Flashback: Rumble in the Jungle

Take a trip back to 2002, when we took some of Sydney’s toughest street cars on a lap through Sin City

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

In the December issue of Street Machine (on sale this coming Thursday!), we take a look back through some of the most iconic special feature yarns that we’ve published over the years. One of our favourites was Rumble in the Jungle, which saw Mark Arblaster and Tony Rabbitte cruise the Golden Mile with some of the gnarliest streeters Sydney had to offer. Gob-smacking stuff back in the day, and still sends tingles down our spines in 2021. Enjoy!

First published in the October 2002 issue of Street Machine

A dozen of Sydney’s toughest street machines rolled past a police car parked outside a Kings Cross strip joint. We were tempting fate, taking to the streets in 11- and 10-second weapons, with metal mountains topped with polished injector hats, massive rubber and thousands of horsepower. And there they were, the cops, three of them…

The run had started in the outer-western suburb of Leppington on a Tuesday just before peak hour. We were not only taking on the law but the common belief that street machines are unreliable, temperamental and unable to cope with the rigours of the daily commute.

Our convoy moved through the market garden country on the outskirts of Sydney, with long, straight, untravelled roads that gave us the chance to get the secondaries warmed up and have a real taste of what a purpose-built street machine should feel like.

Predictably, it all came to a screaming halt as we hit the edge of Liverpool, where every man and his dog slowed to peer at the cavalcade of rumbling muscle. It was great for the ego, but not the high-compression engines, which were starving for a decent flow of cool air. The fact that the M5 expressway was soon jammed with motorists trying to tuck into the convoy for a closer look wasn’t helping.

A pit stop on the side of the road cooled things down and gave me the chance to climb into the passenger seat of Dave Bruno’s blown ZK Fairlane with its ERUPT number plates, Boyd Coddington wheels and massive rear tyres. I shuffled my feet around a timing light on the floor and, nestling into the Recaro seat, felt like I was slamming shut a cell door with the amount of ’cage work. A B&M Pro Ratchet shifter sat between the seats, the rebuilt dash had lots of alloy and Auto Meter gauges, and the windscreen was half filled with a 6/71, a pair of Holleys and two fat K&N filters. Dave bumped it into top gear amid much rpm, which sounded not unlike a block of wood going through a bandsaw, the shift coming with a hard and fast punch in the back of the seat.

A few kays down the road, it was time for a change of scenery, this time for the polished injector hat on a 6/71 with EFI that filled the ’screen of the SHY66 Mustang. The traditional Pony trim sent me back to a time when you could buy fuel for 13c a litre and cruise all day on $20. Ahead of us was an SL/R 5000, HK Monaro, Silver Fox XY, Datsun 1600 and a V8 TC Cortina with a mass of polished alloy hanging in the breeze. I couldn’t give a rat’s arse where we were headed or how long it took to get there; I was part of something that represented more than a financial, environmental or social statement – I was living the street machine lifestyle in its purest form.

Julian Di Matto edged his way up beside us in his Silver Fox, 10-second, Windsor-powered Capri with massive MTs tucked under the rear. Man, that thing sounded angry. At the snap of the throttle, the MTs missed a beat, hooked up, then launched. Tony needed no further encouragement, and I could see the linkage on the Muzzy’s injector hat snap open to rocket us to the speed limit. It all ended with a bang as a flash of exploding gasket paper shot past my side of the windscreen through the cut-out in the bonnet. The revs came up, suggesting there was a vacuum leak that could possibly spoil our night of fun. The guess was it was the gasket between the blower and the manifold, so, with a handful of odd tools out of half a dozen boots, the blower was off just in time for the arrival of the new gasket, which had been phoned in. Thirty minutes later, the show was back on the road in solid peak-hour traffic, and that would be the only mechanical setback of the run.

Mechanics scrambled from Darlinghurst workshops for a look as the cavalcade rumbled on to the Cross and our ultimate destination of the famous Harry’s Café de Wheels. They are the true appreciators, perhaps dreaming of building their own weapons and wishing they were among us. Turning into Sin City Central – the main drag that runs through the Cross – we spotted the cops and were sure there’d be hell to pay. But the expected showdown never materialised. We snarled past the police cruiser parked outside a strip joint and the three wallopers barely lifted their heads. It was like the Kelly Gang riding into Glenrowan and the coppers all but offering them a beer.

There was a palpable sigh of relief as our heartbeats returned to normal and we continued down through the cutting to Harry’s at the back of the naval base. There, the road and the night were our own. Pie-and-peas and hot dogs with a choice of 20 sauces hit the spot before we returned to the Cross and managed to get all 12 cars parked in a row in its epicentre. For the boys, having their rigs parked in an area well patrolled by the cops was a real bonus. Sure, the cops could have busted any number of them for blowers, exhausts, tubs and rollcages, but they were unmolested at the most dangerous of hangouts in town, talking temperatures and who had the biggest balls when it came to flouting the law.

No amount of laps up and down the drag could satisfy the hardened bouncers or tourists, but it was time to go, and, without a bonnet being lifted, it was off to Hashams just past the airport, then back home.

After idling around the city for hours, it was a welcome relief to hear big revs coming from under the floor of my next ride. We gave it its head for a few seconds and I could imagine the rear view as smoke was turned off the Mickey Sportsmans and the arse hung a little into the next lane as the shift light winked at me. The road was clear and the tunnels on the Eastern Distributor the perfect amplifier.

It didn’t take long before the dozen cars were lined up at Hashams, a notorious hangout for street racers, where we attracted some attention, and even at 11pm on a Tuesday, a few of the four-banger boost boys ventured into the V8 domain looking for action.

“Who do you want to get flogged by?” one of the veterans of the blacktop among us joked, but we knew there was no need for street racing. There was nothing to prove. If you want to be a man, come to where the bullshit stops when the flag drops.

We returned home after a banquet of the street machine life – driving cars, turning heads, talking the talk. And, most importantly, loving it and wanting more.

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte