WITH A beautiful setting on the majestic coastline of NSW’s Crowdy Bay National Park, The Rattletrap is one of the coolest hot rod events in Australia. Once a year, the Drag-ens Hot Rod Club commandeer the secluded Crowdy Head Beach to create an immersive timewarp back to the sand sprints of the 1940s and 50s.
Period-correct two- and four-wheelers snaking down the beach in heads-up racing is a magical sight for spectators and a dream come true for those taking part. Entrants need a traditionally styled rod or vintage race car from 1941 or prior with a maximum rim width of six inches, or a pre-1960s motorcycle (or equivalent reproduction).
While the 2020 event was cancelled thanks to COVID, this year’s fourth instalment of The Rattletrap went off without a hitch. Any outdoor event is a roll of the dice as far as the weather goes, but while this year’s Rattletrap basked in a gorgeous 20-degree day, the tide devoured half the track, making it damp going for right-lane racers. But the entrants knew exactly what they’d signed up for and gleefully banged their jalopies down the sand – although a few returned amidst sill-level salt water.
There were no dataloggers; everyone was flying by the seat of their pants and loving every second of it. As with other types of drag racing, extra neddies aren’t always a good thing, as it’s all about how to power the back wheels without losing traction, and at The Rattletrap many got a little squirrely on the damp, loose surface.
Open-topped roadsters, speedsters and the odd boat-tail and bellytanker looked to be the most fun, but maybe that was purely due to their drivers’ grins being easily spotted from the packed sidelines.
Punters got in early to set up annexes trackside, securing their position in an effort to capture every moment of the all-too-fleeting spectacle. The dedicated Drag-ens crew made sure the event looked period-correct with vintage-style start and finish markers, a large timber observation tower and the entire crew of volunteers donning white coveralls. Entrants, spectators and even journos were encouraged to look the part as well.
It’s a simple recipe that works incredibly well. Bellytanker pilot Warren Kranske offered a great summation from a racer’s perspective: “For me, The Rattletrap is a bunch of like-minded people – hot rodders who don’t have flashy cars decked out in chrome. It’s your stroppy jalopies – low-budget cars with seats made from old oil drums and with mismatched tyres. Supercharged four-bangers that are lucky to be 70hp sprinting down the beach.
“The people who attend this event are in their own league; it’s almost old Australia, where we help out our mates and random people. A car can stop working, and suddenly you’re surrounded by guys who have this tool or that part, without even being prompted. It’s such an amazing thing to see.”
When the beach sprints finished, festivities continued into the night. Punters rolled into the Crowdy Head Surf Life Saving Club to take in a set by the talented Piper Butcher while grabbing some grub and a refreshing coldie to bench-race the night away.
“The event went really well,” said Drag-ens president Andrew McClelland of the fourth Rattletrap. “A lot of sand has moved away from the beach in the past couple of years, which means the useable beach is getting smaller. Luckily, on the day the swell was smaller than on Friday and we got to run for our normal three-and-a-half hours. There were just over 2000 spectators and the normal 60 hot rods and 20 bikes entered – we knocked back about 20 of each.”
By the following arvo, Crowdy Head Beach and surrounds had been meticulously vacated of any evidence of the The Rattletrap thanks to the Drag-ens’ tireless work. Both the club members and the local Harrington community put in a stellar effort to create such a unique and refreshing event.
If you’re keen for some old-school sand dragging action, whether it be as an entrant or a spectator, be sure to get along to The Rattletrap V – you’ll be hooked in no time.
“I rebuilt all the moving parts, added a hot twin-carb flathead banger, found a set of ’35 Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels and reupholstered the seat in second-hand leather,” said Rattletrap veteran Dale Haberfield of his ’30 Improved A roadster. “I finished the build the night before Rattletrap”
Pete and Brad Townsend raced their respective ’32 coupes at the last event, returning this year to share driving duties in a ’32 sedan. The black four-door is motivated by a 221ci flatty, ’39 gearbox and original rear end. “It’s one of our favourite events, and the Drag-ens do a great job – we will definitely be back next year,” Pete said
You know you’re running a choice event when hot rod royalty like Rod Hadfield rocks up all kitted out and with the perfect jalopy. “The Mongrel is a bit of everything,” he said, “based on a T-model Ford with the original motor.” The car incorporates scrounged Valiant, Holden, Austin and late-model Ford bits – and even parts from a washing machine!
