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High-mile trophy hauler

2 May 2015


If you think that none of New Zealand’s most awarded show cars are driven, you’d better think again! After driving 23,000 miles, the Carters’ ‘33 Tudor looks better than ever

Over the last few years, there’s been one car that’s collected more trophies than almost any other, and that’s Bruce and Raelene Carter’s ’33 Tudor. The first thing that comes to mind with any elite-level build such as this is that it’ll never get driven. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Having clocked up 23,800 miles (and counting) since debut in March 2010, the car has seen more street time than many daily drivers.
So how does it still look so good? And why do they do it? We thought we’d better find out …

NZV8: How did the build of the car start? Did you come from a hot rodding background before building it?
Bruce Carter: No, this is our very first hot rod. Families and houses, etc. came first in life, and then later in life, when the opportunity arose to build a hot rod, we did. My first choice was a T-bucket, but Raelene wasn’t having a bar of it. My second choice was a ’33 or ’34 Tudor, and my third would have been a ’56 Chev Sport coupe.

V8: And you obviously did a lot of research into it before you started the build of the ’33?
BC: When we started looking into it, I got introduced to John [Reid of Rods By Reid] and he suggested we join a club. So we joined East Bays Rodders, and the general consensus was that Rods By Reid was the place to go if you want a top-quality car. So that’s what we did. Obviously there’s a great expense to get what we got, but what we got was far greater than we ever expected to get. 

V8: So you jumped right in at the deep end from not having a hot rod, to having the ’33!
BC: We did, but we love it. We love driving it, so we’re happy.

V8: Was it always going to be a show car? Or did that develop along the way?
BC: It was never going to be a show car.
Raelene Carter: It’s all about the bling (laughs).
BC: One thing leads to another. We got to the point where we had to keep going. There was no point in not doing it properly, so we made the choice to carry on with that quality.

V8: Obviously there would have been budget blowouts along the way then?
BC: Oh yeah, what we originally started with to what it came out as is a lot different. But to have that quality of car, that’s what it costs, and that’s all there is to it. If you want it, that’s the sacrifice that you’ve got to make. 

V8: So what was the car’s first public outing?
BC: We debuted it at Blenheim in March 2010 at the Street Rod Nats, and got into the Top 10 and won Top Hot Rod, so it was a great way to start.

Did you drive it down from Auckland?
BC: Yes, we did. Then it was driven to Christchurch for the Pre ’49s — and we haven’t missed a Street Rod Nats or Pre ’49s since.

V8: What did the other competitors think of the car, Being the first time they’d seen it?
BC: A lot of positive feedback, everyone loved it. After that we went to a show in Whangarei that John Dellamura was running. We drove it up there, and spent seven hours cleaning it. We were the first car in and the last to leave from set-up. We’d cleaned it at home before we left, but got it there and had to wash it and clean it again. It won Best Hot Rod there.

V8: Was John surprised you drove it up?
BC: No, he asked us to bring it up. John knew it had always been built to drive, so he thought we would. Before then we didn’t even know about trailering cars; we were always going to drive it. As things have gone on, we’ve learnt for some events they need to be trailered though, as if you’re going to show off the quality, you don’t have a lot of choice. Keeping the topside clean is easy, the underside is not!

V8: So how many shows have you been in since, and how many trophies has it collected along the way?
BC: It’s collected over 30 trophies since debuting in 2010. At this year’s Street Rod Nats, it won Top Ten Hot Rod, Top Hot Rod, and National Champion, which was a massive shock and surprise — we were overwhelmed. It’s a credit to John with the build. It has been in over twenty-five shows now!

