BEING a third-generation Chrysler fan, it borders on bloody criminal that I’ve never made the pilgrimage to Albury- Wodonga for Chryslers On The Murray. So when Editor Telfo dangled the Pentastar carrot in front of me for this year, I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in the Southern Hemisphere’s premier Mopar event.
Come early Friday morning I was on a Fokker bound for Melbourne and super-keen for the drive north to the border. My hire basher was upgraded from a Corolla to a VF Commodore, so I decided if anyone asked me what car I brought, I could legitimately say: “Just the VF,” and let them decide if I meant Valiant or not.
The Commo may not have armed me with much street cred, but its sat-nav got me to the Hume and I settled in for the few-hour journey. Surprisingly I only saw one Chrysler that whole drive – a battered Neon sedan – but I needn’t have worried; by the time I hit the outskirts of Wodonga I knew awesomeness was brewing.
With the early birds having already smoked their way through the driving events at the nearby Logic Centre, I headed straight to the afternoon meet ’n’ greet at the Gateway Park complex and was immediately impressed by the set-up, friendliness and professionalism offered up by the Albury-Wodonga Chrysler Club. Sure, having run this event for 30 years, it isn’t their first rodeo, but their small but passionate membership put on a hell of a big show given the number of volunteers at their disposal.
As the ultimate variety in Chrysler products rolled through the gates, I had my second realisation: I should never go to this show and not bring one of my own cars; the long drive from Brisbane would be worth it to fully indulge in the event instead of being on the fringes.
A SURPRISE package for many attendees at this year’s COTM was Michael McLean’s VJ Charger. The black bonnet and hefty intercooler were the only clues to there being something brewing, and the Hemi 245 (yes, not a 265) punches well above its weight, with a healthy class-winning 460.8hp during Saturday’s dyno runs.
The 245 started life as a low-compression truck motor, chosen for its inherent strength when compared to the normal passenger car derivatives.
“You can pick them up for $100 a pop, so already it’s cheaper than a 265, and their durability is key when going the turbo route,” Michael said.
“Andy Sanders at Specialised Power Porting in Mt Helen is the brains behind the running gear and we were keen to improve on last year’s 356hp. This combo runs a Garrett GTX3582R turbo running 20psi of boost, and to better last year’s result by more than 100hp was just amazing; I’m so stoked!”
But I was happy to talk the talk, and being a CL panel van tragic I was immediately drawn to the survivor-spec Impact Orange Drifter van owned by John Lodge, who wears his passion on his sleeve – literally! But hang on, there was more: he also brought along a matching orange Drifter ute and Drifter Charger! “I bought the van, then found the ute soon after,” John said. “Then I realised I was on a hat trick and put the feelers out for a matching Charger.” Each car is super-rare and collectible in its own right, but the three together made for an impressive sight.
As the sun set on Friday evening, the Albury main drag took on a whole new persona. I swear I’d jumped into the DeLorean and shot back 20 years to the glory days with the amount of awesome street cruising on the go. All sorts of Chryslers mixed it with a motley collection of local hot rods and street machines – seriously a sight for sore eyes. A handful of blown rides and ultra-tough streeters in the mix were just icing on the cake.
One car I was particularly taken with was a tidy and suitably number-plated VH 770 Charger sporting the nose-down/arse-up sniffer rake along with chrome tramp rods – it just looked tough.
This is my style to a T, but I definitely wasn’t expecting its owner, Joshua Savvoudiou, to be a bloke in his early 20s: “I just love the old-school look but most people don’t seem to get it,” he said. “My dad, Telly, and uncle, George Haridemos have owned Chargers for years, so it’s in the blood.”
A peek under the bonnet revealed an engine bay superbly detailed with plenty of chrome and braided hose to tie in with the 80s-inspired exterior. I did a double-take when I spied the carbied twin-turbo Hemi set-up. “I usually run a triple-Webered 265, but that gave up the ghost a few weeks ago,” Josh said. “This is one of my dad’s old motors he and his friend Gary were developing back in the 80s. It’s been a mad thrash to get it swapped in and tuned, but it’s been worth it to make it here and have some fun.”
SM photographer Shaun and myself enjoyed some bench racing with Josh, Telly and George, along with VH E55 owner Chris Evans and fellow Charger turbo fan Michael McLean, who all hail from Canberra and regularly cruise our nation’s capital as an ‘unofficial’ club. “We’re all mates who like to keep it about the cars and not the politics,” Michael said – a refreshing outlook, considering their hometown. Michael’s orange VJ is a real surprise package, too (see breakout, page 66).
Saturday kicked off bright and early with superb weather, and a steady stream of cars rolled in for the show ’n’ shine and judging, while traders and swap meet patrons busied themselves sorting their wares.
Walking amongst the owners and friends doing last-minute cleaning, setting up shades and barbeques, or generally having a laugh reminded me why we do what we do. COTM is definitely geared at people as well as cars, offering the opportunity for old friends to have a sometimes-just-annual catch-up, or reaffirm new friendships spawned through the modern connections of social media.
The sheer volume and variety of Chryslers here is what floored me; as a COTM virgin I’d never experienced so many Mopars in one place, and walking the rows introduced me to a number of rarer models that I’d never spied in the flesh, or even knew existed. The Rambler/AMC crowd were here in their fifth year as an incorporated part of COTM, and were well-represented, with everything from Javelins to the last of the Aussie Jeeps.
Matt Webster and his team from Webster’s Dyno spent a busy morning preparing their tent for the first session of power runs before the crowds and cars gradually dispersed for the afternoon cruise to Ettamogah Pub. Shaun and I caught up with our newfound mates from the previous evening – who we’d since dubbed ‘The Charger Blokes’, and they asked us to join them on the drive. They didn’t have to ask twice!
As I waved goodbye to the hire Commodore and strapped myself into Michael McLean’s VJ for the cruise, I forgot that I had responsibilities and was on the clock; I was just a
THE LOCAL police were extremely – and thankfully – tolerant to say the least, and the COTM crowd were mostly responsible people who used restraint to balance noise and action. Sadly, it was mainly the antics of a couple of P-plate Commodore drivers tank-slapping their mang-mangs sideways through busy intersections that brought on the heat. And I’m not randomly pointing fingers or trying to pick on any one particular group – it’s just the plain truth of the matter.
Curbing bad behaviour is everyone’s responsibility if events like COTM are going to continue to be locally supported, and the carload in the late-model Challenger who gave me unprovoked shit at the lights then caused me to take evasive action when they cut me off aren’t helping our image either. Sure, in my hire basher I would’ve looked like any normal Joe Public and not a fellow enthusiast, but therein lies the issue. It’s the way our collective behaviour is received by the broader community that will determine the longevity of events like this.
car guy on the open road, in the company of other likeminded folks enjoying the camaraderie that comes with blasting down the highway.
Cruising with Michael in the company of four other Chargers with their distinctive ducktail styling gave me a new appreciation of what coollooking cars they truly are. The Chrysler Australia Limited designers got it so right!
The spotlight at this year’s event was on the models that bookend the Valiant legacy in Australia – the R- and S-Series and the CL-CM range – and a healthy array of these cars on the Ettamogah Pub’s oval offered up the perfect chance for happy snaps or just a view to be savoured along with a steak burger and cold beer.
As the sun set on another great day, I was reminded that cars have to be driven and enjoyed. The core of this can sometimes be lost in the process and tribulations of building your preferred ride, but there were plenty of people who didn’t need reminding during Saturday night’s street cruising. If I thought Friday night’s experience was awesome then Saturday blew my mind! The atmosphere is difficult to describe, mainly I think because it’s just such a rare experience in our modern-day overregulated society.
Sunday arrived all too quickly and it was back to the Gateway for the final events and afternoon trophy presentation. I swear there were even more Chryslers on the field and in the carpark than the previous day, and with a record number of 741 entrants, we can only hope the passion for events like Chryslers On The Murray continues to grow.
As Sunday drew to a close I made peace with the Commodore then headed south towards Melbourne, my mind awash with plans to return to COTM with my own car. Maybe if I incorporate Chryslers By The Bay in Geelong the week prior and the SA All Chrysler Day the following weekend, I can have the ultimate Mega Mopar road trip. Now that sounds like an awesome idea! s