A hot rodder for as long as he can remember, Raymond Smyth’s life changed when he first got involved with drag racing back in the early days of Meremere Dragway. Like many, he was hooked straightaway and there was no going back. Staying true to his roots, though, he’s never kicked the hot rodding habit, and has no intention of doing so. Instead, it’d be fair to say that his taste has been refined over the years and now he’s at the point at which he has two of the coolest hot rods around — one for the street, the other for the strip.
Raymond’s passion for all things drag racing — and more specifically front-engine dragsters — kicked up a gear around seven years ago. After coming home to an empty family home every day, he soon realized he could sell up and get himself something more suited to his requirements: a whole lot of garaging, and bugger all bedrooms.
The 380 square metre commercial unit he found had a tenant in it at the time, and he was happy to keep it that way for a while. However, the tenant didn’t help himself, and soon the building was empty, forcing Raymond to shift in earlier than planned. Since then, he’s not looked back and step-by-step has been making the place better than he had ever imagined.
A house-warming gift of a fibreglass Model A Roadster rear end–come couch was a sign of things to come, as slowly but surely more and more cool items were dragged home to adorn the walls and other surfaces.
Of course, Raymond’s collecting of various hot rodding memorabilia goes back further than that, but now that he was in a place of his own, he could really show the full collection and decorate the place accordingly.
Upon moving in, Raymond found he spent every waking hour out in the shed. He had to remind himself that just because it was there, and he could see it every time he came home, that didn’t mean he should forget about the outside world.
That’s easier said than done, though: from the moment you walk in the door, you are greeted with his obsession, in the form of a table made using two forged (in perfect condition) Hemi cranks, their odd size rendering them almost useless in any other situation. Look further and you’ll see a set of brand-new forged pistons being used to support a laptop. The latest addition is another table that’s created from what look to be Top Fuel Hemi-spec rods and pistons.
Various pieces of artwork adorn the walls. A handful have been purchased at Hot Rod Blowout auctions over the years, while others have been found on some of Raymond’s overseas adventures, or while surfing eBay late at night. A broken blower belt affixed to the wall acts not only as interesting art but also as a tribute to the gods of speed.
On spying the hundreds of old oil and grease tins, we naturally assume that it must have taken Raymond years to amass them — we were wrong. It turns out that Raymond happened to meet the people who used to run the council’s amnesty days, on which people could dispose of their unwanted hazardous waste. One day Raymond visited just as an old tin was being cleaned up for sale, and he asked about the price. Then he asked the price for ten, and before he knew it, he’d bought the entire stock. There’s an assortment of brands, and some of the tins are not only still full but look never to have been opened. It’s the type of collection that some people would spend their lifetime trying to achieve.
Shelving that once housed engine parts was cleared to display the new collection, meaning that a new parts storage area was required. In this area you’ll find not only an amazing number of new and used Hemi parts but also a pile of flathead blocks — Raymond vows that the next car he builds will be a flattie-powered ’28 Roadster pickup.
However, until he’s ticked off his long-held dream of running a 200mph six-second pass, any plans to build more cars are on hold. When he does start a build, he doesn’t want it sitting around half done; he wants to get right into it with no distractions. For now, though, he’s safe in the knowledge that he’s got plenty of parts ready and waiting.
The car on which that six-second dream is resting is a seriously cool front-engined dragster (FED) that’s been in the family since 1995. The chassis now belongs to Raymond’s son Trent and daughter Rachelle, but the 392ci blown Hemi bolted to it is all Raymond’s. The car has come a long way from the early days — it was originally purchased just to do a few skids and have some fun. With help and encouragement from Top Doorslammer drivers Mark Bardsley and Wayne Yearbury, Raymond and family have been taking their racing a little more seriously of late. With the new engine combo debuting the season just been, the car ran as fast as 7.02 at 194mph with Trent behind the wheel. With various changes currently being made in preparation for next season, Raymond can’t wait for the opening meet to get in the car again. While he admits he gets a thrill from helping others, and over the years has crewed for various people, including Tim Watkins, the thrill of driving a car like this is what keeps him going.
The FED has been one of the best-looking around for many years, but recently received a full new look, thanks in part to a whole bunch of pinstriping by Chaz Allen. The striping not only extends to the throttle butterflies, but also to Raymond’s helmet, and soon the design will be replicated on the crew’s shirts.
Of course, having such a large shed does mean that you end up storing cars for other people — at one stage no fewer than 12 were housed there — although that’s something Raymond would rather avoid these days. In saying that, family is different — hence Trent’s XP and Rachelle’s ’46 coupe are regular house guests.
It’s no surprise that, growing up with a dad like Raymond, both kids were car crazy from a young age, with Trent owning his Falcon from when he was in his late teens, chipping away at it ever since. These days it runs a 302 and a five-speed. Rachelle’s coupe is powered by a 350/350 combo backed by a nine-inch, making it a perfect weekend cruiser.
The other car currently in residence is the seriously wild-looking custom belonging to Mike Roberts. The car was started many years ago, and, sadly, has sat idle while Mike has moved on to other projects. It seems like the old girl is about to have a new lease of life, and it’ll be interesting to see how it progresses as there’s truly nothing else in the world like it.
Raymond’s own ’32 Tudor is well known from various events around the Auckland region, its distinctive grille always a talking point. With many people telling Raymond he couldn’t be serious about using it when he built the car seven years ago, that doubt only drove him to make sure he did.
Although he’s not a rat rod fan, after years of owning shiny cars, he’s a big fan of back-to-basics, unfinished looks, and that’s exactly what the Tudor now has. Originally, the car was going to be flathead powered, but when Raymond came across a blown 354 Hemi and TH350 combo, he knew he needed to change that plan. Interestingly, the chassis was built up with the running gear before he’d even found a body, and it was only when he was about to call it quits on finding a real steel one that a full car that would work popped up for sale.
When it came time to find a tow wagon for the dragster, Raymond started hunting for a suitable pickup. Wanting something purely American, at first he wasn’t interested in a right-hand drive converted vehicle. However, knowing the seller of a ’96 Chev shortbed truck, he decided to check it out. On experiencing its supercharged power, he was hooked, and it soon became his new daily driver.
This being a true bachelor pad, it’s not just Raymond’s shed area that’s covered in memorabilia; a cabinet in the lounge contains hundreds of front-engine dragster models, as do various other cabinets scattered elsewhere. Raymond’s collecting is focused, though, with only certain things that suit the style or really catch his interest, as opposed to its being a collection of junk. It was when Raymond was gifted a die cast FED model that that collection began, and soon it grew to the point at which he had over 20 FEDs from a certain series as well as various other FED-related bits and pieces.
The three supercharged 354ci Hemis sitting on the floor could be considered art, memorabilia, or car parts. Call them what you will, there’s enough good bits there to make two serious motors. One is complete as removed from the dragster, and is really just a set of valve springs away from being a running unit. Another is in need of a set of alloy rods, and the third has some very tasty looking billet alloy heads sitting on it. Just one of these makes for a good talking point, let alone having three of them together.
Raymond’s theory behind the engines and the rest of the parts is that if things come up at a good price, he may as well grab them. While he doesn’t intend to sell anything, if someone’s in need of parts he’s got, he’ll never rule out doing a deal.
For now and for the seeable future, though, the collection and the shed will stay exactly as they are. While it’s a dream set-up for many of us, for Raymond it’s the seriously cool reality he’s managed to build for himself. Bravo, that man!
This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 113. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: