Keeping the grassroots hot-rodding dream alive at the third Stroppy Jalopy Paddock Bash
This article was originally published in the Decemeber 2016 issue of Street Machine
THE journey: A 500-mile, mid-winter road trip from Canberra through the Riverina, on B and C roads only, in a Model A hop-up. The destination: The Stroppy Jalopy Paddock Bash, Leeton, NSW. Sound like fun?
The unsuspecting lass I was trying to coerce into being my co-pilot hails from the balmy climes of Byron Bay, and it’s fair to say I wasn’t selling her on the Model A’s creature comforts – the interior is more bare metal than tuck ’n’ roll, and the ‘windscreen’ is a dollar-bill chop. Explaining that the ’banger likes a stately 50mph and was therefore “too slow for sleet to feel like needles” didn’t really help her warm to the idea.
Nonetheless, come the day, she stepped up, properly equipped: Thermos? Check. And thermals, beanie, scarf, goggles, gloves, quilt, hot water bottle. I was prepped too: spare head gasket, distributor, ‘leakless’ water pump.
Ha! With a hopped-up ’banger, gremlins are the norm in the Canberra winter. You almost have to re-jet for different times of the day. Swapping out from the leaky Stromberg 97 for a dubious 48 with some adjustable jets shoved in had us on the road a few hours later than hoped, with an icing manifold and an engine so grumpy it decided to throw a few throttle springs and extraneous nuts and bolts onto the road before we made it out of town.
But with parts scraped back off the road, the little ’banger finally settled into its groove and we hunkered down beneath our sliver of windscreen to watch the rain-soaked Southern Tablelands roll by beneath a steely sky.
Pre-war hot rodding is motoring stripped to its essence, a full immersion of the senses akin to flying a biplane. The wind buffets your ears, your feet buzz with the rpm of that un-counterweighted crank, the odd droplet of coolant spits at your goggles and there’s the wonderful aroma of warm oil, fuel and that hint of racing castor tickling the nostrils. The huge step between second gear and high in Ford’s crashbox means you have to rollercoast the hills and plan for your shifts. Mechanical brakes mean you also need to plan for your stops.
Our ‘scenic’ pace and the imminent sunset meant stopping at Temora’s grand old Railway Hotel. Forty bucks a night, a fireplace and Reschs on tap sure looked better to one Byron Bay gal than my generous offer of a roadside tent.
Over drinks, the ancient local barflies soon established we were attached to ‘the old girl’ parked out front, and pretty soon car folks were doing what car folks do: swapping bull about the local iron treasures, while my compadre crept off to bed.
Come morning, after a session with a plug-cleaning brush and a healthy snifter of Start-ya-Bastard, the ’banger spluttered into life for a dream run down the back roads into the orange groves of Leeton.
Damien ‘Blacki’ Black had a dream. He would transform the time-honoured Australian pastime of paddock-bashing into an event that would draw enthusiasts from across the Riverina and beyond (remember that the Riverina is bigger than Switzerland, so no biggie, right?).
Well, come, they did. 2016 marked the third Stroppy Jalopy Paddock Bash, with a couple of hundred people in attendance making up an impromptu car and bike show of about 80 pre-1970 machines.
t’s a simple recipe: Grade the back paddock for a good old expression session and some motorkhana events, chuck on a barbeque, and get a couple of rockin’ bands to play in the machinery shed at night. Then throw on a breakfast the next morning for a hangover cure.
It’s the sort of grassroots event that people have been turning to in droves of late: small-scale, laidback and family-friendly, with driven, owner-built cars and an emphasis on participation.
In a win-win for the hobby, intensely active clubs such as The Junkers and The Little Bit Country Rodders are springing up in response. A dozen or so like-minded mates will travel miles for garage thrashes, meeting more often than many city-based clubs. While many build outstanding rods and cruisers, Stroppy Jalopy inspires projects from paddock orphans to full-blown, apocalyptic-looking creations like Steven Lewis’s ‘Brutus’ blown rat-truck.
