Summernats is just around the corner so we're taking a look at the weird and wonderful rides that caught our eye last year


EVERYWHERE at Summernats, there are cars that’ll make you do a mental handbraky. Sometimes it’s because of the polished blower and show finish, but just as often it’s because the creator has taken a sharp left turn off the beaten track, or maybe even veered the other way, to sleeper country.

The level of ingenuity and imagination on display is truly astonishing, even among cars that are seemingly not fit to be seen anywhere in the vicinity of the Elite Hall. So we made up some fake awards to honour some of the black sheep, the underdogs, the risk takers, the freaks and other mutants.

Last Ride Hearse SummernatsAward: Best Carpentry | Winner: Last Ride hearse

Queenslanders Kevin and Joe Gosschalk arrived at Summernats with this wooden hearse that is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. The father and son team are Summernats regulars – Kevin has been 10 times, including with his blown Corvette – and Joe reckons seven or eight.

Wooden Car SummernatsThe Munsters-style cruiser is built on a Mitsubishi Express chassis – a perfect platform for that park-bench-out-front driving position – with a mid-mounted Holden 253-cube V8 tucked under the wooden body box. “We’ve taken it to a few car shows up home and it’s always really popular,” said Joe. Surprisingly, the coffin car was bought, not built: “Some other bloke built it, we were just in the right place at the right time to buy it,” says Kevin.

VN Commodore Grass Car SummernatsAward: PM’s Green Award | Winner: Astroturf Commo Limo

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we grassed a limo?” is how Marty Miller explained the simple reason behind his seven-metre long mobile golf green. Bought as a mourning car – in other words, a funeral-parlour limo – the low-kay VN V6 Commodore was grassed with the same synthetic turf as the VN V8 wagon that Marty and his mates have cruised at Summernats for the past three years.

Summernats Grass Car Burnout 1Marty and his mate Kerry ‘Bro’ Millar and mates Stephanie Lillyman and Reed Southernton lapped the two well-foliaged cruisers dozens of times at Summernats 28. The extra roof space on the stretch limo meant Marty could ‘mow-in’ two turret-top putting greens and install an irrigation system along each edge of the roof. “People dig a sense of humour,” Marty said.

VB Commodore Sleeper SummernatsAward: Most likely to embarrass Porsche Drivers | Winner: VB sleeper

ROB WELLS’S VB Commodore SL caught our attention – or it didn’t! – for all the right reasons: its overall your-dad-had-one appearance of mild-mannered metallic paint and those cool stocko turbine-style SL/E wheels. But with an ex-VL Holden/Nissan RB30ET engine dropped in with a Powerglide trans and 3.45 BorgWarner axle, and wicked-up to 25psi and 600hp, the sleeper Commodore runs in the 10s at Queensland’s Willowbank Raceway.

VB Commodore Sleeper RB30“It sees plenty of street time, too,” said Rob. “It’s a lot of fun and an easy project that anyone could do, and it’s easy to make legal.” Top-shelf advice from this proud, hard-working family man.

RAILED HK Holden SummernatsAward: How Low Can You Go? Award | Winner: RAILED HK

ONE OF the many things we love about Summernats is that it inspires people to embark on all manner of wild and crazy builds, and Chris Blyton’s RAILED HK Prem is case in point. The Dubbo lad sourced a rusty shell from nearby (in rural terms) Peak Hill, dragged it back to his old man’s exhaust shop, and promptly hacked the entire floor out of it. He then hand fabricated a completely bespoke chassis from front to back that positioned the body just millimetres off the ground, and fitted an LS1 V8. He did it all for one reason only: to cut laps at Summernats.

RAILED HK Holden Summernats 2“Yeah, I just wanted to build a lap car for the ’Nats; something that was full of rust but looked pretty mad underneath,” explained Chris.

Having honed his skills building sprintcars with his dad, Chris tackled all of the fabrication work himself after hours and on weekends. The main rails are comprised of 75x50mm RHS and are 15mm lower than anything else on the car to allow it to belly out and slide on and off trailers and over gutters. There’s adjustable coil-overs all ’round, and the underslung Z-link rear end is hand built, cradling a VR Commodore diff that Chris narrowed himself. He also custom made the front suspension, utilising a VR rack for steering duties.

