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."