Craig Lockhart piloted a ’36 Ford three-window coupe sporting a 221ci sidevalve V8 and factory running gear. “The water-side lane was hard and fast, but if you got the crowd side it was extremely soft and sandy,” Craig said. “You could have been beaten by a pushbike if you had the soft side!”
A glistening stand-out was Wayne O’Grady’s recently completed, copper-hued, all-steel ’33 Ford coupe. The stunning three-window sports a twin-carbied sidevalve backed by a ’37 Ford three-speed ’box and a 3.5:1-geared banjo rear
Warren Kranske and his dad Bill spent a mere nine months creating their reproduction bellytanker, ‘Lighting Strike’. Sitting atop a Model A chassis, the aerodynamic body has been filled with ’37 Ford running gear, including a sidevalve V8
Rattletrap regulars James Rodriquez and brother-in-law James Minas upped the ante this year, slotting a fresh flathead in the ‘Jimmy James Special’ T speedster. “It hauled arse and rooster-tailed in both second and third with ease,” James R said. “I’ve never been worried about mechanical brakes ’til then!”
Gavan Starr-Thomas returned to Crowdy Head with ‘Willy Willy’, his perfectly executed bellytank (left) fashioned from a 1955 F-105 Thunderchief war bomber fuel tank. Powered by a 1941 Willys L134 four-cylinder flathead, the bellytank – and its suitably attired driver – remain a crowd favourite
Peter Muir shared driving duties with good mate and fellow Death Dodgers co-founder Shaun Canavan in a ’28 Model A coupe, which had recently scored a flathead V8 upgrade. “I was a little nervous, trying not to break anything, including the 90-year-old ’box,” Peter said
Roem Crompton fronted up to his second Rattletrap in his US-bodied, 302ci Chevy-powered ’34 coupe. A ’39 Ford trans and a ’40 Ford rear end round out the driveline
If there’s nostalgia-style racing on offer, you can bet Damien Kemp is keen to get amongst it. This was his first foray into The Rattletrap sand drags, which he took on in his freshly minted, early Halibrand-wearing chopped Model A
“The car is underpowered enough not to dig a trench at the starting line, which helps get a jump on the overhead-valve cars,” said Chad Williams of his ’30 Ford roadster on ’32 rails (right). It’s powered by a ’34 flathead mated to a ’39 Ford gearbox and diff
James Brennan’s ’28 Model A roadster boasts a 1933 Model B four-banger topped with a 7:1 high-compression head and a 1941 Graham Hollywood supercharger
Photographer Chris Thorogood made an impressive round trip from Victoria with mates Mark Thomson, Damien Kemp and Lyndon Grant, who each towed their dedicated racers, while Aaron Harris boldly drove his Windsor-powered ’32 coupe under its own steam
Mark Thomson entered his ’32 DeSoto coupe. “The thrill of racing on the beach is one of the best automotive experiences I’ve ever had. It’s just so much fun!” he enthused
Hayden Prendergast and his ’30 Ford coupe had a 30-hour round trip from Ballarat to make it to The Rattletrap. “I was only going to do The Rattletrap once, but had such a great time I came back for a second go,” he said. After winning Best Hot Rod this year, he’s committed himself to forever returning
“The Rattletrap was the soft launch of The Frenzel Supercharger Company,” said Tim Miller of a project four years in the making. Tim strapped a repro Frenzel blower to the old, worn-out, 21-stud flathead motor in his A roadster. “It went almost head-to-head with some big-dollar motors,” he said
“The whole Rattletrap experience is what it is all about for me,” said Lyndon Grant, who raced a Model A speedster. “Meeting new people, catching up with old friends and racing hot rods on the beach – what’s not to love?”