There were souped-up orange Toranas and sleek Commodores, a mint green Dodge Polara and a Valiant that was pulled from under a tree at Jindabyne, complete with a patina of lichen, a bullet hole in the grille and a horn that sounded like a cow in distress.
For the second day in a row, Canberra’s car lovers gathered in the absence of Summernats but in the company of friends. They’ve held two informal “Claytons cruises” organised by the community with the cooperation of ACT authorities, and another is scheduled for tomorrow.
And the message from Summernats CEO Andy Lopez was clear: despite contention and dissension, pandemic and bushfires, he confirmed to the crowd that the event will be back in the ACT next year.
Each driver registered via a QR code on entry. Participants identified their vehicles with yellow stickers and headlights were mandatory.
As organiser Andrew Dale* outlined how the cruise would proceed from the back of a ute, he was also clear about the “no dickheads” policy.
“The reason for the sticker and the lights is that we’re different. If some idiot comes up behind you and does a burnout the cops know they’re not one of us and we’re not going to get hassled,” Andrew told the crowd.
“We want to do this right. There’s no chirpys, there’s no skids, there’s no speeding and we cruise in the left lane.
“Let’s make a bit of noise, tap it up and give it some revs but no speeding, no need to overtake. Hang where you are, just enjoy it and wave at the people down Northbourne Avenue.”
The cars cruised to the Watson roundabout and turned back down Northbourne, either branching off to Capital Hill or on to Parliament House to the applause of fans.
Don Jackson was there with the fire engine red 1928 A Model Ford he started building in 1991 and finished in 2006.
“It was a long project”, he acknowledges a little ruefully. The car is now as immaculate inside as it is on the outside.
Frank and his son Will had their unmissable orange Torana with a 383 Chevy engine, nitrous and two-speed power glide. The boys rebuilt the car together and were delighted to be cruising again.
“We love being able to have a bit of fun and be sensible. My young fella wouldn’t stay at home if I told him to,” Frank said.
Michael’s lime green Kingswood ute was also a childhood dream. Born into the Holden tribe, he and his 80-year-old father worked together on the vehicle. The Jamaican lime is an original Holden colour from the Sandman series, but the vehicle does more than look good.
“We’ve re-done the whole drive train so it’s now got a 355 stroked V8 with 550 brake horsepower. She goes real hard,” he said.
Sally, Maggie and Jane didn’t have their own vehicle at the cruise – they’re working on an EH Holden they hope to have ready for next year. But Sally and her partner have shared their passion for cars with their teenage daughters. Both girls say being around car nuts is an invaluable source of knowledge.
“Summernats was not traditionally a place where families could come along but that’s changed in the last few years,” Sally said. “We now feel very safe and welcome, and it’s great that the girls can be a part of it and appreciate the cars.”
And then there was Dave Britten from Cobargo. He and his wife Mel were on their way to Summernats last year when the fires hit. The Brittens, who worked hard with their community in the aftermath of the devastating blaze that destroyed much of their town, lost an HQ van, an HJ Premier, two HZ utes, a Torana and more.
Mark Saunders, who is Vice President of the Council of ACT Motor Clubs, wasn’t at today’s cruise but says the car-loving fraternity are like family to each other with strong social networks.
Of criticisms about Summernats, Mark says that there will always be hangers-on whom he believes are mostly responsible for some of the more problematic behaviour.
“I don’t see anyone in the clubs being the instigators of those issues,” he says.
“I think a lot of the changes made around alcohol have helped. The current management has restructured it as more of a cultural festival around cars, and they’ve changed the entertainment so people don’t get bored at night.”
Andrew Dale is himself the owner of an EH panel van, known to Mrs Dale as ‘Cider’ because it’s spent so much time on the side of the road. He thanked both Detective Inspector Marcus Boorman from ACT Policing and Transport and City Services for their support.
“The respect from them allows us to give respect back,” he said.
“We love these old classics. The longer we’re in the car, the more fun we’re having. It’s a cliche, but people will tell you that the best thing they’ve ever bought is their car because of the people they meet.”
*edited to correct misspelling