Street Machine fashion flashbacks – part one

Have you been hiding the photos of what you drove back in the 80s? Time to come clean


Trends come and trends go; only a few become timeless classics

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

IF YOU think the fashion judgements of your average 16-year-old are scary, they’ve got nothing on street machiners — especially online. The wrong set of wheels or an ill-considered bonnet scoop are enough to label you a fashion victim of the most desperate order. Even the most polite of us have occasionally thought: ‘Great car but what was he thinking with those fluoro wipers?’

Graphics and flouro wipers! Pic by Alex Smits

Besides amusement, fashions are also great for placing a build in a certain era. A jacked-up rear with slapper bars? That would be late 70s. Letterbox scoop on a Sigma? Pure early 80s. Pastel paint and billet everything? Welcome to the 90s, my friend. And when our grandchildren look back at today’s toughies, it will be reverse-cowl scoops, big-inch billet rims and elastic band rubber that will be the giveaways.

Gordon McCarrol’s HZ wagon had a heap of 80s signifiers including Hurricane rims, twin sunroofs, L88 bonnet scoop, double-length Statesman grille and a roof spoiler

And just like the fashion world, trends tend to be circular and come back to delight — or haunt us — as younger generations discover what their grand-dads thought was cool. Just check out how many early Holdens, Falcons and Vals run whitewall tyres and lace paint these days.

So sit back, grab a can of KB and enjoy our trip through the high and lowlights of Street Machine style history.

Lightning rods


The rolled gold, enduring classics of street machines.

Auto Meter monster tachos — In yer face and often accompanied by the glow of a shift light, the monster tacho leaves no doubt as to your engine’s rpm.

B&M shifters — Auto or manual, they’re a staple. With so many column-shift cars forming our heritage, there’s no easier or quicker way to change your ride to a floor shift.

Billet – Blasting onto the scene in the 90s, the industrial edge of billet has tapered off in recent years but is still the choice for one-off or custom parts.

Miles of braided line, a tunnel ram, Bugcatcher scoop and (in all likelihood never used) nitrous lines make for a state-of-the-art 80s Pro Streeter

Braided line — Lashing of braided hose — including big fat radiator pipes — was a must-have on the show scene. With the availability of colour-coded fittings it’s back with a new twist, often in black.

Center Line Auto Drags — The cornerstone rim of the 80s Pro Street scene (and making a comeback in 2013) the Auto Drag is the perfect accompaniment to clean, crisp bodywork and paint.

Chrome plating — Street machine bling before the term ‘bling’ even existed; if it unbolts and can fit in the electroplating tank, it’s fair game.

Detail — As the show scene hotted up, the drive for points led to car builders detailing parts of the car that would otherwise be unseen by human eyes.

Extractors — A primary modification for any aspiring street machiner, with custom sets a necessity for those chasing maximum horsepower.

Holley carbs — In two or four-barrel form, the Holley carb has found its way onto everything from daily drivers to strip-only weapons and is still the carb of choice for those choosing to buck the EFI trend.

Lowering blocks — Lowered suspension is probably the single most effective mod to make any car look cooler and lowering blocks are the quick and easy fix for leaf springs.

Personalised numberplates — An identity or character trait given to either car or owner (or both). Some of our most famous and revered street machines are commonly referred to by their plates.

Rake — Arse up, nose down. The only acceptable stance for an old-school streeter

Roots-type blowers — Huffers, puffers, superchargers or blowers; whatever you call them, blowers were and to a large degree still are, the ultimate statement. Not bad for something invented in the 1800s to ventilate mineshafts.

Simmons wheels — An Australian icon that found its way from the street to the racetrack, Tony Simmons’ three-piece wheels add serious muscle factor to a period ride.

Smiths gauges — Hailing from the earliest depths of car culture, Smiths gauges have kept generations of car enthusiasts informed of their engine’s vitals.

Yella Terra — Spawned in Aussie legend ‘Dyno’ Dave Bennett’s Perfectune workshop, the Yella Terra range of rockers and heads are as Australian as meat pies and have kept pace with the best modern offerings.

Detaling the inside of your brake drums? You bet


Like parachute pants and hypercolour T-shirts, these are ‘what were they thinking?’ or ‘so-bad, they’re cool’, depending on your preferences.

There’s a lot going on in Barry Ross’s Chev – chain wheel, monster tacho, eight-track, B&M shifter and fluffy dice!

Chain steering wheels — Beloved by the panel van and low rider sets, nothing says badarse like a highly illegal chain steering wheel.

Chameleon paint — Thank god that’s over. True to its name, these paintjobs camouflaged themselves from view after a short-lived run.

Curtains — Chasing some privacy to submarine race your missus at the drive-in? A nice set of purple floral numbers were the go and often — and oddly — stitched by Mum or Grandma in a show of unwavering support.

Garter belts — No interior rear-view mirror was complete without a hanging black or white lace garter belt. Often sourced from the shotgun-riding missus, discretion was needed in case the full-scale version fouled with your floor shifter or centre console lid.

Spider gearknob — What we can we say. If your Manual Arts teacher was cool, he’d let you pour one in shop class using the daddy long-legs you scooped off the dunny seat that morning.

Spinning hubcaps — Straight from South Central LA, spinning rims and hubcaps were at the forefront of the bling craze, doubling as rotating shields to deflect bullets.

bonnet nostrils

GT/GS bonnet skins — Found their way onto Charades, F100s and everything in between. Loved by some, hated by others.

In part two of our fashion flashbacks, we look at the what were considered the ‘must-haves’ at the time, what trends are now dead & buried, and what’s making a comeback.