Joel Smith’s Summernats Street Champion-winning HQ Premier

Joel Smith's classically themed, exquisitely executed 355ci HQ Holden claimed the coveted Street Champion gong at Street Machine Summernats 36

Photographers: Shaun Tanner, Ashleigh Wilson

Summernats is hands-down the biggest car show in the country, and it’s daylight to second. An enormous volume of trophies and accolades are bestowed each year upon all different types of cars, from Tuff Street monsters to stunning Elite showpieces, tyre-melting pro burnout cars and 2000hp-plus dyno-destroying powerhouses.

First published in the February 2024 issue of Street Machine

But, in my humble opinion at least, one of the coolest awards a bloke or sheila can win at Street Machine Summernats has long been Street Champion. Think of it as a Grand Champion award for proper, jump-in-and-drive street cars.

To win the award, your car has to impress the judges, and you’ve got to be able to pedal the thing properly in the grass driving events. There’s no use turning up with a car that you can’t or won’t drive with a certain level of intent.

At Summernats 36, this all-important award was won by Joel Smith and his clean-as-a-whistle HQ Prem. With its decidedly old-school vibe, you could almost be excused for thinking that Joel’s Quey is a decades-old survivor, but it’s a brand-new build that came together just before Summernats. There’s no EFI, no LS swap and no massive billet wheels to be seen; just a simple, timeless theme, executed to absolute perfection.

“It’s all come together in the past six months, but it’s been in the build for 10 years,” Joel explains. “I bought it in three billion pieces, stripped it, repaired it all, moved house, built a house, had kids – all that stuff. I’d try to go out there for an hour or two during the week, and on the weekends.”

Joel’s an automotive painter by trade, and that goes some way towards explaining the quality of finish you see here. The car polled well with the judges at Summernats as a result, picking up Top Standard Paint, 2nd Top Engine Bay and 2nd Top Sedan. A ton of subtle body mods have tidied things up significantly, including shaved rear marker lights, fuel filler, aerial, and door and boot locks. The bonnet has had a hole cut in it for the air filter, and the underside was then skinned.

There’s no EFI, no LS swap and no massive billet wheels to be seen; just a simple, timeless theme, executed to perfection

The inner guards were smoothed, and a plenum-mounted VT wiper motor and electric heater meant the factory gear could be banished from the firewall. The bonnet latch was modified so that it releases via a lever through the grille rather than via a cable, and the whole show has been smoothed to perfection.

While he had the grinder out, Joel tubbed the rear end and notched the rails in order to house a meaty set of 275/60R15 tyres wrapped around a pair of delightfully old-school 15x9in Simmons B45s.

Naturally, it was Joel himself who squirted on the Dodge Viper red, and as a well-connected Illawarra local, he did so in none other than Howard Astill’s booth.

Howard’s next-door neighbour Dave Stephenson (of CHOPIT WH Statesman fame) is also a good mate, and his help proved invaluable throughout the build.

“Dave would drive to my house, pick the car up on the trailer and take it to his house so we could work on it while [his wife] Michelle looked after my kids while my wife was working,” says Joel. “Dave made the exhaust, modded the gearbox crossmember, built the boot installation, and took three weeks off work to completely rewire the whole car with help from Matthew Portelli. They both laid on their backs and scraped the underside while I painted everything. Dave also purchased lots of things because I had no money, and he pushed me very hard.”

Powertrain wise, Joel’s stuck with the time-honoured, meat-and-three-veg approach of a carby-fed 355ci Holden stroker backed by a Turbo 400 and nine-inch. And while we’ve all heard horror stories about engines purchased from Gumtree, the 355 Joel sourced from that site turned out to be a gem, and had no problem torching those 275-wide rears as he exited the Street Champion presentation on the Summernats burnout pad.

It sports a COME Racing crank, I-beam rods, SRP slugs and VN-style heads, topped with a Torque-Power dual-plane and a 750 Holley double-pumper. Power remains untested, but having witnessed the above-mentioned burnout, I don’t mind telling you that it sounds incredible and seems to have ample shove.

A hearty dose of Houndstooth was used in the interior, with GTS-style appointments and a B&M Stealth Pro Ratchet neatly integrated into the console. It’s all unpretentious stuff, but finished to a hard-to-fault level. The end product is a good-looking car that’s both beautifully executed and expertly driven – hence the big accolade at the ’Nats.

“I didn’t really expect it; I’d sort of thought about doing [Street Champion], but I didn’t think the car would stack up against the competition,” Joel says. He soon proved himself wrong, thanks in no small part to an awesome, crowd-pleasing effort in Saturday’s grass driving events.

There wasn’t really a moment when the Quey had traction at the rear meats, with Joel feeding it plenty of opposite lock as he navigated the bollards. “It was really fun; I wish there was more of it,” he laughs.


Paint:Dodge Viper red
Brand:355ci Holden V8
Induction:Torque-Power dual-plane high-rise manifold, Holley 750 double-pumper
Camshaft:Hydraulic, 0.495in lift, 230 degrees duration
Pistons:SRP forged
Crank:COME Racing stroker
Oil pump:High-volume
Fuel system:Aeromotive Stealth in-tank fuel pump
Cooling:South Coast Radiators radiator, twin Maradyne fans
Exhaust:Pacemaker tri-Y headers, twin 2.5in system with Hooker mufflers
Ignition:ICE dizzy, leads and ignition box
Gearbox:Turbo 400, manualised
Converter:Slingshot 3000rpm
Diff:9in, 31-spline axles, Truetrac centre, 3.7:1 gears
Front:King Springs coils, KYB shocks
Rear:King Springs coils, KYB shocks
Brakes:DBA gold rotors (f), HQ drums (r)
Master cylinder:WB Holden
Rims:Simmons B45; 15×7 (f), 15×9 (r)
Rubber:225/60R15 (f), 275/60R15 (r)

My wife for being supportive throughout the project; Dave and Michelle Stephenson – without their help this would not have happened; Harry for helping out, especially in the last week before the ’Nats; Howard Astill for letting me use the booth; Figtree Auto Transmissions for the killer gearbox; Paul at BrakePro Wollongong; Car Builders – absolute legends; Shane and Ben at Wishart’s Paint Solutions; Top End Interiors; Simon at Elite Custom Interiors; 247 Hose & Fittings; Frankies Auto Electrics; Leisure Coast Marine; Full Throttle Blasting; Rare Spares; Selby South Coast; Sam at PPG.