Close this search box.

Waikato invasion: AutoFest 2017

27 March 2017

Many people toy with the idea of curating their ideal car event, and some even put their money where their mouth is, but it’s a rare thing to see an event blossom into something like the 2017 AutoFest in the small span of just two years. Then again, Alan and Paretauira Togia of Downtime Entertainment have been around the local car scene for long enough to know what does and doesn’t work.

With a background in the import scene, Alan and Pare’s goal was to successfully blend the V8 and Japanese import scenes, and they are open about the fact that Australia’s Street Machine Summernats is the benchmark to which they are aiming. 

While the show is still in its infancy, it’s already displaying huge promise with a massive increase in size — in terms of both vehicle and spectator entry — and the Mystery Creek Events Centre venue is more than capable of supporting an event the size they are aiming for. The other factor that sets AutoFest apart from the rest is the organizers’ willingness to shake the formula up and try new or different things. What this means for us is a car show that’s got it all, offering an array of features to maximize entrant and spectator enjoyment, and it’s not all strictly car-related.

The big draw cards are rather obvious, namely the Motul indoor show and shine, burnout competition, and BurgerFuel outdoor hard park featuring a cruise route around the show field, reminiscent of Summernats, giving entrants the opportunity to get behind the wheel during the event. 

That was by no means the extent of it, with a hip-hop dance competition and pop-up skate park and skate competition offering stacks of prizes to those keen to give it a go, and a dedicated kids’ zone to take the pressure off parents. In addition, the usual plethora of live DJs, food and trade stalls, and a seriously staggering quantity of freebies being handed out made for a well-rounded list of reasons AutoFest is getting up there with the best. 

The Motul indoor show and shine hall hosted a large number of top-tier builds, but with enough room to give most cars a more comprehensive look over rather than a cursory glance. The melding of Japanese and American influence showed here, with high-performance Japanese rockets rubbing shoulders with all-American muscle and beautifully-finished low-riders. 

We were treated to all kinds of polished and modified rides, from super detailed rotary muscle like John Stride’s 13B-powered FD3S RX-7 … 

Through to show-quality Japanese classics, like Brian Cox’s beautifully finished KE20 Corolla. 

It’s low-riders that bridge the gap between the import car world and that of the V8s, with enough genuine heritage making the art of low-riding an inherent part of American car culture, and ’90s pop-culture symbolism bringing it to a younger generation. ’64 Impalas like the beautiful example here are unquestionably the pop-culture symbol of low-riding, and West Coast gangsters like Eazy-E were one of the main channels to bring the style into the mainstream world. 

More traditionally styled are rides like Nick Priday-Smith’s ’68 Buick Riviera, featuring subtle lace-work, pinstriping, and a classic set of Cragar S/S wheels. 

But for the ultimate in ’70s style, you can’t look beyond Daniel Jones’ ’63 Impala low-rider — undoubtedly the cream of the crop, and made just about all of the prizes his for the taking: First in Show, Best Lowrider, Best Custom Interior, Best Classic, Best Piston, Best Engine Bay, Best Innovation, and Best Attention to Detail. If you’ve seen this thing in the flesh, you’ll understand why. Photos tell a lot of the story, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the unbelievably intricate upholstery, finely-applied custom paint, and meticulously detailed engine bay with your own two eyes. This is a creation that was eight years in the making, and it shows. 

Another aspect that Alan and Pare have given plenty of thought to is burnouts. With the aim of helping to elevate the local burnout scene to where Australia is, the judging format of this year’s burnout competition was given an overhaul. There is talk of a larger temporary burnout pad next year, following the lead of D1NZ’s temporary indoor track at Forsyth Barr stadium. 

While the judging criteria favour actual burnouts, the pad doesn’t discriminate, and anyone willing was able to have a crack at shredding some rubber. If there was an award for showmanship, Jason Scott would have taken it, hands down — his ‘ONHMED’ GSR helis never failed to hype the crowd up, especially when he had both arms out the window mid-spin. 

The Downtime Entertainment C33 Laurels kept things going during intermissions with solid tandems around the small pad, and Andy Donohughe took natural-born MC Warren Sare up on his offer of “50 bucks a bumper” by smashing the rear into the wall — not once, but twice. Hopefully the $100 covers a new tail-light and rear bumper, or enough beer to forget about it!

Steve Ellicott’s Mazda 808 wagon was another crowd favourite, as well as the only rotary competing in the burnouts. The turbocharged 13B sounds like pure anger, and that’s how Steve pedalled it. Unfortunately, as cool as it looks and sounds, Steve stopping mid-skid to engage reverse counted against him, and made enough of a points difference to ensure one of the most popular burnout cars didn’t make it through to the finals. 

However, when it came to popularity, none could hold a candle to Braden Smith’s ‘HAUNT U’ Holden Commodore VF wagon. The methanol-injected 6-71-blown 468ci big block Chev is good for almost 1200hp, and Braden didn’t waste a single one, racking up maximum points for instant and constant smoke. However, not even the sheer volume of smoke could hide the raging tyre fire that erupted halfway through his first skid, costing him points under the ‘large fire’ judging criteria. Fire’s what gets the crowd going, though, and this crowd was loving it! His second skid was much more consistent, scoring almost perfectly, and guaranteeing him a spot in the final round. 

Unfortunately, a concerning lack of spark ruled Braden out of the finals, and after a bit of number crunching, Rodger Scott’s ‘406UTE’ Holden HQ was identified to be the next in line to move up. Rodger’s supercharged 406ci big block has no problem killing a set, and looks pretty tough while doing so, although his driving style didn’t maximize usage of available pad space. Even so, nabbing the $250 prize for third place made the event worthwhile for him, and we’re sure to see him move onwards and upwards as he familiarizes himself with the recently-completed ute. 

Ian ‘Sambo’ Smith pedalled his supercharged LS-powered Mazda RX-7 (FD) to a second place finish, smashing the limiter in his trademark style and pumping out clouds of orange tyre smoke to the delight of the spectators. 

But when it came to the ultimate burnout champion, there could only be one, and Liz Gracie’s experience showed in the way she manoeuvred the supercharged ’69 Camaro around the full surface area of the pad, masterfully keeping the revs up just high enough to avoid needless limiter-bashing, and keeping the smoke production to a maximum until there were no tyres left. 

And with no tyres left to destroy, or prizes to hand out, the 2017 AutoFest was as good as over, giving a well-deserved breather to the Downtime Entertainment team who worked tirelessly to make it all happen. Thanks to everyone who was a part of it — we’ll be seeing you at the next Downtime Entertainment event, 2017 SummerJam at Mount Maunganui later this year!