CROWDED HOUSE

THE GASSER BOYS ADD SOME THUNDER TO THE OTHERWISE DIGNIFIED VICTORIAN HOT ROD SHOW

STORY SIMON TELFORD PHOTOS CHRIS THOROGOOD

NOW in its 52nd year, Australia’s longest-running indoor show gave itself a slight rebrand this year to become the Victorian Hot Rod & Cool Rides Show. Why? Presumably the aim was to make it clear that while the event respects its pre-’48 roots, it also always has a killer variety of cars on show each year. Or maybe the idea was to pre-empt the inevitable whining along the lines of: “I went to the Hot Rod Show and – gasp – there were Commodores!” Either way, the event is unique in Australia for its killer location at the historic Royal Exhibition Building, moments from the Melbourne CBD by tram and surrounded by beautiful gardens.

In addition to the formally entered cars and bikes housed in the Exhibition Building, a passing parade of chrome-bumper goodness assembled in the VIP parking area outside the show itself, while the Kingpin Kuztums crew hosted an outdoor show on one side of the building, complete with live bands on Saturday and Sunday.

It was there that this year’s show really saw some action. Y’see, the lads from the Australian Nostalgia Racers entered half a dozen full-tilt Vintage Gas weapons in the Kingpin show on Sunday. So logically, they figured that since they were going to be parked outside, why not treat the crowd to some fire-ups? Which was then naturally extended to a proposal to do some low-speed laps around the Exhibition Building, and finally blew out into a harebrained scheme to take the gassers out onto the public roads around the venue. After some delicate negotiations with the powers that be, this excellent plan was approved, and at 11am on Sunday morning I found myself riding shotgun in Damien Kemp’s blown Funderbolt gasser, as we rump-rumped our way out of the venue.

One of the things I love most in life is when otherwise clueless members of the public are exposed to our sport in an unexpected way. It might be a family dropping into Coolangatta on the June long weekend, only to find 2000-odd killer cars parked up along Marine Parade for Cooly Rocks On.

Or, in this case, it could be an eight-year-old in the back of his or her parents’

RAV4, face pressed up against the glass in astonishment as Steve Costa’s golden ’57 Chev idles past, spewing methanol fumes out into the street.

Such a kid would be unlikely to have a single reference point for a stock ’57 Chev, let alone one with its blower scoop reaching almost to the roof and rear slicks sticking way outside the guards. It would almost be better if the child’s parents made disapproving noises at the spectacle of Steve and his mates in their alien vehicles holding up the traffic, as that would surely seal the thought in their sprog’s mind that this strange, shiny and unbelievably loud car must be unspeakably cool, setting off a chain of events in later life that would begin with model cars and end in disappointment and confusion for the parents about where they went wrong.

As we pulled through the front gate of the Exhibition Building, a large crowd of punters and passers-by gaped, pointed and filmed – so I’m sure that if we didn’t corrupt some impressionable minds on the street, we must have done some damage as we lapped the premises proper. The lads did another lap of the venue later in the day, and for their service in promoting not only nostalgia racing but also the joys of playing with crazy old cars in general, we thank them.

I emerged from Damien’s gasser with a smile from ear to ear and a live stream to the SM Facebook page that went viral. Photographer Thorogood, on the other hand, had spent the 10 minutes or so sprinting up and down the road to get the best vantage points to capture the action and, despite being one of the fittest members of the SM team, had been reduced to a sweaty mess. I decided the best course of action was to retire to the upstairs bar inside the Exhibition Building, where we could cool down, enjoy a couple of cold ciders and reflect on the show below us.

We agreed that while there were some cool new rides on display, we would have been glad to see a few more cars make their debut in the hall to really

give us that feeling of satisfaction. That said, if you approach any event as a passive consumer, waiting for entertainment to be wheeled out in front of you, then you’re likely to be disappointed.

For mine, the Hot Rod Show was a great chance to chill out in a relaxed environment after the full-on intensity that was Summernats, catch up with some mates and make some new ones – including the blokes from the Ambulance Historical Society, who had a ’65 Studebaker and a ’57 Mainline on display. The guys were a scream to talk to and it was inspiring to meet people concerned with preserving the heritage of their profession in such a cool way. Not only do they acquire and preserve ambulances from many different eras, but they also get them out in front of the public and offer them for use in movies and TV. I wasn’t expecting to be looking at a couple of classic ambulances when I walked in, but I’m glad that I had the opportunity.

And that is what I reckon most people are hoping for when they pay their money to enter an event.

See you there next year! s