What Tom Slick may lack in speed and style, it certainly makes up for in character and history
Meet ‘Tom Slick’. No, he’s not one of the greying guys on the last page. Tom Slick’s a car, but not just any car — it’s a car that’s a significant part of the lower North Island’s hot rodding scene. If you’re thinking to yourself right now that Tom’s not the best looker nor in show condition, well, you’d probably be right, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagreed with you. But what the car lacks in aesthetics, it more than makes up for in character.
“Even back when Shady started building the car in 1969, it was made with old parts,” states one of the car’s three current owners. The ‘Shady’ referred to is well-known Wellingtonian Colin ‘Shady’ Lane, who passed away in July 2013 and who was active in the hot rodding scene for more than half a century.
A founding member of Capital Rodders back in 1967, Shady’s rodding history goes back even further than that; in 1962, he was one of the founders of what’s known to be the first hot rod club in the capital — The Charioteers. Wanting to get more use from his cut-down Ford coupe, Shady joined the Hutt Valley Motoring Club, which, in 1966, used Port Road in the Wellington suburb of Seaview for a paired sprint. Before long, rodders figured out that the event was more of a drag race than anything else, and its popularity grew. As it became increasingly popular, the event was handed over to the Cam County club, which still runs it today. It is the longest running street drag event in Australasia.
Shady and Tom Slick were an undeniable part of the event’s success, with Shady building the car to compete at the 1969 event, in which he ran the quickest time of the day. While many think of the car as being around and competing at Port Road almost ever since, the reality is that it raced for only a few years before being sold in 1971. However, Shady himself ran various cars at the Port Road Drags both before and after.
In 2006, Shady, by this time aged 68, showed some hot rod club members a photo of the car. One said that he knew where it was — the body at least. As quickly as he could, Shady was in his car and off to try to find Tom Slick in an attempt to relive his misspent youth. While the plan was to build it as it was when he had last owned it, various parts had obviously been changed along the way. But, again, just like the first time around, Shady wasn’t afraid to use whatever parts he could get his hands on.
With that ethos, Shady secured a Model T tourer chassis to which a Toyota diff was bolted — adding suspension would have meant more unnecessary weight and complication. A Y-block engine was fitted up front, topped with a trio of Stromberg 94 carbs, and mated to a Toyota four-speed — no doubt scored for free. Although the original build had had the motor back under the cowl, this time around, the car was slightly longer and the motor put in a more traditional spot. Even then, there’s no driveshaft at all, with the two yokes sharing one universal joint, running back to back under the car.
Shady completed the car just in time for it to run at the 40th anniversary of the Port Road Drags in 2006 and continued to race it both there and at Meremere Dragway. He was both knowledgeable and passionate about the nostalgic drag racing and hot rodding scenes, more than once going so far as to drag Tom Slick north to Auckland from his new home in Tokoroa to be put on display at the annual Hot Rod Blowout.
In 2013, the Y-block expired in spectacular style at the annual Meremere Nostalgia Drags, covering Shady in hot engine oil in the process. With his cancer getting worse by this stage, he never got around to repairing it, and he passed away just three months later. Ironically, he’d discharged himself from Waikato Hospital to go racing, against the doctor’s wishes. “I’m bloody dying anyway, so stuff it, I’m going racing,” he’d declared, such was his character.
After Shady’s passing, his wife, Kay, a long-time hot rodder herself, put the word out that Tom Slick and her own Austin were up for sale. The cars ended up in Rotorua, but, a while later,
"I’m bloody dying anyway, so stuff it, I’m going racing"
Tom Slick appeared on Trade Me exactly as last raced. It was while indulging in a regular ‘Wet Wednesday’, ‘Thirsty Thursday’, or ‘Firsty Friday’ social session — as they’ve been known to do on the odd occasion — that the trio of Andrew Gate, Scott Campbell, and Brian Matthews spotted the car for sale. Before long, they were off to Rotorua to collect their new purchase, handing over the princely sum of $4K for this piece of Kiwi history, before loading it on the trailer and heading for home.
