Massive gallery: Cooly Rocks On 2023

The iconic Cooly Rocks On festival drew thousands of punters to the Gold Coast for five days of classic cars, rock ’n’ roll and all things retro

Photographers: Ashleigh Wilson

Hips were swinging and engines were revving as a record-breaking number of petrolheads rolled into Coolangatta on the Gold Coast to celebrate all things 50s, 60s and 70s at the 2023 Cooly Rocks On festival. Vintage fashion, rock music and car culture of bygone eras were front and centre over the five-day event, with plenty of hot rods, chopped sleds and classic cars lining the beachfront and surrounding streets.

The show is an adaptation of the Wintersun festival, which morphed into Cooly Rocks On in 2011. The annual event saw a massive 136,000 spectators in 2022, and this year’s celebrations look to have topped that. The extensive program included car cruises, club runs and a mammoth show ’n’ shine spanning six city blocks. If that wasn’t enough, live music echoed across the precincts, with swing dances filling the parks and an Elvis tribute competition making sure things were all shook up.

The action began on Wednesday as the Gold Coast Car Club led a cruise out to Seven82Motors in Nerang, which opened its auction house to showcase the latest inventory and celebrate the grand opening of Big Benny’s Diner.

Thursday hosted an earlybird show ’n’ shine at Greenmount Park, while the Nostalgia Markets offered an array of retro threads, trinkets, car parts and memorabilia for visitors to explore. Round one of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute competition began on the main stage, while others joined the convoy out to Balter Brewing. The SCARAB Car Club led the charge for an afternoon of beers and banter, and the day wrapped up with the event’s first-ever moonlight swing dance.

On Friday, the Kustomville precinct made a triumphant return following last year’s successful debut, showcasing some of the show’s wildest custom sleds, hot rods, coupes, and even an old fruit truck that had been given new life. Mark Duckworth, Festivals Director for Major Events Gold Coast, welcomed the Kustomville showcase’s second outing.

“For years we had hot rodders and car clubs that would come out but separate around the whole gig,” Mark said. “We thought it would be cool to create an area and celebrate the custom cars. As we got to know the guys in car clubs, they talked about all the cool stuff they could do like pinstriping and modifications, and it sounded great!”

The pin-up pageant added to the fun, with 12 beauties gracing the stage in elegant fashions embracing the rockabilly style of the 50s. Among them was Bunny Boulevard, who claimed the much-coveted crown.

The festivities carried on well into the late evening, with world-renowned Elvis tribute artist Shawn Klush taking the stage, followed by Swedish rockabilly trio The Go Getters, among other cool cats on the mic.

There was electricity and copious amounts of hairspray in the air as folks packed in on Saturday. Music was pumping all day as retro acts and rhythm & blues performers rocked the many stages. Slicked hair, leather jackets, high heels and rockabilly dresses were as abundant and vibrant as the Cadillacs and pick-ups on display.

Spectators flooded in from all directions for the massive show ’n’ shine, which opened at 9am and included more than 900 restored classics, lowriders, blown hot rods and one-off rides lining every street.

Among the artistic displays, merch stands and ratted rods, the Beatniks Car Club hosted a live roof chop, giving the audience a glimpse into the build process of their custom creations.

As the sun fell, 250 cars lined up for the Saturday-night cruise. The Coolangatta Hotel was a hot spot to watch the cavalcade of sweet rides and sink a few tins, and onlookers cheered as chrome-bumper Chevs, restored Holdens and all kinds of rare metal lapped the streets late into the night.

Sunday offered another jam-packed schedule and an enormous turnout as festivities continued. More captivating live performances had couples swinging across the dance floors, while others wandered through the markets and Indian motorcycle display, and the live car mods again proved to be a crowd favourite.

As the day wound down, a sense of calm fell across the beach. The sky turned purple and the rumbling sound of V8s and lumpy cams filled the air as drivers farewelled the festival for another year, their departure proving quite a spectacle in itself.

Cooly Rocks On will be back 5-9 June next year, so lace up your dancing shoes and grab your best girl for another celebration of yesteryear in 2024.


