The impact Chic Henry had on the Aussie car scene is immeasurable, and the ripples will be felt for many years to come.
The Street Machine Summernats he founded has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people over the years – whether they’re looking for a wild party, inspiration or a sense of community.
The event has helped shape and encourage the modfied car industry to a highly significant degree and today it continues to spread the gospel of good times in cars across the country, with regional events that have been born out of it – including Red CentreNATS and Rockynats.
There are a million stories about Chic – here are just 10 of them.
Did Chic invent the shagging wagon? Maybe not in the full ’70s sense, but Chic reckons he was ahead of his time in the van stakes:
“My army mate Kevin Burrows and I bought this Morris Messenger van in 1964 to take us to and from the beaches we surfed at when we were apprentices at Balcombe in Victoria.
“We called it The Machine. We painted it in blue, my mum made some black satin curtains for it and we fitted a double bed inner spring mattress in the back for beach side luxury.”
Chic’s first real street machine was a hot EH Holden, followed by a fast VE Valiant and then a ’57 Chev. But he met the real love of his automotive life in 1978 – his 1962 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport.
Chic stuck with the Chev for the rest of his life and while it went through a few different mechanical interations – including a brief time with the blown rat out of Wayne Barbour’s Corvette – the Impala remained essentially as we featured it in the April/May 1982 issue of SM.
Chic continued to cruise in the car in the final months of his life, including local car club meets and as the ultimate school formal carriage.
It was Chic’s role as National Director of the Australian Street Machine Federation (AMSF) that eventually led to him found the Summernats in 1988, but Chic’s first car club was the Broadway Knights – named after a Brisbane pub where the members used to gather.
While it is well known Chic began his working life in the Australian Army as a blacksmith, it is less known that he did seven years in the funeral industry:
“I was the maintenance mechanic for a funeral director, and as well as keeping all his vehicles running, I’d go out on the road as a funeral director. I once got the LTD hearse off the clock at way over 120mph, fortunately there wasn’t a deceased person in the back.”
While Summernats is ultimately about cars and their drivers, Chic also knew it was about entertainment and put masses of his energy and resources into delivering show-stopping special features each year. Stuntman Lawrence Legend was one of his favourite co-conspirators.
Rob Zahabi is best-known as one of Australia’s top car builders via his Rides by Kam business, but did you know that Chic was instrumental in helping Rob build his fledgling Canberra-based import business many years ago?
“Chic invited me to a meeting and when I got there, there were a bunch of movers and shakers there. He didn’t know me at all, he just saw some potential in me and decided to help me out. Incredible,” Rob told us.
Street Machine‘s roots with Chic go deep, back to our founding editor Geoff Paradise, who was a close confidant in the early days. His successor, Phil Scott, took things to the next level, and was instrumental in helping Chic get Summernats off the ground by bankrolling the burnout pad.
Not to put to finer point on it, but one of Chic’s most defining features was the oversized set of kahunas he carried around with him. How else do you explain the audacity needed to fly the world’s best Pro Street car halfway around the world for an brand-new event?
Not only did Chic manage to convince Rick Dobbertin to fly his already-legendary J2000 to Australia for Summernats #1, he managed to pay for it and get the Pontiac home unscathed.
Aside from his Impala, Chic’s most enduring automotive love was his FASTFUN Camaro. Orginally decked out with wild jellybean graphics, the car copped a couple of different colour schemes over the years.
The final look was prompted by a fire on the Summernats burnout pad – with wife Debra on board!
“That was the first and last time Debra rode shotgun on the burnout pad,” said Chic.
The most memorable thing about Chic for me, was his personable and warm way with people from all walks of life, be they a stranger on the street or one of the world’s best car builders. An amazing quality that will be much-missed.