Iconic builds from the 80s and 90s Brisbane car scene

Looking back on eight memorable builds from Brisbane's show and street scene in the 80s and 90s


First published in the May 2015 issue of Street Machine

The Brisbane show and street scene really came of age in the mid-80s. Guys like Greg Carlson, Rob Beauchamp and Wayne Pagel wowed the Street Machine Nationals and early Summernats crowds, proving that Queenslanders were an innovative force to be reckoned with and not just ‘banana benders’. This inspired a fresh generation of gearheads who yearned to leave their own mark. Shows were fairly thin on the ground compared to now, but events like the Lawnton Powernats, old Airport show and the Brisbane Hot Rod & Street Machine Spectacular are remembered fondly.

1. Neil O’Brien’s HG Kingswood, ‘Awlgrip

Neil O’Brien’s schmick Spring Green HG Kingswood, ‘Awlgrip, ran a B&M blown 350 Chev and owner-built rear end. “I first saw this car at the ’89 Brisbane Hot Rod Show and the stance was as tough as hell,” says old-school aficionado Garry Pointon. “There were plenty of donor cars to choose from in those days and this Holden inspired many Pro Street builds.” We featured Neil’s HG in SM, Sep ’89.

2. Glen Beswick’s CL Charger

A feared tough streeter was Glen Beswick’s CL Charger. Glen was an ardent Mopar fan back when Chrysler guys were considered the odd ones out, and loved street sleepers. He built a tough 451-cuber by stroking a 400 donk with a 440 crank, backed with a Kevin Kent 727 and ’61 Dodge 8¾-inch diff. It never saw a lot of strip time, but ran an 11.20@126mph on 195 whitewalls! “You couldn’t punch it off the line,” he recalls. “I’d ease off in first, quickly change to second then feed the power on for a top-end charge.”

3. The Gannon brothers’ ‘Golden Commando’ 440-powered AP6 Valiant

The Gannon brothers’ ‘Golden Commando’ 440-powered AP6 Valiant was one of the first local cars to be running alloy heads, brought home as luggage after a US buying trip. Terry and Lee shared driving duties and were quick enough to feature in the PSC Aspirated Top 10 list for many months with 10.40 ETs. The car is still in their possession, but hasn’t turned a tyre in anger for a number of years.

4. Kevin Strachan’s HJ Monaro

This white HJ Monaro was a six-year build for Kevin Strachan. “I finished it in 1990 and showed it up until 1992,” Kevin says. “It ran an injected 454, Turbo 400 and nine-inch driveline, which was pretty standard fare for a show car back in those days.” The quality of the build was extremely high for a bloke in his early 20s, and Kevin has fond memories of this era. “Ron Barclay’s HQ ute was a huge inspiration that taught me to treat and detail the car as a sum of individual parts. Milton Adey always made newcomers feel welcome and took me under his wing at the 1990 Hot Rod Show. He introduced me to guys like Rod Hadfield, and I was thinking: ‘But you’re a god!’” he laughs. A sidetrack into hot rods and raising a family steered Kevin away from the street machine scene, but the good news is the HJ is still in his possession and remains virtually unchanged.

5. Dennis Laing’s ‘Bad Ribeena’ 1964 Galaxie

Dennis Laing’s ‘Bad Ribeena’ 1964 Galaxie was a Street Machine cover car (SM, Sep ’94) and turned the local show scene on its ear. Custom monochrome paint with graphics, a blown 460 big-block, steamroller tyres and billet componentry brought a touch of Trepanier to our shores. The big Gal received some minor updates while in Dennis’s possession and recently resurfaced for sale after a long absence.

6. Darren Ridings’s V8 EH ute

It wasn’t until the late 90s that you could legally build a V8 EH in the Sunshine State. Subtle was the key for many years prior, and is one of the reasons that Queenslanders mastered the art of the street sleeper. Darren Ridings built this beautiful ute running a 350 Chev destroked with a 307 crank, backed by a Powerglide and beefed-up banjo. Tidy original paint and widened chromies with Corona hubcaps gave the look of a mild resto, and saw daily use for many years without running foul of the law.

7. Mick Sweetman’s 454-powered HQ wagon

The late Mick Sweetman was at the forefront of many groundbreaking builds, and his 454-powered HQ wagon was plenty tough. The single Predator carb was later replaced with a tunnel ram, while an alloy rollcage that extended right to the tailgate area was mind-blowing for its time. “Mick was a first-class spray painter,” his friend Kevin Strachan recalls. “He could have painted underwater. Mick built some outstanding street cars and I often wonder what showstoppers he’d be driving if he was still with us today.”

8. Shaun Craven’s HT Monaro

Shaun Craven built this tough and tidy yellow HT Monaro with era-correct Wild Orchid metallic detailing. “I started with a genuine 308 GTS,” Shaun says. “It ended up running a tough 350 small-block, T350 trans and nine-inch combo, along with a set of Neales wheels. I sold it in the mid-90s for what was good money, but like many of us, I wish I still had it. It’s funny, even with the internet and repro market we have nowadays, building cars and the car scene in general seemed a lot simpler back then.”