RAILED HK Holden SummernatsIt’s insanely low, but it’s also built to handle around 2000hp. “It’s overkill at the moment, but I don’t want anything to fail,” said Chris. “I’ve got plans for an engine upgrade; something with a blower and a hat. Compared to all the other cars down here it’s just way too quiet how it is.”

Volvo Coupe SummernatsAward: Best Swedish Brick | Winner: Volvo coupe

It’s nearly two decades since Canberra-based Vince Harmer’s Chev-powered Volvo was featured, with two other V8 Volvos, as a fun sleeper feature (completely with bowling club backdrop!) in Street Machine.

Rolling on classic Simmons and with sharp red paint, the über-rare, Bertone-built 262C coupe – believe it or not, that’s a showroom standard lowered lid – retains the alloy-headed Chev it was rebuilt with by Vince more than 20 years ago. GT

RATSUN Datsun SummernatsAward: Best Use of Chicken Wire | Winner: RATSUN Datsun

Andrew Irvine’s worm-burning V8 Datsun mini truck has been knocking around shows since 2012, but it always draws a crowd thanks to ingenious fabrication and a healthy dose of attitude. Heavily channelled, the ’72 Datsun ute body has been lowered nine inches over the massively customised frame (which has been z-cut five inches in the front), meaning the floor, sills and firewalls all needed to be remade to suit the door-dragging ride height.

The 620 rocks a grumpy Holden V8, Trimatic ’box and plenty of farmyard detailing, from the raw hardwood dashboard, to the hessian trans tunnel cover and past the timber floorboards to the rope-wrapped steering wheel.

Ratsun SummernatsWhile it looks like it’s been thrown together using bits found in granddad’s shed, the build was carefully put together over two years and nothing illustrates this better than when you take a peek behind the cab at the rear end.

There you’ll see a fully fabricated rear chassis clip, with Jag IRS working bell cranks to raise and lower the car while also providing excellent ride quality and suspension actuation control.

Andrew also made up a new flat-style timber (and chicken wire) tray to carry fellow Zero Altitude mini trucks club members around the cruise route at Summernats. The ratty ’72 Datto made for a great contrast to fellow ZA member Russell Zout’s 1980 HiLux. The slick, jet black LIFESGR8 mini truck is also Holden-powered, albeit with a 308 instead of Andrew’s 253. IK

VOLKSROD Beetle SummernatsAward: Wildest Vee Dub | Winner: ’67 Volksrod

Dozens, if not hundreds, of Summernats entrants can tell stories of the last-minute thrashes to get cars completed. But few packed so much effort into so few days than Wayne Penrose and his mates when building this twin-turbo Volksrod.

Volksrod Beetle Summernats“I called in the troops and pulled-in plenty of favours!” reckoned the NSW south coast-based VW freak. “We built the car in one week. Last Saturday it was a painted shell, off its chassis. We got it finished on at six o’clock last night [Friday – the second day of Summernats] and loaded it into the trailer and got here but missed scrutineering so had to wait until today to be allowed in…”

That’s some hard work! But the result was worth it for Wayne and his crew, the open-topped, chop-screened, bright orange and twin-turbo dak-rod sticking out like the dog’s bollocks in the Meguiar’s Supercruise.

57 Chev Taxi SummernatsAward: Best First Date Car | Winner: ’57 Chevy taxi

“This is just a Summernats fun car,” said Kyle Priestly of his ’57 Chev sedan. “A friend of mine owned it and I was supposed to help sell it to someone else, fell in love with it and bought it.

“We had a few problems with it last year, which is why it’s got a more reliable engine in it now. It was a tunnel-rammed 307 Chev last year, but for this year we’ve put the 6/71 blown LS1 in it, and tubbed the front-end so it lays flat on the airbags and we can actually turn.”

