alike to win the then named Top Street Machine overall at Summernats 1, 2 & 3.

Howard Astill’s Rock Solid 3 – Grand Champion at Summernats 4 & 5

Howard Astill’s XA Falcon went through a number of guises throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s before it was reborn as the gobsmacking Rock Solid 3. Featuring an ever-so-cool neon paintjob, Rock Solid 3 typified what the punters love about show cars – it was fast, loud and eye catching. The XA would dominate Summernats 4 & 5 before being parked to allow Astill to move on to the next of his many incredible builds. In recognition of his contribution to the show car scene, Astill was honoured as a Rare Spares Legend in 2009 – check out our blog from 2015 with Howard here.

Joe Lore’s BLOWJO XY Falcon – Grand Champion at Summernats 23

Everybody loves an XY, and you’ll struggle to find any better in the land than Joe Lore’s purple beast. Featuring a 351 Cleveland (stroked to 383cu) and a humungous blower, BLOWJO is an incredibly striking vehicle that ran away with victory at Summernats 23 in 2010. If you haven’t had the chance to see this XY up close yet, keep an eye out for the incredibly detailed airbrush work on the interior and underbody, this car is a true work of art.

Peter Fitzpatrick’s ’59 FC Holden – Grand Champion at Summernats 2

A six time Grand Champion winner, Peter Fitzpatrick is a name that stands without peer in the Summernats history books. At Summernats 24 Peter Fitzpatrick arrived with his ’59 FC Holden and swept all before him, taking out not only the coveted Grand Champion award, but also winning the People’s Champ and Top Judged awards, the first to do so in the history of Summernats. Peter Fitzpatrick is also a Rare Spares Legend, recognised in 2012 for his legendary contribution to the street machine community.

Mark ‘Happy’ Williams’ HQ One Tonner – Grand Champion at Summernats 30

The most recent Summernats Grand Champion winner, fan favourite Mark ‘Happy’ Williams and his HQ One Tonner was a popular winner with the huge Summernats 30 crowd. The Supercharged One tonner is a sight to behold and sounds incredible, becoming the first Western Australian built car to take out the Grand Champion sword at the 2017 event. An emotional victory for Williams, who lost his father only days before the event, in his memory the car’s license plates were changed from ‘2HAPPY’ to ‘4MYDAD’.

Which is your favourite Summernats Grand Champion? We would love to hear which car and why, so head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

When scrap comes back – The revival of the Datsun 240k

When it comes to cars that flew under the radar, it is hard to think that the humble Datsun 240k would ever become a collector’s item, but like many unique cars of the era, they are growing in appeal and value.

The 240k was released in the early 70’s from the growing Japanese Datsun brand and debuted into a market filled with HQ Holden’s, VH Valiant’s and XA Falcon’s. The vehicle was not always considered the best in terms of looks quickly labelled as unattractive by the media, slotting somewhere above the questionable 120Y’s and behind the sleek 240z. The car featured a straight six L24 engine and cost around $5000 at the time, however it was a big call to spend that amount of money on a car that was considered by many to be inferior to its home grown counterparts.  

Coming in both sedan and coupe variants, the car sold well, although with no performance orientated model, the car never garnered the curb side appeal of a GT Falcon or Holden Monaro. It was seen as nothing more than a little Japanese run around and this image of the car and moving times saw them move into a class that could be considered undesirable.

With the boom in technology and performance experienced in the 90’s, the little Datsun had lost much of its unique appeal. The price of scrap metal was soaring, leading many of these unloved cars to be traded in for nothing more than a quick buck, with the rest of the remaining cars living out their days rusting away in the back of paddocks and properties across Australia.

It wasn’t until the late 2000’s that demand soon began to outweigh supply. With numbers significantly diminished, the existing examples soon began to catch the eye of enthusiasts whose parents had owned the car or those who had their own experiences with the old Datsun. The once quirky Japanese vehicle had fast become a desirable classic and it didn’t take long before barely salvageable rusted cars were being snatched up from paddocks and sheds across the country.

From a car that was once considered worthless to one that is now fetching prices similar to that of cult Aussie classics, it goes to show that it can be hard to predict which car is destined to garner such a passionate following. The 240k has gained more and more respect over time and with its love it or hate it styling the car is always one to stir the pot, but we tip our hat to the humble Datto for adding another piece to our exciting and diverse automotive history.