V8: Obviously you’ve been as far as Christchurch, how far north have you been?
BC: Before the car was even on the road, our intention was to drive it up to Kaitaia and down to Bluff. It was only finished a few days before we drove it to Blenheim for its debut. It came out of the upholstery shop on the Tuesday, and we left on the Friday. We went to Blenheim, then Christchurch, and back to home. Then the next year the Street Rod Nationals were in Invercargill, so we did that, followed by going to Wanaka for the Pre ’49s. Then two weeks later we drove up to Cape Reinga, just for a holiday, because we could and wanted to. In the space of four weeks we drove the length of the country. So now, in just over three years, we’ve done nearly 24,000 miles — that’s miles not kilometres. 

V8: That’s more than some people do in their daily drivers! So you obviously don’t just wait for events to get it out?
BC: We drive it as often as we can. In the summer it’s out all the time; we drive it into town just to buy dinner on the waterfront, and drive home. It’s cool just to have it out. In winter it doesn’t get used as much, depending on what events are on, as it usually comes off the road a month before a show to be cleaned.  

V8: How many hours are involved in getting it ready for a show from the time it comes off the road?
BC: Before Hawera [2011 National Hot Rod Show] we spent 80 hours, and before Auckland [2012 National Hot Rod Show] we spent 66 hours. Around 50 of those would be spent under the car. 

V8: That’s a serious amount of time! What’s the process?
BC: Before putting it into the garage and getting it up on blocks, I wash it first, just with normal wash and wax, a sponge, etc., then dry it all down. Then I wipe it over with kerosene to get the road grime off, before using a spray detailer on the body.
Once it’s up on blocks, I start at the back, and just work my way to the front, one piece at a time. Everything that is bolted on, including brake and fuel lines, comes off so we can clean behind them, then they get bolted back on again. 
Any polished aluminium parts come off and get buffed with a hand buffer. Likewise all the bolt caps come off and get buffed. And everything else that can’t be taken off the car, like chrome work, is polished on the car.

V8: So have you got a specific brand of product that you use?
BC: I tend to stick with Meguiar’s for washing the car and Mothers for detailing it, really. And I’m very pedantic about microfibre cloths, and what is and isn’t used on the car.

V8: Once you’ve gone through the undercarriage, what’s the process for the chromed items?
BC: I’ve got a polish that I use on anything that is chrome. Once I’ve gone from front to back underneath, I take the wheels and discs off; I just don’t undo the brake lines from the calipers. With all the brakes, etc. off, I clean the inner guards with the kerosene, etc. Then I do the wheels themselves: clean the insides, and machine polish the outsides, and then it all goes back on. 
Once that’s all done, I’ll start on the engine bay. Like the undercarriage, I’ll unbolt what I can and take things apart, I don’t like to unbolt anything that’s got fluid in it, but the rest I do pull apart to polish. Then finally it’s time to wax the outside of the body.

V8: Do you need to use degreaser or anything? 
BC: It never gets dirty enough to need it. Every time the car’s used, even just for a day run, I’ll come home and that night, or one night that week it’ll be washed and polished. I’ve got a polish that I use that’s brilliant stuff, but I don’t even know the name of it, not even sure it’s on the bottle. I find it better than anything else; it brings it up really well.
It also gets machine buffed twice a year by a professional. All he does for a living is machine-polish BMWs, so he knows what he’s doing. It takes him between five-to-seven hours to do the whole car.

V8: Inbetween him doing that, does it get swirl marks in the paint?
BC: Yes. There’s no way to avoid it. Even if you’re as careful as you can be, it can’t be avoided. I get annoyed when people run their hands over it, as they want to feel the surface, but all they’re doing is sanding it with their hands, because the car gets grime on it when it’s driven. 

V8: With so much buffing, do you think you’ll have to get it clear-coated again at some stage?
BC: Eventually. The painter who painted it told me its got that much clear on it, and that many coats of clear under the colour, that it’d take a huge amount to get through it all. The intention when we first built the car was to wait about four years and add ghost flames to it. But now, we’d prefer to leave it just the way it is. We love it, and love driving it. We know it’s got stone chips and stars in it, but that is because we drive it. But that’s what we built it for, to be driven — it just ended up being a show car, but one that we drive.

