LAST month I wrote that the best part about my job is handing the keys to a 520hp muscle car over to a lucky reader, but I forgot that surprising the winner of the Valvoline Street Machine Of The Year award with the news that they had won is also a pretty good giggle.
It isn’t always easy to set up, but once I’d called Nathan Booth’s dad Stephen (making sure he was safely seated first), it became clear that we’d be able to arrange one hell of a surprise for the 2015 SMOTY winner.
Stephen called his son and asked if he could come over on Sunday to help him fit some roller rockers to his own HR sedan (SM, Oct ’12). He then called a select crew of Nathan’s mates, and we all arranged to be hiding – complete with camera crew – in the family garage, waiting for the unsuspecting winner.
At 23 years of age, Nathan is not only the youngest-ever SMOTY winner, but is the first to do it with a six-cylinder car – and a Japanese six at that! The times, they are a-changing!
For those new to Street Machine, SMOTY has been running since 1988, and it is the most prestigious and richest award in our sport. The readers of Street Machine vote online and via SMS, choosing their favourite car from a shortlist of 16 chosen by the staff of the mag. That means it is a vote of pure people power.
Were you surprised to be nominated for SMOTY?
Yep, I was very surprised, I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know it happened until Dad called me and said: “Check your phone.”
He’d texted me a photo out of the magazine with the ute as one of the finalists. That was pretty cool!
Did you think you had a chance to take it out?
Nope! I even forgot to vote for myself [laughs].
How old were you when you got the ute?
Twelve years old. Dad had his HR, so I wanted one too, but I wanted a ute. It was just going to be a basic streeter with a 186 in it. Then as I got older and had a bit of money coming in I got a bit more ambitious. I bought a Commodore V6 for it, then a twin-turbo 202. Finally I bought an R33 Skyline GTS-T half-cut with an RB25 in it and it got out of hand [laughs]!
These kinds of conversions have been around for a long time, but they still stir the traditionalists up.
Yep. A lot of my mates had some really fast Skylines, so I wanted the HR to go that well. And I’d be able to beat Dad too, which was a bonus!
It is amazing how good it looks in there, like it was meant to be there.
It is a pretty easy swap; it is amazing how well everything
lines up. The only major mod it needed was to enlarge the transmission tunnel.
And the car was mostly built in your dad’s shed?
Yep. It went out for paint and trim and that was it. My old boss Aaron O’Brien did the paint, Josh Grose did the upholstery and Les Simpson did the tray – all mates, so that is pretty cool.
SMOTY isn’t your first trophy though, is it?
We finished it with the goal of getting to the HD/HR Holden Nationals in Mildura 2014. It won Grand Champion and Entrants’ Choice. It made Top 60 at Street Machine Summernats and got an Encouragement Award, and won Top Ute and a few other awards at Supernats and the South Coast Nationals. We took it to Warwick for the HD/HR Nationals this year and won Top HR Highly Modified.
What do you think the appeal of the ute is?
It is the kind of car that people walk past at first, but then they walk back and take a closer look. I wanted the trim to be pretty special but I made sure we kept the bench seat and the factory steering wheel to maintain the car’s identity.
And is it starting to see some street time now?
Yep, it has about 1000km on it; I’ve started driving it to work. I’m starting to think I shouldn’t have set up the rear end like a drag car, but its pretty good on the road.
Would you like to have a go at racing it?
Yep, I’d love to get it up to the Six Banger Nats in Warwick. The car is making about 300kW at the wheels, but we haven’t really leaned on it yet, there is more in it.
And I hear that you’ve turned your hobby into a career?
Yep, a couple of mates and I have started our own mechanical shop in Fyshwick, On Point Performance. We’ve only been going four months, but it is going well.
Reckon you’ll have a go at Grand Champion at Summernats 29?
I’ll put it in Elite and see how we go [laughs]. If it happens, we’ll drive the wheels off it! Thanks heaps to Street Machine and Valvoline for the award, I’m really blown away. s