Britain Meets Japan In A Restomod MG

It takes a certain sort of person to own a classic British sports car for anything more than a short period of time, and it all comes down to expectations versus reality.

You see, it’s very easy to picture yourself dropping the top and blasting down a narrow country lane with the wind blowing in your hair and picnic basket in the back, but you’ve actually got to make it out to that country lane in the first place. The never-ending oil leaks, the graunching and grinding gears, the always-going-out-of-tune carburettors, the leaking soft tops, the dreaded rust – it’s all part of the ownership ‘experience’.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Today, you can have all of the classic British sports car charm and club sandwiches you desire, but none of the maintenance woes. And you can have it with staggering performance, too.

There’s a real art to restomodding, and this 1967 MG MGB Roadster is a prime example of what can be achieved when a sizeable investment and true craftsmen are brought together with a clear vision in mind.

While this MG Abingdon Edition – or ‘MG Abingdon Edition AU’ to be specific was brought to life in New South Wales, Australia by Modern Classic Cars and still resides on the country’s picturesque East Coast, the vision can be credited to British company Frontline Developments, who have been building and perfecting these things for some time.

Unlike a Singer Porsche which is immediately recognisable as a restomod or reimagination, the MG Abingdon’s modern updates are a little harder to pick. In fact, you need to be looking quite hard to spot them, which is half of the beauty for me. But whatever you do, don’t let the car’s stock appearance deceive you – this thing packs some serious performance credentials. Zero to 100km/h? You’ll get there in four seconds if you’re on it. Top Speed? 160mph (257km/h) they reckon.

Supercar-rivalling acceleration is one thing, but wrapping it up in a cohesive package is something that requires a lot more thinking, and that’s where this car shines. You can get to 100km/h in the blink of an eye, and then corner and brake with just as much confidence and precision. It drives like a new car, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise as that’s what it largely is.

Like Frontline Developments and Modern Classic Cars do, we’ll start with the shell itself.

Given their age and that rust I was talking about – the sills go particularly bad in MGBs – finding a good straight, start point is extremely important, but from there every exterior panel is restored or replaced with a brand new equivalent, and then fine-tuned for a far-better-than-new fit. Seam-welding takes place on the inside, and de-seaming on the outside for a much cleaner look.

All of the bodywork and Tartan Red paintwork for this build was handled in-house at Modern Classic Cars, and I’m unsure it could be faulted. The final touches come from new chrome, modern headlights, and a period racing-style fuel filler cap.

Like any bespoke build, you have plenty of options to personalise your car. While wire wheels would be an obvious choice for many, Dunlop-style alloys in 15×6-inch (front) and 15×7-inch (rear) sizing fit the bill nicely. They’d be my choice outside a suitable set of Minilites.

The millimetre-perfect exterior is impressive, but it’s the cabin that really sets this car apart. Nappa leather abound, the MGB Abingdon’s interior features a roll bar, modified Mazda MX-5 Heritage edition seats that have been completely re-styled and upgraded with adjustable lumbar support and heating, a Mota-Lita steering wheel, electronic gauges with custom original-style text fonts, and even a push-start button fashioned from Bakelite.

Add in sound insulation and Wilton carpet, air-conditioning, full electrics plus a premium JL sound system built around a retro-style head unit, and an MGB cockpit has never felt so good.

Of course, it only gets better when you jam your right foot to the floor and grip the wheel tight.

Frontline Developments had many obvious and not-so-obvious choices when it came to giving the MG Abingdon a new heart, but it’s hard to argue with the engine they chose given how well suited it is.

The natural habitat for a MZR L5-VE is a late-model Mazda engine bay, but this brand new 2.5-litre four-cylinder DOHC unit with variable valve timing looks right at home in the MGB.

In stock form these all-all0y motors are good for 170hp, but with forged pistons, billet rods and crank, a CNC-machined cylinder head with oversized valves and revised cams, four direct-to-head Omex 50mm throttle bodies, a custom exhaust system and Omex engine management, 289hp is achieved.

As you’d expect, the MGB’s driveline has seen some significant alterations, too. The gearbox is a brand new AWD Mazdaspeed6 unit running out to the original MGB diff housing, albeit now LSD-equipped. Uprated half-shafts and a custom tail-shaft are also employed.

With all this in mind and given how little the car would weigh, you can easily understand why it’s so damn quick.

Earlier on in this story I noted the MG Abingdon’s handling prowess, and it’s in this department that a lot of time was spent testing and refining a totally overhauled suspension system. The front end features aluminium uprights with steel tube wishbones, custom top A-arms and coilovers, while the rear end now benefits from a coilover-equipped custom 6-link arrangement. Overall, the car sits 25mm lower to the ground.

Further enhancing the drive is electric speed-sensitive power steering, and a completely new brake package featuring Frontline 4-pot callipers and vented discs up front, and a disc setup out back.

For me personally, a quality restomod improves all aspects of a car without losing any of its original charm. It’s easy to do too little or too much, but with the MG Abingdon Edition it feels like they got it just right. You could argue that the exterior would benefit from wider bodywork and a fatter wheel and tyre combination, but as-is there’s a real sleeper vibe going on, and you definitely can’t argue with the performance.

With an AUD$170,000 starting price this car isn’t for everyone, but nonetheless it’s cool to see a creation like this come to fruition. And Modern Classic Cars aren’t stopping here; next on the list is a 1967 Daimler 250 powered by a 4.0-litre Ford Barra.

Brad Lord
Instagram: speedhunters_brad
brad@speedhunters.com

Photos by Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com


Farewelling A JDM Icon

About a month ago, I made the decision: I’d sell my 1970 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT.

This wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind, but unlike all those other occasions, this time it felt right.

The car’s been part of my daily routine for 12 years. Even if I wasn’t driving it, my days would always start and end on a good note because I’d get to see it crouching in the garage. And when we drove it, we drove it a lot. Of all the cars I’ve ever owned, this is the one I’ve put the most miles on.

The C10 Skyline range came out in Japan in 1968, with the first 2000 GT-R coupe version arriving a couple of years later and quickly making a name for itself. Fifty years on, genuine GT-Rs with their S20 engines and racing pedigree have become extremely valuable, but just as much of the Hakosuka story belongs to the other Skyline models that regular people bought.

There were sedans, coupes and station wagons, and the range would start with four cylinders, drum brakes, and solid axles for police cars and taxis. At the top of the range were the glamorous GT coupes and sedans, with twin-carburetted straight-six engines, 5-speed transmissions, disc brakes, and all-round independent suspension. A Skyline GT cost ¥700,000 at a time when a family-spec Toyota Corona was ¥500,000 yen.

Nissan marketed the Skyline masterfully. Practicality was king in Japan at the end of the 1960s, and car commercials would often show moms putting kids into the back of a sedan. But Skyline commercials would have a lantern-jawed young man, donning driving gloves to go pick up his date. Skylines were less about families and more about sex, a premium small car that was the same price as a big sedan.

And when Nissan went racing with the 2000 GT-R, it won every race it entered for three years. Off the back of this, Nissan’s marketing hinted at the fact the car wasn’t for everyone – only seasoned drivers and real men.

That only made everyone want a Skyline more, and in its debut year, the C10 was a commercial hit, tripling the sales records of the previous Skyline. If you’d like to witness some charmingly masculine ’60s JDM advertising, check out this clip.

Later in the C10’s production, the flame-spitting GT-R racing coupes brought something special to the entire Skyline range – even the four-banger base models. The C10 story isn’t just about the GT-R, and like the first Ford Mustang is to Americans, today even Japanese people who don’t like cars seem to know what a Hakosuka Skyline is.

CHAPTER TWO

Owning An Icon

My car started life as a 2000 GT coupe, born with a 105hp, single-cam straight-six engine and 4-speed transmission. While it was pretty boss ride for the day, it missed out on options like twin carbs, aircon, power windows and power steering, which were reserved for the plush 2000 GT-X edition.

Somewhere along the line in Japan, it was hot-rodded with GT-R-type spoilers and over-fenders, repainted in signature silver, fitted with a 2.7L straight-six and wide RS Watanabe wheels, and given a nice slam. Many non-GT-R Hakosukas were upgraded in a similar way, and today it’s much harder to find a stock-bodied C10 coupe than it is a GT-R look-a-like.

Like many older cars, decades later my car fell into a cycle of disrepair and restoration. By 2004 it had gotten the better of its last Japanese custodian, who stored it away in a partially deconstructed state, and it would never drive again on Japanese soil. I came along in 2007 to inherit the project, but it wasn’t until 2009 that I had it running and driving, and I’ve been restoring it ever since.

Okay, cool story, but what’s it like to drive?

If you’ve driven a 240Z, then a lot will be familiar. Behind the wheel, it’s easy to imagine yourself as the dashing Hakosuka commercial guy as you survey the dash full of gauges (it wouldn’t be a 1960s GT without them), the chunky dished steering wheel and the vintage ergonomics, like the big toggle switches for the wipers and washers.

