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Let me clarify – I was expecting something similar to street car and rod shows in Australia, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was nothing like them. Nothing like them at all.
As a petrol-head – the Aussie vernacular for gearhead or motorhead – I have always been driven to attend as many car shows, meets, and competitions as possible. But as the Aussie car scene evolved, I attended less and less. Why? It certainly wasn't the cars. We Australians have some amazing vehicles, from fully restored Falcon GT's to Rod Hadfield's V12 Merlin powered '55 Chevy, we can build pretty much anything. It was the people. I'm as proud as punch to be an Aussie, and know I'm damn lucky to live in a house that is visited regularly by kangaroos, wallabies, kookaburras, and Harley-Davidsons, but I think we have a lot to learn from our American cousins.
I walked into the Del Mar showgrounds, hung a left and entered the indoor section of the show, and walked towards a 1950 Ford F1 that looked like it had been driven straight off the lot – and into a custom shop. As I approached the pickup with my jaw scraping the floor, an old bearded bloke got up from his camp chair and said hi. "Beautiful truck, mate," I managed to say in between wiping drool from the corners of my mouth. "Hey, thanks man!" he said, and began talking about the restoration process, even taking a photo album out of the glove compartment and talking me through the frame-off process. 20 minutes later I bid my new mate Chuck farewell and moved onto the second vehicle. This continued for over two hours before I even made it outside. The owners were thrilled to talk about their rides, horsepower, torque, tunnel rams versus EFI, and which lacquer to use on pickup beds.
I ventured outside, shielding my eyes from the unfamiliar Californian sun, and proceeded to wander through the rear car park checking out the rat rods, customs, cars for sale, and memorabilia. I spotted a fairly epic rod, covered in rust, belly flat against the tarmac, license plates covering the interior, and a huge 6/71 blower sitting atop a SBC. I approached my dream car and started taking photos, aware that the owner was chatting to someone else. As I was peering inside, the owner wrapped up his conversation and wandered over. "You like it?" he asked. "Mate, I love it! This is car of the show for me!" The owner held out his hand and said, "I'm Pete. Wanna go for a run?"
I just about wet my pants. Pete and I jumped into his rod, he fired it up, and we were off. Down the concourse we went, past what seemed like a million people all looking at me. Pete turned the rod around, pulled over and said, "Your turn!" I really did wet my pants this time. I jumped in, eased off the brakes, and let the torque of the beast pull it away at idle. After Pete and I finished our cruise and wrapped up our chat, I thanked him a couple of thousand times and moved on to watch the AutoCross.
I'm a fair skinned Aussie – a far stretch from the tanned surfers (I've never surfed...) you see on TV, and I simply refused to get out of the sun. I stayed put for the next two hours, getting burnt to a crisp, watching some of the best entertainment I've ever seen. I watched old trucks with patina and power for days, Corvettes, Novas, and a kid in a V6 rental Mustang all give it their all. But the highlight was watching Mary Pozzi in her '72 Camaro make the course look like a Sunday drive to the corner store. She destroyed everything that came her way! Best of all, I walked over to Mary as she was getting out of her car, and said, "That is the best driving I have ever seen. Thank you for making my day!" Mary shook my hand and we chatted for about 10 minutes. One of her friends took a photo for us, and I moved on to look at the cars for sale, all the while with a huge grin on my face.
I visited a few more shows during that trip, including Nostalgia Drags in Irwindale, and each and every time it was the generosity of the people that blew me away. Sure, I loved seeing the cars, getting up close and personal with muscle cars I have only ever seen in pictures, and the smell of burning rubber. But it was the owners, their openness, their willingness to chat, and their eagerness for sharing their passion that made the trip for me.
I'm not going to rip apart my own country's car scene because it serves no purpose. But I will say that Australia has a lot to learn.
When I start going to meets again in my own country, I would love to be shown the same generosity of spirit given to me by Chuck, Pete, and Mary.