Ben Judd’s EH Holden wagon wins SMOTY 2018

Ben Judd took his mum's old EH wagon and - with the help of his brothers - built it into a Valvoline Street Machine Of The Year

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

SINCE Rob Godfrey and TOYTON won Street Machine Of The Year in 2008, it has been customary to sneak up on the winner and surprise them with the trophy. So when the votes had been tallied and Ben Judd’s gorgeous EH wagon had been declared the most popular street machine of 2018, we needed to come up with a way to stitch him up good and proper, so we reached out to paint-and-panel maestros Glenn and Jason Coburn at Exclusive Customs in Sydney’s south to help us out.

Ben Judd EH HoldenBen is the proprietor of Judd’s Auto Repairs, and his brother Simon (who was instrumental in the build of the EH) owns Elite Custom Interiors. The Coburns reasoned that if they invited the Judds to their workshop one Friday to discuss working together on another EH build with a high-profile client, they wouldn’t see it coming. And, if the weather was good, they might even turn up in the wagon.

The stars aligned, and Ben and Simon arrived at Exclusive Customs in the EH after what was essentially its maiden voyage. We waited for them to get settled in before surprising them with the trophy. You’d go a long way to find a humbler and more appreciative winner. A quick phone call was placed to the remaining Judd brother, Nick (who blew off work), and so began an afternoon of beers, pizza and celebration.

Ben Judd EH HoldenCongrats, Ben. You are the proud owner of the 2018 Valvoline Street Machine Of The Year!

Thanks – it’s very surreal! You got me good this morning; you caught me way off guard and it was a big surprise.

Ben JuddWhat were your predictions on how SMOTY would pan out?

I honestly thought John Saad’s XY or one of the bigger cars with the bigger motors would win it, because V8s are king. Even to make the 16 was a massive deal for me; I didn’t think I had a big chance of winning, but I quietly hoped I might.

It’s a landmark year for SMOTY because the pool of 16 finalists was decided by popular vote. It’s the most democratic process we’ve ever had for determining the winner.

That feels really good. You think about all the people who voted for the car to make the 16 and then to come out on top of some really good cars, it’s great. I’d put SMOTY up there as the biggest award in Australia, personally.

The EH is a pretty significant car to your family, isn’t it?

Mum bought the car in ’78 and we got ferried to school in it. Then it sat down the side of the house for years unloved and unregistered and collecting rust. When I got close to learner’s licence age, Dad wanted to scrap it and Mum and I wanted to save it, so Dad let me take it down to work and fix it up and it was basically my first car.

You and your brothers teamed up to work on the car, too, so that family connection continued through the build.

Big time. I’m the eldest out of the three of us, and going back to the early days when we first did the car we did Simon’s school formal in it and drove Nick to footy games and school and stuff like that. We built the car together in Dad’s garage over 12 years, and during that time both Nick and Simon’s skills progressed massively, and Simon started trimming some big cars around the scene. It was great to do this with them, and today this isn’t just about me, it’s about them as well. It’s as much their car as mine in a way.

You’ve been pretty focussed on the show side of things since the car debuted at MotorEx last year, but today you got to put some kays on it. What was that like?

Brilliant! Cruising down the highway doing 100 kays an hour, it drove straight and felt nice and did everything pretty well. It was great just relaxing and enjoying it and not being stressed about it for once.

Ben JuddThe names on that trophy read like a who’s who of our sport. How does it feel that yours is about to be etched into it alongside guys like Gary Myers, Peter Fitzpatrick and Howard Astill?

So surreal. I think when I see my name on the trophy and it goes to the next person and I can see it for years to come that it will really start to sink in. It’s crazy.

Aside from the prestige associated with SMOTY, there’s also a big old cheque for $20,000 from our mates at Valvoline. How will you spend that?

Thanks to Valvoline for putting that up; it’s a big lump of cash and it’s cool for them to do that. We are building an HK GTS at the moment and it does need some love and some money. The missus wants a holiday and the boys want to build a car, so I’ll probably split it between the two.

Ben Judd EH HoldenLast year we had you along at the Valvoline SMOTY VIP party at Summernats and you had a great night. This time you’ll be the guest of honour!

It’ll be a bit weird! I’ve been to the party a couple of times and you see all the big names from within the scene and it’s a pretty awesome night. This time we’ll have to get up on stage and do that side of it and that will be pretty full-on. But I’m looking forward to it! It should be fun.

Ben Judd EH HoldenWhat was your first thought when you saw that trophy today and you realised why you’d been brought here?

I saw you walk down the stairs and I saw the trophy and thought: ‘That can’t be for me.’ Then it hit me and I was blown away. Then it sunk in that the story Glenn had told me to get me here was a stitch-up, and why it was so important to him that I was bringing the car. I thought about what it might be like to win SMOTY, but I tried not to do that too much, because I didn’t want to feel let down when the winner was announced. But I secretly hoped to win it, as I’m sure everyone did, and the fact that I’ve done that is still sinking in.

Ben JuddAnyone you need to thank?

Heaps of people! The biggest one is Street Machine and Valvoline. Without you guys taking an interest in the car, Craig Parker doing a great story and Chris Thorogood’s unbelievable photography, people wouldn’t have seen the car to begin with. Then there’s all the boys who helped on the car over the years: the boys at Exclusive Customs, Simon for the work he did on the interior, and my mates who helped us with the thrash before MotorEx last year. Also, my wife for putting up with it, and all the people who took the time out to vote for the car. It’s a bit of an effort and you don’t want to bug people to do it too much. So, I definitely need to thank everyone who liked the car and voted for it. It’s a pretty amazing feeling!