The driving position is very period, in that you’re laid back with that classic ’60s straight-arm position where the steering wheel is a little too far away. All the major controls, like the clutch and steering have a lot of heft. Once you’re moving, the steering lightens up but always takes some effort.

The gearshift is awesome; it has just the right amount of resistance, a nice mechanical feel, and well defined, clicky slots. Its brakes are fine on a winding road or track, but like most old cars, it’s in city driving that you discover the limitations. When traffic suddenly stops, you can’t be shy with the brake pedal.

The brakes might take some getting used to, but the handling is a pleasant surprise to everyone who’s driven it. Struts at the front, and semi-trailing arms at the back with a 2-way LSD, it’s a very modern-feeling setup for a ’60s car, just like a BMW 2002.

The steering is heavy because the ratio is quick, so not like old cars where you’re constantly winding the steering wheel. Thread a Hakosuka down a winding road and there is a little bit of mid-corner understeer, and just like a well set up 240Z, the nose lightens and it goes into a slight tail-out stance as you feed in the power. As is common with performance cars of the same era, it’s always sliding a little, but there’s a lot of feedback so it never feels threatening.

But the biggest highlight of all is the engine.

The Nissan L-series is Japan’s small block Chevy; it’s big, plentiful, strong and has been developed for racing use over decades. Mine is bored out to 3.0L, with triple Webers, a big cam, big compression, big cylinder head ports, and a built bottom end.

All told, the engine is good for 250hp, and sat in a chassis that weighs in at just 1,100kg, she goes pretty good. But it’s the sound that is to die for, with that ripping-canvas shriek that only performance cars of the ’60s era seem to pull off.

So why am I selling it? Well, the short version is that after 12 years of living and breathing old Skylines, I feel like I’ve done everything there is to do, and I’m ready for the next project (don’t worry, you’ll like it).

It’s time to hand the keys to the next custodian.

Kevin San
Instagram: babalouie888
hakosuka@kevinsan.com.au

Photos by Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com

The Hakosuka on Speedhunters

FINAL CHAPTER

Behind The Scenes: Speedhunter Vs. Hakosuka


Celebrating 10 Years Of World Time Attack Challenge

While it may sound like a long stretch of time to some readers, in reality, it’s little more than a blink of the eyes compared to the better established forms of motorsport.

Think back and try to list the achievements and limitations of your 10-year-old self. Now make a comparison to your life’s accomplishments as of today. That’s exactly where the development of time attack sits right now, and as the interest in the sport continues to grow, expect the pool of money, drivers, engineers, materials, and technology able to be pulled from it to expand, too.

While there’s plenty of scope for fans to argue about what lays within the rulebooks of such a radical sport as it grows, everyone involved should feel fortunate to live through this ongoing evolution of such an extreme and exciting form of motorsport. I’m almost excited to get old and grey, just to point out to the young whippersnappers that I was there back when time attack was in its formative years.

Sure, the future may indeed be bright and glorious, but that’s not where I’ll be looking. Focusing on anything other than right now and all the battles, the victories, the defeats, and even the surprises aimed at sending us off course along the way just seems like a waste.

How often do regular people like us have an opportunity to participate in shaping the future of motor racing? Not bloody often is the answer.

Reflections aside, let’s all refocus and get busy on making sure the next decade is the best decade.

CHAPTER TWO

Sparking Debate

As always, there was plenty going on at the pointiest end of the WTAC formula to keep the hardcore time attack fans affixed in the 10th year of the event.

Following Under Suzuki’s unfortunate retirement after an engine failure in practice and then a high-speed crash, PR Tech Racing’s RP968 dominated the top of the timesheet with Barton Mawer once again at the wheel. Compared to 2018, the Porsche looked even more sorted around Sydney Motorsport Park, with none of the squirminess or fragility of previous years. If it weren’t for the fiery trail of sparks generated by the titanium skid plates, you could be mistaken for thinking the car wasn’t even driven at its limit.

Occasionally it can seem that the one thing in common between these time attack cars is their unreliability, but with this second win, PR Tech Racing have proven that there is a dependable formula for success.

Undeniably, a large part of that is sufficient funding. How much? If the rumours are to be believed, the total development bill for the car is now nudging the four million dollar mark…

But money alone doesn’t create these results; the PR Tech Racing team is incredibly professional, and they’ve been able to refine their design year-on-year to iron out the issues. Many cars have been undone in the past by having the latest and greatest improvements made too late and without testing – not so for RP968.

Rod Pobestek (the RP in RP968) and aero whiz Sammy Diasinos are like our own Australian Ron Dennis and Gordon Murray duo. Lurking around the chaotic pit garage, you can’t help but feel a bit of the magic that defined the glory years of F1.

The MCA Hammerhead S13 piloted by Andre Heimgartner secured 2nd place outright, but was over 2.5 seconds behind RP968.

The Queensland-based team unofficially took the outright lap record at their local circuit in the run-up to WTAC, but according to Heimgartner are trailing RP968 and the Scorch S15’s absolute downforce figures by up to 30%.

The Hammerhead represents the pinnacle of the last generation of WTAC Pro class cars and still has the benefit of one of the best power-to-weight ratios in the competition, but Diasinos and Andrew Brilliant continue to push the downforce envelope with underbody tunnels and active suspension.

The other Nissan competing in the premier category was the Lyfe Motorsport Nissan GT-R, piloted by Cole Powelson.

Although the R35 GT-R is an undeniably quick road car, the pace is harder to find at the pointy end of WTAC competition due to the high weight and large cross-section of the car, hampering high-speed efficiency. The all-American team managed a best of 1:30.02.

The team had their hands full over the weekend, pulling double duties with a Pro-Am entry in the capable hands of Rob Parsons, better known as Chairslayer. With hand controls, Rob wrangled a 1:34.18 out of the GT-R, a seriously impressive effort.

One of the other great international stories of the weekend was the WTAC debut of Swedish team Revline Racing in their Porsche 968.

Sweden and Australia couldn’t be much further away from each other on a map, but for lovers of speed, Sydney Motorsport Park is effectively the centre of the earth for one weekend in October.

The team was coming in hot after Alx Danielsson set a new production-based car lap record at Mantorp Park, but at a completely new track far away from home would be a completely new challenge for the ace driver.

Thankfully, they had Andrew Brilliant in their corner – a man who knows this 4.5km circuit better than most. Although Andrew wasn’t in Sydney over the WTAC weekend, he was glued to live data feeds from his base in Japan.

The team’s 1:25.6 fastest lap is the quickest a car has ever gone on a WTAC debut, and owner and 2nd driver Gustaf Burstrom was rightfully ecstatic with the result. Had their engine block not cracked, Alx feels the car may have had even more pace in it for the colder and faster conditions of Saturday morning.

It’s rather fascinating that there’s two Porsche 968s at the top of time attack in 2019. The 968 for most of its life was one of the more forgettable Porsche models (except of course to its enthusiastic owners), and existed more of a quirk of history than a bonafide performance icon, but here we are.

It’s impossible to talk Pro class without mentioning the Tilton Evo. Kosta Pohorukov’s Mitsubishi Lancer has been a regular at the event for many years, and the local expertise proved its value once again.

After last year’s big Turn 1 crash, the team had a complete rebuild ahead, and four weeks out from the event the car was little more than a bare shell. Tilton’s first shakedown wouldn’t take place until just one day before competition at WTAC’s official practice day.

Although the team weren’t able to break their previous best lap time, Garth Walden’s 1:23.86 was enough to secure third step of the podium in front of the Revline 968. Kosta’s 1:26.32 was blisteringly fast for an amateur driver, and also sealed the Pro-Am class victory for Tilton. We’re sure these guys will be even quicker in 2020.

However, the Tilton Evo was looking slightly scarred on Saturday after a tyre failure on the front right blew the carbon fibre fender to pieces.

In pit lane this gave us a bit more insight into what the new Tilton car looks like under the skin (still suprisingly simple – lots of stock sheet metal and King springs), but more importantly, a close look at the failed tyre. Surprisingly, the tyre still held air; the exterior layer had delaminated off the core leaving it looking like a slick.

If you’ve been following the WTAC news you’d know by now that this wasn’t the only failed tyre of the weekend – the RP968 experienced one too, and we’ve already touched on what happened to Under Suzuki.

There’s a few different theories on the tyre situation, but the two most prevalent are A) that the aero loads are too high for the tyres at this track, and B) the outer tread of the tyre is overheating relative to the internal core. But rather than subscribing to ‘They Say’ magazine, we’ll be waiting for a theory that comes with some tangible data to support it.

