EIGHT years in the making and more dollars than he probably cares to think about, Chris Bitmead is about to make a dream of his come true. In two weeks time, he will debut his car in front of thousands of people at the Detroit Autorama, and with everything going to plan the car will be selected as part of the Pirelli Tire Great 8. From these eight finalists the judges will select the winner of the Ridler Award, a competition that was created to honour the memory of show promoter Don Ridler, who passed away in 1963.
Just making the Great 8 will be an amazing achievement for Chris and his team, but he didn’t go there to finish in second place. “If you’re going to take a car to the Ridler from Australia, you’re going there to win,” Chris says. While we can’t show you any pictures of the car yet, I can tell you that I’ve seen the car, and there’s no doubt it’s lifted the bar when it comes to the level of fabrication, detail and finish and fit in the Aussie car scene.
We’d love to prove that to you by showing some pics, but that would be really bad for Chris and undo all those years of work. Why? Because of the rules, that’s why. To be eligible for the Ridler: “The vehicle must make its first public showing at the Detroit Autorama. Showing the vehicle, or any unique part of the entry, such as the frame, engine or body at any indoor or outdoor show will make it ineligible for contention.”
What we can tell you is that the car is an XB Falcon coupe — and he’s called it XBOSS — so Chris has the added difficulty of showing a car that the judges may not be that familiar with. Yes, Mad Max has done a lot to educate the rest of the world about how cool the big Falcon coupes are, but Chris and his team are well prepared to be able to point out all of the subtle changes that abound on this car. While every single panel on the car has been modified, it is still unmistakably an XB Falcon coupe — although the stance has been dropped considerably and the attitude sent through the roof.
As part of the preparation for the Ridler, Chris even travelled to the show in 2012 to see how the event was run and also to check out the competition. With the XB already well on the way to completion, would it be the case that he’d come back and have to re-think the whole project? “We were well on the right track with the build and came back confident that we could compete at the highest level,” Chris says.
This isn’t Chris’s first rodeo either when it comes to elite level cars. He built a ’32 Ford three-window that debuted at MotorEx in 2006 and was on the cover of SM Hot Rod that same year and was selected as a Meguiar’s Showcar Superstar finalist at MotorEx 2007. Not happy to rest on his laurels, Chris was straight into making his next dream come true, building a car capable of taking it to the best in the world, and to do it he’s utilised the best talent in the country, a few of his best mates and one Yank. Before he could get started, Chris needed a plan, so he sent some photos and a die-cast model of an XB GT coupe to Don Vierstra of Vierstra Design in the US to come up with the initial renderings.
Initial bodywork was done by Reaper Customs in Perth before the car was shipped to Maskell’s Customs and Classics in Shepparton for final bodywork and paint. The custom interior work was handled by Mick’s Custom Trimworks and is stunning in its simplicity, managing a modernised yet classic look.
Everything else was handled by Chris and a few of his mates. Yep, once we can show you some photos, you might be hard pressed to believe that a large portion of this car was built in Chris’s shed at home. Admittedly, it’s a pretty big shed, but it’s not a full-on workshop. It was also the best way that Chris could control access to the car and make sure no photos leaked out.
There’s a huge amount of custom metalwork by John Gilbert that has gone into this car as well as a lot of custom fibreglass parts, including the bonnet and boot, which was flawlessly executed by Mark Allen. Other huge contributors to the project were Travis Sparrow and Brodie Mitchell who performed a lot of the fabrication, but most importantly, it was the support of Chris’s family — his wife Colleen and daughters Shelyce and Holly — that made the whole project possible.