Hervey Bay itself has two hot rod clubs. One is limited to just 60 members while the other had nearly 300. Konig’s view of the classic and hot rod aftermarket is echoed by many in the industry. “People get older and have paid off their houses and decide to build their dream car.”
Hoppers Stoppers also makes and sells 4WD brake upgrades and modifications. Peter observes: “The 4WD market is also doing extremely well. Tradies are making good money and need tax deductions. Consequently, they’re buying their Ranger and HiLux duel cab utes and then sticking on another few grand of accessories. The 4WD guys are making a killing.”
The innovative nature of Australia often fuses experience and need and results in new and original products. Local company Torque-Power manufactures a range of bell-housings for transmission swaps in local cars. Over about the last 10 years the company has also set about developing and making improved performance heads for Holdens and a range of manifolds for both Holdens and Fords.
Torque-Power has also developed both alloy and iron engine blocks that take a wide range of Holden components and also make use of some Chev components. The restrictions of the original Holden block have been engineered out of the Torque-Power blocks and they can be opened out and stroked to as much as 500ci, which is more than eight litres. All of these products have been developed and manufactured in Australia.
Torque-Power owner, Craig Bennett says there’s a lot of misinformation about manufacturing in Australia. “People say that manufacturing in Australia is too difficult but that’s just not true. There’s still a lot of work done here. Casting, heat treating, pattern making, machining and many other processes are all available locally.” He further explained that the foundry which makes all of his castings has so much work that they’re always “flat out”. Metal casting in Australia is far from dead and buried, as some people suggest.
Another local manufacturer of heads and manifolds for classic iron engines, CHI, says the company can sell everything it makes. Company spokesman, Mark Conner said, “Very rarely do we have stock on the shelves.” Conner says, “A lot of the time when I ask what car the heads are going into the answer seems to be a (Ford Falcon) XY. I don’t know where all these XYs are coming from, but they seem to keep coming. It’s been years.”
Although these capabilities still exist in Australia some of the skills and trades involved are becoming reduced and concentrated. Independent pattern makers for casting are becoming a bit thin on the ground. So are engine reconditioning workshops.
There was a time when engine machining workshops were on every corner in Dandenong and other areas. Now, most of them are gone. Dandy Engines is one of the considerably reduced number remaining. Owner, Lou Iudica, says “Motors last much longer than they used to, so there’s not the work there used to be. Head work for car yards and the like has dropped off but it’s been replaced by classic work and racing jobs. That’s not slowing down at all.”
Another Dandenong-based engine builder, Nostalgic Engine Developments (NED) echoes the above views and says classic work is growing all the time. Despite the health of these businesses, though, it’s unlikely that there will be many new engine builders starting up. The capital cost of the machinery needed to enter the field is a barrier. There were bargains available when engine shops sold up and shut down but these machines tended to go into existing businesses that stayed the course.
Shannons is a company well qualified to comment on the strength of the current automotive aftermarket, but with a strong historical perspective. Company spokesman, Chris Boribon says company growth this past year has been roughly 10 percent, which is impressive enough, but it’s on the back of similar growth for the previous year. This is a good, broad indicator because Shannons insures all types of classic cars.
Boribon’s comments are similar to those of Konig when he says, “What’s considered a classic has changed. Cars from the 80s and 90s that older readers may have purchased new are now classed as ‘emerging classics’ by the company. Japanese classics are another growth areas. “GTRs and RX7s have come into their own, along with models like the Honda NSX.” He added, “European models like AMG and BMW Motorsport types have also become more popular.”
It’s dangerous to speed on the road. The Melbourne Performance Centre gives those inclined to high speed the support needed to indulge their needs on racetracks around the country. The company builds and supports cars of all types from Australian and foreign models specifically prepared for the track to other high-end race models for higher classes. The company commenced operations in 2004 in a 220-square metre factory. Soon, another 180 square metres were needed. Next came a move to a 1000-square metre space and now the company has taken possession of a 4000-square metre space. The outfit now has three B-Doubles to support operations. That’s expansion.