The fact that these cars still run on a DOT-approved (read: street legal) tyre is much of the appeal of time attack. It’s also undeniably appealing to sponsors as it draws an important link between the competition vehicles and what enthusiasts are actually driving, something that most modern motorsport categories fail to do. The fact that these semi-slick-wearing tin-top cars are within two-tenths of Nico Hulkenberg’s slick-shod A1GP car lap record at Sydney Motorsport Park is – to us – one of the most exciting facts in motorsport today.

However, around pit lane everybody seemed to have an opinion on what needs to change. Whether that would be a change to slicks or restrictions on power or aero is yet to be seen. Frankly, it’s an issue we’re glad someone else has to face, and we’re confident there’ll be some design rulebook changes in 2020.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com

Blake Jones
Instagram: blaketjones
blake@speedhunters.com

FINAL CHAPTER

Fast Frames


Time Crunch: Under Pressure At WTAC

Despite official testing only beginning at Sydney Motorsport Park on Thursday morning local time, competitors at the pointy end of the World Time Attack Challenge’s top tier classes are already feeling the pressure.

It was getting late. It was time to find some garlic chicken and recharge some batteries. As I rolled back through pit lane to leave SMSP last night, I spared a thought for those fighting issues in their garages.

Under Suzuki is no stranger to WTAC’s Royal Purple Pro class, and he returns to Australia this year with the hopes of finally taking the crown. But as you can see, things haven’t started well. Suzuki’s pit was at maximum capacity as his team battled to swap billet engine packages after a connecting rod made an unexpected exit from SR motor #1.

Suzuki took a break last year while his Scorch Racing Nissan Silvia underwent some heavy surgery, and let me tell you, the revamped S15 is an absolute work of art. Pending a smooth weekend ahead for the Japanese driver, I’ll be doing my upmost to bring you guys a more detailed look at his Silvia – or what’s left of the original car.

Last year’s winner, Barton Mawer in the PR Tech Porsche RP968, was due to clock some laps before the track closed for the evening, but the car hadn’t turned up to SMSP by the time I left.

Meanwhile, MCA Suspension’s ‘Hammerhead’ Silvia – a previous WTAC winner and record-breaker – arrived late and will fire up for the first time this morning.

Sharing the same garage as Suzuki, fellow Japanese driver Kunihiko Bando struggled to find, make, or modify a tail shaft for his Hi Octane Direct ProAm class-contesting AutoBahn Toyota Soarer. Looking at the parts strewn across the floor, there may have been some other issues at play here, too.

Last year’s WTAC is one that Tilton Racing owner Kosta Pohorukov would probably rather forget. His iconic Australian time attack machine – another multi-time WTAC winner and benchmark-setter – suffered serious damage after a crash at SMSP’s high-speed Turn 1, but 12 months on the Tilton Evo is back and looking tougher than ever.

Wednesday’s testing providing the very first opportunity for the completely rebuilt car to move under its own power, which was a special sight to see. That said, the Tilton Racing team still had a long night ahead ironing out the bugs.

Finland’s ambitious Audi R8 1:1 team suffered a massive setback when a steering rod failed, sending Sami Sivonen and the car deep off track. The boys assure me they’ll have it together for today, even if that meant pulling an all-nighter.

Matt Longhurst’s mental R34 GT-R will have to stop chewing out transfer cases if it hopes to pose a serious threat.

Not all the teams are struggling, though. Lyfe Motorsport’s R35 GT-R spent more time out on the track than in the garage, giving its new driver maximum seat time. The GT-R has been modified with a hand-controlled throttle in order to be driven by Rob ‘Chairslayer’ Parsons, who in doing so will become the first wheelchair-bound driver to compete at WTAC.

Keiichi Tsuchiya should have an enjoyable weekend: Beau Yates’ AE86 drifter-turned-time-attacker failed to skip a beat all day.

For the first time in quite a few years, I can honestly say I have absolutely no idea who will take out WTAC’s top honours in 2019. The field of competitors has never been stronger, and I can’t remember there ever being so many heavyweight contenders so evenly balanced.

2019 marks 10 years of the Yokohama World Time Attack Challenge, and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this event will be long remembered by fans. Not only for the extremely close competition we’re in for over the next few days, but for the milestone records that are on the verge of being broken.

Mark my words: by the end of this weekend Sydney Motorsport Park’s outright record, previously set by Nico Hulkenburg in an A1GP open-wheeler, will be destroyed by a tin-top racer.

For updates during WTAC 2019, be sure to check out our Stories on Instagram.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com


A Fresh Look At Art Of Speed Malaysia

This time around, Dino and I gave each other a virtual mid-air high-five as our planes rocketed past one another in opposite directions. While Dino would be enjoying the cold change in Melbourne, Australia for the Black Label Invitational show, I’d be sweating it out in Kuala Lumpur. We were both looking to explore a new scene and bring you guys a fresh perspective on our findings.

I landed in KL with little more than an open mind. My knowledge of what to expect in Malaysia was embarrassingly limited to just a few conversations with friends who’ve visited, and a couple of hours’ worth of digital exploration.

That sum of knowledge was capped at knowing what sort of metal to expect on the show floor at Art Of Speed, leaving me to wander about, seek out, and experience everything else in person.

And believe me when I say a lot was crammed into just four short days.

With so much happening and so many different elements to share, I couldn’t possibly contain it all within one story, so before we delve into my Malaysian adventure, let’s take a closer look at the machinery that made up Art Of Speed 2019.

CHAPTER TWO

Recycled Ideas, A New Style

No less than 132 cars and 88 bikes were sprawled across two massive halls at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park, all perfectly presented in their unique way. While some builds glistened with fresh paint or blinded you with perfectly polished chrome, other vehicles parked proudly covered in patina, harsh weathering, and many other signs of a hard life.

Unlike the majority of shows I’ve attended, which all seem to be niche-specific, Art Of Speed embraces the entirety of Malaysia’s custom car culture. More importantly, so do the 50,000+ attendees that rolled through the gates over the AOS weekend.

The lines that exist between automotive genres in other lands I’ve visited just don’t seem to exist here.

Here, it’s been simplified to just one category for all: cool people building cool shit. It really can be this easy.

You could argue that this ‘togetherness’ exists only within the confines of the showground, but I’d counter that by drawing your attention to the cars built locally. Malaysia may indeed be heavily influenced by international scenes, but the fusion between these worlds and a unique way of building have given birth to a distinctive style you just won’t encounter elsewhere.

Think peak Americana, Japan’s golden age of motoring, the wildness of an untameable jungle, and let’s throw in a healthy dose of Mad Max rawness for good measure too.

While it’s true that some builds here lack the refinement one would expect from countries with a more established scene and access to better tools and parts, there’s enough ingenuity and imagination in Malaysian car culture circles to create a finished project that’s way more interesting than any generic cookie-cutter shopping list ‘build’.

Don’t confuse my talk of togetherness for saying that there aren’t unique styles within the scene, as there certainly are many different aspects within the greater culture. But it’s less about the cars sharing aesthetics and goals, and more about the level of mutual respect between owners.

One of my very few responsibilities was to select a recipient for the ‘Speedhunters Choice’ award.

After an internal struggle between three or four standout vehicles, I ultimately settled on Kean Yap’s Hakotora Datsun Sunny ute.

Finished in a tribute livery to the original Hakosuka GT-Rs that helped forge a 50-year legacy, Kean’s Sunny is not only a high quality build, but walking around the little pickup was like being sucked into a blackhole. The Datsun is peppered with period trinkets and Japanese memorabilia.

There was so much to see that I was still noticing small additions the following night during a wild tunnel run, and eventually a proper feature shoot. But more on that later…

I wasn’t the only one to take notice of Kean’s Sunny. Steve Vandervate, Hot Wheels’ premium line lead designer, also selected the small truck for the ‘Hot Wheels Pick’ award.

CHAPTER THREE

No Equal To Modern Classics

The secondary hall brought about a complete change of pace.

Tuner booths were replaced with hipster vintage clothing outlets, a miniature skate park, lowrider bikes, and heavily customised collectables.

Furthermore, outside of a few hero builds, the extreme modifications of the main hall entrants were nowhere to be found.

Instead, a carefully curated selection of mostly JDM modern classics filled the show floor. Seeing so many familiar shapes in concours condition was a refreshing change of pace.

Icons, unicorns, and entire family legacies reminded the AOS audience that sometimes a well-executed restoration can tug on the heartstrings just as effectively as the craziest of builds. Hell, throw in a good dose of personal nostalgia and I’d argue that certain scenarios could even illicit a more powerful response than any trillion-horsepower project.

Seeing a prime example of my own personal unicorn – the Evolution IX wagon, a car I’ve chased but never owned – was a timely example of the allure that a desirable factory-fresh car can possess. It has me addicted to my local Carsales app again.

