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Summernats 35

It’s been 35 years since the late Chick Henry hosted the very first Summernats. I was 17 years old and drove my 1970 HQ Monaro from Oak Flats on the South Coast to Canberra to see the very first Summernats. It was 1988, and while the old HQ was an icon of Australian muscle back then, it was my daily drive and certainly no show-pony. What that car would be worth now, I hate to think.

This year I returned for only my second Summernats. I think it’s safe to say that I don’t consider myself a street car enthusiast. Even this year, I didn’t actually attend the main event, opting to view the cars from the usually much quieter yuppy dining precinct of Braddon.

To say that street car enthusiasts are of a type would resonate with most, but the crowds of people turning out to view these works of engineered art were far more diverse than your average bogan with nothing better to do on a Saturday night. The span of the ages was well covered. Young families showed their children the impressively oversized engines, meticulously detailed paint schemes and cars built well before they or their parents were conceived. At the same time, many admirers would have remembered these cars being their family transport. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t expect to find Gretta Thunberg raising her arms in a gesture to get the passing parade of thumping and whirring iron to rev their engines harder, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to entertain even the most conservative Tesla driver.

Was it quiet - no! My new Apple Watch was constantly reminding me that I was in a loud environment, which meant the noise was exceeding 90db. Between the six massive speakers pumping dance beats on the Rainbow roundabout and the roar of impractically loud engines pushing their burnt emissions through impressively large exhaust pipes, I suspect the noise would have well exceeded the relatively modest Apple Watch health warning. No one cared. The roar of finely tuned engines fighting to hold idle against race-performance camshafts was impractical, but none of this show was about practicality.

I always thought of these car shows as only admitting cars of a particular pedigree. That any car worthy of entry would need to be meticulously detailed with not a speck of dirt or rust to be uncovered by the scrutineers. To my surprise, the array of octane-breathing entrants was even more diverse than the crowd. Some were in OG condition with little done to hide the years of toil and Australian sun they have weathered. Others were polished to within a micron of their chrome plate bumper bars. All were there as a reflection of their owner’s passionate dedication to classic automotive engineering.

The atmosphere at the Summernats Fringe event this weekend was no frills; come as you are entertainment, just car enthusiasts happy to show their art for nothing more than a respectful appreciation of what they love. Will I go next year - absolutely! I’ll even dip into my wallet and buy a ticket to the main event held at Epic.

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