Whether it’s a fresh build or a survivor, old machines are emerging from the sheds and being rescued from erosion gullies to be coaxed back into life. The Little Bit Country boys bought a Zephyr MkII on beer money and gave it the ‘poverty-pack’ treatment: rattle-can red wheels and ‘ghetto lace’ paintjob. Mick Close’s ’38 barrel-nose truck, complete with a cracked 21-stud flatty, was built entirely from shed detritus, whereas Peter McGregor’s resurrected MkIII Zephyr carries genuine race pedigree from Ford’s circuit program, and Robbie Harvison’s humpy Holden speedway survivor is still raced
In the paddock, a mint ’59 Chevy wagon mixed it with a Maico VMX bike, and while Lee Walters deftly slung her ’60 Bel Air whale around all day (between wrangling the dragster pushbike racing), it was the high-revving Holden reds that owned the paddock, as if GM-H had engineered these engines for their true spiritual purpose at conception.
At sundown, people settled around the fire drums. Canberra swamp-rockers The King Hits and dieselbilly outfit The Fuelers played, with impromptu smoke machines provided by a few motorcycle burnouts. Some homemade trophies were awarded, and it was somehow fitting that their paint was still wet to the touch.
Stroppy Jalopy just works. It’s like a giant family barbeque. Firstly, Damien and his wife Kayleen are the perfect hosts. Damien’s brother Matt and their dad Rod were also pitching in all day. You see, the Black family farm has been home to four generations of hot rodders, so antique iron is in the very soil.
Rod shared a mutual love of hot rodding with his late father-in-law Cec, and both have built their respective takes on a tidy ’34 Ford coupe. Damien and Matt were both gifted with the hot rodding gene too, with Damien being handed present custodianship of the heirloom ’34. And the rich lineage continues; Damien’s son Bodhi is sinking his apprentice’s wage into a Model A ’banger coupe, with plans afoot for a flathead. One of Cec’s last builds was a ’27 Chev four-banger roadster made from farm finds. He didn’t live to see it completed, but the subsequent generations of the Black family have brought it to life.
In the morning, as I point my muddy Model A back towards the road east, I see that ’27 sitting in the emptying paddock beside Bodhi’s coupe, the old ghost presiding over this circus of relics, restorations and creations. It is this car that radiates the very spirit of Stroppy Jalopy, where history runs deep and the future of hot rodding is assured.
Mick Anderson (left) and Aaron Retallick with Mick’s Ford Mainline. The ute was destined to be garden art, until a group of Leeton locals saved it with a 302C/C4/BW transplant. The crew hold regular ‘jalopy jam’ sessions, and their mud-runners so far include a Toyota Stout, ’27 Chev, HR ute and ’37 Chev sedan
The late Cec Rowles’s channelled Aussie-body ’34 coupe survivor is currently under the stewardship of his grandsons, Matt and Damien Black
Luke Hindmarsh attacking the mud run circuit in his excellently flamed, 283-powered 1958 Chevrolet wagon
Our author with his much-travelled four-banger. Let us emphasise that Ed drove the Model A from Canberra. Then raced and drove home!
Peter McGregor’s Red Baron MkIII Ford Zephyr speedway weapon has some serious history, including a stint at the Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island
The late Cec Rowles gathered the parts for his ’27 Chev roadster from farm finds, with the finished product assembled by family members. The engine is a ’28 OHV Chev four, with a ’37 Chev three-speed and ’37 hydraulic brakes
Gavin Gilbert and son Corey from nearby Darlington Point overcame a small transmission fire in their 253-powered HG Holden to take home the tinware for the oval-track event
Lawrie Bullock’s Morris Minor is anothe speedway survivor and runs a 186/Trimatic combo, with the body widened to accommodate Holden underpinnings as well
Steven Lewis of The Junkers CC brought along his ’43 Commer truck, dubbed Brutus, which runs a blown 253
Ryan O’Hara of ‘The Slug’ fame arrived in this new ’59 Vauxhall gasser. Sitting up high on a Morris J2 axle, it runs a Toyota-blown 202, backed by a Trimatic and Volvo diff