Subaru’s line of WRX variants has been a pillar of the Japanese tuning scene for more than 25 years, and the family portrait was rendered complete at Art Of Speed 2019 with this 22B. Or at least an extremely good clone, because later on I was told it’s a replica. I hate admitting when I’m wrong, but the owner of this car, who’s gone to great lengths to ensure every measurement and proportion is accurate, sure had me fooled.

GT-Rs seem to enjoy universal favoritism, and a replica Z-tune built using only genuine Nismo parts seemed to further enhance the Godzilla family’s appeal with the Malaysian audience. The cost of car owership in Malaysia and Singapore is nothing short of exorbitant, so I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been to assemble such a pedigree stable of vehicles.

Every corner of the show contained something surprising, be it an unfamiliar make, a fusion of styles, attention to tiny details, or even just the downright quirkiness of some cars.

Believe it or not, this monster post has only just scratched the surface of what is a very interesting scene, one we’ll continue to explore in the coming weeks.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com

FINAL CHAPTER

Sensory Overload


In The Moment: An Introduction To Malaysia’s Art Of Speed

At the time of penning this piece, I’ve spent less than 24 hours in Malaysia.

It’s been intensive, it’s been eye opening, but most of all it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.

Constant chatter, struggling bus engines, and even the occasional wail for attention from an exhaust-less 50cc scooter have never sounded quieter.

The almost zen-like silence provides a stark contrast to the show sounds, and energy and excitement of a full first day of Malaysia’s 2019 Art Of Speed festival. It also provided the perfect time to sit back and reflect on my first taste of this epic event.

If you’ve never been to Art Of Speed, you couldn’t possibly be able to imagine such an eclectic mix of wildly different elements all jam-packed harmoniously into one single event.

Cars, bikes, clothing, tattoos, food, music, collectables, and all types of handcrafted items, just to name some of its key elements.

It’s enough to completely overwhelm one’s senses (in a positive way, of course.)

So while I unpack a high-voltage day, prepare for day two and finish a well-deserved scotch, I’ll leave you with some images that hopefully paints a picture and delivers the scale of Art Of Speed 2019.

Ladies and gentlemen, consider this as your ‘101’ introduction to Malaysia’s interpretation of car culture.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com


Swapping Sixes: The Barra-Powered Skyline R32

Engine swaps are as old as automotive culture itself.

Even mixing up manufacturers is a time-honoured tradition, with US hot rodders dropping Ford flathead V8s into anything with four wheels and a windshield as early as the 1930s.

So you’d think we’ve seen it all before when it comes to transplanting alternative power units. Matt — who’s been around the block more than a few times — certainly thought he had.

But then while attending the Tuners Edge GT-R Challenge at Cootamundra back in April, he heard the distinctly non-RB26 throb of an Aussie Ford six-cylinder powering up the runway, only to discover the sound was coming from a Skyline cheekily wearing ‘XR32′ plates.

Now, while alternative engine swaps are an accepted part of your average Speedhunters’ performance arsenal, desecrating the hallowed asphalt that the GT-R rolls on by removing its straight-six powerhouse and substituting it for one with a Ford oval cast into the block is perhaps not the best thing to do if a quiet life is all you’re looking for.

Especially if that engine happens to be the inline-six Barra 24-valve turbo engine from Ford’s XR6 range of cars. While decidedly unique to Australia, the Barra has become famous the world over thanks to its availability, ease of tune, and seriously impressive power potential.

CHAPTER TWO

Rate Or Hate?

“There’s a lot of love and hate for this car,” admits Dennis O’Malley of Sydney-based Grim Performance, the main force and inspiration behind this build. “And unsurprisingly, the Nissan guys hate it.”

But Dennis didn’t create this bastard child of Nissan and Ford for the controversy – he did it because the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to make perfect sense.

“It was a customer of mine who suggested the swap, and I’ll admit, I wasn’t too fond of the idea at first,” recalls Dennis. “I tried to talk him out of it, but then I mulled it over and the Barra does have its plus points over the RB motor. It’s cheaper and easier to buy the base motor, the cast iron block is super-strong, and as a 4.0-litre it makes the same kind of power only with less effort required,” he reasons.

“Plus I love doing weird shit.”

GT-R fans can possibly breathe a little easier at this point, though — this R32 didn’t start out as an R, but instead a slightly more conventional GTS-T, bought as a rolling project and pushed into the fabrication workshop at Grim Performance where Dennis could quietly crack on with the conversion over the course of its 12 month build.

While ideas may come easily, putting them into practice is much less so. Dropping the Barra into the R32’s engine bay proved to be one of the hardest part of the build — once the original customer bailed out of the project and Dennis decided to take it on and see it through, that is.

“I wanted the conversion look as factory as possible, so that motor was in and out countless times to make sure it was right.

“It’s a taller engine than the RB26, and I made it sit nice and low so that it fits under the standard GT-R bonnet, which involved modifying the existing crossmember and cutting up and re-welding the sump. I’ve since seen one other Barra-converted R32, and that has a hump in the bonnet to clear the cam cover, which I’m not sure looks right.”

CHAPTER THREE

Barra Boy

While Dennis was tackling the install using a dummy engine, Mick’s Motorsport was cracking on and building up the real thing.

The specially-prepared bottom end was mated with a worked head and cams, Precision 6766 turbo, Plazmaman 76mm throttle body, inlet and intercooler, 2,400cc injectors, and a Haltech Elite ECU.

On E85 fuel, and mapped by Jeremy Gilbert at DVS Tuning, the result is a stomping 975hp on 26psi (1.76bar) of boost, with power delivery that Dennis describes as “a real handful on the street”.

Backing up the Barra is the factory 6-speed Tremec T56 manual gearbox (both motor and transmission came out of a Ford BF F6 Typhoon), which though strong enough, Dennis admits isn’t ideal for the current engine spec — or drag racing, for that matter. “It’s not fond of being shifted too fast. At some point in the near future I’ll upgrade to an auto ’box that we can fine-tune to match the power delivery.”

The T56 runs via a custom 4-inch diameter prop shaft to a standard R200 rear with 3.9:1 gears, which is holding up well so far. The upgraded brake system, meanwhile, come courtesy of Brembo 4-pots up front (from an Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX). These sit inside 18×10.5-inch Cosmis wheels, with 15×10-inch Belak forged split rims with drag radials bolted up for dragstrip and runway duties.

Both sets are tucked into the GT-R arches courtesy of MCA Race Red coilovers.

CHAPTER FOUR

Special Import

On the outside, only avid Nissan aficionados could tell this isn’t quite the R it’s claiming to be.

Dennis sourced genuine GT-R rear quarters, sills, front wings and bonnet from Japan (at eye-watering cost), to which panel man John Hogan added Jsai Aero side skirts and front diffuser, before the whole lot was resprayed in superb Solaris Metallic (a BMW M5 shade, no less — again purists cover your eyes) by local paint guru Matthew Maestri.

The illusion continues on the inside with R32 GT-R seats squeezing in between a half roll cage, with Dennis adding a digital dash and S1 shifter for strip duties.

The end result is a pleasing package — even if it does get some people’s backs up. Not that that’s deterred Dennis, though – he’s keen to get out there and use the R32 as much as possible.

As well as GT-R Challenge, the XR32’s been to WTAC, and there are more events in the pipeline, with drag racing at the forefront once he’s sorted that new gearbox out.

While the Barra swap may not have quite everyone’s approval, it’s keenly appreciated in some quarters.

Dennis is currently in serious talks with a customer to swap one into a Supra…

Simon Woolley
Instagram: fireproof_simon

Photography by Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com

FINAL CHAPTER

Barra The World


Driving Flat Out In Project Nine

Project Nine is one of the more humble builds within the SH Garage, so much so that quite often its full capabilities are forgotten as it chugs along reliably through its mundane daily duties.

That is, until a good enough excuse comes along to break away from the sensible side of motoring that shatters the chains of the daily grind.

Good for the car, good for the driver.

And today’s excuse for blowing out excess cobwebs? This little experiment is all about quantifying the worth a new set of sway bars, links and a steering correction kit provided by Whiteline have made to my Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.

In this update I’ll be looking at the final two rounds of the 2018/2019 Whiteline Tarmac Rallysprint series held at Sydney Dragway, the first of which I competed in with my Evo running its completely standard (and very aged) suspension.

In the second event, I competed with my Whiteline-enhanced Evo.

I chronicled the Whiteline upgrade in my most recent Project Nine update, so you should definitely take a look at that post if you’re interested in knowing the finer details of the parts list and the install process.

CHAPTER TWO

Boaty McBoatFace

I introduced the Whiteline Tarmac Rallysprint series in my last project post when I rode shotgun and played navigator in a mate’s Subaru WRX. The experience was so very different from circuit racing, and this first taste had me completely hooked.

I needed to come back for more, but this time I’d be behind the steering wheel of my own car.

