Cannonball Cup ZF Ford Fairlane survivor

The last race-spec survivor of the infamous 1984 Cannonball Cup is back to its former glory!

Photographers: Shaun Tanner

Death Race!” shouted the Melbourne tabloid Truth in 1984. Cannonball Run fever had landed in Australia, with two cross-continent sprints to be held within a month of each other.

First published in the February 2024 issue of Street Machine

While October 1984’s Paradise to Perth was a humble three-car gig, the Australian Cannonball Cup promised to be bigger, faster and sexier. Thirty-three teams forked out $550 a pop to race across the 3800 kays between north-west Melbourne and Fremantle. Organisers flexed coordinated air support and radio comms to warn of police, with a $10,000 prize for whoever got home first.

Like most great schemes of the 80s, the Cup soon brewed into a circus of unpaid debtors, cops behaving badly and media sensationalism, with some sleep-deprived Nullarbor hallucinations thrown in for good measure (see some insane footage from the event here).

Few relics capture the Cup vibe better than ‘Trans Aust’ – the wild, purpose-built ZF Fairlane commissioned by late businessman Andre Razums, OAM. News coverage in ’84 claimed the founder and co-owner of Dairy Bell Ice Cream forked out more than $20,000 to deck the Fairlane out as a cross-country monster.

Starting at the business end, the all-steel bonnet hides frenched gauges to complement the tacho housed in the driver’s front quarter. A Mazda RX-5 grille sits between XE Fairmont headlights, while the split front bar features a pair of tow hooks. The rear-end treatment includes a steel rear spoiler extending across the boot and quarters, a lengthened and widened XE Falcon rear bar, and three factory-smoked FC LTD tail-lights, all topped off with twin frenched antennas. Even the plates were apparently cut down, sandblasted and resprayed with a less-reflective finish to make them less legible.

Inside, you’ll find all the Cannonball goodies you might need, starting with a desktop police scanner, brick carphone, radar detector, C/B radio and a hidden killswitch to black out the tail-lights.

David Downie owns the car these days, and coordinated a full resto on this piece of history. Known to many of us as Deni Dave, he’s a go-to man for stories of rusty metal and gritty Aussie history, especially when the two collide, so it’s no surprise he’s been across this Fairlane for quite a while.

“I bought it about five years ago after hassling a mate, Chris, to sell it to me after he’d had it a while and lost interest,” Dave says. “I’d tried to buy it in 1995 but missed out by half an hour, after ringing an ad in a Trading Post-type paper. I really wanted it, and I eventually got it after seeing it deteriorate over time. It took a lot of research, and with a lot of custom work we were trying to save, it was a tough job.”

The car was rusty and had copped a lick of ugly black paint over the sweet airbrushing, but had done practically no work over the 35 years separating the Cannonball Cup and Dave’s ownership. That meant it was essentially complete, right down to the eccentric bodywork and blown, matching-numbers 351 Cleveland.

Originally built to slurp avgas, the Clevo remains unopened since K&D Engineering built it in 1984. “I don’t know what its internals consist of,” Dave says. “I just removed the blower and carbs to get them rebuilt and changed the ignition system to an MSD to give it modern, reliable manners.” Bob Fisher built the 6/71 with an added burst panel, which was sold through the Graham Withers Speed Shop. It’s mounted to a modified Offenhauser manifold, and wears two Holley 600 carbies.

Paul Rogers freshened the C6 years ago, while the original nine-inch is still running the super-tall, US-sourced 2.50 gears it used in the Cup, to facilitate 90mph (145km/h) cruising at 2800rpm. “It’s working like a Detroit [Locker] at the moment, so it’s either got one of those, or it’s f**ked,” Dave laughs.

Dyno sheets place the combo at 450rwhp in its glory days, and Dave’s keen to plonk it back on the rollers soon, especially now it’s proven itself through heat and heavy rain on a 1600km trip from Deniliquin to Street Machine Summernats 36 and back! “It also did some 45-minute laps of Summernats and didn’t miss a beat,” Dave adds.

If you’re wondering how far all this stuff got the mighty ZF in its Cannonball Cup campaign, it landed 25th of the 26 finishers, rolling into Freo with an ET of 39 hours, 33 minutes and 33 seconds. Back-of-the-pack finish aside, Razums said it was fairly smooth sailing aside from a stuck thermostat and a rock belting the exhaust. Despite their maximum cruising speed being in the region of 160mph (257km/h) and being pulled over nine times, they copped nothing more than a defect notice.

With the restoration coming to an end, Dave’s keen to iron out the last few bugs and refine the Fairlane into the best thing it can be, without sacrificing the infamous piece of history it’s tied up in. “Being the 40th anniversary of the Cannonball in November, I think a retrace of the race route is calling this car’s name,” he says. “So watch this space!”

Cup runneth over

A six-wheeled HX One Tonner driven by Charlie Kovacs and Len Walsh claimed first place in the 1984 Cannonball Cup with a 32-hour time, but they were later disqualified when organisers learned they’d been booked doing 165km/h – breaking a last-minute rule to avoid getting caught for high-range traffic offences.

Subsequently, their $10,000 first-prize cheque bounced, as did the one issued to the second-placed team, which the organisers blamed on an office burglary.


Paint:PPG Jet Black
Type:351ci Cleveland
Carbs:Holley 600
Supercharger:Bob Fisher 6/71
Heads:Ported 2V
Fuel system:Aeroflow electric pump, twin XA GT tanks
Cooling:Two-row alloy radiator
Exhaust:Tuned-length extractors, twin 2.5in system
Ignition:MSD 6AL, MSD billet dizzy
Diff:9in, 28-spline axles, 2.50:1 gears
Springs & shocks:Selby (f & r)
Rims:Delta Modular Gold; 14×7 (f), 14×8 (r)
Rubber:BF Goodrich; 225/50R14 (f), 245/60R14 (r)

Stu Tangey for the huge efforts involved at Stu’s Rod & Custom; Andrew Kennedy from Grafx Inc; Mik Wallmeyer for the bonnet decal; Dave Greene for recreating some of the original decals; Chris Stork for selling it to me after years of hassling; John Avis from; Steve Mehes, the original panel shop owner who did the build and the last surviving team member, for information; Andre Razums for having the idea and drive to get this car built and enter the race; everyone that has shared memories of the race, recognised the car and helped out in any way.