Burnout legend Chris Christou – interview

Chris Christou is Aussie burnout royalty thanks to his tough-as XY Falcon and his flamboyant style on the pad

Photographers: Chris Thorogood, SM Archives

We caught up with Chris for a chat about the life and times of two true-blue legends back in 2016. Here’s the full story, as published in the April ’16 issue of Street Machine.

Chris Christou and his Electric Blue Phase III GTHO are the stuff of burnout legend. Thanks to his fist-out-the-window driving style and a tough-as-nails 351 Cleveland under the bonnet, Chris and his Hoey took out back-to-back Summernats Burnout Championships in 1990 and 1991, featured on the Summernats 8 cover and was included in Street Machine’s list of the All-Time Greatest Falcons (Aug 2013).

Although now retired from burnout duties, HO 775 still takes pride of place in the Christou garage.

The Phase III is one of Australia’s most revered cars – when you look back, what do you think about skidding such a valuable and collectible car?

Didn’t matter if it was a Bathurst Monaro, GT or HO – back in the 80s everybody did stupid things with them. Besides, I’ve never tagged the wall or Armco. The only damage I ever got was a bit on the quarter, if the tyre exploded. I was a panel beater, so I’d just fix it. As much as I loved doing it, later on I started to realise the value of the car and shut it down.

Tell us about your burnout style – you started with one fist out the window, which evolved into two fists. Did you practice that?

I had plenty of success with the fist pump, although I never really practiced it. If I felt comfortable and had plenty of time, I would definitely go the double fist. The old joke was that I was steering with my nose. Never actually did that, but I definitely used the knees a bit, because she was a fair old handful, as I ran a lot of tyre – 265/50/15 and sometimes a 275.

Was HO 775 manual?

Yes, for a long time – won my first Summernats Burnout Championship with a manual. I eventually saw what the other guys were doing with autos and made the swap. Before that it was bloody busy, I would be all arms and all feet. It was definitely good fun and I took all the precautions; I always checked the clutch and ran a scattershield. These days the cars have so much horsepower, they just touch the throttle and it destroys the tyres.

Was it always the one car?

I eventually did another car, for a few reasons. I didn’t want to kill the first car anymore, and Summernats wanted us there for the 25th anniversary. The car was in pieces, undergoing a full rebuild. I knew we weren’t going to get it done in time, so we built another car in two weeks. We put in massive hours – it nearly killed Rhys! It was a good XY; we stuck a sunroof in it, painted it, and bang – Bob’s your uncle. The original car is called Blue Thunder; the boys have nicknamed the other Secret Thunder.

What do you remember about that iconic Aug/Sep ’84 Street Machine cover?

I think the photoshoot was on my way back from the Street Machine Nationals, up Cemetery Road, Haunted Hills, Hernes Oak [in Gippsland, Victoria]. To be honest I can’t remember whose idea it was, mine or the photographer. But I’ll tell you what, I was none-too-shy back then, I would never say no. You can’t take chances like that anymore; it’s not like the old days. You’ll get your car impounded.

You and the XY were featured in the famous Real Men Smoke Eagers ad campaign – how did that come about?

I actually approached them and they said they’d give me some tyres. In the end they only supplied two tyres – which I never actually skidded on. Then Bridgestone went and made up a poster that went into all their tyre dealers. They did that off their own bat, nothing to do with me at all.

Where are your trophies?

I built this six-metre long bar, they’re all sitting along the top of it and the car is right behind them. They all have a lot of meaning; they make me feel good, make me feel like I’ve achieved something.

What do you think about the fact that everyone knows you as ‘the burnout guy’?

I’m over the moon with what I did. I’ve owned the car since I was 19; I’m 57 now and if I had the chance I’d love to do it all over again. I went to a wedding once and four guys came up and said: “You’re Chris Christou, you’re a legend.” It’s nice to be recognised, it makes you feel good.

What do you think of the burnouts the guys are doing these days?

Honestly, they’ve really taken it to the next level, there’s some serious friggin’ competition out there and you need a dedicated car to be competitive. The power levels are crazy – 1500, 1800hp. Those blown, injected set-ups are serious peanuts. I’ve been putting one together for about five years now; it’s a lot of money. Honest to god, 800 to 1000hp is plenty. Heck, even 700 is plenty – you can do some really good things with that much power.

What does the future hold for Chris Christou?

After going through hell and back health-wise, I’ve had to slow things down bit. However I’d really like to build another car and go out with a bang – if I could get the money together I’d be there like a rat up a drainpipe. Also my priorities have changed, I’ve got other commitments. I want to get my young fellas’ cars done. We’ve just finished Rhys’s XR, then there’s Mitch’s XW GT and Steve has a ’69 Camaro. After that, who knows? After all, it’s in my blood.