Of course, another whole section of the aftermarket is occupied by the coachbuilding industry. Jamie Downey operates a fine old piece of machinery called a power hammer. He can use it to convert sheet metal into just about any shape imaginable. The end result is similar to that achievable on an English wheel. Coachbuilding is an area of the aftermarket enjoying increased popularity. Names like Mark Nugent, Brian Tanti, Peter Tommasini, Vince Panozzo, Jamie and others can have about as much work as they want Jamie explains, “There’s certainly enough work out there to feed business expansion. The problem is trying to find the right people.” He’s chosen a more simplified approach to business and makes a range of parts that keep things running and provide on-going income. “That way I’m able to do what I want to do without having to maintain employees and deal with other business pressures.” Nice work if you can get it. Jamie says people say that the skills involved in such work are dying out, but he disagrees. There is an increasing number of places where metal shaping can be learned. Peter Tommasini has pulled back from working on customer cars and concentrates on running courses, which are proving very popular. He also offers instructional DVDs and the specialised tools needed for such work. Soon, there will be another option for learning these, and other skills related to the classic car aftermarket and the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) has had a hand in the project.
VACC CEO, Geoff Gwilym explained that Castlemaine in Victoria has a long history of making things out of metal due to the mining history of the area. It’s arguably the hot rod capital of Australia. There’s certainly a very high concentration of hot rods and custom cars in the region, along with the skills needed to build and maintain them.
A number of interested parties called the Castlemaine Hot Rod Centre Limited (CHRC) have been working for years to create Autoplex Castlemaine. This is a centre that will offer training in various aspects of classic car restoration and construction. Gwilym calls such skills ‘heritage trades’.
The idea is to have specialists in the various trades that define automotive manufacturing showcase and perhaps offer courses to teach these skills. “There might be short courses, Certificate II traineeships. We may even have a vehicle restoration apprenticeship, who knows?” says Gwilym. He went on to explain that there’s a horde of cashed-up baby boomers in a position to build their dream cars. There will be a stream of older people buying older cars and restoring them. There will also be those who’d prefer to buy a finished car rather than build one themselves. Gwilym is sure that this market will continue to grow. “We’re bound to have a healthy aftermarket for the considerable future.”
Larry O’Toole is the Chairman of the CHRC and has been at the centre of what he calls the specialist auto industry for decades. He feels generally that everything in the classic aftermarket is pretty positive. Of the current automotive aftermarket, he says “The general economy would only have to loosen up a bit for the automotive aftermarket to take off like a rocket. There are more events for these types of cars and they’re getting bigger.”
Larry suggests, as have other sources for this article, that there’s an increasing number of older cars considered suitable for restoration. “These days people consider pre-90s cars old and they’re restoring them. When we started out it was pre-60s. That’s 30 years of extra cars.” This trend is only going to create growth in the aftermarket. Larry also pointed out that a few years ago, when the Australian and US dollars were at parity, a flood of cars from the 60s, 70s and some from decades either side of that period were imported from the US. He suggests that many of these are still in storage awaiting restoration. “These cars are waiting to emerge and will give us material for about the next 30 years.”
As more and more cars are built here and taken overseas, the world is becoming aware of what we can do. This is only going to further increase the value of our local industry.
Rare Spares is another name synonymous with the classic aftermarket. Founder and Director of the company, Dave Ryan says that when they started making classic restoration parts like HK panels they thought they’d sell a reasonable number over time. However, the company sells each year what they thought would be their total sales of these products. Rare Spares has grown into a considerable company over the decades in step with the classic aftermarket. The future? “We’re planning for expansion,” Dave says
Read State of the aftermarket (Part 1). Alternatively, view full article and accompanying imagery in the February 2020 issue of Australian Automotive (page 44).