Legendary race car builder Rod Andrews – interview

If you need chrome-moly tubing, Rod's your man. But he can supply a it more than that

Photographers: Peter Bateman, Dave Cook, Cackling Pipes

If you need chrome-moly tubing, Rod’s your man. But he can supply a it more than that

This article on Rod Andrews was originally published in the August 2013 issue of Street Machine

THE Dec ’81/Jan ’82 issue of Street Machine had on its cover a yellow HG Belmont owned by a young expat Kiwi by the name of Rod Andrews. The ute was a member of our 11-second Street Animals club, using a mere 336ci small-block and virtually stock suspension to put many blown and big-blocked streeters to shame.

Rod went on to own the B/S stock record in 1983 and took a swag of wins in Super Sedan and Super Stock at Castlereagh. He parlayed his hobby into a career as a chassis builder and is now one of the main suppliers of chassis tube to the industry. We’ll let Geoff Paradise, who edited Street Machine back when that mag came out, tell the story.

Rod’s ute was a basic combination, but he got it pumping. It would still be a quick streeter today

Where did you discover drag racing, Rod?

In New Zealand. They closed the main road and held sprint races near where I lived. It was quarter-mile but just one car at a time.

What were you racing?

An FC Holden with a side plate that ran 16s. We used to fit Vauxhall pistons to them to get some more compression. I spectated at Meremere as well. That was proper drag racing and they’d bring an Aussie over to race each year, guys like Warren Goodall, Darren Blake and Dave Gale.

When did you move to Oz?

In 1976. I was an engineering draughtsman and I got a job with Elcom, the forerunner of Energy Australia.

Is it true you built an FX Holden in your flat?

Yes! The garage area was open, so I took all the panels up to the second bedroom in the lift. I turned the body itself over on its side and sat it on some tyres so I could do the undercarriage.

Was the FX a street car or a drag car?

It was going to be a show car. Then I met Phil Olive, who was racing a blown and injected Chev-powered FX called Red Devil at Castlereagh. He ended up painting my car and I started crewing for him. I got the bug and bought the HG ute. It was a really nice car, just a six-pot when I got it.

And you turned it into one of the first 11-sec Street Animals. What was it like trying to build a fast car in 1981?

Really hard. No electronic ignitions, lousy fuel, crap tyres, mostly stock engine parts unless you were a millionaire, and no traction. US torque converters were only just starting to be available in the US and very expensive. To order parts, you had to call the Telecom operator to be put through to the US. Getting good blocks was hard as well.

You raced Super Stock too, right?

Yep, in B/Stock, which is what I called real Super Stock. The rules were very tight; they had to be modified factory sedans, running engines that were available from the factory for that body. You had to run 9in tyres, wipers, flat tappet cams, fuellie heads and single four-barrels. Originally, you had to run a full exhaust too; it was a really cool class back then. Fred Dudek invited me to run in Super Stock to make up the numbers at a meeting and I put him out first round and won the meeting!

How did you move into building chassis?

I was using computers for work in the mid-80s. They were nothing like today — 16MB of memory was good then. Compare that to the cheapest smartphone now! I used a 3D design program to compare four-bar rear suspension to a ladder bar set-up and Dave Cook from Dragster asked me to do a story on designing four-link suspensions on computer modelling.

Rod at work designing four-link suspension back in the mid-80s

I’m pretty sure it was the first time anyone had done that kind of article in Australia. I got a few requests to build what I designed but I had absolutely no equipment and no workshop, so the best I could do was design the suspension and provide detailed plans for the racer to get it built elsewhere.

What was the impetus to move into doing it for real?

When I met Garth Bell. I’d sold my HG by this time and he wanted to build an FJ ute drag car with no chassis or rollcage tubing visible from outside the car. He approached lots of chassis builders but no-one thought it would work. I thought differently and designed it for him but even with the plans, no-one would touch it. So Garth asked if I would build the car for him after-hours, with pre-payments so I could purchase the tools and materials. That was the birth of Andrews Race Cars — in the family garage.

That’s pretty ambitious!

Garth Bell’s FJ ute, as featured in SM, Feb ’05. Complete with blown 20B rotary power!

I was still learning to weld at that stage, so I got Mick West to help me. It worked out pretty well. The FJ won Best Engineered at the 1994 Nationals at Calder Park and during Garth’s first period of ownership [he sold the car but bought it back some years later] ran a best of 9.30@147mph on a D/Gas index of 9.74 in 1994.

When did you move out of the shed and into a factory?

In 1996. The family home was at bursting point so my wife, Leonie, suggested we bite the bullet and commit to race-car building full time in a dedicated factory unit.

You’ve built scores of drag cars since then, including Top Doorslammers and a Top Fueller, but these days your business has morphed again.

Yep, in 2004, there was a worldwide shortage of 4130 chrome-moly, so I started sourcing chrome-moly and mild steel tubing in bulk. I’ve taken over the remaining two units here to store bulk shipments of tube; one unit stores the bulk packs which arrives in shipping containers from overseas steel mills, the other houses it in racks for dispatch to customers around the country. That is the lifeblood of the business and keeps us really busy — not just for the drag community but for the circuit and rally guys too. We still fabricate components though, including suspension, engine plates, rollcages, tubs and the like. My sons Garth and Clark help out part-time when they can.

Do you ever itch to go racing again?

I had an EK Holden on the chassis jig here a couple of years ago but I just don’t have the time to finish it. I’d love to have my ute back, though! The guy who bought it off me bought it back again after it went through five other owners. He’s just about to paint it back to how it was when I was racing.

1. Garth Bell’s Dodge, (SM Mar ’07). He also built Garth the FJ that kickstarted Andrews Race Cars.

2. The awesome Supercharged Outlaw Torana of John and Mick Trinder, designed by Rod and build by the brothers.

3. Maurice and Denise Brennan’s Top Doorslammer.