The noble art of hot rodding has been around for nearly as long as the automobile itself; an entire culture born of the testosterone-fuelled urge to go faster than the next bloke. And while that need for speed is very well catered for thanks to modern vehicles with millions of horsepower, many-starred safety ratings, and to-the-moon-and-back fuel economy, it’s left a gaping void that the typical home tinkerer is not usually able to fill.
Old cars aren’t controlled by a semi-sentient ECU, and the further back you go, the fewer the technological aids, and the more visceral a driving and ownership experience can be had. Factory ‘hot rods’ might be the way of the future, but ‘traditional’ hot rodding — with spanners and a half-inch drive socket set — will never die.
And that’s the basis of the Penske Commercial Vehicles Nostalgia Drags 2016, held at Meremere Dragway on Sunday, March 27. Well, the above prose may have been a bit long-winded, but essentially the Nostalgia Drags is an annual celebration of the bygone days of New Zealand hot rodding and drag racing culture — a simpler time.
With entry open only to pre-’72 vehicles of American origin, the line-up would be kept as pure as possible, ensuring a properly authentic field of nostalgic racers. That said, if you’re after the racing itself, you’ll need to wait for our event report in an upcoming issue of NZV8 — this is a closer look at some of the wild machinery on display.
Where else would you be able to see a blown flathead equipped with a Predator variable-venturi carb, and very old-school zoomies? This is a bare-bones engine if ever there was one — even compared to many of the vintage power plants in attendance.
And was there ever a Kiwi drag car with more credibility than Colin ‘Shady’ Lane’s old T-bucket? This thing is a real deal nostalgia racer, and even has Colin’s ‘National Competition Licence’ intact on the dashboard, dated 1965.
The Henry J gasser better known as ‘Pist’n’Broke’ is another iconic drag vehicle, having been owned and campaigned by Gary Norris for three decades. With an injected Chrysler 440 big block providing motive power, it’s not just a staunch looker.
A cool touch is the photo display Gary has made up to document his history with Pist’n’Broke — nostalgia, remember.
Being a nostalgia meeting, there were a fair few gassers in attendance, though none could quite match the raw presence of the two-door–converted ’54 Chev named ‘The Mexican’ — gassers don’t come much simpler, or more menacing, than this.
And then there are the hot rods … where do you even begin? A good starting point could be the sweet Model A duo parked in the shade of the pit area; the roadster powered by a SCOT-blown flathead, alongside the clean and simple chopped Tudor.
Or how about this wild thing? It originally started life as a 1929 Model A, believe it or not.
The other great thing about the Nostalgia Drags is the abundance of manual transmissions — it’s seriously refreshing to be able to look inside a car’s cabin, and count the correct number of pedals and a DIY-shifter.
Especially when they’re installed in something as cool as John Key’s Shafiroff-powered Biscayne — 10-second quarters in a big block–powered tank, with a proper transmission, sounds just perfect.
Or you could look towards Neil Surtees’ ’28 Roadster pickup — an 8BA flathead–powered hot rod more notable for the amazing workmanship that has gone into its construction. Neil estimates in excess of 5000 rivets were used to piece it all together!
Of course, all of these elements — hot rods, gassers, proper transmissions, etc. — are all just ingredients in the colourful recipe that is hot rodding. And the Penske Nostalgia Drags 2016 was one hell of a melting pot for it all — it hasn’t even been 48 hours, and next year’s already can’t come around soon enough!
Make sure you catch our full event report in NZV8 Issue No. 133, which will be on sale on May 9, 2016.