On one hand, you could say that they got the bargain of the century; on the other, you could say that all they got was a blown-up Y-block attached to a bunch of other old shit that no one else wanted, mixed in with a mildly rusty and severely shortened Model T tourer bodyshell. Thankfully, the three long-time drag racing fans knew what they were looking at and couldn’t have been happier —well, at least until the beer wore off.
Having previously pulled a 292ci Y-block from a ’59 Galaxie, the trio soon had the damaged engine hauled out and the Galaxie’s motor dropped in. Of course, they were tempted to upgrade or replace almost every part they touched, which forced them to think long and hard about what the end goal was. Did they leave the car as it was, or did they make it safer and potentially able to perform better? While they’ve wisely made a few minor changes, essentially, their plan is just to leave it as is, despite their knowing that swapping out the transmission for a Powerglide would make a world of difference, in terms of both drivability and performance.
Sadly, not long after they got the car running, the Y-block ran a bearing, chewing up a bunch of other parts in the process. With Y-blocks not being all that common these days, word went out that they were looking for parts. Before long, offers of ‘old shit’ came flooding in, the trio being given trailer loads of parts.
From these bits, the team at Marsh Motorsport were enlisted to create an engine that would last, using anything they could from the previous combo, such as the Thumpr camshaft and MSD ignition. During our photo shoot, we were lucky enough to hear the car fire up and were blown away by just how tough it sounds. Even though we know that the car’s supposed to have run 12-second quarters in the past, looking at it is kinda like looking at your wrinkled old grandad who you know used to pack a punch back in his day but seriously don’t expect to now. We were certainly not prepared for the aural assault unleashed when the car fired into life.
“It’s a horrible heap of shit to drive!” the guys laugh. After they explain that it runs the accelerator in the middle and brakes — well, brake pedal, at least — on the right, it’s easy to see why. The major change that they have made to the car from the way it was when Shady last raced it has been for comfort and safety — a new seat. Apart from that, the cockpit is made up of the original plywood panels, rust holes, and Bakelite house switches with which it was purchased. However, it’s one of those cars for which the rust just makes it cooler and the various stickers attached to the exterior only emphasise its long and colourful history.
Shady’s daughter Pauline, now a dragster driver herself, couldn’t believe it when she first laid eyes on the rebuilt car, falling into tears at the sight of it — and rightly so, as, while for most of us it’s just a cool piece of drag racing history, for those who know the car, or knew Shady, it’ll always be a whole lot more.
Scott Campbell, Brian Matthews (right), Andrew Gate (left)
Age: All in their 50s
Previously owned cars: Too many to list (legitimately)
Dream car: Not necessarily this one
Why Tom Slick? We were all drinking at the time
Build time: Since 1969
Length of ownership: Three years
Scott, Brian, and Andrew thank: Tony Marsh at Marsh Motorsport; Ian and Graham McNeill at Mac’s Speed Shop; Fast Parts
1927 Ford Model T
Engine: 312ci Ford Y-block V8, Thunderbird heads, Victory valves, Comp Cams valve springs, Comp Cams retainers, Comp Cams Thumpr cam, Offenhauser tri-carb manifold, three Stromberg 94 carbs, electric fuel pump, MSD distributor, Bosch GT40 coil, Hedman Hedders headers
Driveline: Toyota four-speed gearbox, Hayes clutch, Toyota diff, 4.11:1 ratio
Suspension: Model A beam axle, Armstrong lever-action shocks, transverse leaf springs, unsprung rear end
Brakes: Toyota discs rear, un-braked front
Wheels/tyres: 16x3-inch wire front wheels, 15x8-inch Vintiques Smoothie rear wheels; 120/80R16 Continental front tyres, 255/60R15 rear tyres
Exterior: Shortened Model T tourer steel body, various coats of paint
Chassis: Model T tourer chassis
Interior: Austin 7 seat, Silvester harness, custom roll cage, Bakelite house switches, assorted gauges
Performance: Apparently has run 12s
This article originally appeared in NZV8 magazine issue No. 141. You can grab yourself a print copy of the mag at the link below: