IAIN Carlin looks spent. “I think this is the best show we’ve ever done,” the Chrysler Club of SA president sighs as he leans against the bootlid of his tidy brown VF Valiant sedan. “I’ve been talking to people and normally you’ll get one or two complaints, but today I’ve not heard a single gripe.”
The people have spoken; the 2018 Shannons Adelaide Chrysler Festival has been a resounding success. The unique ambiance has been unlike anything we have experienced; after all, it’s rare for a car show to be held in the preserved remnants of the factory that built so many of the vehicles entered. The South Australian Government now owns the ex-Chrysler/Mitsubishi Main Assembly Building facility, transforming it into the Tonsley Innovation District, offering incentives for tech businesses to set up shop under the expansive main roof.
Iain explains how the show came about: “The club got involved in a project to put together a Tonsley-themed timeline display here – massive steel pictures detailing the history of the area, from farmland to factory. Then last year we held our annual membership day here; that really was the big test. Renewal SA couldn’t have been more helpful; as far as government departments go, they were so easy to deal with. They didn’t even want us to pay!”
The free venue meant the club could pass on the savings, with no entry fees charged for spectators and entrants alike.“We set ourselves a target to make this as easy as possible: no entrant numbers, no forms, no judging, no trophies and no plaques. And I’ve not heard one person complain about any of that, either.”
Iain isn’t wrong; the zero-pressure environment has made the Shannons Adelaide Chrysler Festival a refreshingly social event. Sure, the chamois have been out, but with no sheep station-sized trophies on the line, owners have been willing to kick back mid-polish and talk Mopars or no cars.
THE All Chrysler Day at the former factory was only part of the festivities, with an informal cruise, lunch and drinks (in that order) on Friday and the ever-popular Mopar Mega-Cruise on Saturday night. Photographer Alastair and I got amongst it, driving an AP6 sedan borrowed from Simon and Emily Cole (thanks guys). It was amazing to get in there and chat to Chrysler fanatics from all over the country, then take to the streets in a machine built right here in Adelaide. Pacers and Chargers lined up against customs and projects, restoration queens shining next to survivor-spec patina monsters.
US tin is always a favourite; surely the ’Cuda (far left) must rate as one of the toughest muscle cars on the planet, with their wide stance and hockey-stripe signage giving away everything, 340 or 383 proudly emblazoned on the side. Sleepers they ain’t!
The old jiggers were thin on the ground, but a 1934 Plymouth roadster stood out, bright red over yellow wheels, and we also spotted a 1938 DeSoto (top left), sitting proudly at stock height, with zero mods aside from blinkers and peep mirrors. The same couldn’t be said for Alison Purdie’s Maxwell (left); the rare 1925 pick-up was rodded by her uncle John in 1966 and purchased by her dad in as-is condition in 1993. Running 1959 Chrysler Royal running gear, it has to be one of the older surviving rods in SA.
Moments after we’d entered the venue earlier in the day, snapper Alastair and I had lost each other; he zoned in on a zombie-hunting VJ Valiant coupe, while I followed a trail of hot Chargers lined up along the northern wall. The rich seam of Aussie metal continued, yielding an immaculate AP3 Wayfarer ute and a rare CM Valiant GLX in similar condition.
The sun filtering through the factory’s sawtooth roof danced upon the scintillating brightwork adorning Chrysler Australia’s finest, but even the most ardent Valiant nut knows that when it comes to chrome, nothing compares to the USA. Venturing deeper into the show, I was almost blinded by Simon Cole’s 1957 Chrysler Windsor, its massive, cheesy grille glimmering in the natural light as his son Phoenix danced to the live music that floated above the vinyl and steel.
Cover bands Crossroads, Katfire and The Groove provided a sonorous background soundtrack, audible throughout the open walls of the old factory; with local radio station Coast FM filling in the gaps, broadcasting live from the show.
Classic covers are good, but Frank Bergamin’s big-block Dodge Charger (SM, May ’18) rocked the building’s very foundations. People were drawn to the noise like birds to a freshly washed car; Alastair and I were no different, reuniting over the menacing black machine.
As we marvelled at just now much the place still looked like a factory, two former Chrysler/Mitsubishi workers were discussing how much it had changed. Colin Shaw started with Chrysler in 1977, leaving Mitsubishi in 2017, well after local production had ceased. “Back in the Chrysler days, they’d be parts stillages piled three or four high either side of the assembly line, so it didn’t feel as open as this,” he recalled. “I worked in here at the end of the line, gassing up the air cons and testing them. That was a great job in summer.”
George Apostolidis also did a fair stint at Chrysler/Mitsubishi, following in the footsteps of his father, cousin and uncle, who worked at the factory for a total of 75 years between them. “I was on the chassis line, installing differentials and tying them up to the tailshafts, then moved to other areas.” George pointed to a cladded office perched high in the roof, accessible only by a flight of metal stairs. “The superintendent would be up there. Sometimes you would look up and he’d be looking back, peering through these big binoculars. He was always checking we weren’t slacking!” he laughed.
FATHER-and-son duo Winston and Rustin Chivell brought Winston’s one-owner VE Wayfarer ute along (left), attending both the cruise on Saturday night and putting together a pretty good display for the Sunday show.
“I bought it brand new,” Winston said. “It was built for the police accident appreciation squad, who used to go around measuring up crash scenes and weighing trucks and stuff like that.” That explains the Celtic Blue paint, optional 160hp slant, 904a Torqueflite and genuine Chrysler sun visor, but doesn’t reveal why it sports such a low body number, yet sat around unclaimed, not selling until the VE’s run was almost up.
“It was always my main car; all the paintwork is original and I used to use it around my farm,” Winston said. “I’ve got about 160 classic tractors and 200 vintage engines; I brought most of them home behind the Valiant.” The ute was retired in 1992 when it was replaced with a Falcon, but being on acreage, the family had room to store the historic Valiant until Rustin awoke it from its slumber 22 years later.
“I had the motor rebuilt and fitted a US-sourced twin-carb intake and period alloy wheels,” Rustin said. “I wanted to make it look like an original service ute. The dealer who sold Dad the car had one, so we replicated that; I even tracked down the old dealer principal; he was still alive!”
The day blurred on, with mint-restored Rootes Group rides parked next to survivor-mileage Mopars, sharing in kind the very factory floor from which they had risen. From Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth to the more esoteric DeSoto, Imperial, Simca, Hillman and Sunbeam, there was a machine of every marque. Naturally, the Valiant proved to be the most popular model, with examples representing every variant, from the original R-series to the second-last Valiant ever built, a CM that rolled off the line on 28 August 1981.
It was easy to get distracted; by the time we’d pinned Iain down for our chat, the cars were filtering out. There will be other Chrysler shows, but it’d be hard to imagine any quite so special as this one.
Returning to our conversation, Iain concludes: “It was more arse than class to jag this venue; the right time, the right amount of cars, everything.” He says he’s open to having the event at the Tonsley Innovation Hub again next year, but by then the old factory will have more tenants and less space. “We advertised it as a one-off; it may well stay that way,” he says.
As the sound of dozens of Hemi sixes cranking up fills the building for the first time in 37 years, Iain flashes us a weary but satisfied smile before starting his slant-powered VF sedan. Selecting Drive, he muses: “It’s just been a perfect storm.”