Party animals: top ten Summernats specials

They're the high-impact, low-buck builds that always turn heads at Australia's biggest horsepower hootenanny. We pay tribute to the weird and wonderful tradition of the Summernats Special

Photographers: Street Machine Archives

As Australia’s biggest and most rambunctious car festival, Street Machine Summernats has it all. Each year, it attracts the country’s finest show-stoppers, ground-pounding Tuff Streeters, tyre-frying burnout monsters and epic cruisers.

First published in Street Machine’s Yearbook 2023

It’s also the place to spot what’s become something of a ’Nats tradition: the Summernats Special. These builds are all about maximum fun for minimum bucks – something you can throw together pretty quickly with a few mates and then cut endless laps with at EPIC while having a non-stop party.

There have been plenty of memorable ’Nats Specials over the years – some funny, some quirky, some truly jaw-dropping – so we thought it was high time to pick 10 of our favourites from the event’s 36-year history. Don’t agree with our selection? Drop us a line at [email protected]
and let us know yours!

1. Team Lorenzo Party Bus

Summernats 16 (2003)

  1. There’s no more iconic Summernats Special than Tony Lombardo’s Team Lorenzo Party Bus (SM, Mar ’03). The roofless Toyota Coaster featured airbag suspension, an AU Falcon front end, EB Falcon rear, in-built spa, hubcaps made out of woks, and of course, the famous stripper pole.

It debuted at ’Nats 16 in yellow with red flames, before rocking up to ’Nats 22 in fresh new silver livery and sporting a 308 transplant.

The bus was built by Tony and a big group of mates in tribute to Tony’s son Lorenzo, who passed away at the age of 21 in 2002.

“It was massively popular,” says Tony. “Everyone wanted to get on, and at times we’d have up to 50 people on board. One year, someone even made up T-shirts and stickers featuring the bus.”

Despite its huge popularity, it’s been conspicuously absent for a number of years. However, Tony still owns the bus – and it’s still presentable – so you never know. All hail the Party Bus!

2. Stretch

Summernats 14 (2001)

After debuting the DEMON ZG Fairlane at Summernats 9 in 1996, Paul Cundy and his crew dialled the car way past 11 to create STRETCH for ’Nats 14.

Hillier Conversions extended the car by a couple of metres, and it now sported six rows of seats! It is hands down the longest Summernats Special of all time – and one of the greatest.

3. HQ Convertible

Summernats 7 (1994)

Unlike a lot of Summernats Specials, Ralph Stratton’s no-top HQ was registrable. Its super-cool dicky seat meant that up to nine people could cruise in comfort.

Ralph certainly knew how to build them nice (check out his HX ute in SM, Apr-May ’93), so it had great panel and paint, plus graphics by Tony Roberts (SM, Oct-Nov ’96).

The yellow convertible has made multiple Summernats appearances over the years, including as recently as ’Nats 23 (2010) and 26 (2013).

4. Chop It

Summernats 31 (2018)

Living next door to Howard Astill can be both good and bad. Dave and Rob Stephenson’s original plan was to build a fun cruiser they could skid, but thanks to Howard’s neighbourly influence, this WH Statesman turned out a whole lot nicer.

Yet despite the Stato’s high-level finish, Dave and Rob weren’t at all afraid to skid it! Yee-haa!

5. Squirt

Summernats 10 & 11 (1997 & 1998)

Able to pop wheelies at will, Frank Bennett’s V8-powered, shortened XD Falcon was an instant crowd favourite.

Originally blue, SQUIRT won Judges’ Choice, Crazy Custom and Top Cruiser at ’Nats 10. For the following year, it was rebuilt, registered (yep!) and finished in a slightly darker shade of magenta than Frank’s XF Falcon cover car (SM, Apr-May ’95).

6. HR Wagon

Summernats 16 (2003)

In true Summernats Special style, Nudge Peacock’s cut-and-shut, HQ wagon was built for the express purpose of having fun. With a tunnel ram-equipped 333ci stroker in its detailed engine bay and a permanently mounted surfboard up top, the car won Chic’s Choice at Summernats 16.

With the driver sitting in what was originally the back seat, getting air under the front tyres was just a stab of the throttle away – at any speed!

7. ZG Fairlane

Summernats 13 (2000)

No list of ’Nats Specials would be complete without at least one grass-covered cruiser. There have been a number of notable examples over the years, but we reckon Craig Walker’s ZG Fairlane from Summernats 2000 was a cut above the rest.

8. Flatten

Summernats 10 (1997)

Known as ‘The Car Vandal’ to his mates, Sammy Cooper had a simple build philosophy: “Anyone can restore [a car], but it takes a real man to chop one up!” he declared.

Sammy’s matte-black, hammered XW wagon first appeared at Summernats 9, before returning the following year with a massive Sprintcar-style wing. Both years, Sammy cruised the absolute wheels off it.

9. 1965 Commer van

Summernats 34 (2022)

With custom suspension, a highly modified Mitsi L300 chassis, and airbagged to the max, Mick ‘Nev’ Hodgson’s Pommy Commer van (with working stripper pole – we’re sensing a theme here) drove around all weekend at ’Nats ’34 barely a gnat’s breath off terra firma.

Serial ’Nats Special builder Paul Cundy had a hand in the paint, while Jim’s Kustoms airbrushed the graphics.

10. Baby Cup

Summernats 6 (1993)

A buddy of mine, Dave Cuddy, had a line on a rooted HQ. He needed its good 308 for his dead Statesman, but was short on funds. So I struck a deal with him: I’d buy the car and sell him back the engine if I could borrow the latter to create a Summernats Cruiser in his backyard. In return, I’d help him get his Statesman running – win-win!

For Dave, John Hatton and myself, the motto for the build of what became known as Baby Cup was “It only has to last four days.” After slicing the turret, we chopped out the floor, welded up the doors and dropped it six inches lower over a shortened ute chassis. And it drove at this height – Baby Cup was airbag-free! The front tyres came up so high, we had to relief-cut the front inner guards.

Billy Westwood and the Lower Mountain Smash crew painted it, while John did the scallops and the Lexan windscreen. With a few borrowed bits like John’s billet Weld wheels, the intense three-month build cost a total of $1500 – which is what we sold it for at Summernats 6.

The sills were no longer structural, and to stop them from being crushed, two-inch water pipe was welded to the chassis. On the cruise route, we’d all bounce in unison and the tube would go crunch, crunch, crunch along the bitumen. We also ‘pinged’ a host of lane-marker cat’s eyes during the Northbourne Avenue Supercruise. At one stage, we drove over a power cord, which started being pulled along the ground – nobody get out! We had to back up and get some spectators to lift the cord up and over the car – fun times!

As for the name, I was explaining to Billy the colour I wanted, and noticed his kid’s lime-green sippy cup – “Make it that colour,” I said. Ash the painter wrote ‘Baby Cup Green’ on the can, and the name stuck!

While we missed out on Top Cruiser at ’Nats 6, we did win a Judges’ Choice award – a trophy that John still proudly displays.