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Equal righteousness: the women of the National Hot Rod Show

24 June 2016


Among the standouts at the 2016 National Hot Rod Show, more of the cars belonged to women than ever before. We decided to catch up with some of these owners to see what makes them tick. 

I’m a mere newbie in the world of hot rods, street machines, and classic cars. My husband, Bob, purchased my ’58 Ford Fairlane Club Victoria for my 50th birthday, after I fell in love with the neglected, engineless classic we found full of desert sand in Palm Springs. Having watched Bob manage her rebuild, and seen the blood, sweat, and tears involved, my love for ‘Victoria’ now runs deep, and I totally get why these cars and the people who build and own them are so darn lovable!

The 35th National Hot Rod Show, hosted by NZHRA Zone 9 in Christchurch earlier in 2016, was only the second show to which I took Victoria, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that 12 of the entrants were women. More impressively, nine of us won trophies.
Having spoken to a few of the women, I was encouraged and inspired by their level of knowledge. They weren’t just owner/drivers — they knew what made their vehicles tick. Here’s what a few of them had to say.

Maude Fairbairn
1934 Ford coupe

Maureen ‘Maude’ Fairbairn’s 1934 Ford coupe placed first in the Pre-’49 Custom Hot Rod Coupe class, second in Best Display — thanks to Maude’s niece, Megan Bryce — and third in both Best Custom Paint and Best Overhead Valve classes. This car was built to order by Colin Willoughby at Comtech and boasts a 392ci Hemi with Isky cam, MSD ignition, and 6-71 supercharger. Backing up the powerful combo is a TH400 transmission and Winters Quick Change diff, sprung by QA1 coilover rear shocks. Up front, a Rods by Reid independent front end was fitted to the ASC chassis rails along with rack and pinion steering. 

With a recessed firewall fitted to the Deuce Customs ’34 coupe body to fit around the big Hemi, and with E-T Wheels Fueler wheels with Hoosier tyres, the car has a timeless hot rod look — a look intensified by the custom ‘Devil Woman’ artwork applied by Bruce Craig.
Maude has always been a hot rodder. She was once the fastest woman in the southern hemisphere, with a quarter-mile time of 9.3 seconds at 147mph. However, that was three children and four grandchildren ago. 

Maude drives the car daily, saying, “It’s easy to drive, and great on gas — I’ve driven it from Bluff to Auckland.” As proof of that, you can always find the coupe parked outside American Auto Parts — a business that Maude runs alongside her husband, Eddie.

Ellie Soal
1933 Ford pickup / 1934 Nash

Years ago, Ellie Soal went to the Kumeu Classic Car and Hot Rod Festival and fell in love with a lowered, chopped pickup. She knew right then that she wanted to build one, and started collecting Model A parts, including a chassis upon which to build the vehicle.

Meanwhile, at the drags at Ruapuna, she was struck — not literally — by a purple 1933 Ford pickup, which was racing down the strip. Ellie was presented with the opportunity to own said pickup in March 2013, and purchased it from Craig Stare. Since then, she’s added a custom-made grille that she bought at the McLeans Island Swap Meet, for which Keith Johnstone of Bus & Truck Body Work has created a surround. Ellie decided the pickup’s quad exhaust pipes were just too noisy, so she asked Keith to replace them with Corvette-style lake pipes, and had him fabricate mudguards for the pickup while he was at it.She loves this car so much she has given all her original Model A parts to her son, Tom, so he can build his own car some day. 
Ellie was also showing the 1934 Nash she purchased from Pete Coulter in November 2014, having watched its transformation over the years and always loved its look.

Since purchasing the Nash, she’s had Tinwald Canvas & Upholstery install a new hood lining, changed the centre picture on the cowl, and added a bunch of other minor personal touches.
The pickup placed second in the Best Custom Hot Rod Pickup class at the National Hot Rod Show.

Natasha Pearson
1937 Chev Sedan

The 1937 Chev sedan belonging to Christchurch resident Natasha Pearson placed second in the Pre-’49 Best Modified Stock Sedan class. Natasha has owned the car for seven years, and the only thing she hasn’t changed is the upholstery.

