I’ve never had the honour of judging a car show before, so when Kenny Harrison asked me a few months ago whether I’d be keen to judge at his Culture — Backstreet Car Meet event, I couldn’t say no. Despite being flattered by the offer, it’s also important to be mindful of the responsibility of such a role, and that was made explicitly clear at the show, held on December 3 in Hamilton. The quality of cars in attendance was going to make judging a particularly thought-provoking exercise. 

I’m certainly no professional car-show judge, but working in such an environment as NZV8 magazine does give you a critical eye, and this comes in handy. The judging process is more than just personal preference, and requires an impartial — almost third-person — observation of each vehicle, its merits that led you to observe it in the first place, and any flaws that would render another vehicle ‘better’ in an objective sense. 

The cars that were chosen were, therefore, not necessarily the ones I’d want most in my garage, but, rather than make someone feel stink by pointing out flaws in their cars, I’d rather write about the reasons each trophy-winning car was chosen. 

Best Japanese/European: Tim Wood’s 1973 Mazda RX-3

To be honest, the decision to choose Tim Wood’s Mazda RX-3 for this award was a bit of a no-brainer. There were definitely some cool Japanese and European vehicles in attendance, but this car is absolutely something else. With an appreciation for original-condition classics, Tim actually imported this RX-3 from Sydney, and it really is as good as it gets. A numbers-matching restored example in original Flare Yellow, and with twin-distributor 10A engine, Tim’s got what is likely to be the most original RX-3 in New Zealand. If that’s not worthy of an award, I don’t know what is. 

Best Hot Rod: Roger Johnson’s 1928 Ford Model A pickup

I actually really liked the black Model A roadster that attended the show for a while, but since it left early, I didn’t feel at all bad for putting Roger Johnson’s Model A roadster pickup (RPU) on the list. This thing is awesome — it looks how an RPU should, it’s got a neat stance, and, best of all, it’s powered by an old-school rear-distributor Hemi topped with twin-fours. 

Best Muscle: Kevin Johnson’s 1967 Pontiac GTO

Muscle cars weren’t exactly thick on the ground here, but even if they were, it’s likely this award would still have gone to Kevin Johnson’s 1967 Pontiac GTO. There’s just something so refreshing about seeing an iconic slice of ’60s American muscle in such good condition. Original steering wheel, original dashboard, original hood-tach … hell, it’s even on original Rally II wheels! 

Best Low-rider: Emerson ‘Elmo’ Field’s 1983 Cadillac Sedan De Ville

This was one of the tougher calls to make. With no disrespect to Elmo, or any of the other low-rider owners there, I’d personally have chosen Justin Ferris’s ’67 Chev Impala. However, in the interest of impartiality, Justin, Kenny, and Nick’s cars were exempt, as were the Valley Custom vehicles. Even so, it was a tricky decision to make in narrowing down a selection of nominees, but Elmo’s just had something about it. It’s been done in a very clean and simple ’90s style, including billet steering wheel, and looks just how such a car should look, sitting on hydraulics over wires. The understated airbrushing detail on the bootlid, and smoothly integrated Continental Kit just seal the deal. 

Best Bike: Squid’s 2011 Harley-Davidson Softail

Squid’s ‘Vicla’ style Harley is a very cool thing. Despite the acres of chrome and big ol’ ape hangers, it’s actually very subtle for what it is. If you don’t look too hard at it, that custom paint almost looks factory, and the fish pipes are far from being the crazy-long examples often seen on Viclas. The stance is perfect, with whitewall tyres front and rear, but it’s the finishing touches that really do it — studded leather saddlebags, a neat little bedroll, and the all-important riding whip. 

Best Overall: Shimmy Zaguri’s 1964 Chev Impala SS

As mentioned earlier, it wasn’t easy picking out the Best Low-rider award, let alone Best Overall. A number of cars were considered, but Shimmy’s ’64 Impala was the one. Sometimes less is more, and that certainly applies in the case of this car. Beautiful, deep-green paintwork not only suits the lines of the big two-door, but its stance on static suspension just can not be faulted. 

Valley Custom Award: Joel John Miller’s 1960 VW Beetle

I can’t speak on behalf of Valley Custom for this one, but something that Chris Harrison from Valley Custom mentioned when presenting this prize was, “We looked for the car that we’d most want to have in our garage.” Joel John Miller’s slammed VW Beetle probably wasn’t the car that many people would have expected to take the prize, but the decision makes total sense — it is what it is, and it’s cool as hell at that. If you had that car in your garage, is there anything that you’d change on it? I wouldn’t change a thing, and the Valley Custom team clearly wouldn’t either — that’s all there is to it.