From my pool of unwilling mates, it was poor old Christian who drew the co-driving short straw. I’m not sure if he’d concur, but this was good news from my perspective as Christian had spent plenty of time driving at speed. In fact, he took both nights off preparing his GC8 Subaru WRX for 2019’s WTAC Clubsprint class to tag along with me.

With the safety inspections and driving briefing out of the way, it was time to run a couple of sighting laps.

The Evo performed adequately for a daily driven street car. It wasn’t the fastest, nor the firmest or flattest through corners.

I was by told my friends who’d come to cheer me on (or to laugh at me if we binned the Evo) that in a couple of the fastest tight corners the car was up on three wheels, which would explain the soft doughy feeling at times.

Also, having so little weight over the inside front tyre would only be adding to the boat-like soft turn in and understeer.

Initially, I imagined that the short run times and much lower speeds than circuit racing would translate into a much more forgiving experience for the Evolution IX.

Perhaps it wasn’t as gruelling as a full day at the circuit, but damn it felt like our humble little project car was working overtime as we raced from sunset into the night.

Notice the spotlights on some of the other vehicles? As the night grew darker, my attitude quickly changed from ‘extra lights might be useful,’ to ‘f**k, we really need a set of those lights.’

Aiming at, then blasting relentlessly between small gaps in barriers that are almost invisible until it’s too late for drastic correction was a somewhat intense experience.

The same tight barricades are not the place for brake failure either. My original OEM setup had failed previously under less stress, so I’m almost certain the upgraded DBA 4000-series two-piece rotors and pads saved the front end towards the end of the stage as I came in a little hot – literally with the rotors aglow – while slipping through a narrow concrete fence.

But all in all, the car held it together and survived.

We placed around 40th out of 70 entries – not amazing, but certainly not bad for a photographer in a daily driven car who’s racing is usually restricted to making the pre-school drop off on time.

Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement, for both car and driver.

CHAPTER THREE

Heavy Rain

The whole point of this experiment was really trying to quantify the actual benefits delivered (if any) by the new Whiteline suspension components through a solid back-to-back comparison in the same environment and under the same stresses. So how did we do?

Same car plus mods? Check. Same location? Check. Same conditions? Well, not quite…

For the final event of the Whiteline series, the untameable elements decided to throw buckets and centimetres of rain at us. Sydney received an absolutely brutal lashing by some of the most severe thunderstorms, lightning and intense rain we’ve experienced for years.

In fact, there was so much lightning that the venue was unwilling to risk turning on the pit lighting due to fear of a strike.

Racing was postponed and the track was closed at least twice while organizers waited for the rivers and standing water across the track to flow away and ease to safer, more manageable levels.

In a way, not having the most powerful or dialled-in car helped our cause. While other drivers were forced to stop, our moderately modified Evolution was out-performing my expectations and really didn’t feel too much slower than our dry laps of the previous round.

We ended up placing around 25th out of 70 cars.

Comparing a video of the wet run to the previous dry event confirmed similar times for at least the first half of the course.

In hindsight, I think the lack of pit lane lighting was more of a hindrance to time than the rain, and there are no words that can accurately describe the intensity of racing essentially in pitch darkness. 1m30s is a pretty solid example.

Distances are harder to judge when they’re submerged in darkness, and for the most part I found myself relying on memory to point the car in the right direction.

Accurately determining the amount of room between bollards at maximum attack with nothing but shitty lights always felt like a gamble, and one with terrible odds.

This was easily one of the most intimidating experiences I’ve lived through, and that’s coming from a kid who grew up on the bad side of the railway line for most of his life.

But let’s focus on the differences in handling. Was it noticeable? Did it help? Was I happy? Yes, yes and yes.

Having half a week before letting loose on the track, I took the Evo to a private skidpan with the intention of leaning on the car hard enough through corners to lose it intentionally in a safe environment.

Ultimately, I ran of real estate to safely continue increasing speed – Project Nine was rock solid.

While the heavy rain may have had a negative effect on sprint times, the slippery conditions highlighted the car’s enhanced handling abilities. Primarily, maintaining four wheels of contact rather than three during aggressive cornering.

The additional grip and chassis rigidity made the car feel a lot of more stable, planted and predictable than with the tired factory setup.

I’d steer, it would respond. Over the course of the night and event through ever-worsening conditions, the level of trust continued to grow.

As for side effects or negative ride impact, the car feels essentially the same. Being that the height and core springs/dampers weren’t replaced, the Evo’s compliance over bumps remains unchanged.

Really, to notice any improvements one needs to be driving at speed.

The testing, of course, included being put through the paces at the tarmac rallysprint, but the car also gets tested daily during the grind of both family and work duties.

Whiteline’s under car package has undergone some rigorous testing and has ticked off another aspect of Project Nine’s original goals of adding performance without introducing massive compromises to comfort or reliability.

I’m not sure where to turn my attention and spanners to next. I’m tossing up between either continuing the suspension with refreshing or replacing the ageing standard Bilstein shocks, or spending some time tidying up a few minor annoyances under the hood.

Let me know what you’d focus on in the comments below.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com

Additional Photography by Dave Oliver and Sam Law

The SH Garage on Speedhunters


The Element Of Suprise At Drag Battle

Great sports have always been synonymous with great rivalries and motorsport is no exception.

The skirmishes may vary in scale, but never in the passion they inspire.

Regardless of whether it’s the rivalry between two manufacturing juggernauts like Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford, or the traffic light skirmish between two daily drivers in opposing brands – competitiveness is always there.

To hazard a guess, I’d estimate that no less than every third Subaru WRX STI owner tries to blitz me off at the lights when I’m in Project Nine, and always after a prolonged attempt to send me deaf with their rev-limiter, and almost always while vaping.

I get it, mate, it’s a boxer engine and it sounds 99.999% identical to every other WRX, Forester, Legacy, and Outback on the road.

Does this bother me? Not at all. Well, not outside of the inane revving. In fact, regardless of whether or not I take the bait and play along or just casually cruise home, these playful encounters always seem to boost my spirits and leave me daydreaming about pursuing big power and lower quarter-mile times in the Evolution.

If you’re like me and have ever wondered what it might be like to take that motoring rivalry between brands to the next level, prepare yourself for the Tuners Edge Drag Battle, owned and run by Motive Video. An event where unlike my own tragic street tale, is packed with owners and cars that really do push the limit of what’s possible for each of their respective marques.

Where the GT-R Challenge is all about, well GT-Rs, its accompanying event, Drag Battle, is open to all makes, models and drivetrain combinations. The only prerequisites are road registration and some verified numbers to prove you’re ready to play with the big boys.

If there was one place to well and truly sort out who the real street king is, it has to be the rural runway at Cootamundra. For a decade now, the one-kilometre-long runway has been a playground for some of Australia’s fastest cars.

Twenty-six entrants would go head-to-head in essentially the Australian street car drag racing equivalent of the WWE Royal Rumble. Evo versus WRX versus RX-7 versus MR2 versus Silvia versus Falcon versus Ford Territory. That’s right, even a 10-second soccer mum SUV was in the mix.

Welcome to hardware heaven, a place where no expense is spared, no shortcuts are taken, and not even the slightest whiff of moderation is to be found in the pit area.

Talk here is worthless; it’s all about horsepower and time slips at Cootamundra.

Taking street rivalries to the next level may just be a daydream for the majority of us, but not to all. Standing amongst it all at the Tuners Edge Drag Battle, the sights, sounds and smells of it all are way more visceral than my imagination could have ever allowed.

It’s a relatively small event, but it’s packed with very heavy hitters. Let me tell you one other thing about it – it’s f**king glorious.

CHAPTER TWO

If You Weren’t Already Told, You’d Never Ever Guess

8.84-seconds at 270.22km/h (167.91mph): For the first time in its 10-year history, Drag Battle’s front runner had broken through the 9-second barrier on the rough old runway. Fast enough for the winner to also pocket an additional Australian $3300, via the 4-cylinder 8-second bounty offered by Motive and sponsors.

But who and what type of car was responsible? The most obvious answer from the fleet would be something that grips with all-wheel drive, like a WRX or an Evo of some description.

But if it were a two-wheel drive, it’d almost certainly have to be a Supra with a monster million-horsepower 2JZ under the hood, right?

Perhaps a Barra-powered R32 Skyline had what it took?

Could a Honda K-series engine swapped into a Toyota MR2 blast its way into the 8s?

Perhaps something a little more home-grown took the title?

All is revealed in Motive‘s Tuners Edge Drag Battle overview. Hit play, sit back and enjoy some of the fiercest Australian street cars battling against each other, the elements and themselves.

And when you’re finished there, be sure to check out the mega gallery of what was an epic weekend of racing.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com

FINAL CHAPTER

Battle Royale


Waging War At The GT-R Challenge

When was the last time you spent a weekend surrounded by 1,000hp+ street-driven cars bashing their rev limiters?

Don’t feel bad if your recreational time has been somewhat horsepower deficient, Speedhunters is here to help by extending a virtual backstage invitation to Australia’s Tuners Edge GT-R Challenge.

