WHILE it’s better known these days as a refuge for tree-changing city slickers and sleepy farmers’ markets, the central Victorian town of Castlemaine is also the ‘Street Rod Centre of Australia’, as the signs around town proudly state. And few businesses do more to uphold that status than Castlemaine Rod Shop.
This article was first published in the April 2020 issue of Street Machine
Having been in operation since 1976, Castlemaine Rod Shop has become known both nationally and globally as one of the leading specialists in engine, steering, brake and diff conversion kits. Kelvin Waddington of Waddington’s Street Rods (together with sons Heath and Marc) took over The Rod Shop in 2012, merging it with their existing business. Things have gone from strength to strength ever since.
The business’s biggest new addition is the massive warehouse. With the amount of products going in and out on a daily basis, it’s not hard to see how a team of 20 blokes are often stretched thin to keep up
The boys recently opened the doors to their freshly renovated workshop in the heart of Castlemaine, so we went and had a tour, before sitting down with Heath Waddington for a chat.
As part of the renovations, the boys extended their showroom to give customers a look at their products in the flesh and see their real-world application in some of The Rod Shop’s own project cars. “It’s important that customers can come in and see all the products for themselves and how they actually work on the cars,” Heath says
Where did it start for you and Marc?
When we were kids. With Dad running Waddington’s Street Rods, we were always around it since we were young. We both completed apprenticeships at the shop, but it wasn’t as if we were planning on running our own workshop together since we were kids. In around 2012, the opportunity came about to take the reins of the shop, and while Dad still owns the factory, he’s taken a step back and myself and Marc have been running the show. Even though it was never the plan, looking back on it now it’s hard to imagine us doing anything else.
We showed up at The Rod Shop just in time to get a last glimpse of some of the business’s toys before they head off to the USA. WARBIRD, REAL DEAL and Steve Nogas’s KILLA B will take on Cleetus & Cars, the Freedom Factory, Hoonigan, 1320Video and even SEMA. You’ll be able to watch all their US antics on The Rod Shop’s YouTube channel
How much has changed since you and Marc took control of The Rod Shop?
Well to put it simply, when we started the shop barely offered 1000 products; now we have over 6000. We brought on mostly all new staff, put even more of a focus on the conversion parts side of the business and pretty much started fresh. We’ve grown from working out of a pretty small factory that used shipping containers for storage to having 20 full-time staff and the big workshop you see here today, with a warehouse stacked to the roof with brand new parts.
The Rod Shop’s fleet of personal cars is already a dream ensemble, but soon there’ll be another serious machine in the mix. Currently in the build is this killer CV8 Monaro, which should debut at Summernats in a few years as a dual-purpose burnout and drag racing machine. “We don’t know what engine we’ll do in it yet, but it’ll have a big blower sticking out of the bonnet for sure,” Marc says
You guys specialise in fabricating parts rather than building customer cars; is there a reason for that?
The Rod Shop has always been known for conversion parts, and we found the parts side quickly started to outgrow the restoration side. We don’t have the manpower to support both, so we pretty much just build our own cars every now and then and focus on developing and making parts instead. There’s a huge demand for that stuff; even with 6000 products ready to ship we’re still getting calls for stuff we haven’t had a chance to make yet. We’re so busy trying to stay on top of what we’re currently making, as well as developing new stuff to meet demand.
Suspension A-arms are just a fraction of the parts The Rod Shop fabricates from scratch. “It’s often one guy’s job to just pump out one part for a few days, like as many HQ suspension arms as he can,” Heath says
What’s involved in developing the custom kits and parts you sell?
There’s a minimum of six months of solid R&D testing to get the bigger stuff up to scratch. People probably can’t conceive just how much effort and red tape those sorts of things have to go through, especially the legally engineered kits we sell. We just finished getting our complete end-to-end HQ Holden chassis finalised and ready for production, and the effort required to get that off the ground and a reality is hard to explain. The complications of whether you build it to the same safety standards of 1970 or 2020 come into it, and it just lengthens the process. The list is always growing as well – there’d be hundreds of parts we get asked to make and it’s simply just a case of getting around to doing it. Even with a team of 20 good guys under us, we need more like 40 to keep up with demand.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry?
Obviously the LS and Barra stuff is big at the moment, and trying to predict those trends can be hard sometimes. The other thing is the way different generations approach building a car. It’s not uncommon for the younger guys to do it all at once with a complete conversion kit – mounts, steering, brakes, the lot. Whereas the older hot rod guys tend to want to do it piece by piece over time.
It should come as no surprise that Marc Waddington’s WARBIRD XP Falcon requires an entourage of tyres to follow it wherever it goes, having slayed rubber in countless demo burnouts over the years and consistently making noise in the Burnout Masters at Summernats. The Yanks aren’t going to know what hit them!
With the rapid expansion of the shop in recent years, did you ever consider moving from a small country town to the big smoke?
To be honest, if we had been doing this 25 years ago, then probably yes. But now, with the internet there’s really no need. Pre-internet, we probably would’ve had to move to a big city to get the face-to-face value, to get customers through the door and actually see the products and what we can do. But we ship anywhere from 500 to 1000 orders a week now and we’re always flat-out. Marc and I grew up here, and this is where the roots of the shop come from, so we’ll be staying here for the foreseeable future.
You won’t find any automated programs welding together diff housings in this workshop. All parts are hand-fabricated by specialists using state-of-the-art equipment – proof that Australian manufacturing isn’t completely dead yet
You recently announced you’ll be taking some of your own cars to the USA. What’s the story there?
We’ve been in talks with [YouTuber] Cleetus McFarland for a while now about doing something like coming to one of his Cleetus & Cars events. The biggest hurdle for us was getting the insurance secured to do it. We’ve tried to get to the US a few times with our connections over there, but we’ve had issues with insurance and things like that, and we want to do it properly with all the correct paperwork. It’s finally all fallen into place, and now with Cleetus’s Freedom Factory it should make for an awesome trip. We’re taking the WARBIRD XP, the REAL DEAL LC Torana and Steve Nogas’s KILLA B to do some burnouts, so we’ll be doing Cleetus & Cars, some stuff with 1320Video, Hoonigan, and we’ll be at SEMA as well. It should be an awesome trip and it’s going to be a big year for us.
The Rod Shop is the biggest supplier of Wilwood brakes in the country. “People always think a brake kit for a Nova will fit an HK, but it never does,” says Heath. “We have Wilwood make stuff specifically to our specs, so we know our kits will actually work for what they’re designed for”
What does the future hold for The Rod Shop?
Right now, even with the workshop expansion we’re operating at full capacity already, so it becomes a question of: Do you keep pushing to go bigger and bigger, or pull it back and keeps things happy? We’ve got some big things planned; we’re looking at diversifying a bit more with our motorsport to get into some speedway alongside the burnouts and drags. We’ve got a new Monaro project in the build, the HQ chassis to come out soon and a bunch more stuff. We certainly won’t be slowing down any time soon.