57 Chev Taxi Summernats“I couldn’t tell you how much power it makes because it’s only been going about a week. We tuned it with a laptop to get it around 20 degrees advanced and then brought it here! It’s an MSD Atomic EFI set-up, so you run the MAP sensor and plug your laptop in and it sorts it out. Kyle’s plans for the Chev have changed a bit, from planning on replacing that sweet patina to just turning on the taxi light and cruising it until the tyres fall off.

“I was going to spray it black but everyone loves it how it is, so I’m just going to leave it ‘til it really needs to be fixed. Eventually we’ll redo all the rubbers and bushes underneath but try to keep it hidden.”

“There are three of us driving it this weekend. My mates Alex, Tim and I will just keep driving it so people see it. It’s all just for fun.”

HT Holden Wagon SummernatsAward: Baggin’ Wagon | Winner: Ratted HT wagon

IF SUMMERNATS 28 was any indication, the grand and noble tradition of rat rodding is alive and well. Sydney’s Daniel Attard bought this HT wagon for $1200 in a beautifully natural state of decay, slammed it, mini-tubbed it and inserted a tough-as-nails engine and driveline. In doing so, he created a killer Summernats cruiser that’s popular with the punters and turns the tyres with the best of ’em.

The build took just eight months to complete, but wasn’t without the traditional last-minute Summernats thrash.

“We finished it New Year’s Eve, then it blew a lifter up on the dyno,” said Daniel. “We came down to Summernats on New Year’s Day, then we went back to Sydney on the 2nd and were out the front of Rocket at 7:30am waiting for them to open. We bought a new set of lifters, changed them over, and we were back here at scruitineering at 4pm.”

The wagon runs a 383ci small-block Chev with Air Flow heads and a tunnel ram with two 650cfm carbies, backed by a Powerglide and 9in.

“It sounds pretty good,” said Daniel. “I’m just looking forward to taking it out on some cruises and hopefully putting some baby seats in the back so I can take my two kids out in it. That’s if my wife lets me!”

Austin Dalek Ute SummernatsAward: Best Landcrab | Winner: Austin Dalek ute

AUSTIN 1800s might not be the first choice as a project vehicle for many street machiners, but the vehicles affectionately known as ‘landcrabs’ did do well in local rallying back in the day. So when it came time for Geoff Abrahams to build a new Variety Club Bash car, he looked to the rugged Pommy four-banger. He brought his 1969 model along as part of the Variety Club display of Bash vehicles.

“I’ve been doing the Bash since 1994,” he said. “I did three years in a Mercedes and then three years in a ’62 Impala with a 400 small-block, but I sold the Chev as it was getting too expensive to keep on the road.

Austin Dalek Ute Summernats“We were searching for a car and everyone had Holdens or Fords so we looked for something different. Someone advised us to get the ute; I didn’t even know they made one!

“We bought the car in 2003 from eBay from Western Sydney. It is still fairly standard right down to the Hydrolastic suspension, which has been brilliant on the roads we’ve taken it on. It goes really well over the dirt roads – it loves the corrugations.”

Austin Dalek Ute Summernats 2This factory ute, an Aussie-only model, is different from the others thanks to the gigantic Dalek poking menacingly over the cab. You could say Geoff is a bit of a Dr Who fan… “We originally had an idea for a Doctor Who theme back in 1997. I’m an old Dr Who fan from first episode in 1963!”

Jurassic Park Nissan NavaraAward: Kid’s Choice | Winner: Jurassic Park Navara

ADRIAN Zoomer’s Navara is a fun thing – nothing more, nothing less – and was created when the metallic paint on Adrian’s daily-driver Navara began to lift and peel. “I’ve got friends in the scene, a mate has an LE Monaro, and they said, ‘You’ve gotta come to Summernats – it’ll blow your mind!” he related.

His mates were right! “It grabs hold of your mind and you’re thinking of it almost constantly until the next one,” said an obviously mind-blown Adrian. “I never want to miss another one. I’d like to come with a modded Toyota LandCruiser – lifted up so you could see the detail underneath. I reckon that would be different.” In the meantime, the Navara remains the coolest rig in the campground, and an obvious Kid’s Choice winner.