The car was already hot rodded and painted pink when purchased, but Natasha has had it repainted by local painter — and fellow custom car owner — Adrienne Barnes. It now matches the nail polish she used on the rocker covers’ flame detailing. Natasha did the flames on the guards herself; thanks to the use of rubber paint, they glow in the dark. Better still, she can peel them off if she gets sick of them.

The 350ci small block Chev engine was rebuilt by race engine builder, Jason Fleck, and, with an old transmission behind it, pushed the car to a 14.5-second quarter-mile. Natasha’s Chev has been to Invercargill, Whangamata, and pretty much everywhere in between. With her being into the retro pin-up look, they’re quite the eye-catching combination. 

Suzie Lambert
1930 Model A pickup

Suzie Lambert fell for her 1930 Model A pickup when she joined her husband, Colin, on an American car run from Taranaki to Invercargill in 2010. Colin was very quick to point out that it wasn’t for sale but, as luck would have it, it appeared on Trade Me some 10 months later. With Suzie’s 50th birthday fast approaching, the rest, as they say, is history.

Suzie takes every opportunity to drive the Model A, and her greatest enjoyment is pulling into a car event, with her dark-tinted windows, opening the door, and seeing the look of amazement on guys’ faces when a woman appears from behind the steering wheel. 
“It’s priceless,” she says.

Built in Masterton back in the late ’70s, this Model A has had several lady owners, and is often referred to as a ‘chicks truck’. Even though Colin is a true-blue Ford man, he lovingly rebuilt the 350ci small block Chev engine when required, and back on the road she went.

Suzie was proud when, at the Canterbury All Ford day a few years back — with more than 250 cars entered — she got in the Top 10. She’s gathered a few more trophies over the years, including third in the Pre-’49 Best Custom Hot Rod Pickup class at the National Hot Rod Show, but for Suzie, it’s all about the enjoyment of getting out there and driving. The awards are just a bonus.

Jill Hurrell
1930 Ford Model A Tudor

Jill Hurrell’s 1930 Ford Model A Tudor was originally rodded by Rob Bingham and named ‘Jaffa Jewel’. After 30 years and a couple more owners, Jill’s husband, Mal, traded his ’54 Chev pickup for it. The Model A was starting to show its age and a makeover was due, so Mal got stuck in and gave it a thorough once over. It now boasts a very sweet 350 Chev with twin four-barrel manifold and carbs and plenty of chrome. 

During the rebuild, the chassis rails were boxed and a new independent front end fitted. Mal, being handy with metal, moved the cowl forward and installed flush-fit doors. He also filled the roof and created a one-piece front end. Suffice to say, after painter Jimmy Taylor and Will Sales at Classic & Custom Auto Interiors had worked their magic, Jill ended up with one stunning ride!

Jill debuted the Model A at the 40th anniversary of the Garden City Rodders in 2011, where she won a Top Five award and People’s Choice. Her latest award was third place in the Pre-’49 Best Custom Hot Rod Sedan class at the National Hot Rod Show.

Michelle Chappell
1923 Ford T-Bucket

Michelle Chappell bought her 1923 Ford T-bucket, ‘KOOL23’, from Paul Hofacher about five years ago. The Christchurch local had rebuilt it after having the bucket off the road for many years. It was originally built by John Petrovsky way back in 1982. The T runs a 283ci small block Chev, Powerglide, and ’57 Chev diff — the same combo it was originally built with. 

As the car had no upholstery when she bought it, Michelle took it to Will Sales at Classic & Custom Auto Interiors. Apart from a personalized plate, the only other changes she has made are to get a new carburettor — which was fitted and tuned at Springs Road Auto Services — and add a few minor cosmetic touches. Now all she does is drive the T-bucket as much as she can, clocking up plenty of miles.

The bucket scored third place in the Best T-Bucket Class. I am looking forward to my next show so I can meet more like-minded women and see their amazing rides. In the meantime, I will continue to add many miles to the odometer and enjoy Victoria to the fullest. I was extremely proud to get second in the Best Stock Street Machine class at the show, which followed the Best in Show at the Nelson Motor Show in February this year — Victoria’s debut.

Other female winners

  • Karen Collins: 1961 Cadillac — first place, Best Classic Coupe
  • Glenys Elliot: 1955 Ford Thunderbird — first place, Post-’48 Best Stock
  • Claire Paki: 1956 Pontiac Indian Chief — third place, Best Street Machine Sedan

Photos: Bob Reed