V8: Being a full-fendered car with running boards, it must get chipped underneath?
BC: Hugely! The bars that hold the running boards on are literally just bare steel after three or four months of driving, so before any big shows I repaint them. I’ve got the stuff here to do it myself, so under the guards, and anywhere that’s rubbed, gets touched up while the wheels are off. Any bits on the outside you see when you’re polishing it are touched up by Raelene. She’s got the touch! She does all the body, and I do the underside touch-ups.
RC: The underside is all him, I’m not getting under there!

V8: So what’s your process for the interior?
BC: With the interior, we have a floor mat, then a leather mat, and then the carpet on the floor. So the actual carpet never gets stood on, it’s only exposed for shows. And that’s why people think it’s not driven, as there’s no wear on it at all. 
We can show it with the leather mats in or out, and the carpet floor mat on top gets plenty of wear, as that’s what we use. 
We give the interior a proper clean every six or eight weeks anyway, and all we use is Pledge on a normal cloth. We spray it everywhere; the cloth is absolutely soaked by the time I’m finished. I took it back to the upholsterer and asked if I should keep using it, as he told me to for the first year, to keep the leather soft, but he had a look at it and said just to keep going.
Raelene gets more involved in the interior of it. We do all the chrome work inside too, just with a cloth and plenty of wiping. The reality is it never really gets that dirty inside, because you never jump into it in your work clothes. 

V8: How about the glass?
BC: We just use Meguiar’s glass cleaner, I swear by it. We use it inside and out after the body’s been buffed and waxed. It’s the very last part of the process.
If it’s being trailered anywhere, I’ll hire the trailer a few days out. We’ll completely cover the bottom of the trailer in ply, and we’ve made a cover for the front, which we’ll bolt on. Hey, you can’t stop it getting wet, but at least you know you aren’t getting dirt off the road.

V8: So if it gets wet, what’s the process?
BC: We went to Taranaki, and only had about an hour of fine weather the whole way. And that was after spending 80 hours cleaning it. But we just washed it, and then put it in the show, up on blocks, and spent about five hours cleaning. The underside was pretty good, so we probably only spent two hours under it. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not when you are going through everything, the time passes very quickly.

V8: So the big thing is really plenty of time and patience?
BC: It’s not really a grind, I love doing it. I wish I had the skills to build it. But unfortunately, I’m in the position where I had to have someone else build it for me, so the least I can do is look after it. And the way I look at it, it’s not a chore to clean underneath — I actually get a bit of a buzz out of it. It’s just unfortunate that no one gets to see it unless it’s at a show over mirrors. 
I know to keep the quality of the car up it needs to be cleaned regularly, and shows are great because they force you to clean it properly — that’s what I like about them. It’s a shame there’s no National Show this year, but then the car’s been out plenty: Tauranga, Beach Hop, Taupo, and then drag racing. It’s got that much rubber up under the arches now it’s not funny. I need to get under there to clean it up.

V8: What were people’s reactions when they saw it going down the strip?
BC: A few said to me, “My god, you’re drag racing it, what are you doing?” My answer is that it’s a car, it has four wheels, a steering wheel, and that’s what it was built for, you know? 
Why not? Other than the rubber under the car, it’s a lot of fun. I’ll probably do it again at the Nostalgia Drags next year. I’m not hooked on it or anything, but I really enjoyed it.

V8: So, how’d it go?
BC: Not that great, but I learnt a lot and ended up running a 14.1 before I broke out. I could have gone faster, as I’d already backed off on that run. Each run I got more used to knowing what I was doing, so I was only getting quicker. The times kept come down and down all day. Next year I’d like a 13.8 or something like that.

V8: What do your friends that aren’t into cars think of it taking 80 hours to clean a car?
BC: They think I’m nuts. But I can say I’ve never had anyone look at it and say what a waste of time. I’ve had people say what a waste of money, and that’s fine. I’ve heard people say there’s too much red, or that it’s never driven, obviously just trailered. 

V8: You must laugh when you hear that, though?
BC: Yep. I had a great laugh with a guy at Kumeu one year, who was saying that he didn’t see it get driven in, so it must have been trailered. I happened to be standing next to him, and said, “No, it was driven.” The guy was adamant he never saw it driven through the gate. And I said again that it had. And he was like, “How do you know?” And I said because I was the one driving it. He soon shut up. It’s even written on the board how many miles it’s done, but no one seems to take any notice.

V8: Have there been many mechanical issues along the way?
BC: We’ve had a few. We bent a pushrod on the way from Invercargill to Wanaka, about an hour out of Queenstown. We nursed it to Queenstown and up over the Crown Ranges, and ordered a new pushrod for it. That meant we missed the Pre ’49s, as the engine was in bits, but that’s the way it is. Also, the first time we drag raced it, we fried the clutch.
RC: That’s not “we”, that’s you!
BC: So we’ve had a new clutch and pressure plate put in it. Apart from that we’ve never had a problem. With the RamPort injection unit, it’s so reliable, and economical too. We can drive from West Auckland to Wellington on $180 of 95-octane gas, or from here to Whangarei is $30.

V8: What size is the motor?
BC: It’s a 350 Chev crate motor that we got through Dave Green at Specialty Cars, who stripped it down and put a mild cam in it, and the injection on. It’s a pleasure to drive, we just love it.

V8: There must have been some body damage along the way too?
BC: We’ve had some huge stone chips. During that first trip to Blenheim, between here and Matamata we had a great big chunk taken out due to a stone from roadworks. Then a logging truck went by, and a great big chunk of bark came off and hit the roof. I saw it coming, and thought, we’re not meant to get there.
Since first built the car’s had one front guard repainted, and the grille surround has been painted. In about 12 months’ time, we’ll re-do the whole front though, as there are plenty of stone chips now.

V8: So there are certainly no regrets in spending the money and getting a Reid-built car? And starting hot rodding at an elite level?
BC: Not at all, but unfortunately it’s probably changed my views on hot rodding a bit. I now tend to be a bit more critical, as I know what to look for. I appreciate all cars, don’t get me wrong, but I see a lot of guys spending big money on engine bays and paint, then I look at their interiors and some of them put cheap cloth in it. I wonder why they do that, as they could have a beautiful car, but it’s let down by something so simple.
It’s not intentional and it’s not like you’re trying to look for faults, it’s just unfortunate that when you’re used to that level, things stand out. It’s not the right thing to do, I know, but that’s what happens. 

V8: You must get you knockers too, people saying that it’s a money thing, etc.?
BC: Oh, totally. Lots of people have told me I’m not a hot rodder, just a chequebook rodder. But if you buy a car here, or from America, it’s no different. 
What they don’t know is that when the car was built, we asked John [Reid] if we could pull it apart for paint, and he said, “Yeah, go for it.” We had him build it, as there’s just so much detail for it to be done correctly, but I wanted to pull it apart myself purely to see what it was made of, and how it was made. So we literally pulled off every nut and bolt on that car, and delivered the chassis to the powder coaters. We dropped the parts off to John, all labelled. It was great, as you usually get bills and wonder where all the money is going, but it’s not until you pull it apart that you find so many hidden things that are all handmade that you can see the hours in it that no one else can. There are so many hours of work that are hidden, and unfortunately, time is money.
I know a lot of people call us chequebook rodders, and I know some people rubbish the car, and that’s fine. We’ve always taken the attitude that it wasn’t built for them; it was built for us, and it’s how we want it. There are no regrets.
RC: The only downside is that you can’t leave it anywhere. You can’t pop into the shops on the way home from an event or anything.
BC: But that’s why we’ve just bought a ’56 Chev Sport coupe. We’ve even been to shows, and seen people opening doors and climbing in cars, people jumping up and down on running boards. Some people just have no idea.
When I took the car to Blenheim, I was staying in a hotel, and the owner of the hotel came out and said he really liked the car, and then said, “I’ve been thinking about it, I think that car must owe you at least $16- or $17,000.” He thought I was having him on when I said it was far more than that. I’ve had one lady say, “I think it must have cost $100,000.” She’s probably the closest. People have no idea of the quality of all the gear that’s used in it, and what it all costs. The difference is, I know people who’ve had cars in the build for about four years, and who haven’t got them on the road yet, and they’ve already had so many troubles with them. It’s all about them not using quality stuff to start with. Do it once and do it right. It’s been our motto with everything in life. I guess it was a shock to us too how much hot rodding does cost, but that’s the price for quality.