Do you have one of these classics hiding in your shed? What did you think when you first laid eyes on the 240k? Head over the comments section of the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know!

Time with a Legend: Howard Astill

12. January 2015 16:02 by Rare Spares in   //  Tags: , , ,   //   Comments (0)

Howard Astill has gone all the way from casually modifying his XC Ford Falcon panel van in the late 70’s, to achieving one of the highest honours in the street machine world, the Summernats Grand Champion, not once but on three occasions.  More recently Howard was honoured again, this time as the Rare Spares Legend for 2009.

Howard’s love of all things automotive started with his family. 

“My father raced in hill climb’s and boats and was involved with a ford dealership. So it was pretty much a given” said Howard.

1977 was the year of Howard’s first ever event, where he headed to the ‘Van Nationals’ in Mildura with his XC Ford Falcon panel van. 

Howard’s first complete car build was an XA Ford Falcon which he turned into a stunning machine that was nick named ‘Rock Solid’. Howard’s hard work paid off, and established Howard’s reputation as an Elite car builder.

After various rebuilds of ‘Rock Solid’ and in its third guise, Howard finally achieved Top Judged and Grand Champion at Summernats.

In 1990 and in association with Street Machine Magazine, the build of a rare 1960’s Ford ‘Compact’ Fairlane would become a project car for the magazine and ultimately be given away as a prize to a lucky reader. Powered by a fuel-injected Ford 5.0-litre V8, the Fairlane was street-legal and one of the first new-generation ‘retro-tech’ or ‘pro touring’ street machines ever built. At its first outing at Summernats 5 the Fairlane obtained the coveted Summernats Grand Champion award. 

Never one to rest on his laurels, the next project was named ‘Race Rock’ and was an XA Falcon Hardtop built to win the Street Machine Magazine’s ‘Street Machine of the Year’ award. Appealing to a broad range of enthusiasts, with a supercharged engine, pro street stance, classy comp-style trim and a beautiful paint job, the Pioneer sponsored machine won the 1995 SMOTY and incredibly secured a third ‘Grand Champion’ award for Howard.

With the tragic death of his friend Leigh Demain, who had assisted in previous builds, Howard decided to freshen up ‘Race Rock’ in 1999 and turned the machine into ‘Die Hard’, all in memory of his mate.

“The biggest thing was taking the rear wing off it, which gave it a different stance. It got some new interior bits and a sound system. But basically, all I did was blow it apart, paint it, detail and put it back together. That car was about Leigh, nothing else” explained Howard.

In 2005, Howard once again turned his attention to street machines, commencing a long-planned Ford Mustang - The Mustang was debuted at Summernats 22 and took out Top Standard Paint, Top Coupe and placed in the Top 10 for the Top Elite Awards.

“I am proud to say that I have put my heart and soul into building some of the most highly regarded Elite-standard show cars in Australia and I hope that I have inspired a whole generation of others to do the same. Looking around the industry, the scene and the magazines, I know that modified car building in Australia is now stronger and better than it has ever been.”  

Howard explains why he continues to love the scene and events like Summernats.

“It’s ultimately about the people, for an event like Summernats it’s the once a year opportunity to catch up with friends and associates I may not see during the rest of the year. It’s a great excuse and all in an environment we all love.”

These days Howard runs a boutique car design and custom build workshop in Wollongong known as Astill Design.

 

“My passion has always been cars, but when you turn your hobby into your job, you need a new hobby!”

Howard now plays golf competitively to have a regular break from cars so he can remain fresh, focused and motivated with the builds he is working on.

One of the more interesting projects is one of the surviving XC Bathurst Cobra’s, one of only thirty ever produced.

“We are using quite a few parts from Rare Spares to put it back together.”

Another large project in the works at Astill Design is an FB Holden known as ‘Tail Spin’ that is going to be something special.

“It will be very unique and should be finished in late 2015 so keep an eye out for it.”

In terms of the changing of trends over the years, Howard thinks the quality of builds is the biggest change.

“The innovation and quality of cars now vs thirty years ago are light years apart. The top car thirty years ago would be struggling to get any awards at today’s events.”

Finally, Howard spoke of receiving the Rare Spares Legend Award in 2009.

"To receive the Rare Spares Legend award was an emotional thing. I have always put a lot of myself into my builds and this award gave something back.  I love to talk to the up and coming builders and hopefully inspire them to give it their all. This award rewards those who give unconditionally to the sport of street machining."