Who else remembers the time when breaking through the magical 1,000hp barrier was strictly reserved for dedicated race machinery, daydreams, and shit-talking wankers?

Honestly, even if an older, wiser, and more handsome Matthew Everingham [LOL - PMcG] hijacked a time-travelling DeLorean to return to my youth and describe what was possible in 2019, my younger self would have struggled to believe street builds of this calibre could ever exist.

And yet here we are, descending once again on the tiny regional township of Cootamundra, where some of Australia’s heaviest-hitting street cars will fight against themselves and previous records on a 1km-long airstrip.

This year marks the event’s 11th anniversary, and instead of chasing 10-second passes as it once was, the target has been set deep into the low 8-second range. That notion becomes almost absurd when you consider the runway is more like country b-road and less like a prepped race surface.

Typically, there’s a full second margin between personal best times set in Cootamundra and those run on a bonafide drag strip. ‘Coota’ as it’s referred to in the most Australian of ways, is a challenging and unforgiving place to set times; it’s a rough, harsh ride and that’s before you begin factoring in ridiculous headwinds and crosswinds.

The slower time slips aren’t a problem though; the aim of the Tuners Edge GTR Challenge is to simulate true street racing, albeit in a much safer environment and without the threat of Australia’s totalitarian law enforcement getting involved.

CHAPTER TWO

Ready To Rumble

The added hardships of Coota are not only understood, but respected by those who choose to go all-out in their road-going vehicles.

Some competitors have argued that the victory of a record-breaking time slip at Coota tasted even sweeter than their own personal best times set in the more familiar drag strip environment.

The obvious analogy is comparing a victory by TKO in a boxing ring to coming out on top in an unsanctioned bar fight. Sure, it’s a mark of respect that may not appeal to everyone, but it’s something of tremendous value to those who pursue it.

Arriving at Cootamundra just a few short weeks after the West Coast’s Racewars, emphasised the differences between the two runway events that could from the outside be seen as quite similar. But the vibe between the two couldn’t be more different.

While Racewars is a fairly chilled affair for most part, the Tuners Edge GT-R Challenge is outright war.

The super-heated competition creates a very different atmosphere. Here, intensity replaces frivolity, and milliseconds are celebrated like FIFA World Cup goals – both by the drivers on the return road, and also back in the makeshift pits by the teams toiling away to extract the next four-thousandth of a second with an almost NASA-esque fervor. There’s still an element of fun, though.

CHAPTER THREE

The Spoils Of War

Classifying the entrants as ‘street cars’ may sound like an all-encompassing class of its own, but racers are split further into tiers to ensure competitors are matched with similarly-built cars to keep things fun and competitive.

The main division is between ‘True Street’ and ‘Pro Street’ GT-Rs, both of which are further separated by transmission type.

Futhermore, a unique class has been created for the R35 GT-R.

While the cars remain separated on paper, they’re all battling it out together on the strip for two combined top honours at Cootamundra.

Firstly the Shoot-Out, continuous head-to-head racing with no time to fix mechanical issues. This tests reliability as well as overall performance and driver reaction.

In the back of every competitor’s mind is also the dream of earning the ‘Fastest Outright GT-R,’ title, which is no easy task. Not only does winning this accolade require a driver to beat out the entire field, but also to rewrite the record, which may have been set during more favourable conditions.

After recently running a 6.86-second quarter-mile ET, which officially made ‘JUN II’ the world’s quickest Nissan Skyline GT-R, all eyes were on Rob Marjan and the team at Croydon Racing Developments to deliver a new record at Cootamundra.

And finally, after two days of fine tuning to suit the changing conditions at the runway and edging closer to victory fractions of a second at a time, the team could celebrate.

An 8.253 at 293.20km/h (182.19mph) pass reset the record, heralding in a new overall Tuners Edge GT-R Challenge champion. After setting the original benchmark at this event a decade ago, the title had eluded Rob since 2012.

After so long, it had been reclaimed. Never give up.

CHAPTER FOUR

Video

But this is just one of many memorable stories to come from an action-packed weekend. There’s plenty more to share with you too, some of which I’ve been struggling to keep to myself.

For a more in depth look at the competition and results check out Motive‘s new Tuners Edge GT-R Challenge video, and be sure to subscribe to their channel as they’re planning on releasing more content from the weekend over the coming weeks.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com

FINAL CHAPTER

GT-R Extravaganza


Racewars: The Movie

We sure do get to experience a lot of interesting things under the Speedhunters moniker. Truly, the most exciting part of my role here lies in the uncertainty of opportunities that await around every corner.

There aren’t too many gigs left in the world that may land you in the passenger seat of a rally car, the driver’s seat of a highly desirable exotic, face-to-face with an icon of motoring history, or unearthing the wildest of DIY garage projects. And quite often with very little to no notice at all.

As diverse as these situations are, they all still retain one commonality: me spending the majority of my time hidden safely behind my camera, hopefully snagging still images that best capture the vibe and feeling of whatever I’m pointing at. It makes sense, right? How else would we document and share what we uncover?

I was instantly intrigued when the question hit my inbox asking how I’d feel about giving my DSLR camera a break while I instead focused on offering some creative direction to a video production team for Racewars. The challenge of something brand new excited me, and knowing that I’d be collaborating closely with a good mate of mine, the incredibly talented Bez Black (Remember our Hunting Unreality video?) I was quick to confirm my interest.

Despite being an entire continent away from home, returning to Racewars feels like home. I hear a similar sentiment from almost every punter that comes together for high-speed hijinks. This was going to be fun.

After a few draft storyboards and a tonne of pre-game banter, a solid game plan of what we wanted to capture before and during the Racewars weekend was formulated. Alongside Bez, we’d also have Andrew Hawkins from Motive grabbing as much of the racing action as possible, and Perth’s Stance Royalty crew chasing the more candid side characters that make Racewars such a unique event on the calendar.

While there is a healthy overlap between the arts of still and moving pictures, going through the process grew my understanding of the many subtle differences between the two. I’d also learn the value of contingency plans and making shit up on the fly when the unexpected happens at events, too.

I won’t lie, I really enjoyed the experience. But enough waffle about our behind the scenes shenanigans – I’ll leave you with our vision of Racewars 2019, along with a bonus gallery from the weekend.

How many stills can you spot that tie in neatly with the final video? Let us know how we went in the comments below.

And, ACTION!

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com

SECOND CHAPTER

Racewars


Racewars: The Human Element

Spechunters, look away. Shortstoryhunters, prepare to be overwhelmed. Stancehunters, sorry, no demon camber here. Pichunters, scroll to the gallery. You’re all welcome.

For everyone else who’s still here, grab a beverage, preferably a cold one, and get comfortable. This may take a while, but I promise this is entirely worth your valuable time.

Despite only having attended three Racewars festivals, it’s quickly clambered its way to the top of my must-attend list for Australian motoring events. Yes, the flights and drives from my home in Sydney are long – 16 hours long – but every time I return to perfect Albany, a city on the southern tip of Western Australia, it almost feels like a homecoming.

Racewars is more than cars on a runway, and this year it proved to even be more than cars on a runway and a scenic mountain pass.

It isn’t the drivers’ attempts to find the balance between traction and mind-boggling brute horsepower skids, nor the 350km/h passes, and not even the eclectic mix of just about anything with four wheels, a motor and an owner wanting to go fast.

It isn’t even the lure of new attractions, like the monster trucks or helicopter rides, or this year’s new coastal sprint that keeps me coming back. Quite simply, it’s the characters I meet year after year.

To borrow a phrase from Australia’s finest contribution to cinema, The Castle, “It’s the vibe.”

‘The vibe’ might primarily stem from the people and personalities, but it flows into so much more. The shit-talk and shenanigans, the banter and rivalries, along with the sheer joy that comes from good-natured antics among friends adds a depth to the event far more important than the timesheet and leaderboard.

This year also held the promise of ‘Shitbox Showdown,’ which had brewed off the back of a friendly but very serious rivalry between the Racewars team with their AU Falcon and local Toyota workshop WTFAuto and their 1996 Toyota Camry. In preparation, the two four-wheeled contenders had been fed a diet of boost and bad life choices in the lead up to the race.

Being trackside and watching two of Australia’s shittiest cars – now force-fed copious amounts of turbo-induced pressure – as they charged down the runway far faster than anyone could believe, was hilarious.

Both these cars had around 130hp originally, both had around 500hp at the wheels on stock motors when they lined up to race. How neither blew up while racing is nothing short of an act of God, but it was just another day at Racewars.

Being car people we always look forward to the warmer months and the meet season, whether that’s static shows, drifting or circuit racing. Congregating with likeminded petrol-heads to share or thrash our passions can really help motivate people to go bigger, faster, and take our builds to the next level throughout the colder and quieter months.