V8: Do people ever ask why you bothered with a fibreglass body?
BC: The body itself came from Deuce Customs in Australia. We know guys with steel bodies, and they owe them three times as much, just for the body. I feel sorry for people who own old steel cars as the paint just bubbles, whereas the fibreglass cars don’t. ’Glass has come so far in the last 20 years that they’re great to work with. Yes, I know it’s not a true hot rod, but I can live with that. 
I get a lot of criticism from some hot rodders saying we shouldn’t be judged in the same class as them because the body is ’glass, and it’s not a real car. I don’t think the scene in this country is big enough to go splitting things into ’glass and metal. It’s such a small sport really. We have absolutely no regrets at all about not starting with a steel car.

V8: So what are the future plans? You were going to ghost flame it, but not anymore?
BC: I think what’ll end up happening to the car is that we’ll end up driving the ’56 a bit more over winter, and the ’33 will come out on the nice days. But in saying that, there’s no way the ’33 wouldn’t go to Beach Hop, the Street Rod Nats and the Pre ’49s, even if we end up taking two cars. 

V8: Is it tempting to turn the ’56 Sport coupe into something of the same level? 
BC: No. No, it won’t happen. Well, not for the next ten years at least. We just want to enjoy it for now. We’ll never sell the ’33 though. It’s always different that car, as it was built for us. I’d love to hit 100,000 miles in it really.
I’m looking forward to going to events in the ’56 where I know we won’t win anything, as people won’t be saying to me that I only went as there were prizes up for grabs. 
You do get called a trophy hunter a lot, but that was never the intention. Getting a prize is a buzz, but it’s not what we go to places for. We go because we want to go.
We’ve met so many nice people through hot rodding, all over the country now, and we love catching up with them. We went to America last year with a bunch of hot rodders, some of whom we didn’t know, but now we’re good friends with too. They’re just neat people.

V8: Have you thought about taking the car over to Aussie at all?
BC: We were just talking about that. I’d like to do it with someone else, and do some events over there, but we know someone who’s done it, and they got a frosty reception, so they won’t go back. When we were in America, it couldn’t have been more of the opposite. When they found out we were from New Zealand, they were all very hospitable.
I did go to a show in Aussie and got talking to a guy with a similar car. But in six years it’s done something like six kilometres! They are toys at the end of the day, and you’ve got to have fun with your toys. Of all the top cars over there, none have done over 10kms. They just start them up to prove they run, then shut them off; some don’t even have water in them, as they’re never run long enough to get hot!
I’d still like to do Aussie though, so if anyone else is keen, we’d be more likely to do it, as sharing the experience makes it a lot more fun. Maybe do an event in Sydney, then head to Melbourne or similar. It’d be similar to how we love going to the South Island, it’s partially for the drive and the event, but it’s a holiday too. They’re nice roads and I’m hoping they have more big events down there, as we’d love to go more often.

V8: We’re sure they’d like to see you more there, too. Thanks for your time, we’ll see you on the road somewhere.  

This feature is from NZV8 issue 98 (July 2013). You can grab a copy here