Spiderbait’s Black Betty 1936 Dodge roadster

Looking back at the real star of Spiderbait's 2004 hit single

Photographers: Simon Davidson

First published in the July 2004 issue of Street Machine

Whoa, Black Betty, bam ba lam! Aussie rock band Spiderbait has transformed the Saturday morning TV wasteland with the film clip to its new single, Black Betty. The song is a cracker — a cover of a tune written more than 80 years ago by bad-arse bluesman Leadbelly, and made famous in the 70s by one-hit-wonders Ram Jam.

Spiderbait’s take on the song is like a supercharged version of Ram Jam’s effort, but it’s the film clip which has claimed the attention of the nation, featuring this evil ’36 Dodge roadster. The band plays on the back of a moving flatbed truck while the Dodge circles menacingly around them, smoking the tyres and showing the world what hot rodding is all about.

We brought car and band together again during Spiderbait’s Tonight Alright tour. We arranged to meet in a quiet backstreet in the inner city Brisbane suburb of Newstead.

The band arrives first, bleary-eyed from a gig the night before on the Gold Coast. Kram (drums), Janet (bass) and Witt (guitar) pile out of the taxi and I ask them how they ended up with such a cool car in their film clip.

“When we want to do a clip, we get sent a bunch of ideas and pick the one we like,” says Kram. “This one appealed to us straight away. The hot rod is like the truck in that movie, Duel — you never get to see the driver, it’s like the devil himself is behind the wheel. I love that movie and I love the truck in it. It’s an old Peterbilt. You don’t see many of them.”

The clip also reminds me of AC/DC’s film clip for It’s a Long way to the Top, but before we can discuss the antics of Bon Scott, we hear the unmistakeable snarl and grumble of a lumpy V8 in the distance. Sure enough it’s the Dodge, complete with BBETTY number plate on the rear to confirm its new-found identity.

The car is even tougher than it looks on TV. Massively curvy guards at the front, a set of fat Mickey Thompsons at the back and a big block Chev V8 hanging out in the breeze. Troy, the car’s minder, does a neat three point turn and heads suddenly appear out of windows and workshop doorways. Another car pulls up and a bloke jumps out and starts talking to the band like some long-lost buddy. He grabs an autograph and a photo with the car and he’s off again. Troy has just cut a swathe through the Brisbane CBD and says the Dodge has turned more heads than a pink Lamborghini.

The hot rod is like the truck in that movie, Duel — you never get to see the driver, it’s like the devil himself is behind the wheel

“I was at the lights and these guys pulled up beside me in a Commodore and cranked Black Betty up on their stereo. People love it!”

The Dodge is clearly a nasty piece of work, but Troy reckons it used to be even tougher.

“It’s good to drive. The engine is a 510-cube Chev Rat that puts out about 650hp. It used to be blown and injected with about 1300hp, but it gets used as a wedding car on occasion, so we toned it done a bit,” he says.

Dale handled the burnout duties for the film clip, while a stuntman with Movieworld drove the Dodge during the tracking shots, with the band on the back of the truck.

“He was a bit unsure of the car at first ’cos everything is so touchy, but he got the hang of it!” says Troy.

“The shoot was good fun,” says Janet. “We did it on the Gold Coast in the middle of summer. They blocked off some of the streets and we had a police escort. The truck was doing about 60-70km/h so it was a bit hairy — Witt nearly fell off the back, but he’s done a bit of rock climbing, so he hung on!”

Spiderbait are no strangers to having fast cars in their clips — Kram’s brother blew up his HQ Monaro doing burnouts for the Old Man Sam clip — but they’ve never had a reaction like this before and the song’s become the biggest hit of their careers, spending a month in the Top 10.

“They go well together. The song is like a souped-up version of the original, just like the car,” says Witt.

Kram is the main revhead of the group. Besides being a truck aficionado, he recently bought his very first car — a 1975 Maserati Merak!

“Its got a mid-mounted quad-cam V6 and a suede interior. It’s a real porn star car,” he says. “It can be nasty, but it’s loads of fun.”

By now, it’s time for the band to head off for the sound check for tonight’s gig, and I take the opportunity to check the rod out a little closer. The cockpit is snug, but the driving position is good. I’ve always liked fenderless retro rods, but sitting in this super fat-fendered pro street-style beast, I think I could be converted!

Black Betty specs

Car:1936 Dodge roadster
Colour:Cherry Black
Engine:510ci Chev big block
Diff:Nine-inch with the lot
Front end:HT Holden
Rear:Tubbed with ladder bar
Tyres:165/15 Michelin (f), 10.5-inch Mickey Thompsons (r)

Thanks to Fifty Fifty films and Universal Music for letting us use their images.