What a lot of us will never see, or even think to consider, is what it takes behind the scenes to create and host one of these events.

Regardless of event size and recognition, there’ll be a team of dedicated (sometimes crushed) souls working tirelessly to turn a good (or bad) idea into something tangible, and hopefully even enjoyable.

This is one of those tales. The tale of how a bunch of ‘hoons’ stepped up their game and took control of an amazing coastal road to race on, in one of Australia’s toughest states to own a fast car no less.

And who better to tell the tale than Racewars’ own Jonathan Murray. Take it away, Jon.

CHAPTER TWO

The Pre-Sprint Marathon

As the sun set over the Albany coastline and the adrenalin wore off, it hit me like a freight train: I physically didn’t have the energy or the mental capacity to properly reflect on the day, let alone celebrate what we’d achieved. I was shattered. The human element had reached its limit. I was done.

It was only 200 meters from where I was staying, but in the local bar people were still swapping stories, barely able to believe they’d just spent the day doing what many thought was impossible. But that 200-meter walk seemed to take an eternity.

I was physically crashing but my mind seemed intent on going full noise, reflecting not just on the days racing but everything else that went on over the last 12 months to get us there. This is some of that story. This is the story of the inaugural Racewars Sprint.

Since 2017, our runway racing event had called the picturesque tourist town of Albany, Western Australia home. It’s a town of about 30,000 people, four and a half hours’ drive from our capital city, right on WA’s southern coast with some of the most beautiful coastline in the state.

With beautiful coastline comes nice roads, and with nice roads comes the desire to find a good bit and go race on it. And that’s where all this started…

During the 2017 and 2018 events we’d gone and done a pretty half-arsed ‘Sprint’ event on the Monday morning after spending the Saturday and Sunday on the runway. Held in a generic industrial area out of town it was okay, but I couldn’t help but want to do better.

The idea to use one of the good bits of road in town was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off until we proved ourselves with the runway event.

Without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, I decided that 2018 would be the last year we ran the course in the industrial area. I set my sights on moving it to my favourite bit of road in the region (which just so happened to basically be smack, bang in the middle of the town).

Once I decide I’m doing something I tend to commit balls-deep to it straight away; I dive in then figure out how the hell it’s all going to work as I go. I bundled a half-arsed proposal for the initial route I wanted in with the 2018 debrief document, and hoped it wouldn’t attract too much attention as a result. It failed.

Within minutes of sending the draft document through I had one of the council staff members informing me that it would not be proceeding under any circumstances, because there was a plan to install one million Australian dollars’ worth of fancy garden lights along part of the route as a temporary art installation.

Refusing to take no as an answer I redesigned the route, lopped off the final bit to the very top of the hill, and rerouted the finish line at a car park for a museum and restaurant, managing to avoid the fancy garden lights in the process.

I still don’t know why the second attempt got past the keeper. I assume it was because the person I was dealing with was about to depart the council and had stopped giving a shit, but I didn’t get an outright ‘no’ this time around.

I took that as basically a ‘yes,’ and got to work planning how to make it actually happen.

At the formal 2018 debrief meeting I was able to make a convincing enough case based on extended visitor stay in the town that we should consider the new hill climb for 2019. It was agreed that we could conduct some closed road testing/data-logging along the route in order to see if it was in fact safe and viable.

Testing also doubled as an opportunity to create some promotional media for the event. But, as always, time was not on our side so the only chance we had to make it happen came right in the middle of winter.

Albany is right on the Southern Ocean, so it gets very cold, very wet and very windy in winter. It wasn’t really a surprise that as we came closer to the test day a gigantic storm cell emerged from the Antarctic, packing extreme winds, torrential rain and sending the temperature spiralling towards freezing.

Obviously not ideal conditions to go unleash some semi-slick tyre-shod race cars on a greasy, wet and pretty daunting bit of tarmac at road speeds, let alone trying to up the ante a bit.

Test day came and we woke to a blisteringly cold but clear morning; the rain had gone away and the wind had died down overnight. At the time we could not believe our luck, but it wasn’t going to be that simple.

See, as part of the deal to run the test we needed to ensure we didn’t cut off access to the museum or other businesses along the route that day. The obvious solution to us at the time was to get it all run and done before they wanted to open, so we’d lock down the road between 4:00am and 8:00am. Genius!

What hadn’t clicked was that a couple of race cars running around at 4:00am (including my own bridge-ported 13B RX-7) might be a bit loud for an otherwise idyllic tourist town.

And as it so happened, the song of our people echoed far and wide. So far in fact, that there were noise complaints from over 4km away.

With the local cop shop’s phone ringing hot with less-than-impressed locals complaining about their impromptu petrol-powered alarm clocks, the local police asked us very nicely to reduce the noise or they’d shut the test down. On the back of this we decided to abort the rest of the high-speed, full-noise testing we had planned for the morning, and reverted to some media work with the cars at socially acceptable noise levels.

In spite of all the complaints, we actually managed to draw a bit of a crowd who’d come along to spectate. The race car choir’s efforts got the local news outlets all fired up, and sure enough I got some phone calls from local reporters keen to try and get a tale or two out of it and stir up some resistance to the event proceeding.

As we were packing up the cars ready to head back to Perth, our in-house photographer Ash posted a couple of hastily edited photographs. They were simply sensational and captured the amazing vibe of the route and the stunning backdrop it was set against. When the shots went public the posts exploded; people were clambering to sign up and have a go. Soon enough, the groundswell of support was drowning out the voices of discontent.

Clearly, we’d still messed up in the eyes of some of the residents and had some fences to mend locally. I accepted we’d made an error not factoring in the noise issue or doing some more intensive community engagement, so was able to bank those learnings and keep the ball rolling towards getting the event off the ground. It wasn’t a massive stuff up in my mind, just a bump in the road to deal with as best we could.

In between all this mischief and mayhem, we’d actually got a heap of solid data and a good feel for the route. It was far too fast to run it without some additional speed controls, but our technical advisors were confident we could retain the vibe while making it safer and more accessible for the Average Joe who wanted a go.

The support we got from CAMS (Australia’s major motorsport governing body) was simply sensational. They were 100% behind the idea and knew what we needed to do. They got straight to work with us and our advisors, and a plan was drawn up with very little drama. In all honestly, it likely helped that our advisors were all very experienced and highly regarded CAMS officials who knew precisely what needed doing so we could get it signed, sealed and delivered in such a short time frame. Without their support and guidance there’s no way this would have gotten done.

It’s a rare opportunity to see people with the experience and knowledge that these guys had working through the absurd complexities of what appear to be superficially simple problems. So when you get that opportunity you sit there, shut up, listen and learn, and I did just that.

Now that the racing bit was semi-sorted, we had to go back to the local authorities, promise not to piss off half the town, and ask very nicely if they’d let us have proper go.

I was 50/50. I knew we could do it from an operation standpoint, but was still worried that there was going to be some lingering discontent in the town. While we’d clearly used one of our lives up as part of this escapade, the council voted overwhelmingly to support the idea. However, we knew from the outset that if we didn’t do exactly what we said we were going to it would be game over.

I some ways we were gambling the whole Racewars weekend; everything we’d worked since 2012 to build on this new hill climb. But we were convinced it was worth the punt.

The process was as you’d expect in Australia: so much documentation you’ve got to wonder how there’s any trees not yet turned into paper. Once we knew it was going to proceed, we opened entries. In next to no time it was sold out.

While people got seriously excited, we got back on with the soul-destroying business of actually making the event happen.

It’s not until you run events you realize just how much of a pain in the arse they are. Tiny things can totally derail the show, and this was further hampered by me living and working on the other side of the world and doing the majority of this from afar. None of this is interesting in any way, shape or form, so I’ll skip the shit and we’ll refocus on the actual Sprint event.

CHAPTER THREE

The Darkest Day

Before long it was time to start the journey to Racewars.

My trip consisted of walking out of my apartment on Friday morning (+2GMT), three plane rides later I’d land in Perth on Sunday evening (+8GMT), spend Monday in Perth running around like an idiot trying to sort out last minute shit, then Monday night at a promotional event, then drive the four-plus hours to Albany on Tuesday morning, then spend Tuesday arvo plus Wednesday doing the final bits needed to be done locally, before beginning to set the runway up on Thursday and Friday so we could open the event on Saturday and finally go racing.

Saturday went off pretty much without a hitch.

It was as good a day of racing as we’ve ever put on, and made even better for me personally by sending our shitbox AU Falcon race car down the strip at 247km/h, comprehensively chopping our arch rivals at WTFAuto in their shitbox (and clearly inferior) Camry.

The day was done and I ran to the runway bar and promptly got into a few ‘Racewars’ beers, as brewed by a local craft brewer for the event. I was so keen to get back and get racing on Sunday I couldn’t sleep that night in spite of being so tired it was beyond a joke.

