Remembering custom and hot rodding legend Mario Colalillo

It was a celebration of life, horsepower and cool cars as hundreds of people gathered to remember a true giant of the modified car scene, Mario Colalillo

Photographers: Peter Bateman

PEOPLE came from all over the country to gather at the Workers Hubertus Country Club in Luddenham, NSW, to pay their respects to a legend in the hot rodding, drag racing and custom car scene, Mario Colalillo. While most SM readers will be familiar with his high-profile custom Cadillacs King Cad and Wild Cad, Mario’s love affair with modified cars started much earlier and covered a wide variety of styles. From restoring his father’s HR Holden, to piloting a 9.0-second ’39 Plymouth down the quarter-mile, to building a bunch of tasteful traditional hot rods and customs, the man had just about done it all – and he wasn’t even close to being finished.

Unfortunately, on the morning of 12 November 2018, Mario suffered a heart attack and passed away at home aged just 60 years old. He’d had a scare with his heart back in 2010 when he travelled to the USA with Wild Cad; he underwent a quadruple bypass soon after and had recovered well. He decided a lifestyle change with his beautiful wife Catriona would be just what the doctor ordered, and set up a beautiful new house down the NSW coast with a big shed so he could still spend plenty of time playing with cars, but even more time going fishing.

His passing was a big shock to everyone and a heart-wrenching blow for his son Andy, who had grown up side-by-side with his dad and had planned for many more adventures with him.

The crowd at his send-off was an indication of just the kind of guy Mario was. Young, old, hot rodder, customiser or drag racer, they would all have the same thing to say about Mario: Within five minutes of meeting him he made you feel like part of the family.

The memorial card that Andy and Catriona had at the celebration summed it up best:

“A loving husband, a loving father, a rescuer of animals. A man that could light up a room. But by far his greatest legacy will be the inspiration he gave us all to follow our dreams with sheer determination and hard work and ‘make it happen’. He was no mere man, he was our Bro!”

From everyone at Street Machine, RIP Bro.

Mario was one of the original Nostalgia Drag Racers of Australia and developed his ’39 Plymouth into a weapon of a street rod, running best ET of 9.03. I know how much he was spewing that he didn’t run an eight, because I was there that day.

Chris Palazzo was one of Mario’s best mates and a collaborator on quite a few of his projects. His blown and injected Hemi ’34 coupe made plenty of noise through the zoomies, just as Mario wanted it.

There was a bunch of cool cars that rocked up, including Sean Hammond in his ’57 Ranchero and Morgan Sgro in his customised ’51 Chev. They drove through torrential rain all the way from Victoria to pay tribute.

It was amazing to see Fast Freddy Cavasinni’s ’34 coupe in the flesh. This legendary machine ran 7.80s at 180mph over 20 years ago!

It was a passing comment that Mario made to his engine builder John Kuiper at a funeral for a friend some 20 years ago that made this day extra special: “You gotta make sure you rattle the windows in the church at my funeral, bro – make some noise!” We might not have been at a church, but we sure made some noise.