Dean Fiumara wins the 2023 Laurie Starling Memorial Scholarship

We chat to 25-year-old Dean Fiumara, recipient of the Laurie Starling Scholarship for 2023

Photographers: Chris Thorogood, Ash Wilson

The Laurie Starling Memorial Scholarship Award began in 2015 as a way to
financially assist up-and-coming young car fabricators and designers and help them further their careers. Named in honour of the late car crafter and Street Machine Summernats judge Laurie Starling, the scholarship comprises $4000 as well as a heap of tools and equipment from Milwaukee.

This year’s scholarship was awarded to 25-year-old Sydneysider Dean Fiumara, in recognition of his efforts with his fledgling design company, 3DFX Engineering, where he has worked on projects for Pac Performance, Memphis Helle Fabrications, Lowe Fabrications, Empire Elite Performance Parts, Race Only Parts and many more.

The award aslo considered Dean’s work as a fabricator and designer for Lowe Fabrications. Dean has been chipping away at developing car hardware even before he’s finished his university degree!

Our recent cover car KING GRP A, Ray Elia’s wildly modded VN Commodore SS Group A tribute (SM, Dec ’22), was crafted by Lowe Fabrications and bristles with Dean’s CAD and 3D-printing handiwork, from suspension and brake bits to fuel line clamps. We caught up with Dean after the scholarship was awarded to him at the Milwaukee Street Machine of the Year VIP party to find out more about his automotive journey so far.

How did you get into cars, Dean?
I pretty much got into cars through family; my uncle Frank is a mechanic. [When I would be] hanging around with him and my cousin while they were building engines, they got me into cleaning the parts. I was only maybe eight or 10 [laughs]. To be honest, I was so new to it all – cars were nothing to me!

When was the lightbulb moment?
At high school, I was thinking about mechanics, but my parents wanted me to look a bit further, so I looked into mechanical engineering. It appealed to me as it was the most hands-on and the most related to automotive. I did try other fields; for instance, I tried electrical, but I didn’t enjoy it as much. While I was doing that, I was doing an AutoCAD course at another TAFE; I really enjoyed it and started mucking around with it and learning more about it at home.

I got a good break with Damien Lowe of Lowe Fabrications. I’d finished school and needed a job to help me get through university. I have a mate who works a couple of doors down from Damien, so I had him ask Damien if he would be willing to take me on so I could learn more about cars and the scene. He was more than happy; that turned into a part-time job helping around the workshop. Damien had to get some stuff laser-cut and he was talking about getting the drawings done. I said, “Boss, give us a go – I can do that. I’ll do it in my own time at home.” He trusted me with that. So, I impressed the boss!

That was good encouragement!
Yes, he’s been very supportive. After that, there were a couple of little bits he had me do and some stuff for other people too. My uni degree requires a work placement; Damien has helped line up that as well.

What’s the program you’re studying?

It’s a Bachelor of Engineering with a Mechanical sub-major; it’s at the University of Western Sydney. I don’t have much to go – a few more units and the internship and I should graduate this year.

So where do you want to be in five years?
I get asked that quite a lot! Truth is, I’m not sure. Of course, I’m going to continue with the CAD and 3D printing, but there are so many fields with plenty of different skillsets, so I’ll probably dip my toes into a few different things. I’m working with 3D scanning right now; it’s a fresh and growing field that not everyone understands. Plus, there’s more to all this than just cool car stuff. I’m not going to limit myself to just cars only; in fact, I enjoy doing stuff that isn’t car stuff, as it helps break things up.

There’s some cool stuff on the Lowe Fabrications-built KING GRP A –
including components you made yourself.

Yeah, there’s a few 3D-printed parts on that car; it’s all the same processes as customer product development. I like to model something and then 3D-print it before we commit to machining or manufacture to make sure things work or fit the way they should with no mistakes. That’s the process for doing things properly, I reckon.

And now the big question: are you Holden, Ford or Mopar?
Datsun, actually! I have a little Datsun 1200 ute that I’m building with a 13B turbo [Mazda rotary]. It started out simple – just some little wheel tubs and a nice engine – but it’s grown from there. I wanted it finished by the end of this year, but really, looking at all the things that need to be done to get it finished, I think the year after is more sensible.