Sunday dawned and it was game time. The 1,000m VMAX runs were first thing in the morning and I knew there were so many people looking to go to that next level.

The excitement and vibe on Sunday morning was amazing. There was an air of anticipation, a buzz, an energy that’s hard to describe as we got ready to open the track and go racing.

The green light was on and in the first pass of the day local legend Jose from ITP Race Cars broke the national 1,000m VMAX record.

A personal favorite of mine (and the bloke I’d tipped to win) – Ed Tassone from Active Automotive – rolled into staging with his 2,400hp HSV GTO.

Ed got a test pass in, fighting the car the whole way and using unfathomable skill and control to contain the nuclear reactor he’d built under its bonnet.

Times were tumbling, minds were being blown, and it was nothing short of epic to experience.

It was building, I could feel it, and before I knew it Willall Racing from South Australia was storming down the strip and recording an astonishing 351km/h over the standing 1km. Australian runway racing had been redefined again.

I was in awe of what our competitors had achieved but, in my mind, knew there was so much more yet to come.

But a straightforward day it wasn’t to be.

The track radio lit up as I was in the staging lanes doing my rounds to touch base with competitors. A car had run off the end of the runway and we had an emergency on our hands. I saw the emergency services crews spring into action and knew I needed to get down there ASAP.

I jumped straight in the car I was using to get around the airport and when I got there, I instantly knew it wasn’t good. The driver was being worked on by medics, the vehicle was severely damaged, and the accident had started a scrub fire.

We all know motorsport is an intrinsically dangerous pursuit and that at any time for any reason accidents can and do happen. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept and mentally process when you’re there seeing a fellow racer fight for their life. We couldn’t continue racing that day after the incident. It just wasn’t right or reasonable to do so given the circumstances.

The senior event team needed to now refocus on working with all involved to secure the scene and allow the examiners to investigate the incident.

The event staff and airport staff also needed time to deal with what they’d responded to. It’s not easy to put yourself wilfully and selflessly in harm’s way to help someone you don’t know, but people did just that.

The motorsport community is forged around that unbreakable bond that when shit hits the fan, we’re all there to help a fellow racer come hell or high water. My faith in that bond remains as strong as it’s ever been. My faith in the inherent goodness and spirit of the motorsport community remains and as strong as it’s ever been.

It sure as hell helped me and the rest of Racewars team get through the very worst of days.

Sadly, the fellow racer wouldn’t pull through, In spite of the best efforts of medical staff and an emergency medivac flight back to Perth, the crash was not something he was going to recover from.

I was informed late that night that he hadn’t made it. My heart sank, my mind raced, my determination and commitment to do what we do was questioned. Every fiber of my being wondered if it was all worth it.

Our thoughts continue to be with the racer’s loved ones. The investigation won’t be finished or released any time soon; these things can’t be rushed nor should they be. Until then we will respectfully wait to say what we have to.

Here isn’t the time or place for theories. It’s not respectful or helpful for anyone other than those involved in the investigation to pretend they know the ins and outs of an incident. But as you’d expect in Australia, the mainstream media latched on to this and went ape shit.

Journos (and I use that term loosely) started pumping out unresearched, factually incorrect and exceptionally insensitive clickbait articles. Various tales sprung up and were put forward with no fact-checking or even a basic understanding of what happened. In the absence of evidence and fact, they spewed story after story of pure bullshit, making a challenging and tragic situation worse.

Our phones didn’t stop ringing with increasingly impertinent reporters seemingly outraged and incensed that we would not give them a story. What could we tell them? The incident was being investigated and we were working to help the authorities, and our focus was on the people and business that mattered. But that didn’t stop some of them from hounding us and threatening to make us regret not bowing to their pressure to talk.

Formal statements were drafted then released. The investigating authorities gave formal updates, but team clickbait kept on keeping on; they wanted more, they wanted to use and abuse this tragedy for their own purposes.

The sensationalism was as crushing as it was eye-opening as to how insensitive and callous the clickbait brigade can be. Everyone needed time and space, but by mid-morning on Monday I’d had 41 calls, untold missed calls, messages, emails and still it kept going.

However hellish that experience was for us, it pales in comparison to what the driver’s loved ones were going through given the circumstances.

You’re probably wondering how we’ve gotten to this point in the story. We’ll get there, I promise.

So in spite of all of this, in spite of us all basically not sleeping, working through the night and barely having the mental capacity to tie our shoelaces, come Monday morning we remained determined to finish what we started.

We were going racing on Monday; we were going to go up that hill and going to make the most of that day, and nothing was going to stop us. If we were being honest with ourselves, all of us wanted 3/5ths of f**k all to do with anything on the day.

CHAPTER FOUR

A New Tradition

The previous 24 hours had meant we’d not been able to follow our set up and prep plan for the route. From the outset we were behind the eight ball, so frantic calls were made to friends and family to pitch in and help us out.

To their eternal credit, our competitors understood that we were doing all we could do in the circumstances without cutting corners or compromising safety.

In all we got racing a bit over an hour later than we planned to. But by and large the rest of the day ran far better than it really ought to considering the circumstances.

On a personal level I was a worn out mess. I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to go take on the hill that day given everything else going on, but I got in my RX-7 and decided it was game on.

It wasn’t a good idea; it just wasn’t to be. The car hadn’t been behaving all weekend. I knew I wasn’t on the ball, but if for no other reason than sheer stupidity and my stubbornness I strapped in and sent it.

The car decided it didn’t want to play, I didn’t catch it in time, and it all ended up in me facing the wrong way and very nearly saw me being ‘that dickhead’ who binned his car when he knew he shouldn’t have been driving.

Thankfully I was able to catch the car before it met guard rail, a cliff face or the trees, I got off basically scot-free. Once I got the thing restarted, I nursed it to the top of the hill, shut it off and left it sitting in the corner of the car park for the crew to go get later.

I’d had enough for the day, I wasn’t going to chance another run with the car not right and my head clearly not in the game.

I got a lift back to the start line, ditched the race suit, helmet, HANS, the works. Stripped off, got in to a pair of shorts and thongs and ordered myself a beer at the bar next to the start line.

The first beer took the edge off, the second got me settled, the third got me ready to get back to work and that’s just what I did.

The rest of the day was spent discussing the future of the event with the local authorities who’d come to see how the new hill climb was getting on. Seeing their reactions and palpable excitement as the cars launched up the hill was uplifting.

Before long I stopped and took stock of what was before me: I saw a thousand or so people revelling in what was happening. People were lapping it up, dads were bringing their kids along to see the cars, there was such an overwhelming positive vibe it made it all worthwhile.

For some reason I was close to crying but managed to keep it together. It wasn’t the time for tears, it was time for another tin and more talking how we could make this bigger, better and more badass in 2020.

The day wrapped up when rain set in. We called it early so as to avoid undue risk of an incident and our competitors seemed unfazed. Some went home, some joined us for the evening upstairs still on a high from the days racing. I knew we’d pulled it off. We’d done the impossible, going racing on a bit of road ‘we’d never be allowed to use.’ I knew we’d made something very special. Frustratingly, I knew it needed to happen again.

That’s the bit that f**ked me. I’d sworn to myself that this would be my last Racewars; it was simply beyond me to stay committed to the day job on one side of the planet and still deliver what I felt we needed to for the event.

The sun set over the stunning Albany shoreline that night and I was an absolute mess mentally. I felt I’d hit the limit of what I could process. The human element within me was tapped out and I wondered what the f**k was next from there. I walked those 200m back to where I was staying alone but with so much surrounding me.

As it turned out the sun still rose over Middleton Beach on Tuesday morning. I woke up as I would on any other day. Sure I was still utterly f**ked. Sure, I was indescribably frustrated, profoundly furious, seething with rage, struggling to contain my emotions and generally over it all, but I was still there and there was work still to be done.

I had a meeting with the local authorities that morning before I could depart for Perth. I sat down over a much-needed and exceptionally strong coffee, and we went over the weekend. It was short, sharp and to the point. They remained supportive and committed to working to maintain the event. The question was were we committed? Did we have another one in us?

I got in one of my favorite cars I’d taken off the transporter for the drive back to Perth. I needed a circuit breaker and a few hours on the road in my ropey old GTS (a childhood dream car of mine) was just the ticket. As we burbled our way up Albany Highway with nothing but me, some tunes and 355 cubes of HSV’s finest roaring away, I had some thinking to do.

Given all that happened I was torn. Another year of Racewars would be hell for me, but walking out on the event now would have been worse.

Some things in life are what they are and there’s nothing you can do so you may as well strap in and enjoy the ride. Just as the sun will surely rise in the east and set in the west there was clearly there was only one way forward.

See you in 2020.

Jonathan Murray & Matthew Everingham

Instagram: matthew_everingham
matt@mattheweveringham.com

FINAL CHAPTER

Photowars