1: Justin Collins’s 1957 Chevy 3100 was built for the drag strip, powered by a 500ci big-block that breathes through an 8/71 blower, runs on E85 and makes 1000hp at the flywheel. The powerful combo sits on a custom chassis and airbag suspension, with a transbrake-equipped Turbo 400 for when Justin hits the track

2: Pin-up model Miss Roxanne La Roller embodied vintage beauty skating among the colourful display of classic rides

3: The high-gloss patina on Luke Kilpatrick’s 1954 3100 pick-up caught our attention. It runs a small-block Chev, TH350 transmission and airbag suspension, and Luke lapped his pick-up in Saturday night’s car cruise

4: Dennis Rogers cruised up from Newcastle in his EH wagon. For some extra grunt, Dennis slapped a 6/71 supercharger on top of the 253 Holden motor, along with a cam and a set of extractors. The real head-turner is the red Mazda paint with a touch of pearl and metallic

5: Dean Webb’s Sandman demands attention with its Absinth yellow paint and Candy Apple Gold flames. Sitting in the meticulously tidy engine bay is a 383ci small-block, backed by a ‘rock crusher’ gearbox and a Ford 9in diff. Dean and the van have run an 11.2 on the drag strip

6: Graham Young’s slammed, bare-metal 1948 Dodge pick-up is fed by a 318ci Chrysler engine, with a drivetrain to match. The independent airbag suspension set-up extends to the custom-fabricated gooseneck motorcycle trailer, all built by Graham

7: Georgie Wilkinson has been flat-out finishing her ’64 Chevy C10. After rebuilding the 350ci small-block and C-notching the chassis, Georgie could give the build its finishing touches. ”I got it back from paint and panel three weeks ago,” she said. “The turquoise colour is close to factory, but with heaps of Xirallic to modernise the paint”

8: Chris Boorer has been a regular at the event since he imported his 1957 Buick Riviera from the US eight years ago. Although the car was already in decent condition, Chris decided to give the Riv a facelift, wrapping the exterior in a striking blue

9: Joe Allia unveiled his stunning 1964 EH Holden, a father-and-son project that spanned three-and-a-half years. The streeter is aptly named, boasting a stroked 350 Chev built by Aaron Tremayne. With a Rod-Tech front end, five-speed Tremec gearbox, four-link and a 9in diff, it’s a trick bit of gear

10. Zane Waldon spent two years on the build of his custom 1950 shoebox Ford, sectioning the body and chopping the roof by 4in. The whitewalls and metalflake bumpers set off the DNA Tropical Green paint nicely, while the Chrysler grille and DeSoto tail-lights exude early custom style

11: Chris Langtry channelled his 1930 Ford roadster 5in and threw a 350 Chev and Turbo 350 trans up front. Check out the blue and white metalflake vinyl interior and chrome OE wheels

12: Brock Bailey and his dad Grant transformed their LX SL/R 5000 Torana into a street and strip car. The 308 was replaced by a 350ci Chev with a Holley 850 carb, backed by a rebuilt Falcon T5 gearbox. Flares were added to the original body, as well as a custom-made front bar, bonnet, scoop and rear spoiler

13: Adam Nicholas brought his 710hp 1985 VK Brock tribute up from NSW. “It’s got a 355 stroker in it and a TH400,” Adam explained. “It’s been tubbed and has a set of Forgiato wheels. Everything has been copper-plated for something a bit different”

14: Guy Humphries salvaged motorbike chains to fabricate fuel tank straps and used scrap metal to weld together the parts he collected over the two-and-a-half-year build of his quirky 1951 farm truck. He shortened the chassis, fabricated a tilting and sliding tub, and built a custom dual exhaust system and a set of stacks. One of the few original elements is the 235 Blue Flame Chevy motor with dual Stromberg carbs

15: Josh Northcott’s ’61 Cadillac caught our attention. Josh rebuilt the stunning Caddy with the help of his mates, throwing a 502ci big-block up front and a 9in underneath

16: Lyndon Stephenson bought this ’55 Chevy panel truck during a trip to the US. The slammed Chev was once a fruit truck in the Napa Valley, and if you look closely you can still see the original signage on the doors. The rig sits on a pneumatic airbag system with a custom ladder-bar rear end, and runs a Vortec V8 up front